Tomonobu Itagaki is an unlikely person to be associated with Nintendo. The company’s clean, family cut image is notable for cartoonish characters, glossy white game consoles and executives dressed in business attire. Itagaki appears conjoined to his black leather jacket. Designer sunglasses hide his eyes. Long black hair drifts over his shoulders.
A key designer at famed Japanese designer Tecmo, Itagaki gave birth to the breast-bouncing fighting series Dead or Alive. From there, he revitalized the then dormant Ninja Gaiden as a limb-cutting, blood-laced splatter show. After leaving Tecmo under questionable circumstances in 2010, he formed his own company, Valhalla Game Studios. There he began work on Devil’s Third.
A company called THQ was set to publish. In 2012, THQ went under. Devil’s Third went with it. Then Nintendo saved Itagaki’s project—despite being unlikely bedfellows.
The pairing is unusual. Devil’s Third rejects the items on Nintendo’s unwritten no-no list. It features religious iconography, sexual encounters, drinking, smoking, and even a violent implied rape. Itagaki’s narrative appears purposefully upsetting and obscene. Playing feels equivalent to watching scrambled late night Cinemax in the days before the internet.
Few will consider Devil’s Third a landmark. It’s a real world anachronism, beginning development in the late 2010s, looking and playing as if it’s from ten years earlier than that, and not coming out until 2015. Storytelling rolls out as if a parody of Itagaki’s style: ninja warriors at the government’s employ, the essence of a spaghetti western, lots of bad guy Russians, and the fantastical involvement of political subtexts such as Guantanamo Bay. (It’s taken so long to release, Guantanamo Bay nearly closed before Devil’s Third came out.)
Devil’s Third’s mannerisms are of an anarchist: dirty, crude, and ambivalent to destruction. Piles of dead kids and a blood-splattered maternity ward propel the narrative—shock value for shock value’s sake. Muscle-bound lead character Ivan lights cigarettes and swigs liquor in his down time. He has super-powered tattoos—when activated, they allow Ivan to kill in slow motion. Neither the “why” nor the “how” are never explained.
A late game boss fight pits Ivan against a former sexual partner. Their battle is a ballet of foreplay, insinuations of rape in the player’s every misstep. After attempting to 69 Ivan, she’ll take the top position, seduce his limp body with a gun, then blast his head with a point blank trigger pull. This from the company known for a red and blue overall’d plumber who shouts “Okey dokey!”
Itagaki’s work follows form: gross and explicit, blaring headache-inducing metal through most of its action. Loading screens are plastered with Hindu iconography. Nintendo rejected the religiously themed indie darling Binding of Isaac for lesser offenses, even if it eventually relented, due in large part to fan demand. There’s little fan demand for Devil’s Third.
BURYING THE EVIDENCE
The only things comparable content-wise within Nintendo’s lineage are Eternal Darkness (a spooky horror show for the adorably boxy Gamecube) and the Wii U’s Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water (an adult ghost story). If Nintendo needed an antidote to their years of kid-focused values, Devil’s Third was the one, but they buried it. Released in limited quantities immediately following Christmas, few knew of or noticed Devil’s Third (their mistake).
Resellers took advantage of the limited marketplace. Soon, physical copies of Devil’s Third reached triple digit prices on auction sites like eBay. Online game rental business GameFly didn’t have any copies to offer the mildly interested.
A digital release on the Wii U eShop coincided with the whisper quiet launch, but no one knew. The game went unseen on the eShop’s home page, and even cycling through new releases showed nothing. Anyone interested needed to know Devil’s Third was out and search specifically for its name in order to buy it. Nintendo appeared to be silently embarrassed by its very existence. They’re also uninterested in discussing it, a rep for the company told us.
Oddly, it appears Devil’s Third earned an equally quiet second physical printing, new copies flooding Amazon and GameStop in recent weeks. GameFly began offering rentals in that same time frame. On the eShop, however, Devil’s Third is still far from the home screen and wasn’t included in any post-Christmas sales. As far as I can see, the campaign to bury this game continues.
Regardless, Devil’s Third will permanently carry the blue and white Nintendo logo. Nintendo cannot recall or pull the Itagaki-led project. It’s on their Wikipedia page, and discs are in the hands of collectors. It’s an alluring anomaly from a game studio whose releases are rarely obscure.
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