After all this time, you might think we already know about every NES game made during the system’s ’80s heyday, but to this day collectors are still discovering and preserving one-of-a-kind prototypes that were produced but never released for the system. The latest example of this gaming history trend is UWC, a surprisingly complete prototype wrestling game made in 1989 by obscure Japanese developer Thinking Rabbit (perhaps best known for block-pushing puzzle game Sokoban) and published by defunct Japanese company Seta.
The name might sound familiar to classic wrestling fans, as UWC was the acronym for the Universal Wrestling Corporation, which later grew into World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Thus, the UWC prototype includes digitized versions of real wrestlers, including Ric Flair, the Road Warriors, and Sting, as part of what was apparently planned to be a fully licensed game. A completely different, officially licensed WCW game was released in the US in 1990 from publisher FCI, which could explain why this UCW prototype never saw an official release.
Unlike previous long-lost NES finds like Bio Force Ape, Happily Ever After, and SimCity, UWC was never even announced for the system, much less released to retailers. The only reason we know about it is a discovery by NES collector Stephan Reese. He says in a recent YouTube video that he obtained the game from a former Nintendo of America employee who held on to a prototype that was submitted to the company for review. “They gave it to him to test because he was a wrestling fan,” Reese says.
While some collectors jealously hold on to rare prototypes like these to increase their market value, Reese said he was “not going to be holding this thing hostage.” Instead, he loaned the game to the Video Game History Foundation, which has recently dumped the ROM and posted video of a full playthrough, showing a credits list full of people whose hard work on the game has never been appreciated until now.
It’s unclear if that ROM will ever be released for download by the general public, but at the very least the VGHF will preserve this unique find for researchers and academics interested in the still-unfolding history of Nintendo’s first game console. “It is no exaggeration to say that this is likely the only copy of the game in the entire world, it is so so important to archive data like this when it is discovered,” the organization said in a tweet.