Somewhere in an alternate universe, the NES Classic could include SimCity, which today would be a retro title that first launched on the original game system 27 years ago. Unfortunately, in this universe and this timeline that we occupy and where you're reading this, SimCity never got released to the NES. However, a prototype did in fact exist, and it's now available to play.
You still can't play the game on the NES, but there is a ROM available of the NES version, which you can download and play on a PC. Frank Cifaldi, founder of The Video Game History Foundation, posted an extensive write-up detailing the unreleased game's history, how it's eluded collectors for all these years, and it's emergence into the ROM scene nearly three decades later.
As some of you might already be aware, SimCity did find its way to the Super NES in 16-bit form. However, an 8-bit version was supposed to launch on the NES, and almost did.
"This [8-bit] version of the game was announced at the same time as its 16-bit cousin, and was said to contain all of its same features. It made a brief appearance at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in 1991, but was canceled soon after, and was never seen again," Cifaldi explains.
For nearly three decades, it was thought to be completely lost, or if there was a version out there, it was probably locked away at one of Nintendo's offices, likely long forgotten. Then a cartridge of the game containing an unfinished version of the game found its way to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo last year.
"We had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to digitize the game for its owner at the show, and thanks to two very generous collectors, we were able to spend the last few months tearing the game apart for the following deep-dive analysis. Seen here for the first time in nearly twenty-seven years, this is SimCity for the Nintendo Entertainment System," Cifaldi says.
SimCity in 8-bit form is obviously a bit rough by today's standards. However, it's an interesting piece of software history, and an important one, given its rare status and the popularity of the NES.
Of course, the legality of the ROM is a separate, albeit related topic. To put it mildly, Nintendo is not very keen on the ROM and emulation scene. We would hope that Nintendo would turn a blind eye in this particular case, given that it's an incomplete version of a game that was never released, but it wouldn't surprise us if it released the legal hounds. Until then, it's available to download.