SimCity fans received an historic gift this Christmas, as the long lost NES version of the city management simulator was revealed to the public for the first time.
SimCity for NES made its first and only public appearance at the Winter Consumer Electronic Show of January, 1991, nearly 30 years ago. It was quietly cancelled, with SimCity then released for the SNES in April 1991.
The NES version of SimCity emerged 27 years later, in the form of two playable prototype cartridges that were brought into a used video game shop in the Seattle area. The cartridges then made their way to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, where The Video Game History Foundation struck a deal to acquire a digital copy of SimCity for NES, to preserve the data for educational use.
The Video Game History Foundation’s Frank Cifaldi, taking on the role of Santa Claus for SimCity fans, detailed the NES version in a blog post published on Christmas. According to Cifaldi, the prototype was far from being a finished game because it had critical bugs, typographical errors, and missing content. However, most of its features were present and it was completely playable, which coincides with the claim by a person familiar with the game’s development that the recovered cartridge was used to demonstrate the game to focus test groups.
Aside from the graphics upgrade, SimCity for NES was mostly similar to the SNES version, with the same core gameplay and features. There were a couple of notable differences, first of which was the size of its tiles. The original PC version and SNES version had tiles taking up 3×3 grids, but the tiles of the NES version only occupied 2×2 grids. The tiles for Presents, which are the unique reward buildings offered in the Nintendo versions of SimCity, occupied 3×3 grids though.
The second, and more surprising, difference with SimCity for NES is its unique soundtrack, which was composed by Soyo Oka who was behind the music of games such as Super Mario Kart and Pilotwings. Only one track, the Metropolis Theme, was shared with the game’s SNES version.
Cifaldi dove into the finer details of SimCity for NES in his blog post, though there was no explanation as to why it never saw the light of day in the first place. One theory is that Nintendo decided to focus on the SNES version, to attract more players to the newer console.
In any case, for SimCity fans who want to catch a glimpse of the franchise’s history, the digital ROM file of SimCity for NES is available for anybody to download. Here’s an idea — play the game on the NES Classic Edition.