Attack of the Clones!

With as often as I go to flea markets and thrift stores, I see a lot of crazy items. Some of these items aren’t even related to video games, but sometimes I see things that are video game related that are just as crazy, such as the onslaught of systems known as Famiclones. These systems are made in China, boast an insane number of games or features it can’t truly offer and are built within slightly modified and brightly colored gaming systems we already know and love. I personally own 2 handheld Famiclones, I believe only one of them slightly works as I can’t test the other because I tried to power it up with an NES power supply and think I fried it.

My Super Joy 3 next to an N64 controller. Top (left) and bottom (right) comparison.

Since Nintendo let the patents to the Famicom and the NES go, you would assume these systems would be sold anywhere other Chinese goods are sold, but you’d be wrong. See, it isn’t the hardware that these companies create (or ripped-off, depending on your point of view) but the illegally pirated software within the units that comes under fire and keeps them off most store shelves. Essentially the system is a Nintendo on a chip, or NoaC, which emulates (to an extent) the same features the Famicom and NES did, while packing in game ROMs to make it a complete system with games. Some will boast anywhere from 76 to 99 million built-in games, which isn’t true. Although you may see that many choices, most of the games are split up into certain levels of the same game featured over and over within the system.

For example my Super Joy 3 offers 12000 games incuding: Super Mario Bros., Tennis, Baseball (utterly broken), Arkanoid, 1942, Pacman, Donkey Kong 3, Dig Dug, Clu Clu Land, Super C and a few other titles, from the maybe 30-40 original titles within the system, the rest of the choices are areas 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc. of Super Mario Bros., or different levels of Super C. Also, as you may suspect, these units are Chinese made so they aren’t built to stand the test of time, my Super Joy 3 has a terrible buzz and there are lines on the screen, but once you’re captured in a game it really tends to fade away to an extent. I do have to admit that I have had quite a bit of fun with my Super Joy 3, its fun to have that many games in your hands and it feels closer to the real thing than PC emulators.

So if the systems emulate the NES instead of the Famicom, why are they called Famiclones? Well, that is because most of them have a 60 pin connector attached to them, which is standard for the Famicom as the NES systems all used 72 pins. I’ve seen evidence that you may also be able to play official Famicom cartridges on these units, some other Famiclones are geared specifically for doing just that, but since I only own the handheld units and don’t own any Famicom games, I can’t claim this to be true.

My Super Joy 3 (left) and Power Joy (right) 60 pin connectors.

The systems range from Playstation shaped all the way to the odd shape of my Power Joy, which is like an N64 controller mixed with a jet fighter toy to allow for the light gun built into the unit. These systems almost always use a 9 pin input, much like the Atari 2600 or Sega Genesis, for a second controller or light gun. The handheld units can be run off batteries or DC adapters, they also have the standard power on/off switch, a reset button, D-pad, A and B with matching turbo buttons above them as well as start and select buttons. If you’re use to the N64 controller, at times you may want to pause the game and instead hit the reset button, but if you know what you’re looking for you can always scroll through the games and find the level you were on listed somewhere along the way.

All it took was buying the Power Joy for $1 that set off my obsession with wanting to understand the Famiclones. These units are often used for parts to create better handheld versions of the full systems they emulate, but on their own they’re pretty weak. These items will never come close to replacing the original Famicom, but for those of us who either can’t afford or don’t want to hunt down a working Famicom system, these might do enough to pass the time until we just can’t live without the real thing anymore. I will be doing more research and testing with mine as well as hopefully getting more Famiclones to test, but the bottom line is, I just want to enjoy the Famicom even in this sad, cloned, fraction of a sense.

Posted April 24th, 2011

Sam’s Scores: Nintendo Edition!!

Today’s edition of Sam’s Scores is ALL about Nintendo! If you thought I was only going to make a special Sega edition, you were wrong! Maybe an Atari one next?… With this edition comes another slight change to the layout, I think I’m finally getting it in order!

8) – Gameboy Pocket

As almost always, number eight was found at a local thrift store. It was hidden amongst the bric-a-brac and at first I wasn’t sure the screen worked, until I adjusted the contrast (I almost forgot that was an option on the Gameboys). It had Pokemon Gold in the back and it was all one price. It was dirty and a little beat up, but it still functioned so I bought it!

Gameboy Pocket w/ Pokemon Gold -$4
Pokemon Gold is notorious for not saving, mine doesn’t either.

7) – Gameboy Pocket Protector

Number 7 goes with number 8, though they were found in different stores. Searching through bric-a-brac, again, I found a strange rubber device in the shape of a Gameboy. After picking it up and inspecting it some more, I found it’s a (Gameboy) Pocket Protector. You slide your Gameboy Pocket into it and it protects it from bumps and scratching, I wish my Gameboy Pocket had this in the first place!

Gameboy Pocket Protector -$1

6) – 15 NES games

Recently one of my favorite thrift stores had a stack of NES games, so I bought them all! Some notable titles include: Guerrilla War, Kid Icarus, Adventure Island and Double Dragon II. Many of them were in poor shape and 2 of them had ripped labels, but they were all worth buying!

15 NES games -$7.50

5) – 8 SNES games

A later trip to the store from the above score gave me 8 SNES games: Super Mario World + All-stars, Super Mario World 1 and 2, Pac-Man 2, Yoshi’s Safari, Frogger, Populous and Kirby’s Avalanche. This time the SNES games were all in good shape!

8 SNES games -$4

4) – Plush Donkey Kong

Number four isn’t a video game but a plush video game character! Thrift stores are a treasure trove of things people don’t want, you just never know what you’ll find! I often check toys and electronics in search of misplaced or miscategorized items. I happened to pass the stuffed animal bin and saw Donkey Kong gazing out at me…I had to have him!

Plush Donkey Kong -$.99 cents

3) – Gameboy carry bag

As I’ve said before, I am always looking for anything related to video games, especially carrying cases! Number 3 was hidden in with the purses at a local thrift store. I was going through a bin filled with CDs right next to the purses when I saw GAMEBOY jumping out at me. I picked up the case, inspected it and bought it!

Gameboy carry bag -$.50 cents

2) – NES-039 (aka Dog Bone Controller)

On a whim I went a flea market I hadn’t checked in quite some time and came out pretty well! They had a lot more booths with vintage games than I remember, but all of them wanted too much. While looking through a small basket of cables and power supplies, I noticed the carved back of the infamous NES Dog Bone shaped controller. I used to have one as a kid and I have wanted to find myself a set more recently, but I’m not the only person wanting them and they can get pretty pricey. The start and select buttons are gnarled but they still work, sadly the SNES start/select pad looks close but won’t interchange. With the price I paid, I can’t complain.

NES-039 (aka Dog Bone Controller) -$2

1) – Super Gameboy CIB

I found this one at a local used media store which I only purchase games from on rare occasions. The chain of stores are all individually owned and pricing seems to be the same throughout, but this particular store seems to be more fair and a little cheaper than the rest. Within their glass case they had several Super Gameboy units, I inspected them all to find the one in the best condition. Although they were all the same price they were all in varying conditions, mine happened to be the only one complete in the box.

Super Gameboy Complete in Box -$3

Posted April 16th, 2011

Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo was released mid 1998 for the Playstation and changed the world of racing video games forever! While franchises such as Need for Speed and Test Drive both thrived on the Playstation console, Gran Turismo took racing in a completely new direction boasting 140 cars (although I believe it was closer to 180), 11 different tracks and simulation beyond our wildest imagination! Before Gran Turismo, racing games offered only a handful of cars, most being licensed exotics or generic unlicensed cars, and set you off on a high speed and often times short race to beat the competition around a handful of tracks. Gran Turismo changed things up by giving the player more control and simulating a racing career more than short lived racing fantasies.

Gran Turismo offered two playing modes, Arcade and Simulation. Within Arcade you choose your vehicle and raced to unlock various other cars and tracks. The arcade mode also offered the 1967 Chevy Corvette which did not appear in the simulation mode, much to the chagrin of most players. However, with a Gameshark you can move the 67 Vette into Simulation mode but I believe there are no upgrades offered for it. Simulation mode spotted players 10,000 points to purchase a small vehicle and start out on a racing career. With your car you could race in small, individual races pitting you against some weaker AI so you could earn some extra money (or credits as the game calls it) to purchase upgrades or even more cars.

After the first couple of races you will notice that to further your career, you need to take license tests. License tests will test your racing ability with each license class (B, A and International). You are graded with trophies of either Bronze, Silver or Gold, pending you do well enough to earn them, otherwise you have to do the test all over again. If you manage to complete a license with all Gold trophies you will earn a special car that is unavailable in the show room. Some tests may take a little time to get the hang of but once you have earned all 3 licenses, you can race in anything you want.

Much like the license tests, races grade you with trophies as well, so finishing position isn’t a game over as with many other racing games, here you simply earn less credits and try again. Races will gradually become longer and harder throughout the course of your career, you could spend anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours on any given track, depending on the length of the series or if it is an endurance race. Prizes will become better as well, in some races, along with the standard amount of credits, you will unlock a special vehicle that you may or may not be able to purchase at the dealer. Some cars are quite useful and others are more useful as the credits they give you for selling them back to the dealer.

I think the most unique feature of Gran Turismo is that not only can you purchase new cars, but you can also select from an ever-changing list of used cars as well, from some dealers. Each dealer has it’s own speed shop that sells you the standard upgrades such as: turbos, shocks, weight reduction, transmission parts, aerodynamic kits and much more, to help boost your speed and keep your car on the track, instead of in the grass or the wall. Once you don’t need the car anymore, you can always take it back to the dealer to sell it if credits get tight, but be warned that if your car has been decked out with upgrades, you’re going to lose a substantial amount of money spent on those part.

I can remember spending countless hours making adjustments in Gran Turismo, the amount of adjusting and different reactions they give seems endless. One good thing is the fact the cars come pretty well adjusted after you upgrade them, so for someone who might not understand what each adjustment does can easily sit behind the wheel and race without too much difficulty. The graphics aren’t bad and the racing is fluid, but one minor drawback is the lack of crashing, if you hit anything you merely bounce off and right back on track without any damage. The difficulty is pretty good and it never feels over complicated, except in the licenses where it might get frustrating due to rules that you don’t need to abide by on the actual racing track. Overall Gran Turismo set forth a brand new era in racing and while some games have taken the template forward and built upon it, Gran Turismo still has it’s own unique aura that you just can’t quite duplicate.

Posted April 7th, 2011