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NES cover art
|Developer(s)||Active Enterprises (NES)|
FarSight Technologies (Genesis)
Jay Obernolte (Genesis)
Jay Obernolte (Genesis)
|Designer(s)||Mario Gonzalez (NES)|
Cronos Engineering, Inc.
|Writer(s)||Mario Gonzalez (NES)|
Ed Bogas (uncredited)
Nu Romantic Productions (Mark Steven Miller and Jason Scher)
Action 52 is an unlicensed multicart video game compilation developed by Active Enterprises for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and FarSight Technologies for the Sega Genesis. The NES version was released in 1991, followed by the Genesis version in 1993. A Super NES version was advertised in magazines, but never released.
Action 52 consists of 52 "New and Original" games that cover a variety of genres, with the most common being scrolling shooters and platformers. One of the more notable games is The Cheetahmen, Active's attempt at creating a franchise similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The NES version of Action 52 became notorious among gamers for the poor quality and functionality of its games, and is often considered to be one of the worst games of all time. The Genesis version is widely considered superior, though still of subpar quality. Many video game collectors value Action 52 for its notoriety and rarity, as it initially retailed for the comparatively high price of US$199 (equivalent to $366 in 2018), or "less than $4 for each game".
|List of games|
The games on the NES version cover a variety of genres, the most common being vertical shooters set in outer space and platformers. The games have major glitches, some of which cause them to freeze or crash due to programming flaws; there are also incomplete or endless levels, confusing design, and unresponsive controls. In the manual, each game has a one-sentence description, with some being described as completely different games and others incorrectly described or categorized.
The "featured" game of Action 52 was The Cheetahmen. There were initial plans for a line of merchandise including action figures, T-shirts, a comic book series, and even a television cartoon based on the characters (an advertisement for Cheetahmen action figures, displaying prototype sketches, was included in the aforementioned comic book). However, these plans quickly fell through as negative word of mouth and reviews mounted after the game's release.
Active Enterprises advertised a competition in which anyone who could complete level 8 of Ooze would be entered into a prize drawing to win $104,000 ($52,000 cash, and a scholarship of same value). The game was reported to crash on level 2, making this prize impossible to win without the use of emulator or an in-game exploit, rendering the contest a failure.
|List of games|
The Sega Genesis version of Action 52 features a largely different lineup of games, some with more effort put into design and fewer technical issues than the NES version. Each game is color-coded on the main menu screen; "Beginner" games are green, "Intermediate" games are purple, "Expert" games are yellow, "Challenge" games are white, and multiplayer games are blue.
Several new games were introduced in the Genesis version, a number of which share their names with games from the NES cartridge, but are different in terms of content. The Genesis Haunted Hills, for instance, has a male protagonist and is set outside a haunted house, while the NES Haunted Hills has a female protagonist and takes place inside a haunted house. A new rendition of The Cheetahmen was included, in which the Cheetahmen rescue captured cheetah cubs from Dr. Morbis and his minions.
In addition to the 52 games, the Genesis version features a Music Test mode and a "Randomizer" option. If selected from the main menu, the Randomizer will randomly choose and start one game from the 52 available on the cartridge. The fifty-second game, Challenge, is an endurance test to see how long the player lasts in a random series of the highest levels of the other games.
Little is known about Vince Perri, the creator of Action 52. Perri claims to be a businessman from Miami, Florida and the owner and founder of Active Enterprises. He also explains that the breakthrough came by accident: "I happened to see my son playing an illegal product made in Taiwan that had 40 games on it. The whole neighborhood went crazy over it," Perri said. "I figured I'd do it legally. It's obvious when you see something like that, you know there's something there." In 1993, he showcased Action 52 at the International Winter Consumer Electronics Show.
For the NES version, Perri raised $20 million from private backers in Europe, South America and Saudi Arabia. He and Raul Gomila employed three college students (Mario Gonzalez, Javier Perez and Albert Hernandez) to do the game design, music, graphics and programming on an Atari ST, with a three-month deadline and little playtesting or bug fixing done. Technical work was contracted out to Cronos Engineering, Inc., a Boca Raton company that had done work for IBM. According to Gonzalez, the game has been misrepresented as a "scam" in the gaming press; he clarifies that Perri never intended for the game to be a scam, at least at first, and believed it was a genuinely good business venture after seeing his neighborhood become entranced by his son's Taiwanese multicart. However, it was Perri's overconfidence and lack of gaming business savvy that led to the project's downfall, by hiring inexperienced programmers and giving them such a short deadline without knowing how long games typically took to make, and thinking such a poor quality product would be able to make him rich via the Cheetahmen franchise.
Action 52 has eight extra game templates, since the distributor had the carts come with 60 games by default, as well as many unused tiles; this has been confirmed in an interview with Gonzalez. Also, according to Gonzalez, the development team was flown to Sculptured Software to develop the game. While Mario does not remember the name of the game company, he recalls them both being based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the company was developing an NES adaptation of Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. This, along with the game using Sculptured Software's sound engine, proves that the game was developed at Sculptured Software, but not by Sculptured Software staff.
Several of the songs from the NES version of Action 52 were plagiarized from example tunes included in Activision's The Music Studio for the Atari ST. The games with plagiarized music include Fuzz Power, Silver Sword, French Baker, Streemerz, Time Warp Tickers and Ninja Assault. Those songs were composed by Ed Bogas. Additionally, programmer Kevin Horton analyzed the music code of Action 52 and found that it matched a music engine programmed by Sculptured Software, featured in all of their NES games.
The Sega Genesis version, released two years later, was developed by FarSight Technologies on a Macintosh LC over the course of a year, under the direction of Jay Obernolte. This version contained far fewer glitches than the NES version, due to FarSight having experienced programmers and pressuring Active into playtesting the game before release. Perez and Hernandez were again involved in the development of this version but Gonzalez had departed from the team at this point to spend more time with his girlfriend, whom he eventually married. Music for this version was contracted out to Mark Steven Miller and Jason Scher of Nu Romantic Productions, which was composed within 48 hours. FarSight was also set to develop a version of Action 52 for the Super NES, as well as another multicart titled Sports 5, but Active Enterprises withdrew from the video game industry shortly thereafter, and no copies of either game are known to exist.
In 2010, a prototype cartridge of Action 52 surfaced, owned by movie and video games distributor Greg Pabich. Originally, Vince Perri had proposed a deal with Pabich asking him if he would be interested in working for Active Enterprises as a business partner. At this time, Perri only had a few prototype cartridges and not the final product. For various reasons, Pabich turned down the offer, but not before leaving with one of the prototypes in his possession, which was stored in his warehouse for over twenty years before it was "rediscovered".
The prototype itself contains numerous differences from the final Action 52 cartridges. It contains minor text differences for the game titles as well as different color backgrounds for the game selection menus. The final version contains the words "Action 52" in its header and copyright information in its footer. The prototype simply contains section numbers in each menu screen's header. The code for Action 52 appears to be heavily based upon the pirate multicart 52 in 1. This is evident from the menu template in the Action 52 prototype being identical to that of 52 in 1. However, the biggest difference between the prototype and the final game is that the final version contains the game Cheetahmen, whereas the prototype does not. In its place is a completely different Cheetahmen game titled "Action Gamer" (presumably taken from the name of the main character, the Action Gamemaster, in Cheetahmen). Action Gamer features only two levels, one of which is incomplete.
On November 11, 2011, Greg Pabich publicly released reproductions of Action Gamer, calling it "Cheetahmen: The Creation". This special package contains a sealed version of the game for collectors, an unsealed copy, a reproduction of the original Cheetahmen comic book, a Cheetahmen music CD, special edition T-shirts, and a poster.
In August 2012, one of the four original Action 52 developers surfaced, presenting their original boxed Action 52 NES prototype cartridge, one of only two known to exist. They have since created a blog documenting their part in the development of the Action 52 NES cartridge.
It is noted that in 2018, Pabich acquired the Prototype owned by Developer #4 for a rumored five-figure price.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October 2017)
The overall critical reception of Action 52 has been overtly negative; Allgame editor Skyler Miller described the game as an "unlicensed but legal multi-cart" containing "NES games of extremely poor quality".
- List of commercial failures in video gaming
- List of video games notable for negative reception
- Caltron 6 in 1
- Cassette 50
- Don't Buy This
- "Action 52 for NES - MobyGames". MobyGames. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
- "Top Ten Shameful Games". Archive.gamespy.com. 2002-12-31. Archived from the original on 2009-04-14. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
- "Active Enterprises exposed". atarihq.com. Retrieved 2009-11-14.
- "Action 52 - th' Stuff". Arkfullofsorrow.com. Archived from the original on 2011-09-13. Retrieved 2009-07-22.[unreliable source?]
- Cinemassacre (2011-07-21), Action 52 - Angry Video Game Nerd - Episode 90, retrieved 2016-02-21
- Chiucchi, Vincent (2008-01-17). "411mania.com: Games - The Hall of Shame 01.17.08: Action 52". 411mania.com. Archived from the original on 2010-05-06. Retrieved 2009-11-14.[unreliable source?]
- Jave. "Action 52 - NES (1991) / Action 52 - Genesis (1993) / Cheetahmen 2 - NES (unreleased)". Hardcore Gaming 101. Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
- "Video Creator Plays 52 Games to Win". The Miami Herald.
- "Cartridge has 52 video games". Austin American-Statesman. 1993-01-30.
- "YouTube Video demonstrating matching songs from "The Music Studio" and "Action 52"". 2009-02-12.[unreliable source?]
- "Post on NESDev forums by Kevin Horton". 2011-04-05.[unreliable source?]
- Harris, Andrew; Allwein, Dave (2003). "Jay Obernolte Interview". Cheetahmen Corner. Archived from the original on 2009-04-23. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
- "What's Rarer: A Prototype Action 52 Cart or a Person Who Met Vince Perri?". The Video Game Museum. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- "The Evolution of Action 52". The Video Game Museum. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- "Cheetahmen Fever!". The Video Game Museum. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- "Action 52 Prototype". Archived from the original on January 10, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2013.
- Miller, Skyler. "Action 52 - Review". AllGame. Archived from the original on December 11, 2014. Retrieved October 20, 2017.
- List of all Action 52 games — A comprehensive website detailing all 52 of the games in the compilation.
- Active Enterprises exposed — A website with information on both Action 52 and Active Enterprises.
- Cheetahmengames.com — Official website of The Cheetahmen.
- Action52Prototype.com — Action 52 Developer #4's firsthand story of the development of Action 52 and the rare Action 52 prototype NES game cartridge.