Games historian and preservationist Frank Cifaldi has unearthed a treasure trove of pre-release Nintendo Entertainment System games, including what’s believed to be the earliest Nintendo project coded by the company’s former president and CEO Satoru Iwata.
Cifaldi details his find in this Twitter thread documenting the sale and preservation of the Iwata-programmed Famicom version of Joust, among other 8-bit Nintendo projects coded during the early 1980s.
Following a hunch, Cifaldi purchased a handful of bare Famicom-printed circuit boards from an online auction earlier this year. Upon dumping the data from the ROMs present on these legacy boards, Cifaldi discovered that they contained pre-release data from many of Nintendo’s earliest 8-bit conversions of popular arcade games from the era, including Joust and Defender II (aka Stargate).
While collectors frequently uncover EEPROM pre-release versions of classic video games, legitimate prototypes of first-party, Nintendo-developed games are exceedingly rare. To date, preservationists have only been able to track down a scant few prototype cartridges for unreleased first-party Nintendo games like Starfox 2, Sound Fantasy, and the original NES version of Earthbound.
Cifaldi’s find is especially significant, as his versions of Joust, Defender II and Hyper Sports feature text and code differences compared to their later retail releases. As Nintendo’s Iwata programmed the Famicom version of Joust circa 1983, Cifaldi’s prototype version is likely the earliest recorded example of an Iwata-coded Nintendo game.
Initially a programmer at the Nintendo-affiliated developer HAL Laboratory, Satoru Iwata went on to program and design several games for Nintendo consoles before taking the role of company president in 2002. Iwata passed away last year at the age of 55.
Cifaldi is currently seeking a similar prototype version of the original Super Mario Bros., which may offer insight into the creation of what eventually became one of Nintendo’s biggest hits worldwide.