Atari was virtually destroyed during the video game crash of 1984. Nobody wanted anything to do with anything made by Atari. So what was the company to do? Form a new subsidiary of the parent company-- Tengen Games was born. It was officially a subsidiary of Atari Games Corporation and they started writing NES games and porting some games from older pre-crash platforms.
At first, Tengen Games started out as an official Nintendo licensee, but soon grew tired of Nintendo and their strict policies--they took a big chunk of the profits and only Nintendo themselves could actually manufacture the cartridges. The latter was especially bad because Nintendo had declared a "chip shortage" in Japan in 1988 in which Tengen could never get the number of cartridges they requested.
What was Tengen to do? They decided to drop the Nintendo license. How did they get around the lockout chip to actually make unlicensed games? They simply copied it. Nobody coding the games knew of this, because it had been done by lawyers who simply ignored the patent. With this out of the way, Tengen wasted no time releasing their previously licensed games Gauntlet, Pac-Man, and R.B.I. Baseball--in their new black casing, shown on the right.
The most famous Tengen story is the one about Tetris. Tengen made a very superior version of this game, and got the license from a company called Mirrorsoft UK--who had no right to give the license in the first place. Many legal battles lay ahead for Tengen, which resulted in their version of Tetris to be pulled from shelves, and any unsold cartridges to be destroyed and leaving the company financially drained. The company finally faded after the court battles, but not after releasing several fairly good games for the NES.
Tengen resurfaced during the Sega Genesis days, releasing a few arcade ports as an official licensee. They faded once again after that and the company's existance--or fate--is unknown.
The complete list of Tengen games.
After Burner Tengen C+ Alien Syndrome Tengen C+ Fantasy Zone Tengen C Gauntlet (licensed) Tengen C Gauntlet (unlicensed) Tengen C Indiana Jones Temple of Doom Tengen B- Klax Tengen B+ Ms. Pacman Tengen B+ Pac Man (licensed) Tengen B- Pac Man (unlicensed) Tengen B- Pac Mania Tengen A RBI Baseball (licensed) Tengen C+ RBI Baseball (unlicensed) Tengen C RBI Baseball 2 Tengen C+ RBI Baseball 3 Tengen B- Road Runner Tengen B+ Rolling Thunder Tengen C+ Shinobi Tengen C+ Skull & Crossbones Tengen B Super Sprint Tengen C Tetris Tengen A- Toobin Tengen B Vindicators Tengen C