Archive for the ‘Rom Revenge’ Category

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]

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.

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.


Super Pitfall II

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Do you like roms? I like roms. Have a rom. It’s Activision’s unreleased Super Pitfall II.

Super Pitfall II was a planned localization of Atlantis no Nazo, a Sunsoft-developed platformer that, thankfully, is completely unrelated to the original (and god-awful) Super Pitfall.

Atlantis no Nazo is kind of awesome. It has terrible controls, and any expert playthrough you watch will be mostly inexplicable, but once you get a sense of how the game’s logic works, it’s actually a whole lot of fun to play.

It’s also really weird and mysterious, which is what I love most about it. Atlantis no Nazo is full of hidden secrets, balance-breaking power-ups, and obscure warp zones. Some of the game’s biggest secrets require you to commit suicide, explore outside of the screen’s borders, or chuck bombs at nondescript background tiles.

It’s not for everyone, sure, but I like it a lot. The changes made to the unreleased North American version make the whole thing even more interesting.