One of the earliest prototype pages I had on SNES Central was a sample of Earthbound for the SNES. I've kept the old page for the prototype up, for historic reasons. The first of these internal samples was owned by PredatorXS, who sent me some pictures of the game. Here is what he had to say:
The EarthBound Board is very very close to the retail version, but all the chips are numbered differently to the retail version (this proto is the final Ntsc version before general release) also there is some manual soldering on the back of the board, i've marked this with two white hoops!!
PredatorXS originally showed off these samples back in 2003 (see this thread and this thread). He was asking for a price check on it at Digital Press, and appears to have sold it in 2006. By the sounds of it, this sample may have been given out to the press in the UK.
In March 2013, Assembler Games forum member Nighty discovered a hoard of SNES samples from Europe. Included in the lot were two additional Earthbound samples with the same label as PredatorXS' copy.
These samples were quickly sold. A post on Starmen.net popped up soon after, with user Cervantes showing off two samples. I assume that he purchased Nighty's samples, considering the timing of the post.
Another popped up on eBay shortly afterwards, complete with VGA grading. The seller was well known prototype collector, mrmark0673. I can't say if this sample is one of Cervantes' or not, but since it does not have the marker that PredatorXS' sample has, it might be a fourth copy.
The sample sold in July 2013. The final price is unknown, but I assume it would be in the four figure range. The buyer PaulClavet, made a couple of threads on Reddit discussing the game (thread 1, thread 2). He removed the cart from its VGA tomb and posted pictures on Imgur. The pictures of the board show that it is nearly identical to the PredatorXS copy, with a retail board and MASKROM. Similarly, the owner claims evidence that the chips were hand soldered, although after going through hundreds of retail PCBs, I can say this is not diagnostic that this sample is not a fully retail PCB (some retail carts have pretty rough solder jobs). I do own some retail board samples that are in much nicer shape, though.
If you compare the sample's PCB with the retail version, the ROM chip and PCB board type are identical, but the lockout and MAD-1 chips have earlier revisions. I only have the one PCB scan, so again, this not diagnositic of the sample being anything more than a retail board. With the ROM chip being identical to the retail version, there is no doubt that the game would be 100% identical to the regular US release.
Perhaps the most unusual thing is that these samples were found in Europe. This leads to speculation that Nintendo of Europe was planning a European release, but ultimately it did not happen.
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