In 1989, Japanese developer/publisher Sunsoft revealed The Terminator, a NES game based on the hit 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger film. One year later, after Sunsoft lost the movie rights, the game was modified and released as generic sci-fi platformer Journey to Silius. Video game history and preservation site Gaming Alexandria has unearthed Sunsoft’s 30-year-old promo reel featuring the only surviving footage of the originally planned game.
Back in 1989, when The Terminator made its debut at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there were no USB sticks to fill with screenshots and trailers. Members of the press couldn’t log into a website to download information, as there were no websites. Many publishers made VHS tapes of their promo videos, which I imagine were really fun to lug home after trade shows.
Gaming Alexandria writer Stefan Gancer was sent a tape containing Sunsoft’s promos from WCES 1989, with The Terminator front and centre. It’s a mixture of footage from the then five-year-old film and what looks like cutscenes from the game. The announcer calls it “the very first home video game to feature movie footage and interactive graphics technology” and “the most amazingly lifelike home video game you’ve ever seen.” By today’s standards it might not look like much, but 30 years ago what little of the game is shown is pretty impressive.
According to Creative Licensing Corporation founder Rand Marlis, speaking to Gaming Alexandria about The Terminator, the game didn’t lose its licence for quality reasons, but because it didn’t follow the plot of the film. Instead of taking place in the “modern day” and showcasing Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor’s fight against a mechanical assassin sent from the future, the game was set in the future, with artificial intelligence Skynet having taken over the world with its army of robots.
Stuck with a nearly finished video game for a movie it had no licence for, Sunsoft retooled The Terminator into a generic sci-fi platformer. Journey to Silus, known as Rough World in Japan, is a basic run-and-gun platformer with an outstanding soundtrack from Japanese composer Naoki Kodaka.
The Terminator eventually got an NES game, a forgettable 1992 platformer developed by Radical Entertainment. It has punishingly bad controls, horrible music, and confusing level design. But hey, it did follow the plot of the film, if loosely.
Hit up Gaming Alexandria for more background and promotional material on the NES Terminator game that should have been, including one of the greatest video game concept sketches I have ever seen.