Cataball – An early Wonderboy?

Chatting with team member Gary Spence the other day, Gary wondered if he had perhaps an over-active imagination when looking at Elite’s Cataball game one evening. A game that was released on one of their Hit-Paks, but then spruced up a year later with different levels and released at full price as Hoppin’ Mad.


Gary highlighted that Cataball seemed to have graphics very similar to Wonderboy in places – especially on the very first level with the forest, and with the rock formation at the bottom of the game. Could Cataball really have started out as a Wonderboy conversion for Elite?

It didn’t seem a particularly crazy suggestion. Development fitted within the same time frame as Wonderboy, and then some other levels seemed to also bear fleeting resemblances to levels from the arcade. Here for instance are parts of the desert and cloud areas and equivalents in Wonderboy (using the Master System version for comparison):

cata compare1
Desert comparison – note the cacti.
cata compare2
Some resemblance to the bonus level completely in the clouds?

There are also a few sprites which seem familiar too (wasps + fruit). Of course, its plausible that graphics were just borrowed or inspired from the arcade – but replicated that closely on the first level? Hmmm…

Taking a poke around in the code – there was no remnants in the text relating to the SEGA arcade from what we could see. Though looking at the sprites, we did find something that looked a little more familiar, and which we don’t think is used in the game at all (please correct us if we’re wrong):

signs comparison
Another clue to a possible conversion?

Different text, but same principle it seems.

Finally – in a strange co-incidental twist worth mentioning, Elite also once advertised Wonderboy as part of their new Encore budget range line up. The game was snapped up instead by Ocean’s Hit Squad label.

wonderboy snip

We’ve got in touch with Chris Coupe’s brother and also Mat Sneap to try and learn more and confirm if this was indeed an early conversion that was abandoned – perhaps due to a licence deal falling through. Gary makes an additional good point that Elite very rarely put out games that didn’t have a licence, so Cataball was quite a buck to the trend.

If you know anything more, please do get in touch or leave a comment below. With thanks to Gary Spence for the suggestion.

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