Last week it was revealed that the notoriously awful unlicensed SNES game, Super 3D Noah's Ark, was getting reprinted on an actual SNES cart for $65 a pop. But why now? And why that particular game - an infamously awful re-skinned Wolfenstein clone?
To get to the bottom of this I spoke to the two companies behind its re-release: Christian publisher Wisdom Tree - who created the original SNES release in 1994 - and Piko Interactive, a new company that manufactures prints of games on outmoded consoles.
In an e-mail correspondence with Eurogamer, Wisdom Tree's Brenda Huff says she was aware of the game's collector's item status since it was the only unofficial SNES game ever released. You see, Wisdom Tree's then-parent company Color Dreams was the only company that found a legal method of circumventing Nintendo's SNES "lockout chip." This required Super 3D Noah's Ark to be manufactured in odd-looking carts that needed an official Nintendo game to be plugged in on top of them in order to run.
"As I am sure you know, retro gaming is a really big entity right now. All of our games are in great demand by collectors," Huff explains. "Our games are some of the hardest to find."
But why now you ask? Why not any other time over the last two decades? Piko founder Eleazar Galindo explains, "I wasn't able to reprint it before, because I did not have the resources or capital to license the game and reprint. Piko was launched at the beginning of 2013 and was mostly funded with money I made by selling a good amount of my retro video game collection."
Galindo adds that Noah is the only game in its catalogue that received a commercial release, but it only came out in those goofy third-party carts and he wanted to make one that actually looked like a proper SNES game. "I thought that a regular looking Super 3D Noah's Ark cart would be a great addition to an SNES collection," he explains. "Not having to pay $200+ for a boxed copy of the game (if you manage to find one) is a nice bonus."
Both parties are obviously aware of Super 3D Noah's Ark's near-mythical status in the industry, but there's one other thing it's known for: being completely rubbish. So what do those manufacturing a notoriously terrible game have to say about reprinting it at $65? (i.e. More than new PS4 and Xbox One games retail in the US.)
Here's where things get dicey as both parties have learned to laugh at the game's infamous reputation, yet have remained adamant that it's not a bad game. "I believe everyone has an opinion," says Huff. "As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have had comments from 'the worst game ever' to 'finally, a game the whole family can play'. Personally, I think it is a game that appeals to niche markets. To a lot of collectors, it is a piece of video game history. For the Christian community it is an alternative to the violence and sexual content present is so many games. I have customers who want to play the games from their childhood with their children."
Galindo was simultaneously more critical and defensive of the so-bad-it's-still-bad-but-at-least-funny title. In our e-mail correspondence he links to Super 3D Noah's Ark's claim to fame: YouTube personality the Angry Video Game Nerd calling it the "worst game ever made." He seems to get a kick out of its abominable stature, but also considered it a guilty pleasure.
"If you are involved in the retro scene, you'd know that Shaq Fu and ET are considered as the worst video games in all history. I still don't see anything wrong with them," Galindo says. "I had fun playing Shaq Fu with my cousins. Controls were difficult (one of the reasons it's considered to be the worst game), but we practiced until we were good at it."
He further notes that Super 3D Noah's Ark's engine, mechanics, and controls were a complete clone of Id Software's Wolfenstein. "If you say that SNA3D is the worst game ever made, then you are taking Wolfenstein down the drain with it," he states, failing to note that things like hit detection were all off due to the family-friendly re-skin.
"I don't think Wolfenstein is a bad game, I own it and I like it; I enjoy killing nazis and the blood spilling out of them when I shoot them. But I would not let my five-year-old niece play Wolfenstein or even watch me play," he continues. "Super 3D Noah's Ark is just a game for kids. It was a successful attempt to bring first-person-action-shooters games for smaller kids. I guess that's what the majority of the people do not understand."
Ultimately, Huff found the religious-themed game's trajectory to be a reaffirmation of her faith as she concludes our correspondence by stating "The fact that a Bible-based SNES game is back on the market in 2014 shows that nothing is impossible for God."