Friday, September 9, 2016

Seven Insane NES Licensed Games That ALMOST Happened

Oh, the 8-bit titles we could have played...

By: Jimbo X

The Nintendo Entertainment System was home to a lot of kooky, quirky licensed games. Wedged in between copies of Punch-Out!! and Tecmo Super Bowl, one could find shoddily made 8-bit offerings exploiting the licenses of such obscure properties as Darkman, Cool World, Widget and Hudson Hawk, along with surprisingly enjoyable titles based on head-scratching licenses like The Lone Ranger, Zen: The Intergalactic Ninja, Silver Surfer and Monster in My Pocket.

As strange as those games may have been, however, we could have gotten our hands on ones that were even weirder. Indeed, at one point in time, there were actual plans to release NES games based on, among other things, ribald Fox sex comedies, flash-in-the-pan late '80s boy bands and surreal David Lynch dramas. Alas, for one reason or another fate never let the masses get their hands on the full-fledged products. Today, let us reflect on the Nintendo Entertainment System offerings that could've been ... and, of course, whether or not we would have even wanted to play a video game about Police Academy in the first place. 

Game One:
A Nightmare on Elm Street 

What made it insane? I know what you are thinking. "Hey Jimbo, you old diarrhea head, LJN made an Elm Street game and it WAS released!" Well, as it turns out, the subpar Freddy Krueger game that came out on the NES was actually a second-build - in the original version of the game, you actually took control of the film world's most beloved child molester and went around hopping in and out of teenagers' dreams, slaying them in all sorts of Grand Guignol ways. 

How close was it to being released? Apparently, close enough to be used as screenshots for promotional posters and blurbs in various gaming magazines. Outside of LJN realizing that marketing a video game about murdering sleeping children to the bed-wetter set probably wasn't the smartest public relations move, there's no real explanation out there as to why the company decided to drastically overhaul the game mechanics. 

Would we have wanted to play it? Well, considering how crappy the official NES game wound up, it probably wouldn't have resulted in anything worse than the final product. The very Friday the 13th-like map system in the surviving screen shots suggests the game would have likely had the same mechanics as Jason's love-it-or-hate-it foray on the console, but as to how players were supposed to control Freddy and harness his nigh-godlike powers in the dreamscape? Looks like that's something that will remain a mystery to everybody except the designers who worked on the prototype. 

Game Two:

What made it insane? Everything. First off, the license was based on an R-rated horror series about S&M demons and people making out with skinless zombies. Secondly, the title would have come out WAY late in the console life cycle, certainly after the SNES was released. Oh, and did I mention that it was supposed to be a bona ride semi-three-dimensional first-person-shooter using the same hardware as Duck Hunt

How close was it to being released? Designed by Color Dreams - yes, the same company that produced all those crappy, unlicensed NES games in those gaudy black cartridges - Hellraiser would have effectively been a 16-bit game jerry rigged to play on NES consoles. According to one of the big wigs at Color Dreams, the game got pretty far into the preliminary design phase; the stumbling block, however, was just how damned expensive it would have cost to produce the game - some sources say that to make up for the design costs, Color Dreams would have had to have sold copies of the game for at least $200 a pop. Advertising materials also promised us appearances by Pinhead and pals on the Atari Lynx and Genesis, but even less is known about those proposed titles than the already mysterious Nintendo game. 

Would we have wanted to play it? For the sheer novelty of it, yes. It would have been a hoot and half to at least see a game imitate Genesis-level visuals on the NES, and the FPS mechanics definitely would have been intriguing. And come on - who wouldn't have liked to at least get a chance to pop a few caps in some Cenobite asses using the same control pad for Mega Man 3 and StarTropics? As freaky as it may be, however, there is a pretty strong chance we did get an opportunity to monkey with what would have been the game engine: legend has it that Color Dreams wound up using the Hellraiser template for what would be the only unlicensed North American release on the Super Nintendo - of all things, the Old Testament-themed Super Noah's Ark 3D!

Game Three
Married ... with Children

What made it insane? While there were some inspired choices for sitcom-to-NES translations (The Adventures of Gilligan's Island, anybody?) making a game based on the infamously bawdy Fox TV show was downright head-scratching. That the company that proposed it in the first place wanted to market it as a value-priced, adults-only adventure game a'la Leisure Suit Larry merely adds to the unabashed weirdness of the situation.  

How close was it to being released? Although the game was announced as "in development" by several old school video game mags back in the day, it's doubtful much work at all ever got underway on the title. Considering the company in charge of producing the game, Sharedata, was in deep dookie with the SEC around the time Married..with Children was announced would suggest that the company's designers probably never even got the green light to start making those Bud and Kelly sprites. 

Would we have wanted to play it? Why not? Even if the game was an absolute piece of shit (and judging by the quality of the Porky's games, it definitely would have been a piece of shit), it still would have been something else to commandeer Al Bundy in 8-bit form. Which, ultimately, raises the question: considering how much ass-kicking the Bundy brood did on the show, how come nobody ever mulled making a four-player arcade beat-em up starring the Married clan, a'la Konami's X-Men and The Simpsons coin-ops? 

Game Four:
New Kids on the Block

What made it insane? In the early, early 1990s, pioneering boy band New Kids on the Block were bona fide crossover media superstars, appearing not just on MTV and the cover of Tiger Beat, but in their own comic books, Saturday morning cartoon show and line of action figures. Alas, their popularity was clearly waning by the time Nirvana hit it big, so the idea of someone - anyone, really - ponying up the moolah to make a licensed Nintendo game based on the group would sorta' be the modern day equivalent of Microsoft or Sony paying millions of dollars to make a Foster the People first person shooter or a Gotye go-kart simulator. 

How close was it to being released? Well, we do know that Parker Brothers (yes, the same guys who gave us Monopoly and Battleship) owned the NKOTB license, and apparently, they were far along enough in the process to start mass manufacturing prototype game boxes. As far as digital proof the game ever got off the drawing board, however, we've got absolutely nada: no screen shots, no ROM files, nuttin

Would we have wanted to play it? It depends. If the game was a wacky action-platformer a'la Moonwalker, I'd say it's worth at least one playthrough (if nothing else, just to hear "The Right Stuff" in chip tune.) But had it been a collection of Journey-esque mini-games? Eh, I'd prefer not getting my hands on virtual Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch (which, believe it or not, actually did inspire a Sega CD game, which, unsurprisingly, sucked a lot of dick.)

Game Five:
Police Academy 

What made it insane? Often described as "the Friday the 13th of comedy franchises," the Police Academy films are largely considered nothing more than chintzy, throwaway 1980s junk culture. Somehow, someway, the series nonetheless managed to inspire its own syndicated cartoon in the early '90s, complete with its own action figures and comic books. The NES game, rather wisely, would have tied into the animated program rather than the increasingly irritating string of groan-inducing live-action films (I mean, Mission to Moscow? The fuck?) 

How close was it to being released? Close enough that we've got several screenshots available to let us know just how much of a Super Mario Bros. clone it would have been. Although there are no playable ROMs I am aware of, the gameplay stills suggest Tengen were pretty deep into the development cycle, although it's not clear whether the game was anywhere close to going beyond the beta stage before it got ix-nayed. 

Would we have wanted to play it? Eh, not really. Judging from the screengrabs, it looked like a very, very uninspired hop-and-bopper, complete with aesthetics yanked straight out of Nintendo's most venerated series. The inclusion of a timer in one photo, however, suggest the game may have had some sort of "speedrun" element, which at the time, was fairly uncommon for genre games, especially on the NES. Still, from the looks of it, this was destined to be a wholly unremarkable game, no matter how you slice it. 

Game Six:

What made it insane? Making a game based on Godzilla circa 1989 kinda sorta makes sense. It was an obscurer license than most, but what kid via hadn't heard of who and what Godzilla was? Fellow Toho kaiju Rodan had a much lower Q Score with the general public, and presumably, most children would have no idea what the hell that crappy looking chicken-demon on the game box was supposed to be, anyway. 

How close was it to being released? No clue. Pretty much the only evidence we have that the game was in production was the fact that it was listed as an upcoming product in the instructional manual for the first Godzilla game on the console. To the best of my knowledge, no screen shots or other audiovisual proof that the game was ever even in the prototype phase have yet to be made public.

Would we have wanted to play it? Well, there is a pretty good chance we already did. Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters, was released in 1992 for the NES, and odds are, that's the game Rodan eventually evolved into. As to whether Rodan, conceptually, would have played more like the Advanced Wars-style sequel or the hybrid board game\sidescroller original, however, we'll likely never know.  

Game Seven:
Twin Peaks

What made it insane? Dude, somebody at least mulled the idea of turning David Lynch's notoriously weird soap opera into an 8-bit video game. Explaining why that's strange is like having to explain why water's wet, fire's hot or why the Nostalgia Critic needs to be punched in the face. 

How close was it to being released? Well, what we do know is that Hi-Tech Expressions held the rights to the license, and they intended to release the 8-bit adaptation of the quirky ABC hit sometime in 1991. Although news of the game was printed in mags like GamePro and Nintendo Power, not as much as a single screenshot has ever surfaced, however. 

Would we have wanted to play it? Considering how nutty the TV show was - remember, this is a program that featured a backwards-talking dwarf as a primary character - it would have been, well, interesting, to see how the software company would have tried to recreate the utter weirdness of the property. I'm guessing it would have been a point-and-click adventure type game a'la Maniac Mansion or Shadowgate, which means it had a halfway decent shot at being a solid genre game. But had this thing been adapted as a platformer, or a traditional RPG? Yeah, it likely would've sucked something fierce. Alas, it's not like that many David Lynch properties have even been considered for the video game treatment, and for that reason alone, it probably would've been worth experiencing ... if nothing else, as build-up for that dream Eraserhead gem dropping puzzler on the Game Gear we always wanted.


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.