What’s Rarer: A Prototype Action 52 Cart or a Person Who’s Met Vince Perri?

You have to respect a guy who does his research when it has to do with retro-gaming history!  Greg Pabich contacted me a few weeks ago wanting to identify a couple of old Action 52 cartridges that he’d been keeping in a box for the last two decades.  It’s quite clear that Greg’s been doing his homework, so I figured he should get the proper recognition for it.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the notorious Action 52 unlicensed cart for the original Nintendo, the back story is possibly just as, if not more, interesting than the games themselves.  A guy by the name of Vince Perri ran a company named Active Enterprises LTD what was partially based out of Miami, FL and partially based in Nassau, Bahamas.   History of Active Enterprises is quite hard to come by.  They made the Action 52 for the NES in 1991 and for Sega Genesis in 1993, produced Cheetahmen II using recycled carts from the Action 52, and then disappeared.  In fact, they actually disappeared before Cheetahmen II ever hit the market, thus making the 1996 discovery of about 1500 Cheetahmen II carts a huge surprise to the gaming community.

Using some good old fashioned sleuth work, Andrew Harris at “The Warp Zone” attempted to contact Vince Perri to find out the history of Active Enterprises.  Yet, strangely, each person he contacted gave him the identical “WHY DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THIS?” response. Perhaps each was Vince Perri answering separate e-mail addresses with different aliases.  Or perhaps it was just a coincidence, but Vince Perri seems defensive enough that one can only wonder what he’s hiding.  Did he think Jason was a lawyer digging up a cold case or perhaps that Jason was someone to whom Mr. Perri owed money?  Who knows, maybe he was just shy.

Years passed with nothing but silence on the history of the Action 52, and then I got an e-mail from Greg Pabich.   During the 90s, Pabich owned a video and game distributorship.

I owned a very large preplayed movie and game distribution business located in Dallas, TX. I set up the game buy back/trade in programs for Babbages, Toys R Us, Software, Etc. and others. We also built the opening store inventory (movies and games) packages for the Blockbuster franchisees in North America, Hawaii, Mexico, Canada, Panama, ETC, ETC See: http://www.inc.com/magazine/19971015/1482.html

During the course of his business dealing, Pabich was contacted by none other than Vince Perri.  Vince had a pitch and invited him to Miami to discuss it.

I was introduced to Vince Perri, one of the owners of Active as a potential U.S. distributor of the Action 52 cart. I went to Florida in either late 1990 or early 1991 to discuss the “deal.” He had a large warehouse/office building and appeared to be a legitimate business. I was discussing the purchase of many 1,000’s of games and it involved a tremendous amount of money. In a business like I was in that was full of con artists, I was wary because I was told the carts were going to be assembled “offshore”–the Bahamas according to Perri–and that they must be paid for in full–IN ADVANCE!

He did not have pallets of finished games in evidence, only a handful of what he called “Prototypes” of which I returned with one (which he was very reluctant to part with). There were employees and activities going on (mock ups, advertising posters, promotional stuff, etc) and Active appeared to be a real business. He never mentioned any partners.

We talked and talked, had dinner and I left Florida knowing that the deal was too shaky for me to risk a million dollar upfront payment being wired to the Bahamas…

In hind-sight, Mr. Pabich seems to have made a wise choice.  Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, the Action 52 collection of games is a pretty horrible set of 52 mostly unfinished buggy games.  From the game play alone, it’s no surprise that they went under.  However, we can also see from Pabich’s account of the interaction that Active was shaky from the beginning.

Anyone familiar with Craigslist-based scams knows that you don’t wire or accept money wires (Western Union) from Nigerians offering to buy or ship an item for a too-good-to-be-true price.  Perhaps the second most feared country for scams is the Bahamas.  Luckily, Pabich chose the cup without the proverbial iocane powder.  He didn’t put down the cash and, instead, walked away with a piece of gaming history: one of the earliest known Action 52 carts.

Although Mr. Perri isn’t here to verify the exact history of Pabich’s blue-boarded Action 52 cart, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s a prototype.  Let’s take a look at the evidence to that point.

  1. The cart’s plastic casing is held together with metal screws.  Most Action 52 carts contained no screws whatsoever and instead were held together with something like clear plastic rivets.  It makes sense to start with hand-built prototypes that could be assembled and disassembled quickly by hand.
  2. The PCB (printed circuit board) is a unique blue color.  Normally, they’re green and sometimes (although less commonly) black.  The label is also blue, while all other known labels are clear.
  3. “Made in America” appears to be hand stamped on the PCB (printed circuit board) rather than being factory printed.
  4. Board is 3/4 inches shorter than others.
  5. It does not utilize capacitors as do the other versions.  The capacitor was generally used to defeat Nintendo’s lock-out chip and wouldn’t be needed in a prototype version.
  6. The PCB has EPROMS and no production PROMS.  The production carts contained PROMS that are labeled ACTION 52 as all other production carts do.
  7. Both pieces (top and bottom) come from different molds than the production carts. The arrow and the word TOP is missing on the front; all references to ACTIVE ENTERPRISES, PAT PENDING AND MADE IN U.S.A are missing from the reverse.  The side flanges on the top piece are FLAT instead of curved.

“MikeSanders” (aka Andrew Harris) at Cheetahmen Corner and the guys at Nintendo Age give a good account of the unique nature of Greg Pabich’s cart.  Putting all this information together, I have to agree with Pabich when he recalls Perri’s referring to the cart that he received as a “prototype.”

I also have to applaud Mr. Pabich for his time and effort in researching this cart.  Clearly, he’s done his homework in trying to establish the game’s history.  In addition to the original photos that he sent me (See my original post), I just received a fantastic batch of photos from him.  In them, we have a rare side-by-side comparison of each variation in the Action 52 game that he could get his hands on.

Photographed we have the following Action 52 carts:

  1. Pabich’s Blue Prototype
  2. Production w Black PCB
  3. Production 023-N507 REV. A
  4. Production 023-N507 REV. B
  5. Cheetahmen II 023-N509 REV. 0
  6. Production Sega Genesis

Take a look for yourself at the gallery of 30+ detailed and close-up photos below.  What do you think?  Is Greg Pabich’s Action 52 cart a prototype or simply a rare variant?

June 25, 2010 Update:  Check out my newest Action 52 article:  “The Evolution of the Action 52