Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Strange Case of Nightmare Busters

Video gaming is one of my hobbies but unfortunately, the only instance in which I've been involved with an actual video game's "production" is a rather obscure one.
In 2008, when I had just started working in animation, a German collector approached me. He told me he had recently purchased a rare prototype cartridge of a fully finished, but unreleased Super Nintendo game called Nightmare Busters.

Nightmare Busters was, and still is, a typical 90s, tough-as-nails run & gun-type platformer in the vein of Contra. Its twist is that rather than gritty sci-fi mercs butchering alien invaders it features two leprechaun characters using magical trinkets to blast their way through a colourful horde of stock fantasy minions and villains.


The game featured for its time above average-looking 16-bit graphics and impressively large sprites. Having had the chance to play it, I can say it's a worthy game of its era, playable and very challenging later on, yet not unfair.
Aforementioned collector commissioned what he called "a 90s-style video game cover" illustration from me for an article he was going to write to be published in a Japanese video game magazine. Since at that time only the prototype existed, no publicity artwork for the game was available, hence the need for some non-pixel artwork. So based on screen shots he sent me, I came up with this:

(Yikes, the "joys" of looking at old artwork from more than five years ago ...)

I have no idea whether the article was ever written, but I suppose it must have because some months later I saw a fully produced reproduction Super Famicom cartridge. The collector revealed to me that the Japanese magazine had those done to give away in a sweepstake accompanying his article.

It's really quality stuff with high-res box art and cartridge prints and even a manual. I was amazed. Only twenty or so of these unofficial cartridges were produced and they used to fetch prices around €400 on ebay some years ago.

During the following years, other unofficial releases appeared on the market - some of which even ripped off elements of my "original" (unofficial) illustration.

An unauthorised rip-off of an unofficial release of an unreleased game. Mind. Blown.
I even came across stuff like this, although I believe this is fan work rather than anything unofficial or illegal.

Luckily, today's collectors needn't bother with unofficial or shady releases fetching prices in the €400 region anymore. In 2013, way after my "involvement" with the game, California-based company Super Fighter Team officially and legally bought the rights to Nightmare Busters and gave the game a proper release. Retro buffs can own their own copy for between $75 and $90 from Super Fighter Team's website.