From Square (as in Squaresoft, now called Square Enix) is one of the legendary developer’s more obscure projects.
The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner (called 3-D WorldRunner in North America) used stereoscopic 3-D to create forward-scrolling gameplay. Elements of that were employed in titles such as Contra (1987).
Back in 1987 when WorldRunner launched on the NES, this thing much have been bloody mind-blowing! It may look pants now, but let’s explore this jumpy thing all the same.
Rail Shooting Mayhem in the Form of The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner
Called Tobidase Daisakusen in Japan, the third-person rail shooter platform game was pretty darned innovative for the time.
The Nintendo Entertainment System typically busied itself with 2D platformers like Super Mario Bros 3. (1988). But so many developers tried to follow suit the console was besieged by a lot of generic, bland platformers.
Some developers did experiment, with varying levels of success. Technological limitations at the time were very restrictive on creativity.
Full credit to Square for daring to try this combo of fast-paced rail shooting.
There’s a plot attached to everything, of course. You take control of Jack the WorldRunner who lives in Solar System #517. He’s a kind of space cowboy type of dude.
It’s his job to save planets from serpentine monsters who are runnin amok. They’re called Serpentbeats and are led by the evil lunatic Grax.
With eight planets to battle through, you take them all on to the accompaniment of some of the most inappropriately cheerful music ever!
The idea is to obliterate everything, really, whilst timing your jumps to get over massive gaping holes in the planet. All to the tune of that stereoscopic 3-D, which was pretty much in its infancy as a technique at the time.
The 16-bit consoles from Nintendo and Sega went on to utilise that to greater effect a few years later.
Yes, so The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner looks like fun, eh? But really… that music. Nobuo Uematsu composed the soundtrack.
Given the subject matter, we can’t help but think he did a bad one there. It could have been a murky, dramatic bit of music. Like Castlevania (1986) or some such. Well, we got that instead.
At least it was quite well received when it launched. The graphics were praised, as was the title’s variation with worlds and enemies to take on.
Retrospective reviews have been a tad more mixed.
Publications such as Destructoid were quick to point out the game basically ripped off Sega’s arcade game Space Harrier (1985). Here it is.
So, yeah, pretty clear where Square got its inspiration from there.
Along with basically nabbing the idea for the NES audience, The 3-D Battles of WorldRunner also wasn’t a huge success. It sold 500,000 copies across the world. That wasn’t popular enough to keep Square running long-term as a business.
But the developer was actually sitting on a goldmine!
Once it launched the first Final Fantasy game the same year (a landmark title), its fortunes transformed immediately and the developer remains much revered to this day.
JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part II (WorldRunner’s Japan-Only Sequel)
JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part II (ジェイ ジェイ) launched in 1987 by the same team from Square.
This time, the title only launched in Japan on the NES’ Famicom 3D System.
It was another Japan-only accessory for the NES that launched in 1987 and was essentially a pair of 3D glasses you’d wrap around your head. A precursor to the Virtual Boy in 1995.
The sequel launched in the same year as the first one. Along with Final Fantasy. Square was very bloody busy indeed in 1987!
And JJ: Tobidase Daisakusen Part II launched is a darker version of the first game with moodier graphics. But with the same inexplicably upbeat soundtrack.
Given Final Fantasy then launched and rocket the developer to stardom, it’s not a big surprise the WorldRunner games have since fallen into obscurity.