Trouble Shooter: Nintendo Haters at Heart

The Sega-Nintendo War of the early 1990s may go down in history as yet another small-scale market squabble, but it left an impression. Uncouth as it is to compare trivial game-industry rivalries to real life, Sega and Nintendo fought a World War, polarizing the masses and reducing NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 to a cringing pocket of irrelevance. It was a momentous age, with every young nerd sifting magazines and playground rumors for the latest revelation that would see Sega or Nintendo triumphant. Friendships were tested, lifelong biases were forged, and at least one person claimed that Eternal Champions was better than Street Fighter II Turbo. And it all happened without widespread Internet access to feed the bonfires.

Yet the battle rarely bled into the games themselves. For the most part, Sega and Nintendo avoided attacking each other in their creations. Sega originally named a mustachioed boss “Mari-Oh” in Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, then changed it for the final version. Nintendo took the high road until the last years of the war, and their most savage blow had Uniracers telling players that names like "Sonic" and "Sega" were, in fact, not cool enough.

The majority of third-party developers avoided taking sides, but some couldn’t help it. Naxat buried an exploding “S?GA” logo in the code of their awesome NES shooter Recca, even though that barb went undiscovered for decades. Bart’s Nightmare, a horrible 1992 Super NES treatment of The Simpsons, snipes at Sega in mini-game where skyscraper residents toss things from windows. Among the items rained down on Bartzilla are cats, TVs, fire extinguishers…and what looks like a Genesis.


On the other side of the conflict, one game bluntly targets Nintendo and its Super Famicom. That game is Vic Tokai’s Trouble Shooter.


Trouble Shooter was never a classic of the Sega Genesis library. It’s basic and slow-paced, though strangely charming in its fusion of the free-floating gameplay of Forgotten Worlds, the humorous tones of Parodius, and the destructive heroines-for-hire of The Dirty Pair. The game sends heavily armed bounty hunters Madison and Crystal (Mania and Maria in Japan) floating through levels and gunning down all sorts of slightly bizarre machines. It has the affectionate, in-jokey air of a pet project, crafted by a Vic Tokai team called Studio Uchuu Tetsujin, or Studio Space Iron Men. Reportedly irked by Vic Tokai’s support of Super Famicom games, Studio Space Iron Men hit Nintendo with a stunning assault. They stepped on the Super Famicom.


When Trouble Shooter arrived in Japan as Battle Mania, it had a surprise in store. Press Start, Right, and C on the second controller as the two heroines tear past the Sega logo, and you’ll watch a miniature Madison vigorously stomping a Super Famicom. In testament to Nintendo’s rugged hardware standards, the system appears undamaged. This isn’t in the English version of the game, though it was likely added later; Battle Mania came out in Japan several months after Trouble Shooter hit the U.S. In that time, Madison came to hate the Super Famicom.

No cowards they, Trouble Shooter’s developers went a step further with the sequel. Released only in Japan, Battle Mania Dai Gin Joh enhances everything about the first game: the control allows for eight-way firing, the levels are more inventive, and everything’s just faster, funnier, and better-looking. And Battle Mania doesn’t hide its Nintendo mockeries this time around. The game’s fourth stage has Madison and Crystal chasing down a mile-long assault train powered by gerbil wheels. Halfway through the firefight, our heroines encounter a fleet of caped Marios.


The flying and completely shootable Marios drop green mushrooms on Madison, just so there’s no confusing them with that other game where rotund Italian plumbers don yellow capes to fly. Also seen in the Mario flock is the ducklike Socket, titular star of Vic Tokai’s mediocre Sonic clone. Socket came to the U.S. in 1994 while the much more impressive Battle Mania Dai Gin Joh stayed in Japan, and Vic Tokai exited the game industry a few years later. Not that I believe that bringing out Battle Mania Dai Gin Joh as Trouble Shooter 2 would’ve kept Vic Tokai’s game division afloat and successful even today, with Trouble Shooter Neo and Return to Demonhead stunning players on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 while a Krion Conquest cartoon enchanted children of all ages and a talking plush Psycho Fox became the holiday season’s hottest toy. Not at all.

Such fervent attacks on Nintendo are now part of Trouble Shooter’s small legacy. The two games are obscure today, but those who remember them often remember that Madison detested the Super Famicom. It’s even a running gag in what little fan art Trouble Shooter inspired.


There’s an epilogue to this strange little tale, and it lies in Segagaga, a 2001 simulation RPG all about rescuing Sega itself from financial ruin. In directing the company’s game development, the player’s avatar encounters all sorts of Sega characters and inside jokes. It culminates in a battle with a rival corporation, and familiar faces from many Sega titles join the fight. Madison and Crystal are among them, flying the Vic Tokai banner in spirit.


But why are they in the game? Did Vic Tokai co-produce Segagaga? Did someone from Studio Space Iron Men, perhaps Takayan the Barbarian himself, work on the game? Did Sega buy the rights to Vic Tokai’s catalog in some backroom deal they never bothered to announce?

I don’t know. But I like to think that Madison and Crystal simply became honorary Sega characters thanks to their part in the fight against Nintendo. They certainly earned it.