Why Hasn’t There Ever Been a Great 'Akira' Video Game?

TBH, I’ve no real answer to the question—but it’s surely about time that we got one.

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Apr 5 2017, 2:00pm

Above: Akira image courtesy of Manga Entertainment.

Look it up: there really hasn't been a single great video game based on the iconic anime movie Akira, which turns 30 next year amid continuing live-action remake and TV spin-off speculation. Which is kind of surprising, isn't it? Given this is one of the most aesthetically identifiable and undeniably influential of all animated movies.

Alongside the film's debut in 1988, a visual novel adaptation by Taito emerged for Nintendo's Famicom—it was restricted to Japan only, and received some pretty negative reviews. It was the first of three officially licensed games to make it to market.

The game I best remember, from poring over the pages of Amiga Power back in the 1990s, was 1994's side-on platformer meets atrociously slow motorcycle obstacle course challenge for the rightly maligned Amiga CD32 console. Made by now-defunct British collective ICE Software, a port of this version (at least, that's what it seems to be) was destined for the Game Boy, as this footage shows. Thankfully for owners of Nintendo's awesome handheld, it never came out.

Nor did a THQ-produced Akira project for multiple platforms, including the 16-bit Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. The Genesis footage below, recorded at Chicago's International Consumer Electronics Show in 1994, showcases a title of several gameplay styles, from Road Rash-like freeway fighting to first-person exploration and traditional platforming. It looks… not totally terrible? Bearing in mind it's probably far from finished-release standard, at this point.

The most recent—and actually released—video game to bear the Akira brand is 2002's PlayStation 2 title Akira Psycho Ball, a pinball affair stuffed with cutscenes from the movie and featuring tables based on four of its locations. It got itself a Japanese and European release, and I'm told it's okay. But when does anyone actually play pinball in the movie? What does pinball have to do with Akira, at all? The questions are effectively rhetorical, the answers "never" and "nothing".

(I suppose you could say the same about any number of pinball tables based on movie licenses, but sssh, stop distracting from the point I'm about to make. Which is…)

Is it not time, with a significant anniversary looming and all manner of related activity in other mediums gearing up, for someone out there in game development to take a swing at an Akira game for the present day? Video games have long tripped the light fantastic with the cyberpunk genre, and Akira's got its tendrils into many other aspects of modern culture and entertainment, from TV to music, as this VICE article from late 2016 illustrates. 

"It opened the floodgates for not just anime but the whole of Japanese culture to be accepted by Western audiences," writers the author, Tom Usher. And TBH, that's how I remember it, too, albeit alongside a few other Manga Entertainment VHS releases like Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell and Battle Angel. Akira felt important back then, and as history's borne out, it is.

Above: a new, "collector's edition" version of Akira was released in 2016.

Yes, we've games today that can be appreciated as bearing visual and mechanical comparisons to the film—previewing Devolver's forthcoming Ruiner (which we've covered, too), PC Games N writer Jordan Forward calls it "the Akira game I've always wanted". And when I ask Twitter for video games "based on" the film, just not in name, I get a flurry of replies: the motorcycle chase from Final Fantasy VII, Galerians, Ronin, Psychonauts, Infamous, "anything with an orbital laser", haha.

None of these are actually an Akira game, though. And I guess that's what I'm after, now. Please? One that harnesses the potential of today's hardware. One that does something other than simply recount the story of the film in an interactive capacity. A game that lets me live inside of the Neo-Tokyo of 2019 (shit, not long now, guys*), and peek into all of its grimy corners, the places untouched by the film's neon glow that singes itself so irrevocably into the memory. 

I'm thinking open world—you have to, don't you, if only to kind of collect up all the gameplay possibilities the movie, and everything that feeds into it, presents (as evidenced by that THQ clip). Not mini-games, exactly—but old-school Syndicate vibes for gang confrontations, maybe; and of course you'd need the bikes in the mix, too. If only United Front Games was still operational—image what they could achieve with the precedent of Sleeping Dogs, let loose on the Akira license. To reiterate, not the film, specifically. I'm not sure a new Akira game needs to stick 100% faithfully to the plot we all know, and were suitably flipped-out by the first time we saw it through. Like Alien: Isolation, it could complement rather than explicitly adapt.

Pipe dreams. And perhaps that's all another official Akira game will ever be. But damn, can't you just see it, taste it almost? Someone out there must be thinking about it, having conversations, firing off emails, what with the 30th anniversary as good as upon us. If the anime becomes a live-action movie, if that truly gets the green light—which, I'm guessing, may depend somewhat on the global commercial performance of Ghost in the Shell—would it spark interest enough in the brand to develop a killer new game? It's got to, surely. Maybe. Hopefully?

(*On topic, don't you love it when you watch a film set in the future, but the future's already behind us? Like the start of The Transformers: The Movie: "It is the year 2005." Man, those massive, shape-shifting robots sure proved good at disguising themselves, huh.)

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