Back when I was an NES game collector, I used to search pretty much every game store I could get to so I could find NES misprints and other rarites. Back in 2008, I purchased a copy of an NES game labeled "NES Test Cartridge 023". I bought it from a store called "Warp Zone Retro Games", which went out of business in 2011. My friend Rick was an employee there back then, so I had access to all the cool stuff in the back of the store. I found the game in a lone box in the corner of the back room, which was slightly torn from boxes being stacked on top of it. I opened it up to see there was a dusty, trashed, slightly cracked NES cartridge of Test Cartridge 023. I asked Rick if he could ask someone how much it would be to buy it. He took the box to someone in another part of the store, and he came back 2 minutes later. He said that the person he asked said it definitely wouldn't work without a lot of effort, and that I could take it for a dollar. I handed Rick the money to buy the game, and afterwards headed to my car to drive home.

As I drove, I heard the sound of the cracked test cartridge shifting quickly back and forth around the box. I could barely contain my excitement as I wondered what exactly it would be. A graphics test? A sound test? A first-party Nintendo prototype? It could be anything, I thought, as I parked in the garage and took the box into my house. I set the box down on a table and opened up the torn box to get the test cartridge. I studied the cartridge carefully. It seemed like it would fit in my NES 2 top loader at the very least, even with the cracked casing. I took the game upstairs to my room.

I put the game into my NES 2 and turned it on. The title screen showed. It was a black screen, with white text reading "NES Test Cartridge 023: Super Mario Bros. 4" It was then I was a bit skeptical. How could this really be a legit prototype of the unreleased Super Mario Brothers 4? There were so many questions I wanted to ask. I decided I'd play it, just in case it's actually legit.

I pressed Start as it instructed me to, and I was presented with a map screen similar to Super Mario Brothers 3. It re-used many sprites from that game, too, as it was obviously incomplete. I selected 1-1 and the screen faded out into the level. It was a remake of 1-1 from the original Super Mario Brothers, and it was very incomplete. Incorrect tiles were all over the place. A Bob-Omb was even stuck in a ledge. The music was this really high-pitched, irritating noise that seemed like it was corrupted. It barely resembled anything I had ever heard from a Mario game before. When I got to the end of the level, text appeared that said "Press Now Start". It must have been a translation mistake, I thought.

When I got to 1-2, there was a screen with scrolling text that read "If you close your eyes... Level 1-2". It must have been the title. It was a strange title for a Mario level. It had really unfitting seemingly corrupted action game style music playing. When I got to the middle of the level, a face, similar to Phanto from Mario 2 showed up from out of a bottomless cliff. Hands extended out of it, and I tried to get away from it to find a power-up. It ran at me quickly, and I realized, maybe the title was a hint at how you make the face enemy go away? I looked away from it, and it did the exact opposite of what I thought it would do. It went full speed at Mario and grabbed him with one of his hands. He left the screen holding Mario, and text appeared that said "Game Over. Mario's Gone...". It was kind of unsettling for me to see a Mario game that almost directly states that Mario died. I restarted and got to 1-3.

1-3, titled "Donut City" was an incomplete mess. It was filled with those donut things from Mario 3 and Super Mario World, and you had to jump across to the next one before the one you're standing on falls. At the end, there was a platform where an actual random human was standing. I thought he was an enemy, and made Mario jump on him, which crushed the human. Mario moved on his own, looked behind him to the crushed human, and turned around to continue forward looking down at the ground in shame. The screen faded to black with text that said "Incomplete." and sent me back to the title screen.

I pressed start again to restart, to see if I could continue without killing the human, but when I jumped over the man in 1-3, the screen went to black with text that said "No." and Mario went back slowly and jumped on the man. He backed away slowly in fear. I took the cartridge out and rushed to drive back to the game store to return it. I didn't want anyone to experience this game ever again, but I needed a refund, even if it was only $1. If there's one thing I learned from this experience, it is that I didn't want to touch a video game prototype ever again, so I stopped collecting.

You can't escape from Test Cartridge 023. Never.

(I apologize if this creepypasta isn't all that great. I just wrote it in my spare time.) ~~~

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