SimCity fans likely had a slightly better Christmas this week. An unreleased NES version has finally been unleashed onto the city-building enthusiast crowd. Many will be aware of the SNES SimCity variant, but did you know a similar NES version was also in the works? From what we know now, it was mostly complete too. So, what happened?
The story starts all the way back in 1991. The Winter Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing and at the Nintendo stand, the upcoming SimCity ports of the 1989 Maxis classic are proudly on display. The TV show, Video Power, presented a segment where the host plays the NES version for just under a minute. At the end, he promises a release of May that same year. However, it would be the only footage of the game to exist for 26-years.
While the SNES version did indeed see a release (although in August instead) the NES version was all but displaced to the pages of retro gaming history. No one is really sure why it was never released either – it could be argued it was because the NES was eight-years-old by that point, but then again, the console limped along fine for quite a few more years. A hasty decision on Nintendo’s part perhaps?
Regardless, the SNES release was a huge hit at the time and not much thought was given to a NES version that might have been. That was until September 2017, anyway. Two prototype cartridges popped up in a Seattle retro gaming store and the owner excitedly uploaded a video of them in action. As you can imagine, this set the scene on fire as there hasn’t been anything tangible about the game since the early ’90s.
The owner’s name of these cartridges has never been published (as far as I can tell) and I couldn’t find out how he came across them, but regardless of identity, the owner took them to the 2017 Portland Retro Gaming Expo in hope of making a tidy sale. While one did end up in the hands of a private collector, fortunately for the rest of us, heroes from the Video Game History Foundation secured a deal where they could borrow the other cartridge and dump the ROM.
So, leading up to the present, Frank Cifaldi of the foundation uploaded the ROM to the Internet Archive on Christmas Day. A truly blessed gift, indeed. He also published an extensive article on the foundation’s website not only detailing the story behind the game but the process of obtaining a copy. He then goes on to detail all the features of the game but also how finished it was. The general consensus is that it was near completion, but does include a host of bugs, typos and missing content. Regardless, it appears to be fully playable – a source of theirs claims that this sort of prototype would have been used for focus test group purposes.
A very interesting story indeed, and one I’m sure everyone is glad to have a happy ending. ROM’s for titles like these should also be dumped so they can be enjoyed by everyone. If you own such a game that’s important to retro gaming history, I urge you to at least lend it to someone with the know-how to dump the ROM. Everyone benefits!