Batman: Return of the Joker (Prototype, Family Computer)
In August 2012, former Tips & Tricks magazine Senior Editor Jason Wilson auctioned off a Family Computer prototype of Batman: Return of the Joker for $202.51 (link). Wilson described the game as having no sound and a Nintendo of America copyright on the title screen.
I tried reaching out to the buyer to learn more, but he did not respond as of this writing and has now made his feedback private. All I could glean from searching for information is that he must really have something kinky going on with Chubby Cherub, as around the same time he bought every copy listed on eBay in a single day (nine in total).
(Image source: eBay.com)
A year later, Wilson then sold a second Batman: Return of the Joker Family Computer prototype to me. The glare from his camera’s flash initially blinded me to some very revealing writing on the EPROM stickers.
“FINAL VER 0.0,” which roughly translates to “Stay far the hell away from me!” in preservationist speak. I was told, however, that SAP-E301 is a previously undocumented Sunsoft board.
Of course, you would expect this “FINAL VER” Family Computer development board to hold the Japanese retail release, but curiously it does not. Just like Wilson’s first Family Computer prototype, this one actually contains the North American game. Is this another one of the Joker’s tricks, Batman?
The version released in Japan contains the alternate title Dynamite Batman. According to the story in the instruction manual, the Joker has stolen precious and toxic metals from Gotham City’s mines to build powerful explosives in his secret island hideaway of Ha-Hacienda, a name lifted from the DC Comics. That would explain “Dynamite” in the nomenclature. The game is known in all other regions as Batman: Return of the Joker.
The sequel to Sunsoft’s popular 1989 Batman: The Video Game, which was based on the Tim Burton film, Batman: Return of the Joker expanded upon the original’s side-scrolling action by tossing in additional Contra-style weapon power-ups, a Mega Man 3-inspired sliding move, horizontal shooting jetpack sublevels, challenging boss fights with a new life gauge system, and extra adrenaline-fueled objectives such as taking on a heavily-armed zeppelin and outrunning a charging tank. The graphics received a major upgrade, as well, with larger sprites and impressively textured settings that are a lot more diverse this time around, beginning in a gloomy gothic cathedral, and later a chilly ice valley, a rocky underground mine, and an exotic tiki jungle.
Wilson amassed most of his prototype collection from acquiring pre-release cartridges that were sent to gaming magazines. This Batman: Return of the Joker is different because no domestic publication would have been issued a game on Family Computer hardware. Wilson instead claims that he picked up the prototype directly from Sunsoft when the company closed down its American office in Cypress, California.
11165 Knott Avenue Cypress, California 90630
If you recall from the write-up on the Family Computer prototype containing the U.S. version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Konami would test localized games on Family Computer hardware first before converting them to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Could it be that Sunsoft followed the same procedure? Did this prototype mark the final step before the Batwing swooped to the Nintendo Entertainment System and landed on North American store shelves in December 1991?
Although it’s site policy not to post same-as-final prototypes, I’m going to bend the rules a little here and include this one because WindHex shows several hundred byte changes in the code.