I do like it when rare clones of existing games turn up, some have proven to be more than just a little elusive over the years and the subject of this article is one such clone.
MAME has emulated the IREM title ‘Fire Barrel’ for a while now (with significant improvements a few years back) and if you’ve ever booted the game in MAME this Japan region warning and title screen will be a familiar sight.
Fire Barrel is quite a rare game compared to some other Irem titles but even rarer is the export version of that game known as Air Assault. For many years one could be found at the Trocadero in London, but apart from that nobody had seen a trace of it. We knew it was an official version because the tiles for the ‘Air Assault’ title were present in the graphic roms, just unused.
System11 has been a good source of clones in the last year or so, dumping every board he comes in contact with and often uncovering previously unknown revisions of existing games (especially Korean ones where there is no real indication whether something is an alt version until you’ve dumped the roms).
Anyway, to cut the story short one of his new arrivals was Air Assault, the very same Air Assault board that has been sitting in London for years. It looks like it might have been a location test version based on the ROM labels, although I think the code is actually a newer revision than the Japan set.
Luckily he got the board just in time, he’s also put up a strongly worded warning about a leaking capacitor problem that he’s witnessed plaguing these IREM boards, with this one already showing the first signs of that.
Getting this working in MAME wasn’t entirely straightforward, it uses a different encrypted sound CPU when compared to Fire Barrel, in this case the same as Gunforce rather than the same as R-Type Leo, however, there were some gaps in the encryption table causing the sound code to not run correctly and report a ROM error although I managed to fix them by using the code from the correctly decrypted set as a reference.
So here are some screenshots of Air Assault running in MAME, possibly salvaged from the only remaining board in existence. It might ‘only’ be a clone, but it’s one I’m very glad to see dumped.