ToastyFrog’s NES ABC: Action 52
Active Enterprises | Crummy omnibus | 1991
TOASTY: By the time Nintendo was ready to pull the plug on the NES, game cartridges offered roughly several million times more capacity than when the system first launched. Eh, maybe my numbers are a little off, but the difference in size between a ’83 release like Donkey Kong — which didn’t even include all the arcade version’s stages due to memory limitations — and Kirby’s Adventure is pretty significant. Somewhere along the way, enterprising Asian pirates had an epiphany. “Hey,” they realized, “if we take one of these big modern chips, we could cram a whole bunch of tiny old games in there!” And thus was born the multicart.
Generally, multicarts consisted of a dozen or so really old NES games, with occasional classics like Contra sprinkled amidst forgotten clunkers like Bird Week, although you’d often find versions claiming to offer 50, 100, even 1,000 games on a single cart. Actually, these usually just had a dozen titles, too, but hid them behind a grafted-on front-end that would let you select among several weirdly modified alternate versions of the games. Kind of like all those alternate modes on Atari 2600 carts, but with less thought given to playability. Sure, Gradius is fun… but is it even more fun when the Vic Viper is invisible? (Spoiler: No.)
Meanwhile, back in America, the nation’s inherent Protestant work ethic refused to let home-grown companies like Color Dreams and American Video Entertainment subsist on piracy. No, they made their own original games. Sure, those games were no damn good at all, but you have to admire the underlying ethics behind them. (Never mind about the fact that they were technically illicit releases.) At the vanguard of America’s NES efforts was the nation’s single most epic 8-bit console work ever: Active Enterprise’s Action 52. Putting most Asian multicarts to shame, Action 52 contained no less than 52 unique titles. Even more impressively, intellectual theft was right out; all 52 selections were completely original.
YUKI: That’s really kind of amazing, and inspiring. I’m glad to hear you people weren’t actually as useless during the Famicom era as you seemed to be.
TOASTY: Eh, heh, well… the sad truth is that Action 52 contained 52 games, but each one was worse than the last. The graphics were atrocious. The sound was grating. The controls, lacking. Most of them weren’t even properly playable. The prospect of buying 52 games for $200 seemed pretty appealing until you actually saw the games in question. And then your parents would be horrified by the money you wasted and would never let you buy another videogame for as long as you lived. Just think of how many lives were destroyed by this one game. Well, one collection of games. Well, collection of “games.”
YUKI: Oh. That sounds completely terrible. I thought we were only touching on notable games with this ABC series?
TOASTY: Well, it is notable if only for Active Enterprises’ outsized ambitions. Despite the fact that even the apologists have to admit that it’s a waste of silicon, the company hoped to use Action 52 as a springboard to launch their very own intellectual property. As this was during the peak of the Ninja Turtle fan craze, AE decided to jump on the bandwagon with their own answer to Battletoads. And that answer was: Cheetahmen. Despite the fact that Cheetahmen — one of the 52 games here — wasn’t really finished, or good, or interesting, the company had a sequel waiting in the wings, ready to unleash upon an unsuspecting public.
YUKI: Oh my god, Cheetahmen!? I know them. They’re famous in Japan, or at least on certain Japanese sites. The legendary kusoge that inspired countless videos and musical remixes! Cheetahmen! I had no idea that this is where they were from. I feel like a great mystery has been solved, and my life is a little more fulfilled now.
TOASTY: Why is it that Japan only latches onto the terrible things about American gaming? Why not take pointers from good things, like BioWare games or well-crafted first-person shooters?
YUKI: I don’t know, probably for the same reason most Americans think that Japan consists of Godzilla sniffing used schoolgirl panties he bought from a vending machine as he fights ninjas dressed like Hello Kitty.
TOASTY: Ah, ignorance: The universal language.