Conquest of the Bio Force Apes

Is Bio Force Ape the most popular NES game never released? I'd say so. It drifted into obscurity after Seta canceled it in 1991, yet this past decade gave rise to a geek subculture that hunts down canceled games, and Bio Force Ape was always pursued. At first it was only one of several sought-after lost games, squabbling for space with Bandai’s Ultimate Journey, Capcom’s Black Tiger, and such planning-stage pipe dreams as New Kids on the Block and Hellraiser. Yet one amazing prank and its buttery residue shot Bio Force Ape to the top of the list, so much so that fans started making their own version of the game.

Then the real Bio Force Ape showed up. It appeared in a Yahoo Japan auction, and the game quickly made its way to’s Game Night, where the public saw it played for the first time in 19 years.

And it’s amazing. Well, it’s no rediscovered masterpiece, but it’s great fun in that absurd, clumsy way that middle-grade NES games often stumbled into. There’s no question that Bio Force Ape makes the most of a game about a monkey who grows into a pro-wrestler ape and bodyslams bee-men, monstrous sumo wrestlers, and mutants with crocodile jaws for legs. It’s also technically impressive for an NES game, with a well-animated simian hero and some dizzyingly fast rides on moving platforms and mine carts. In another world, perhaps Seta released Bio Force Ape and built it into their Battletoads, with its own toy line and terrible cartoon special.

Then again, Seta would’ve needed to actually finish the game. This version of Bio Force Ape is as far as things got, but it lasts only three levels, and they’re noticeably incomplete when it comes to the enemies and overall design. It’s believed that this game was built as a demo, but someone went through the trouble of giving it a grueling final stage and a shocking twist ending that we ask the audience not to reveal.

Despite the rampantly bizarre scenes in the game, my favorite thing is the ape’s rolling move: he can drop to the ground at any point and just tumble forward at insanely high speed. It doesn’t damage enemies, it doesn’t get him past many obstacles, and it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. It’s just fun to screw around with it. And that’s the legacy of Bio Force Ape.

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