Even though it’s argued that their existence corrupts quality work and takes food from the mouths of developers’ children, the allure of bootlegged videogames is undeniable. With their bastardized graphics, gameplay and audio, these stolen and often sloppily modified console games give the morbidly curious a window into the minds of madmen. After all, creating unofficial, low quality “fakes” of popular videogames is like dunking the fabric of reality into a toilet and wringing out the turds into the hands of na?ve (or desperate) gamers worldwide. By and large, the business of bootlegging console games has resulted in frowns and disappointment from players everywhere, but even a corrupt system can occasionally deliver something weird enough to be beloved. Read on to discover 10 of the oddest cartridge games to ever hit a console.
This Pac-Man hack skins the game with an underwater theme, complete with edible aqua prey and crazy octopi predators. Just like a true free-roaming fish, the game’s hungry red protagonist is (mostly) unbound by walls in his new environment, which is a neat twist on the originally railed courses packaged in Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. Of course, some may find this aspect of the board construction heresy – especially those who’ve spent (wasted) years of their life memorizing the patterns necessary to master the game. Everyone else can simply enjoy the weirdness.
9) Kart Fighter
In a time predating Super Smash Bros., Kart Fighter would have been hailed as the glorious gaming achievement that it truly is. However, time has taken its toll and players now have access to relatively obscene amounts of processing power and a plethora of property crossovers at their disposal. Still, the game gets an “A” for effort, mostly because unlike the kid-friendly SSB characters, the Kart Fighter combatants look genuinely angry. And why shouldn’t they be? They’re too cool to be a bootleg.
Maybe it’s the fear of being dethroned as the king of consoles or maybe it’s a side-effect of plopping an 8-bit sprite into a 16-bit world, but Mario seems much more anxious than he probably ought to be in this protagonist-replacement title. Sonic’s characteristic impatience just doesn’t fit Nintendo’s number one plumber as Mario wears Sonic’s extreme speed rather sloppily at the hands of the bootleg programmers, who seem to have plopped a discolored Super Mario Bros. 3 sprite set onto the blue blur. Perhaps if the pirates behind this travesty had played around a little more with the idea of a full-fledged Sonic/Mario hybrid game, this bootleg would have had some merit. Unfortunately it’s just a cheap swap.
7) Rockman X 3
It’s Mega Man (or Rock Man as they call him in Japan), as you’ve never seen him before: sucking. Terribly. It’s not that his signature iron buster has been replaced by perpetual boomerang-slinging in this early NES rip-off – that’s par for the course in the series – it’s just, why go through the trouble of ripping off the blue bomber if you’re not going to steal Capcom’s codes? Almost all of the graphics are ripped off from other side-scrollers. Things look vaguely futuristic and the music has that “club joint gone terribly wrong” midi vibe, but it’s very clear that it’s a damaged and inferior clone. It even has a lazy fake title since Rock Man X 3 is an actual game made by Capcom. Get it together, bootleggers!
6) Bio Hazard
No, that’s not a typo, this fan-pirated NES port of Capcom’s appropriately compound-worded “Biohazard” (Resident Evil in America) is a wonderful mesh of outdated gaming tech that simulates the gameplay found on Gameboy Color’s Resident Evil: Gaiden. Note how the “authentic” character sprites, maps and weapons (seemingly recreated from PlayStation’s original RE) are completely stripped of their horror aspect when washed in bright colors. It’s almost as frightening as an army of undead Lego men – or an appalling misrepresentation of everything RE stands for.
5) Hot Dance 2000
A Dance Dance Revolution rip-off for the NES? It’s practically crack for midi junkies. With hits such as Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” there’s not much to complain about…as long as responsive controls and basic playability aren’t important to the player. Visually, Hot Dance isn’t much to look at. Where DDR‘s rich color palate provides a flashy experience inspiring players to bust a move on a reactive mat – short of somehow utilizing NES’ power pad, this comparatively lackluster version relies on kitsch alone for relevance. Somehow, it’s almost enough.
4) Flash Batman
While it shares little in common with Cartoon Network’s latest Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon, this Monster in My Pocket (not to be confused with Japan’s “Pocket Monsters”) hack does succeed in uniting the Justice League’s mightiest odd couple. If players try hard enough, they can suspend their disbelief and pretend the game really is some kind of offbeat Grant Morrison yarn adapted for the NES. It’s not too difficult, especially considering that even this spotty bootleg looks more fun than a lot of the other DC Comics video games released between 1985 and… well… present day.
3) Darkwing Duck 2
Remember that time Darkwing Duck went off the deep end and traded in his gas pellets for explosive rounds? No? Well, this sequel that never really happened can fulfill that macho fantasy with ease. The original DD title on both NES and Game Boy was a pretty underrated outing considering it fused some of the best elements of Capcom’s Duck Tales and Mega Man games. So no matter how cool it may be to watch a graphically sub-par sequel play out on the Contra engine, Darkwing fans will likely still resent the fact that the sequel that should have been exists only as a shoddy (and crazy) bootleg.
2) Harry’s Legend
However satisfying the fisticuffs of Kart Fighter may be for Mario fans, the joy is fleeting compared to Potter fans enjoyment in witnessing J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard trade in his wand-swishing for straight-up clobbering – for no reason AT ALL. There’s really not much more to it than that. Now just imagine Delores Umbridge and the Malfoy family as level bosses and let the revelry begin.
1) Pocket Monsters 2
For every RPG fan that grew tired of Pok?mon‘s turn-based snooze-fest, this side-scrolling adventure game made covertly for the SNES and Sega Genesis picks up the pace as a faux sequel to…eh…any given actual Pok?mon game. The developers didn’t do an awful job, considering the relatively fluid animation, the pok?ball tokens and the surprisingly accurate sprite models of several legit characters – even if they’re all just hacks from other games. It’s just a shame nothing like this exists for the salivating, would-be buyers of a similar title licensed by Nintendo. And no, Pikachu’s weird surfing mini-game in Pok?mon: Yellow doesn’t count. Since the game is so fundamentally acceptable by the standards of 1995, it’s enough to make fans wonder, “Did Team Rocket make this as a ploy to steal money from suckers?” Maybe this time the truth really is stranger than fan fiction.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.