Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (Prototype, Nintendo Entertainment System)
After documenting his Ninja Gaiden prototype, passionate video game collector Danny “Armageddon Potato” Tatro has sent me more of his findings. This time he put his Ninja Gaiden II Nintendo Entertainment System pre-release game under the figurative microscope.
“This cartridge was my first prototype I ever owned, and it was found right here in Sacramento,” Danny told me. “I bought a lot of games from someone off of Craigslist, and I met him at the Sunrise Dimple Records. After meeting him, I found out he actually worked at Dimple Records, and he was about to clock in to work. This was his personal collection he was selling. In the lot, he mentioned having a bad-looking copy of Ninja Gaiden II. After seeing it, I immediately knew what it was. My mind was blown; I had just found a prototype of my favorite Nintendo Entertainment System game in the wild!”
If you factor in all of the other cartridges, Danny paid a little over $4 for Ninja Gaiden II. He dared not ask the previous owner how he acquired such a treasure.
“The top EPROM sticker was loose in the cartridge when I got it,” Danny noted. “I attempted to glue it back on, but in the process, I just barely managed to smudge it with my thumb, which is visible in the picture. I’ve seen other known Ninja Gaiden II prototypes that are missing this sticker.”
Several years ago, the data from another Ninja Gaiden II prototype, belonging to Jason Wilson, a former Tips & Tricks magazine senior editor, was leaked onto the Internet (link). Wilson’s cartridge is also dated January 18, 1990, but his is marked “21,” while Danny’s copy is numbered “25.” The North American game retailed in May 1990.
It was common practice back in those days for gaming companies to assign unique identification numbers to preview cartridges, that were loaned to the press, so that each mailed game could be accounted for and tracked. However, according to some reporters, these borrowed cartridges were sometimes never returned because either the companies never asked for them back or their requests were simply ignored.
Besides the different number printed on the front label, there is also a single byte difference between Danny’s Ninja Gaiden II and the earlier dumped cartridge. This change is found in the header, however, so it has no discernible effect on the game.
Both cartridges show the same sample number when they boot, “Sample 36.”
As for in-game changes when compared to the released North American version, for starters, the opening screen does not display a year.
Danny pointed out that the button combinations used to access the music and sound tests in the released American version do not work in the prototype. However, loading retail save states in the prototype will allow you to access the various music and sound tests in an emulator. The font color is light blue in the prototype, the dash punctuation mark is longer, and Irene’s chibi sprite is missing her stubby little legs.
“Another difference is that you can only play until Ashtar in Act 5,” Danny said.
Afterwards, the prototype will run a brief slideshow of upcoming game cinematics and then freeze on a “Coming Soon!!” screen.
“It appears this was to show the prototype off as a demo rather than a full game,” Danny commented.
One of the teased cutscenes shows an obvious visual change. Look closely at the symbol on Jaquio’s chest. In the released American version, Jaquio has a pentagram, which is befitting for a spell-slinging sorcerer like himself. In the prototype, however, Jaquio appears to be Jewish, as he wears the Star of David instead. (It is interesting to note that the retail Japanese game, Ninja Ryukenden II: Ankoku no Jashinken, also features the Star of David, and when Ryu squares off with Jaquio in the first Ninja Gaiden, it is plain to see that the Evil Demon King sports the six-pointed design on his robe and chooses hexagrams for his interior decorating as well.)
Tecmo’s presumably inadvertent anti-Semitism aside, Danny found a way around the prototype’s blockade to reach Act 6 by hacking the game code.
“This is where things get interesting!” Danny said. “Act 6 with no background. Quite challenging, I must say. There are also strange objects in the sky that don’t seem to do anything. I eventually made it to where the hidden 1-Up was, and it’s still kind of hidden! This entire level is very glitchy too. I had a couple weird things happen like the Art of the Fire Wheel becoming stuck in mid-air.”
All of the cutscenes from this point forward do not automatically play in the prototype. However, all of the graphics and the script are more or less present in the game code.
“However, all of the bosses are different,” he added.
The Act 6 boss, for example, is a duo of axe-wielding humanoid jack-o-lanterns whom Nintendo Power appropriately calls Pumpkin Heads in the magazine’s official strategy guide. They normally appear as minor enemies in Ninja Gaiden II, and the mutant fruit also stalk the original Ninja Gaiden.
“They behave exactly like Kelbeross,” Danny said.
After carving out the Pumpkin Heads, you come to Act 7.
“Act 7 is all the same as the final version except for the boss,” Danny said, “which is an Obaba from the first Ninja Gaiden! She has the exact same pattern as Jaquio.”
Again, the cutscenes skip in the prototype, but loading a save state will show Jaquio with some new facial plastic surgery. More pumpkin pie, Monsieur Guardia de Mieux?
“It’s the second form of Jaquio, but the room graphics are missing,” Danny said. “Instead, it’s just a bunch of blocky redness! The boss fight, however, still works like the final version.”
After besting Jaquio in the room powered by the Atari 2600, you then come up against what Danny called the strangest thing in the entire prototype.
“The last form of Jaquio is missing quite a lot, and a giant ‘NOT FOR SALE!!’ is printed in the sky and parts of it repeat where the floor should be. I guess this was Tecmo’s way of saying if you somehow got this far, this game is not supposed to be released yet!”
After defeating Jaquio’s anti-capitalist form, the prototype will warp Ryu to an unfinished level, Stage 2-4, where he will then immediately plummet to his death.
“Ryu then stands on a small invisible platform where a glitchy bat enemy will spawn and hit him in the face and knock him into the abyss below,” Danny said. “There is nothing else in this room.”
Loading a save state from the American release in the prototype will allow you to view the finale and the credits, albeit with a few more hiccups, like a “COMING SOON!!” banner plastered across Ryu’s forehead on a number of the screens. (These graphic tiles are missing in the final version.)
“There was one more weird thing I noticed,” Danny said. “When the castle crumbles, it does so in a very glitchy way.”
He added, “Also, I found that at the very end of the game, when the screen goes gray, you can access the sound test by pressing a direction on the D-pad plus the B button, and that will allow you to cycle through the game’s music right there at that screen!”
Finally, there is more overlaid text on some of the other closing cutscene screens, which, if you squint, appears to spell out “GOD BLESS YOU!! HA. HA. HA!!” (yet again, these tiles are nowhere to be found in the retail game).
God bless us, everyone.