An Ode to Mastiff

Mastiff is an odd little company with an interesting success story. Based in Japan, it started out as a North American publisher of limited-appeal Japanese games. Some of its more notable localizations include Nippon Ichi’s strategy-RPG La Pucelle: Tactics, Namco’s rhythm-action game Technic Beat, and Falcom’s PSP action-RPG Gurumin.

In a brave move at the height of its publishing days for the PlayStation 2, Mastiff even went as far as to buy the international licensing rights for dozens of Korean pop songs for inclusion in Pump it Up Exceed, a multiplatform dance game. Pump It Up Exceed was released at retail bundled with a unique dance mat peripheral, adding even greater expense to the venture.

“Niche” does not even begin to describe Mastiff’s interests, in other words.

Mastiff showed canny discretion in the games it chose to localize. The majority of its published works met with praise from fans in each game’s respective genre, and many won critical acclaim as well.

It was only when Mastiff applied its business sense to a more competitive genre that it found major sales success, however.

In a press release issued in September, Mastiff noted that its budget-priced Wii hunting game Deer Drive had sold more than 400,000 units in North America since its launch in 2008. For Mastiff, this is a major victory, considering that sales of its previous releases were often modest at best.

By all means, Deer Drive should have been lost in the shadow of its competition. The hunting genre, despite its almost complete lack of mainstream media coverage, is a surprisingly popular niche. It’s especially popular on the Nintendo Wii, which hosts dozens of hunting and fishing games, along with countless related peripherals. And yet Mastiff has managed to remain consistently successful across multiple releases, and has published hit after hit for the Wii.

So how did Mastiff succeed here, where many others have failed to make an impact? Let’s look at some of Mastiff’s efforts in the genre, compared to its competition.

Mastiff’s Deer Drive

Top customer review: “When we got a Wii the first game I bought was Cabala’s. I hated it… it wasn’t about shooting, it was a slow and hard to control simulation, where you walk through the pixel forest forever, and only get a shot off every now-and-then. The main challenge is not to die of old age before bagging your first deer. And I’ve looked at some of the other shooting games on the Wii, and most of them seem to have the same problem. And a few have mechanical problems… like aiming systems that don’t work. I had just about given up, then I got Deer Drive.

Deer Drive is lots of fun. It doesn’t pretend to be a simulation. Its basically see the animal, shoot, rinse and repeat. But its fast, its challenging, it works well, looks good and it has a cool simultaneous mode for two people or a party mode for up to four.”

Believe it or not, Deer Drive is actually pretty awesome. The premise is simple: players are situated in a single hunting spot and must mow down incoming armies of wildlife with a hunting rifle.

Each level is only a couple of minutes long, but by the end of each one, you’ll be up to your earflaps in deer carcasses. It’s satisfying to rack up dozens of kills in each stage, even if it involves minimal effort beyond basic aiming and shooting — Deer Drive succeeds in the same way that the Big Buck Hunter series succeeded in arcades, and it deserves its status as a top seller.

Versus: Activision’s Cabela’s Legendary Adventures

Top customer review: “Good game in concept but the landscape turns black and white from the Zion Park stage on out. Everything else is color but the main part, the landscape, stays black and white which really makes it difficult to spot the game and totally takes away from the gaming experience as a whole. Another problem occurs when trying to cross checkpoints. The program keep sreturning you to the wrong starting position and won’t let you go beyond. Too bad Hunting Unlimited 2008 isn’t available on Wii because it is the best Hunting game I’ve yet to see hit the market. Save your money on this one though…unless you like playing 90% with a black and white landscape.”

At the risk of oversimplifying, how hard is it to make a game about shooting defenseless animals? The hunting genre has only existed for, oh, I don’t know, thirty years or so, and this particular franchise extends back as far as the late 1990s. So surely, at some point, someone was able to make a Cabela’s game that fulfilled the basic requirement of being in color.

What happened here? The obvious answer: “We’re making this for the Wii, so who cares?”

Mastiff’s Shimano Xtreme Fishing

Description: “In Shimano Xtreme Fishing you’ll use rod & reel, bow and arrow, and a spear gun and SCUBA to go after more than fifty varieties of fish and fend off hungry predators like sharks, alligators and piranhas. Swim and boat through exotic environments ranging form the cold, dark waters of a North American lake to a roaring Amazon waterfall. Experience eerie submerged Mayan ruins, the hidden lagoons of a southern island and the shark-infested waters of a tropical sea.

You’ll be using the very best gear including Shimano Voltaeus fishing rods, Hoyt bows, AMS bow fishing reels and Muzzy arrow points. You’ll soon find the more extreme the gear, the more extreme the fish. Multiplayer Mode pits you against another kind of predator – human. Two to four players face each other as they race through beautiful locations in a series of fast and deadly fish hunting contests.”

None of the customer reviews stand out in particular (though they’re universally positive), but man, doesn’t this sound fun as hell? Most fishing games involve sitting around for hours waiting for something to happen — this one makes you dive into waterfalls and fend off deadly aqautic wildlife with a goddamned speargun. Holy shit. I want to play this right now.

(I also like the vaguely threatening bit about “another kind of predator – human.” Perhaps we were the real monsters all along.)

Versus: Activision’s Rapala’s Tournament Fishing(!)

Sample customer review: This one, which extensively berates everything from lure behavior to the official website’s compatibility with Firefox. It really speaks for itself.

(Side note: I once mistyped this title as “Rapala’s Tournament Fisting,” which, despite being in a completely different genre, would still be very appropriate for the Wii.)

Mastiff’s Remington Great American Bird Hunt

Sample customer review: “A great hunting game that really resurrects the feeling I got from playing the original Duck Hunt all those years ago on the NES. I’m not too big on hunting sims where you have to sit and wait for game to appear and then if shot at and missed, you are right back to where you started; playing the waiting game all over again. That’s what I truly loved about RGABH, was the fact that it is completely void of this style of gameplay. Esentially, it is NOT another Cabela snoozefest. Instead, it’s a fast-paced, action-filled, arcade-style bird hunting game!”

So, basically, all this guy wanted from a video game was for it to be fun and not boring. It’s not much to ask, but Mastiff delivered. Good for them.

Versus: Zoo’s Ultimate Duck Hunting

Sample customer review: “The controls are hard to use. The ducks look like crows. The hail call is a feed cluck and the hen call is sounds like a hal call that a begginer would sound like. The areas that you hunt look realy fake, what a joke.”

The ducks look like crows.

The DUCKS look like CROWS.

You know what game had ducks in it that actually looked like ducks?

Think about that, Zoo Games. You made a game that, by all accounts, is vastly inferior to something that was released almost thirty years ago. Duck Hunt, in its entirety, is only 24 kilobytes in size. The Nintendo Wii Optical Disc offered you 4.7 gigabytes of space to work with, and yet you couldn’t make your DUCKS look like DUCKS in a DUCK HUNTING GAME. Every person involved in this game’s development should be in jail.

BONUS! Versus Zoo’s Chicken Shoot

Sample customer review: “I didn’t expect much from this game, but it still failed to meet expectations. Utterly boring. Particularly annoying was the fact that the shotgun assembly is designed to use the wii nunchuck so that the “z” key functions as the trigger. But the game only works using the wii controller, which is to be placed in the barrel of the gun. In other words, you can’t play the game using the shotgun! For $20 more, the Nerf N-Strike Elite is well-designed, exciting and an appropriate shooting game for young children. If you want a shooting game, Chicken Shoot is NOT it.”

Yes, you’re reading this correctly. Chicken Shoot is packaged with a peripheral that is not compatible with Chicken Shoot. Incredible.

So what’s the lesson in all of this? There are tons of hunting games on the Wii, but few of them are any fun to play. All that a publisher needed to do in this situation was to have the decency and savvy to release fun games, and instantly, it would emerge as a brilliant shining beacon of hope floating atop a sea of dogshit. This is why Mastiff — publisher of Gungrave: Overdose and Easter Bunny’s Big Day — is now the unlikely king of the hunting genre on the Nintendo Wii.

In even simpler terms: make good games, and you’ll succeed.

Or, at the very least, don’t package your games with non-working peripherals. What the hell, Chicken Shoot.

19 Responses to “An Ode to Mastiff”

  1. Xkeeper Says:

    The only thing I can think of when I see the third image in this article (IN YOUR FACE!) is “Woah, that’s the font they used in Ocarina of Time!”

    I disappoint myself.

  2. Steve the Gamer Says:

    I’m…confused by this article. The examples you’re citing — including Deer Drive — are two years old. “This is why Mastiff is now the unlikely king of the hunting genre on the Nintendo Wii” seems…well, out of date at best. The last Cabela’s game, Big Game Hunter 2010, sold 1.2 million on Wii. The 2011 version of Dangerous Hunts just shipped so I guess sales data is not available on that.

    Plus, of course, you’re taking one review and saying “that’s how everybody feels.” I’m not saying these games are awesome, but there are just as many (if not more) reviews that offer positive opinions. And of course, you’re only using user reviews — no harm in that, because they are all still based on personal experience — but I often see people discount an entire game due to one bug or one unrelated thing they didn’t like. “The disc came scratched One star!”

    Nothing against Deer Drive and what it does right, but it’s a qualified boast at best when you look at more modern data. King in your heart, perhaps, and nobody can take that away from you…

    (I don’t even care about hunting games. I’m just not convinced by your logic.)

  3. Tweets that mention Dream and Friends» Blog Archive » An Ode to Mastiff -- Says:

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  4. sardoose Says:


  5. substrata Says:

    Steve the Gamer is the best gamer.

  6. Un Says:

    You know, I really don’t have any desire to play even the best hunting and fishing games. Given how temptingly easy it must be to shovel out any old pile of semifunctional code, though…short of HoG, I can’t think of many genres more inviting to the “eh, publish whatever” attitudes…it kinda makes me smile to see that someone gives enough of a shit to do it properly.

  7. avery Says:

    good grief, these are the masterminds behind Major League Eating: The Game. any good feelings you wished to build up are swiftly demolished by that.

  8. Spinner 8 Says:

    more like Steve the Personal Secretary to Bobby Kotick

  9. sardoose Says:

    Rats, I was hoping nobody would bring up Major League Eating: The Game. I can’t explain that one. At least it made you fight a vomiting bear at the end?

    …I actually bought it. :(

  10. Ming Letourneaux Says:

    i want a micro pig

  11. Fishing Bivvy Says:

    Fishing Bivvy…

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  12. Vanessa Says:

    How do you swtich your primary Wii controller?We have a new Wii and are still trying to figure everything out. The remote that we configured to be the primary remote is now not working correctly. For example, it works only for certain functions during a game, but other functions the character remains still even though we try to make him move. When we put that remote up and try a different remote that’s not the primary controller, it won’t work because it’s not the primary. We don’t know how to get another remote to be the primary controller.

  13. Lance Boyle Says:

    What’s interesting is that, in their early days, besides publishing niche Japanese games, they also published quite a few games based on Top Gun, taking over from Titus after they had gone bust. The one for the DS (named just Top Gun, which strangely enough had a Japanese release by Taito) is honestly quite decent, and it’s probably the closest to Ace Combat on the system. Haven’t played the other ones.

    Anyway… those titles do look rather interesting. Also, I do agree, Cabela’s kinda sucks. The huge orange rifle is fucking sweet, though.

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