In the days of consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis, knockoff games were rife. Whether it was illegally modifying an existing game, say Sonic the Hedgehog, to throw Mario in there, or whether it was an entirely original game that was created and released through unofficial channels.
Perhaps one of the most infamous of these games was a little title called Action 52. Promising 52 ‘new and original’ games, all crammed into the one cartridge for the low, low price of $199 USD (which would be roughly $366 USD today).
It’s important to note first and foremost that none of these 52 games is good or worth your time. The 52 games contained everything from platformers to sidescrolling shoot ’em ups and they were all just absolutely terrible and full of various glitches, whether that be endless levels because the end goal flag doesn’t work, or just having incomplete levels in general.
Of course, you’d be very lucky to even enjoy these endless bugged out levels because the controls were generally a mess, being either unresponsive or just outright confusing when they did work.
Two different versions of the game were released, one for the Nintendo Entertainment System and one for the Sega Genesis, and both versions of the game had largely different collections. Which is impressive considering that means they had to go out and make two separate lots of disappointing, horrible, overpriced games that absolutely no one wanted.
Though while the Nintendo Entertainment System was just a collection of terrible games without much thought put into them, they at least made some kind of effort with the Genesis release, which is largely reported as functioning slightly better. The Genesis version of the cartridge also had its games colour-coded according to difficulty. Which was pointless because any game is difficult when it doesn’t work.
Even the manual for the games isn’t exempt from this expensive mess, with there being a one sentence description of each game. These descriptions often incorrectly described the game, detailing something entirely different or mixing up the elements.
The myth, the legend, The Cheetahmen
A little game called ‘The Cheetahmen’ was the main draw card for Action 52 and there were big plans for it. As a result, it’s also the most complete and polished game (and it’s still full of bugs, if that tells you anything).
The Cheetahmen is about a team of three anthropomorphic cheetahs, each one playable with different abilities. It follows their journey to stop an evil scientist after a boy is pulled into the world of the game and… Either fights alongside or becomes each of the Cheetahmen individually…? It’s really not explained well other than it’s the 90s and this game just kind of tried to shove as many cool 90s tropes in it as possible in the hopes that something would stick.
And they hoped that something would stick hard. The idea behind the game was that it would go on to spawn an entire franchise, cartoon, comics, action figures, the works. Though this clearly didn’t come to fruition, it didn’t deter Vince Pierri, the man behind this horrible collection of games, because Cheetahmen II was in production though remained unfinished with only a prototype existing and floating around the internet.
This awful mess: A history
So how did we wind up with this horrible mess of games? Vince Pierri had seen his son playing one of the many previously mentioned knockoff games. It came from Taiwan and had 40 games on the cartridge, and took his neighborhood by storm. Vince, an enterprising man, decided ‘what if I do this, but legally’. And so he did, raising over $20 million in funding, employed a bunch of college students to actually program the thing, and thought he was onto a winner.
Vince never set out to make an over-expensive scam, wanting to make money off his collection of really bad games in a genuine way. But the poor guy overestimated just how much work and time actually went in to creating one game, let alone 52 entirely different games. The game was also plagued with copyright issues, with a lot of the music just being copies of popular existing tunes.
Having learned from his first series of mistakes, a different team was put together to develop the Sega Genesis version. This team was more accomplished, experienced game developers, but even with more time and experience, the damage was done. 52 games on one cartridge just wasn’t feasible, word of mouth had spread that this very expensive collection was awful, and the Super Nintendo version was subsequently cancelled and any hopes for a Cheetahmen enterprise were squashed.
While, as evidenced by The Cutting Room Floor wiki, a lot of effort had gone into the production, it just wasn’t enough and the poor quality and high price tag ensured Action 52 was one for the history books in terms of ‘what to absolutely not do when you make a game’.
Though, if nothing else, we got the absolute banger that is the Cheetahmen main theme.