Nintendo's kid-friendly image often surprises fans of Rockstar Games. The latter had a pretty substantial relationship with the former at one point.
Rockstar Games has an infamous reputation for making games full of degenerates and crime. This makes their history with the family-friendly Nintendo even more bizarre.
Rockstar Games wasn't always known as Rockstar Games. Video game companies often merge and restructure their divisions and branding. This often involves a name change.
Rockstar North is a studio under Rockstar Games. The former has a fascinating history with Nintendo. Considering both Nintendo and Rockstar are titans within the video game industry, it's hard to believe that their interactions have been minimal in recent years.
The history of Rockstar and Nintendo
To understand Rockstar's relationship with Nintendo in the present day, it's vital to know Rockstar North's start.
Rockstar North was known as DMA Design back in the day. Their first video game on a Nintendo console was Lemmings. It was a puzzle platformer that most GTA fans would have no idea about. It was released on the NES in 1992 for American audiences.
Lemmings wasn't exclusive to the NES, as it was also available on MS-DOS, Master System, Game Gear, Sega Genesis, and a few other consoles.
Nintendo didn't have too much to do with Rockstar then, aside from providing a system for the highly successful Lemmings. Lemmings sold over 20 million copies worldwide on various consoles.
DMA Design was working on several games at the time. It followed it up by releasing Lemmings 2: The Tribes the SNES. Unfortunately, Lemmings 2 was nowhere near as successful or popular as the previous game.
The first real association between Nintendo and Rockstar Games was when Uniracers was released on the SNES. Unfortunately, it didn't work out.
The unicycle design led to a lawsuit, where Pixar sued DMA Design. DMA Design ended up losing the case.
Nintendo then ceased production for Uniracers. No more copies of the game were made after the initial 300K. Considering it was exclusively on the SNES, this was a devastating loss.
Unsurprisingly, there was no sequel for the game. It was a rough start, but things eventually got better.
It's hard to believe that Rockstar North could've developed a Kirby game back when it was known as DMA Design, but it almost happened. It could've been the only non-Japanese studio to make a Kirby game, but it ultimately never got released.
It was likely never fully developed, with some essential story elements missing from promotional art. Some things, like King Dedede having a kid and an adult form seemed a little bizarre.
It still had elements Kirby fans could love, including the Star Rod, Fountain of Dreams, and Bronto Burt.
Supposedly, there was a playable demo, but it has been lost to history. As far as Kid Kirby's development went, the SNES was becoming obsolete, and Nintendo wanted to work on Nintendo 64 games. The soon-to-be Rockstar North had to cease development on Kid Kirby (Go-Karts was another unreleased Nintendo 64 game to suffer a similar fate).
DMA Design would later make Grand Theft Auto. This was the most important association between DMA Design and Rockstar Games.
Surprisingly, it did show up on the Game Boy Color in 1999. It wouldn't be recognizable to GTA fans today, as GTA 1 used a top-down perspective.
The Game Boy Color port didn't look as good as the original GTA 1 release. It wasn't too inferior compared to the original, but compromises had to be made as Nintendo wanted the game to be a little more family-friendly.
Other than that, Nintendo wasn't too involved. However, the modern 3D GTA style actually originated in a non-GTA title.
Nintendo asks DMA Design to develop games for the Nintendo 64
Most video game companies love the idea of a titanic company like Nintendo offering to publish a game for them. This was a massive opportunity for DMA Design. This wasn't the company that would later become a studio for Rockstar Games.
Eventually, it agreed to develop a game for Nintendo. The game would later be known as Body Harvest.
There are two key elements to Body Harvest that some fans of Rockstar Games might recognize. The first being the open-world 3D style that would later be perfected in GTA III. The second being that Body Harvest was released on Nintendo, as opposed to the old Psygnosis for past DMA Design games.
There were some major differences between Body Harvest and GTA. This game had players fighting off aliens in a Samus Aranesque outfit. The game also had a lot of sci-fi elements. Time travel was prominent as opposed to crime.
There were some similarities as well. Fans might have noticed 3D movement, the ability to go into homes, vehicles having health and exploding, numerous guns, collectibles, and the artist from GTA 1.
Nintendo's relationship with DMA Design was still quite strained. DMA Design's old publisher, Psygnosis, was very hands-off. Nintendo, by comparison, had ideas it wanted to realize. What didn't help was the language barrier.
Nintendo funded DMA Design for this project, but it wasn't easy. Nintendo was difficult to work with, as it expected a high-quality game. DMA Design was still a bit of an amateur at the time and couldn't really make games of a higher quality.
Unfortunately, DMA Design didn't have a lot of pull in the relationship. It didn't have the reputation Nintendo had. It certainly didn't have the resources to do what Nintendo envisioned. Body Harvest would be released, but it wasn't a success.
Executive meddling often hurts a game's vision. The staff involved in Body Harvest's creation have since brought this up. Bad communication and a language barrier could really hurt the game's development at the time.
Nintendo terminates its business relationship with DMA Design
The difficult development of the game killed the relationship between the two companies. Midway Home Entertainment and Gremlin Interactive would then become the publishers for Body Harvest. Losing this relationship hurt DMA Design for a while.
Nintendo 64 GTA
GTA was scheduled to appear on the Nintendo 64. It would be a port of the Playstation version of GTA 1, but with upgraded graphics, new levels, and features. Unfortunately, this game never came released on the Nintendo 64.
Space Station Silicon Valley
After Body Harvest, DMA Design was lucky to release another game on the Nintendo 64. The team working on Space Station Silicon Valley took some aspects from Body Harvest and GTA 1.
The game received a lot of praise for its innovative gameplay, such as swapping bodies with animals to complete puzzles. However, this game sell well either. There was no potential for a sequel.
GTA 2 was another top-down GTA title that was highly similar to GTA 1. As fans of current Rockstar Games will know, GTA 2 was successful enough to warrant getting a sequel.
Nintendo got the game on the Game Boy Color in a similar vein to GTA 1. Unfortunately, that would be the last GTA title for a while.
DMA Design would later be rebranded as a part of Rockstar North and become a Rockstar Games studio. It published more games with practically no involvement from Nintendo. Its focus was on other consoles.
Rockstar Games would publish some titles that would later appear on a Nintendo console. Here's a list of them:
- Monster Truck Madness N64
- Earthworm Jim 3D
- Evel Knievel
- Austin Powers: Oh, Behave!
- Austin Powers: Welcome to My Underground Lair!
- Max Payne
- Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis
- Manhunt 2
- Bully: Scholarship Edition
Surprisingly, Rockstar Games did not develop GTA Advance, but it did publish it, allowing Digital Eclipse to develop it for the Game Boy Advance.
It had a mix of the top-down features from GTA 1 with the more modernized features from GTA III.
Unfortunately, Nintendo's prior history with Rockstar Games was part of the reason for no main GTA title (GTA III) releasing on a Nintendo console. Nintendo's weaker consoles certainly didn't help either.
GTA: Chinatown Wars
GTA Chinatown Wars released on a Nintendo DS in 2009. Nintendo created a lot of hype for the game, saying it had over 900,000 lines of "hand-optimized" code. GTA: Chinatown Wars ended up becoming the most acclaimed Nintendo DS game ever, with a Metacritic rating of 93/100.
Despite hyping up the game in conferences, Nintendo wasn't too involved in the game. Other than giving out Nintendo DS toolkits to Rockstar, there wasn't much going on between the two companies.
At this point, Rockstar was completely independent and capable of making games with minimal interference.
L.A. Noire was released by Rockstar Games for a Nintendo Switch as a port in 2017. Considering it was just a port of a 2011 game, it was an easy cash-grab taking advantage of the highly successful Nintendo Switch.
More ports could possibly be released on the Nintendo Switch in the future.