What just happened? Thanks to the power of the Internet and the generosity of a couple of collectors, a long-lost piece of gaming history – the Nintendo Entertainment System version of SimCity – is now available for everyone to enjoy.
As Frank Cifaldi recounts, the original SimCity was developed by Will Wright and released for PC in February of 1989. Over in Japan, meanwhile, Nintendo was gearing up for its launch of the Super Famicom (the SNES). The company’s top designer, Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto, was interested in creating a city-building game and was pleasantly surprised to learn that such a game (SimCity) already existed.
Miyamoto and other Nintendo executives flew out to meet the Maxis team. The two eventually reached a deal for Nintendo to license SimCity and shortly after, Wright spent a week with Miyamoto in Kyoto to get the game ready for a console launch.
A version was announced for both NES and SNES but the former was quietly canceled before it was ever completed. Only a few snippets of footage of the NES version ever surfaced and it remained that way for roughly 26 years.
In 2017, however, something remarkable happened. A collector brought two playable prototype cartridges into a used game shop in the Seattle area. They later showed up at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and Cifaldi was able to purchase a digital copy.
Cifaldi has since had the opportunity to examine the game in great detail. It’s clearly a prototype with bugs, typos and some missing content, he said, but it’s fully playable. The NES version also has a completely unique soundtrack.
Be sure to check out Cifaldi’s blog post for an even deeper dive. You can also head over to the Internet Archive to pick up a digital ROM of the game that’s playable on most NES emulators. Enjoy!