Culture Brain Inc. last edited by drwhat on 12/29/20 03:51PM View full history

Overview

Founded in 1980 by Yukio Tanaka (first as "Nihon Game Company", a.k.a. "Taiyo System"), Culture Brain Excel is a small developer/publisher based in Tokyo that got its start in arcade game development. The company made a handful of successful games on the Famicom and Super Famicom, but didn't manage the transition to later generations. These days Culture Brain develops and publishes low-cost games, mostly for children, on Nintendo handhelds. Their website has not been updated since 2017.

The company was renamed Culture Brain Excel, from Culture Brain, in 2016.

History

Arcade (1981-1985)

Monster Zero
Monster Zero

According to an "Insider's Guide to the Nintendo World Championships" published in 1990 by Nintendo themselves, Culture Brain (which was then Taiyo System) helped Nintendo develop the landmark original arcade game Donkey Kong in 1981. Taiyo's first independent release was the shooter Monster Zero (1982), a Japanese hit. Through the early 80s Taiyo continued to release arcade titles that did well. Chinese Hero (1984) was a popular top-down single-screen beat-em-up, and Shanghai Kid (1985), one of the earliest fighting games, was arguably the first to introduce a sort of combo system. "RUSH!" would appear on the screen and you'd have to make a series of fast attacks on highlighted locations on your opponent's body.

Home Success (1986-1989)

The Magic of Scheherazade (NES)
The Magic of Scheherazade (NES)

With the launch of the Famicom, Taiyo System renamed itself to Culture Brain and doubled down on working with Nintendo, porting their major hits for the home. Chinese Hero, with few changes, became Kung-Fu Heroes (1986) on Nintendo's console, and Shanghai Kid had side-scrolling levels added onto it and became Flying Dragon: The Secret Scroll (1987). Both sold well in Japan.

Following on their domestic success, Culture Brain USA was established for localization work. The US branch of the company put a lot of work into graphical and gameplay changes to the Japanese games to adapt them to the Western market. Culture Brain mostly stuck with their pattern of taking earlier successes as a solid core so they could build more game around them, and by successfully doing that the company found a niche for original, hybrid games that wouldn't become widely popular until much later in the game industry's life.

One unusually original game that Culture Brain built completely out of whole cloth, not relying on their past successes, was The Magic of Scheherazade (1987 JP, 1989 NA) was an action RPG similar to The Legend of Zelda on the surface but mixed in magic, occasional turn-based fights, RPG stats and levelling in a still-uncommon Arabian setting.

Little Ninja Brothers (NES)
Little Ninja Brothers (NES)

But Culture Brain mostly stuck to rebuilds of their old games. Kung-Fu Heroes was developed into Little Ninja Brothers (1989, aka Super Chinese in Japan). A different take on the action RPG, LNB had an overworld, towns, equipment, a long story, themed areas, and turn-based boss battles, but the usual RPG random encounters dropped you into the beat-em-up gameplay of Chinese Hero - and there were even arcade-style, track-and-field PvP competitions as minigame interludes in the story.

Their other standby, Flying Dragon, was developed into Flying Warriors (1991, aka Hiryu no Ken), a combination platformer, RPG, and fighting game where members of an elite fighting force (though in the localized Western version they were turned into superheroes) who are combatting an evil menace while simultaneously participating in international fighting tournaments as their "normal" alter-egos. The arcade style fighting came straight from Shanghai Kid.

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Culture Brain's third big series was another original. Baseball Simulator, which took the usual hitting balls with bats and added in fantasy superhero elements like fireballs, earthquakes, and other wild abilities. (In Japanese, titles in this series usually have Chōjin in the name - "Superman" - but for obvious copyright reasons that wouldn't really fly in America. Or even leap tall buildings.) Baseball Simulator ended up being very successful in both regions - Baseball Simulator 1.000 for the NES won newly launched Electronic Gaming Monthly's Best Sports Game of 1989.

Fading into the Background (1990-)

Hamster Monogatari 64.
Hamster Monogatari 64.

Through the 90s, the company churned out new entries to their core series, but they continued to be very familiar iterations of the old games even down to minor plot details, with most of the changes limited to tweaks and graphical overhauls. There are SNES and N64 versions of each of their Famicom games (except Scheherazade) which follow almost exactly the same structure every time. Each iteration tended to trim away the hybrid gameplay, reducing themselves to wearying retreads of the original ideas with the unique features removed. Few of their later releases made it to North America. They made one PlayStation release, Virtual Hiryu no Ken in 1997, and that was mostly it for their old series.

From 2000 they have concentrated on three series targetted at children, mostly for the GBA and DS: Hamster Monogatari, Konchuu Monster, and Oshare Princess. From 2014 they have been taking another kick at the Baseball Simulator can and released a couple of small card battler games in the series for 3DS, and in 2016-17 they put out two Chōjin Baseball Stadium games for the 3DS, baseball games with some RPG elements, for about 500-yen (about $5 USD) each.

Trivia

Many Culture Brain games are credited to "Yumenosuke Project" or "Yumenosuke Academy", instead of any specific person inside the company, following the early Japanese industry practice of not disclosing the names of developers so that they couldn't be hired by other companies. One way yumenosuke could be literally translated is "assistants of dreams".

Until 2003(?), they had a vocational school, the Culture Brain Computer Art School.

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