If you were asked to name a bunch of cartridge-based games, chances are your mind would turn to Super Mario Bros or Castlevania and games of their ilk.
You probably wouldn’t mention titles like Angry Birds or RBI Baseball 2014 but these games do exist in cartridge form for third and fourth generation consoles and beyond.
It’s possible you know this, but for those of you who may be asking how? Well, the answer is the fascinating world of Home Brew games.
The term ‘Home Brewed games’ refers to games that were not developed by professional studios but rather, created by home programmers or semi-pro devs. Utilising accessible, modern technology to manipulate older technology, these bedroom programmers can cook up anything they can dream of and have it run on classic consoles, opening up avenues of renewed interest and new releases for those dusty old units sat in your parents’ lofts.
The list of machines that have ‘Home Brew’ support is extensive and includes but is not limited to the Atari 2600, the NES, Sega Mega Drive/Genisis, the SNES, even Atari’s failed system, the Jaguar is receiving some attention. The scene stretches further than the older systems too, Sony’s PlayStation and PlayStation 2, the N64, and Sega’s last console, the infamous Dreamcast also have their own Home Brew catalogues and the most recent and impressive is the Nintendo Switch which this month has been the subject of reports of it being Home Brew compatible.
Older machines are already enjoying a resurgence of interest at the moment with retro gaming fast becoming an acceptable past time. The internet is adorned with photos of man caves filled with classic games, collections assembled by devoted retro gamers. It’s these avid fans that are helping to fund the Home Brew movement too.
Some of the most popular Home Brewed games include the aforementioned Angry Birds, the super-popular mobile game ported to the NES, Gameboy and Mega drive, taking a modern game and making it work on an old, out of date system not only serves nostalgic gamers but can introduce younger generations to the systems via a game they are familiar with and have grown to love. There are young gamers out there who have probably never picked up an NES or Mega Drive controller, now they have a reason too, opening the gate to older games and appreciation for them.
It’s not just ports of existing games either, new games are being developed and old unfinished games from days past are being completed and finally released. A leading studio in this field is Piko Interactive who have helped cook up games such as Astrohawk, a SNES homebrew originally developed by Paul Lay from the iconic Playsoft.
The game was originally developed in the 1990’s but sadly didn’t see the light of day until 2014 when it was published in cartridge form. This resurrection of otherwise lost games is one of the most interesting things about Home Brewing. Had it not been for these passionate folks, games such as Astrohawk would have been lost forever.
Another example is the forever amusing Super Noah’s Ark 3D which was unofficially released in late 1994. It’s an action shooter that uses the Wolfenstein 3D engine after the devs gained the rights to it. While it’s a ‘shooter’ it’s a non-violent one, aimed more at younger audiences.
You play Noah and you may have already guessed it, he has all the animals on his ship, however, there is one small problem, they just won’t sleep. Your job as the player is to fire sleep inducing fruit (You know, just like real life) at the rowdy animals to send them into a peaceful slumber. The levels progress in difficulty but never pose too much of a challenge, the game is available for the SNES but there is also a Steam version.
There is also the excellent Sonic Team Racing for the Mega Drive, a Sega take on Mario Kart that’s nothing like the official Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing from 2010. This is a cart based, old school reality flipper, that sees Sonic at the wheel of familiar looking overpowered Go Karts. Released incomplete upon release (much like a lot of today’s AAA games) the game was created by GASEGA68K who also ported Wolfenstein 3D to the Mega Drive, you can see a video of the game running below.
Another title well worth a mention is ‘Somari’, best described as a pirate version of Sega’s original Sonic the Hedgehog. Bootlegged around Hong Kong in 1994 the game contains a pretty close simulation of Sonic the Hedgehog, however, this is a 16-bit version produced for the Sega Genesis, on an 8-bit cartridge.
This was nigh on impossible and so, was considered a huge deal to those lucky enough to find a copy on the underground market. The game features a character named “Somari” from where it takes its title, a clear representation of Mario complete with Sonic’s trademark shoes, as well as possessing all of the radical blue hedgehog’s abilities.
Somari is another bootleg, homebrew title that has somehow made its way kicking and screaming in the modern world and is available to download online via some savvy searching.
If you have an old console sat collecting dust somewhere about your house or sitting on a shelf staring at you, it’s library long exhausted then remember, there is a whole range of titles out there just waiting to breath new life into your console collection, get out there, find some and try them out, you might just find a new favourite among some of the most bizarre and unexpected, unpublished wonders of the Home Brew market.
Got any of your own Home Brew stories to tell, we’d love to hear them, share with us in the comments below or with us on our social media pages!