Bootleg culture is a wonderful thing. Something admirable about the cottage industry of cheaply made shit born from a Venn diagram of “things I saw on TV once” and “jokes your drunk, shirtless neighbor would laugh at.” There will come a day where I will finally give up, put on a denim jacket, a bootleg Simpsons shirt, and step into my shitty car with an “I Brake For Monster Booty” bumper sticker. That day will be funny as hell, in a cosmic sort of way.
I will take that shitty car, and drive it to some shithole arcade. At that shithole arcade that smells of cigarettes, sweat, and parental disappointment, I will play all of the classics. Sorry, I meant “classics.” Because it’s not just shirts and hats that get popular licenses haphazardly thrown onto them. To the surprise of nobody reading this, video games have been bootlegged out the ass since their inception, when people were straight up reselling Pong without giving money to either Ralph Baer or Nolan Bushnell (depending on who the courts tell you). I want to take a look at a selection of these cynically produced monsters that tried and (mostly) failed to fight the good fight against copyright law.
You’ve heard of Frogger before, right? Classic game about a frog crossing the street without getting violently murdered by cars. It was in an episode of Seinfeld.
Well, how about Frog?
Figured that I would start with the least inspired bootleg of all time. I mean, it’s called Frog. I’m sure this suckered a few greasy pizza joint owners into buying it. It’s not like now, where TV Games are a multi-billion dollar industry, even bigger than movies, according to literally every mainstream article written by an idiot. Back then, nobody had a fucking clue what these things were. They weren’t going to double check and make sure that they had an official Konami © 1981 product. Who cares? Put your quarters in the damn machine, and then either buy some pizza or get the fuck out!
Otherwise, this is literally just Frogger. Frogger is fine enough. There will eventually be some more bootlegs that get real weird with it. But hey, Frog!
This next bootleg is pretty special. It’s also a strange one, as it is not plagiarized from an already existing game. Rather, this is an original game, complete with its own mechanics. What makes this a bootleg is the prominently featured, unlicensed likeness of Doraemon.
This is “Dora-chan.”
Aside from a cursed title screen that makes me feel as if I will be killed in a week by a vengeful ghost, Dora-chan doesn’t follow any sort of average game conventions. You drive around in a tiny car, picking up dots and avoiding large animal heads that will either go about their business or tear ass at you full speed. This is not, however, a “dot game” like Pac-Man. The dots are only there for points, and endlessly spawn on the field. Your actual objective is to drive through a hole in the wall at the top of the screen, and ram right into a hapless Doraemon. The hole is, of course, constantly moving and shifting, so you have to avoid crashing like an idiot. There’s also a bonus level after each standard level where Doreamon shoots a single heart at a moving line of animals at the top of the screen. You can shoot any animal you want, but it looks like you get the most points from hitting another Doraemon.
Now, to say that Dora-chan feels like an unfinished, disorganized mess would be absolutely, 100% true. Like a lone programmer was testing out an idea for a game, and then his rough draft was put on a PCB board and sent out to all sorts of unscrupulous arcade owners who didn’t give a fuck. Dora-chan is a game in the loosest sense of the term, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s what makes it awesome. This fever dream disaster that looks like a game that someone on the internet made up, but is very real. The developers, Craul Denshi, would later change their name to Alpha Denshi, and make games like Magician Lord and World Heroes for the Neo-Geo. Insert a tired, unfunny joke about upgrading from bootlegging to merely ripping off here.
Dora-chan was not only popular enough to see legal action brought against it, but to be referenced in other games, as well. In Namco’s hilariously titled Tinkle Pit, if you type “Alpha” into the high score table, the game will change the name to “DORACHAN.”
The whole concept of a bootleg Doraemon was popular enough to make an appearance in Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Clearly, Dora-chan had an effect on more than a few people.
— ぷらす (@crystal_cube99) December 17, 2017
Now, are you familiar with Irem’s mega smash hit, Moon Patrol? Of course you are! We all know that the history of Irem’s shooting games begins and ends with Moon Patrol and nothing else!
Now what do you know about…
This is it, right here. The thing about bootlegs that’s so interesting and lovable: that distinct lack of effort. Some dude hacked together this logo in the hopes that it would hoodwink an unsuspecting arcade/laundromat owner, then realized that “shit, this is hard” after ten minutes, leaving us with what you see here. Go ahead, say Moon Rangor out loud to yourself; I like to stress the second half of Rangor, like Moon Rain-Joor. I can only hope that some kids sat around the playground in the early-mid 80s, talking about their new favorite game, Moon Rangor.
Moon Rangor is another bootleg that doesn’t do anything different. It’s merely a way to cash in on Irem’s games without Irem getting any money from it. The game itself is fine, too.
There are so many more bootlegs to cover. I’ll probably do more of these posts if people are interested. But before I end this and hit “publish,” there is one more bootleg. As far as I am concerned, it is the bootleg. Everyone knows about Donkey Kong, right? Seminal Nintendo game that launched a thousand IP’s. However, for as much as you may have liked Donkey Kong, you have never truly- truly lived a day in your life until you have played Monkey Donkey.
Monkey Donkey is what happens when you, as an individual, well and truly embraces the mediocre. It is Bootleg Simpsons in arcade game format. Liquor stores don’t have arcade machines, but if they did, they would all be carrying Monkey Donkey. You go in for some cheap cigars and those tiny “sampler” bottles of rum, wearing your “Bart Simpson but now he’s Black” shirt, a hat for either the local rock radio station or a restaurant called Big Cock McGraw’s Fuck Shack, and you throw a few quarters into Monkey Donkey before you leave to a good night’s meal of a TV dinner and a M.A.S.H rerun.
This grumpy motherfucker is constantly changing colors and taunting you. See, in the original Donkey Kong, he says, “how high can you get” punctuation as found. Donkey Kong is merely challenging you, while Monkey Donkey is stating the fact that the best you’re going to do is try, bitch. Try me, you stupid motherfucker. That’s what Monkey Donkey thinks.
Unlike the other bootlegs here, this one is totally fucked up. There’s the changing colors, the music is missing several instruments and is now a series of high-pitched beeps, the collision detection is wonky, and Monkey Donkey’s animations don’t match up to his actions, leading to him launching barrels out of his ass at high speeds. Monkey Donkey is bootleg to the core: it looks like a name brand at first glance, but the lack of craftsmanship rears its head if you look a little bit deeper. It’s incredible. Oh, and I almost forgot: Jumpman lets out a “hi-yaah!” every time he jumps. Mario can’t do that.
As I already said, Monkey Donkey is the bootleg. The bootleg to which I judge all others. A fucked up facsimile that reminds you of its seedy nature at every opportunity. This is my preferred way of playing Donkey Kong, to be honest. Why isn’t Billy Mitchell cheating his way to a high score in this one? Fuck.
In any event, bootlegs rule. Fuck The Man.