Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Taiwanese Connection - The Source for Many Unlicensed NES/Famicom Games

Joy Van - Twin Eagle
AVE - Double Strike

Taiwan was called one of the four Asian Tigers (with Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong), small countries which had developed economically very rapidly after from the 1960s to the present to compete with much larger countries.  Taiwan embraced technology, creating chip fabrication plants and becoming indispensable to the PC revolution.  Video game consoles were hardly overlooked by the island, and Nintendo was the largest publisher of console video games in Asia.  There was no protection system in place for the Nintendo Famicom, so Taiwan programming firms began developing unlicensed games for that console around 1986.

At the same time, Nintendo was becoming the largest publisher of video games in North America thanks to the success of the NES.  Third parties were naturally attracted to the increasingly successful system, but Nintendo was a hard business partner.  Nintendo required companies to buy cartridges manufactured by Nintendo, required cartridge orders in large unit quantities, limited the number of cartridges a company could release in a year and scrutinized the content of the games to be published.  After Tengen showed that it was possible to develop and release cartridges without Nintendo's sanction, other companies like AVE and Color Dreams entered the market as unlicensed publishers.  But they needed games to sell and the number of programmers who could handle Nintendo's console were limited, so sometimes they turned to Taiwan.

The Western Approaches

Raid - Joy Van
Silent Assault - Color Dreams

In this blog article we will be focusing on the "first wave" of Taiwanese publishers.  These are Bit Corp., Joy Van, Sachen, Idea-Tek, C&E (Comptuer & Entertainment), Micro Genius and NTDEC.  These companies operated primarily in the period of 1986-1995, which coincides with the essential commercial lifespan of the NES.  The principal companies releasing Taiwan games outside of Taiwan differed by country.  In the United States and Canada, AVE (American Video Entertainment) and Color Dreams (sometimes under its Bunch Games label) were the principal publishers.  In Japan, Hacker International was the main publisher of unlicensed games.  HES (Home Entertainment Suppliers) was the mainstay of Australia and Gluk Video for Spain.  Brazil was served by principally by Milmar and CCE. 

The Bit Beginning

In Taiwan, we begin with Bit Corp.  Bit Corp was company which made Famiclones and a curious machine called the Dina 2-in-1 which permitted usage of ColecoVision and SG-1000 cartridges.  Bit Corp. developed only a few games, four of which were released in the west.

Bit Corp. - Fruit Civet
Jackpot - HES

Bit Corp's other distinction was developing one of the first Famiclones, including the strikingly-named Bit Creator 70.  The Creator 70 has the distinction of being one of the only Famiclones to port a full 6502 CPU core with decimal mode.  Nintendo disabled decimal mode in its 6502 Core to avoid having to pay patent royalties to MOS Technology.  Duck Maze and Othello will show graphical glitches if run on a console without a decimal-mode enabled 6502 on the original Bit Corp releases but not the Australian/Brazilian releases.  Conversely, Solar Jetman will crash on the Creator 70 because it does not work with decimal mode enabled 6502s.

Internecine Connections : Joy Van, Sachen, Idea-Tek, C&E TXC

Joy Van - Little Red Hood
HES - Little Red Hood

Joy Van and Sachen have often been thought of as one entity, but at first this was not true.  In the beginning, Joy Van and Sachen were originally separate companies developing games independently.  Sachen, a.k.a. Thin Chen Enterprises, published many of Joy Van's games.  Then Sachen bought out Joy Van, and while they incorporated many of its personnel into it and re-released some Joy-Van games under the Sachen label.

Joy Van - Incantation
Bunch Games - Galactic Crusader

Some Joy Van people did not want to be a part of Sachen and created their own programming firm, Idea-Tek.  Idea-Tek released some of its games under the Super Mega label.  C&E got its start by having its first game, Tiles of Fate, published by Idea-Tek.

Joy Van - Bandit Chief
Color Dreams - Master Chu & The Drunkard Hu

Eventually Idea-Tek was bought out by TXC, which released its non-adult back catalog.  TXC produced the Micro Genius, a popular Famiclone and its Famicom games usually displayed the Micro Genius splash screen before the title.  The PAL version of the Micro Genius, with its NTSC-like PPU behavior, would become very popular in the Russian Federation as the Dendy console.  The Dendy was also released in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism.

C&E - Warring States Sichuan Province
AVE - Tiles of Fate 

Maxivision 15

The AVE Maxivision 15 cartridge is extremely interesting, it is a multi-cart containing games previously released as standalone cartridges by AVE and Color Dreams.  One game, "Stakk'm", is unique to the cartridge.  "Stakk'm" began its existence as Mahjong Block by Idea-Tek.  Then after TXC bought out Idea-Tek it transformed Mahjong Block into Poke Block which AVE bought and re-released as Stakk'm.  Hacker International in Japan also got to release this game with nudity as AV Dragon Mahjong.  The Maxivision 15 cartridge when AVE first released it had the Sachen games Double Strike and Pyramid on it.  AVE apparently reissued the cartridge without those games at some point.  The HES Australian release of Maxivision 15 has the same games on it as the AVE reissue.

NTDEC/Caltron/Mega Soft

The other major Taiwanese publisher from this period of NTDEC.  NTDEC had both legitimate cartridge releases and pirated games from Japan.  NTDEC did not have major connections to other Taiwanese publishers.  NTDEC was not above pirating from its local competition.  It took the game Brush Roller from Hwang Shinwei, changed some graphics and released it as Bookyman.

Hwang Shinwei - Brush Roller 
Caltron/NTDEC - Bookyman

Caltron was a label NTDEC used on some of its standalone releases as well as its multicarts.  Most of its early standalone releases were published under NTDEC's Mega Soft label.  Its claim to fame in the West is the Caltron 6-in-1.  Each of the games on the 6-in-1 were released separately in Taiwan.

Caltron also advertised in its catalog a 9-in-1 cartridge, containing nine more games previously released in Taiwan by NTDEC, different from the 6-in-1.  This cartridge was never released, but the prototype was recently dumped. Like the 6-in-1, the 9-in-1 was also released as separate cartridges in Taiwan.  In addition to the 6-in-1 compilation, some of NTDEC's releases found their way to Spain, released by Gluk Video and Brazil, released by Milmar.  Gluk and Milmar released games from both compilations are separate cartridges.  Thunder Warrior was one of the few with any significant changes, in this case changing the protagonist to Gluk, the mascot of Gluk Video :

TXC - Thunder Warrior
Gluk Video - Gluk the Thunder Warrior

War in the Gulf was always a standalone cartridge and was released by Gluk and also found its way to Brazil and released by CCE.  Fighting Hero, a Street Fighter knock-off, also found its way to Brazil as released by Gradiente/ and by Dismac.  How many of the Brazilian releases were authorized is a matter of conjecture.

Panesian & Porn

Almost nothing is known Panesian, their cartridges were made by Macronix/AVE. I imagine that adult video stores saw ads in "trade magazines" for pornographic NES games, sent their check to an address and got their game boxes weeks later.  Only three games were released under this label.

Idea-Tek - Poker Wizard
Hacker International - A.V. Poker

Panesian - Peek-a-Boo Poker 
Hacker International was almost unique in Japan because it was almost the only company releasing unlicensed games in that country.  Nintendo could not prevent Hacker from developing, manufacturing or selling Famicom cartridges without a license.  It could discourage retailers from selling and magazines from advertising Hacker's product, but Hacker's inclusion of nudity in all its games pretty much advertised itself.  Hacker was not really a developer, it commissioned games from Sachen, Idea-Tek and C&E.  Hacker even ported Menace Beach from Color Dreams as Miss Peach World.  Strangely enough, Wisdom Tree, Color Dreams' successor, revised Menace Beach in the opposite direction of prudishness as Sunday Funday.

AVE - Mermaids of Atlantis
C&E - Magic Bubble

Hacker International - Soap Panic
Bubble Bath Babes was originally Hacker International's Soap Panic, developed on commission by C&E.  C&E then did more development and released it as Magic Bubble in Taiwan, Bubble Bath Babes by Panesian with nudity and as Mermaids of Atlantis: The Riddle of the Magic Bubble without nudity released by AVE.

Joy Van - Sidewinder
Mission Cobra

Peek-a-Boo Poker was originally released by Idea-Tek as Poker Jingling (Poker Wizard) in Taiwan.  Then Hacker had enhancements made and nudity added and sold it in Japan as AV (Adult Video) Poker.  Panesian altered the ladies a little and released it as Peek-a-Boo Poker.  Idea-Tek released the Hacker version in Taiwan with the copyright almost completely removed.

Joy Van - Joy Van Kid/Future Kid
Color Dreams - Metal Fighter ยต

Similarly, Hot Slots was a Hacker commission to Idea-Tek which was originally released as AV Pachi Slot: Big Chance and then with altered ladies as Panesian's Hot Slots.  Idea-Tek released the Hacker version in Taiwan with the copyright almost completely removed.

One of Sachen's games, Chess Academy, has a three-contact solder pad inside the cartridge to switch between a Sachen and a Sachen & Hacker logo on startup.  Hacker never seemed to have released Chess Academy in Japan, so the pads are always set to one side of the pads.

Sachen - Last Man Standing

Sachen - Brain Teaser 1
HES - The Penguin & Seal 

By the end of the NES's lifespan in 1995, most of the early Taiwan NES/Famiclone publishers had either been bought or had moved on to other consoles or other types of businesses.  Some programmers found work with other companies like Hummer Team or J.Y. Company which focused mainly on bootlegs and pirate games.  NTDEC, which became Asder in 1993 and Micro Genius were around for a while in the mid-to-late 90s but had shifted their focus to hardware with included games instead of traditional cartridges.

Sachen converted most of its games so that there would be a 60-pin variant and a 72-pin variant of each, even games that were unplayable absent a knowledge of Chinese or traditional Chinese games.  It also released many multi-carts in both formats, releasing its standalone games in multiple combinations.  It was willing to sell games on via the Internet well into the Internet age.  Frank Cifaldi managed to coax Sachen into releasing some copies of the (rather-buggy) game Huge Insect, which was developed around 1993.  However, as these cartridges were mainly sought after by collectors and die-hard enthusiasts, they can be especially difficult to find today.  

If you refer to the spreadsheet here, you can get an idea of what games were released in which areas of the world.  The spreadsheet is not complete and due to the difficulty in tracking down hard information may never be completed.  You will not find any classics on this spreadsheet, most of the games listed are barely mediocre.  The companies that released these games in the west did so because they did not have the resources to hire teams of programmers necessary to Special thanks to NewRisingSun, without his knowledge and experience this blog article would be impossible.


  1. Great research and great article, I know nes titles where even published in Asia many years after, I guess these were the beggining. Great times!

  2. HES published both versions of the Maxi-15 game. They had to stop selling the one with the 2 gamesbecause they didn't have permission from Sachen to publish them in this 15-pak. My understanding is that:
    In the USA, the rare/recalled version is the one without the 2 sachen games.
    In Australia, the rare/recalled version is the one with the 2 sachen games.