It’s like something out of a museum curator’s dream: There are currently two separate, totally unrelated auctions on eBay right now for NES games that were never released in commercial form, nor subsequently digitized to be played on an emulator.

They are unknown and (for the most part) unplayed, and they have piqued the interest of Video Game History Foundation founder and co-director Frank Cifaldi, who is seeking help in preserving the two games at auction: Battlefields of Napoleon, a real-time strategy game released in Japan as Napoleon Senki, and Scanners, an unknown game (possibly a demo or prototype) built for the Nintendo Power Glove accessory – the iconic, rudimentary motion controller from 1989.

Cifaldi wrote in a tweet on October 11, “There are currently TWO unreleased, one-of-a-kind, never-digitized games for the original NES on eBay right now. This has literally never happened before. Our resources are stretched thin, and we could use help.”

Click here for Frank Cifaldi’s full thread with info on the auction.

Cifaldi is organizing donations to raise the funds to win the auctions and dump the games as emulatable ROMs in order to preserve them. Battlefields of Napoleon, which is being sold along with the original packaging art destined for production, is known to collectors.

“Battlefields of Napoleon was exhibited at trade shows, featured in magazines, and even advertised by Broderbund. There’s a foldout poster that came with some games that includes it as one of the titles they sell, which tells me that it was very close to being manufactured before the plug was pulled,” Cifaldi says.

Despite having a Japanese release, the US version’s resurfacing, especially along with its art package, is significant.

“I think Napoleon is interesting because it’s a lost piece of Broderbund’s brief stint as a console game maker,” Cifaldi explains. “I also am a fan of the packaging designer, Hock Wah Yeo, who went on to do some really interesting and iconic PC game packages in the 90s, so having his raw designs as part of the auction is exciting to see.”

A screenshot of Napoleon Senki for the Famicom from zxspectrumgames4’s YouTube video of gameplay.

Scanners, meanwhile, may have appeared at the Consumer Electronics Show (a sticker on the cartridge reads “CES SAMPLE”), but unlike Battlefield of Napoleon, it wasn’t well-documented at the time.

“Scanners … was never an announced product. Cifaldi says, “Yes, it was ‘at CES’ but that doesn’t mean it was out on the exhibit floor, I believe it was likely only shown in private meetings. Show coverage from that time is actually pretty good, and it was never mentioned. I believe this cartridge is merely a demo meant to gauge interest, not a full game.”

Aside from Super Glove Ball, there were no other NES games made specifically for the Nintendo Power Glove accessory, making Scanners an even greater rarity.

“It’s easy to make fun of [the Power Glove] and throw out a meme from The Wizard or whatever, but I don’t think we ever saw its potential, because it just never had the software support. Being able to see another game truly designed for it might bring us a little closer to understanding what it could have been,” Cifaldia says.

If these games were to fall into a preservationist’s hands like Cifaldi’s, as opposed to a private collector, we’d know a lot more about them. Frank Cifaldi has had a long history of game preservation efforts and offered a great example of the positive benefits of preservation.

“Whenever people ask me about the impact of preserving unreleased video games, I like to point to Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors. This was an unreleased Sega CD game that I preserved and put online about 16 or 17 years ago. No one could have predicted it at the time, but as a joke that game became the focal point for the “Desert Bus for Hope” charity event, which has now raised over $8 million dollars for Child’s Play,” Cifaldi says.

Check out footage of the cancelled California Raisins NES game and an interview with Frank Cifaldi about game preservation above.

Desert Bus is a deliberately mean troll of a game, an absurd, almost unplayable parody of that era’s racing games. Yet, our culture is better for it existing in an accessible format. On the flip side is The California Raisins: The Grape Escape, unreleased for the NES: A perfectly playable platformer resembling Mega Man (and almost brought to you by Mega Man publisher, Capcom). An obvious candidate for historical preservation (the California Raisins were a claymation cover band that plugged for the dried fruit and hit a pop culture peak in the early 1990s), Cifaldi points out that sometimes preservation has personal consequences.

“After I preserved that game way back in 2003, I was contacted by the sister of the game’s composer, telling me that he had passed, and that this was the first time she’d ever heard his music. You just never know what games are going to be important to people, so you have to save whatever you can and hope it has impact,” Cifaldi says.

As of publication, the auctions currently sit at more than $5000 each, meaning that Cifaldi has a long road ahead in trying to rescue these unreleased classics. We’ll update this story with the results of the auctions – which you can watch for yourself here and here.

Samuel Claiborn is IGN’s managing editor and a fixes/breaks ancient arcade and pinball machines in his garage. TCELES B HSUP to follow him @Samuel_IGN on Twitter.



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