Fixing Cheetahmen II: Kickstarter vs Dr. Morbis!

Oh Cheetahmen II…are you finally getting fixed?!

For decades, the Cheetahmen have been locked in a bitter and futile struggle against Dr. Morbis.  In Cheetahmen II, every two levels a different Cheetahmen becomes available.  Theoretically, a player starts with Apollo (crossbow) for the first two levels, gets to play as Aries (fists) for the third and fourth levels, and uses Hercules (dual clubs) for the fifth and sixth levels.  Unfortunately, the Cheetahmen’s feline courage and ninja skills have not been enough to pass the mutant Ape Man boss at the end of the fourth level.  A software bug has thwarted years of insanely skilled and strangely dedicated players from ever getting to level five.  Ironically, it turns out that beating Cheetahmen II is even more rare than this holy grail of NES cartridges.

Broken Ape Man boss fight in Cheetahmen II

Will we finally be able to help the Cheetahmen defeat Dr Morbis?

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat on the phone with Greg Pabich find to find out about his newest project.  Since I was polite enough not to record the conversation, here’s a paraphrased version of our discussion:

Mark:  Hey Greg, how’s it going?

Greg:  Mark, I’ve been pretty busy!  I’m excited about our next Cheetahmen project!

Mark:  Ha ha!  Oh dear!?!  What’ve you been up to?

Greg:  Well, you know how that pallet of Cheetahmen II cartridges never made it to market?

Mark:  Yeah, collectors love them, but what a frustrating game.

Greg:  When Active Enterprises was about to go under, I’m guessing Vince Perri abandoned them either because money wasn’t coming in on the Action 52 like he figured or because he realized it was an incomplete game.

Mark:  Yeah, you can only even play the first four levels, right?

Greg:  Exactly!  So here’s what I’m up to.  I think the world needs to have that game up and working.  Love it or hate it, it just needs to get finished and put on a cartridge.

Mark:  Now that would be interesting.

Greg:  The original Cheetahmen II game carts are selling for thousands of dollars now.  Most collectors can’t even begin to afford them.  I want to put together a playable cartridge that will have all the levels working.  Apparently, it was originally designed with more levels, but it was just too buggy to let anyone play them.  Once we have a working game with all its original levels working, I’d love to put them into NES collectors’ hands.

Mark:  What’s the game plan going to be for doing that?

Greg:  I put a small fortune into producing and distributing the Cheetahmen Creation cartridge last year.  Between development, production, marketing, and selling a repaired version of Cheetahmen 2, I know it’s going to cost some serious cash.  I’m thinking Kickstarter will be a great tool to launch this project.

Mark:  That’s probably wise.  Plus, from one married man to another, I have a feeling your wife might like the Kickstarter plan a bit better than trying to fund it all yourself.  So, I know people love, hate, and pretty much love to hate Action 52 and Cheetahmen 2.  What’s going to get people to back this project?

Greg:  Kickstarter has a great model of letting people support a project and get something unique as a thank you for their support.  We have some pretty reasonable donation levels, and based on how much people donate, we’ll have things available ranging from exclusive posters to actual cartridges of the game once we get it produced.  I’ve got Mario Gonzalez, one of the original designers of Action 52/Cheetahmen involved, and he’s created some fantastic new artwork for the posters and will be signing certain items!  Plus, most items will be numbered and hologram stickered as limited editions available only to contributors.

Mark:  Actually, that a pretty good plan.  I’m a pretty big NES collector, and this might be a much more reasonable way for me to get a copy of Cheetahmen II into my collection even if it isn’t the original.  I’m guessing you could get some good buzz in collecting circles around this.

Greg:  Actually, we’re going to go bigger than that.  By sheer coincidence, the Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN) just did a video on Cheetahmen II!

After seeing it, I contacted him to see if he’d be interested in getting involved in this.  The AVGN signed on, which is going to be a ton of fun and nuts as usual!  I got Pat the NES Punk involved as well.  We were sponsors in his last NES Marathon, which turned out to be a huge success.  Plus, the Game Chasers guys from Retroware TV are involved and basically putting it all together.

Mark:  Wow, seriously, that’s an amazing lineup!  Are you making any video appearances yourself?

Greg:  Yeah!  It turns out that acting isn’t so easy though.  I’ve finished working on my parts.  The Game Chasers are putting it all together.  It’s 100% top notch production and coming along nicely!  I think people are going to be blown away by the AVGN, Pat, the Game Chasers, and some possible appearances of the Cheetahmen themselves…

Mark:  Greg, sounds like you’re going 100% in as usual.  When are you launching this?

Greg:  The Kickstarter campaign should go live 8/7/2012.

Mark:  And, any idea when you’re hoping to have new copies of the fixed Cheetahmen II game available?

Greg:  In good Active Enterprises spirit, sticking to Vince Perri’s 3 month development window would put us in November or December.  Either way, I’m guessing we should probably get this done before the world ends in 12/12/12.

Mark:  Ha ha, nice!  Even once it’s fixed, I’m hoping that Cheetahmen II won’t be the last NES game I ever play.  But seriously, I’ve got to hand it to you.  It sounds like this is going to be a ton of fun and a huge success.  Best of luck with it!

Greg:  Absolutely!  Thanks for helping to spread the word on Cheetahmen II: The Lost Levels.

Update 8/6/2012:  The Kickstarter project CHEETAHMEN II : THE LOST LEVELS is live!  Best of luck Greg!

Cheetahmen Fever!

“I saw an internet article on the 10 most valuable games in the world.  Mine was on it, and it was a prototype!”

Shortly after making that realization, Greg Pabich contacted me at and several other forums.  The man was on a mission.  He wanted to figure out what he had and what he should do with it.  Not only was Greg able to confirm that he had a unique prototype, but upon testing it, he also realize that he had an entirely different Cheetahmen game from that which was released on the normal version of the Action 52.  He’d discovered the long lost Action Gamer.

While he first contemplated auctioning it off, “The more I became involved in it, the more I learned about the fact that it could be duplicated.”   It wasn’t long before Pabich’s entrepreneurial imagination took off.  He loved the reaction people were giving Cheetahmen on the internet.  “What gets me is that people either hate the game or go peeing-your-pants crazy about it!”

“All I’ve done is taken a game that everyone loves to hate and that isn’t very playable by today’s standards, and I’ve tried to create value and added value.  I’ve done everything to make it a full-scale professional game:  a nice box, high-end t-shirts, CDs with cheetah music, posters, hologram label, etc.  I’ve been working on an entertaining website.  I’m trying to tell the story, to convey history, and to entertain people.”

So what exactly has Greg Pabich been working on?  Well first off, not everything is finalized.  However, he’s put together two purchasable “Cheetahmen: The Creation” packages:   a Special Collector’s Edition and a Regular Edition.

Cheetahmen: The Creation Special Collector’s Edition includes the following:

  • Factory-sealed game (clear cartridge) and box
  • Unsealed game (green cartridge) and box
  • Classic Cheetahmen: The Creation Comic (reproduction)
  • “Cheetahmix” Music CD
  • “Audacious” Cheetahmen T-Shirt (Sizes Large or X-Large)
  • Cheetahmen Poster (Size: 15” x 9″, which will be folded in half to fit in the box)

This Collector’s Edition will be limited to a run of 500 sets.  Greg explains that the game cartridges, sealed-game box, and outer collector’s box will all have matching hologram serial numbers ranging from 1 to 500.

Cheetahmen: The Creation Regular Edition includes the following:

  • Factory-sealed game (red cartridge) and box
  • Classic Cheetahmen: The Creation Comic (reproduction)

Pabich explains that this edition of the game will be limited to 1000 games.  These will also be hologram-numbered and will follow the sequence of 501 to 1500.

Perhaps you’ve already preordered one of these sets.  But all this begs for a few questions to be answered:  Who on earth is Greg Pabich?  And what could inspire a person to wrap up his time, energy, and finances in such a project?  Is this what Cheetahmen fever looks like?

7-Eleven Game Rooms 

I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Pabich last week.  Greg explains that he was the marketing manager for 7-Eleven in South Texas during the late ’70s and early ’80s.  He helped to develop and market 7-Eleven’s line of popular breakfast burritos.  “It had to be something a person could eat with one hand while driving.”  It wasn’t long before Pabich made the leap from microwave food to gaming.  If you played an arcade machine at a South Texas 7-Eleven, chances are, Pabich helped to put it there.  He worked to develop game rooms in his stores.  Originally 7-Eleven stores had pinball machines but no dedicated space for them.

“The idea was to get game machines out of the storefront area.  We needed a dedicated space for pinball; electronic video games were just coming out.  Those were going gangbusters!  I added mirrors to rooms, changed lighting, added ash trays, and held game tournaments, which were tied into a Muscular Dystrophy Association.  That must have been about 1986 at its peak.”

Pabich’s original training wasn’t in electronics, computers, or anything gaming related.  “Before 7-Eleven, I got a degree as an accountant and did that for a few years, but I really didn’t like it.  As a creative entrepreneur, I wanted to do something more.”  Pabich did just that.  He purchased a convenience store and built a dozen more.  “I was reading an article in Time magazine on Pong, and I was fascinated by it.  Atari was out of Los Gatos, CA in 1974 if I remember correctly.  There wasn’t any internet or Google.  I had to track down someone who knew about it.”  Once Pabich got a hold of Atari, he ordered a machine for one of his stores.  “The response was weak.  People weren’t as enamored with it as I was.  I was 10 years too early.”  Eventually Pabich pulled the machine from his store and put it in his living room.  Sometime after that, he donated it to a school for the deaf.  “That was the beginning.  Looking back, I wish I’d held onto that arcade.”

Placing Arcades in Theaters

Pabich sold his convenience stores and was hired by a  gas station company to convert gas stations into convenience stores.  Following that job, he was hired by 7-Eleven as previously mentioned.  Pabich was having enough success with the game rooms at 7-Eleven that he started a side business.  Pabich got a contract to do the same sort of thing for a theater chain in the Houston, TX area and put games like Defender in the lobby.  These were immensely popularly.  “Games cost about $2,100, which was a lot of money.  But we could generally pay for a good game in about 17 days!”  Pabich went on to explain the monetization process.  “My company would have a key to open and service the machine.  The theater manager would have a key to the coin box, and there was a coin counter inside.  That kept everyone honest.”  He chuckled as he recounted, “There was one machine that wouldn’t play after a couple days, and the business owner called me complaining.  I came over to service it and found out it wasn’t working because it was packed full of quarters.  Apparently the same thing was happening all over the place.  These were so profitable that Texas limited our payout of machines to business owners to 50%.”

With 7-Eleven’s game rooms taking off as well, the 7-Eleven sold their gaming and equipment portion of the stores to a third-party business who offered to run it.  Pabich recounted that the business paid something in the millions-of-dollars range and went under about six month later.   No longer managing the gaming rooms, Pabich went back to focusing on his duties as marketing manager.   At about that same time, Pabich sold his theater arcade game business.

The Advent of VHS

“We was transferred to Austin in about 1982.  My daughter was about seven years old and was having a slumber party.  I tried to rent a VCR and a video and it was impossible to do.  You had to pay $100 to become a member, $4.95 to rent the movie, $9.95 to rent a VCR, and no one had any of them available.  Those were the early days of VHS.”  Pabich explained, “If you can’t get anything for love or money and there’s that much demand, then there’s money to be made.”

Pabich found a guy who wanted to place videos in 7-Elevens.  “We tried this in two stores.  There weren’t many new releases at this time compared to today where new movies come out on video every day.  Within a year, there were video stores popping up everywhere.”  He kept feeding the idea to corporate.  It cost $20,000 to outfit a 7-Eleven to rent movies.  Movies had to be purchased new at a cost of $70-90, and “We didn’t have good tracking systems at this time, since there weren’t computer systems or anything for that.  Our test stores were doing well.  People were renting a movie, buying things, bringing it back, and buying things again: beer, chips, soda, etc.  However, at $20,000 times 7,000 stores nationwide (900 in Texas), it was too much money even for 7-Eleven.

Resigning from his job at 7-Eleven with the agreement that he could get a contract for 7-Elevens in Texas, Pabich raised money and found a distributor for used movies  out of Portland, Oregon.  His new company V.D.O. installed video rental in 200 stores.  At the same time, Pabich helped a friend Jerry Welch get a job as president of a similar company Stars to Go Inc.  Pabich eventually took a job working as the VP of Development of that company.  “We immediately moved the corporate headquarters to Los Angeles.”  He signed contracts for 35,000 convenience stores throughout the US: Circle K, Wawa food stores, some 7-Elevens, etc.  “The contract required a minimum monthly payment by the stores.  We took that to the bank and financed the contract.”  Things were doing well until Black Thursday in 1986 when the stock market dropped.  “Our stock dropped from $27 to 13 cents, and Blockbuster went public.  I was out of a job in 1987.”

Rags to Riches

Being unemployed, Pabich saw a magazine ad for a guy buying used movies.  “I called the guy and asked what he was looking for.  I knew used movies were worth about $25 each.  Then I contacted a friend who was still at Stars to Go.  He said he’d send me a couple pallets of used VHS tapes and that I could pay him once I sold them.  Next thing I knew, there were 8,000 VHS tapes delivered on my driveway.  They filled the garage.  I had no idea what I had, so my family and I manually created lists, collated the lists by hand, and then I called this guy.  I Xeroxed my handwritten list and FedEx’d it to him. He wanted to buy them all at $11.25 each!  I shipped them all UPS COD and got paid with a cashier’s check.  I made $65,000 on the first deal.”  In that move his new business Movies & Games 4 Sale was launched!

Pabich must have an understanding wife, because he explained that his next order of VHS tapes filled not only the garage but also his living room.  According to Pabich, he then rented a warehouse, which led to a $25,000,000/year business with 127 people on payroll, and a 30,000 square foot warehouse.  “Blockbuster was killing mom and pop’s stores.  We would buy out inventory from closing stores and resell it to new Blockbusters.  Then people started asking for games.  I had trouble finding anyone who had a lot of games since that was just getting started.”  Pabich approached Babbage’s and encourage them to buy used games.  “I felt that people would only buy a car if they could trade in an old one.”  They merged with Software Etc which became NeoStar Retail.  “I handled their trade-in program, and I was the largest creditor as NeoStar declared bankruptcy.  There were bids for who would buy, and I got to put in my preference for Barnes & Noble.  They paid me $1.3 million.”  Eventually, Barnes & Noble would create the gaming giant GameStop.  According to Pabich, they did so by adopting his model of buying used games.  He notes that he also had a buyback program with Toys R Us.  “I was the only guy back then who could handle the quantity.”

From Prototype to Collector’s Edition

As perhaps any retro gaming geek would be, I’ve been intrigued by this game, its story, and Pabich’s process of bringing Cheetahmen: The Creation to the light of day.  In putting all this together, Pabich explains, “I’ve met a lot of interesting people.  The guy who did the commercial did a great job.  I have a friend who did the artwork, who did a fantastic job.  Most have been quite helpful and positive.   Uncle Tusk has handled boxes, comics, posters, box label printing, and game label printing and has done a fantastic job!  I was amazed at the quality of his work.  RetroZone has handled the cartridges.”

Hearing Pabich’s story, it’s no wonder to me that he managed to meet the infamous Vince Perri and to obtain the earliest known Action 52 prototype.  As a reminder, his prototype contains a unique early version of Cheetahmen called Action Gamer.  “This game seems to be the turning point at which Vince put real time into the game, developed an idea of franchising a character, comic, and cartoon.  I’m trying to capture that.”

Pabich’s history is full of his taking ideas and opportunities and running with them.  As I try to put my finger on his motivations for turning his prototype into playable NES cartridges, it seems clear.  Pabich is an entrepreneur.  He’s a risk taker who isn’t afraid to invest his own money, time, and pride into something as crazy as releasing a new playable Cheetahmen cartridge.  Will he sell his 1,500 Cheetahmen: The Creation sets?  Are there enough hardcore collectors out there to buy these?  Will there be a new surge of Cheetahmen fever?

As a retro gamer and collector, I’m excited to see anything new land itself in a playable 8-bit NES form.  Overall, I’m personally fascinated by all of this and am intrigued to see how it all unfolds.  For those of you following this as well, it gets better.  Pabich is working on more Cheetahmen projects as I write this.  Yup, that’s true Cheetahmen fever!




7-Eleven Photo: Image via Flickr: jacob botter

Plotkin, Hal. “A Blockbuster Video Idea.” Inc. Magazine 15 October 1997. 20 October 2011.

“Space-Age Pinball.” Time Magazine 1 April 1974.,9171,904070,00.html 20 October 2011.

VHS Pile Photo: Photo via MakeLessNoise

Weber, Mark. “NES Action 52 Prototype Cart?” 3 June 2010.

Weber, Mark. ” What’s Rarer: A Prototype Action 52 Cart or a Person Who’s Met Vince Perri?” 24 June 2010.

Weber, Mark. ” The Evolution of the Action 52.” 3 June 2010.


The Evolution of the Action 52

Curious how the Action 52 evolved to its present glorious form?

The Action 52 is one colorful NES game.  Given its shady past and foggy history, NES collectors seem to have a love/hate relationship with the Action 52.  If you’re unfamiliar with the Action 52 or the the fact that a man by the name of Greg Pabich recently realized he’d been sitting on the only known Action 52 prototype, then check out my previous articles (Articles 1 & 2)!  My second article on the Action 52 covers the game’s outer appearance, a bit of Action 52 history, and the story on how Pabich acquired his prototype version.  This article focuses on a new screenshots that Greg Pabich sent over for my feedback. What I found was fascinating!

Introducing: ACTION GAMER!

First off and most significantly, Pabich’s prototype Action 52 cart contains a game named “Action Gamer”!   This newly discovered game resides in the esteemed game spot number 52. The release version of the Action 52 places their flagship game “Cheetah Men” as game number 52. Thus, the presence of Action Gamer in that slot raises quite a bit of curiosity! What’s action gamer? In his e-mail Pabich stated the following:

The game is completely different than any known CHEETAHMEN.


I haven’t seen Action Gamer yet, and I’m excited to see screenshots of it. As I write this, Greg and his kids are still trying to beat the first level in order to provide more info on differences. Additionally, he explains:

Putting my son in law and daughter to work on the New CHEETAHMEN game has so far had the same results; they haven’t advanced beyond Level 1 either. They keep laughing saying it’s NOT THAT HARD, but they get blown away every time they play it.

Pray that the Pabich family beats level one so we can see some more screenshots!

How did the Action Gamer get its name?

For the time being, my best way to make sense of the title “Action Gamer” is based on the intro credits for the game “Cheetah Men” from the release version of the game.  Notice that the during the intro sequence, the character who gets sucked into the TV screen is referred to as “Action Gamemaster.” That title could easily be shortened to “Action Gamer.” So my best guess is that Cheetah Men originally had the working title of Action Gamer.

Why did Vince Perri name his game Action 52?

Before knowing about “Action Gamer,” I think people generally answered this question by saying that there were a lot of action (mostly shooter) games on the Action 52.  Thus, it would make sense to call it Action 52.  I would have agreed with that until I learned about Action Gamer.  Now, my best guess it that Vince Perri, the illusive creator of the Action 52 and owner of Active Enterprises, simply combined the “Action Gamer” title and the fact that there are 52 games on the cartridge.

How did Perri create the Action 52?

We’ve always known that the Action 52 was one of the worst collections of video games ever assembled on one cartridge. Other multi-carts existed at the time, but they generally contained clearly pirated copies of popular licensed games. What’s unique is that the Action 52 contains 52 supposedly original games. Sure they were largely thrown together, unpolished, and so bad that they’re often unplayable. Sure they borrowed strongly from other licensed games, blatantly stole music from other sources, etc., but it seems Active Enterprises did have a person or team trying to create original games.

That being said, people have previously compared the menu screens of the release version of the Action 52 to those of 51-in-1 NES pirate multi-carts. The two seemed strangely similar. Both obviously contained 52 games (18 on menu screen 1, 18 on screen 2, and 16 on screen 3). Although the background patterns were different, the layout template was to- similar to go unnoticed. And even the menu’s functionality and sound effects were the same. The two were just too similar…

Now that we have knowledge and photos of Pabich’s prototype, the similarities are 100% undeniable. A side-by-side comparison of the prototype’s and pirate’s menus shows identical background, layout, header titles, etc. For me, it’s pretty clear that Perri pirated a pirate cart in order to make the menus for his game. (If you steal from a thief, that’s ok, right?)

Have you ever wondered why the Action 52 game menu starts with game “5. Ooze” selected? Simple, that’s because the pirate cart’s menu was programmed that way, and no changes were made to that portion of the code after Action 52 copied it.

What’s also interesting is that his team at Active Enterprises was able to manipulate the pirate’s menu enough to change its background and to add its own header and footer text. However, he made zero changes to the number of games on the cart. If you were Perri and were struggling to create or compile of list of 52 games of questionable quality, wouldn’t it just be easier to rewrite the menu for fewer games?

Feel free to take a closer look at screenshots of the menus to see the similarities for yourself.




Pirate Screen 1
Proto Screen 1

Release Screen 1

Pirate Screen 2

Proto Screen 2

Release Screen 2
Pirate Screen 3

Proto Screen 3

Release Screen 3

So what are the menu differences between the Prototype and the Release versions of the Action 52?

Game: “18. Atmos-Quake” Game: “18. Atmos Quake” (No Hyphen)
Game: “27. Non-Human” Game: “27. Non Human” (No Hyphen)
Game: “52. Action Game” Game: “52. Cheetah Men”
Header Title: “Section #” Header Title: “Action 52”
Footer: No text. Footer: “Copr. 1991 Active Ent.”
Background: Mario-styled bricks Background: Tetris-styled bricks
Font: White Font: Pink
Font of Selected Game: Pink Font of Selected Game: Matches background

It’s also odd that Active Enterprises made a few changes to the menu, but they didn’t catch the spelling errors.

Which came first the Action 52 or the 52-in-1 Pirate Cart?
While geeking out over these comparisons yesterday and discussing them with GamerGirl, she asked a good question: “How do we know that Perri copied the pirate cart? Couldn’t the pirates have copied the Action 52?” It’s a good question. Given the foggy history surrounding both the Action 52 and pirate carts, we don’t have an exact production date on either. Thus, it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg question.

However, given the fact that Greg Pabich got his hands on an Action 52 prototype that wasn’t in circulation, we have a snapshot into the development of the Action 52 at a specific time. That snapshot matches the 52-in-1 pirate cart’s menu. Additionally, we can see that the production Action 52 menu differs from the 52-in-1’s menu. Thus, it’s fair to reason that the Action 52 was originally working off of code taken from the 52-in-1.

Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the software pirates who made the 52-in-1 got ahold of a copy of the Action 52 prototype in order to copy its menu. It’s much more likely that Active Enterprises got their hands on a 52-in-1 (which were in circulation), dumped, and reworked the code for the Action 52.

Finally, if pirates had gotten a hold of the Action 52, it’s likely that they would have used a much more accessible production model. And if that were the case, we’d probably see a menu that looks more like the Action 52’s release version menu on the 52-in-1.


Thus, it’s fair to reason that Active Enterprises pirated the 52-in-1 pirate cart. The evolution of gaming is an interesting thing, and it seems clear that licensed games gave rise to pirated games which gave rise to the beloved and despised Action 52!

To Be Continued…

Since the Pabich family is currently working through “Action Gamer” in order to identify and document differences, I’m waiting on game screenshots, but I’ll let everyone know as soon as I receive them.

In the meantime, here’s my list of questions for Greg Pabich:

  1. Do the loading screens for your prototype Action 52 cart match those of the release version? How about the music?
  2. Does the Action Gamer game still feature the Cheetah Men or is it a totally different game?
  3. Does the Action Gamer cartoon intro sequence match that of Cheetah Men?
  4. Have you noticed any other differences between those two games?
  5. Have you noticed differences in the game play of any other games? (I’m sorry that answering this question is probably a dreadful project/request since even the release ones were mostly unplayable.)

Feel free to take a closer look at all the photos and to contact me with your feedback or to leave it in the comments section below. And, many thanks to Greg Pabich for providing these great photos and a closer look at his Action 52 prototype. Thanks!

Also for your reference are a couple of YouTube videos on the topic:

Video 1: Side by Side Comparison of the Production Action 52’s Menus and a Pirate 520-in-1 Menus

Video 2: Curious about the 52-in-1 NES Pirate Cart? The creator of this video had a Famicom version that plays identically to my NTSC version. Here’s a longer look at the game play:

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:

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

NES Action 52 Prototype Cart?

I was recently contacted by a gentleman named Greg wondering if I had any more information on Action 52 prototype cartridges for the original 8-bit Nintendo.  Since my knowledge is quite limited on these, I figured I’d open this one up to the gaming community to try to get him some feedback on them that way. (Post updated here)

From Greg Pabich:

In 1990-1991 I owned a large used movie and game distributorship. I was referred to Vince Perri to see about buying a new game called ACTION 52. I went to Miami to meet him and see the game. Long story short, I did not buy the game, but I did wind up with a prototype copy. It came with the usual box, a plastic sleeve (that did not have the Active logo embossed on it) and the instructional manual, game list and Cheetahmen comicbook. This is the only one like it I have ever seen.

The differences in the production games and this one are :

PROTOTYPE: blue motherboard, paper label (like your Variation 1) and the motherboard DOES NOT have the usual two blue capacitors?? in the upper right hand corner.

My copy has a clear plastic case and has metal screws that hold the cartridge together. The plastic cartridge body is slightly different and the motherboard is entirely different in electronic configuration. It is stamped “MADE IN AMERICA” in small white letters at the top of the motherboard

I have a second further variation. It has a clear case similar to the production style cart, black motherboard, no “capacitors” and has a painted label(decals?) like the standard production carts. I am not certain how similar this is to your Variation 1 motherboard as your noted Variation has the paper label and mine has the more “see through” decal like label. This cart is stamped “MADE IN THE USA” in large white letters that are upside down on the bottom of the motherboard

PRODUCTION: green motherboard, painted label(decals?) and the motherboard has the two blue capacitors?? in the upper right hand corner of the motherboard.

Has anyone else seen these two early versions or do I have something unique?

I think the prototype IS unique, but I don’t know how the second variation (black motherboard)I have fits into the timeline?

While I can’t say I know much about the differences between these models, it seems that Mike Sanders at Cheetahmen Corner has been able to shine some light on these unique cartridges in his thread.

If you have any knowledge that would be helpful for Greg regarding these games, feel free to comment below.  Best of luck Greg!

UPDATE:  Feel free to read my followup articles: “What’s Rarer: A Prototype Action 52 Cart or a Person Who’s Met Vince Perri?” and “The Evolution of the Action 52