Confessions of a Bootlegger

Five

Five

You see that binder over there? Yeah, it doesn’t look like much. To you, it might just look like a bunch of magazine pages tossed together in a three-ring, wrinkled by time, with numbers scribbled across page after page. Here and there, a note finds space on an otherwise-filled page. Yeah, garbage to most, yet this is one of my treasures, let’s call him “Five”.

Five doesn’t belong in our world today; he’s too old fashioned, and not handsome enough to compete with those X Box and PS guys. He was a 16-bit stud in his day though, and has seen a lot through the ages, before retiring to a dusty shelve in the residential corners of an old shop in Taiwan.

If we run past the narrow road filled with the strange aroma of exhaust fumes mixed with food from roadside vendors, we will come to the remains of an old game shop of long ago. Five’s companions have disappeared in ages gone by, to make room for gaming modernity. But even that has fallen to the wayside, as smart phones edged their way into the scene.

When you go to the counter, ask for old man Wang, and he’ll tell you a thing or too. Business is slow, conversation is great, but only if you can speak the local tongue. Mr. Wang is standing behind a glass counter, once-filled with treasures. Now, nothing occupies this real estate, aside from a couple of dusty PS3 boxes. Peering behind Mr. Wang is an ancient computer, two floppy drives sticking from it’s tower. A fat monitor sits next to it, covered in grime. Curious, I inquire.

“Oh that thing,” asks Wang, pointing to the computer. “Let me show you something, I’ll give you a look.” Wang disappears for a few moments, mentions hitting the bathroom as well before returning. “Be patient for five minutes”, he tells me. When he reemerges, Wang is carrying Five under his arm and throws it on his counter. “This”, he tells me, “goes along with that”, and I settle down for a story.

“Back in the early 90s, Super Famicom was starting to become popular over here. People also had Sega Mega Drives, but it was not the popular brand. Compared to Super Famicom, everyone felt that there were less games to choose from, and besides, the people’s favorite was always Mario, not Sonic.” Wang stated my exact feelings. In my household, Nintendo was also the fan favorite. Growing up, I knew few people with Segas.

Wang continued, “All of the Super Famicom games, you can see them in Five. It’s a catalog of sorts. Copied games were the norm here, and for good reason. A single cartridge would cost $1000 (local money), but we could get that cost down to $100. Here’s what we’d do.”

Homemade Index Page with Game Titles and Numbers

Homemade Index Page with Game Titles and Numbers

At this point, Mr. Wang reached under the counter and pulled out a dusty Super Nintendo machine, nearly jet black in dirt and grime. Attached was a game copier. And without loading up the computer, he prepared to demonstrate what he did.

“$10,000”, he chuckled. “That’s what this thing cost. Throw in the SNES and that was another $3000, $13000 total. Sega also had copiers, same price. But with less games came less popularity. So I bought a copier, and copied the games onto that old machine over there. Kids and teenagers would come in, pay me $100, and within minutes they’d walk out with a brand new Super Nintendo game, all on one disk. If in the same situation, if you could buy one cartridge or ten floppies for the same price, which would you choose?”

I smiled and nodded, as the answer was clear to me.

More Games One Could Select

More Games One Could Select

His setup was basically like the Nintendo’s Famicom Disk Writer machine, only it consisted of a generic computer, Taiwan-produced copiers, and standard floppy disks. And the link between consumer and the copies was Five, the beat-up magazine pages stuffed inside the binder. Presumably the numbers aided in locating the game file on the computer, to make copies.

Game 844, 32 M

Game 844, 32 M

With my treasure in hand, I thanked Mr. Wang and climbed back into the saddle, prepared for the long journey back home. As the wind whipped through my hair as I rode down city streets and over bridges on that cloudless night, I couldn’t help but turn over the things I had heard minutes earlier – a shopkeeper proudly explaining the dynamics of selling in a country uninhibited by copyright law. And to have a token of that moment, a folder that had witnessed thousands of copies being made in a bygone era, priceless. A true piece of history. As always, the best things in life are free.

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Elf Legend

The weather has been quite terrible in my local since last night; a super typhoon was headed my way, so I brought my cat into the game room, where we slept together. It felt much better to be on the inside, to get away from the howling winds and rain for just a few minutes. And the way that the glass doors to the balcony were shaking, it is only a matter of time before they break. So it was a wise decision for my furry buddy and I to move as far away from the outside as possible. We could have hung out in the bathroom all night too, I suppose, but that would have been one shitty experience, I am sure.

As always, it seems that typhoons always come on the weekend. I can’t have a hot date, and I can’t go shopping. I can’t even waste away my time in a brewpub, frantically stuffing french fries into my face. Nor do I get the benefit of having a day off from work. No, I am always stuck at home with a severe case of cabin fever, praying that things clear up by Sunday (which they won’t). And then I look around the house desperately for something to do. So I usually turn to my backlog of games, which is a good thing for you guys, since you get to enjoy a nice update 🙂

8 in 1 Multicart with Elf Legend

8 in 1 Multicart with Elf Legend

Over the past three and a half years, I ended up with a special 8 in 1 multicart in my possession. Unlike a lot of my collection, I don’t remember where I got this one from, though I suspect I either purchased it locally or grabbed it from a guy in Thailand. The multicart itself is numbered XB-F868, and was most likely made to go with the XB Famiclones that have been circulating around. Briefly playing through the cart when I first got it, I knew it was a keeper, but it was only a few months back where I finally had time to play through this cartridge properly. And that brings me to Elf Legend, the game I want to talk about.

Up until now, I have never seen anyone reference Elf Legend online. Google searches reveal pictures of cosplay folks dressed as Link. Perhaps the game is undumped, I’m not sure. So what is Elf Legend exactly? It is a hack of Chip n Dale Rescue Rangers 2, and quite frankly, it is the game Chip n Dale 2 should have been.

Elf Land Title Screen

Elf Land Title Screen

Our adventure starts out with two schmucks standing together on the title screen. Reminiscent of the Teletubbies, I actually thought that this was some sort of Teletubbies hack before doing more research and seeing that the names were all wrong. Either way, I am not the expert on said topic, and XB did publish an original Teletubbies game on one of their multicarts, so this could indeed be another Teletubbies game. Either way, it’s still just a hacked version of Chip n Dale 2.

Choose John or Pika

Choose John or Pika

The protagonist’s names are John and Pika, so I guess that lizardish character is supposed to be related to Pikachu somehow. After choosing your character, your receive a military-style briefing, which turns out to be quite humorous, but for the wrong reasons:

Cock say “You will perform a hard mission, that is you will to rescue Mario who was seized by enemy. Okay?”

What the Cock Say?

What the Cock Say?

Phew. Just from the text alone I thought this game was going to cross Rescue Rangers with some sort of fetish, but it appears that the one character’s name is “Cock”. Last time I played through the game I didn’t bother to read the introduction, and it added some confusion towards the end of the game. The Engrish in this game is pretty funny, and the ending sequence is even funnier, due to the poor name choice of Cock. But we’ll examine that later. Furthermore, why should I rescue Mario? Maybe he ended up kidnapped in Super Mario Bros. 17, which is a hack of the original Rescue Rangers. Who knows. Either way, sorry Mario, I love you, but I’d rather rescue the beautiful princess to your pudgy ass.

Stage One

Stage One

Elf Legend itself is essentially Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers 2, although it has been heavily hacked. Although the stage layouts remain the same, some of the enemy sprites have been changed, along with those of the hero. Other background graphics have also been changed here and there, where needed. The pirates also messed around with the pallet of the game, and thus (imo) the game seems much more vibrant, much more alive. I prefer the brighter colors to the boring ones of the original game.

In addition, some of the music has been changed. The first stage’s tune, for example, has been sped up and tweaked so that it doesn’t sound anything like the original. While I wish that more of the music had been changed (level two, I’m looking at you…), these minor changes all add up and help to separate the game from its original incarnation.

Stage Two

Stage Two

To be honest, I used to hate the second installment of the Rescue Rangers series; growing up, Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers was the very first game that my brother and I owned, alongside Rescue: The Embassy Mission (technically Dad’s game) and Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt. My brother and I played Chip n Dale for hours growing up, and we also played with my brother’s childhood best friend. With a game steeped in nostalgia, we were excited to learn of the sequel, many years later. Then when we finally did manage to obtain a copy of part 2 from Funcoland, we were highly disappointed. The stages were generic, the music felt lackluster, and the game was ultimately just a shadow of what the original was. This led to my brother and I bashing the sequel quite often, saying things such as “Rescue Rangers 2 sucks”, yet about a year ago we met back up and decided to give the game a fair shake, ultimately concluding that the game isn’t a bad game at all – it just isn’t fair to compare this game to its nostalgia-fueled prequel.

Welcome to the Harbor

Welcome to the Harbor

And that is part of the reason why I like Elf Legend so much. The game tries to distance itself from the Rescue Rangers franchise, yet the enjoyable play mechanics from the original Rescue Rangers game are still intact. So those of us who grew up with the original Rescue Rangers game, yet missed the sequel (and I suspect the vast majority of us did, seeing that the sequel got a late release) will be able to enjoy the game for what it is, without directly comparing it to the original gem. Thus nostalgia doesn’t stop us from being biased towards the game, doesn’t stop us from enjoying it.

Fat Cat's Replacement

Fat Cat’s Replacement

I also find the dialogues to be extremely amusing. For anyone that has studied Chinese, or has many Chinese friends, these translations should be quite familiar. They warm my heart, as I have many friends that say things of a similar vein, just due to not being proficient in the English tongue. One of the dialogues, for instance, says something about “use run”, which really cracked me up. Many of my friends say “use walk”, “use run”, etc, such as “We can catch that bus if we use run.” I guess it is not so funny for many, but if you know people that actually speak in this manner, it becomes somewhat endearing. With that said, I am sure there are many grammar constructions that English speakers use when translating directly into Chinese, which come across in the exact same way. 😉

I Dream about Our Cock

I Dream about Our Cock

The end of the game has possibly the “best” dialogue of all, thanks to the one character having the name of Cock. When you beat the game, the ending rolls, and a few sentences in, we are presented with the following beauty:

Pika: “As if I dream about our cock praise me now…”

Then another character (Jone maybe, I forget) has the following to add:

“You are so romantic.”

The initial time I played through this game, I had skipped the introduction screen, so I had no idea that the one character was named Cock. Can you imagine playing through the game and being presented with this sort of text at the end, out of context? Suddenly Elf Legend went from G to X-rated, in a matter of minutes. Maybe this is just coincidence, or maybe these are sexual innuendos, which the hackers had intended. We’ll never know for sure, but we can use our own judgments here 😛

The Konami Computer

Konami Computer

Konami Computer

Back in June I had been browsing through some pictures and I stumbled upon one of what appeared to be a Famicom or Famiclone. It looked similar to the traditional red and white machine that we all know and love, but displayed on the front was the Konami logo, along with the words “Konami Computer”. Otherwise, I didn’t receive any information about the machine itself. All I know is that the pic have shown above was taken by donnyf88, and the machine belongs in his collection. I may try to reach out to the owner at a later point to see if I can get more information about the machine, but I think it is likely that there is little evidence of a concrete nature to exist for such an exotic item as this.

I asked some others if anyone knew anything about this particular machine, but aside from seemingly being a Famiclone, there was nothing else known about the device. My initial thought was that the console was made by the same folks that made the “Konami” series of bootleg NES games, such as the one show below (picture once again stolen, and this time I don’t remember where I got it from, sorry). Games like this were quite often sold in countries such as Indonesia, and IMO the same folks that produced these games were probably also related to Spica and Supervision, other bootleg brands that were commonly found in Indonesia.

"Konami" Brand Nintendo Game

“Konami” Brand Nintendo Game

The question still remained though, as to why the game cartridges (72 pin versions) would not match up with the machine (60 pin machine). I just chalked it up as another one of those questions that would never be answered, as is the case with a vast majority of these obscure items. But I accidentally ended up with a potential answer (and even more questions) to my question, last weekend, after purchasing a lot of Famicom boots.

When I first received my bag of goodies, I was quite excited, as there were a lot of interesting items in the set. My excitement soon turned to horror though, as I started testing the games and discovered that a quarter of them were duds. At that point I decided to start opening the games one-by-one to clean them, and fortunately after removing layers of grime and dirt, I was able to revive a lot of the games. During this tedious process was when I made a startling discovery.

Bootleg Tetsuwan Atom Cart

Bootleg Tetsuwan Atom Cart

I busted open a Tetsuwan Atom game cart for cleaning. The shell itself was generic one with the nonsensical word “Tpita” on the front, and “Toito Corporation” on the rear. Even more shocking was the contents held within. The pcb itself was stamped with Konami’s logo, and so were the rom chips. To my untrained eye, the board itself appears to be 1:1 identical with the official Konami board, and although the chips have some variation to the ones pictured on Bootgod’s site (check it out here), the chips on my cartridge also have Konami logos stamped, as well as ID numbers similar to the official chips. Sadly my scanner is broken and my digital camera is also kaput, so all I can display at the moment are some crappy phone camera shots. But this discovery provides few answers and even more questions.

The items that are worth discussing (imo) are as follows: (a) whether the board / chips themselves are real, (b) whether this cartridge was designed for use on the above Famiclone, etc.

A Closer Look at the PCB

A Closer Look at the PCB

To address the first question, it seems plausible that the circuit board is a legit Konami board. Maybe Konami outsourced their cartridge production to a Taiwanese manufacturer, and the same company produced extra pirate versions after hours, to increase their profits. For all we know, Konami themselves might have produced these carts, sort of like generic brands of cereals being produced along side their well-known kin. Konami had some sort of dealings in Taiwan during the 1980s and 1990s, up through the modern times, so it is within the realm of possibility.

As mentioned above though, the codes on the ROM chips do not match up perfectly with the ones shown in Bootgod’s database, despite the fact that the chips in my cart are also stamped with Konami’s logo. So maybe these chips are real chips, maybe not. Maybe Konami ordered the production of this product under the table, or perhaps the guys at the company just decided to produce bootleg games using the (official) parts they had sitting around. We’ll probably never know for sure, but either way, the shell is not legit.

That leads us up to the second question, whether this cartridge has any relation to the Konami Famiclone. Sadly, once again there is no concrete information, and only pure speculation. Initially I would have guessed that there may have been a relationship between the two products, but after seeing that the Famiclone game I have seems to be a duplicate of the official item, it makes the issue become a bit odder in my eyes. If Konami were producing a second, illicit run of games, I think it seems unlikely that they would be so bold as to also display their logo on a Famiclone. So I really don’t know what the true story is, but I am sure it must be a pretty interesting one.

Super Mario Bros. (256 Worlds Version)

Super Mario Bros. 256 Worlds Version

Super Mario Bros. 256 Worlds Version

I remember semi-recently being informed of a secret in the original Super Mario Bros. Game, which had eluded me for years. Most Western gamers are sure to remember the infamous “Minus World”, and I also knew about the Famicom Disk version of Super Mario Bros. having a different minus world of sorts, which was still accessible by the warp zone trick that everyone is familiar with. What I wasn’t aware of was that in the cartridge version of the Japanese Super Mario Bros., 256 different worlds existed, literally hundreds of new levels.

Mysterious World 9

Mysterious World 9

According to this article, rumors initially began circulating in Japan about a world 9. After a lot of investigation, it would be discovered that by swapping out Mario for Tennis, and then for Mario again while the Famicom was powered on, the game would load up to one of the secret glitch worlds. Later, a safer method of accessing the stages (by using Family BASIC) would be discovered. Still, these two methods for exploring the hidden Mario stages can be a bit inconvenient, and that is where the Super Mario Bros. 256 Worlds cart comes into play.

The State Select

The State Select

The Super Mario Bros. 256 worlds cartridge is sort of like the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” debate. It is hard to say if the bootleg game companies edited their game carts after knowledge of the original glitch spread, or if these carts were manufactured and hacked independently by the Chinese pirates, in a similar manner to how the stage started on or the number of lives might be edited in some pirate games. Either way, the so-called Super Mario Bros. 256 worlds cartridge is just a regular (bootleg) Super Mario Bros. cart, with a level-select directly built into the title screen. Pressing the B Button allows the player to cycle through and choose what world he or she wants to start on, including the hidden stages!

World A-1

World A-1

The hidden stages themselves are fun to play through and experiment with once or twice, but since they are glitch worlds, many are unable to be completed, and thus the allure quickly fades away. Likewise, I also have no idea just how common / rare this particular bootleg of Mario is. In outward appearance, the game cartridge just seems to be a standard Whirlwind Manu product, though checking a few of my other Super Mario pirates revealed them to be just normal versions of the game, i.e. sans the stage code. Either way, this game is a fun one to play around with if you have an afternoon to spare.

I’ve Been through a Whirlwind: Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

Awhile back I had “scored” a catalog containing information about the various game cartridges that the infamous pirate outfit (Whirlwind Manu) had produced. Manu had distributed copied Famicom games across the globe, with their territories spanning from Taiwan all the way to places such as Argentina and Chile in South America. As luck had it, I saw an informational booklet or pamphlet go up for sale with info about this company, and although the asking price was rather steep, I took the chance and immediately bought the booklet. I wasn’t even sure what the booklet was, exactly, since there were no pictures of the inside to be had. Since I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff, though, I plunked the money down and eagerly awaited for my package to arrive in the mail.

After receiving the brochure in the mail, I had received requests from a lot of people, who had all wanted to see the contents of the book. While I am not against sharing information like that, and preserving it for all, a busy scheduled coupled with laziness hindered my progress of fulfilling the request. I then had promised to set aside some time to scan the item, hoping that I could have it completed before December of 2014 rolled around, but fate had other plans for me. As luck would have it, my new kitten would play on my scanner, and something got bollixed up. My computer stopped acknowledging the scanner’s presence, and there was nothing more that I could do. So I was unable to fulfill my promise, no one got to see the contents of the magazine, and my evil cat succeeded at breaking one of my items. Don’t worry, I took it out of his monthly allowance, and he is still trying to catch cockroaches and mosquitoes to pay off the debt.

Tonight I decided that it was about time to share the contents of the Manu flier with everyone. Although my scanner is still broken, I took pictures of the entire catalog. As one can see, the flier shows the artwork and gives a brief description about many of the games that Whirlwind Manu had bootlegged. Some of the descriptions are pretty funny to read, and although a nice reference source, the catalog is incomplete. Still, it would be an invaluable resource for those that are trying to collect all of the Whirlwind Manu games. At one point I was actually work towards that goal myself, but I then just became fed up with purchasing an official version of the game, as well as a Whirlwind Manu version, and thus I stopped. As I said earlier, beggars can’t be choosers, and I hope you guys enjoy this rare glimpse into one bootleg company’s knavery.

Catalog Front Cover

Catalog Front Cover

Catalog Pages 1 - 2

Catalog Pages 1 – 2

Catalog Pages 3 - 4

Catalog Pages 3 – 4

Catalog Pages 5 - 6

Catalog Pages 5 – 6

Catalog Pages 7 - 8

Catalog Pages 7 – 8

Catalog Pages 9 - 10

Catalog Pages 9 – 10

Catalog Pages 11 - 12

Catalog Pages 11 – 12

Catalog Pages 13 - 14

Catalog Pages 13 – 14

Catalog Pages 15 - 16

Catalog Pages 15 – 16

Catalog Pages 17 - 18

Catalog Pages 17 – 18

Catalog Pages 19 - 20

Catalog Pages 19 – 20

Catalog Pages 21 - 22

Catalog Pages 21 – 22

Catalog Pages 23 - 24

Catalog Pages 23 – 24

Catalog Pages 25 - 26

Catalog Pages 25 – 26

Catalog Pages 27 - 28

Catalog Pages 27 – 28

Catalog Pages 29 - 30

Catalog Pages 29 – 30

Catalog Pages 31 - 32

Catalog Pages 31 – 32

Catalog Pages 33 - 34

Catalog Pages 33 – 34

Catalog Pages 37 - 38

Catalog Pages 35 – 36

Catalog Pages 39 - 40

Catalog Pages 37 – 38

Catalog Pages 41 - 42

Catalog Pages 39 – 40

Catalog Pages 43 - 44

Catalog Pages 41 – 42

Catalog Pages 45 - 46

Catalog Pages 43 – 44

Catalog Pages 47 - 48

Catalog Pages 45 – 46

Catalog Pages 49 - 50

Catalog Pages 47 – 48

Catalog Pages 51 - 52

Catalog Pages 49 – 50

Catalog Pages 55 - 56

Catalog Pages 51 – 52

Catalog Pages 57 - 58

Catalog Pages 53 – 54

Catalog Pages 59 - 60

Catalog Pages 55 – 56

Catalog Pages 61 - 62

Catalog Pages 57 – 58

Catalog Pages 63 - 64

Catalog Pages 59 – 60

Catalog Pages 65 - 66

Catalog Pages 61 – 62

Catalog Pages 67 - 68

Catalog Pages 63 – 64

Back Cover

Back Cover

Interesting Famicom Disk Hacks

Those that are closest to me already know that the bane of my existence in the vast sea of Famicom goodies is that infamous little add-on, HVC-022, the Family Computer Disk System. Although this extension of our beloved red white machine might have also received attention and praise during its initial launch, the Famicom Disk System (FDS) can be compared to the stereotypical sunbathing, chain smoking, tattooed beauty of our youth; when we run into them unexpectedly at the supermarket, twenty years later, they fail to impress with their yellowed teeth, alligator skin, and the unintelligible remnants of what used to be a dragon tattoo. That, my friend, is what our Famicom Disk System has become.

Broken belts, misaligned magnetic heads, corrupted disks…these are all ailments that the FDS constantly suffers. Last week I spent several minutes realigning the magnetic head on my disk machine, and although the results were excellent in the beginning, by the time I moved away from plain vanilla disks and started throwing bootlegs and unlicensed crap its way, the machine choked and started sending me constant error messages in return. With cartridges, I never have these problems, and I am never left in the awkward position of trying to guess whether a game disk is just acting finicky, or whether it has actually gone bad. Ick, these failings easily make the little Famicom disks my least favorite part of the whole Famicom game library, despite all of the hidden gems tucked away so nicely on those little floppies from yesteryear.

Approximately two years ago I obtained around 40 or 50 different copied disks from a guy located in Indonesia. The games were all labeled with numbers on the top of their plastic cases, as well as on the disks themselves. Artwork was also printed out with care, and stuffed in with the unlawful games. Were these being used for rental? Private consumption? It was hard to say, all I knew was that I wanted to add these to my collection.

Copied Famicom Disks

Copied Famicom Disks

A few weeks later, a package arrived from my contact and I eagerly perused the stash that I bought. Mario 3, Tetris, Crackout…it was all here. I grabbed my first disk, stuffed it in my twin Famicom and voila! I just whipped myself into an error message! Rinse and repeat. I must have tried to get half of the disks to run; my anger grew as the disk system starting spewing out exotic error messages, each being stranger than the one previous. At this point it dawned on me that I would need some sort of disk copying device to run these game. Sadly, finding such an item for Famicom-era is easier said than done. A few months later this dog did have his day though, and for about $30 I wound up with a boxed Turbo Game Doctor 4+ on my doorstep. To run that beast though, I also needed a standalone Famicom Disk System, since it wouldn’t work properly on a Twin Famicom. I dropped another $60, and once the final piece in this crazy setup arrived, I would once again plop down in front of the TV, eager to unlock the mysteries of the Indonesian disks.

My Disk System Station

My Disk System Station

The first game I would pop in would inevitably be one titled Mario Castlevania, according to the handwriting on the disk. The artwork for this game is quite amusing in itself. Mario, apparently stolen from the cover of Mario Golf Japan Course, has raised his hands again to swing something. Instead of a club, he decides to take on a new profession – that of a vampire hunter! It is time for our favorite hero to enter the world of the undead, the world of Dracula and the Belmonts.

Mario Castlevania Disk

Mario Castlevania Disk

As the game loads up, I am left unfazed, as I see the familiar Castlevania title screen. Judging from the cover art of Mario Castlevania, this comes as no surprise. I then choose a file and it is time to get going!

Mario Castlevania for FDS

Mario Castlevania for FDS

As the name suggests, Mario Castlevania is…well…err, it is the original Castlevania game with Mario hacked in. On another page, Nathan White has the following to say about Mario Castlevania:

The is just the first three levels of Akumajou Dracula (Castlevania) with the Simon Belmont sprite switched out with a Mario sprite. It is a pretty neat little experiment, but unfortunately it is little more than just a sprite swap- you retain none of Mario’s abilities or game mechanics. The game also ends after just the third level, but it is an interesting curiosity regardless.”

Although his description of Mario Castlevania is pretty much spot on (the only difference between this game and the original Castlevania is the Mario sprite, nothing else has been changed), the game does not terminate after level three.

Mario Castlevania, Level 5

Mario Castlevania, Level 5

The fun continues up through the final battle with our favorite vampire, Dracula (sorry Edward, move over).

Mario vs Dracula

Mario vs Dracula

Despite the minimal changes to the game, this is easily one of my favorite Famicom disks, as it basically encapsulates everything I love about the Famicom in one game, namely a fun game, bootleggers with a great imagination that are also lacking in ability, weirdness, and obscurity. Nice!

Mario Zelda for FDS

Mario Zelda for FDS

Scanning through the large pile of games, the next disk that caught my eye would be number 59, Mario Zelda. Unlike Mario Castlevania, which I had read about before (and was ironically enough the sole reason that I purchased this particular lot of games), I had never seen anything of this Mario Zelda game. The artwork showed Link photoshopped in Mario’s world, but alas the disk gave me an error when loading it. And it had given me an error message the next time I tried to play the game, and the next time. For two years I tried to load the disk and for two years I lost sleep over the contents of disk. I am being completely honest here, without any embellishments. Before writing this article, I decided to pop the game in for another try, just in case, and low and behold, the game loaded this time!

As to be expected, I was greeted with a familiar sight, the title screen for Super Mario Bros. It seems that when Mario went to Transylvania to save the humans from Dracula, King Koopa slipped in to the Mushroom Kingdom and made off with the princess. Since Luigi is such a coward, Toad and the other mushroom retainers had no choice but to ask Link to be their substitute hero, and he answered their call.

Mario Zelda Title Screen

Mario Zelda Title Screen

Mario Zelda is quite similar to Mario Castlevania. It is just a generic hack of Super Mario Bros., where Link is stuffed into the game instead of Mario. Unlike the Castlevania game though, there are some interesting points about this game. To begin, Link’s sprite looks normal when he is walking, but if he stops to take a rest, he suddenly turns into this two-headed demon.

Normal Link

Normal Link

Two-Headed Link

Two-Headed Link

Instead of going to warp zones, Link prefers to go to the Gold Lion. Is this sort of like a Purple Ganon?

The Gold Lion

The Gold Lion

And at the end, when Link rescues the princess, she refers to him as Mario. Did Link drug Princess Peach just to score her, while Mario was away on his other adventures? I guess it is hard to say, since people rarely discuss this chapter in Link’s life.

Sorry Mario, Link is Peach's New Squeeze

Princess Peach’s Main Squeeze, Link

The last game of particular interest was Aladin Ekivalen. In Bahasa Indonesian, the words just translate into “Equivalent Aladdin”. The artwork itself depicts Subcon, and I can see Wart and Mario duking it out, with the Konami Man and other Konami characters joining the fray.

Aladin Ekivalen for FDS

Aladin Ekivalen for FDS

To my disappointment, thus far when loading up the game, I only get error 27 messages, so until the disk cooperates with us, I guess we don’t get to know what sort of greatness this disk holds.

To sum things up, I feel the disk hacks such as Mario Castlevania and Mario Zelda are pretty neat. In this day and age, this sort of hack is nothing special – everyone has made some sort of rom hack where just one or two sprites have been tweaked or swapped. But this sort of hacking wasn’t really so common among the layman during the era that these disks were made. So while I might feel underwhelmed by today’s standards, these games are quite amusing to see and play, when framed in the right context. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to adjusting my disk system’s head again, as it seems to be misaligned…

Zhongshan Subor Educational Electronics Company (Subor) has made a name for themselves in many circles, thanks to the large variety of interesting Famiclones they managed to produce over the years. In addition to several generic Famiclones that are not worth mentioning, Subor made whole computer packages comprised of disk drives, keyboards and the works. One of Subor’s machines was emulator-based and contained a built-in SD Drive, which allowed gamers to load roms from their memory cards directly into the machine. Few are aware, however, that Subor also had exclusive software designed for use with its large array of pseudo-computer Famiclones. That is what I want to discuss today.

One of the most popular themes in educational software has to do with the learning of foreign languages. Just as Americans can purchase dozens of budget PC titles promising to teach the buyers how to speak French or Spanish, English software was the rage during the 80s and 90s. In Japan, Nintendo released a Popeye English game, and Sachen’s Middle School English was another English-based game. Subor would also follow suit, and one of their products was English Word Blaster.

Below you can view the front and back sides of an advert for Subor’s Word Blaster game. The product naturally makes use of Subor’s keyboard, and the game itself is housed inside an oversize Famicom cartridge.

Subor's English Word Blaster

Subor’s English Word Blaster

Screenshots for English Word Blaster

Screenshots for English Word Blaster

An interesting point in Subor’s history is the fact that they had teamed up with Jacky Chan to promote some of their products. As can be seen below, one such item that Chan had promoted was the aforementioned English software. I wonder how many children actually used this product to learn English, and I am even more curious as to how many people learned English to an adequate level with this thing. Maybe it inspired people to go on and continue with their studies independently, who knows?

Jacky Chan Supports Subor's Products

Jacky Chan Supports Subor’s Products

Next we have another advert, this one is for another educational Subor game. This time the cartridge is a two in one program.

2 in 1 Educational Software

2 in 1 Educational Software

Finally, let’s examine a few fliers that showcase the actual clones that run these games. Our next leaflet lists the words “English Word Blaster” at the top in rainbow colors, though the picture itself just shows the Subor486B clone running an educational program. The accompanying text discusses the features of their Chinese / English computer (Famiclone).

Subor's SB-486B Clone

Subor’s SB-486B Clone

And finally we have another old advertisement from Subor, this one is dated December 1993. It shows the Subor 586 clone, as well as the Chinese / English SB 486B model. The backside of the flier discusses some of the features of the bundled software programs, and also lists the prices of the clones. The SB 486B model was being listed at 486 yuan, whereas the SB 586 is only half the price at 250 yuan. The latter model seems to plug directly into the controller port in a Famiclone, though unfortunately I don’t have one of these to play with.

Subor Models SB-486B and SB-586

Subor Models SB-486B and SB-586

Information about the Software

Information about the Software

Finally, I just want to say a few final thoughts on the material presented above. To begin, I find it a bit regretful that the quality of these pictures is not the best; however, my cat Richard, had been living up to his name (“Dick”) and my scanner has been in need of maintenance since last December. So for now we have to enjoy these interesting adverts from the quality of an unsteady hand and a ten-year old digital camera.

In addition, I just want to thank my good buddy Pai cui ke, who hooked me up with this stuff. Pai cui ke is a serious collector located in the heart of Europe. A former mechanic gone rogue, this guy went to the deepest parts of China and Hong Kong, joining gangs, sharing drinks, and smoking cigs with members of the triads, all in the name of underground video game greatness. I better shut up for now though, before Pai cui ke or his henchmen aid me in swimming with the fishes. Thanks bro for everything, I hope to send your next shipment sometime soon 🙂

Famicom in the Middle East

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.

Home Computer 3600

Home Computer 3600

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.

Rinco's Quality Guarantee

Rinco’s Quality Guarantee

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.

1996 12 in 1 Game Cartridge

1996 12 in 1 Game Cartridge

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.

Savia 12 in 1 Menu

Savia 12 in 1 Menu

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.

Adnan's Captain Tsubasa 2

Adnan’s Captain Tsubasa 2

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 🙂

A Screenshot from Adnan's Captain Tsubasa 2

A Screenshot from Adnan’s Captain Tsubasa 2

A Screenshot from Adnan's Captain Tsubasa 2

A Screenshot from Adnan’s Captain Tsubasa 2

A Screenshot from Adnan's Captain Tsubasa 2

A Screenshot from Adnan’s Captain Tsubasa 2

TV-Boy

A few weeks ago, a man with a crooked smile nervously approached me.  “You like Game Boy?,” he asked as he passed a bag of games towards me.  “Sure,” I answered, quickly thumbing through the games, “How much?”  He gave me a figure that I felt comfortable with, and I extended my arm, cash in hand.  Moments later, the games were mine, and I hopped a bus bound for home, as fast as I could.  Those games were mine!

Among a sea of crappy titles, I did discover a few diamonds in the rough:  a Waixing RPG, some Sachen games, possibly a Yong Yong game or two.  More interesting though, were the three game cartridges that went with the TV-Boy game machine that I had picked up a few weeks earlier.  Like the Cai System from last post, it felt great to be able to find a game player and the proper software, so that I could try the thing out and see what it was about.

TV-Boy and Games

TV-Boy and Games

Inside of the TV-Boy

Inside of the TV-Boy

In design, the TV-Boy is slightly larger than a Game Boy Color machine, though it is also a bit smaller in size than an original Game Boy.  Stealing the design from the Game Boy, the TV-Boy has an LCD screen with a built in brick game.  In addition to the generic brick game, the TV-Boy is compatible with a series of cartridges, once again inspired by the Game Boy.  The carts are housed in cases that are quite similar to those used by Sachen for their unlicensed Game Boy releases.  Despite the similarities in size and shape, the cartridges are not compatible between the TV-Boy and Game Boy.

TV-Boy Cart VS Sachen GB Cart

TV-Boy Cart VS Sachen GB Cart

Furthermore, the TV-Boy contains AV ports on top, and a controller port on the bottom of the machine, allowing one to connect a generic 9-bit Famiclone joypad.  There is also a spot to plug the TV-Boy into a power supply, or if you desire, you could run the game off of four AAA batteries.  Now that we are done examining the exterior of the device, let’s see what secrets are contained within the game carts.

138 in 1 Multicart

138 in 1 Multicart

As the first cartridge loads up, something familiar stands before my very eyes:  a generic menu with the words “138 in 1” written across the top.  Randomly choosing a game, I scroll down the menu and select “Aladdin III”, which as we both know, is just an alias for Caltron’s Magic Carpet 1001.

Caltron's Magic Carpet 1001

Caltron’s Magic Carpet 1001

I quickly sample a few of the other games as well, before ejecting the cart and throwing in the 76 in 1 game cartridge.  When this one loads up, we are presented with yet another generic menu screen. Pocket Silver is an unlicensed original Pokemon game, which sometimes appears on Famicom multicarts.

76 in 1 Multicart

76 in 1 Multicart

Pocket Monster

Pocket Monster

So yeah, are you guys surprised?  The TV-Boy is nothing more than a Famiclone, and the game cartridges are just NES multicarts packed into Game Boy-style carts.  I have also heard rumors that there is an adaptor for the TV-Boy that allows you to directly connect Famicom carts to the machine, but I can’t confirm this either way.

Overall, the TV-Boy is a fun little Famiclone.  I really like the look of this one, combining both the Famicom and the Game Boy to give the machine a special feel.  On the other hand, the TV-Boy also has a few major flaws.  To begin, the control pad is a bit stiff.  Although I didn’t notice it so much when playing the LCD game, I have noticed it with the NES games.  This isn’t a good thing, but maybe we can just think of it as providing our all-time favorites with a new challenge.  The bigger problem, however, is that the amount of games available for this machine is limited.  No one knows how many of those special multicarts were made, and even 100 different carts were produced, they are so rare these days that the chances of being able to find new games to play is miniscule.  Alas, I guess this isn’t a serious problem either though, as most folks that are purchasing the TV-Boy are probably gamers / collectors like me 😉

Quality Bootleg Videogames

These days, bad thoughts tend to be conjured up when people hear the word “bootleg” or “pirate” in the same phrase as videogames.  Glob tops instead of actual rom chips, plastic cases that easily break when you attempt to remove them from your gaming device – yes, these are the stereotypes that circulate around regarding the forbidden fruit of gaming.

Then there are the other pirate carts, the ones that are so obviously fake that everyone receives a good chuckle when seeing them.  From misspelled words to silly pictures, there is no limit when it comes to pirate carts.  Shoddy craftsmanship doesn’t always extend into the realm of knockoffs, though, and that is what this article hopes to display.

Here are some pictures from my favorite line of pirate Famicom cartridges.  The quality is quite unbelievable.  To begin, each cartridge was packaged with a cardboard box, much like a legitimate Famicom game cart.  The fake boxes are quite a bit smaller though, and as a comparison, one can view pictures of a bootleg Dragon Quest IV [top] and a legitimate version [bottom].

Dragon Quest IV Pirate [TOP], Real Version [Bottom]

Dragon Quest IV Pirate [Top], Real Version [Bottom]

The back of the box also steals elements from a real Dragon Quest IV box, though due to the size difference, some items have been dropped.

Back of the Box Comparison

Back of the Box Comparison

Before comparing the two cartridges, I just want to take a brief moment to discuss the situation with bootleg game boxes.  Nowadays, it is quite rare to find bootleg games with their original cardboard boxes.  In addition to many boxes being mangled and trashed due to improper storage, eager tiny fingers, and natural disasters, a lot of the old bootlegs never even came with boxes.  A lot of times, game shops had the option of purchasing boxes and carts, or just loose carts.  Due to the latter option being cheaper, it was quite popular, especially after the popularity of the Famicom started to wane.  And that just makes me love these “boots with boxes” all the more.

A quick comparison of the two game cartridges shows that the pirate cart is actually larger than its legitimate brother.  The plastic used to make the game shells is quite thick though, and sturdy.  The board is full sized, and of course contains real rom chips.  Simply put, this cart is solid as a brick, and is built just as well as a real Famicom cart.

Cartridge Comparison

Cartridge Comparison

I have no idea the actual name of the company that produced these cartridges, but they seem to have produced a nice handful of games.  Dodgeball 2, the Kunio soccer game, Dragon Quest IV, Koei strategy games, multicarts, etc.  – if there was a market for the game, it probably saw some sort of release.

Dodge Ball 2, Soccer, Dragon Quest IV

Dodge Ball 2, Soccer, Dragon Quest IV

Below you can see a picture of the carts that I currently own from this company.  Even the 3 in 1 multicart looks a bit more professional with its label design than some of the carts that I have seen.  And for those who are curious, the cart sans label is one of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games.

Quality Pirate Carts

Quality Pirate Carts

Typically, pirate carts aren’t as good as the real version.  There can be a million different quality issues going on with bootleg carts, and you never can be sure about the quality of the product you are going to receive; however, some companies did take the time and effort to make a quality product, even if it was meant for the black market, and those carts are worthy of being recognized.