A Glimpse of the Elusive ‘Time Bandit’ for the Sanyo MBC 550

Those who follow me here at my retro blog or over at TouchArcade know that I’ve been a gamer for quite some time, now. And, after all of those years of gaming, I certainly have my favorites that still provide me deep enjoyment, today. One such title is Time Bandit from MichTron.

Time Bandit is an action / adventure game that some would liken to Gauntlet, though it’s a deeper experience and the TRS-80 original predates Atari’s title by five years. I first encountered Time Bandit in its most popular incarnation, the Atari ST version, in late 1986. (I’ve written about the game several times on this blog, and will link through at the end of this post.)

After making its debut on the TRS-80 Model I in 1980, Time Bandit made its way to the Tandy Color Computer and Dragon 32 / 64, and from there landed on the somewhat obscure Sanyo MBC-550 “PC alike,” before arriving in its foremost incarnation on the Atari ST in 1986. Amiga and DOS ports of the ST version followed.

As I’ve indicated, I’ve spent the most time with Time Bandit on the Atari ST, but I’ve had an interest in trying the game out on its various other platforms due to my fondness for the ST release. I’ve put in a few hours with the Amiga version on my Amiga 2000, and have fiddled around with the DOS version under DOSBox. After acquiring a Tandy CoCo 3 not long ago, I’ve had the opportunity to play that early version of the game, as well. But, the version that has most fascinated me for years is a version that I had not, until just recently, even seen in screenshots — the Sanyo MBC 550 version.

First, a little about this unusual machine. Released in 1983, the Sanyo MBC 550 (the model 555 had dual floppies) was an extremely inexpensive “PC alike” computer that wasn’t fully compatible with the IBM PC. Creative Computing called the Sanyo “the least expensive of the PC compatibles.” At a time when a comparatively equipped IBM PC cost around $3,400, the Sanyo sold for under $1,000. It could run certain PC applications, but notable differences in its BIOS and display system prevented many IBM PC programs from running on the Sanyo. And, while the display system caused compatibility problems, it was superior to the IBM CGA color standard of the day; the Sanyo offered a 640×200 pixel graphics screen capable of displaying eight colors at a time, well beyond what CGA could deliver. Also of note, its Intel 8088 processor was not clocked at the PC standard 4.77MHz, but at 3.58MHz — so it may have also been the slowest PC compatible available at the time…

Well, slowness aside, apparently the lure of the relatively low price-point of the Sanyo along with its capable graphics system prompted Bill Dunlevy and Harry Lafnear to create a version of their action / adventure title for this odd-duck of a PC-ish system.

I actually played around with a Sanyo MBC 550 on several occasions at the store where I catered to my TI-99 fetish back in 1983 (that’s a whole other story), though I never saw Time Bandit running on the system. And, as years passed, I never saw the Sanyo version of the game in screenshots or video or through any other means.

That is…until earlier this week.

Due to my long-running interest in seeing the Sanyo version of the game in action, it has been my habit to occasionally google for it, hoping to find that a proper set of screenshots or a video has popped online, but I always come up blank. The other night, however, I encountered a screenshot I had never seen before, leading me to Gerry Brophy’s Sanyo MBC 550/555 Software Archive website. Gerry has a functional 550 and is interested in maintaining an online archive of disk images for the system so that others might better enjoy their vintage units or get a feel for the system through (MESS) emulation. And on his Disk Images page, there I found it – a disk image and a single screenshot of Time Bandit for the Sanyo MBC 550.

On finding this, I immediately contacted Gerry and told him of my long and fruitless search. He quickly responded and offered to take a series of photos of the game screens as well as a proper video. And, so he has done!

   

Great screens eh? (See full gallery.) And, here’s the video, below. Strong work, Gerry!

So, there it is. You have now enjoyed a glimpse of the highly elusive Sanyo Time Bandit experience! Sadly, the retail floppy for the Sanyo version of Time Bandit is copy protected, and so it can’t be duplicated or successfully run in the MESS emulator. These disks are old, and there are certainly not many out there. As such, I am attempting to contact the game’s author, Bill Dunlevy, in an effort to urge him to release an unprotected version of the game online if it is within his will and/or his power (sadly, he may not hold the copyright or even a copy of the game). Otherwise it would seem that soon all of the Sanyo floppies out there will become magnetically decayed and the bits that make up this rare version of such an excellent game will be lost to the winds of time.

(I have updated my original Time Bandit post on this blog to reflect the new screenshots and to explain away a set of Photoshop-enhanced CoCo screenshots in the post that I had, for some time, believed to be screenshots of the Sanyo version.)

And here, as promised, is the list of Time Bandit-related posts I have written on this blog over the years:

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7 Responses to A Glimpse of the Elusive ‘Time Bandit’ for the Sanyo MBC 550

  1. Great job tracking that all down, Blake. Solving “mysteries” like that is just a small part of what makes this passion of ours so fun…

    • Gerry says:

      Great Job Blake,

      Glad to help. I was looking for the game forever as well and actually got it as part of a sanyo lot which included a full system. I’m still looking for some other games for it. “An even more elusive title” called “Thunder Chief” I have a box picture of it but that’s all. I tried to buy it from an auction in new zealand. They wouldn’t let me bid. If anyone out there has a copy I’d love to get it.

      Bill I think I know of you (kind of )from atariage. I like colecovision & adam, & intellivision as well as my sanyo 550. I’ve just got my adam back to working and now might build a second one with the extra parts.. Just need a case.

  2. Bill Dunlevy says:

    Hey Blake – amazing!

    While I’m fairly proud of the technology effort I put in to create the copy-protection scheme, I fairly quickly regretted it overall. I still remember my invention which involved some tricky Sanyo-based disk controller shenanigans that super-copy programs, created for IBM PCs, couldn’t handle due to its more advanced, and less programmable, disk controller. First, it took away game creation time. Second, it required having a Sanyo be part of the disk manufacturing process. Third, I came to the conclusion that “piracy” – at least a certain amount of it – could actually be an important factor in the overall success of a title. Rather than sell 1000 copy-protected copies, I’d rather sell 2000 unprotected copies due to the marketing boost of 8000 free pirated copies floating around. And besides boosting marketing for that title, the broader audience is valuable to your next title.

    You have inspired me to crack open some old boxes to see what I may find. Not sure what I have – computers(?), accessories(?), books, manuals, design material, and tons of floppies (will they even work?) containing all the programming tools, source, versions, etc… If anyone is interested, maybe I’d need a vintage-computing archaeologist to visit my lake house before I mess around with it and turn the stuff into dust.

  3. twilitezoner says:

    Bill,

    I have the ST version of Time Bandit (legit retail) and still play it till this day. I look forward to what you may find in that box you have whether it be Sanyo or maybe ST. :)

    Thanks,
    Rick

  4. Sabreman says:

    There is a Smurf chasing you ??? That’s funny !

  5. ivan5800 says:

    So, i would buy some old pc, is this good pc just for playing and exploring? Please answer on this email: radoslovicivan@gmail.com thank u!

  6. Belle says:

    I loved this hame as a kid. Great to see the screen shots here!

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