Chip’s Challenge for the NES

Posted on November 13th, 2015 by Frank Cifaldi

Here’s a fun surprise - an NES version of Chip’s Challenge, Chuck Sommerville’s Atari Lynx puzzler that later became famous as an early Windows game!

The NES version was going to be published in the U.S. by Bullet-Proof Software, the group that published Hatris and Pipe Dream for the NES, and is probably most remembered for its involvement in the Tetris licensing fiasco. It was developed by Images Software, the same dev house that also did all of the non-Windows PC conversions.

The version we have here is obviously not complete, but here are some general notes from our observances:

- The first thing you’ll notice if you watch this video - there’s no sound!

- Some simple debug features are still present. At the start of any level, BEFORE moving Chip, hit A to advance to the next level.

- The playing field view is waaaayyy bigger than the original. The original showed a 9×9 grid on screen, this one is more like 16×13! I don’t think I agree with that decision, but given the NES’ 8×8 tile size, I can’t think of an elegant solution either.

- 136 of the original game’s 148 levels are present in this build. The passwords are the same as well, though the order is mixed up a bit.

- Interesting, level 132, appropriately named “EXCLUSIVE,” is exclusive to the NES version. And it’s pretty darn difficult, too. It looks like this:

- Yes, I beat it (with help). Can you? The password is IGSC.

- All of the “cutscenes” from the original are included here, including the ending.

- Credits however do not display, although text strings do exist for them in the ROM. The game basically crashes if you beat it.

I actually think Chip’s Challenge is a pretty solid game. So do lots of people, actually — mod communities have existed since the birth of the internet. I do recommend playing the game if you haven’t though — you can buy it for a couple bucks on Steam. And what’s even cooler, the previously-unreleased Chip’s Challenge 2 was recently ported as well, with money going straight to the original developer. How cool is that?

We’re not sure what became of the NES version. What we do know is that Bullet-Proof announced it at Winter CES, January 1991, then exhibited it again at Summer CES in June, and then as far as we can tell, never mentioned it again. Interestingly, this build of the game is dated 5/8/1992, meaning that it was burned well after those demos. And, you may notice, Bullet-Proof does not appear in the ROM at all. Perhaps Bullet-Proof decided to pass, and this was a polished demo that was being passed around in the hopes of finding a new publisher? I contacted the NES version’s programmer to ask, but haven’t heard back. I’ll update this should he ever reply.

If you’d like to try out the NES version yourself, you can download it right here.

Huge, huge thanks to Lost Levels pal and all around great guy Steve Lin for acquiring this game and allowing us all to take a look at it.

Block Out for the NES

Posted on September 1st, 2013 by Frank Cifaldi

Hey everyone, new game time!

Continuing our extreme bias toward the Nintendo Entertainment System, this time around we’re spotlighting American Technos’ Block Out, based on the arcade game of the same name (which, itself, was based on a PC game).

Head on over to the article and give it a whirl!

Has it been ten years already?

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 by Frank Cifaldi

The Lost Levels pirate crew and I launched our first features on this website exactly ten years ago today*, believe it or not (I hardly do).

We debuted at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, where we had a gigantic booth allowing people to play some of the unreleased games we’d acquired over the years — stuff like Sunman and California Raisins — before they were available online. I wore a cape for no reason, drank too much, and ended up meeting people I became close to over the next decade. One of them is my boss now!

It’s been a strange few years. Because of this website I found myself stumbling into the video game industry, first as a journalist, then as a publisher, then as a journalist again, and now as a bonafide video game developer. I know what goes into the sausage now, which gives me a weird new perspective on unreleased games. I’ve even had a game canceled on me! It was going to be great, too!

I’ve done a lot in the last decade, games-wise. I’ve written some articles I’m proud of, been given the keys to websites like Gamasutra and 1UP, met most of my game design heroes, worked with The Smithsonian AND The Library of Congress to further game preservation, and made a lot of lifelong friends along the way. But to be honest, this dormant, ugly, ignored child of mine that is Lost Levels is what I’m most proud of. When people refer to me (still!) as The Lost Levels Guy, I beam. This website may not have lived up to the potential I saw for it but, damn it, we started the conversation. We really got people thinking about how important it is to save these games while we still can, and maybe that was enough.

We’ve got a new article for you today, one that I couldn’t be happier to finally get around to publishing on our anniversary: the story behind Tengen’s Hard Drivin’ for the NES.

And yes, there’s a demo to download and play with. Have fun.

See you in another ten.

*And by today I suppose I mean yesterday, according to the timestamp. It’s still August 1 as I write this, though!

Hello New Yorker readers!

Posted on July 10th, 2013 by Frank Cifaldi

That spike in traffic can only mean one thing: someone really cool (or at least popular) has linked to us. In this case, it was Simon Parkin’s excellent article on Desert Bus, the parody mini-game that would have been a part of Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD, 3DO and PC.

I played a pretty miniscule role in the story of the game’s transformation from a canceled project few remembered into something that has earned over a million dollars for charity, so I’m always flattered when I’m recognized as a part of it — even if the part I played was “guy who torrented it on the internet.”

That said, the only reason I had the opportunity to do so — perhaps the only reason the game is playable at all — is because people believe in what we’re doing and offer their help. The history of video games is still young and fragile enough that we’re losing valuable documentation, oral history and, yes, entire games because there are so few of us around being watch dogs and making sure this stuff is safe and accessible 100 years from now.

Smoke and Mirrors is a rare exception among unpublished games in that it is immediately accessible and interesting — Desert Bus is hilarious, and the entire game is a lost piece of Penn & Teller’s career (not to mention Deborah Harry and Lou Reed!). Most of the unpublished games we’ve conserved over the years at Lost Levels have not received anywhere near this level of attention, but as far as we’re concerned, that’s okay. Conserving this stuff now is not for our benefit: it’s for the benefit of future historians. Video games are part of an art form that is still in its infancy, and when future generations look back on them, we have no way of knowing what they’ll consider important. So our motto is “save it all.”

If you’ve worked on a game that didn’t make it out the door, have some information we might find useful, or just like what we’re doing and want to help, my email is here and my Twitter is here. And if you want to see what we’re up to behind the scenes — or you’re just curious about weird and obscure video games that were canceled before they were released — we’re mostly active on our Facebook group these days.



We’re on Facebook now!

Posted on February 3rd, 2013 by Frank Cifaldi

Lost Levels hasn’t been an active website in a really long time now — and even the forums, which were thriving for a while, are starting to die down — but researching the history of dead video games is still an active obsession of mine.

I’m still digging up new stuff constantly, but I don’t have time to sit down and write a proper article, and I know some of you out there would like to see what I’m up to. That’s why I started up a Facebook fan page, to quickly be able to post little nuggets without much hassle.

Lost Levels turns 10 this year, and I have hopes to do something special with it, but in the meantime the majority of what I do is probably happening on Facebook. So go check it out, and show me you like Lost Levels by clicking on a rectangular button that says “Like” on it. One day this will be the primary conversation mechanism of the human race, so you may as well get a head start on it.

Bio Force Ape is Here!

Posted on April 1st, 2011 by Frank Cifaldi

Sorry that it’s been, what, 17 months since the last news update and, oh, 4 1/2 years since the last article, give or take, but hopefully today’s feature presentation will help make up for lost time.

Bio Force Ape is real, and we’ve got it! This is the game that spawned a hilarious hoax, which spawned that whole butter monster thing, which in turn inspired a homemade game.

This is totally for real and serious and not at all an April Fool’s gag! Check it out here.

How Goofy Killed Desert Bus

Posted on November 23rd, 2009 by Frank Cifaldi

Hi folks! I know I haven’t posted here in a while, but I thought some of you might appreciate knowing that (among other things) I’ve been writing a semi-monthly column about unreleased games for the Retronauts Blog on I did this thing about Titan Warriors for the NES, which was pretty cool, but even cooler is a little piece called How Goofy Killed Desert Bus.

Desert Bus

This piece has edited excerpts from my recent interview with Mark Morris, who was a programmer with Absolute at the time that Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was under development. And hey, it (and this post) are oh-so-conveniently timed with this year’s Desert Bus for Hope charity event. So go put the video stream on in the background and snuggle up with the interview, then get inspired and donate all of your money to Child’s Play. It’s the American way.