Thursday, 22 January 2009

Quick update

Just a note to say that I've added a gameplay video to the Excite Bike entry. Not 100% happy with the way the video's have turned out so far but its a learning process and I'm sure I'll get there in the end!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race (FDS)

One problem I often come across when it comes to selecting which Famicom game to buy next is actually finding out whether a title is worth purchasing. Usually a quick scout around Google or the Famicom World forums provides plenty of suggestions but there always seems to be the odd game that slips through the net or doesn’t receive much coverage. A quick search on eBay brings up little useful information for F1 Race often the case that the games sequel is mistaken for it but then I guess that’s one of the reasons for this blog. To find and explore these hidden gems that most seem to have passed by.

If it wasn’t for the games sequel I wouldn’t have known that F1 Race even existed and despite the name the two share very little in common besides Mario as a mascot. F1 Race is a top down perspective involving F1 vehicles whilst its successor (FGP 3D Hot Rally) is back behind the vehicle with a choice of Rally cars to drive, two totally different games but from the same series. It was sheer luck that the eBay seller I bought the sequel from had a spare copy of this hanging around and for the small sum of £8 I was sent a pretty decent version. The disk comes with all its original health warning paperwork, manual, case and even the plastic shell cover that protected new titles on shop shelves.

The sharp eyed amongst you may have noticed that the disk is blue with a protective cover over the disk reading section. This works similar to the protective metal sheath on a floppy disk preventing dirt from damaging the disk itself. A God send considering just how easy it can be to damage or wipe the data and it makes me wonder why Nintendo didn’t use these. Some further digging and it appears that Nintendo held several competitions back in the 80’s for its Famicom Disk game series, people would save their highest score (or lap time in this case) to the disk and post it back to Nintendo to win a prize. This ranged from pencil cases to a special release Game & Watch shaped like the Famicom mascot Diskun.

Released in 1987 by Nintendo the game was limited to the Japanese market and from what I could learn on Wikipedia it seems Nintendo did have plans to release the Grand Prix series to other countries but for reasons unknown decided against it, which is sad when you realise just how good the games actually are.

Loading the disk I was presented with a chequered flag motif on the title screen as well as a side scrolling F1 vehicle (take a look at the video to see this in action) which compared to past Famicom games I’ve reviewed is a definite improvement. The two choices we will focus on are time trial and Grand Prix racing, time trial is literally just that. You select a track, the number of laps, other cars and a turbo option then it’s simply a matter of racing around the track trying to get as fast a time as possible. Once finished you save the score to disk and then send it off to Nintendo for a chance to win some prizes. I can’t read a work of Japanese but I can only assume the competition has long since ended!

The Grand Prix section is where the real fun lies. Racing against other cars to gain the fastest lap record each successive win nets you a cash prize that can be used to buy further F1 cars. The controls do take a bit of getting used to with you having to turn the whole car in a direction rather than the steering seeming to curve its just a matter of moments to get past the strange feeling that could even improve as you buy more F1 cars and it wont be long before you are speeding your way past the other racers. It’s not as simple as it sounds however because each car has a level of maintenance or health if you will as well as a lifetime for tyres and having to keep an eye on the fuel gage. The lower each becomes the more unresponsive the car is and you are often faced with the decision of pressing on or risking wasting valuable race time by making a pit stop.

For a Famicom game it does a pretty good job of recreating the Grand Prix experience which stands well in its favour. There is no option for a second player considering the available parts of the track that can be seen at any time it’s understandable. I will say this I’m not a fan of 3D racing games and it’s a joy to go back to the routes of the genre and play some top down racing fun, another game to be added to the regular pile.

On a side note this is the first entry that will include some game play videos. This is all new and I’m experimenting with what I can actually do at the moment but if people would like to see different types of clips then please feel free to post some comments in the requests section. I may even go back and record similar video’s for past blog entries.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Video Updates

Over Christmas I managed to get my hands on a brand new digital camera which is more than capable of producing video. With this in mind I've purchased a tripod and I am planning to add short video's of each game for every entry. I've already started recording a few trial runs so expect to see these additions soon.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Gameboy Advance SP NES Retro Edition

I seem to be getting my hands on lots of different types of NES related hardware recently and I thought I’d share my latest acquisition a Gameboy Advance SP. Seeing as my focus of collecting it’s a joy to find hardware so recent that refers back to the golden age of NES gaming. Styled in a similar fashion to the NES console and pads I simply couldn’t resist picking one up.

The main problem I found once I’d discovered there was a NES version of the SP was actually finding one that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’ve seen prices range as high as £100 on Amazon and eBay so when I stumbled across an auction on eBay for £30 I just had to snap it up. The unit itself has been well used but the screen has been well taken care of and as close to new as you could expect. The top and bottom left corners of black on the control panel have been removed but in my haste I didn’t notice this on the original auction which was a bit of disappointment. At least it has been well done and no markings or scratches where these small corners were trimmed. I can only think the original owner thought it would be an improvement but it makes me wince to think of him hacking away with a pair of scissors no matter how careful he was.

The SP has a responsive D-Pad which feels similar to the NES pad, the usual Select and Start buttons, A and B with a speaker sat in the middle of the control panel. The large black button beneath the screen simply turns the screen light off which is useful for saving power when you are in a particularly bright area. Make no mistake the screen suffers in normal light just like any other Gameboy to date meaning it can be hard to see what’s going on thanks to glare so I’m in the habit of never turning the light off. The SP’s screen displays brilliantly, sharp LCD and no form of bleeding or colour clash. One of the major problems with the original Gameboy was the poor quality display that literally bled a trail of graphics whenever there was movement however that’s not to be seen on the SP. Along the right hand side is a handy on/off switch and the left holds a volume switch which does a fairly decent job when turned up to full. There is no stereo jack socket and you need to buy an adaptor in order to use headphones.

Another major benefit (and the main reason for me looking to part with my GB Color) is the ability to play any GB, GBC or Advance games. As can be seen from the pictures the cartridge slot takes all types of GB games however with the older GB titles they stick a good distance out of the unit’s base. It looks unsightly but thankfully the console is held naturally by the sides so I found the carts don’t tend to cause problems and don’t get in the way. Buy pressing the L or R buttons (hidden away round the back of the console) you whole screen shrinks or grows to fill the entire screen for GB and GBA games. With the screen filled the games do appear to look stretched so I always go for the smaller and more compact screen (as Pikachu is demonstrating in the picture).

This was also the first portable console where Nintendo did away with the need to replace standard batteries including rechargeable lithium ion battery and a charger. Since buying the console I’ve had around 9 hours play (with the light on) without the need for a recharge so the benefits are obvious.

Yes I am now a Pokemon convert. I really wanted a Gameboy title that seems to push the GB to its limits and what better to start with than Pokemon Gold, one of the first 3 Pokemon games for the system. I’m very impressed with the SP it seems perfect for on the go gaming and its NES design appeals to the collector in me. Perhaps one day I will pick up a fully boxed version despite the cost but for now I’m happy to play on with my portable NES.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Excite Bike (Famicom Cart)

With today’s entry you may be wondering why I decided to review the Famicom version of Excite Bike instead of its US or PAL counterparts their is always a risk that Famicom games will be unplayable due to Japanese texts but in this case it seemed there was nothing to worry about as there doesn’t seem to be so much as a single Japanese character in the entire game. My real reason for enough buying the game was thanks to an eBay seller including it with a batch of several cartridges so it really cost me next to nothing. Sadly it was just the cartridge on its own and I had to spend several minutes giving it a good clean before I could even get it to load thankfully a good bit of elbow grease later and the cartridge pins were cleaned, ready to play.

Being one of the earliest and even one of the more popular Nintendo games I don’t think there are many Nintendo fans that haven’t played or heard of Excite Bike. The Famicom version was released in 1984 designed by the Mario master himself Shigeru Miyamoto so we can expect something special.

On loading the cartridge I was presented with a plain blue screen and 3 options Selection A, Selection B and Design. A allows you to race each individual track on your own, B pits you against several racers with the aim being to finish in the top 3 to proceed. Design is a unique feature for a Famicom game (especially for the time) where the player can actually change pieces of the racing track and create their own race for playing by themselves or with the computer racers, as an added bonus if you have access to a Famicom Data Recorder (effectively a tape drive) then each track can actually be saved to be replayed at a later date.

The Data Recorder was only released in Japan and never made it overseas but from what I have been able to discover the Design save feature remained for all other copies released outside of Japan with the message "Save and Load menu selections are not operable in this game; they have been programmed in for potential product developments" printed in the game manual. I can only assume that Nintendo planned to release a similar Data Recorder or even the Disk System unit across seas but decide against it in the end. It could have made for some interesting games to say the least. I have included a few pictures that I managed to find on eBay but the unit itself rarely seems to make an appearance in auctions and when it does sells for a tidy sum.

The game itself plays extremely well and for such an old Famicom title the bike responds quickly. Up and down moves the bike between lanes to avoid the various other riders or pitfalls such as ramps, mud pits and jumps. Left and right moves in either direction with pressing too far in either direction resulting in your bike performing a wheelie or falling flat on the riders face after a jump. With the A and B buttons changing your speed, this isn’t a simple matter of breaking at the press of a button. Pressing A moves the bike at a casual speed but holding B selects turbo, propelling you at a much faster speed and especially handy for upcoming jumps. If you are thinking that holding B all the time is the easy way to win then I’m afraid you are in for disappointment as a heat bar at the bottom of the screen increases the more you use the feature. Only driving with A pressed for a time causes it to lower so you actually have to plan your way around each track deciding when to use the boost for big jumps or overtaking other riders. Overheating causes your bike to stop completely and be dragged to the side of the track until the engine cools down, losing precious seconds off that race time.

The game is surprisingly simple to look at and despite the description I’ve given so far it does have a lot of depth too it. Timing and skill is required to successfully navigate some jumps and the other riders always seem to keep you on your toes. The design feature is a little basic with a choice of jumps represented by the letters of the alphabet and all you need do is move in any direction placing or removing obstacles as you like. The main benefit being the ability to race with computer opponents after you have finished by which after a few seconds of messing around I was able to place a ramp that filled most of the screen followed by several mud pits for an interesting jump to say the least (yes I crash and burned but it was worth it for the speed!).

Out of all the Famicom games I have played so far this is right at the top of the list for playability and I always have the cart close to the Twin Famicom for a quick burst play every so often. If you haven’t played this yet then where have you been all these years?

Thursday, 8 January 2009


Since the blog began I have had several suggestions and requests made for various games to review. To make it a bit easier for readers to leave some comments please feel free to use this section of the blog for any improvements you would like to see, general questions or games that you think need a review.


Code Name: Viper - SuperFamiKing - Purchased and waiting review

Super Mario Bros. The Movie

I should probably start by apologising for this entry mainly because I’m attempting to comment on what’s famously known as the worst video game movie of all time.’s nowhere near as bad as I remember. Nintendo were world conquering back in the 80’s and early 90’s and I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to the fact that no one seems capable of touching them in the Wii era. So it seems only fitting that they would attempt to cross into other mediums with film being the most accessible of all. It certainly wasn’t the first time as previous to the Mario film something similar was attempted with The Wizard (more on this in a later blog entry).

With a cast ranging from Dennis Hopper (King Kooper), Bob Hoskins (Mario), Samantha Mathis (Princess Daisy) and John Leguizamo (Luigi) you could be forgiven for thinking that with such a star studded line up nothing could go wrong. But oh how it does. The plot is rather silly though being based on the Mario games viewers shouldn’t be surprised. Mario and Luigi are two out of luck plumbers, living in Brooklyn New York. No matter how hard they try every job they attempt to reach is completed by a major construction company each time. Then during one unfortunate visit beaten by the Scapelli Company once more the pair meets a young woman called Daisy, an archaeologist being rough housed out of a dig on a nearby Scapelli construction site. What then follows is a date between Daisy and Luigi which is interrupted when the pair goes to check the dig site only to find a few of Scapelli’s men flooding the excavated caverns beneath Brooklyn.

Mario shows up and using his trusty plumbing tools the brothers manage to save the day only to be knocked unconscious by two mysterious strangers called Iggy and Spike who kidnap Daisy. When the brothers awaken, they follow the screams of Daisy finding a dimensional door (sorry no green pipes here) leading to the world of dinosaurs led by Koopa. I want ruin any more of the story for those who haven’t seen it but from here on in things just become even crazier with Toad, Goomba’s more dinosaurs and a lot less sense.

It might shock a few of you to learn that I actually enjoyed this movie, yes it’s silly and the plot makes next to no sense but Hopper and Hoskins do good turns in the roles they are given. It’s pretty mindless and I found if I just let the experience wash over me it didn’t seem anywhere near as bad as people had said. The special effects might not be up to much but considering they had a low production budget they did an adequate job. The film isn’t light when it comes to game references with rocking Goomba’s, Yoshi, Bob-omb, Bullet Bills and even a Super Nintendo Scope repainted as a devolution gun.

Thinking back it’s hard to think just how a good Super Mario film could have been made as the source material is poor to say the least on original story, consisting of simply save the Princess. It’s no surprise that the film makers decided to create an entire world from scratch adding references only to the games and from what was finally released I can see them praying it would be a success. On one hand you have a dark world that the film tries to portray yet the other seems a constant nod to the fact that the whole thing is for kids and maybe if they had concentrated more on the film’s focus it could have turned out a lot differently. Sadly it was a total flop at the box office not even managing to make back its production costs meaning any plans of a sequel were scuppered. Though reading back on a few interviews with the main actors all of them seemed to dislike making the film so perhaps they would have all refused to come back which means we will never know.

On a final note...I liked the final credit’s song. I’ll leave it at that, make of it what you will.

Monday, 5 January 2009


Recently a friend of mine (a chap called Lloyd who I happened to meet at Retro North many moons ago) made mention of a device he had bought called the PowerPak realising that I was keeping a regular NES blog he offered the cartridge up for a review. So with glee I rubbed my hands together and accepted what is probably the most important piece of emulation hardware that is available for the NES.

For those that don’t know what this wonderful device is its basically a NES cartridge that can take Compact Flash cards and run the vast majority of Famicom, Famicom Disk and NES games including most homebrew titles that are available. The cart itself can be bought for the princely sum of $135 (around £70) from a company called RetroUSB who offer a large range of USB devices for various retro consoles and pieces of NES development kit even homebrew games on their own cartridges.

The PowerPak pictured contains everything that you receive for your $135. A specially developed red cartridge, case, PowerPak manual created in the same style of all NES games, a card reader and 128mb Compact Flash card. Some of you may think that 128mb doesn’t amount to much but with the average size of a NES ROM being around 500kb it’s obvious that the card can hold a huge chunk of the NES library catering for most tastes. As stated in an earlier entry I tend not to agree with emulation and try only to play games that I’ve bought myself but there are always a few titles that are out of reach due to rarity or just plain expense. With this in mind I decided to add Dragon Warrior 4, Mr Gimmick and Rodland to the card as the latter are extremely rare and the former being priced over the £50 bracket. I have considered purchasing DW 4 several times in the past but the high price point has always put me off so it seemed fitting to load a Rom of it onto the cart.

Putting the Rom’s and neccesary files onto the cartridge is simple enough, using a standard directory listing similar to that used in Windows its just a matter of dragging and dropping the required files onto the Compact Flash card. Once this is done you are pretty much good to go and it’s simply a matter of placing the card into the PowerPak. There is a single card slot on top of the cartridge with a black release button and with this in place the PowerPak is ready for the NES.

Turning the NES on to be greeted by a RetroUSB logo and the version number of the PowerPak software, another great thing about the RetroUSB site is that they provide updates to the software meaning if a few games don’t work presently there’s a good chance a future update will fix the issue. After the main screen I was presented with a basic text directory structure and pressing up or down lets you flick through all the available games. Choosing one provides a couple of options a chance to input up to 5 separate Game Genie codes much better than the 1 code the physical GG device actually provides and a start game option. Loading the game takes nothing more than several seconds and once the game has begun there doesn’t seem to be any different to what it looks like on a normal cart. Everything runs at the same speed and out of all the games I tried none of them had any graphical glitches.

The PowerPak doesn’t include a battery backup device instead saving a game to the cart’s memory you simply reset the console and save what’s in the battery memory to a file on the Compact Flash card through the menu system. It can be a bit fiddly (and certainly sounds it from this description) but once you have the hang of it you will be saving various games in no time. With the added benefit being that each save file can be added to or taken from the PowerPak whenever you wish, handy if you want to email someone if you get stuck on part of a game.

So that leads me onto my thoughts for the device. Staying away from emulation I can certainly see the benefits of being able to play pretty much any hard to find game it’s even persuaded me that I need to add DW 4 to my collection sooner rather than later. My only real grumble is how fiddly the save system is but even that becomes second nature after a couple of tries though I would like to point out that hitting the power button instead of reset to save loses everything (Yes it happened twice, I’m a fool). My only other comment would be on the PowerPak’s menu’s which all seem a bit basic, functional but lacking in appearance though this could simply be put down to the limitations of the system rather than the device itself. Another feature I didn’t mention is the removal of region locking from any game the cart runs which pretty much means you can run anything you wish on a NES from the US, UK or even the rest of Europe.

Overall it’s an interesting emulation device which will run most games you throw at it so for those who still want to sit in front of TV with the console and feel a NES pad in their hands its the ideal solution. Once loaded with games you would probably never remove the cartridge again. So it all comes down to value for money. Would I pay this much for it? Personally no as I enjoy actually hunting a cart down, cleaning then firing it up but if I ever had enough money in the bank account spare then I wouldn’t hesitate to pick one up. At the very least it’s a nifty addition to any NES collection with its unique looking cartridge and from what I’m told they don’t come into stock all that often on the RetroZone site making them all that much more desireable.