‘Bio Force Ape’ Is The Greatest NES Game That Never Was
When people think about the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System, their thoughts are often of the games they spent a good chunk of their childhoods trying to conquer. For me, it all comes down to the thrill of wringing every penny out of Capcom's DuckTales, the monumental disappointment of Castlevania II, and spending every second of a sick day home from school staring at Super Mario Bros. 3 while I was hopped up on NyQuil. In other words, good times. For other classic gaming enthusiasts, though, the thoughts aren't of what they had, but rather the games they never got to play, and for the past twenty years, there's been one game that they've wanted more than any other: Bio Force Ape.
Originally slated for release in 1991, Bio Force Ape allows you to play as a pet chimpanzee who must rescue his family by taking the mysterious Bio Force serum and mutating into a pro wrestler. It was the recipient of an extremely positive profile in Nintendo Power -- "extremely positive" being NP's default setting back in the day -- but then vanished, presumably never to be seen again. Last week, though, the archivists at Lost Levels not only acquired the long-lost prototype cartridge, but uploaded a playable version of it to the Internet.
So of course I played it. And it's even more amazing than the title would suggest.
Before last week, I'd never heard of Bio Force Ape, and considering that the news broke on April Fool's Day, I initially wrote off its entire existence as a massive prank. An in-the-know friend of mine assured me that it wasn't, but if it had been, it wouldn't have been the first time BFA had been at the center of a hoax. Back in 2005, a forum poster claimed to have discovered a copy for three bucks, complete with faked screenshots to back up his claim, including a cutscene where a monster made of butter was punched out while the title character shouted "EAT COMMUNISM!"
In retrospect, this is only slightly stranger than what the game actually was. And even if the one at Lost Levels is a hoax, it's still awesome enough to be worth talking about.
Bio Force Ape was developed by SETA, an acronym for "Super Entertainment Total Amusement," which sounds exactly like the kind of company that would make something called "Bio Force Ape." They recently folded -- which explains how the BFA prototype ended up on the Yahoo! Japan auction where Lost Levels founder and True Hero Frank Cifaldi was able to pick it up for a jaw-dropping $2,700 -- but they left behind a legacy of 23 years of what appears to be complete video game insanity.
Their NES adaptation of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is described thusly by Wikipedia, with my emphasis added:
"Tom Sawyer is dreaming, and in this dream he must save Becky from Injun Joe, he must travel through six stages to get to her. He encounters various creatures including a Giant Octopus, a Giant Alligator in the Mississippi River, Ghosts and Ghouls in a haunted house, God, and a dragon. He wakes up from the dream and finds himself in his Mississippi classroom. He finds a feather on his desk. The feather that belonged to Injun Joe. Was it a dream...?"
More recently SETA developed Project Sylpheed for Square, a game in which the protagonist is named Katana Faraway. That may in fact be the most ridiculous name in video game history, and considering it was published by a company that made a game about "Cloud Strife," that's saying something.
Either way, once you give it that context, Bio Force Ape might not seem like such a crazy idea after all. And then you actually play it.
The plot of Bio Force Ape is one that I think we can all relate to. You play as a small monkey -- interestingly enough, not an actual ape -- who appears to be the pet and/or research project of a scientist. One day, while wandering through a featureless blue void, the scientist and his family are kidnapped by a mysterious green man, who kicks the chimp and speeds off in a van. Irate and swearing revenge, the chimp downs a mysterious serum that turns him into the Ultimate Warrior -- and by that I don't mean that he's a really good fighter, I mean that it actually turns him into former WWF Champion The Ultimate Warrior. Or at least a reasonable Bio Force Simulacrum thereof.
This origin is, of course, explained in about ten frames of animation on the title screen:
With that in place, you set off for an adventure that is both Super Entertaining and Totally Amusing.
It's not an easy road for Bio Force Ape, though, as evidenced by the fact that the very first thing that happens in the game is that you're shoved off a ledge by what appears to be E. Honda, slumming it between Street Fighter tournaments:
I've got to hand it to Honda for this one. After being featured in one of the most lucrative video game franchises of all time, most guys would just rest on their considerably large laurels, but he's out there doing the work. Good on him.
He's not the only henchman that the villain -- whom Lost Levels has dubbed Dr. Mr. Bad Guy -- has at his disposal, either. After falling for a solid six seconds, pinwheeling his arms in what are actually a pretty nice set of graphics, Bio Force Ape confronts his first enemy, whom I have dubbed Senor Bumbles:
As well as the leaping fury I call Kangarude:
And this guy, who I have no name for...
...because I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that he's an alligator-man, but his head is at the base of the tail, so that when he stands up, the alligator's jaws are actually his legs, which is frigging weird.
There are a few other enemies, including your generic, weak but fast shirtless kung fu warriors and sword-wielding ninjas, and at one point you fight a breakdancer, but those three are the the most common, and also raise the most interesting question. Are they supposed to be guys in strange costumes, as the box art suggests, or are they meant to be other animals that have been dosed with the same Bio Force formula that you used to transform in the opening? Has his love for humanity caused Bio Force Ape to rebel against his own kind to save his family?
Sadly, these questions aren't answered in the game itself, but I promiose you that if someone out there figures out who owns the rights to this game, I will write you a Bio Force Ape comic like you would not believe.
Anyway, as far as gameplay, it reminds me more than anything else of Sonic the Hedgehog. BFA himself has the same kind of movement, where he just keeps picking up speed until he's running flat out (again, straight up Ultimate Warrior style), and there's just a lot of movement to the game. You're always falling these huge distances -- and landing flat on your face, which is a nice touch -- or being zipped around the levels while clinging for dear life to a platform. BFA even has a move where he rolls along, although the fact that he's rolling sideways along the ground makes it even funnier. Also, the "object" of the game (such as it is) seems to be beating each of the levels as fast as possible, as the game times you.
The major difference, however, is how you deal with enemies. Fighting them is pretty much completely optional, and since the game is timing you, the developers actually have to make you want to fight them, and they succeed. Normally, the video game box art of the NES era was vastly different from how things actually turned out, but with Bio Force Ape, that thing is dead on, because this is a game where you are a mutated monkey beating your enemies to death with pro wrestling moves.
I wasn't kidding when I said the serum turned you into the Ultimate Warrior. After punching and kicking enemies enough to stun them, BFA grabs them and straight up drops the airplane spin, the suplex -- vertical and German -- and my personal favorite, the powerbomb.
Eventually, you powerbomb enough mutants to make it through what might be a science lab, an abandoned mine and what appears to be an old warehouse that's inexplicably stocked with teleportation machines, and you reach Dr. Mr. Bad Guy, who is now trying to blow up the world.
Seriously, that's either a nuclear missile big enough to end life on the face of the Earth, or someone is going to owe a lot of money to Adam & Eve when the credit card bill gets here.
There's one last twist, though: The moment you attack him, DMBG himself transforms into the mirror image of Bio Force Ape!
With double the Bio Force Action, this is set up to be the most mind-shattering, German-suplexing confrontation in the history of video games. So of course you kill him with one hit.
Thus, Bio Force Ape is completed.
With only three levels, it's a pretty short game, but keep in mind that this was an unreleased prototype that was probably slated to have a lot more work put into it before it hit shelves next to classics like Rockin' Kats or Castlevania II. But at the same time, those three levels exist in that rare world of perfection where it's hard to imagine what else they could've done. I mean, it already has the suplexing of a bumblebee man.
But the most important thing it teaches us -- and something that's missing from today's "advanced" video games -- is the importance of sticking with the people you care about even if you have to drink mutagenic serum to save them from a green scientist who owns both an ICBM and a creepy van. Why?
Because the real Bio Force... is love.