For every successful industry you can name there’s usually a seedy, black market underbelly looking to make money through illegal or just downright shady means.
In the case of video games, you’ve got that, and you’ve also got absolute pariahs creating homebrew versions of their favorite games, presumably to fulfill sick, strange fantasies. Through the wonders of legally-ambiguous ROMs and lots and lots of spare time, we have some of these baffling, bizarre, and sometimes downright impressive bootlegs.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – SNES
Kudos to whoever’s executive decision it was to take the existing Sonic 3 cover art and modify absolutely nothing except the number in the logo.
The Sonic the Hedgehog series is a personal favorite of mine. I have fond memories of getting home from elementary school and traversing the lush environments of Green Hill Zone at light-speed, snowboarding down cavernous mountain trails, and sticking it to Dr. Robotnik and his grandiose scheme to trap the world’s cuddly wildlife inside hideous robots.
Leave it to somebody else to turn my warm childhood memory into a soulless, unhinged nightmare.
Sonic 4 proper actually came out in October 2010, following a sixteen year hiatus after 1994′s Sonic 3. Apparently the man who patchworked together this amalgamated Frankenstein of a video game simply couldn’t wait that long. Sonic 4 — well, this strange, alternate version of it anyway — is basically the game Speedy Gonzales: Los Gatos Banditos with Sonic sprites haphazardly pasted all over it. And instead of rescuing fellow rodent compatriots, as Speedy does in the actual game, Sonic for some reason rescues Mario from human-sized bird cages.
“Your copyright infringement supeona is in another castle.”
Remember the enchanting tale of A Christmas Carol? This game is like a trip with the Ghost of Christmas Past to a world where Sega didn’t get out of the console business when they did, lost millions, and began hacking together piecemealed versions of their own games in a delusional rage, telling themselves aloud that everything is fine, and this is just “business as usual”.
Super Mario World 64 – Sega Genesis
Ever wish you could play Super Mario 64, but without any of the pesky deterrents, like the lush 3D environments, the freedom, the engaging story and fluid controls? Well, thanks to whatever sadist cobbled together this mess of a hack, you can! Super Mario World 64 despite being modeled after an SNES game and named after a Nintendo 64 game, puzzlingly calls the Sega Genesis its home. You can tell that much by the soundtrack comprised entirely of songs inexplicably jacked from the Genesis games Tale Spin and Jeopardy! I’ll take “Miserable Heaps of Garbage” for $200, Alex.
The game has six levels, the first four being directly ported from the actual, sane game Super Mario World, and the final two being the anonymous developers’ nightmarish brainchildren. It does have one new feature: the game will keep track of how many enemies you jumped on at the end of each level…which is utterly pointless, as the hack removes the ability for the game to keep score at all for some reason.
It also sports a control scheme that can best be described as “stiff”, with Mario taking more than twice the time he normally takes to ramp up to full speed, making some levels almost impossibly difficult by proxy. Remember how playing Sonic 2 with the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge locked in felt like cheating, because Knuckles was just some hang-gliding demigod, quite literally breezing through almost every level with nary a scratch? Playing Super Mario World 64 is like playing Super Mario World if Mario was just waking up from a weekend-long bender. And he has some sort of mental deficiency. And he’s lost the will to live entirely.
Puckman Pockimon – Arcade
Pikachu the world-famous Pockimon shown here with his trusty steed, Puckman.
Puckman Pockimon is a Pacman clone. Its title comes from horrendously butchered versions of “Pac-Man” and “Pokemon” (although if Scott Pilgrim vs. the World taught me one thing, it’s that Pac-Man’s original name was Puckman. That and Aubrey Plaza is really, really hot). The selling point, and apparently the trump card developer Genie 2000 is hoping will entice you to play Puckman Pockimon instead of a fully functioning, non-pirated game is that in addition to a genericized Pac-Man, you can also play as an unnerving, floating, disembodied Pikachu head.
Oh yeah, and once you complete a level, you are treated to one of a few different random, digitized photographs of Asian women. Asian women just…looking at you. Fully clothed.
Japanese people are seemingly easily gratified.
Street Figiter II Pro – Famicom (NES)
Rounding up the “Best Examples of Engrish” category for these pirated games comes the venerated “Street Figiter II Pro”, presumably an alternate universe in which the Street Fighter guys are overactive, ADD-addled figiters, fighting over the last bottle of Ritalin. Here you can play as “Zangiff”, and represent the stars and stripes of the good ole’ “USSA”.
Watch in delight as the fighters eerily fade in and out of existence with every mere movement. And what is that soldier to the right doing in the background? Is he not-so-covertly playing some pocket pool while enjoying this nice spar? I suppose anything to pass the time while being a spectator for this horrible game is worth it.
Final Fantasy VII – Famicom (NES)
When researching this article (“researching” is what I like to call watching YouTube videos about video games all day — it makes it sound far less depressing), I came cross a Final Fantasy VII remake for the NES (well, the Famicom technically, but here in ‘MERICA it’s the NES, thankyouverymuch) and immediately thought “great, this should be absolutely horrible”. Man, was I wrong. Developed and published in 2005 by the vaunted team ShenZhen Nanjing Technology, this game is actually supposed to be, well, pretty fucking awesome.
Let’s take a look at what some reviewers have said about it: Our friends at Kotaku described it as “…an achievement I have no hesitation in labeling Herculean”, even going so far as to label the game “a triumph of the human spirit”. Holy shit!
Surely Kotaku editor Luke Plunkett has some strange fetishists’ hard-on for Chinese bootlegs. There’s no way this third-rate knockoff can be that good, can it? Let’s get a second opinion. The late GamePro team had the following to say: “[Final Fantasy VII for NES is] the video game equivalent of the Human Genome Project.” …Umm, WHAT?!
Apparently, I have GOT to learn me some Chinese.
Even the original Final Fantasy VII, while lauded heavily of course, didn’t receive that kind of unabashed praise. A great game? Sure. A masterpiece? I think we can go there. A Herculean achievement and triumph of the human spirit on par with the complexities of the Human Genome Project?! For fuck’s sake, I’ve seen major scientific breakthroughs receive less praise than this game. When we finally cure cancer, the congratulations will seem like a mere pat on the back and a “get back in there” compared to the extollment this game has received.
No word yet on if we’ll see ShenZhen Nanjing Technology bang out a sassy, female-empowering direct sequel starring a plucky Tifa Lockhart and the ghost of Aerith Gainsborough. But here’s hoping.
Sonic 3D Blast 5 – Game Boy
For some reason poor Sonic is often the victim of strange game hacks, so he makes the list again. The title of this game is particularly baffling, both because the game itself is not 3D in the slightest (not even that bullshit, isometric garbage Sega gave us in the first (and only actual) Sonic 3D Blast), but also because…what happened to Sonic 3D Blast 2, 3, and 4? Sonic 3D Blast, the original, was released in late 1996. Sonic 3D Blast 5 was “released” in early 1998. That means in a little over the span of a year, there are THREE entries in the Sonic 3D Blast chronology that are just lost to the annals of time? Unknown and unheard of by modern man, like some retarded analog of the Lost City of Atlantis?
The game hastily combines levels and enemies from Sonic 1 and Sonic 3 (note not one mere second of this game has absolutely anything to do with Sonic 3D Blast despite the title), and has some uhh…”design choices” we’ll call them…that differ from Sega’s series. For instance, the music has degenerated into nothing more than ancient, cryptic “beeps” and “boops” with no real melody to speak of.
Then there are gameplay elements that are just inexplicably missing. For example, the invincibility power-up still exists, but does not harm the enemies when you encounter them while invincible. You can just kinda…run through them. Oh, and the music and graphics don’t change at all while you’re invincible, rendering it completely impossible to know when it’s going to kick in or wear off. Oh and spin dashing does absolutely nothing besides modify your appearance for a moment. If you hit an enemy while spin dashing, you’ll take damage as if you just casually walked into them.
Oh and it’s also known as Sonic Adventure 8. I’m not joking.
Toy Story – Famicom (NES)
Toy Story for the NES is a completely gutted version of the licensed SNES counterpart. Look at even the title screen above; the left is the SNES version, and the right is the crude NES recreation. I do like how the only thing in that scene that they felt was necessary to include besides Woody was Hamm the pig, who is shown inexplicably floating in black nothingness.
Amazingly the game is all downhill from there, as it is absolutely riddled with continuity, spelling, and basic logic errors. Let’s take a look:
The Help menu advises you how to collect bonus stars, extra lives, extra HP and the mysterious “checkpoi”, despite none of these actually being features of the game at all. The “Etch a Shotch” mysteriously has the capability to type words onto its own screen, instead of drawing them, and is apparently surprised that’s it’s Andy’s birthday, despite declaring it Andy’s birthday in almost the same breath.
The startup screen is emblazoned with the initials “WCW” for no reason (maybe big Eric Bischoff fans?). There’s a gas station level, where the pumps are labeled with the cryptic scribblings “TOY SOTRY”, “NONLEAD” and “HBUSHIDOB LADE”. And when you do beat a level (the entire game takes about 10 minutes to beat, by the way), you are rewarded with the level complete music from Contra, because, why the fuck not?
Jurassic Boy 2 – Famicom (NES)
Jurassic Boy 2 is a game about Chen, a dinosaur who is sometimes pink, sometimes red-orange, who lives in a world that looks suspiciously exactly like Sonic the Hedgehog’s world. Since nothing I could say would do this game justice, I think the best way to explain its lunacy is to go right to the source. Directly quoting the game’s manual (Intersperse your own [SIC] whenever you see fit):
In the year 2193, ‘”Dinosaur” becomes a popular subject again. Scientists all work for making dinosaur revive. ‘Nevertheless, they still lack of a special gene. This causes the dinosaurs they cultivate are all incomplete. ‘Many countries then intend to buy dinosaurian fossil at high prices in order to get the gene. ‘But it seems that it’s not so easy. ‘No one can do anything to this problem until Dr. Crachi invents a “Time Space” machine in the year 2197.
2180 advanced a new theory about time-back but was criticized.
2184, due to his excessive studying, he was mental diseased and was under treatment in hospital.
2188 missing after he was out of the hospital. They say he had ever appeared in Danba.
2198 completed the machine that can make time go back.
In the dinosaur family, Chen is the most intelligent one. Now his parents and brothers all fall into Crachi’s clutches. So the urgent matter for Chen to do is to save his family from the bad guy’s clutches.
There ya have it folks! If that doesn’t make you want to play this game, you must be “mental diseased”!
Contra Spirits – Famicom (NES)
The creators of Contra Spirits for the NES are nothing if not masters of efficiency. The fifth level is exactly the same as the second level, except the sky is pink for some reason instead of blue. Your congratulations for defeating the game is your player grasping a helicopter with the contraction “Thend”, an efficient, time-saving portmanteau of “The” and “End”! The creators took the approach used by the Internet at large here: Why spell things out correctly when you know what I mean?
Then there are just bizarre oddities, like your player appearing to do an instant 180 and face backwards every time he jumps for completely unknown reasons. It’s little easter eggs like these that keep pirated games fun!
Pizza Pop Mario – Famicom (NES)
Pizza Pop Mario is a shockingly stereotyping game in which Mario has hung up his plumber’s toolbelt and has dove headfirst into the hotshot world of pizza delivery.
The game is really just the old Jaleco game Pizza Pop! (who would have guessed?) with a sprite from Super Mario Bros. 3 inserted as the game’s protagonist and the word “Mario” pasted over “Jaleco” on the title screen, that much I can explain. What I can’t explain is why after being given the pizza to deliver (no box mind you, just an exposed, fresh pizza pie), he enters some strange room displaying on the wall an image of a diminutive version of himself running in place in what looks like a crude representation of Manhattan, seemingly trying to reach the pizza store but unable to. Mario doesn’t find this strange in the slightest and continues his unwavering quest to deliver the naked pizza pie by walking on foot through the crime-ridden streets, fending off hungry stray cats, climbing fences, and dealing with some of the biggest assholes on the planet while just trying to make an honest living.
Suddenly, saving that stupid bitch of a princess every day doesn’t seem so bad.