The video game collector Patrick Scott Patterson hunts down rare and unfinished games and video game ephemera, but he recently unearthed a nerdy motherlode: four unfinished builds for a Game Boy version of Akira, the classic 1988 cyberpunk anime. Full of high-speed chases, moody technological landscapes, and chunky futuristic weaponry, the film is a great fit for a video game adaptation.
Unfortunately, the Game Boy game is not in great shape. As Patterson notes, the version he’s playing was only about 20 percent complete before being abandoned, and only one level is even beatable: a brief side-scrolling segment atop Kaneda’s iconically rad motorcycle. In practice, it doesn’t look much different than similar “bike levels” from the era, with potholes, mid-road refuse, and gaps to ramp over. From there, Patterson cycles through a couple unfinished action levels, including one where he plays as Tetsuo, soaring through a weird phantasmagorical playland full of evil clowns and oversize bear-like things.
Unfinished video games exist in a weird state of limbo. Their unpolished mechanics render them decidedly “un-fun,” but their lack of proper game grammar, such as level endings or enemy collisions, calls attention to the artificial conventions in game design. And, of course, who knows what some more polish might’ve done? Akira for the Game Boy is perhaps most interesting for its lo-fi riffs on some iconic Akira images, including the detonation of Neo-Tokyo and Tetsuo’s climactic transformation into a gurgling mountain of semi-sentient flesh.
It is also noteworthy for some truly awful, ice-cream-truck-style music. As Patterson notes, the game developers were able to license the story, but not the music, so they had to brew up a mood-unfriendly replacement.