Archive for the ‘NES’ 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]

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]

Takeshi’s Challenge, Part 4

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Image credit: Masao. Thanks, Kishi!

[Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.]

I can’t tell you exactly what happened over the next 48 hours. I have a general idea of how things unfolded, but the details are sketchy. Unemployed and now homeless, I wandered back over to Azemichi, where some quantity of alcohol was consumed.

From what people tell me, there was apparently some kind of incident at Dick’s Pachinko afterward.

There was yelling, and by the time it was all over, I somehow found myself in possession of a shamisen.

Also, I’m apparently banned for life.

Back at Azemichi — that’s today’s third visit, if you want to be a jerk about it — I managed to talk Chad into plugging in the karaoke machine.

(He later told me that he would never let that happen again.)

I found my groove soon enough, though. Something about this song always gets me a little weepy. Chad says that tears rolled down my face as I sung it for the third time in a row.

I tried to launch into an encore of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but the audience was having none of it. Things got a little rough.

And then it all took a strange turn.


Takeshi’s Challenge, Part 3

Friday, February 24th, 2012

[This entry is dedicated to my brother. It’s his birthday today! Also, I guess this series is going to become a full playthrough, eventually. Previous episodes: Part 1, Part 2.]

My boss feigned surprise for all of two seconds before accepting my resignation.

And just like that, it was over. For my ten years of service to the company, I was given 500,000 yen — a pittance, really.

Luckily, I’d managed to funnel a nice 100,000-yen bonus my way after accidentally upping the interest rates on a few of our high-balance accounts some months back. I felt a little guilty about it at first, but considering that my severance pay was a goddamned disgrace, it was only fair.

You ever walk around town on a weekday afternoon with several hundred thousand yen in your pocket? It feels nice. It makes you want to explore the neighborhood and toss some money around.

I’d passed by this place every day on my way to work, but never went inside before today. These guys offered everything from foreign language instruction to guitar lessons to jazz dance practice. I didn’t have anything else to do with my afternoon, so I decided to sit in on a few classes.

I picked up a little bit of Hintabo while I was there. It’s sort of like Pig Latin, only more confusing.

Next up was a lesson on hang gliding. “Why not?” I reasoned. “Sure beats trying to sit through Yakuza vs. Yakuza.”

I jumped at the chance to learn a few shamisen chords. I always liked the way that thing sounded.

I also learned how to breakdance and picked up my pilot’s license. It was a productive day.

The sun was setting by the time the place closed, but I wanted to see what else had sprung up in the neighborhood since I’d last visited.


The Annotated Jurassic Boy 2

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

New Year’s Day often begins in a confusing haze. You may not remember much of what happened the night before, nor can you explain the aftermath.

This year, for instance, I woke up to find that, during the previous night’s festivities, I had fully produced a tool-assisted speed run for Sachen’s quintessential NES platformer Jurassic Boy 2.

It’s annotated throughout. Happy 2012!

[Credit: This video was inspired by Frank Cifaldi’s wonderful Mr. Gimmick annotated longplay. It may have also been inspired by Kentucky Deluxe brand whiskey.]

Takeshi’s Challenge, Part 2

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I woke up sweating.

It was freezing outside, but under those blankets, I felt like I was roasting alive. I had a lot on my mind, I suppose. I’d been fretting about my yearly bonus at work, and my dreams were a feverish mixture of financial failure, attempted murder, and my own death, many times over.

I kicked off the blankets and looked at the clock on my nightstand. It was two hours before the alarm was set to go off. Might as well go in to work early, I reasoned; maybe that’ll make my boss forget how much I’d been slacking off over the last few weeks. Well, months. Years, actually.

[Takeshi no Chousenjou is now fully playable in English, thanks to a fan translation released by KingMike and friends. It’s the best Christmas!]

It didn’t take long for my nightmares to sync up with reality.

My bonus was only 200,000 yen, just like in my dream. I briefly considered the possibilities.

I was feeling pretty sick, but the chief was never much for sympathy.

Or ass-kissing, for that matter.

Paid vacation? Man, I wish.

Paid vacation and then quitting? That wouldn’t go over too well.

And I wasn’t prepared to re-explore that particular scenario.

Instead I took a long lunch and decided to walk around town to clear my head.


Happy Weird-Ass Pirate Multicart Day 2011

Saturday, 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”?



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.