Having had a good friend from Saudi Arabia back during my university days, I have always been intrigued by that region of the world. Curiously enough though, I wasn’t collecting games during that portion of my life, and Mashari and I were too concerned with meeting girls to worry about something as trivial as Famicom. I never did ask Mashari about gaming in the Middle East, and this made the chance to talk with a collector and gamer from that region even more exciting for me.
My initial introduction to the gaming world in the Middle East would be from a few seemingly minor points mentioned in trade correspondence with another collector in regards to some Sachen games he was selling. The European collector (name withheld for privacy reasons) had been selling 72 pin Nintendo NES Sachen games, and I wanted to try to clear up the mystery as to where those cartridges were initially marketed. When asked if the games were being sold in Italy during the early 1990s, the seller replied saying “Sachen games I saw some sellers starting [to sell in] 2005…we are speaking of Arabic people specialized in selling cheap electronics / used electronics and the games coming used from North Africa.” In a message a year prior, he had also mentioned that how “10 years ago I purchased to a sort of Arabic market 50 carts all together, all of them were new despite some were [being] sold without box (those I wanna sell now).” So to sum it up, Sachen NES carts were being sold in Italy at Arabic markets back during the early 21st century. Ironically enough, this was also around the time that the games were being imported en masse in the United States by game collectors and resellers. While interesting in its own right, and opening up more mysteries than it solves about the Sachens, I hate to admit that I have gone off on a tangent already, before even getting started properly. People selling games at an Arabic market in Italy have little to do with the actual gaming scene in the Middle East. Now if you’ll excuse me, while I go off on one more tangent, which has a bit more to do with the topic at hand.
This past summer I had received a Famicom clone from a gamer buddy in the Netherlands, who always amazes me with his generosity and knowledge (thanks Patrick!). Well packed in the same package as some of those keyboard education Famicom clones I had reviewed several months back was something called the “Home Computer 3600”, a generic-looking Famiclone. The bad part about this machine for me was that it is a PAL machine, but I really like the box art, which feels reminiscent of an old Atari console box.
The machine itself is nothing to write home about; it is a generic-looking Famiclone that has been stylistically designed to mimic a real Famicom. The included light gun feels incredibly cheap, though the controllers are nice since they are detachable, something I feel is an upgrade compared to the legitimate Famicom hardware. Going back to the box, I love the text is mostly written in Arabic. You can even see the company’s seal of quality, which you can examine in closer detail below.
As you can see, the company guarantees the quality of their Famiclone for six months. But wait, what company was responsible for the production of this Famiclone? The answer should come as no surprise, namely Rinco. Rinco was a Taiwanese company that expanded its operations to mainland China during the early 1990s. In addition to manufacturing Famiclones, Rinco received most of its fame in the collector’s sphere as the publisher of The Dragon, aka Lee Dragon, an unlicensed beat ‘em up game featuring Bruce Lee. Lee Dragon is quite a difficult game, but in my mind it is noteworthy for two reasons. First of all, this game has a language selection built in, with the choices being English and Arabic. Given Rinco’s dealings in the Middle East, it seems quite likely that plenty of copies of Lee Dragon were exported to the Arab world. Secondly, it is worthy of a mention that Lee Dragon is thought to have been developed by some people, who used to work for Sachen. Maybe Rinco had something to do with distributing Sachen games in the Middle East, though at this point it is only one possibility churning around in my mind. And that is enough talk about Rinco too for the time being.
Last summer I had the pleasure of talking with a Saudi Arabian gamer, and he had mentioned the following to me: “I have sweet childhood memories with Famiclones made by Rinco | Home Computer. The unique [thing] about them that every one has a copy of Captain Tsubasa, “Captain Majed here” [with an] Arabic translation, and some of them have games like Castlevania, Megaman, [while] others had Jungle Book, Captain America and The Avengers and Aladdin and such.” Captain Tsubasa must have been quite popular since it received its own Arabic translation.
Today, while I was out and about, I picked up the above cartridge, along with some others. Normally I am not a big fan of multicarts, and this one looked particularly generic so I had low expectations as to its contents. But as I was purchasing some other games, I hated to leave this one behind, so I decided to take the gamble and purchase it anyway. When I loaded up the cartridge I was greeted with the following generic menu. The game list basically met my expectations, so I felt neither happy nor sad.
I figured I might as well see what games were on the cart, since I wasn’t able to discern all of the games based on the titles. When I selected the second game, Capitan Majio BDE, a crazy thought briefly crossed into my mind. Could it be? Noooo, it couldn’t be…well yes, it could. And it was.
Here we have Captain Tsubasa Volume II, translated into Arabic. It turns out that this is the original Arabic translation of the game, translated by Adnan around 1995. At this point it is unknown whether Adnan had translated this game of his own choosing, or at the request of a game publishing company. What is known, though, is that his translation would later be revised and distributed as a ROM patch in 2006, under the name of ExtraOrdinary. To make things a bit confusing, it seems that another gentleman named Mahmood S. Lattouf also took it upon himself to translate Captain Tsubasa Volume II into the Arabic tongue; however, the Lattouf translation is newer and is not the original one that had circulated around the Middle East during the mid-90s.
Unfortunately, the Captain Tsubasa translation is where this article needs to end. Aside from the unofficial Arab translation, I don’t have much more information to share with you guys about actual gaming in the Middle East. I’ve heard that older games can still be found there, but that they are scarce and a bit pricey. If I can, I hope to talk with a few fellow gamers from this region and be able to post a follow-up to this article; however, since this requires the help of some other people, I can make no promises. Either way though, I will leave you guys with a few more pictures of the Adnan game translation, for everyone to admire 🙂