The Games Nintendo Didn’t Want You to Play: The Tengen Saga

The Games Nintendo Didn't Want You to Play: The Tengen Saga


Ever wondered about the games that Nintendo didn’t want you to play? You might be surprised to learn that there was a company called Tengen that dared to challenge Nintendo’s dominance in the gaming industry. In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating story of Tengen and how they broke the rules set by the gaming giant. Get ready for a journey into the world of unlicensed gaming!


Tengen was a company that decided to go against the grain and manufacture their own games, breaking away from Nintendo’s strict licensing regime. While other companies like Color Dreams also made unlicensed games, Tengen stood out because they had big names in the industry backing them, such as Atari Games and Namco. This was a serious attempt by industry heavyweights to challenge Nintendo’s control.

Gauntlet NES

Follow the Rabbit

One of the most intriguing aspects of Tengen’s story is how they managed to bypass Nintendo’s lockout chip. Instead of using cryptography, Tengen developed their own clone of the chip, aptly named the “Rabbit.” But here’s the twist: they didn’t reverse engineer the chip themselves. Instead, they convinced the United States Copyright Office to hand over the lockout chip’s source code, claiming it was necessary for a lawsuit against Nintendo. This allowed Tengen to create their own clone, tricking the console into thinking it was a regular Nintendo chip.

Tengen lockout chip

Pac-Man, Tetris, and More

Tengen released a range of games for the NES, including popular titles like Pac-Man and Tetris. These games showcased Tengen’s ability to create high-quality gaming experiences, rivaling even Nintendo’s licensed versions. What made Tengen’s Tetris particularly special was its two-player mode, which Nintendo’s version lacked. Tengen’s Pac-Man also had its own unique flavor, setting it apart from other versions on the market.

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Tengen Tetris

The RAMBO-1 Chip

Tengen didn’t just rely on existing hardware; they developed their own chips to expand the capabilities of their games. One such chip was the RAMBO-1, which allowed Tengen to introduce advanced features like ROM nametables and scanline counters. Games like After Burner, Klax, and Alien Syndrome showcased the power of the RAMBO-1 chip, pushing the boundaries of what the NES was capable of.


The Legacy of Tengen

While Tengen’s attempt to break Nintendo’s licensing regime ultimately failed, they left behind a legacy that cannot be ignored. Their games, except for Tetris, continue to be widely available and are a testament to the talent and creativity of the team at Tengen. Today, the console licensing business is stronger than ever, making it nearly impossible for another Tengen to emerge. But we can still appreciate the daring spirit and innovation that Tengen brought to the gaming industry.


Tengen’s story is a fascinating one that reminds us of the challenges faced by pioneers in the gaming industry. They dared to challenge Nintendo’s dominance and create their own path, leaving behind a legacy of high-quality and innovative games. While Tengen may have disappeared, their impact on the gaming world will never be forgotten. So the next time you pick up your trusty NES, take a moment to appreciate the games that Nintendo didn’t want you to play, courtesy of Tengen.

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