Challenging Chinese Kung Fu Dragons: The Color Dreams Game That Could Have Been

IMG_7318

The blurred lines and murky relationships between Joy Van and Sachen, Color Dreams and Sachen, and many of the other independent developers from the golden era of gaming have always been interesting to me. At that time, it seemed as though every unlicensed developer or publisher was sleeping with every other company of a similar background; Share Data games have been found in Color Dreams shells, Wisdom Tree development copies have been found on Tengen boards. And prototypes from the Taiwanese developers have turned up stateside. That’s the origin of the Chinese Kung Fu prototype that is now in my possession.

Another collector had purchased a bunch of scrap items from Wisdom Tree, the religious company that Color Dreams had eventually become. Among those items was a Sachen pcb containing the aforementioned game. I saw the item come up for grabs, and I immediately messaged the owner to inquire about the provenance of the item. When it comes to purchasing items such as prototypes and other rarities, the origins of the item are king. After learning about the history of the cartridge, I felt confident enough in the legitimacy of the item to make the purchase. At that point, all that was left was a few weeks of agony before I could check out the cartridge firsthand. There are several interesting things to note about the game, but first we need to take a trip back in time to around 1988.

The video game behemoth first stepped on the scene in 1988, according to their former website. By November of that year, Thin Chen Enterprise would begin advertising for their first Famicom release, Jovial Race, and it would see the light of day early the next year. Jovial Race would be the first of Thin Chen’s TC series of unlicensed Famicom / Nintendo games. Hidden Chinese Chess would appear next, followed by Sidewinder, Little Red Hood, and several other titles. Business would continue as usual, all the way through TC-010, Mahjong Trap. After this title, things at Thin Chen Enterprise would be shaken up a bit, and it would be the start of Sachen’s legacy.

The original ten Thin Chen games (TC-001 through TC-010) were all credited to a company known as Joy Van. The company’s distinctive JV logo could be spotted on the game’s original packaging, and the copyrights were always to Joy Van. The name on the back of the box, however, would be various spellings of “Thin Chen Enterprise”. TC-011, Chinese Kung Fu, would be the next in the Thin Chen series of games. Like its predecessors, this game also had a Joy Van logo on the box, but unlike the others, the code appearing within would be a bit different.

When one loads up the original versions of Chinese Kung Fu, he or she is greeted by the following words: Sachen ©1989 Copy Right. It is precisely with this game where Joy Van disappears from the scene forever; every future release is credited to either Sachen or Thin Chen Enterprise. If you can manage to make it to the end of Chinese Kung Fu, you will see that a Joy Van logo will appear on the credits screen. So what happened to Joy Van?

A friend of mine, MLX, had the following information to share, which he had obtained from someone close to the company: “Joyvan and Sachen merged and the boss of Joyvan created Idea-Tek.” Although this information is undoubtedly correct, I personally feel that the situation may have been more complicated than that.

For instance, Thin Chen Enterprise and Sachen have been synonyms for each other since the formation of the company, yet the Sachen name only makes an English appearance after Joy Van leaves the scene, and this is on both packaging and in-game logos / copyrights. Strangely enough, it was only after the merger that Thin Chen acquired a second location. Starting with TC-012 (The World of Card Games), two addresses are listed on the back of the Thin Chen game boxes, namely one for development and the other for manufacturing. The timing of these changes could have been coincidental, but they are still worth mentioning. Perhaps the most intriguing thing concerning the Thin Chen / Joy Van circumstances is the following: sometime during the 90s, Micro Genius (another game developer / publisher) acquired the rights to and published several of Idea-Tek’s original games. It makes me wonder if the so-called Joy Van / Thin Chen merger was more comparable to the Idea-Tek / Micro Genius situation, where the rights to JV’s catalog of software was just sold to Thin Chen. Who knows, maybe the Joy Van company was little more than a small development team that got purchased in a buyout.

Either way, the merger seems to have occurred around the middle of August of ’89, shortly before Chinese Kung Fu was released. The boxes were already designed and printed, and but the program itself would be modified, with Joy Van logos removed and Sachen information inserted. The game would then appear on shelves, sitting awkwardly as the one mismatched game in a sea of uniformity. That basically brings our Joy Van / Thin Chen / Sachen story to a close, for now. But Chinese Kung Fu has its own interesting quirks, which are worth mentioning as well.

I cannot say it in any other way than this: not all versions of Chinese Kung Fu are created equal. Going against what was previously thought, the original version of the game mimics the Double Dragon series quite nicely, with the champion being able to make use of a flying side kick, among other fighting moves. This feature was edited out of the 1989 Sachen version of the game, and it was replaced with a simple jump. When Chinese Kung Fu was distributed by Spica in Australia and New Zealand, the guys and Thin Chen decided to wise up and re-implement the flying side kick, using the original version of the game, and leaving the horrid Taiwanese release back on the island. This version of the game has a 1990 copyright. It is also worth mentioning that there have been some rumors circulating around that the side kick is just an exclusivity for the later versions of the game; this is a wrong assumption, however, as screenshots from the earliest advertisements all depict the main character using this move.

Advertisement Photograph - Note the Flying Side Kick and Item Bar

Advertisement Photograph – Note the Flying Side Kick and Item Bar

At some point, Thin Chen would also shop this title around for publication in Western markets, and they had offered Color Dreams the chance to publish the game in America. For whatever the reason, Color Dreams declined, and the game never made it to Western markets on 72 pin Nintendo format outside of the limited quantities of carts that Thin Chen themselves were able to distribute through unorthodox channels. For this market, the game also underwent a name change, as Challenge of the Dragon. And for those who are wondering, this version of the game also included the original game code, giving our protagonist the use of the important flying kick.

Advertisement Photograph - Note the Flying Side Kick and Item Bar

Advertisement Photograph – Note the Flying Side Kick and Item Bar

But wait!!! Wasn’t there a Challenge of the Dragon game released in America on Nintendo?!? There sure was, but it wasn’t the Thin Chen game. Color Dreams developed that game in-house and published it. Although the two games are of a similar style and share the same name, they are totally different products. So which Challenge of the Dragon came first? Both versions were released in 1990 so it’s hard to say. I tried reaching out to the programmer of the Color Dreams game to ask about the origins of the game’s name, but sadly I never heard back. As with this game title, there was some other borrowing going on between Thin Chen and Color Dreams. Thin Chen published a game titled Raid (published in America by Color Dreams as Silent Assault) and Color Dreams developed a game in-house titled Raid 2020. Again, both games could be classified as being similar, yet they are both totally different products. Thin Chen’s changing of Chinese Kung Fu to Challenge of the Dragon most likely was to help aid in sales on Western shores. Knowing that Thin Chen / Joy Van had brought the game to the attention of Color Dreams, it seems quite possible that Color Dreams may have even considered publishing the game themselves. Looking at it from this perspective, it’s fair to say that Chinese Kung Fu could be viewed sort of as a “lost” Color Dreams game.

When it comes to Chinese Kung Fu, I am terrible at the game. I played through all of the Double Dragon games as a child and although this one feels like a direct sequel to those games, the difficulty has been increased. So when it comes to making comparisons and searching for differences between the prototype that is in my possession and the retail version of the game, it will be an on-going process. I have made a few interesting discoveries though.

To begin, my prototype is an elusive Joy Van version of the game. The title screen still has the Joy Van logo and copyright, showing that the game was most definitely supposed to be part of the Joy Van series before the so-called merger took place. In addition, when you head to the game itself, there is a major difference that I have noticed. All of the weapons seem to be available from the start. By pressing start and then select, you can change the item in the box, and cycle through about five different items. Excluding the heart, each item has a power bar, which I presume is meant to decrease as the item is used.

Chinese Kung F u Prototype - Notice the Joy Van Copyrights

Chinese Kung Fu Prototype – Notice the Joy Van Copyrights

This setup may not be fully implemented in my copy of the game though, as I can’t figure out how to “use” the items even after selecting them. I’ve watched a few videos of folks playing through the game online, but in those versions of the game, the special items seem to be displayed elsewhere, and the weapon display in the Joy Van game is MIA. Maybe this is just an unfinished feature in the prototype, or perhaps it is also a retail game thing that no one really knows about. Due to the obscurity of the game itself, it is not something that is easy to determine for certain, though a similar system also appears in some old advertisement photos.

IMG_7315

Chinese Kung Fu Prototype

Despite its flaws, Chinese Kung Fu is one of the better Thin Chen games. When one overlooks the difficulty problem, the game can be seen as a nice sequel to Double Dragon. The music is mediocre at best, but the graphics are beautifully drawn, presenting one with a Chinese-style Double Dragon game.

In addition, the game sits at the crossroads in the history of Joy Van, Thin Chen, and Sachen. It also represents a product that could have been part of unlicensed canon in the United States, but was never meant to be for unknown reasons. Rich in history, revisions, and mediocre gameplay, Chinese Kung Fu would make it on my list of Thin Chen games worth checking out.

The Many Variants of Sachen

As a collector, I hate variants. One game has a black shell and the next version has a green one. Or maybe the one game is a newer revision of an older version, designed to fix a bug or a minor spelling mistake. Then there are the guys that collect extremely minor variants of design, including things such as the number of screws the game has in its cartridge. I love collecting games, but something about spending hard-earned money to track down minor game variants seems a bit incomprehensible and mysterious to me, though I know there are plenty of folks that do enjoy this enormous task. For me though, I just stick to collecting publisher variations usually, though with the Sachen games I did decide to pick up some of their various label variants.

 

Penguin and Seal (SA-002)

Penguin and Seal Comparison

Penguin and Seal Comparison

This game was originally released under its Chinese name, Dong Dong Nao 1. The game would then be reworked and released internationally on the NES, and a rerelease (the cartridge pictured on top) would make its way to the Famicom as well, as Penguin and Seal.

Dong Dong Nao 1

Dong Dong Nao 1

Penguin and Seal

Penguin and Seal


Pyramid (SA-009)

Pyramid and Pyramid (Censored)

Pyramid and Pyramid (Censored)

The original version of Sachen’s notorious puzzler can be seen on the bottom. Nudity would then be added to the game, and Pyramid would be released in Japan by Hacker International. The top cart contains the Hacker version of the game, though this revised version seems to have been distributed outside of Japan by Sachen themselves.


Millionaire (SA-012)

Who Wants to Play Millionaire?

Who Wants to Play Millionaire?

The two Millionaire variants are quite superficial. The games seem to be the same, outside of the obvious label change.


Mahjong Companion (SA-027)

Mahjong Companion

Mahjong Companion

The cartridge on top shows what a typical Mahjong Companion game looks like. In addition, many Sachen carts marked as “Padillon Gais” have turned up, and although the label art and name suggest that this is a Sachen (Asian) release of their Incantation shooter game (which had nudity added and had also been renamed Padillon Gals before being released by Hacker International in Japan), all of the Padillon Gais carts that I have run across contain Mahjong Companion.

It seems to me that Sachen may have been planning on doing a rerelease of Incantation (similar to what they did with Pyramid), but that it never happened, so the game cases were reused.


Raid (TC-005)

Raid vs Silent Assault

Raid vs Silent Assault

The top cart contains the original Raid game. At some point, the game’s name was changed to Silent Assault (this is the same as the Color Dreams game), and a limited run of the English version of the game managed to find itself onto 60 pin cartridges.

Raid

Raid

Silent Assault

Silent Assault


Mahjong Trap (TC-010)

Mahjong Trap

Mahjong Trap

Of all the games showcased on this page, Mahjong Trap’s changes were probably the most significant. The bottom cartridge shows the original Mahjong Trap game. It was developed and published by Joy Van, before the aforementioned company merged with Sachen.

Mahjong Trap (Hacker Version)

Mahjong Trap (Hacker Version)

Mahjong Trap (Hacker Version)

Mahjong Trap (Hacker Version)

Mahjong Trap (Hacker Version)

Mahjong Trap (Hacker Version)

After the merger, the game would receive a second release. Mahjong Trap was reworked, much like Pyramid, and the game would be published (again) in Taiwan, and would also find release in Japan, once again thanks to Hacker International.

Mahjong Trap (Joy Van Version)

Mahjong Trap (Joy Van Version)

Mahjong Trap (Joy Van Version)

Mahjong Trap (Joy Van Version)

Mahjong Trap (Joy Van Version)

Mahjong Trap (Joy Van Version)

Of the two games, the reworked version of Mahjong Trap feels much more polished, to be honest. Although the heart of the game hasn’t changed one bit, the music has been changed, and the cut scenes have also been updated.


Street Hero (TC-027)

Samurai Spirits and Street Hero

Samurai Spirits and Street Hero

I am even hesitant to mention this one, but I will anyway. The game seems to have started out as Street Hero, but then it was also published as Samurai Spirits. The only difference in this game is the name on the outside label of the game. The pictures above show the two games on top of each other, but please note that the label on my Street Hero is not the “standard” label. Towards the end, Sachen just used whatever they had lying around to produce their games, and my copy of Street Hero is unfortunately from that era.

It is also worth mentioning that Rex Soft would later take Sachen’s Street Hero game and rework it for their own release of Samurai Spirits.


Gaiapolis (TC-029)

Gaiapolis

Gaiapolis

Gaiapolis seems to be one of the more popular Sachen releases. Although the top cart’s shell looks rather generic, this version of the game actually came with a nice cardboard box. The bottom cartridge is a special oversized Sachen case. The code itself seems to be identical.


Rocman X (TC-030)

I didn’t bother to take any pictures of this one, but Sachen’s Rocman X was also distributed under the name Thunder Blast Man. The Game Boy Rocman X game received the same treatment, receiving both Rocman and Thunder Blast Man versions. Regarding the 8-bit version though, it seems as though Thunder Blast Man was only distributed on 72 pin format, thus the game only exists in Famicom format as Rocman X.


Millionaire II (TC-032)

Millionaire 2

Millionaire 2

The last game I will mention is Millionaire II. The game was marketed as Zhong Guo Da Heng and as Millionaire II, but aside from the cosmetic differences, the two games are the same.

Hopefully this list is useful to those of you that are actively trying to collect the Sachen games. We already thought there were too many of these games to collect, and now there are another ten different carts to search out. Good luck!

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

Pyramid – The Gift that Keeps Giving

Sometime in the distant past, I remember having read an article from a gaming magazine that was published during the early 90s.  There was about to be some sort of commotion in the gaming world, as there was a new player on the scene:  American Video Entertainment was the name of the company, and they were prepared to release two new Nintendo puzzlers to the market, namely Puzzle and Pyramid.  Normally this would be a snoozer, but these games were different – unlike the majority of games for play on your Nintendo Entertainment System, these were rebels, these were unlicensed.

For those that have played Pyramid before, the history surrounding the game appears to be quite evident:  another puzzle game (Tetris) had become a smash hit for families worldwide, so other entrepreneurs wanted to ride on the coattails of its success.  Yup, this would include the folks at Sachen:  enter the Tetris game from Hell.

Pyramid is a Tetris clone, which was developed by the folks at Tetris.  The game was published in 1990, and was distributed around the globe.  Sachen handled the distribution in Taiwan, American Video Entertainment released 72 pin copies for the American Nintendo market, and the game also made its way to Australia, being published by Home Entertainment Suppliers.  Today we will exam three Famicom versions of the game.

Pyramid X 3

Pyramid X 3

There is nothing better than to start at the beginning, and for in this situation, cartridge A is the beginning.  This is the original version of Pyramid.  The game was published by Sachen in 1990, and was released in the 60 pin Famicom format.

Pyramid Title Screen

Pyramid Title Screen

In terms of gameplay, the game is a decent Tetris clone, albeit a difficult clone.  Unlike the original Tetris game, the pieces in this game are just too damn difficult to put together.  If you examine the picture below, you will know exactly what I am talking about.  For those of us that have played this game before, we all know that the ¾ diamond shaped pieces are the worst.  There is basically nowhere you can place these beasts, without messing up your entire gameplay.  And if you get two or three of this particular shape in a row, you are basically screwed.

The Dreaded 3/4 Diamond

The Dreaded 3/4 Diamond

Pyramid’s release wouldn’t be confined to Taiwan and the USA however; Japan would also be gifted with a version of this game, though their version would have an added bonus:  nudity.  In conjunction with Sachen, Hacker International would release a revamped version of the pyramid puzzler for the Japanese market.  Of the three Pyramid carts pictured earlier, this specimen is the one labeled “C”.

Pyramid - With Nudity

Pyramid – With Nudity

Unlike the introduction screen for the original Pyramid game, the Hacker International version of the game also credits Hacker International in the beginning credits.  From there, the gameplay seems to be the same as the original Sachen version of the game.  In Hacker style, however, after completing several rounds of the game, you are greeted with some racy pics of 8-bit beauties; although I suck at the game and haven’t confirmed it for myself, the pics taken from the Hacker International box for Pyramid suggest that this is true.  Please check them out below.

Hmm...Interesting

Hmm…Interesting

Now let’s skip back to the other Pyramid cart showcased above, the one labeled as “B”.  I had purchased this one in an auction, and it came with a generic-looking box.  The cartridge itself was an official Sachen cartridge, however, and so was the pcb.  When I loaded up the cartridge, I received quite a surprise:  the splash screen featuring both Sachen AND Hacker International appeared!  I suck at Pyramid too much to be able to confirm it 100%, but it seems as though Sachen had ALSO published a version of Pyramid that was laced with nudity.  I have no idea if this was meant for the Taiwanese gaming market or for some other foreign market though.

Our story doesn’t end there, however; students of English would also be unfortunate enough to stumble upon Sachen’s game.  Another Sachen game, titled Middle School English, would contain Pyramid as an Easter egg of sorts.  Below is the title screen for Middle School English.

Middle School English

Middle School English

This game is quite easy.  At the beginning of the game, you can select the level at which you want to study.  The game will then display a few (simple) phrases in English, as well as the Chinese translations.  You will then be quizzed, and you will be asked to type the English meanings of several of these phrases.

Xie Xie Ni - Thank You

Xie Xie Ni – Thank You

If you fail to answer the questions correctly, you lose the game and the game will reset to the title screen.  If you are successful at answering most of the questions, however, you will be granted access to some real gaming:  Pyramid.

Mini Game

Mini Game

Interestingly enough, this version of Pyramid starts you on Level 2, with only 2 bombs.  My guess is that the developers at Sachen realized that there would be some kids, which would become Pyramid champions – their parents would then become pissed that the students would spend hours on playing Pyramid, the mini game, as opposed to the English-learning program.  Therefore, the quick fix would be to ramp up the difficulty and call it a day.

To be quite frank about it, Pyramid could have been a decent game, but it has some serious flaws, which drag it down.  Unless you are looking for 8-bit boobies, I would recommend skipping this one and playing the sequel, Pyramid II, instead; unlike its predecessor, Pyramid II has improved upon many of the faults of the original game.

Exploring Sachen’s Game Boy Releases – Part II

I highly recommend that you read Exploring Sachen’s Game Boy Releases – Part I of this article, from yesterday, before proceeding with reading this article.  I think it will make things a bit easier to understand, when discussing these old Sachen games.

Sachen Monochrome GB Releases

Sachen Monochrome GB Pretender Releases

Yesterday, I showed you a picture of what I said was a set of monochrome Sachen games, CIB.  The truth is…I lied to everyone.  When examining the games in closer detail, I came to realize that most of those carts were simply the Color 4 in 1 game packs, housed inside the wrong cases.

Sachen Game Boy Cart Progression

Sachen Game Boy Cart Progression

The above diagram clearly depicts what I am talking about:  Sachen’s original run of monochrome multicarts on Game Boy used the labels seen on the games on the left side of the diagram.  By following the red arrows across, we see that some Sachen 4 in 1 Color cartridges were improperly placed inside the old cases originally used for the monochrome games.  Unfortunately, one cannot differentiate whether the game is the original (monochrome) version, or the rerelease (Color) version, without loading up the game and physically checking whether it says “Color” on the game selection menu, has copyrights from 1993 or 1999, etc.  Another way of determining which Sachen game you have (the black and white version, or the color version) is to try to play the game on a Game Boy Color.  The original monochrome carts will not work on a Game Boy Color machine.  Finally, by following the last red arrow along the diagram, we see what a standard 4 in 1 Color cart looks like, which has a different label art and is clearly marked as a color version.

In my opinion, the green arrows reveal the reason why these mislabeled carts exist.  After making the black and white carts, Sachen decided to revamp their code and then remarket it for the Game Boy Color.  After running out of the proper cases for their carts, they decided to use up their extra 4 in 1 monochrome cart cases and labels.  For those who collect Sachen games, this is a typical move from that company.

The two true Sachen monochrome 4 in 1 carts I purchased in Taiwan.  The imposters, aka the 4 in 1 Color carts with the mismatched labels, were purchased online from a seller in Portugal, who had found a small cache of the Sachen carts.  I imagine that many other collectors purchased a set of carts from that seller as well, thinking that they were getting the original versions, but it turns out they are just the Color rereleases.  Bah, I never would have seen this coming, but it is Sachen we are talking about.  Now it’s time to sell my duplicate carts.

Exploring Sachen’s Game Boy Releases – Part I

With so many Sachen Game Boy variants floating around the world, I believe that it might be of some use for the collector if these releases were examined more closely. Just today, I discovered that I even ended up owning basically two sets of what turned out to be the same product, and thus I hope to shed some light on the variants and releases floating around out there, so that people can make a better decision as to which Sachen Game Boy carts they want to collect.

Sachen, aka Thin Chen Enterprises, seemingly became involved in the development of software for handheld gaming devices during the early 1990s, possibly in 1992. Thin Chen initially ported several of its Famicom games to the Watara Supervision, an obscure handheld machine, which, at the time, had been hyped up to be a major competitor to Nintendo’s highly-popular Game Boy. In addition to the ports from its Famicom library, Thin Chen would also design a few new titles, which would be released on the Supervision.

By 1993, Sachen would branch out and develop games for several other portable gaming machines, including the Mega Duck and its equally obscure cousin, the Cougar Boy. It was during this time that Sachen would also begin developing games for the Game Boy, which were advertised under Sachen’s alias, Commin.

During this time period, roughly forty different Game Boy games would be developed.  Most of these games are strikingly similar to their counterparts for the Mega Duck / Cougar Boy machines, though the MD/CB games are not physically compatible with the GB, and vice versa.  Which release came first is anyone’s guess, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the games were indeed compatible with each other on a programming level, thus being developed and subsequently hacked or something along that lines.  Below is a list of games that Sachen developed for the original Game Boy:

-’94 Explosive Brick
-2nd Space
-Ant Soldiers
-Armour Force
-Arctic Zone
-Black Forest Tale
-Bomb Disposer
-Captain Knick Knack
-Crazy Burger
-Deep
-Dice
-Don Laser
-Duck Adventure
-Electron World
-Flea War
-Hong Kong’s Mahjong
-Japan’s Mahjong
-Magic Tower
-Maze
-Pile Wonder
-Puppet Knight
-Railway CMD
-Sky Ace
-Small Gorilla
-Snake Boy
-Store Tris
-Street Rider
-Suleiman’s Treasure
-Taiwan’s Mahjong
-Trap & Turn
-Trouble Zone
-Vex Block
-Virus Attack
-Worm Visitor
-Zip Ball
-Zoo Block

The above-mentioned 36 games were released on 4 in 1 multicarts for the black and white Game Boy machine, and were released in boxes such as the ones seen below.  These cartridges were exported across the globe, and each pack included an English manual, as well as a localized manual in a variety of languages, such as German and Portuguese.  Some of the 4 in 1 game packs were also published in Germany and distributed there by Nic Nac Electronic-Land.  These cartridges are housed within special cardboard boxes, containing German text.  They look nothing like the boxes shown below.

Sachen Monochrome GB Releases

Sachen Monochrome GB Releases

Tucked away inside one of the above 4 in 1 boxes was a flier from Commin Games, which advertised some of their game releases.  To quote to advert, “Searching for cool Game Boy – compatible games?  Here you are!”  The flier then goes on to displaying twenty different single-cart Game Boy releases, each with a part number B—.  At first blush, one might believe that this flier was really advertising the Mega Duck / Cougar Boy games, since the titles listed were only released on the Game Boy in the four packs discussed above.  On the other hand, the part numbers do not properly match with the Mega Duck / Cougar Boy releases, and the flier also specifically mentions Game Boy in its opening line.  Does this mean that there are about twenty different single cartridge Sachen games for Game Boy, which are so obscure that no one has yet to find them?  While I would love if this were indeed the case, findings thus far have shown other evidence that these carts actually exist.  Hmm.

Mock up for Beast Fighter

Mock up for Beast Fighter

The most interesting cart shown on that flier is Beast Fighter.  Beast Fighter would not be released during this time, and would only eventually be released on the Game Boy, seven years later (in the year 2000).

During the first few years in the 21st century, Sachen was still around, cranking out new game products.  During this time they released several new Game Boy games, including Beast Fighter, Street Hero, Thunder Blast Man (aka Rocman X), Jurassic Boy 2, and 2002 Gedou Zhanlue, which would be their final game release.  These games would be released for the Game Boy Color, though most of them are backwards compatible with the Game Boy.

From the pictures below, one can easily identify the local and international versions of the game.  The copies sent abroad were packaged in the larger, square boxes, whereas the Taiwanese cartridges were housed in the smaller, petite boxes.  Interestingly enough, while some of the boxes indicate that they contain multilingual instruction manuals, they don’t.  The international versions contain English as a lingua franca, and then they also have various localized manuals inside as well.  Another large difference between the international and Taiwanese boxes is that the international versions are larger, thus allowing more artwork to be displayed.  Although this is the case, I had my first contact with the Taiwanese versions, and thus prefer the look of those boxes.

Beast Fighter, Taiwanese and International Versions

Beast Fighter, Taiwanese and International Versions

Jurassic Boy, Taiwanese and International Versions

Jurassic Boy, Taiwanese and International Versions

Three Other Taiwanese Sachen Games

Three Other Taiwanese Sachen Games

Now let’s say a few words about the three games displayed in the above picture.  Whereas there is little of interest to discuss concerning Street Hero (it was released in both an international and Taiwanese version), the other two games – 2002 Gedou Zhanlue and Rocman X – have several things worth noting.

2002 Gedou Zhanlue would be the last game published by Sachen.  Unlike their other Game Boy releases, this title never saw the light of day outside of Taiwan (and possibly other Chinese-speaking pockets around the globe).  The game itself is text intensive, and is of little enjoyment to anyone who cannot understand Chinese.  That brings us to one of Sachen’s rarest releases for the Game Boy:  Rocman X / Thunder Blast Man.

Rocman X and Thunder Blast Man

Rocman X and Thunder Blast Man

Thunder Blast Man and Rocman X can be considered the same game.  It seems as though the Rocman X version was released for the Chinese-speaking market, whereas the Thunder Blast Man version would be released abroad, sometimes showing up for auction in Europe.  Either way, aside from a different title screen and changed character sprites, the two games are virtually identical.

Comparison of RMX and TBM

Comparison of RMX and TBM

Hands down, these are two of the rarest Sachen Game Boy games known to exist, and due to being released exclusively in a blister pack, it is almost impossible to find a “complete” copy of Thunder Blast Man for sale.

During Sachen’s reappearance in game development, they would recode their original black and white Game Boy multicart packs, and recode them so that they would be compatible with the Game Boy Color.  These Game Boy Color 4 in 1 packs are the same as the black and white versions, only the menus have been cleaned up a bit, and of course the games now can be enjoyed on a GBC.  The Taiwanese versions were released in blister packs, and so were some of the various international versions, sent across the globe.

Sachen Game Boy Color Games

Sachen Game Boy Color Games

Besides these 4 in 1 multicarts, Sachen would also try to squeeze even more money out of their cash cow by releasing a variety of other Game Boy Color multicarts, which all contain the same material as can be found on the originals.  For example, Sachen teamed up with Home Entertainment Suppliers, and released four different 8 in 1 game packs for the Game Boy, which each combine the games from two of the four in one packs.  Some of these carts eventually made it for sale in Germany, with German manuals.  Of the Sachen Game Boy releases, these carts are my least favorite, as they don’t bring anything new to the table, and the packages are also just so damn ugly.

One of HES's 8 in 1 Game Packs

One of HES’s 8 in 1 Game Packs

More HES 8-in-1 Game Packs

More HES 8-in-1 Game Packs

Then we have two 16 in 1 game cartridges.  When I compared the game lists to the contents of the above carts, I came to realize that the first cartridge (16B-001) is just a combination of the above 8B-001 and 8B-002 carts, whereas the 16B-002 cartridge contains the games from 8B-003 and 8B-004.  These game compilations were released in Taiwan, for sure, and it is unknown whether they made it elsewhere across the globe.

Super 16 in 1

Super 16 in 1

One of the fun things about these two cartridges is that they use a dipswitch located on the top of the cartridge to switch between the two menus, which each contain 8 different games.  This is a throwback to the old Famicom multicarts made by Bit Corp, which used dipswitches to switch between the various titles housed on the cartridge.  So for a quirkiness factor, these carts take the cake!

Nice Switch on this Cart

Nice Switch on this Cart

The largest Game Boy multicart that Sachen would develop was the 31-in-1 Mighty Mix.  This cartridge was another cart developed for release in Australia by HES.  The cart contains Thunder Blast Man, Jurassic Boy 2, and most of the games from Sachen’s black and white catalogue.  Luckily, this game’s packaging is a lot nicer looking than the others published by HES.

So for those who are looking to obtain a complete set of Sachen Game Boy games, this is what I would include on my list:

-The 9 monochrome Game Boy 4 in 1 packs
-The 9 rereleased Game Boy Color 4 in 1 packs
-The 4 8 in 1 HES cartridges
-The 31-in 1 HES cartridge
-The two 16 in 1 game cartridges
-The six single Game Boy Color releases (Beast Fighter, Jurassic Boy 2, Street Hero, 2002 Gedou Zhanlue, Rocman X, and Thunder Blast Man*

*I would personally include Thunder Blast Man on the list, as it is basically a similar situation as Stadium Events and World Class Track Meet are on the NES.  While the two games are very similar, different packages, title screens, sprites, etc. would make me include both of the games on a complete list of Sachen games.