The Unlicensed Collection

UNLICENSED GAMES

Don’t ever fall for the description “BLACK CARTRIDGE – RARE!!!” Beginner collectors tend to get sucked in because they think they’ve seen it all, so when something “new” comes along, they quickly act. You need to study up a little bit before you just start throwing your money around for third-party games.

And should you even bother? Nobody’s going to call you out for not having the translucent cartridge with the label printed on pink tin foil, and these companies often produced simply terrible games. The licensed games were developed by experienced programmers with a great deal of funding, while unlicensed cartridges were made in a basement and generally have next to no replay value. (“Am I collecting Nintendo games or games that play on my Nintendo?”)

Now you’re probably going to scoop some up along the way anyway, but try and look at the unlicensed carts as additional enhancements to your collection, not as a requirement. Your licensed collection is simple. It’s time-consuming and expensive, but simple. The titles are well-documented and the list is official. There won’t ever be another gray NES cartridge released with Nintendo’s Seal of Approval. But be careful with unlicensed titles – new games could be produced tomorrow and you wouldn’t have any idea they weren’t made in 1989. Don’t let a “deal” trap you into wasting your money and discipline yourself to stay away from anything shady, which is exceedingly difficult as it is because you’re dealing with back-alley third-party corporations out of Taiwan.

So where do you begin? Well, rather than jumping back and forth between software and publishing companies, making different checklists for each one will save you the stress of juggling. Some published their own games, and some turned them over to others for production, so it gets confusing. Start by splitting these into six separate categories:

tengentetris#1 Tengen:

Atari’s software branch was one of the most active and certainly the most popular, primarily because of all the open litigation between Tengen and Nintendo. Fortunately, the programming actually stands up to the official games of the era. This wasn’t a nerd making his own version of Kaboom! on his little brother’s Commodore 64 – this is Atari. The carts themselves are uniform and very distinct, black with two front finger grips, and the labels bear the company logo vertically on the left side.

tetrisscreenshotTengen is also different from the rest, producing licensed cartridges. Four games will match the programming of licensed duplicates in your library. The Tengen collection, aside from their version of Tetris, is cheap. Don’t get suckered – there are tons of copies available for this 20-game list:

RBI Baseball *

Gauntlet *

Pac-Man *

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom *

Ms. Pac-Man **

Tetris **

RBI Baseball 2

RBI Baseball 3

Pac-Mania

Rolling Thunder

Skull & Crossbones

Klax

Toobin’

After Burner

Alien Syndrome

Fantasy Zone

Road Runner

Shinobi

Super Sprint

Vindicators

* Has a licensed counterpart

** Different programming than licensed version

Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Mania will run you up to about $15 each and the Tetris is on the valuable side. You should be able to complete your Tengen collection in a relatively short period of time for way under $100.

#2 Color Dreams, Bunch Games, Wisdom Tree:

Here’s the timeline: Color Dreams releases crappy games, changes name to Bunch Games because nobody wants their crappy games anymore, releases more crappy games, finds God and alters games to include religious overtones, and then…releases more crappy games. Well I suppose there’s something to be said about consistency. But in all honesty, I secretly dig Baby Boomer.

Now here’s where you need to make your decision about what type of collector you want to be. Both black and baby-blue cases for identical games exist that differ in availability and price, and watch for a game called Captain Comic that shows up from time to time with an inverted label. It’s not my thing, but you’re not collecting for me – it’s your call.

The “before Christ” Color Dreams and Bunch Games cartridges are much more valuable than those from Wisdom Tree, as the Bible games were actually good sellers. The first twenty can all be categorized as valuable, ranging from $20 to $80. Still sure you want to take on an unlicensed collection? Because it gets worse.

Color Dreams cartridges:

Baby Boomer

Captain Comic

Challenge of the Dragon

Crystal Mines

King Neptune’s Adventure

Master Chu and the Drunkard Hu

Menace Beach

Metal Fighter

Operation Secret Storm

P’radikus Conflict

Pesterminator

Raid 2020

Robodemons

Secret Scout in the Temple of Demise

Silent Assault

Bunch Games cartridges:

Castle of Deceit

Galactic Crusader

Mission Cobra

Moon Ranger

Tagin’ Dragon

Wisdom Tree cartridges:

Bible Adventures

Bible Buffet

Exodus: Journey to the Promised Land

Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

King of Kings: The Early Years

Spiritual Warfare

Sunday Funday

#3 American Game Cartridges:

chillerThis is an easy one, albeit a little pricey. Based in Arizona, these guys would pump out just three cartridges before going bust-o. They stand out for two reasons: They most closely resemble licensed games physically and Chiller is the goriest thing you’ll ever see on the NES.

Chiller

Death Race

Shock Wave

ave #4 American Video Entertainment:

After American Game Cartridges went under, the vice president (also formerly of Tengen) moved on to form his own company, where he enjoyed some notable success. Some of these come cheap and some are a little valuable – nothing you can’t handle. But just before it was all over for A.V.E., they released Maxivision 15-in-1 (Maxi 15), which is specifically designed to drain you dry. The most suck part about this game is it’s just a compilation of A.V.E. and American Game Cartridges games, so when you get to it, decide if adding a pretty cartridge to your shelf that you’ll never play is really that important. But I suppose that’s the short definition of “Unlicensed Collection.”

Blackjackmaxi15

Deathbots

Double Strike

Dudes with Attitude

F-15 City Wars

Impossible Mission II

Krazy Kreatures

Maxi 15

Mermaids of Atlantis

Puzzle

Pyramid

Rad Racket

Solitaire

Tiles of Fate

Trolls on Treasure Island

Ultimate League Soccer

Venice Beach Volleyball

Wally Bear and the NO! Gang

deckenhancer#5 Camerica:

What sets Camerica apart from the rest? They made some pretty awesome games! But what’s tricky is they made stand-alone cartridges as well as games requiring a piece of piggy-back hardware known as the “Aladdin Deck Enhancer,” which was similar to the Game Genie (another of their products).

The idea was that a lot of repeating expensive hardware was included on every game’s motherboard. By creating a universal component including these necessary electronics, cheaper games could be produced. A user could buy the enhancer for one initial fee, and then enjoy economical games forever. And if it hadn’t come out so late, it probably would have worked, but the SNES was already killing the market.

quattrosportsThey also manufactured nifty little cartridges that had a PAL/NTSC switch so the games would work around the globe. And some games were produced both with these switching cases and as the Aladdin carts requiring the Enhancer, and to top it off, the stand-alone cartridges are available in silver and gold! So it’s yet another time you need to decide whether games or cartridges are more important for you.

Bee 52

Big Nose Freaks Out *

Dizzy the Adventurer **

FireHawk

Linus Spacehead’s Cosmic Adventure *

Micro Machines *

Mig 29 Soviet Fighter

Quattro Adventure *

Quattro Arcade

Quattro Sports *

Stunt Kids

The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy *

Ultimate Stuntman

* Available as both Aladdin and stand-alone cartridges

** Available only as Aladdin cartridge

#6 Other:

Now, in my humble opinion, here’s where it just gets stupid, including unreleased and unfinished prototypes from a Midwest warehouse, 1000-in-1 cartridges, and 8-bit pornography. Some games were reproductions with different casings, making it impossible to know how many types of cartridges are floating around. There are countless variations at ridiculous prices, but there’s one thing that brings all of these games into one big steaming pile – they ALL suck.

But it’s up to you. Just know that for the price of this list, you can easily get another licensed collection and it could take years before many of these are even available again. So good luck.

Caltron 6-in-1 *

Myriad 6-in-1 *

Action 52

Hot Slots

Peek-a-Boo Poker

Bubble Bath Babes

Cheetahmen II (Unreleased)

* Duplicate programming

The list goes on, especially once you travel abroad, but by the time you get these, you’ll be too broke for anything else anyway.

In effect, after you get your licensed collection, all this may seem appealing, and sure it’ll give you something to do. But it won’t be as rewarding as completing the official NES collection and you’re in for a lot of hassle. The labels are usually made from flimsy paper, so expect some games damaged beyond repair, the programming is so poorly designed sometimes with abnormal glitches you can’t even complete the game, and they’re really hard to squeeze in with the rest of your games because the carts themselves are so funky looking.