After I heard it through the grapevine that the cancelled California Raisins Nintendo Entertainment System game had been found, I reached out to Brandon Murphy, the lucky gamer who solved this great enigma, for an interview.

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

 How did you find the game?

I was hanging out at Rhino Games (South East franchise [Florida]) talking to my friends when a woman and her son came in. She had a lot of carts and was going to trade in Dragon Warrior 2 for 50 cents. I advised her to put it on eBay and get more money.

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

So, later, the guys tell her they can’t take four of her carts because they all have homemade labels. Mega Man 2, Platoon, a game which the name I will never remember, and a game that said “Raisins.” I am collecting Capcom, that’s my thing, and the “Raisins” one had a label that said return to Capcom. I told her I was interested in it and she just gave it to me for my advice.

I left the store feeling pretty good and I remember reading in the collector corner in Tips & Tricks about proto carts… the handmade labels and what have you.

I went back and asked her where she got them. She said a friend of hers used to work for “some gaming company” and gave them to her as a gift for her son when he was old enough.

Now he wanted an Xbox and she was trying to offset the cost a little.

I told her what they all were. I’m not greedy.

 You’re a very honest man. I respect you for that.

So, what the hey, I told her the other three probably weren’t worth much (I didn’t know otherwise at the time) since they came out. Then she starts asking about value and stuff and I told her to keep them, they’re a really cool collectible to have. She asked if I was going to sell the “Raisins” one, and I told her I wasn’t because I collect Capcom.

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

At the time, I didn’t know that “Raisins” was an unreleased game. I did my research and for a while I thought it had come out cause a few game stores around her have a buy back listing for it. I happened upon an article by “Seanbaby” about the 10 worst video game ideas, and there it was black and white: “unreleased.” This was a month or two ago.

 Wait… when did you first find the game?

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

When the lady gave it to me — 2 months ago. I had no idea it was THAT big of a deal till I posted today.

(laughs) Maybe month and half, not that long of a time.

 It’s a huge deal; you’re holding Nintendo history in your hands! May I ask what you have planned for the game? Back up the data? Sell? Hold on to it?

Um, to make a copy to ensure it is never gone, and that’s really it. I will keep both copies, of course. I don’t want someone to get a hold of it and make their own “prototypes.” And I have to keep it cause it is a.) Capcom, b.) I swore to the woman I wouldn’t sell it, and c.) my fiance would murder me.

 Well, I suppose anyone could turn a back-up into a homemade cart. And sell for profit.

That’s why I want to hold on to it, I don’t want that to happen.

 Releasing a ROM image is out of the question?

Pretty much, yeah.

 Just a back-up for you?

For me and maybe someone who wants it for preservation, not money and profit.

 Can you describe the gameplay in Raisins?

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

I can’t say that it was a shame it didn’t come out. There are four levels. Warehouse, factory, grapevine, and…. hold on, I’ll put it in and check, I don’t remember the name of the fourth level. Factory and grapevine are the only two level titles I can make out. The other looks like dribble.

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

It has two difficulty settings, normal and hard, that you select before you play. You’re the raisin with the sunglasses. “A” jumps and “B” throws raisins at various fruit who are the bad guys. I think one level is a sewer, anyways.

 Are there any cutscenes/movies? How is the ending?

There is a lot of climbing, which is hard because it seems like the mechanics for the jumping is a little off; jumping off vines is awkward. Can’t get that far; it’s hard.

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

There is a scene where the Council of Raisins tells you to go save them; it is a still shot; it looks pretty good though.

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

Well, the jumping makes it hard for one thing, and some enemies are impossible to avoid, like when you’re up on the grapevine, there is a plane that drops peas on you and you can’t avoid it; you get hit. And if you jump wrong, you plummet to certain doom. Or I suck; it’s one or the other.

 And the music?

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

The music is good, though, very good. And the vine-climbing sound is the rope climbing sound from DuckTales.

 How would you rate the graphics keeping in mind that it is a Nintendo Entertainment System game?

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

Decent. It would be good if the level design was a little more inspired; all the characters look really good though.

The levels are kind of lacking.

 Was there a year on the title screen?

(Image source: Brandon Murphy) 

1990 on the opening screen. The main character walks across the copyright screen into the title screen; I liked that.

 Is the gameplay similar to any other Capcom titles?

It’s like a much less exciting Mega Man. The music still kicks, though, and that is pretty consistent with them through the 8-bit era, or at least I like most of their music. Of course, I am biased towards anything that says Capcom, except Street Fighter 2099 (shudders).

 What would you like to say to people who want to “buy” or “dump” the game?

Sorry. It’s not about money. I’m a collector, not a salesman.

 You’re one-of-a-kind; not many people would say that. You could get thousands!

It’s only money; you don’t come with it and you can’t take it with you.

 Thanks a lot for the info, Brandon! You’ve made us cynical Nintendo players little kids again.

No prob, later. Have fun writing it. Good night.

(Image source: Dave Allwein) 

Game Player’s Encyclopedia of Nintendo Games Vol. 3 has some excellent tips on beating California Raisins! (Thanks to Dave Allwein for allowing me to post these scans.)

UPDATE: After this interview was published, serious prototype collectors began haggling with Brandon to sell California Raisins privately. He reportedly received offers as high as $3,000. Rather than trying to cash in and give the game to someone who would almost certainly never let anyone else ever play it, Brandon decided to make the California Raisins back-up binary file available to everyone for free. Afterwards, however, when he went to sell the cart, Brandon had a difficult time finding buyers. The collectors all pulled out and lost interest because the ROM image had been released. As the whales swam away, Brandon ultimately was only able to sell this one-of-a-kind unreleased Capcom game for $600. He took a $2,400 hit.

Some time later, while going through my backlog of inbox messages, I opened a haunting e-mail from a mother who had lost her child. She had been Googling her son’s name one day at work when she arrived at my site. She wanted to let me know how my conversation with Brandon had given her heart some ease because on December 18, 2004 he tragically left this world at the tender age of 22.

As reported by The Florida Times-Union, “Separate juries found a Jacksonville couple guilty Friday of murdering their 22-year-old roommate, robbing him and then setting his body and apartment on fire — crimes prosecutors say were mimicked after they watched the 1994 movie Natural Born Killers.

“Angus Wallen and Kara Winn, both 27, were tried separately and each convicted of first-degree murder, robbery and arson in the Dec. 18, 2004, crime.

“Separate juries for each defendant determined that Wallen and Winn shot Brandon Murphy, took his car, debit card, Nintendo games and other property and then doused the body and the apartment with lighter fluid” (link).

The pair who had committed the murder would eventually be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The roommate died in jail at the age of 30 (link).

Brandon’s mother asked me more about her son’s involvement in video game preservation, and I spoke highly of his generosity and gave her links to Brandon’s posts on a popular classic gaming forum where he was a frequent contributor (his last post was made on November 30, 2004). I also helped her with the devastating task of selling what remained of his proud Capcom collection.

If you would like to pay your respects to Brandon, please visit his online memorial page. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers.