Archive for the ‘Prototype’ Category

Wolfenstein 3D / CrossFire

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Man. I’m really liking this once-a-year update schedule.

So hey, welcome back! I’ve got some new versions of old games to show off.

This is a prototype cartridge of id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D for the Super NES. I bought it off an eBay seller in Spain earlier this year. Here’s a digital copy.

A different pre-release version of SNES Wolfenstein 3D was released on the Internet as a ROM file years ago. The SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D was fairly well-known for its cut content – the attack dogs from the 1992 DOS version were changed to giant rats in the 1993 SNES release, enemies no longer bled when shot, and Nazi imagery was removed entirely, among other changes.

My cartridge was apparently produced in between the initial beta and the final release. The changes between the two versions reflect a first round of content cuts – possibly made by request during Nintendo’s famously strict approvals process. The dogs were the first to go; the giant rats were already implemented in the earlier beta, though both prototypes produce a growl when they’re killed, rather than the rat-like squeak featured in the retail version. The guard enemy shouts were also changed in between betas.

(Early Beta)

(Later Beta)

While the majority of Wolfenstein 3D’s Nazi imagery isn’t present in either build, some additional cuts were made in between the first and second betas. The prologue text in the earlier beta refers to an antagonist named “Hister” – subsequently changed to “Staatmeister” in the later beta and final versions.

Notably, the later prototype still has its blood and gore intact. Given that Nintendo was on the verge of relaxing its standards for the largely uncensored SNES versions of Mortal Kombat 2 and Doom, it makes sense that Wolfenstein 3D’s violent content was still considered for inclusion until a last-minute change. This beta gives rare insight into Nintendo’s evolving policies and content standards during a time of rapid change leading up to the 32-bit era.

(Later Beta)


The later beta also switches out the earlier beta’s 5-character password for a 6-character one, and passwords from the retail release are non-functional. Otherwise, both betas share many elements that were changed closer to release. The wall texture above, for instance, was included in both betas before being changed to something less Iron Cross-like in the final edition.

(Later Beta)


The betas also share level designs that were changed in the final release. These early designs more closely resemble level layouts featured in the original DOS version. I’m actually not that familiar with Wolfenstein 3D, so if you notice any other differences between the three versions, please let me know.

I’ve got something else, too.


War on Wheels

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013


Say, it’s been a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned ROM release. Here’s Jaleco’s canceled War on Wheels for the NES.


Created in a bid to cash in on the brief and inexplicable roller derby resurgence of the late ’80s, War on Wheels paired team-based racing gameplay with hand-to-hand combat mechanics. In the game, players battle opponents as they race around an indoor track, pausing occasionally to pound on rivals in close-up, Blades of Steel-like fight sequences.


By the time War on Wheels was slated to debut in 1991, the roller derby television series Rollergames had ended its first and only season, and young Americans had moved on, priming themselves for a future brimming with pogs and Image Comics.

War on Wheels earned low review scores when it was featured in Video Games & Computer Entertainment magazine, and otherwise received minimal coverage from print publications at the time. The tepid response from reviewers and the waning popularity of roller derby itself prompted Jaleco to cancel the game prior to its release, shelving it alongside other stalled projects like Squashed and Bashi Bazook: Morphoid Masher.


Developed by veteran Amiga studio Sculptured Software, War on Wheels has much in common with Sculptured’s other 1991 NES release Eliminator Boat Duel, and shares the same brand of unappealing character art. The team attempted to spice up the experience with over-the-top brawling and in-game cutscenes, but overall, the project came up short in comparison to contemporary releases like Battletoads and Batman: Return of the Joker. It also failed to live up to the standard set by Konami’s similar 1990 release Rollergames, which had the good sense to wrap its license in the context of a side-scrolling platformer.


War on Wheels is simplistic in execution, with gameplay consisting of skating to the left and attacking opponents while jumping over grooved floor sections. You’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of sprite flicker when there are more than two characters on the screen at once, and characters often tumble over each other on contact, resulting in a jumbled mess of appendages that wink in and out of existence as the NES’s hardware attempts to make sense of the carnage.


Starting in the second period of each match, War on Wheels throws in ramps, floor hazards and other traps, making it play like a more stilted version of Namco’s Metro-Cross. It’s here that the game really starts to drag; you’ll soon find yourself thinking, “Jesus, how many more rounds do I have to play before this thing ends?”

The team dynamic adds some depth to the game, but strategy basically boils down to replacing low-stamina teammates between rounds. It’s not like teamwork plays much of a role during gameplay, anyway. Your teammates occasionally brawl with the competition if they happen to meet on-screen, but otherwise do little to help you score points.


The fight sequences and Double Dribble-inspired cutaways help to break up the action, but otherwise, War on Wheels becomes boring almost immediately. More dynamic presentation might have helped — the game could have thrown in quick transition sequences showing your skater rounding corners, but instead, gameplay drags across the same neverending stretch of track while you hope to god that no one pushes you into a wall, as the AI during the fight sequences is brutally unfair.

Crowd interaction also does little to impact the game, aside from the occasional annoyance at a thrown bottle or bomb hitting your skater in the head and knocking them out for a few seconds. There’s no background music, either, which really helps to drive home the pointlessness of the whole thing.


Despite a strong showing in the first period, the LA Illegals (side note: what the hell?) faltered in the second half, apparently forgetting how to score points as they succumbed to the rubberbanding AI of the Oakland Outlaws. I won’t play this game again, but maybe you’ll get some entertainment out of it. While there are worse games in the NES’s library, we didn’t miss out on anything worthwhile when this one was canceled.


For more tales of Jaleco’s bungling misadventures through the 8-bit era and beyond, check out SCROLL 08.

[Reproduction credit: coinheaven]

Dream and Friends

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Maybe it’s about time I explained this whole “Dream and Friends” thing.

Capcom’s DuckTales for the NES is my favorite video game. Everything about it is perfect, and nothing will ever surpass it.

It wasn’t always perfect, though. DuckTales went through a number of changes during development, as seen in a prototype version discovered several years back. The core gameplay mechanics and level design were largely finalized by the time the beta edition made its way to reviewers and strategy guide authors, but it was hampered by some minor issues and awkward dialogue that hadn’t yet been fully localized.

This in-progress version of DuckTales is fascinating, and it remains one of my favorite prototype discoveries to date. It’s interesting to see how minor tweaks to a mostly finished product made it so much more memorable and impactful. The iconic Moon level theme was sped up for the retail release, for instance (an unquestionable change for the better), and the rewritten dialogue is instantly recognizable for kids who grew up watching The Disney Afternoon.

My favorite difference between the prototype and retail versions of DuckTales is the ending, in which Scrooge McDuck claims that for all his adventuring, for all his discoveries, and for all his wealth, the most important treasure of all is…

Happily, the prototype version’s ending text was translated for DuckTales’ Japanese release, which concludes with the “DREAM AND FRIENDS” line, still in English. The Japanese version of DuckTales, by the way, is titled “Wanpaku Duck Yume Bouken,” or “Naughty Duck Dream Adventure,” which is just wonderful.

Here’s a somewhat speedy, non-tool assisted playthrough of the prototype version of DuckTales. I’m not a speedrunner by any means (I’m sure it’s been done faster), but I’m pretty happy with the results.

2012 is over, and things are looking up. Pursue your dream, and treasure your friends.

Virus (Dr. Mario Prototype)

Friday, October 26th, 2012

First-party prototype cartridges for Nintendo Entertainment System games are difficult to come across. For whatever reason, though, several distinct prototype versions of Nintendo’s 1990 puzzler Dr. Mario are known to exist.

Why is this the case? I have no idea. Frankly, it makes no damn sense whatsoever.

Originally titled “Virus,” the first discovered build, which has modified gameplay mechanics and a different cast of characters, turned up in Norway in 2008.

Another version was discovered in Texas in 2010, and sold for $2,238.98 to a private collector. Hell, even Nintendo Power’s gamemaster himself Howard Phillips owns a copy.

Recently, yet another version of Virus was included as part of an auction for a PlayChoice-10 arcade unit in Georgia. While it’s unusual that so many copies of a Japanese-developed, first-party Nintendo game have been discovered in the West, Lost Levels’ Frank Cifaldi notes that Nintendo-owned Chuck E. Cheese restaurants in the Seattle area were once used to playtest NES games during development, which might explain the existence of the PlayChoice-10 version, at least.

You can download the PlayChoice-10 version of Virus here.


Despite being later in development than previously discovered prototype versions, this copy of Virus has several differences from the retail version of Dr. Mario.


Both the title screen and the pre-game options menu are different. The music tracks aren’t yet named, and the speed setting is known as the “sick level.”


In Virus, a bonus counts down with every pill dropped, and it awards a point value after you clear the final virus from each level. This mechanic was removed prior to Dr. Mario’s release.


The virus characters are in an early state. They hang out in an oval (changed to a magnifying glass in Dr. Mario), and while they animate, they do not move in a circular motion, as they do in Dr. Mario.

Also, the yellow virus was redrawn for the retail release, because his nose totally looked like a penis.

Bring up the options screen for the two-player mode and you’re greeted with a familiar tune: it’s the menu music from Nintendo World Championships 1990! This track was also used in the Japan-only Famicom release Hello Kitty World. Nintendo was quite fond of that song, apparently.


Dr. Mario’s two-player win music isn’t yet implemented in Virus. Instead, the game uses the background music from Dr. Mario’s single-player intermission scenes. These scenes are not found in Virus.


Other differences Lost Levels members have noted:

– Mario’s sprite is different.
– The game keeps track of pills above the screen, so if you rotate them and one goes off the top, it’ll fall back down when there’s room.
– The highest levels allow pills up to the third line of the bottle, so you have to clear them horizontally (there’s no room).
– The background doesn’t switch colors to indicate difficulty level.
– The pill drop timer in hard mode is 10 frames in Virus, as opposed to 14 in Dr. Mario.
– Song A (“Fever”) is longer in Virus than it is in Dr. Mario.
– Two unused music tracks are present in the Virus ROM.

Technical details and changed graphics are documented at The Cutting Room Floor. Notice any other differences? Post about them in this thread at Lost Levels!

[Research credit: kap, kevtris, Skrybe, Xkeeper, ArnoldRimmer83, BMF54123]


Friday, April 1st, 2011

Happy April Fools’ Day! Perhaps you’d like to play a game with a superpowered wrestling ape in it. If that’s the case, I wrote up a little thing about Bio Force Ape here at Lost Levels. Would you believe that there’s a downloadable ROM in there somewhere? Dare you believe?

The article also includes a full playthrough from TheRedEye himself, Frank Cifaldi. It’s just like the good old days! Stay tuned — I’m converting Dream and Friends into a self-loathing blog/ROM distribution site in preparation for Weird-Ass Pirate Multicart Day 2011.

Flying Warriors (1991, Prototype)

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

SCENE: The cluttered offices of the recently expanded American branch of Japanese games publisher Culture Brain. The company is finishing up work on its most ambitious project to date: a localization of the karate-themed action-RPG Flying Warriors for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The project’s lead programmer — we’ll call him Bill — sucks in a quick breath as he inserts a mangled prototype cartridge of Flying Warriors — previously flashed with a release candidate of Little Ninja Brothers; before that, an early version of Flying Dragon: The Secret Scroll — into an equally mangled NES console.

Both cart and console have somehow survived the branch’s first two years of operation, and this isn’t the first time that Bill has said a silent prayer for a prototype game to work on the first try, without protest from the aged hardware.

Bill’s prayer is answered. The game flickers to life on the 13-inch television screen in front of him, and the stirring Flying Warriors theme — which haunted the dreams of Culture Brain USA’s staff over the last several months of localization and testing — blared proudly for the group of company executives in attendance.

“At last,” Bill thought, “it’s finally over.”

The last round of bugfixes had been particularly rough. Culture Brain USA’s staff was a mixture of hungry, smelly, and sleep-deprived; many worked 16-hour shifts and slept at the office. Bill didn’t even have time to test the prototype cartridge that was currently on display, as its EPROMs had been flashed only minutes before Culture Brain’s executive staff arrived.

Bill looked forward to showing off the game’s final script to his superiors. He was proud of the subtle content changes made for western audiences. He’d been dying to hear words of praise — or, at least, a grunt of approval — for the clever bit of programming that had allowed for more efficient text encoding.

Suddenly, a peal of laughter erupted from the attending crowd. Bill looked at the screen. He cringed.

Culture Brain’s American branch was disbanded three years later.

Aliens Walkthrough, The Shocking Finale

Friday, January 14th, 2011

[This is the final entry in a quick walkthrough for Square’s unreleased Aliens game for the Famicom Disk System. Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here.]

Before I finish things up here, let’s have a look at the only version of Square’s Aliens that saw a commercial release. Above is a video from the MSX home computer edition of Aliens, released in 1987 in Japan and in Europe.

Though the game’s structure is largely the same in both the FDS and the MSX versions, there are some key differences between the two. Weapons have limited ammunition in the MSX game, for one thing — a somewhat pointless change, since new gun pickups are so plentiful. If anything, it would’ve prevented players from holding on to a favorite weapon for too long. There’s also an enemy radar that isn’t present in the FDS game — another inconsequential addition, as it doesn’t show off-screen enemies.

On the other hand, the MSX version of the game is made much easier by the fact that enemies don’t spew life-draining acid after you kill them. The gameplay mechanics appear smoother, too. The jumping is less awkward, and there’s an actual rolling mechanic — with dedicated frames of animation and everything! — eliminating the need to jackhammer the jump button to crawl under low ceilings.

It’s difficult to say which version of Aliens was intended to be released first, or if both editions were developed concurrently. It’s likely, though, that the FDS version was incomplete when it was scrapped, and the MSX game’s enhancements resulted from additional development time.

Anyway, to level 3!

Sorry to say it, but level 3 is mostly unremarkable. There are far fewer doors here than in level 2 (thank god), and it’s much more action-focused.

…which, in this game’s case, means that enemies now spawn in groups of three or four at a time. It’s pretty annoying, but nothing that can’t be overcome with rampant savestate abuse.

Hey, a fellow human! What’s up man!

Well. This is awkward.

(Side note: if you die while a chestbursted human is on-screen, a glitchy chunk of his flesh will follow you back to the beginning of the level, and will float in front of you until you enter a door.)

No level would be complete without at least a few doors that take you back to the starting point. Hopefully you know better by now.

This is where the game really changes things up and delivers something unexpected!

Nah, just kidding.

The same strategy applies here as in level 2. Rush behind the queen, and shoot her until she’s dead.

And now, the final level.


Aliens Walkthrough, Part 2

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

[This is the second part of a quick walkthrough for Square’s unreleased Aliens game for the Famicom Disk System. Part 1 is here.]

Welcome to level 2! Before we continue, here’s another bit of trivia discovered recently at Lost Levels — the background music in Aliens was composed by Nobuo Uematsu, who would later create music for first dozen or so games in Square’s Final Fantasy series.

(NES-wise, he also wrote the catchy main theme from 3-D WorldRunner and the excellent “track 3” from Rad Racer.)

Shortly after starting level 2, this is what you’ll see. But wait! It gets better.


First of all, note that Ripley enters the room on top of a wall-mounted alien for some automatic and unavoidable damage. The bigger problem, though, is oh my god so many doors.

Might as well get started.

Remember to keep holding up on the d-pad when you exit! This is instant death, otherwise.

The remaining doors offer a random combination of progress, backtracking, and death. The one you want is this one.

You’ll end up here.

And you’ll want to take this door…

…which leads to here. After that, all you need to do is jump over to the door on the left.

And that pleasant little slice of hell is now over with. At least, that is, until you lose a life, in which case you’ll have to do it all over again. Don’t take that next door, by the way — it leads right back into the maze.

Halfway through the level, you’ll find a 1-up. This is where I discovered that, for whatever reason, there are multiple 1-up icons. Here’s the space fish, previously seen in level 1.

Then there’s the space puppy.

And finally, the space snail. Space is such a fun place.


Aliens (Square/Activision, Unreleased)

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Did you know that Activision and Square once partnered to release a game based on James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi action movie Aliens? Are you aware that it was released for the MSX home computer, and that a port for the Famicom Disk System was completed but never released? Do you care that a prototype copy of this unreleased FDS port was recently discovered and is available for download here?

Honestly, this is something I never thought I’d get to play. The world’s only known copy of Aliens for the FDS popped up in a Yahoo Japan auction a few months back, where it was bought by a private collector for a stupidly large sum of money. In many similar cases with unreleased prototype games, this is where the story would end.

A few days ago, however, “Yuki” at the No-Intro forums released a disk image of the game, commenting later that “I bought this FDS from the collector who went mad.” How much was paid? “Oceans of money.” Yikes.

(Yuki also regularly tracks down and buys sealed copies of FDS games, just to ensure clean disk image rips [trivia: an FDS game is automatically corrupted in some way once it’s been played for the first time, as save files and other changes are permanently written to the disk]. It’s a ridiculously expensive undertaking for an act of preservation that very few people know about or appreciate. Yuki is awesome, basically.)

The game itself is gloriously bad. It’s not so overwhelmingly awful as to be no fun; it has just enough quirk to inspire you to keep playing, just to see what bad design decisions await you in later levels. It could have easily stood alongside Predator, Rambo, and other not-unplayably terrible games that were released for the Nintendo Entertainment System during its lifespan.

For your consideration: this is how high your character is able to jump. Note that this is only possible with a deep, full press of the A button — tapping it only scoots Ripley across the ground. You’re eventually able to upgrade your jump by collecting power-ups…which disappear every time you lose a life. And losing a life is really easy to do, because…

…every enemy sprays acid all over the damn place after you kill it, damaging Ripley if she’s in close proximity. Problem: enemies appear so suddenly that they’re always in close proximity. It’s not uncommon to be damaged by an unexpected enemy and to then absorb another couple of hits after killing it.

So, after losing a few lives, you start blasting every single enemy and egg you see, leaping away in panic after firing every shot, so as to not to be showered with acid from exploding aliens. You soon discover a few new power-ups.

There are several different kinds of grenades. You can throw them by holding up and pressing the B button. In any other game, you might use them to take out faraway groups of enemies.

In this game — in which many aliens introduce themselves by teleporting in front of your face — grenades are basically worthless.

The invincibility item is more useful, especially since you can collect and store up to three of them at once. Activating it is easy and intuitive — simply hold up, then hold A, and while you’re at the top of your jump, tap B.

(By the way, the Select button? It does nothing.)

Here’s the game’s first major obstacle. Even if you collect every single jump upgrade available to this point, you still won’t be able to jump over this wall.

The solution? Hold A, then hold up on the d-pad. You’ll do a silly-looking somersault and appear at the top of the cliff. This move is required throughout the game, and even when you know how to pull it off, it only activates a fraction of the time. The real fun is when you have to do it over a bottomless pit!

Equally fun is the crawling mechanic, which is required to pass under low ceilings. You can slowly crawl by ducking, holding left or right, and rapidly tapping the jump button. Like, really rapidly, to the point where it feels like you’re doing something the game doesn’t want you to do.

You’re almost there! Did you remember to collect all three jump power-ups? If not, you will die here, and you’ll have to start again from the very beginning.

Soon, you will learn to hate doors.


So, Nintendo’s Giving Away Prototype ROMs

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

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]