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

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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.

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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.

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Game Genie – Unlock the Power! (A Disorganized Writing)

Sometimes I feel as though collecting for Famicom can be an odd beast, some sort of mythological bird that slips through your grasp time and time again. On the Nintendo side of things, we take a lot for granted, namely the ease at which games are sorted and lists are compiled. There are NTSC games, mostly surfacing in North America, and PAL games. Although there are a few PAL exclusives as well as many which are available in NA only, the mileage covered and countries counted is not so great. And that is what makes Famicom collecting so weird.

On Famicom, the “canon” titles were all released in Japan. Some of those titles were then exported to other Asian countries, but they are still part of the “core” collection. But then Taiwan, Hong Kong, and possibly other countries received some official licensed variants that never made it to Japan. And when it came to unlicensed games…Korea had it’s own set of exclusives, as did Russia, Taiwan, China, and so on. It is no longer a two-continent battle; the availability of Famicom titles varied drastically by region, with the scope and range being much broader than anything on the 72 pins side. Enter, Game Genie.

I honestly believe that aside from the most hardcore of the bunch, most collectors and gamers reading this page will shit themselves when they learn that the infamous Game Genie cheat device swam around in Famicom waters, as well as the Nintendo ones. Everyone can recall the notoriety surrounding Codemaster’s Game Genie: there was the lawsuit from Nintendo, the delayed release times in the United States, and the antagonistic “Thank You Canada!” adverts plastered throughout Canadian media, receiving none of Nintendo’s oppression in the great country up north. And as we all know, after a long and tireless fight, Galoob would eventually market the Game Genie in the States, every kid could finally discover what was on the other side of the flagpole in Super Mario Bros., and life would be complete. But the Game Genie was not finished with its journey – there was still one last adventure for it, and it was the 60 pins ride.

Game Genie on Famicom

Game Genie on Famicom

You see, Codemasters has an intimate relationship with Asia…at least their unlicensed works do. As many might recall, childhood Codemasters favorites such as Micro Machines and Dizzy would make an appearance on the Nintendo, though those games would be somewhat “special”. Instead of appearing in gray game cartridges, these titles found themselves locked inside magical gold or silver cartridges, complete with a special switch on the back. For the European market, the cartridge design was even funkier, and the programmes were housed in Game Genie-esque carts. Yes, I used the British spelling since we are referencing a company hailing from the UK 🙂 Simply put, these carts were unlicensed, released without Nintendo’s approval.

What does this have to do with Asia? To sum things up simply, Taiwan and Hong Kong were the go-to places for unlicensed game companies, when it came to accessing a healthy supply of IC chips and PCBs. As such, the Camerica-published (and Codemasters developed) Nintendo games all contain PCBs manufactured from the aforementioned region.

Even more interesting, though, is the fact that the same manufacturer (BIC, and later Realtec) had also purchased the rights to the whole line of Codemasters’ Nintendo software. As such, Micro Machines was released on Famicom, as well as Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy, Ultimate Stuntman, and other fan favorites. In fact, some of the Nintendo multicart-exclusive Codemasters titles were released on Famicom in single cart packages. The largest area of distribution seems to have been Poland, with the basic Pegasus package containing a 5 in 1 cartridge of Codemasters goodness.

The artwork on these Famicom Codemasters games can be a bit quirky, and thus they seem to be unofficial products; however, they were all licensed by Codemasters themselves. In my own personal opinion though, these Famicom version are much harder to track down than their 72 pin cousins.

Realizing that Codemasters had an enterprising business running in Asia, it comes as no surprise that their Game Genie cheat device would also make an appearance on the 60 pin format; however, this device is much rarer than it’s 72 pin relative.

One of mis amigos, Danilo, helped me to obtain one of these Famicom Game Genies for my collection – I love you bro, and hope I can help you out as well! Since the Game Genie I possess traveled from Argentina to Taiwan, making a brief pit stop in Chile, I am unsure how this compares to locally-distributed versions, but alas I will talk about what I have as well as what I know.

Game Genie was heavily promoted in Taiwan, judging by the adverts and reviews in gaming magazines of the time. Both Famicom and Sega versions made it to Asian shores, though I have never seen any mention or evidence of Game Boy or Super Famicom Game Genies existing. Likewise, although Game Genie was heavily promoted in these parts, I’ve never seen one for sale, outside of South America. Take it for what it’s worth.

The Game Genie I possess comes in a box quite similar to that of it’s 72 pins brethren; English is prevalent up and down the box, as well as French (perhaps this is the remnant of Game Genie’s Canadian launch?). The box just seems to be a 90s “photoshop” edit of the original, with Camerica replaced with Realtec. In addition, a code book is included, though of course it is the generic Camerica version. This is not all too surprising, considering the fact that some of the BIC / Realtec Famicom releases contained Camerica-version boxes and instruction manuals. The reuse of materials is appalling, to be quite frank about it.

On a more interesting note, the package also included a second code book containing cheats for games off of a 76 in 1 multicart. I am quite curious, will these codes work on the original versions of the games? Or will they only work on the multicart versions? This is something I will have to check out later.

Otherwise, there is little to say about this device. It is just Game Genie. Because I grew up without using a Game Genie (I only got a Game Genie for the Nintendo in 1998 or 1999), I don’t have a large use for this item, since I don’t feel a need to cheat myself through the older games. I do particularly love Game Genie for allowing me to access secret areas of games though. But I love the Famicom’s Game Genie even more, for what it is is: a Western device that ended up making it to Eastern shores as an obscure footnote in gaming history.

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

The Unofficial Waixing Science and Technology Game Catalog

Two weeks ago I became temporarily under house-arrest, thanks to the sudden realization of a dream.  For the longest time I had wanted to own a pet cat, and I had been in talks with my girlfriend about this.  A few weeks back, we visited an adoption agency on a whim and when we had gone in, I could see in my girlfriend’s eyes that we weren’t leaving without one of the kitties.  And we did.

Now being responsible for a two month old kitten, I have been trying to juggle my time between work and tending for him (Richard).  In some ways, this has put a cramp in my style – instead of hopping on a random train during the weekend and seeing where I end up, in some town far, far away, I need to stay close to home, so that I can feed Richard his breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack.  On the other hand, being close to the house forces me to think of ways to entertain myself locally, and that is where the Waixing guide comes into play.

As a few of my collector / gamer buddies know, I have been talking about writing a guide for the Waixing games since the summer.  Since Richard arrived and I was trapped at home, I have been slaving away at designing a catalog of sorts, which attempts to showcase all of their games.  It is a checklist, but I also have hopes of turning it into a guide that will be very useful for gamers too, which have a mild interest in Waixing’s products.

To download my guide, please click the link below:

The Unofficial Waixing Science and Technology Game Catalog

I hope someone will find this guide useful, and if you have any comments or information to add, please let me know.  Thanks!

A wii Experience for the Famicom? Presenting the Dynavision Extreme

About a week and a half ago I was browsing around eBay one evening, as I had nothing better to do.  I then stumbled upon a seller that I had fond memories of, going back to my NES collecting days of long ago.  I decided to take a look through the seller’s current selection of wares, though it was more for simple curiosity rather than with serious intent on making a purchase.  My NES collecting days are way over and most of his items were related to the notorious gray box.  I thought I was going to escape my browsing session without doing any damage towards my wallet, but then I saw something that caught my eye.  There was one Famicom item for sale, published by the Brazilian game company Dynacom, and the auction was for a soccer / boxing multicart.  I figured that the game was just Nintendo’s Soccer and an old boxing game slapped together in a fancy package, but I instantly felt that something was amiss when I read the auction description itself.  To quote the seller himself:

“Hello, my name is Dynavision Extreme, and I am a videogame acessory for use with the Famicom console. I was manufactured in Brazil by Dynacom, and I am fully compatible with Famicom top loader consoles. I am in complete condition, new in box. You can use this wireless module on your foot to play soccer, or in your hand to play boxe. The cart comes with a sensor to detect your movements into the game.”

I immediately messaged the seller and he said he was traveling around America at the time, and was unable to take more pictures for me; however, he assured me that the game would run fine in a standard Famicom / Famiclone, and said that yes, the game was just like something on the Nintendo wii.  I felt even more intrigued by the device, and a quick Google search yielded inadequate results.  In the end curiosity got the best of me, and it had killed this cat – did I just make a $70 mistake, or would I be adding another bad ass piece to my growing collection of Famicom oddities?  Only time would tell.

As I was walking to work today, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if that Brazilian game cart arrived today?  I could then experiment with it over the three-day holiday.”  Almost as soon as the thought came into my mind, it was gone; in my opinion, it had been too soon for me to be expecting the package to arrive, especially when coming from Brazil.  But when I walked into work, there it was, sitting on the counter in all of its glory.  The next challenge would be to occupy my time until noon, when I could finally go home and see if I had purchased a gem or a turd.  It was time to find out the truth.

Dynavision Extreme Box

Dynavision Extreme Box

The front of the box just has the words “Boxe Futebol Virtual” listed in Portuguese.  Checking out the side of the box, I am greeted with the following message:  “2 Games Interativos para todos os modelos de Dynavision ou qualquer videogame compativel com Nintendo* 8 bits.”  For those without the Portuguese background, it basically states that the two interactive games are compatible with Dynacom’s own line of Famicom game clones, as well as other game machines that use Famicom games.

Checking out the Specs

So What Do We Get?

Turning to the back, we can see some brief descriptions of the two included games, Futebol Virtual and Boxe Virtual.  There are also photos labeling the various functions on the wrist sensor, as well as a caption that highlights the location of the sensor in the game cartridge itself.  Then it was time to make a decision:  since my Dynavision Xtreme was brand new, it was time to make the hardest decision of my life:  should I remove the shrink-wrap and take the Xtreme to the…well extreme?  Or should I just throw it up on the shelf in its pristine condition, leaving so many questions unanswered?  For those that know me well, the latter choice was no option of mine, so I shouted “Off with its wrap!” and one more cartridge’s virginity had been lost.

IMG_4042

I was a bit taken aback when I popped open the top of the box.  Expecting some secure method of housing game and sensor, I was actually a bit appalled at seeing the two items floating around aimlessly in the box, having fallen free from their restraints en route.  Tucked underneath the box was what seemed to be a manual, but after opening it up and thumbing through it, it turns out that it is a list of video game and electronic shops around Brazil, which were qualified at offering technical services for Dynacom products.  A totally unexpected and a bit of an oddity to include, if you ask me.

The game itself is housed inside an exotic-looking cartridge case, which is of the same design as the other Famicom cartridges that Dynacom produced over the years.  Turning the cartridge over reveals a sensor mounted on the back.  In my opinion, this is a minor design flaw, but we will get to that shortly.  Also included within the package is a small sensor, which you can attach to your wrist or leg via a short Velcro band.  The large button at the top of the bracelet functions as a convenient start button, and the whole unit runs off of a 3 volt lithium battery.

I then did a test run of the game, and you can view the results on the short demonstration video below:

As you can see from the footage above, the seller was right and the Dynavision Extreme does attempt to simulate the interactive nature of a wii game.  There are two gaming options, Soccer and Boxing.  The boxing mode is the best, imo.  The player is presented with a short, one round boxing match against the opponent.  If the player has trouble defeating his / her nemesis, he /s he can practice up in the training mode, where the opponent does not fight back.  Although a bit boring, this mode provides the player with the perfect opportunity to adjust the sensor so that it can provide the most optimal performance.

The soccer game is a bit less appealing to me, however – no matter what I do, I can’t seem to properly time my own kicks with the game, and thus the majority of the time, the sensor does not register my movement.  I then see the ball floating off screen, and I feel as helpless as a person does, when he or she watches as a ball slides towards the gutter during a game of bowling.  There is nothing you can do, but stand there and curse in pain.

Speaking of the sensor, there is a bit of a design flaw with this product.  In order to interact between the wrist strap and the game itself, I need to turn my Famicom around, so that the sensor (which is located on the back of the cartridge) can detect the movement from the wrist strap.  When I first fired the product up, I thought it was faulty, since it wasn’t detecting any hits.  Then I turned it around and the Extreme worked like a champ.  This is a minor complaint, I know, but I hate having to flip my system around every time I want to play this game.

Overall, I am pretty pleased with the Dynavision Extreme.  Although there are a few minor flaws, I think the concept of the games is pretty amazing, and it just demonstrates once again why I love unlicensed game companies so much – they are willing to take the risk and bring to life products that are bigger than life, even if there are a few minor kinks to get straightened out.  Furthermore, I have heard rumors regarding the existence of a ping pong game that uses the same technology as this cartridge, and I am in the process of trying to track it down.  If I can find it, I am sure you guys will see a review of it as well.  Okay guys, I need to get back to some boxing, so I’ll catch you later 🙂

Famicom Does It All: Whac-a-Mole Mats, Karaoke Machines, and Maracas

The possibilities with Famicom are endless…and that is why I like it.  Unlike its counterpart in America and Europe, the Famicom received more add-ons; the zapper, power pad, and ROB the robot were three of dozens of interesting items.  Two or three karaoke peripherals were released on the Famicom, as well as a hammer for playing a whac-a-mole game.  Even some of the mahjong games made use of special controllers.  To this day, new items are being created for the Famicom, and that has led to the production of some very interesting items.

Remember the dance pad craze of the 21st century?  Yup, some companies in China took the liberty to design some dance pads and games that utilized the power of our beloved 8 bit machine.  Then there was the Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds fad.  Yup, you guessed it, the Famicom received ports of those games as well.  And I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if sitting somewhere, in a sketchy shop situated down an alley in mainland China, would be a cheap guitar controller and Famicom cart designed to simulate the “Guitar Hero experience” on the Famicom.  None of these have been found, to my knowledge, but it is only a matter of time.  Until then, we will just have to entertain ourselves with other oddities, such as the Jazz Samba clone machine.

Awhile back, I had discovered a semi-local shop near me that had some Famicom items for sale.  Stopping by one Sunday afternoon, I began browsing through the piles of junk – bras, glassware, shoes, and broken computers, just looking for something of interest.  I then stumbled upon something that appeared to be an odd Famiclone of sorts, the Jazz Simba.  The box showed a cheap-looking Famiclone on the front, as well as some copycat Playstation controllers and a pair of maracas.  Intrigued, I immediately grabbed the box and then rushed home to experiment with the Famicom clone.

Jazz Samba Famiclone

Jazz Samba Famiclone

Popping up the hood of this beast, I was greeted with a familiar sight:  a generic-looking Famiclone, complete with cables and controllers.  To be honest, this wasn’t anything exciting – unlike some of the Asang machines of similar design, this Famiclone didn’t even include any built-in games.  Bummer.  But what about that mysterious box with the words “Jazz Samba, E2000” written on it?  Hmm.

Contents of the Jazz Samba Package

Contents of the Jazz Samba Package

Next I decided to investigate the mysterious Jazz Samba box; after all, the product received its name due to this peculiar box.  Located on the rear of the box is AV out ports, as well as a plug for a power supply.  A tab situated on the right of the box pulls open, revealing the internal guts of the Jazz Samba machine (I thought the tab would open into a battery compartment or something of that nature).  I powered up the machine and was greeted with the following:

Mis Amigos, Cha Cha Cha!

Mis Amigos, Cha Cha Cha!

Cha cha amigo, emar 2000.  What a surprise, what we have is another Famiclone of sorts.  Since the other Famiclone included in the package didn’t make use of included maraca controllers, I guess that maybe this machine will.  The woman holding the maraca on the title screen would be the first clue to this, I guess.

Jazz Samba Song List

Jazz Samba Song List

So I go and get the two maraca controllers, and plug them into the Jazz Samba machine.  I then try to awkwardly maneuver the song selection menu using these controllers.  Each maraca contains one button…the maraca plugged into controller port 1 allows you to confirm the song (i.e. the start button) whereas the maraca plugged into controller port 2 moves the cursor up and down the song menu.  So you need to manipulate both controllers at once, if you want to successfully select any of the 10 songs included in this game.

Dance!  Dance!

Dance! Dance!  Donkey Kong!!!

Okay, so then you choose your song.  Because I am lazy, I will go with the first song, Long Road.  Some catchy music fires up and you are immediately thrown into the game.  While Donkey Kong dances at the bottom of the screen, small circles float towards the rings located in the upper half.  When the ball is inside the ring, shake your maraca and the words “Good” will appear.  If you mess up, you will be greeted with the words “Bad” instead.

The Mysterious Owl Cat

The Mysterious Owl Cat

As you progress through the song, the background screen changes.  As highlighted by the above example (a different song, btw), the screen changes from that of the castle to one inside the castle, where a creepy cat-owl stands perched on a ledge, ready to pounce.  To be quite frank about it, I was sucking at the game in unbelievable proportions.  Even though I kept receiving “Bad” marks, the game didn’t shut me out, in the five minutes or so that I played, so I have to wonder if you can actually lose the game from bad performance.  Next time I host a party, I’ll have to break out the Jazz Samba and then I can find out the answer to this perplexing question.

The truth is that I probably won’t ever be proficient with the Jazz Samba machine.  My rhythm is off too much, and I just don’t have the patience or time to kill an hour or so of my life, playing with this thing over and over again.  For those that are wondering, I am also one of those stereotypical white guys that looks like he is having a seizure when he is “dancing”.  On the other hand, I really like the Jazz Samba for what it represents, for what it truly is:  a unique Famiclone that attempts to mimic the popular games of the newer generations.  Us grandpas that grew up on the original Nintendo can still keep up with the younger generations, thanks to the Samba machine.

Below is a short video of me playing with the Jazz Samba.  I would like to apologize for the quality of the video, as well as for the quality of my gaming.  Holding the camera with one hand, and two maracas with the other makes for a rather poor gaming session, but at least you can check out the music and get a better feel for the game.  Enjoy!

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.

The Amazing World of Keyboard Famiclones [Part I]

I’ve been getting a lot of questions and requests lately regarding keyboard Famiclone machines, so I thought I would comment on a few of the different keyboard models, which I personally own.  To be honest, I am not exactly a huge fan of these machines – while impressive and fun to tinker with from time to time, the actual use of a keyboard Famiclone is quite limited, for a Westerner with a proper computer, and to use the machine solely as a gaming device is also a bit overkill.  Although it can be hard to imagine someone using one of these machines as an affordable alternative to a computer, the keyboard clones are still fun to have around.

Little Com-

Boxed Little Com

Boxed Little Com

My favorite keyboard Famiclone (to date, I have a second potential favorite that we will briefly take a look at later) has to be one that was marketed by Asder during the mid-2000s.  Asder Korea distributed the clone I own, but rumors exist of some Arabic-language variants as well.

Little Com Contents

Little Com Contents

Little Com Printer Port

Little Com Printer Port

One of the first things I noticed about this machine, the Little Com, is the outstanding quality of the product.  Opening the package reveals two joy pads, as well as the main unit itself, a full-sized keyboard made of durable plastic.  Peering towards the back of the machine, I spot a printer port, suggesting that the Little Com could actually be used to print out documents.  Also included is a massive instruction manual, containing information on how to use the machine, programming information and more.  If only I could read Korean!

Main Menu Screen

Main Menu Screen

Powering on the machine loads up a screen, which allows one to access the built-in software included in the Little Com.  Included in the package are a variety of applications, such as several mathematics games, a music program, a text editor, and F Basic and G Basic programming tools.  There are also several games dedicated to teaching children the English alphabet.

Alphabet Hit Marmot

Alphabet Hit Marmot

Text Editor

Text Editor

For a Famicom fanatic like me, though, the most interesting games built into the unit are none other than Porter, Balloon Monster, and Magic Carpet 1001, three of our favorite selections from the infamous Caltron 6 in 1 cartridge.  Since this produce was developed by Asder, all three of these games are legitimately included in this product.

Balloon Monster

Balloon Monster

Magic Carpet 1001

Magic Carpet 1001

Asder would also publish an additional software pack for their keyboard machine, known as the PC-95.  Included on this cartridge are more games aimed at teaching children English.  If you tire from all the computer applications, the machine has a Famicom cartridge slot built in as well, so that you can enjoy playing your favorite Famicom games of yesteryear.

PC-95 Software

PC-95 Software

Word Game

Word Game

Overall, I find this product to be worth the money.  Although a bit limited in capability, the Little Com would be the perfect way to familiarize children to the world of computers.

Cyber Computer-

Cyber Computer

Cyber Computer

Another keyboard Famiclone I have is known as the Cyber Computer.  Unlike the Asder machine, this one looks a bit cheesier.  The Cyber Computer is basically a fake laptop that you plug into your TV.  The built-in keyboard has a cheaper feel to it than that of the Little Com, and unlike the Little Com, there is no additional software or applications built directly into the machine.  Aside from the cheesiness, this machine has nothing going for it.  Let’s move on, shall we?

Diamond Leopard King-

Diamond Leopard King

Diamond Leopard King

Before examining the Famiclone itself, we know that things are going to get a bit ugly just by examining the box.  Although the machine is the Diamond Leopard King, there certainly aren’t any leopards or diamonds in sight.  Instead, we see Shrek and crew in the corner, while a picture of the game machine takes up the other two thirds of the box.

Diamond Leopard King Contents

Diamond Leopard King Contents

Unlike the other two clones examined, this one comes with a mouse.  Yes, now we have a mouse for our Famicom.  The control pads and gun are standard fare.  In terms of quality, the keyboard itself feels very cheap imo, and there are no games built into the machine.  Instead, two cartridges came with the Diamond Leopard King.  The one cart is quite generic, containing many classic Famicom games, whereas the second cart is a bit more interesting.

English/Spanish Translation Game

English/Spanish Translation Game

The 48 in 1 game pack contains many interesting applications.  There is an English-Spanish dictionary, Solitaire, and IPA program, Mine Sweeper, Poker, etc.  As with the Asder programs, it is interesting to see these games on a Famicom cartridge, but I find it hard to imagine that people would actually crank out a game of Mine Sweeper on the Famiclone than on an actual computer.  I can’t really say much else about this machine, as it is PAL formatted, and my TV is only NTSC compatible.  Like the Cyber Computer reviewed previously, the Diamond Leopard King really doesn’t offer much of interest for Famicom collectors.

SB-2000-

SB-2000 Box

SB-2000 Box

The last clone I am going to make mention of tonight is the SB-2000, which was developed by Subor, a Chinese Famiclone manufacturer.  Before continuing forward, I just want to say that I owe Patrick a big thanks for this one, and that I hope to examine this beast closer in the near future, after I get paid (and can thus try some ways of getting around the PAL / NTSC problem).  When I can work around the compatibility issue, I think that I will find that this will become my favorite keyboard Famiclone, kicking the Asder machine to slot two.

The box itself shows the Subor machine hooked up to some sort of monitor, as well as a printer.  From this image, it becomes easy to view the SB-2000 as a valid replacement for a computer from the start.  When I open up the package, I also see a few differences between this machine and the others that I have examined tonight.

SB-2000 Contents

SB-2000 Contents

SB-2000 Disk Drive

SB-2000 Disk Drive

SB-2000 Ports

SB-2000 Ports

Unlike the other keyboard clones, where everything was directly built into the keyboard (sans the controllers), the SB-2000’s keyboard is an add-on, just like everything else.  The controllers, mouse, keyboard, etc. all plug into the disk drive, located at the back of the box.  As well as containing a disk drive (and several floppy disks containing some mysterious programs, which I have yet to discover), the SB-2000 also has a cartridge slot, and a printer port.  The SB-2000 seems to be well-built, and as a machine, certainly appears to be capable of being used as a replacement computer.  I hope to be able to investigate the SB-2000 more in the near future.  And by then, I might also have a few more keyboard Famiclones to examine as well, so stay tuned.

Updated Game Lists

For the past several weeks I have wanted to post some more content here, as I have gotten quite a few interesting things lying around that I would like to share with everyone; however, real life situations have gotten in the way, namely work and training for some races this summer.  And thus I haven’t had time to post anything new.

I did have time to update  two of the game lists I had released previously though.  With the unlicensed game list, I added a few more fighters to the list, and I also removed some duplicate entries, which had originally been included to mark variants.  With the NES games ported to the Famicom by pirates list, I added a few more entries, as I was recently able to confirm a few more game releases.  Both updated lists can be viewed (and printed) below.

Unlicensed Famicom Game List (v. 1.3)

US-Exclusive NES Games Brought to Famicom via Pirate Companies (v. 1.2)