As part of my Halloween/Hellraiser 30th anniversary celebrations, as well as doing a retrospective of every film in the franchise – I’m also taking a look at the unreleased Hellraiser game that never saw the light of day.
Now there is very little known about this game (and trust me, I’ve looked), but other sites have covered it… yet I found some rather large inaccuracies with the story – which I’ll cover later. There are no in game images to show as the game was nowhere near finished when the plug was pulled. The closest thing I found was a supposed title screen…
Please excuse the poor quality, but this was the best I could find. This image is said to be the title screen for the game which was to be released on the NES in 1990 – I have no idea if it is genuine or not, but there it is anyway. And in case you are wondering, the featured image at the very top is just a fan-made/home-brew project, not from the game itself.
Anyway, I guess I’d better cover what the Hellraiser NES game was all about first?
It was going to be a rather ambitious game that used an updated version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine to put the player into a first person viewpoint. You play a character stuck inside the infamous puzzle box, where you could manipulate it from the inside as you tried to solve the box and escape. However, solving the box would not only free you but also the Cenobites inside it. So when outside of the box, you’d then have to solve it again to defeat the Cenobites trapping them back inside.
It was being developed by a company called Color Dreams – who became quite (in)famous for creating unlicensed Nintendo games on the NES. You see, for a game to be released on a Nintendo console, the developers/publishers had to pay Nintendo a fee so the game could be officially licensed by Nintendo. But some companies didn’t want to pay that fee, so they created unlicensed Nintendo games that bypassed the 10NES lockout chip (or CIC) and released games without Nintendo’s ‘approval’… naughty, naughty.
Supposedly, Dan Lawton (one of the founders of Color Dreams) was a big Hellraiser fan and paid around $50,000 for the Hellraiser game rights. It has been reported that Lawton found that the NES could not handle the improved Wolfenstein 3D engine for the game so he asked engineer, Ron Risley to create a new type of cartridge. This ‘super cartridge’ could hold more RAM than a standard NES cartridge as well as feature a faster Z80 processor and all sorts of other gubbins that pushed its cost much higher than that of a normal NES cartridge. It would’ve been too expensive to manufacture and purchase back in 1990 (estimated around $100 for one game!), coupled with the fact it wouldn’t have been licensed by Nintendo as many retailers refused to stock those games. This is probably why the game never saw the light of day.
Of course it also could be that the game was never being developed at all and all this is just unsubstantiated rumour… But there is a problem with that theory and that problem is that there was a Hellraiser game advertised in gaming magazines of the day. Publications such as Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, and even the mighty Nintendo Power featured ads like this…
This ad boasts about the previously mentioned ‘super cartridge’ with “our advanced technology that pushed the NES further than ever before”. In fact, if you can make it out – it says something like “16-bit performance on the 8-bit Nintendo system”. It also mentions basic gameplay features such as “opening doorways to the dark-realm”, “solve puzzles of the Lament Configuration” and even the “Cenobites”.
This ad is a bit more ‘in your face’ and easier to read. “Over one million worlds”, “The largest game yet for Nintendo” and “Over one hundred demons to escape from”. Sounds impressive for a NES game – but also note the mention of the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and the Atari Lynx too? There was even a number you could’ve called to pre-order the game.
So there was most definitely a Hellraiser game being developed for the NES – but I have serious doubts that it is the game that was mentioned earlier in this very article or the same one other sites have been reporting on. This is where you guys ask “why?”. Well, I said earlier that there are some rather large inaccuracies with the whole thing and here they are.
First, who the hell (no pun intended) would honestly think that the 8-bit NES could handle the Wolfenstein 3D engine in 1990? I don’t care how ‘super’ your cartridge is. I’m no game developer, but even I could tell you that the NES just didn’t have the processing power to do FPS/3D graphics like that in 1990. When Wolfenstein 3D was released, it changed gaming, it was revolutionary and all of that was down to the game engine and just how magically impressive it was. Seriously, go and read up on just how game changing the Wolfenstein 3D engine was for the time – that’s an interesting read in itself.
One of the most advanced NES games in 1990 was Super Mario Bros. 3 and it looked like this…
That was cutting edge for the NES in 1990 and Wolfenstein 3D looked like this…
Yeah, quite a visual difference. And remember, its claimed that the Hellraiser game was using an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine too, so it would’ve looked even better!
Then there is an even bigger problem with this story. The Hellraiser game was said to be released in 1900 using an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine… Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t released until 1992. So how could the 1990 Hellraiser game be using a game engine that simply did not yet exist, never mind a more advanced version of it? Something just does not add up here does it?
There’s got to be some confusion with this whole story. There was a Hellraiser game being developed by Color Dreams – the magazine ads prove as much, but there is no way it was one using the Wolfenstein 3D engine because it didn’t exist in 1990 when the game was said to be released. Unless developer Color Dreams had access to a time machine – its just not possible.
Now there are various Hellraiser NES roms that can be found on the interwebs and even YouTube videos claiming to be this unreleased NES game, but none of them are genuine and are most probably fan-made efforts and mods. That is because the Hellraiser game being developed by Color Dreams was not even close to being completed when it was dropped. You see, I found a more accurate quote from Dan Lawton about the game.
“The hardware was done, and the artwork was 20% done, there was no programming. It was a 45 degree down angle view, with a maze of stone and walls and pits”.
There was no programming for the game itself, just some artwork for the graphics (maybe that previous title screen?) and the hardware for the ‘super cartridge’… there was no actual Hellraiser game as there was no programming done. So all the roms you may find and the YouTube videos of the game are not genuine at all. Also note Lawton’s description of the game, particularly the viewpoint? “A 45 degree down angle view” or to put it more simply, an isometric view… which is something the NES could definitely handle.
If you were to do an interwebs search for ‘unreleased Hellraiser NES game’, you’ll find several articles and even YouTube videos reporting exactly what I stated above. That there was a NES Hellraiser game being developed by Color Dreams for a 1990 release that used an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine. So to finish up, where did this whole Wolfenstein 3D engine powered Hellraiser game for the NES in 1990 come from?
Well I think I can answer that too. You see, developer Color Dreams went through various name changes through the 90s. From being named Color Dreams, they then formed Bunch Games and in 1991, they changed their name to Wisdom Tree and under this name, they developed and published numerous religious/bible based games. They even hold the distinction of making the only unlicensed SNES game to ever be released. And it is this game where I think the rumour of a Wolfenstein 3D engine powered Hellraiser game started…
Super Noah’s Ark 3D – or Super 3D Noah’s Ark as many places erroneously call it was that unlicensed SNES game I mentioned before and for those not in the know, it was basically a Wolfenstein 3D rip-off given a biblical graphical makeover…
Just like Wolfenstein 3D, Super Noah’s Ark 3D was also a FPS game, they both had a similar ‘chapter’ level set up, they both have the same/similar HUD design just with different graphics. For all intents and purposes – they are the exact same game just with different graphics and story, they even feature some of the exact same map designs. Oh yeah, and they are both powered by an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine.
Rumour has it that id Software who developed Wolfenstein 3D were so annoyed at the censorship Nintendo forced on the SNES version of the game that they willingly gave Wisdom Tree the source code for Wolfenstein 3D for them to purposely make an unofficial/unlicensed clone to mock Nintendo. But then I’ve also found articles that state Wisdom Tree simply purchased the license to use the Wolfenstein 3D engine from id Software. I’ll let you chose which of those two you believe.
Anyway, I think what we have here is a case of crossed wires and unsubstantiated rumours. There was a Hellraiser game being developed for the NES in 1990 – but there is no way it was being built around the then non-existent Wolfenstein 3D engine. The Hellraiser game from 1990 was going to be an isometric puzzle game and not a 3D FPS. I also think the whole Hellraiser game using the Wolfenstein 3D engine came from some misinformation given out by a rather famous and popular internet reviewer, who – when they covered Super Noah’s Ark 3D stated that the game started out as a Hellraiser game, then things just escalated from there.
At least let me put it this way: I have only found slight information that the game was going to be an isometric puzzle game to be released in 1990. Yet I found nothing suggesting that a Hellraiser game using the Wolfenstein 3D engine was ever in development.
So there you have it, the unreleased/unfinished Hellraiser game. Hopefully, I’ve cleared the air a little over exactly what this game was going to be and what it never was.
If you haven’t already – please check out my Hellraiser movie retrospective as part of my Halloween/Hellraiser 30th anniversary celebrations.