TV Game

Arcade Bootleg Hour 2

TV Game

Writing about Dragon Ball on the Mega Drive put me in a mood. A mood for games that aren’t necessarily the most polished, or the most well designed. I needed to sift through the trash again. Also, admittedly, scouring every last inch of Dragon’s Dogma is taking longer than I thought, so I figured I would take that as a sign and show off some more of those wonderful arcade bootlegs.

In 1978, the FBI began a sting operation known as ABSCAM. ABSCAM (a contraction of “Arab” and “Scam”) was originally designed to target theft and forgery, before its focus changed to go after political corruption. By 1981, a group of 12 politicians that included senators, representatives, mayors, and councilmen were convicted and most of them spent 1-3 years in prison. There’s been a lot of speculation about the ethics of this operation. Was it entrapment? Were some of these guys completely innocent? Was this an act of revenge for congress exposing the FBI’s own massive abuse of power during the Church Committee hearings? I mean, probably, yeah. Just another day in the American Government, right? In any case, it has been referenced, adapted, and satirized in various movies and TV shows in the years since.

Now, if you just read all that and thought that maybe the actual best way to adapt yet another shameful chapter of our government’s corruption and the various complexities involved with it was via a Pac-Man clone, bootleggers got you covered!

ABSCAM (also spelled AB$CAM according to KLOV), despite being a Pac-Man bootleg, is also an innovator. This might very well be the first game in the sub-genre of Political Commentary Maze Games, at least commercially available, setting the table for Sega to release I’m Sorry in 1985. If nothing else, that’s certainly an important milestone for somebody out there.

Now as for the game itself, it is literally just Pac-Man, except it now looks like shit, has some of the worst music you’ve ever heard in your life, and has a terrible maze that causes you to get stuck on corners constantly. The thing about Pac-Man is the the tunnels that Pac-Man and the ghosts navigated were tight enough for them to fit into without wiggling around, with openings big enough for you to make a quick turn without getting stuck on some stray pixel. ABSCAM has these wide hallways that cause you to move in ways the original game never intended, making it much harder to avoid the FBI vans and collect the money. So yes, ABSCAM is terrible, but it is an important touchstone for Politics In Games.


I’m still on something of a Dragon Ball kick following the passing of Toriyama. Luckily, we got ourselves a game to talk about here.

This is Dragon Bowl.

Dragon Bowl is a bit of an unusual beast. On one hand, the telltale signs of being a bootleg are on full display: the logo being obviously ripped from two different games, voice samples all being taken from Street Fighter II (Goku’s voice uses Chun-Li samples), and all of the original sprites having that unmistakable amateurishness that we all love. Like, there’s work and effort put into the game, yet it is also still primarily built up from stolen assets. Dragon Bowl is like the epitome of a Bootleg Bart t-shirt. Sure, the shirt is made of terrible material and the graphic design is extremely off-model. But at the same time, someone had to draw all those Barts. Someone had to draw Bart as a soldier in Desert Storm. Someone had to draw Bart holding a gun and calling you a fudgepacker. Someone had to draw Bart as a black kid.  On these merits alone, Dragon Bowl is amazing. Or at least it would be.

But there’s a major problem with Dragon Bowl: it is a bootleg of Ninja Gaiden. Not the NES Ninja Gaiden. You know, the good one. No, this is the arcade Ninja Gaiden. The one with the terrible controls and barely-existent collision detection. The one that was clearly not designed to be played past stage one without a few dollars worth of quarters dumped into it due to the sheer difficulty and the previously mentioned issues. No, this is the unplayable dogshit Ninja Gaiden. The one that sucks. The one that I played as a kid and got very distressed when I got to the continue screen. That one.

There are so many arcade games that you could’ve thrown Goku into. So many games that are actually good, or even tolerably mediocre. Just as an example, Goku would have fit pretty well into a game like Ninja Kun. But no, no, it had to be fucking Ninja Gaiden. What a shame. An absolute waste of potential. At least Goku doesn’t have to worry about being bisected with a buzzsaw when he runs out of lives.


Getting back to the subject of Pac-Man bootlegs, I did find a bootleg titled Popeye-Man, starring the famous Sailor Man, prior to his horrific accident involving his heater.

Wait a second…that maze layout looks a little familiar. Let me insert a coin and actually play this.

Hold on…this isn’t Pac-Man! This is Hangly-Man!

I should explain a couple of things. One, something that I should have mentioned last time when I wrote about Monkey Donkey is that that game exists on a level of bootleg seediness even deeper than regular bootleg seediness. Technically, Monkey Donkey is a bootleg of Donkey Kong. Literally, it is a bootleg of Crazy Kong, itself a bootleg of Donkey Kong. Monkey Donkey is a bootleg of a bootleg. Popeye-Man is much the same.

The other thing I need to explain is Hangly-Man itself. Now, I don’t actually know if Hangly-Man is the first Pac-Man bootleg, but it might as well be. And what a bootleg it is! A beautiful testament to that cynical, half-assed approach to bootlegging that makes bootlegs so wonderful.

The thing about Hangly-Man is that, on the surface, it looks like Pac-Man. Well, Pac-Man with some changes made to the maze.

But then, you pick up a Power Pellet…

The walls disappear! The collision for the walls is still in place, by the way, you just can’t actually see the walls. But maybe this only lasts as long as your Power Pellet does?


Yeah, good fucking luck with the Hangly-Man Challenge, idiot. There are some board revision that fix this issue, but come on, you don’t play a bootleg for the quality. Bootlegs exist as a cheap, shallow imitation! This may seem a tad hypocritical excusing blatant bullshit after I went off on Dragon Bowl, but here’s the thing: this is at least a busted, unfair bootleg of Pac-Man, a game that is good and timeless at a foundational level, and not Ninja fucking Gaiden. Fuck that game.

In any case, it was fun to get back into MAME and dig through a few more bootlegs. I love arcade curiosities, and maybe I can actually do more follow-ups to other posts I make and cover more cool and off-beat shit, even if they aren’t bootlegs.