Posts filed under Prototypes

Bounty Arms: The Demo In Full

If you’ve followed this website for a while or merely read the most recent entry, you likely noticed my obsession with an unreleased game called Bounty Arms. Data West announced it for the first round of PlayStation games in 1995, and it brought a novel idea. The game’s two anime heroines wander overhead-view stages, much like the protagonists of Mercs or Outzone or dozens of similar shooters. Instead of standard-issue firearms, however, they wield telescoping Relic Arms that serve as whips, grappling hooks, and all-destroying flamethrowers. Alas, Bounty Arms vanished from sight around the middle of 1995, with Data West moving on to another game and subsequently retreating from the industry.



A scrap of Bounty Arms made its way to the public, though. Demo Demo PlayStation, a Japan-only line of discs meant primarily for kiosks, includes a Bounty Arms preview video on its fourth volume and a playable half-stage on its fifth. The demo’s very limited: protagonists Rei Misazaki and Chris Prenaculutaoraroato (which is how I’ll translate her last name for the time being) don’t take damage at all, and the game reboots once they destroy the mid-stage boss. Yet the graphics for the entire first stage appear to be in the demo, and I always hoped that someone would figure out how to play the entire level.

Well, someone did. Human of Mi-Com Age ran the demo alongside Cheat Engine and tricked the game into letting you play the whole first stage, including a clash with the electricity-spewing robotic serpent boss. I’ll let Human’s brilliant post detail the actual method. It’s a relatively easy hack once you figure out Cheat Engine, and I pulled it off despite having no programming knowledge beyond remembering some passwords for the NES version of Strider.

To sum it up, the mid-boss won’t appear when its value is disabled, and this allows Chris and Rei to march beyond the usual cutoff point. From there, the rest of the Bounty Arms demo is yours to explore.

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Secret of Mana: The Villainous Unknown

The Cutting Room Floor finds many things deleted from games: never-seen animation, unused backgrounds, extended music, and other stuff absent during play but still present in the code. My favorite sort of discovery? Full-fledged characters who were cut from a game. I’m always intrigued by the idea of a hero or villain yanked from a storyline and lurking bitterly in the ones and zeroes. Secret of Mana has a fascinating case.

Secret of Mana lost a great deal of its original outline when it came from the never-released Super NES CD system to the humbler Super NES, and there’s plenty to uncover in the code. Messing around reveals some character poses never glimpsed during gameplay, and there’s one entire villain who doesn’t appear in the game.

Well, the standing theory is that he or she is a villain, at least. The unused character appears among the graphics for Secret of Mana’s familiar antagonists, so it’s fair to assume that this was a servant of the Empire or the sorcerer Thanatos. That, and the obscuring white robes and headdress don’t evoke a good guy. Faceless characters look less human and are therefore less sympathetic, after all.

But where would this deleted figure have appeared? The most logical choice is the ruins south of Pandora, where brainwashed townsfolk and masked cultists gather. The hooded villain would fit right in there, perhaps in a boss battle where it lifted its hands to summon one monster after another.

Of course, this leads to the most likely explanation, and it’s a killjoy: Robesy McHood is just a disguise for Thanatos himself. He first appears to the heroes at the ruins, and while he doesn’t fight them directly, it’s possible that he was to appear in this surreptitious, white-swaddled form before revealing himself. Which means this isn’t a real secret character after all.

Sifting through the Secret of Mana code also reveals the above character, a guard apparently meant for a castle or fort that never came to be. He’s not as interesting as a faceless cult leader, but I do like how he resembles Pete from Disney cartoons not a little.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I like to think that the white-clad villain is a discrete character, and not Thanatos. And if that’s true, the unknown cult leader at least deserves a name. What sort of apt Secret of Mana title fits best? I’d go with something like “Paltus” or “Sidonak,” but I know you’ll all submit better suggestions in the comments!

Trouble Shooter’s Third Strike

It’s a good time to be a fan of Trouble Shooter. Or Battle Mania. Or whatever you might call the two comedic Sega Genesis shooters that put heavily armed heroines named Madison and Crystal in a blend of Forgotten Worlds and Dirty Pair. I am a fan, because I know of no other game that drops you into a giant claw machine so you can fight a farting pig robot.

Hardcore Gaming 101 recently put up an entry on the series, and it covers the first game, which we knew here as Trouble Shooter, and the second game, which we never saw here and thus knew only by its Japanese title, Battle Mania Daiginjou. The article also mentions Madison and Crystal’s cameo in Segagaga. Of course, they would go by their Japanese names, Mania Ohtorii and Maria Haneda, respectively. I would be annoyed at having to explain that every time I talk about Trouble Shooter, but I like talking about Trouble Shooter too much.

The big attraction in the article is a set of design documents for the never-made third game in the series, Battle Mania N.Y. Gankutsujou. The scans come from the fourth volume of Nazo no Game Makyou, which printed them small and in black-and-white. I bought this very issue about a month ago, but I dragged my feet on scanning it, restrained by that new-purchase aura that congeals when you spend twenty bucks on a little book about old video games. Fortunately, Hardcore Gaming 101 stepped up and scanned them as nicely as possible, considering that the original images were only slightly larger than Wheat Thins.

Those design documents show what could’ve been an amazing game. You can check out the entire set at Hardcore Gaming 101, but I picked out my favorite things from this game that never was.

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Fun with Mariner’s Run and Loppy

Many canceled NES games exist only on paper, whether it’s a sheaf of old design documents, a press release, a magazine’s rumors section, or a bar napkin with DONKEY KONG FIGHTS GUNDAM scrawled on it. In some cases, having only a title makes a game all the more enticing, as we’re free to imagine what Vic Tokai’s Baby Gangster, LJN’s World War III, or Activision’s The Abyss might have been like had they shown up behind the glass at Kay-Bee. Even Yeah Yeah Beebiss I is a fair subject, though all evidence suggests it was a joke played by a mail-order company just to see who was copying their price lists.

Yes, some unreleased NES games left behind only their titles and vague descriptions. Until last month, I thought Mariner’s Run was among them.

Mariner’s Run is the work of Vic Tokai, a company that’s fascinated me for a while—and not just because of my unabiding fondness for Trouble Shooter. Vic Tokai crafted intriguing games throughout the NES era, whether it was the early (and unreleased in the U.S.) action-RPG Chester Field, the complex adventure of Clash at Demonhead, the charming The Krion Conquest, or the Golgo 13 games, which might not be great but remain marvels of sneaking gruesome violence and bleak spy-pulp stories onto a game system where alcohol and crucifixes were no-nos.

We find little information about Mariner’s Run, known as Sea Dog in Japan. It appeared in magazines early in 1991, and the manual for Magical Kids Doropie (aka The Krion Conquest) describes it as a “battle RPG” with a March 1991 release date. That was all I knew about the game, and it was all I needed to imagine the best possible NES treatment. I pictured a naval warfare epic in a post-apocalyptic or high-tech future, where you might roam the seas from an overhead perspective and fight intense battles from a first-person viewpoint. Kinda like SubRoc 3D crossed with a fun version of Silent Service.

I somehow neglected to notice that Mariner’s Run survived online in not one, not two, but three screenshots, plus a Game Players blurb that describes it as “a game in the style of Ultima or Dragon Warrior” that “takes place in a land of seafaring towns.” And that’s enough to destroy my vision of the game.



Yet Mariner’s Run is more interesting now that I’ve seen it. The first screenshot shows the overhead RPG portion, and it’s downright primitive for an NES game from 1991. Still, it’s enough to speculate as to which sprite is the main character (my bet is the blue-gray one) and what time period it wants to evoke.



The second screenshot, unflatteringly cropped from a Japanese magazine preview, show a similar town and, more importantly, a menu. It hints at Mariner’s Run having a technological side, as the player outfits a ship or submarine with torpedoes, armor, a “shild,” and “soner.” The preview even describes the game as an RPG with shooting interludes.


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Nintendo Power’s Greatest Gossip Gremlins

Nintendo Power had a fascinating look in its early years. It was, of course, a promotional sheaf for all things Nintendo, but the magazine’s staff enjoyed an unprecedented relationship with Japanese publishers. With that came artwork and layouts rarely spotted in America.

Within Nintendo Power you’d see spindly Clash at Demonhead heroes, plastic Blaster Master and Metal Storm models, Mega Man robots somewhere between an American cartoon and a Japanese comic, and lavish art for the lesser-known likes of Astyanax, Code Name: Viper, and Legacy of the Wizard. And you’d see the detailed illustrations of the now-respected Katsuya Terada adorning features for Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, and Ultima. Even the comic-strip adventures of Howard and Nester, the former based on Howard Phillips and the latter a bratty little mascot, had distinct manga styling. Nintendo Power wasn’t just a bundle of previews and tips and news about video games that would define an embarrassing volume of childhoods. It was a kaleidoscope gaze into another realm.

The Gossip Gremlins had a small but memorable role in this. No doubt borrowed from Japanese publications, the Gremlins were fanciful critters who popped up at the bottom of Nintendo Power’s Pak Watch previews section. They spouted tidbits about games too early to have plentiful screenshots or solid details, giving the magazine a cute package for random information.

The Gremlins also offered some of the most creative art in Nintendo Power, as they weren’t based on actual games. Unburdened by commercial demands, the artists cut loose and drew marvelously odd creatures from the heart of Japan’s late-1980 pop culture. And I picked out my favorites.

January/February 1989 
If the Gossip Gremlins rarely came from real NES games, many were cut from the same aesthetics. The Eye Knight is a perfect example, familiar enough to make young readers wonder if they’d encountered such a creature in The Legend of Zelda, Dr. Chaos, or the inner reaches of Deadly Towers that few had the patience to reach.

An armored warrior with a huge Technodrome iris where his face should be? That’s almost too good of a design to waste on a blurb about Defender of the Crown—a blurb that’s half inaccurate, since the game isn’t really about Robin Hood.

In fact, Nintendo Power liked the Eye Knight enough to use him (her?) twice. The creature shows up again in the March/April issue to mention some news about Hi-Tech. Too bad, Eye Knight. You deserved to be skewered by Link in Zelda II, not reduced to bandying Chessmaster rumors.

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Cry On Over

No video game ever made me cry. Nope, not one. Many games get to me in some way, because I’m a big, sappy, hopeless mark when it comes to full-bore blasts of melodrama. Yet I have a hard time remembering any game, book, movie, song, comic, painting, sculpture, water ballet, or 15th-century Italian woodcut that’s brought me to tears. I suspect I’m just not built to sob over fiction and art. That part of me prefers that I just sulk around gobsmacked and despondent.

I don’t think I would’ve wept over Cry On, but I wish I could’ve found out.

Making us weep was, believe it or not, the goal of Cry On. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi hoped that the game would make players cry, both in joy and sorrow, and so great was his ambition that he put it right there in the title. Cry On wasn’t a weird side project, either. Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker studio announced it late in 2005, with publisher AQ Interactive and developer Cavia on board. Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu signed up for the soundtrack, the illustrations came from Drakengard artist Kimihiko Fujisaka, and the budget hovered around $8.5 million.


Cry On promised more than wailing and rending of garments, of course. Described as an action-RPG, it showed a world not that different from a rudimentary Final Fantasy spread of medieval mythic scenery speckled with airships and other machine anachronisms. Here humans live alongside Bogles, glazed golems that transform from small totemic statues to fearsome giants. A particularly intelligent Bogle partners with the game’s heroine, a young woman named Sally.

Players were to control Sally, but the Bogle may have been the real star. According to interviews, the little ceramic gremlin would ride on Sally’s shoulder as she explores and solves those environmental puzzles that every action game demands somehow. Yet the Bogle would transform into its larger incarnation, changing its general form each time, and it could accessorize itself with rubble and other debris. The Bogle would handle much of the fighting, though Sally does have that knife on her.
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Guilty Gear’s Jam Session

You know what’s a good website? The Cutting Room Floor. It’s all about stuff hidden in video games: unused characters, deleted scenes, altered graphics, and even messages from irate programmers. I mentioned the site a few entries back, and it’s worth recommending again as the sort of place where you can lose an entire afternoon and not feel all that bad about it. You were going to waste that afternoon playing Paladin’s Quest or Skitchin’ or Bullet Witch or Digger T. Rock: Legend of the Lost City anyway.

I’m dismayed that I don’t have anything to contribute to The Cutting Room Floor. The best I can do is to dig up something that’s easily noticed by the handful of people who played and remembered Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers.

Like Guilty Gear Isuka and Guilty Gear: Judgment, Dust Strikers is a small, irrelevant, and seldom-praised corner of the Guilty Gear landscape. It drops most of the franchise’s nutty heavy-metal anime warriors into chaotic, multi-tiered battlegrounds much like Super Smash Bros. Melee, and it attempts all of this on the DS. It’s cramped and unsatisfying, and I suspect the developers knew this. They tried to make it up to us with a bunch of really simple mini-games.

One of these bonus attractions finds Jam Kuradoberi, shrieky martial artist and restaurateur, balancing food and some unsanitary cats that fall from above. The retail version of the game uses a cheerful, pint-sized version of Jam, but this wasn’t always the case.

As shown in early screenshots of Dust Strikers, Jam’s mini-game featured her with more conventional proportions, plus an expression indicating either confusion or RealDoll-like placidity. It’s pretty clear why this was changed: full-size Jam takes up too much space that would otherwise fit more falling objects. I have no doubt that the original sprites for mini-game Jam are hidden in the Dust Strikers ROM, but I also have no technical aptitude for finding them.

That’s my contribution to the detective work exemplified by The Cutting Room Floor. Yes, you can read much more interesting things there now. Go ahead. I’ll be over here with Digger T. Rock.

The Really, Really Lost Street Fighter

One good thing about liking Street Fighter is the knowledge that you can ignore just about every movie and TV series it inspires. After all, the games themselves don’t acknowledge any of them; not the hysterically awful live-action Street Fighter: The Movie nor the hysterically awful USA Network cartoon it spawned. The only exception is 1994’s Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. It’s quite stupid, but it was Capcom’s own project. They had money to spend on it, the experienced Gisaburo Sugi (Night on the Galactic Railroad, Touch) to direct it, and the advantage of video-game nonsense always going down easier as animation. And it paid off. Sort of. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie is still the best anime inspired by a fighting game, even if that means next to nothing.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie was also close to Capcom’s vision for the games, and so pieces of it turned up in later Street Fighter titles, particularly the Alpha series. Ken, Ryu, Cammy, and several other characters had their looks tweaked in accordance with the movie, and Alpha 2 recreates some of the film’s battles. One character from the film even crossed over: Senoh, M. Bison’s bald scientist crony, pops up in one or two Alpha endings.

There’s another piece of obscurity attacked to Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. One character, also an agent of Bison’s Shadaloo syndicate, was on the drawing boards but never made it into the film. Her absence was noted in an old issue of Anime UK, and the magazine ran a sketch of her with this description: “In the outline, she worked for SHADOWLAW [Shadaloo] and appeared on the stage in Las Vegas wearing what one Japanese source describes as ‘radical bondage gear.’” Presumably, she was inspired by the showgirls that mill about in the background of Balrog’s stage in the original Street Fighter II.

Had she actually made it into the film, the unnamed dancer might’ve also slipped into the Street Fighter games and their loosely structured canon, which Capcom makes up only when circumstances and lawsuits demand.

Or maybe the dancer and her radical bondage getup aren’t so lost. With her Bison-like hat, she bears a certain resemblance to Poison, the Final Fight regular who was changed into a guy for the Super NES version of the game. Poison’s backstory has described her as both a cross-dressing man and a fully transgendered character, and the inconsistency has started far more fan debate than it probably should have. And now Poison’s in Street Fighter X Tekken, which will stir up even more debate. Of course, Poison is a non-existent video-game character and is therefore without any gender, but pointing that out makes you a jerk.

Was the dancer a Poison cameo that Manga UK didn’t notice? Or was she just some background filler that the story didn’t want or need? Whatever the answer, she’s still the most obscure of all unused Street Fighter characters, even more so than those early drawings of Dhalsim with six arms and an elephant’s head.

The Lunar II That Almost Was

I prefer Lunar II: Eternal Blue to the original Lunar: The Silver Star. I could attribute this to playing Eternal Blue first, which made The Silver Star seem repetitive. Yet Eternal Blue is also a shade less cliché, with better character development and an ending that cruelly toys with the player. It’s the more interesting of the two RPGs, and the same goes for its unused ideas.

Lunar II was originally going to carry over the cast of The Silver Star, and its preliminary designs reflect that. Game Arts changed plans, however, and Lunar II got a mostly new lineup of characters. Some characters, including standard-issue protagonist Hiro and gallivanting monk Ronfar, didn’t change all that much from their initial concepts. Other characters did.

One of the biggest alterations: royal knight Leo and his priestess sister Mauri are beast-people in the final game, but they were first designed as centaurs. I suspect this was changed for two reasons. One: Leo would be harder to animate during battles if he were a horse from the waist down. Two: the romance between centaur Mauri and the fully human Ronfar would’ve raised all sorts of questions.

Leo still went through more redesigns, growing less bestial in each phase. That’s his near-final look on the right. Character designer Toshiyuki Kubooka abandoned a more leonine face in favor of a snout and horn.

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Vice: Project Slimeball

There’s a lot that I like about Vice: Project Doom, a late NES action-platformer from Aicom and American Sammy. I like that it mixes its side-scrolling gameplay with driving stages straight out of Spy Hunter and shooting galleries straight out of Operation Wolf. I like the tight controls, which let you laser-whip enemies behind you, grab ladders in mid-air, sprint while ducking, and do a lot of things that many other NES games still overlooked back in 1991. I like how the backgrounds are grimy and impressively varied. And I like how Sammy’s translators had enough presence of mind to play up the cheeseball action-hero tone of the game’s hero, Quinn Hart.

Yet the translation apparently proved a little too profane when it came to an early scene in which Hart, after barking out orders to his girlfriend/partner Christy, notices that a masked superhero is spying on him.

That screen comes from a review in the June 1991 issue of GamePro, and the dialogue differs slightly from the final version.

Yes, Hart’s line was rewritten to keep him from saying “slimeball.” Did Nintendo really object to an insult that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could freely spout on TV? Or did the translators think that “slimeball” gave away the game’s later (and entirely predictable) plot twists about alien-manufactured green gel? Perhaps someone felt that Hart already came across as too hard-edged. After all, the game’s first level has his Spy Hunter car tearing down a city highway and destroying harmless blue sedans that, for all the player knows, are filled with innocent and terrified families.

A little research suggests that prototypes of Vice: Project Doom are out there. In fact, this guy found a cartridge at a game store in 2006. Nobody’s shared one online yet, so we can’t see if any other mild epithets were trimmed from Hart’s vocabulary. Maybe he called someone a scuzzbucket.