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Two Obscure 1984 Taito Titles

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

Let’s check out two little known games from a not so great year of arcade gaming.

1984 was a lousy year for the American videogame industry. Both the home and arcade gaming markets were licking wounds, attempting to recover from the Video Game Crash of 1983. Atari, once the crown jewel of arcade gaming was sold and split into two companies. Centuri the plucky independent out of Florida quit the industry pivoting to fish packing. The home computer and console price war had laid multiple brands into the eternal discount bargain bin never to be heard from again.

The arcade industry, however, did attempt to push forward abet with caution. The glory days of those mad Pac-Man fever profits might have been over, but there was still money to be made. People still were playing video games in arcades and wanted new titles to put quarters into. Surviving arcade operators had to focus on leaner margins and smarter choices to stay in business. Conversion kits became the new preferred cheap alternative for operators to offer new titles to players in a downturned industry.

“How abut a pig in a car shooting hot dogs?” “Johnson, you’re fired"

Companies offering these kits included major companies such as Nintendo and Sega to “convert” older dedicated title cabinets into newer, and hopefully profitable games. Dedicated cabinet titles were still being manufactured, but not in the large numbers like during the pre 1984 market. Conversion kits were also an opportunity for smaller companies that previously had little manufacturing capability themselves to enter the arcade game market through licensing and distributing Japanese game titles into the US market that had been overlooked by larger companies. This allowed for a wide variety of titles to be played by American arcade patrons and solidified a Japanese dominance in the arcade industry for decades.

Sea Battle Poseidon

Taito has a long and storied history, a story that could easily fill a book. Their massive hit Space Invaders was licensed to Midway for distribution in the USA. After this milestone event in gaming, Taito decided that future releases would be manufactured and distributed by themselves through the newly formed Taito of America in 1979. This American division of Taito would even go onto develop several successful titles in house including Qix and Zoo Keeper. After 1983 Taito scaled back their USA operations but still held a presence in the market, mostly offering conversion kits.

Taito just loved these complex multi PCB designs

This brings us to our first strange yet very playable obscure Taito title Sea Battle Poseidon. The game appears to be the last using Taito’s SJ hardware system. A few of the other titles developed for the SJ system include Elevator Action, Alpine Ski, and Tin Star. Many of the graphical and audio assets in Sea Battle Poseidon share a similar style to the SJ hardware-based game Jungle King/Hunt. In addition, SJ hardware compatibility makes the game a direct PCB drop-in replacement for many popular early 80’s Taito titles (to be playable however, the cabinet needs two buttons and a horizontal monitor).

All this can be yours for the low cost of $545!

Although an obscure title, it’s a fun one combining gameplay elements from William’s Defender, Broderbund’s Choplifter, and yes, Taito’s Jungle King/Hunt. The game is a side scrolling shooter at heart, set in an underwater environment. The player controls an underwater diver in control of an underwater craft which can shoot missiles at incoming enemies. The main goal is to attempt rescuing kidnapped divers along the way, who are held in small glass bubbles on the bottom of the screen and destroy (or avoid) incoming enemies and hazards.

The player’s craft consumes fuel at a rapid rate, allowing for one of the cleverer elements of the game to take place. Players can eject themselves from the craft (either due to running out of fuel, or to avoid a collision). If a well-placed shot takes place hitting an enemy in the face and not directly at their watercraft, the player can quickly take over the enemies’ underwater craft with a full tank of fuel. Players must be in a watercraft to rescue kidnapped divers or destroy certain enemies. The level of play advances once all the kidnapped divers are rescued. There are also boss fights, underwater volcanos, sharks, and narrow caverns to navigate.

With its somewhat low resolution (but charming) graphics and 8-bit sounds, Sea Battle Poseidon is a game in the middle of two eras. In less than 18 months after its release, 16-bit titles such as Sega’s Space Harrier or Atari’s Gauntlet would offer players advanced graphics and sounds making Sea Battle Poseidon look like an antique. Despite its Taito pedigree, it was distributed in the USA by a small company called Montgomery Vending located in Rhode Island that didn’t appear to last very long after the game’s release. The company also seems to have ties to the cheap conversion kit kings of the mid-80’s Magic (who was an outgrowth of the well-known New Jersey arcade game bootle manufacturer Omni).

The game came shipped with a rather shoddy marquee and generic control panel overlay. I doubt many kits were sold. It’s a rather rare PCB today, and somewhat unknown. It is, however, a heck of a lot of fun and can be found in various downloadable formats, classic gaming collections for home systems, and as part of a multi-game kit for Taito PCBs running on the SJ hardware system.

Samurai Nipponichi

You know what was super cool in the 1980’s? Ninjas and anything dealing with Marshall Arts. A flood of Marshall Arts themed films, tv shows, and arcade games flooded America by the 1980’s. Samurai Nipponichi is an early and interesting historical footnote of this genre of games. Taito released the game in partnership with developer Kaneko.

There is a lot going on in this flyer

Founded in 1980, Kaneko developed titles exclusively for Taito starting in 1982 through 1990. Kaneko would go at it alone afterwards. The game was offered in the USA as a very inexpensive conversion kit from a company called Magic (again who had direct connections with Omni), who offered several very low-cost conversion kits in the mid 1980’s but disappeared by 1986. Samurai doesn’t seem particular rare or desirable, as PCBs often come up for sale at more than reasonable prices (I bought two in the last year, paying 35 dollars for each). The low cost for the kit (around 300-400 dollars in 1985), along with the interest in Ninjas with kids probably made the title very alluring to arcade operators.

Samurai Nipponichi (simply called Samurai on the title screen, and in most press mentions of the time) has some interesting elements as an early side scrolling fighter. First, the graphics feature nicely drawn large sprites in a pleasing cartoony style. Secondly, the animations are well done with smooth scrolling backgrounds. Third, the choice to make such large sprites in a scrolling fighter but use a vertical playfield is unique and makes planning for incoming enemies off screen difficult. And finally, the game itself is rather basic in its playability, offering little in terms of strategy or variety. There are just incoming enemies that keep on coming from off screen, with little variety in their attack patterns. The game’s first level is rather easy, but the difficulty ramps up quickly afterwards.

Artwork by Ms. David’s 3rd grade class

I have two different ROM sets on my two different PCBs, and it appears one set is slightly more difficult than the other. The deaths of some foes do end with a splattering effect of yellow blood, with the end boss dying from a decapitation. The game never seems to have made its way to any home console and today is fairly forgotten, and to be honest despite its obscurity it is forgettable with rather lack luster play dynamics. Samurai Nipponichi’s hardware shares much with a few other Kaneko titles including Mission 660, Ring Fighter, and Nun-chackun. Samurai uses a two board PCB design, one PCB for audio and another for all the video elements. The PCB will work without the sound board, with no sound of course.

So, there you have it, two very obscure Taito titles during the video game market “rebound” years. One is a bit of a hidden gem in my opinion, and the other one has some interesting elements but probably deserves its obscurity. Still, both games are interesting footnotes in the legacy of Taito than any classic gamer should check out.

Happy Hunting

- Cassandra

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