In January of 1991, a prototype for an NES version of SimCity appeared at an electronics show. It was never seen again—and the iconic city-building game would come out solely on the Super Nintendo several months later—but video game historians have tracked down a previously undiscovered version, and uploaded it on the internet for all to see.
Frank Cifaldi, founder of the Video Game History Foundation and outspoken supporter of preserving the history of video games, detailed the find in a blog post this morning. Short version: SimCity designer Will Wright collaborated with Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto to port the game to Nintendo consoles. At first, they’d announced SimCity for launch on NES and SNES, but the NES version never materialized. Instead, SimCity launched on the Super Nintendo in April of 1991. The NES version just quietly disappeared.
SimCity NES did exist, however, and was planned for release before it was mysteriously canceled. Two playable cartridges featuring this NES prototype turned up at a used game shop in Seattle last year, and Cifaldi’s organization snagged one. They’ve uploaded a ROM here and detailed many of the differences between the NES and SNES versions here. As Cifaldi points out, the Nintendo port of SimCity contains many of the features that would make the game feel so iconic in later iterations (like SimCity 2000, which is the game we generally think about when we think of SimCity). The present system, for example—and bank loans that help alleviate the stress of running out of money.
Here’s footage of the prototype:
It’s a fascinating piece of video game history, and one hell of a Christmas present for anyone who’s into game preservation.