Article 16—seta controlpad newsletter (1991)

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About 60 different companies published licensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but few of them flew as far under the radar as Seta. Even though it published multiple titles on the NES, Game Boy and Super NES, its most popular game was never released! (I’m referring, of course, to Bio Force Ape, which was previewed in an early issue of Nintendo Power magazine and inexplicably became the subject of an Internet meme in 2005.)

Seta’s ControlPad consumer newsletter was usually just folded in half and mailed “as is,” but Volume VI arrived in an envelope with an unexpected bonus: a “Rad Dude” sticker featuring Ned Zoomie, star of Seta’s Game Boy puzzler Q Billion. The article on page 6 apologizes for the
delay of this issue and explains that the ControlPad was changing to a bi-monthly schedule, which suggests that previous issues were mailed more frequently. The author of this editorial—a recurring character known as “the guy in the back”—claims that the frequency change was the result of increased membership in the “Q Billion Club,” but the sparse contents suggest that they just didn’t have enough material to fill a six-page newsletter with any regularity. The top story tells of a recent arcade trade show, but the recap is only three sentences long and doesn’t even identify a single product on display. There’s also a front-page article about a peach-sorting robot that may or may not have been invented by Seta. Why couldn’t they have used this space to hype the upcoming Bio Force Ape?

While being interviewed for author David Sheff’s book Game Over, Nintendo’s Howard Phillips revealed that Nintendo faced some anti-Japan sentiment when it introduced the NES to North American retailers in 1985. It’s rarely discussed today, but this must
have been an ongoing concern as more Japanese publishers established U.S. offices in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It would explain why so many NES games were promoted with “Americanized” artwork and characters that looked nothing like the original Japanese designs. I mention this here because—in my opinion—Seta tried harder than most publishers to disguise its Japanese roots. All of its advertising and packaging had goofy, generic artwork; it went out of its way to develop games based on quintessentially American properties like The Wizard of Oz and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; and its American “mascots” (a middle-aged, balding Caucasian man and a muumuu-clad rodent with ears that resembled human testicles) were probably hand-drawn by one of the six people who comprised the entirety of Seta USA’s staff.

From a purely artistic standpoint, it’s unfortunate that these companies’ American employees didn’t do more to stand up for the reputations of their games’ creators. But I guess if they had, we might not have that bad Mega Man box art to laugh at.

© 2011 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.