One of my favorite things about digging into the XaviX emulation was discovering the e-kara and related systems. While we don’t yet emulate the microphone on e-kara (something MAME will have to consider in the future) the majority of the library still lets you give the songs a listen. In doing so you can hear a lot of the flaws in our XaviX sound emulation, so the e-kara collection acts as a good marker for future audio improvements, but at the same time the renditions included have a lot of charm, and while I don’t really know much of the original Japanese music many are pleasant to listen to.
Then were other things, games like Popira which used a subset of the e-kara library to present an actual game. I’ve never been good at rhythm games, but again, on the lower difficulty levels these things can actually be relaxing, a nice bit of stress relief, so documenting them and emulating them has been an interesting adventure.
While the original Popira had been dumped, the sequel, Popira 2 had not. One of the units we picked up in a recent haul from Japan was a Popira 2. I put some of my own money towards this batch, with Peter covering the majority of the costs, and ShouTime handling the logistics of getting it all shipped out of Japan for us. It was an expensive haul, but got us a lot of items, that hopefully you’ll see some coverage of on here. Sean Riddle is, as always, taking care of the hardware side, dumping etc.
Anyway Popira 2 was released 2 years after the original Popira. The unit has the same basic design as Popira, but instead of a single Yellow unit it consists of 2 units, a Blue ‘1P’ main unit, and a Green ‘2P’ secondary controller. This lends to one of the main features of Popira 2, which is 2 player support.
Emulation, well, it runs, and didn’t take much to get to a title screen.
After which it offers 4 modes of gameplay (or 3 if you don’t have the 2nd controller attached)
The first mode is some kind of practice mode, it’s a little pointless. You get to play with either a single on-screen pad, 2 onscreen pads, or the usual 4 onscreen pads with a very slow-paced game where only one ball will ever drop at a time. You don’t even get to pick the song in this mode. That’s fine tho, if you’ve never played Popira before it’s a decent introduction but I prefer to be thrown in a bit deeper.
The second mode is your regular Popira style game, plays just like the original.
The third mode is a variation on the original Popira, but it adds bombs, which you must avoid hitting; the same concept as the ‘red balls’ in Opus, as well as green icons which will grant you an extra life.
The forth mode is the main reason to have a Popira 2 over an original, and that is the 2 player versus and co-operative modes. Unfortunately it’s also where the emulation falls apart at the moment because the 2nd player has a very noticeable input latency for some reason, I suspect because the 2nd player inputs are being read through the ADC with timers, but changing my timer speeds doesn’t seem to change the latency; this needs investigation before the game actually gets marked as working.
Let’s have a look at some of the other music cartridges for now.
One slightly odd thing to see with the e-kara stuff is the degree to which the non-Japanese market was ripped off. All the US and European carts contain at most 10 songs, with the sampler carts having five. Many of the Japanese carts have more, up to 50 in some cases. This could be a licensing thing, but then we have the case of The Beatles cartridges. In the US, and Europe (the European ones haven’t been dumeped, but contain the same songs) there were 2 cartridges for songs by The Beatles, each containing 10 songs. These are ‘us_vol4’ and ‘us_vol5’ in the Software List for reference. That’s a total of 20 songs across 2 cartridges.
Japan on the other hand got a single ‘The Beatles’ cartridge as part of the main e-kara series over there, it’s cartridge ’50’ so ‘ec0050’ in the Software Lists, and it contains a total of 40 songs, twice as many as were available outside of Japan, on a single cartridge, and, best I can tell with full English lyrics, no translations.
Japan did NOT get the songs ‘Drive My Car’ or ‘We Can Work It Out’ so you’ll need the US cart for those, but otherwise Japan got 22 more English language songs from a popular British artist that the rest of the world did not get, and all of them were on a single cartridge.
We also got the missing ‘P-2’ cartridge that works with the DDR Family Mat (and dumped another P-4 to confirm that the weird palette behavior when using that with Family Mat was nothing to do with the dump)
The P-2 cartridge turned out to be interesting for different reasons however. When we’re buying these batches of cartridges we often end up with duplicates, that was the case for P-2, where at the time we bought 2 different batches of cartridges, both with P-2 (and had we located the 2nd batch first, we might not have even bothered with the first batch) In the vast majority of cases the duplicate cartridges have been 100% matches, aside one case where it showed that our original dump suffered from bitrot. P-2 was different however, despite the cartridges and case being marked in exactly the same way, the ROM inside was genuinely different. Why? Well it actually confirms an earlier theory I had with the US / European starter cartridges; post 9-11 censorship. The song ‘Run Run Run’ contains a picture of the Twin Towers in one revision of the cartridge, which has been replaced entirely in the other. There is no indication of this on the packaging as mentioned, so it was likely a silent change on the part of Takara for carts issued after 9/11.
Some of the A-series Pichi Pichi Pitch cartridges were dumped too, as was the e-pitch base unit for them. The base unit ROM turned out to be the same as a regular Japanese e-kara ROM, which is curious. The actual e-pitch base unit has less buttons than a regular e-kara, so presumably some features are unavailable. However, what I have noticed, which I need to dig into more, is that when running these ‘A’ series games, the control mapping ends up different even for existing buttons (but when running A-5 which is a plain karaoke cart in the series, they act the same as expected) I need to see if that’s an emulation bug or not. Also A-1 hangs after the first few dialog pages (assuming that’s an emulation problem not a bad dump) and A-4 gets stuck on the XaviX logo. I have a feeling these might be SEEPROM related, with the games reading back bad data, as plenty of other things struggle with the SEEPROM hookup I have.
Cartridge A-1 before it hangs
Cartridge A-5 which is just a regular Karaoke style thing
Cartridge A-7 which seems to run better than the other story based ones, and you can even get to the breakout minigame in it.
Some of the new G-series dumps provided a surprise too. For the most part these are regular cartridges with no custom presentation etc. They’re designed to work with e-kara and the Popira units, provided extra songs for both games. Later ones also recognize Popira 2 and allow 2 player support (earlier ones will run as Popira on a Popira 2)
The cartridges G-8 and G-14 are both ‘Mini Moni’ themed ones, and I was simply expecting a bunch of songs related to that theme, as with the others. However, instead what we get is entirely custom presentation when used with either e-kara or Popira, complete with minigames etc. There are no other cartridges to my knowledge that provide custom presentation even with Popira.
Obviously when used with e-kara the games aren’t very playable as they require a microphone input, which isn’t mapped, to trigger events. Here are some shots from G-8 with e-kara.
However with Popira you get games that use the buttons, so you can actually play them, for example in the G-8 cartridge there is a flag raising game. There are probably others too, because in G-14 once you complete the first game you progress onto another. Here are some shots from G-8 with Popira.
G-14 does give you more games from the off, including a slot machine type thing where you must match symbols, a Whac-a-Mole style game, and a Simon style game.
I was very surprised to see this customized theme.
There’s more to write about regarding all this e-kara stuff, but for now that will do. Thanks to Peter for helping fund these, ShouTime for helping with the logistics, and also thanks to the people who donated towards the other stuff I’ve been buying, as it meant Peter was able to allocate his own funds to getting some of this stuff out of Japan rather than having to buy the JAKKS stuff himself. Finally of course, thanks to Sean for having the patience to go through these and dump them.