So, Nintendo’s Giving Away Prototype ROMs

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of Super Mario Bros, Nintendo is releasing a lineup of special edition Wii consoles, with each of the world’s regions receiving a different pack-in bonus.

Japan gets a red Wii with a free preinstalled copy of 25th Anniversary Super Mario Bros, a modified edition of the game that changes the question mark blocks to display the number “25.”

Europe receives the same red Wii packaged with New Super Mario Bros, Wii Sports, and Donkey Kong: Original Edition, a massively important release that I’ll get back to in a moment.

The United States, meanwhile, gets a red Wii packaged with New Super Mario Bros, Wii Sports, and an exclusive batch of jack squat.

Let’s return to Donkey Kong: Original Edition. Among other enhancements, this version of the game restores the cement factory level, which previously remained exclusive to the arcade version of Donkey Kong and a handful of ports for consoles and personal computers.

Notably, the cement factory level was omitted from Nintendo’s official home console port of Donkey Kong, which debuted for the Famicom in 1983. The same game — again minus the factory level — was later released for the Nintendo Entertainment System as both a standalone cartridge and bundled with Donkey Kong Jr. in Donkey Kong Classics.

So what’s the big deal here? Well, if you watch the preview video above, you might notice that Donkey Kong: Original Edition is not an emulated copy of the arcade version of Donkey Kong, nor is it a newly reprogrammed port.

It’s emulated — note the slightly slower gameplay and music due to PAL video conversion — but it’s also obviously based on the existing NES port, complete with that particular version’s subtly unique graphics and gameplay mechanics.

My hypothesis, then, is that Donkey Kong: Original Edition isn’t an original creation hacked together for a special edition Wii bundle — it’s actually the holiest of gaming grails: an unreleased prototype of a first-party Nintendo game.

In contrast with Donkey Kong: Original Edition, the differences in 25th Anniversary Super Mario Bros. are trivial. Changing a copyright date and a single graphic is something that anybody can do with freely available ROM hacking utilities.

Expanding a ROM image in order to add an entirely new level with its own unique gameplay mechanics is a different story. The process would be extremely difficult for even the most talented ROM hacker, and it’s unlikely that anyone at Nintendo nowadays has the specific skillset needed to create original programming to add new content to a 27-year-old game.

I can’t imagine that Donkey Kong: Original Edition is anything other than an enhanced version of the game that Nintendo developed itself and planned to release during the NES’s lifespan — perhaps even as a UK exclusive.

It wouldn’t have been an unprecedented move on Nintendo’s part. In 1993, Nintendo released an enhanced version of Mario Bros. for the NES exclusively in Europe, restoring many elements from the arcade version that were omitted in a previous port. This specific version never saw release outside of Europe, and has yet to resurface as a Virtual Console download in any region.

It’s not often that Nintendo reaches into its back catalog to re-release past obscurities — Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Master Quest are rare examples — but this could be the first time that Nintendo has officially acknowledged and then released a game that was previously canceled.

What’s the next step for Nintendo from here? Wii bundles that include Earthbound Zero and the scrapped NES port of SimCity? Virtual Console debuts for the unreleased Donkey Kong’s Fun With Music and Return of Donkey Kong? Will we finally discover the secrets behind the mysterious Yeah Yeah Beebiss I???

I can guarantee that none of these things will ever happen. Sorry. But hey, at least we get to play that cement factory level now.

[via Tiny Cartridge, The Gay Gamer]

14 Responses to “So, Nintendo’s Giving Away Prototype ROMs”

  1. Tweets that mention Dream and Friends» Blog Archive » So, Nintendo’s Giving Away Prototype ROMs -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Retronauts at 1UP, Ray Barnholt and Danny Cowan, J.R. Raith. J.R. Raith said: RT @sardoose: Dream and Friends: So, Nintendo's Giving Away Prototype ROMs. http://bit.ly/95zBr0 […]

  2. thegaygamer Says:

    Great post!

    I desperately want a Euro red Wii now :( I can’t afford it, though, so hopefully Nintendo will do the right thing and release this in every other region shortly.

    By the way, regarding your comment about the version of Mario Bros. that was released in Europe in the 1990s — I believe it was a translated (and slightly altered) version of Kaettekita Mario Bros., released in Japan for the Famicom Disk System, though I could be wrong.

    Oh, and thank you for linking back to my article! Keep up the good work :)

  3. Alex Says:

    It would be cool if they released Sound Fantasy and Star Fox 2 on the VC!

    Even if Star Fox 2 is actually quite disappointing :(
    (the ROM is out there)

  4. ArnoldRimmer83 Says:

    I was just going to make a topic about this on Lost Levels. This is a surprising development. I mean okay so Nintendo isn’t going to suddenly start releasing their old unreleased games, but hey this is a step in the right direction. A tiny step, but a step regardless. I wish I could play this version, but I don’t think I’m quite hardcore enough to import a European red Wii for it. Of course if the pack in had been Donkey Kong Music or Return of Donkey Kong, you probably know as well as I do what the answer to that would be.

    Gaygamer: Yeah the European rerelease of Mario Bros is definitely based on Kaettekita. Has the same updated graphics, and the updated play control. No doubt Nintendo used that as a basis.

  5. sardoose Says:

    thegaygamer — You’re right! I totally forgot about Kaettekita Mario Bros. Playing it again, it looks like it shares a second copyright date with the UK Mario Bros. Classic Edition, and it has the same improved controls and graphics. The Classic Edition added the arcade cutscenes, but everything else looks like it was in Kaettekita.

    I wonder if Nintendo also planned to release an upgraded Donkey Kong for the FDS at some point. It would make more sense than it being totally exclusive to the UK.

  6. Michael Stearns Says:

    My understanding is the reason the cement factory was left out in the first place was because the cartridges didn’t have enough space at the time. It seems likely to me that they would have coded all four levels into the original FC port but then cut it later to make it fit. Though, you’d think it would have resurfaced sooner in that case (in DK Classics or something).

  7. Xkeeper Says:

    Been revealed by BMF over on Lost Levels that DKOE is just a shitty ROM hack, complete with occasional glitch.

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