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Tengen Tetris prototype goes unsold with $1,500 max bid

An auction for a rare prototype of Tengen's version of Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System ended yesterday with a high bid of $1,500 but wasn't sold because it failed to meet auction's reserve price at Game Gavel.

A handwritten label on the plain gray NES cartridge reads "Tetris Property of Tengen Inc. #4 Prototype," and the pre-release build of the game contains a splash screen that says "Licensed by Nintendo of America Inc." According to a message board post on Nintendo Age, the seller, Martin Alessi, found the prototype in his basement last summer, which had been "sent to the magazine I worked for, no doubts there."

"I honestly don't recall how this came into my collection, must have been a fluke," Alessi wrote on the message board.

"I must have asked Ed [Semrad, former Electronic Gaming Monthly editor-in-chief] to take it home because Tetris was and is one of my favorite games of all time. I was recently cleaning my basement and found this "Duck Hunt" cart in my crate of NES games.

"Who knew it was a piece of gaming history that would be well preserved over 20 years later."

You can check out a video of the prototype running on an NES above.

"Who knew it was a piece of gaming history that would be well preserved over 20 years later."

Tengen's Tetris was pulled from North American shelves shortly after its 1989 release when Nintendo became the exclusive publisher of the "Soviet mind game," as the cartridge's title screen calls it. The developer, along with its parent company, the Atari Corporation, sued Nintendo for antitrust violations. Nintendo successfully "countersued for breach of contract and patent and trademark infringement," blocking the game's sale according to a 1989 article published in the New York Times.

The Tetris drama wasn't Tengen's only legal battle with Nintendo. The company previously reverse engineered Nintendo's on-cartridge encryption chip and released unauthorized third-party games for the 8-bit system. Tengen's NES games are identifiable by their angled black cartridges. The unauthorized games did not include the iconic "Nintendo Seal of Quality" label, which indicated that Nintendo had licensed the game. Tengen lost that lawsuit as well.

In October 2012, Air Raid, a rare Atari 2600 game that Harve Bennett unearthed from storage with his daughter, went up for auction on Game Gavel and sold in early November for $33,433.30.

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