Saturday, May 28, 2016

Collector or Gamer?

While I consider myself a gamer, I'm also a collector. Just take a look at one of the many blogs I run and you'll see I collect many different things. When it comes to video games, I'm OK with having loose games for certain consoles. Genesis games however must at least have a case, if not being complete.

Over the last year or so I've started to pick up a few cheap reproduction Genesis and Mega Drive games. I usually don't both paying extra for a case or instructions (if they are offered) as their quality usually leaves a lot to be desired. However these loose carts were really just getting on my nerve and I had to figure out a way to get them in a case. First thing I had to do however was actually pick up a few cases...but from where?

Enter the old and usually budget friendly sports titles. I'm surprised the local retro store didn't just give these to me as I'm sure most of these games have been sitting there for quite some time juding by the dust on the cases! While I may eventually end up trying the Tommy Lasorda Baseball or RBI 4 later on, these games were bought solely for their cases.

I had previously had some custom covers printed and ready to be inserted into cases so transforming these dull and boring sports titles into something a little more interesting was quick and easy. Did I have to go to this trouble for these repro games? Of course not, but they now look much better sitting on my shelves than they did before as a "naked" cart.

Pretty, eh?

Collectors like to show off their collection, whether is sports memorabilia, comic books, automobiles or in the this case video games. Sometimes I hate that I also view myself as a collector because it takes time and more money usually to track down the game in the condition and completeness that I'd like to have...versus just buying a cheap loose game and playing it. Plus it should go without saying that cases like these take up valuable real estate space on my shelves. While they look fantastic, I'm not sure how much longer I can continue to be a collector. Now if you'll excuse me I've got some games I've been waiting to play.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Retro Game Store Visit: Game Xcape - Asheville, NC

My job allows me to travel around the state of North Carolina and during my travels I like to search out stores that match up with my hobbies. So far I've been able to find a few retro game stores in Greensboro, NC where I have a few work locations I visit, but this week's trip to the mountains of NC yielded a visit to a game store I had previously only seen on Facebook.

Game Xcape is located off of Patton Ave. in Asheville, NC and hosts a wide selection of both retro video games as well as games for more modern systems. In addition to games, they also stocked some older strategy guides and a few DVD movies. They also had a long wall of HDTVs with comfy chairs that you can rent and play games. They also host gaming contests from time to time.

I walked out of the store initially with 3 games, a loose copy of Mazin Saga: Mutant Fighter for the Sega Genesis and loose copies of Burai Fighter and Dynowarz for the NES. While I don't usually buy loose Genesis games, I felt the asking price of $10 for Mazin Saga was a fair price. Once I get home it'll be dropping in on The Cover Project to print a cover for the game so it can be shelved like a Genesis game ought to be!

Burai Fighter has that annoying VOID sticker residue on the bottom and I'm hoping some Goof Off or Goo-Gone will help clean up the game. It's a fun directional shmup that I used to own and I regret selling it so this was an easy pick up...even with it's blemishes. Dynowarz...I have faint memories of the game from the pages of Nintendo Power...and that's about it. The good thing was the game was really cheap so I'll give it try.


As I was checking out I asked the guy working there if they ever had TurboGrafx-16 come through the shop and he said not often, but he thought he had a few things. In the small stack of games were a few sports titles, the obligatory complete copy of Keith Courage and surprisingly complete copies of the awesome pinball titles, Alien Crush and Devil's Crush. Both were priced in the $40+ range. On the bottom of the stack were a few boxed titles including Valis II and Valis III and Final Zone II. The Valis games were really pricey, however Final Zone was marked $34. After a quick completed auction search on eBay I realized just how good of a deal $34 was. The worker even sweetened the deal by giving me another $2 of the price of the game. What is so impressive about the game is its condition. The box still had the plastic wrapping and the jewel case, instruction manual and the disc were flawless. I'm not even sure if the previous owner even played this game. I for one can't wait to get it home and pop it in my PC Engine Super-CD 2 unit.

I enjoyed my brief time spent in the shop today and I look forward to putting this store on my places to visit on subsequent visits to the area. Game Xcape can also be found on Facebook.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Diamakaimura (SuperGrafx)

Reproductions and clone systems are the norm in today's retro gaming circles. While this avenue isn't for everyone, it has opened the doors to let gamers play games that often elude our grasps because of their scarcity and or high price tag on the secondary market. Reproduction games have come a long was well. My first exposure to repros were the cheap Mega Drive games you can pick up at various places online.

Recently I've been seeing some new TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine repros on Facebook from a group calling themselves Turbo Reproductions. I reached out to Sakhan Shawn Yith and asked if he could make a SuperGrafx reproduction of Diamakaimura. He was more than happy to oblige. Well it arrived today and I eagerly popped it in my Retro Freak console once the kids were in bed and...nothing. The clone console didn't recognize the HuCard unfortunately. While I'd love to own an actual SuperGrafx and use that to upgrade my CoreGrafx II I have attached to my Super CD-ROM 2, that day will just have to wait.

Even though I may not have been successful at playing the game this evening, I still wanted to give the guys at Turbo Reproduction a huge shout out. The quality of the product they produced is top notch. First of all their HuCard has some heft to it. It's a little thicker than a standard HuCard and while I'm not sure what it's made of, it's not just plastic. It had a tight fit in both the Retro Freak and my PCE, but not a death grip. The label applied, while upside down from it's normal orientation, is of a high quality and looks great on the card. The case is fantastic. They use the same case and format for the insert that Peter Tuttle of Onslaught Reproductions uses. The game looked great on my shelf with my other cases I purchased from Peter earlier.

Overall I'm very impressed with the total package. They are letting me exchange the game for another of my choosing and I believe the next card will be their new black/gold HuCard! Stay tuned for more info from Turbo Reproductions and their products.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Tokyuu Shirei Solbrain (Nintendo Famicom)

Who didn't like the NES growing up? I have vivid memories of playing my Nintendo as a young kid and when it was time to head down to the local Toys 'R Us to buy a new game it was indeed a special day. Long before video game reviews were the norm, many people I suspect would buy a game based off a rental they made had previously made or by the box art of the game alone. The NES library had some wild artwork and one of the games that drew me in was Shatterhand.

As a kid I thought this looked pretty awesome. Today...yeah it has a bit of that cheesy element going on, but I've seen worse. Being that Shatterhand was one of my all time favorite NES games, I was thrilled when I found out several years ago that in Japan Shatterhand was a slightly different game. Based off a sentai show, Super Rescue Solbrain, the game looks different but pretty much plays the same.

I love the blue Famicom cart with its sentai character on the front label. It took me awhile to track down even a loose copy of this game for a reasonable price.

Developed by Angel, a now defunct subsidiary of Bandai. Solbrain features a different opening scene from Shatterhand. Instead of a dude wearing shades, a t-shirt and jeans you get to control a Power Rangers looking character.

The game starts immediately on this construction yard. Unlike most games of the time, instead of attacking your enemies with a gun or other type of weapon you get to punch your way through the level. Your character can jump, kneel and punch. After pressing the B button 3 or 4 times, your quick jabs turn into a slower, but more powerful punch. As long as you are standing in one place your punches will continue to be the slower variety.

Once you defeat the boss at the end of the opening level, you are taken to a level select screen. This reminded me of Mega Man in that you can pick the order of the levels you take on. Notice the level in the upper right hand corner. This is a carnival level, exclusive to the Famicom game. In Shatterhand, this level was replaced with a submarine level. Nintendo was known for it's censorship and I imagine the boss of the carnival level is why this part of the game was changed for it's North American release... fight two women that leap around the room. Sorry for the blurry picture, I was trying to snap the picture quickly, so fast that my camera didn't have a chance to focus. It's been awhile since I've played Shatterhand, but from what I remember I found this carnival level and it's boss to be more entertaining that the submarine level.

As you progress through the level you'll find white boxes that you can punch open to reveal a few different things. Greek letters can be collected to aid you in your fight. When three letters are collected, a drone is created and hovers over you. Depending on the combination of letters, your drone may attack with a grenade, boomerangs, a laser, fire or another form of attack. Trying to remember the different combinations to create your favorite drone can be tough. 

Also found in the boxes are orange boxes with a "P" in the middle. This is basically the game's form of currency. The amount of "money" you have is shown in the bottom left corner of the screen, just below your health. At times you'll find a large white box with a "P" in the middle. If you continue to punch it you'll get several of the orange currency boxes, larger boxes when your punches turn to the stronger version. Be careful however because some white boxes may contain a grenade that will explode once revealed.

The currency can be used to replenish your life, power up your attack or buy another life. You'll find white boxes on the ground with a number value on them. The money you collect on each level does not carry over to the next level so you might as well spend it when you can.

My personal favorite drone type to create is this one that hurls a grenade in a downward fashion in front of you. This one is created when you collect 3 of the Greek "b" letters. I should also mention that regardless of the drone you create, if you press down and A & B together, your drone will hover directly over your character and pick you up and flies you straight up into the air. This is a feature that I never knew of until my recent play through.

If you have a drone and collect a different collection of 3 letters, your current drone will simply be replaced with the new one. However if you collect the same 3 letters as the drone you currently have, it will be replaced with a larger, more powerful hand held weapon. In the case of collecting 6 "b" letters, you'll get a bazooka like weapon. I was able to make quick work of many enemies, even a few bosses with this weapon. This new firepower however is on a timer and will eventually run out and be replaced with your drone again.

Once you are able to complete all 5 stages, your selection screen shows a what appears to be a missile silo. I hope you are ready for a challenge because this level is tough!

By now I hope you have a cheat sheet handy of which combination of letters creates which drone because you are going to need some offensive help! There are many hazards on the level and the enemy characters are strategically placed to give you a fit. I got the grenade drone once or twice and it helped me make it through what I thought was the half way point. I had to fight the same boss again from the opening level of the game. Once I took him out, the level kept going. It wasn't long before I died and I expected to start right where I beat the boss...but nope! The game sent me back to the beginning of the level. Argh! I hate it when games do this.

Overall I love this game from beginning to the end. The difficulty curve isn't too bad. It's not punishingly hard, but it's not a cake walk either. Most of the enemies do follow a pattern, as do the bosses. Thankfully the enemies don't regenerate if you backtrack a little to pick up that item they drop. There doesn't seem to be a limit to the number of continues so that does help the replay ability of the game.

The game isn't that different from Shatterhand, minus the carnival level. With the high price tag of the game I can't really recommend it unless you are a huge fan. Go and pick up Shatterhand if you want to play the game. I hate the term "hidden gem", but it's a game that seems to be overlooked and it's a lot of fun to play.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Subor Mega Drive Portable (Famiclone handheld)

** This was originally posted on my toy blog, Random Toy Reviews

By now most retro video game collectors and enthusiasts know that Nintendo's patent on the old 8-bit video game technology has expired. For some time now various companies have been making different variations of consoles using Nintendo's 8-bit platform. Some have been better than others (Messiah's Generation NEX comes to mind as being one of the better clone systems), some of them are down right garbage.

I myself use a Hyperkin clone system to play my NES games for a few reasons. 1) Its size. The thing is tiny, about the size of a few CD jewel cases stacked on top of each other. 2) It was cheap. I think I paid maybe $20 for it 10+ years ago. 3) Its reliable. I've owned many "toaster" NES consoles and even replacing the 72 pin connector would only go so far in reliability for me. I like the top loader version, but the lack of AV inputs still makes me scratch my head.

When I decided to branch out into the world of collecting Famicom games, I looked at the various Famiclones as they are called to see what was the best option. I looked at the Generation NEX as well as some of the consoles manufactured by Hyperkin and Retro-Bit. I ultimately went with a genuine Nintendo Famicom AV console I scored for a great price direct from Japan. A little later I even added the Disk Drive add-on. All set now, right? Well kind of.

After watching several reviews online of the portable Super Nintendo handhelds, I wondered about a portable Famicom. Was there such a thing? Sure enough there are several entries in this category, none of the official though. No surprise there. After trying to do my home work and find something that was of a half decent quality AND find something that I could afford using my eBay budget, I landed on a handheld manufactured my a company called Subor...or Zhongshan Subor Educational Electronics Co., LTD. Man that's a mouth full!

This handheld (I believe) is officially called the Subor Mega Drive Portable, SB-Z12. Not sure why the Mega Drive name is included as this only plays Nintendo 8-bit Famicom games. I was able to purchase this direct from Hong Kong via For a mere $30 bucks shipped I'm now the proud owner of a working, portable Famiclone system!

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The system was shipped to me in a small cardboard shipping box. No outer packaging whatsoever. I saw the same system recently being sold by a seller on eBay and his had some decent looking packaging, so I'm not sure what gives here. For what I paid I really can't complain though. In the shipping box was the console, instruction manual and a cord that allows you to connect the console to a TV. The console operates on 4 AA batteries and of course these were not included.

Upon opening the box I was surprised at how small, yet how big the thing was. Remember the very first Game Boy and how small, yet big/chunky it was? The system itself measures approximately 6 inches long, 3 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches thick. Yeah, it's not that little. However even with batteries installed, it's not that heavy.

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On the face of the system you'll find a 1 1/2 x 2 inch color LED screen complete with 4 button directional pad on the left and Select, A & B buttons on the right. The two small buttons are Start/Pause and Reset. Some reviews complained about the small Reset button being located so close to the A & B buttons, but in my use with the system I haven't come near accidentally pushing the Reset button during game play. Underneath the button layout are two small stereo speakers.

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On top of the system is the On/Off switch on the left and the A/V out port on the right. The cartridge slot itself has a dust cover flap that completely covers the 60 pin connector inside. This is one of the features that I really liked. The door features a spring and smoothly disappears when a cartridge is inserted.

On the bottom of the system is a stereo headphone jack on the left and the volume control knob on the right.

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Another nice feature that surprised me was found on the back. There are 3 little indented finger tip grips if you will on each side of the system. While not covered in rubber or anything like that, it does make it a little more comfortable gripping the device. So far the longest I think I've played a game in one sitting was about 45 minutes and never did my hands start to cramp or feel uncomfortable.

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Here are a few comparison shots to hopefully give you an idea of the system's overall size. I apologize that I didn't pull out any of my Nintendo handhelds as most of them are currently scattered across the house. I did have my recently recapped NEC Turbo Express handy though. If you've seen the Turbo Express in person, then you know it's not a little system.

OK, so it looks good enough, but how does it play? Is it good? Or better yet is it worth buying? So far I have to say Yes to all accounts.

(My original post didn't contain any game play footage. I grabbed Sqoon off the shelve and popped it in so I could provide some video of the hardware in action for this updated post.)

I've got near 40 authentic Famicom games in my collection and while I haven't tried them all yet, everything I've thrown at it has worked. My first attempt was playing Konami's Parodius. The small screen may not be ideal for shooters, but it looked, sounded and controlled good. Next I tried a few other random games including Downtown Nekketsu Koshin Kyoku: Soreyuke Dai Undokai (it's a game in the series that gave us the awesome River City Ransom!). Again everything worked perfectly. The only glitch I had was when I played Tokkyu Shirei Soruburein (or Super Rescue Solbrain). It's the Famicom version of the NES classic, Shatterhand. The game ran fine, but it seemed like the cartridge rattled around in the game slot a little more than the the games. Eventually the screen was garbled and it froze. I got it working again, but I don't think the problem was with the handheld. I popped the same game into my Famicom AV console and pretty much had the same problems with the game not loading or having jumbled images on screen. With a little fiddling of the cartridge on both the Famicom and the handheld I was able to get it working and enjoy some robust game time.

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Another nice feature about the system is the height that which the cartridges stick out when inserted. Some of the other clone handhelds I've seen just look goofy with their extra add-ons inserted or even with a big 8-bit NES game sticking out. Thanks to the smaller Famicom carts, you don't have to worry about having some obtrusive game sticking out the top. Even the slightly larger Namcot carts don't look too bad. I did run into trouble trying to fit a Jaleco cart (The Lord of King) into the cartridge slot. The odd shape of the cartridge prevented it from making contact w/ the pins inside the handheld.

I would have rather the system had a traditional solid D-Pad instead of the Sony Playstation like 4 directional buttons, but the controls were rather responsive and the buttons didn't seem to be mushy feeling. Same goes for the larger A & B buttons. They felt comfortable underneath my thumbs and the on screen actions seemed to happen at the same time the buttons were pressed.

I will say that I haven't tried out the A/V hook up yet as every single A/V input on the TVs in my room are strategically set up. Having near 20 consoles hooked up at the same time means lots and lots of cords with multiple switch boxes everywhere! I do want to try this out however as I'm curious to how well it translates over to the big screen.

Recently I sat down to play and I plugged in a pair of headphones I use w/ my iPhone. I was surprised at how good the stereo sound was. There was a little distortion when adjusting the volume up and down, but once I found the level I was comfortable with everything sounded great.

Overall I've got to say that I'm impressed. The quality of the build isn't Nintendo quality, but it's far more solid than the little Hyperkin clone I use to play my NES games on. For the price I paid of $30, which included (overseas) shipping, I think it's a great deal. If you like to play your games on the go and are tired of playing dedicated portable games, then why not give this a try?