Happy Weird-Ass Pirate Multicart Day 2011

June 18th, 2011

Last night, I dreamed that I was at a flea market, browsing for sweet deals. As often happens in these dreams, I encountered an out-of-the-way stall that held all sorts of video game treasures. Prototypes. Unreleased games. Rare Japanese titles. Everything was so cheap that I could have easily bought the entire lot…if the dealer accepted debit cards. As it happened, I only had two dollars in my wallet.

I knew that if I ran to an ATM to get more cash, another collector would sweep in and buy up everything. I could only afford one game: a sun-bleached NES cartridge with a peeling label that read “Teletubbies and More!” I had never heard of the game, so I figured that it must be valuable.

I bought the game, and ran from the table. I tripped on something and fell…but since this was a dream, I didn’t immediately hit the ground. Instead, I tumbled into an endless void. Clutching the Teletubbies cartridge, I fell for several minutes, waiting to hit bottom.

I was still holding my breath when I woke up. My heart raced. I sat up, thankful but secretly a little disappointed that it was only a dream. It was only 6 AM, so I decided to go back to sleep.

When my head hit the pillow, I felt something underneath.

My god.

This is where I stop lying: Teletubbies and More! is a real NES game. I bought it off the Internet years ago from a seller who offered no explanation regarding its origins, and who closed his eBay account shortly afterward.

Opening it up, I found that the cart’s plastic innards were crudely shaved to make room for a glop-topped 60-pin Famicom game board and a Nintendo-produced Famicom-to-NES adapter, like the ones found in early NES releases like Pinball and Gyromite.

While the game board was likely mass-produced (more on this in a minute), the cartridge was obviously hand-assembled. The label is cheap printer paper, and given that the manufacturer would need to sacrifice actual NES cartridge shells and official Famicom-to-NES adapters for each unit, I’d bet that not very many of these were made. It might even be the only one of its kind.

I recently had it dumped. You can download the ROM here. It’s not yet emulated, but the mapper (#237) has been documented, if you want to add it to your own emulator or open-source project. Please let me know if you do!

But what about the game itself? I wish I could show it off in screenshots, but since it’s not emulated, I had to resort to taking photos of the game playing on original NES hardware. Apologies for the crappy quality, but…well, best I could do.

Okay. So it turns out that “Teletubbies and More!” is actually “Y2K 420-in-1,” a pirate multicart of unknown origin. The characters on the splash screen hint at something a little more sinister than your average pirated game, though. Top row: Pikachu, Po, Buzz Lightyear. Bottom row: Woody, Doraemon, and Raphael.

This is the game selection screen, listing the typical multicart lineup of Mapper 0 titles, save for a few unfamiliar names.

“Aladdin III” is, as expected, a clone of Magic Carpet from Caltron 6-in-1. It’s a common sight in multicarts and in the occasional standalone cartridge. Pity the poor sucker who buys an Aladdin Famicom cart expecting to find a pirate clone of the Genesis Aladdin game and instead ends up with this.

Next up is “Pokemon,” which could be anything. Pirates have shoehorned Pokemon characters into a number of NES games over the years — like Little Nemo and Felix the Cat, for instance.

In this case, it’s a hacked version of Hudson’s first NES game, Nuts & Milk. In this new version, Muddy Pikachu must escape the grasp of a sickly Gray Pikachu while collecting…uh, bananas, and things. Beyond the simple character sprite switch, no attempt has been made to make this resemble a real Pokemon game.

Game #4 is “Toy Story II,” which surely must be more interesting. A pirated NES adaptation of the Genesis and Super NES Toy Story game is known to exist, so maybe that’s what this is?

No. It’s Bomberman, with Woody from Toy Story. Keeping the theme of the movie, Woody wanders a series of underground mazes and plants bombs to blow up his friends.

Next is…oh my god, seriously? That’s what it’s called? “Ding Dong”?

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Video Game Vocal Trax: Slam City with Scottie Pippen (Sega CD 32X)

May 19th, 2011

You probably don’t know what it’s like to own both a Sega CD and a 32X. Here’s a brief walkthrough.

It begins at Christmas, 1994. Your dad spends all of your mom’s savings on a 32X and a copy of Star Wars Arcade, and neither of them will be able to afford more games until next Christmas. All you have to play for the next several months are Star Wars, a copy of Doom you’d later get for your birthday, and whatever Sega CD and Genesis games you already had in your meager collection.

Odds are that Wonder Dog has lost its charm by this point, and the solutions to the three cases in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective remain exactly the same. But you’re loyal to the lot you’ve been given. You read EGM for the latest 32X news (there is none). You gaze longingly at the Sega CD 32X games available at the mall’s Electronics Boutique (there are five). And then next week, after those games mysteriously drop in price to $10 each, you buy every single one of them with your allowance money.

You buy those games, and then you play the hell out of them.

Okay, so maybe you wouldn’t. But I played the hell out of them.

I beat Fahrenheit. I got a perfect run in Night Trap. I even figured out how to finish Corpse Killer during a time of my life I’d rather forget. And I didn’t just complete but had mastered Slam City with Scottie Pippen, a timing-based, barely-interactive one-on-one basketball game presented entirely in full-motion video.

Actually, I was so good at Slam City that I saw a secret ending in which the game’s actors yelled at me because I out-basketballed Scottie Pippen so hard that I made him look bad. Swear to god, this is true. Slam City’s best ending is a guilt trip.

Unfortunately, my Slam City mastery has long since been overwritten by more important knowledge (like the names of obscure iPhone developers, and the lyrics to Infogrames’ corporate theme song), and I can’t even beat the easiest stage anymore. It’s a shame.

Anyway, that’s my Slam City story. Aside from ruining my life, Slam City is also notable for launching Scottie Pippen’s rap career, which began and ended with the game’s opening theme, “Respect.”

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Freelance Chronicles: 222222222

April 25th, 2011

As I mentioned before (briefly), my first paid writing gig was for Hardcore Gamer Magazine, a monthly publication that rose from the ashes of Diehard GameFan, an infamous gaming magazine from the 1990s. Hardcore Gamer was launched by several members of GameFan’s former staff, and sought to recreate GameFan’s fun tone and focus on niche gaming…preferably, without the ethnic slurs and LSD-inspired Atari Jaguar reviews.

In its second year of publication, Hardcore Gamer teamed up with viral marketing company FanPimp and began promoting itself through a community-driven website called Luv2Game. Luv2Game awarded users with prizes (mostly free gifts and promo items we collected from publisher PR) for completing site activities, making forum posts, and otherwise showing interest in the magazine.

Sounds like a winner, right? Who doesn’t like free stuff?

In reality, the setup fostered the kind of meaningful interaction that resulted in forum topics like “Mexicans: What do you think of them?”

Every day, I sat at the sidelines, watching the site circle the drain. People abused the system, cheated for points, and didn’t care about HGM in the least. User interaction was so shallow and self-serving that it was insulting to the work I’d put into the magazine.

Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I registered at Luv2Game’s forums and began a campaign of terror, ridiculing anyone who deserved it and ruining threads with pointless nonsense. I received warnings from the site’s moderators for my behavior, until they discovered that I was an editor for the magazine, after which my shenanigans were met with an awkward silence.

This continued on for several weeks, until it became obvious that Luv2Game needed new leadership. Seeing that I showed greater interest in the site than any other HGM editor (even if it was just to call people idiots), my boss made me the community manager of Luv2Game.

I wasn’t paid for the position, but I was promised a fat monthly paycheck if I was hired on full-time after an initial evaluation period. The “evaluation period” dragged on for six soul-crushing months, after which I relieved of my duties. The site shut down soon afterward. I was never paid.

During my time as Luv2Game’s administrator, I judged contests, quelled forum uprisings, and pored over pages and pages of inane gaming discussion to make sure that nobody was talking about Mexicans. Years later, I remember very little of it in particular, recalling only a vague sense of unease and nausea.

One thing I do remember — and will never forget — is 222222222.

“222222222” (that’s exactly nine number twos) was the name of a Luv2Game user who was determined to win every contest on the site. Each time I uploaded a new challenge, 222222222 would immediately enter it. This person answered every poll, responded to every survey, and made exactly the minimum number of forum posts required to earn points each month.

222222222’s specialty was fanart. Though I never chose him or her as the winner of a single contest, 222222222’s unwavering resolve was inspiring, and of the hundreds of drawings, screenshots, and poems I judged at Luv2Game, 222222222’s entries were the only ones I saved. Here they are, along with all of 222222222’s original commentary.

“Zelda is surrounded by darkness drawn inpending enemy in the mountains ,but show he was secure in inpending victory”

“The Video game Legend of Zelda a fine articulate game ,find the Elf in a forest in joyeous overshock and ready to do battle with crossbow in hand .”

“Dragon Quest The Princess the globe the sword in 3d”

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Smashing Drive (Gaelco, 2000)

April 7th, 2011

I want to talk about Gaelco. Because someone has to.

Gaelco is a Spanish developer of…ah, let’s call them “lower-tier” arcade games. Its catalog largely consists of clones, cheaply produced original titles, and games that are just shy of what would be considered “good.” Few of Gaelco’s games (exactly two) were ever ported to consoles, and many of their best-known efforts were never released outside of Spain.

If you’ve heard of Gaelco at all, it’s probably because of Smashing Drive, an arcade Crazy Taxi knockoff that, for whatever reason, Namco’s North American branch identified as a surefire hit and subsequently ported to the Xbox and GameCube in 2002. The game was a moderate success in arcades, but flopped on consoles, largely because you can finish the thing in about an hour and never have any reason to return to it.

Smashing Drive itself is not a remarkable game. It’s fun in a shallow sort of way, and it’s worthwhile for the 99 cents-plus-shipping you’ll pay for it on eBay nowadays. The only truly exceptional thing about Smashing Drive is its transcendent soundtrack.

Yeah. This plays in the background during the first level, and you’ll hear it loop many times over by the time you get to the second stage. It’s bizarre, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more abrasive and less intelligible vocal song in a video game. The lyrics are in English — I think — but what are these words?

Upon first listen, I had the feeling that I’d heard this song before. Somewhere around the 20th loop, it hit me: it’s a total ripoff of Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.” More specifically, it’s modeled after the Dragula remix in Jet Grind Radio — it even uses the same flanging and stutter effects, in the same places. Except, well, somewhat ineptly.

This track plays in the second level, and it’s at least a little easier to understand. I can pick out individual words and phrases, anyway.

It’s probably a ripoff of something, like the first song is, but it’s not immediately identifiable. The guitar riff reeks vaguely of Aerosmith. And now that I think about it, the vocal style kind of resembles “Walk This Way.”

Among the few lyrics that I could decipher:

– “Heeeere we go againnnnn”
– “One two three four. One two three four. ONE TWO THREE FOUR. ONE TWO THREE YEAAAHHHHH
– “LOOSEN UP YOUR DIAPERS” (Huh? And what’s said afterward? “Get your crotch curling?”)

This one’s catchy. It’s also a complete ripoff of something that I know I’ve heard before, but can’t quite recall. Parts of it remind me of Franz Ferdinand, but Smashing Drive was first released in arcades in 2000 — Franz Ferdinand didn’t exist until 2002. Smashing Drive was clearly ahead of its time.

The melody at 1:16 was totally stolen from Cream’s “I Feel Free,” though.

So hey, here’s a fun thing to try: listen closely to these songs and try to figure out what words you’re hearing. There are no officially published lyrics that I’m aware of (or an official soundtrack release, for that matter). Can anyone decipher them? If you have any guesses, post them in the comments!

[Next time: Radikal Bikers]


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)

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.

News of the World: Updates

March 5th, 2011

In this fast-paced digital world, things can change in the blink of an eye. Dream and Friends would like to share with you these recent updates to our late-breaking coverage. This is news you need, when you need it.

When I theorized that the “original edition” of Donkey Kong bundled with European Wii consoles was an unreleased prototype game, I was making an assumption based on the likeliest case among a series of unlikely scenarios. I was wrong. Donkey Kong’s reality is, somehow, even stranger than what I’d suggested.

After examining the ROM’s code, NES hacking wizard BMF54123 posted the following analysis at Lost Levels:

Guys, I don’t think this is a prototype at all, but an official Nintendo ROM hack.

The first half of the PRG ROM contains all the new data for the cement factory level, a copy of the title screen with the updated 2010 copyright, and a lot of code patches. The second half is identical to the US PRG1 ROM, except various routines have been hijacked to point to the new patches.

A lot of them do really hackish things, like manually copying the entire sprite data page to unused RAM and shuffling it around (so the cement pies don’t disappear), checking Mario’s current animation frame to see if he’s climbing (for the moving ladders?), and shoehorning in new data if the current level number is 02. It’s also coded pretty sloppily in places, jumping to the same subroutine 5 times in a row, for example. This might explain why it glitches occasionally.

A true prototype would have certainly been built on the original source code, as Mario Bros. Classic was, not split into a bunch of patches. Whoever did this either didn’t have access to the original source, or no longer had the necessary tools/knowledge to compile it.

I had assumed that Donkey Kong: Original Edition was an unreleased special version coded during the NES’s lifespan. And yet we have proof here of something even more unlikely — Nintendo apparently still employs the rare breed of individual who is familiar with the inner workings of a console that hasn’t seen a new first-party release in 15 years. Let us never doubt Nintendo’s power ever again.

Another unexpected discovery was made during Wizard Week — specifically, the mid-week break in which I focused on a series of strategy guides published by Bantam Books.

Doing some Internet sleuthing, readers Madeline Henry and Michael Stearns identified the cover artist as Bill Mayer. The surfing cat featured in “Ultimate Unauthorized Nintendo Game Boy Strategies” is actually the mascot for the smooth jazz outfit The Rippingtons — he appears on several album covers, and even stars in one of their videos!

Mayer himself later found the comments thread and left a reply:

Too funny…Where the hell did you find these? I am the illustrator responsible for those little diddies, all of the picture Nintendo Strategies were originally done for other clients and uses. They were not allowed to use any of the copyrighted material so they looked around for images of monsters. eventually ran out of monsters and started just looking for anything bright and colorful to stick on the cover. These books were done in ,I am guessing the 1980’s? Can’t believe they are still out there haunting the halls of used book stores in small quiet unsuspecting small towns all across the country Beware…

These books have been in my collection since I was a kid, and finding out more about them after all these years was a real treat. Thanks for the comments, guys!

Finally, Kotaku picked up on the iPhone smash hit My Virtual Girlfriend a full eight months after I’d originally featured it here. Somehow, the fabric of time itself was altered so that the game could be released “just in time for Valentine’s Day” in the year 2011. This serves as an important reminder to always trust Dream and Friends as your first-on-the-scene source for video game news that matters.

Video Games [Heart] Prog Rock

February 14th, 2011

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Die Hard (Pack-In Video, 1990)

February 3rd, 2011

Die Hard is such a great movie. John McClane is the perfect action hero — he’s tough, likable, and funny, and yet he has enough flaws to make him a believable character. He also straight-up murders lots of dudes on Christmas Eve.

Die Hard is packed with memorable moments, too. Who can forget McClane’s hilarious killing spree in the forest? Personally, my favorite part is when he gets lost in that swamp maze. And then when he finally reaches the 34th floor of Nakatomi Plaza only to discover that the terrorists have secretly replaced it with an ocean? Priceless.

Oh, I’m sorry. You may not be familiar with the Japanese laserdisc cut of Die Hard. It’s kind of rare nowadays, but there’s a more-or-less faithful retelling in Die Hard for the PC Engine, available in English for the first time thanks to a translation patch released today by my buddy and roommate Spinner 8. You should play it!

You wouldn’t think that there would be much to translate in a fairly straightforward Bloody Wolf clone, but you’ll be glad to have English dialog when you end up lost in the underground labyrinth (classic scene, by the way) in level three. It’s quite helpful.

If you get stuck, consult this exhaustively detailed video walkthrough…which by all means should not be, given that we’re talking about a 20-year-old Japan-exclusive game based on American movie for the TurboGrafx-16, for chrissakes. As unlikely a thing as it is, though, I’m very glad that it exists.

Or you can just enter the debug code — Up, Up, Left, Left, Left, Down, Run — at the title screen. That’ll let you see most of the game’s content without actually having to play it. Honestly, you’re not going to want to play through the whole thing. It gets stupidly difficult later on, and the bosses are a pain in the ass. Still! It’s Die Hard!

(You might also want to check out Spinner’s recently updated translation for Nintendo’s obscure but super-fun The Mysterious Murasame Castle, which really needs an American Virtual Console release already.)

Aliens Walkthrough, The Shocking Finale

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.

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