While the 2019 article is far from finished, I need a 2020 one to put any notes from 2020 in, so here is that article.
I imagine 2020 could be an interesting year for the project. 2019 really saw the project move into full stride with major work across the board, taking MAME into 2020 with a stronger sense of identity. That said, some of the things that were staples of the work in 2019 are now drawing to a close, for example, there are only a handful of Game and Watch titles yet to emulate such was the prolificacy of the work over the course of the previous years.
2020 could well turn out to be a year of learning, rather than a year of results so it will be interesting to see how this article develops.
The first release of 2020 was MAME 0.218, although due to the release process, some of what was included in 0.218 was submitted in 2019.
Worst Case Senario
Senario published a number of Plug and Play units in the 2000s. In addition to a number of NES based multigame bootlegs there were a handful of quiz-style games and home virtual gambling systems.
One such game was based off the US version of the TV Show “The Apprentice”
“The Perfect Mate” is a multiplayer game that attempts to match up couples based on common interests / opinions.
“Cosmo Girl” is a pop culture quiz game, aimed primarily at a female audience.
Sports Trivia Professional Edition follows a similar forumla to Cosmo Girl with a selection of quiz questions and minigames.
“Big Bonus Slots” is virtual slot machines, with various bonus features
Senario was also responsible for the US version of the Who Wants to Be A Millionaire Plug and Play (which is an entirely different game to the Play Vision UK version emulated in 2019)
The Senario poker games presented additional emulation challenges because each player has an LCD based controller to display their cards and make selections, this was simulated using MAME’s artwork system to a playable level.
The non-deluxe version was also emulated, both US and UK releases.
Senario also tried putting out a range of Wii Sports clones under the My Sports Challenge name. There was a regular 5 game version.
There was also a version sold exclusively by QVC which dropped the Boxing game, but added Basketball and Beach Soccer
and a version sold as Wireless Sports Plus (but with a My Sports Challenge Plus titlescreen) that has 20 games
In what seems to have been a French exclusive, Senario put out a Totally Spies Plug & Play with a selection of games. Some of these are obvious reskins of things found on other Jungletac units, some seem to be different or have had further development.
Speed Racer is one of the better themed Plug & Play units, with the controller representing the steering wheel from the show, complete with individual buttons for each powerup that you’ll need to navigate the courses.
Senario had a range of music games too. Guitar Super Star is an obvious Guitar Hero clone, with tracks that borrow heavily from popular songs, but with names that while hinting at their origins, don’t outright name the original song or artist.
Guitar Super Star was released with 2 different styles of Guitar, curiously each used a different ROM with the title screen being updated to reflect the guitar type. This additional attention to detail is very unusual on these cheap Plug & Play devices so worth mentioning I feel.
Guitar Super Star “You Take The Stage” is the sequel to Guitar Super Star and refines the gameplay a bit and offers a wider selection of both characters and backgrounds.
Guitar Star is another product sold by Senario, although this one doesn’t show a Senario splash screen. This is an interesting one because it shares the frontend / title screen presentation with Shredmaster Jr. but the actual ingame presentation much more closely mimics Guitar Hero than that game. The songs on this one carry the proper names, and are more likely to have been licensed.
Another version of Guitar Star was found in Europe with slightly modified presentation and some different songs. While the box identifies this one as Guitar Star, the title screen simply shows ‘Guitar’. There was no manufacturer information on the box for this one.
WinFun also got in on the guitar game act with Guitar Buster, which is a 2012 product but feels more primitive than the others.
ABL were amongst a number of companies to distribute Guitar Fever
Still on a music theme, Senario put out Double Dance Mania. This was available with several different types of mat, the Techno Light one was dumped, and this is shown on the title screen, so it’s possible the other editions will have a minor modification there as seen with the Guitar Super Star. For a Dance game this is unusual in that it only contains 3 songs, everything else is a bonus ‘arcade’ style game for use with the mat. Aside from the Pinball game, which is a hack of Nintendo’s NES Pinball game they do seem to be original however.
There were different generations of the Double Dance Mania games, with some running on SunPlus type hardware rather than the NES-based VT hardware. Double Dance Mania Supreme is one of those, showing only Dance Supreme on the title screen. This one offers 8 songs, and no games.
The ‘Mega 12’ version offers only 4 of the songs from Supreme, but also has 4 sports games and 4 arcade games.
Senario’s Wireless Fit / Dance Fit also contains a dance mode, and some bonus arcade style games.
Teaching Kids to Gamble
Nintendo would team up with Konami to produce a Super Mario Bros. themed Medal game back in 1991, it even came in a kid’s size cabinet.. I’m not really sure who thought this was a good idea as this is out and out gambling.
Konami made many more of these medal / redemption games, all very simple, 5 seconds of gameplay type affairs. Well presented, but just a quick and easy way to lose money.
Yu-Gi-Oh Monster Capsule
Tsukande Toru Chicchi
Dam Dam Boy
Kattobase Power Pro Kun
.. and on a very different platform was Muscle Ranking Kinniku Banzuke Spray Hitter, which otherwise follows the same basic formula
All But a Few Revisions
2020 saw at least one version of every Game & Watch unit emulated, with those involved then going above and beyond the call of duty by also getting the Nintendo developed Bassmate Computer (a unit sold by Telko) also dumped and emulated with full artwork.
It might make more immediate sense to look at the proper Game & Watch titles that were added in 2020 too tho, so I’ll start with two that weren’t actually branded as Game & Watch, but are both generallly considered to be part of the series, first we have Donkey Kong Hockey for the Micro Vs. System, a game that plays much like an enhanced version of Pong. This one presents a decent challenge, and being part of the Micro Vs. series, it also has a 2 player option for ‘Game B’
The other Micro Vs. System game was also a Donkey Kong title, this time Donkey Kong 3, and it employs a ‘pest control’ type theme much as seen in the Donkey Kong 3 arcade, but again this is a competitive game, so plays much less close to the Donkey Kong 3 arcade than somethng like the Green House Game & Watch.
While we’re looking at the more unusual Game & Watch games it’s worth taking a time to look at the Panorama / Table Top additions too, those ones actually had colour graphics making them really stand out against the standard units. One game that was released using a Panorama type unit is another Donkey Kong game, Donkey Kong Circus.
The more astute amongst you may have noticed prior to MAME emulating them that the Mickey Mouse Panorama unit is the exact same game as the Donkey Kong one, it even uses the same MCU, the only thing that differs is the display. This is the 2nd time Nintendo did this with the Mickey Mouse license, with the regular Mickey Mouse game also being released as Egg. I speculate this is so that the games didn’t get tied to a Disney license, and could be reissued more easily in the future in using in-house IP instead.
Another game that was released this way is Popeye, and it’s an entirely different game to the regular Game & Watch release.
Unusual Hardware Variants
I already looked at Senario, but left this one out because it’s interesting for other reasons. The Vs. Maxx 5-in-1 Casino is based on the SH6578 which is an enhanced “NES clone” chip from 1997, much earlier than the VT models etc. The SH6578 hardware differs in ways which means it isn’t 100% compatible with a NES, which makes it a unique platform. The palette on the SH6578 isn’t stored in the usual VRAM area for example, the attribute table has an entry for every tile (thus takes up more memory) and the tiles themselves have additional bitplanes making them more colourful. Use of this hardware appears to have been much less common than plain Nes clones, or the later VT ones which maintained a higher level of NES software compatibility.
A 6-in-1 version of the Senario Casino was released on the same hardware, with a single extra game, Texas Hold ’em Poker
A 10-in-1 version changes up the title screen / menu presentation and adds another 4 games on top of the previous 6. This is likely the highest capacity Senario Casino unit running on SH6578 hardware.
Pocket Dream Container
The Pocket Dream Console is another SunPlus handheld, this time developed by Conny. It was available in various models, with the PDC100 being the first one to be supported.
Another PDC handheld was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themed, based on the Nickelodeon reboot of the show. This contains an ‘adventure’ game which is a platform based beat ’em up style affair, and 4 Turtles themed Minigames. Unlike a lot of these handhelds (especially the Lexibook ones) it doesn’t add all the other games as filler.
There was a Dora the Explorer themed PDC too, like the Turtles one, this one seems to have been released only in France, and Dora teaches English here. Clearly this is for a younger audience.
The PDC40 Tactile is an especially interesting unit as it features a touchscreen and stylus, featuring 30 games that have either been adapted to use the new controls, or created from scratch for this unit. Several of the games supported also require you to rotate the unit and play with a vertical orientation, a feature not usually found on this type of multigame device.
Two other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Plug & Play units were also emulated in 2020, first there’s the platform game “Battle for the City” which is in many ways quite similar to the PDC one, although a better experience, offering a time attack mode so even if you clear it, you can still challenge yourself to do better.
Mutant and Monster Mayhem on the other hand, from the same developer, is a light gun shooter.
Star Wars – The Clone Wars is another Plug and Play light gun game that was emulated in 2020
As is Mission Paintball Powered Up
Other Plug & Play Games
Excalibur’s Ford Racing Plug & Play features analog wheel and accelerator inputs and as the name suggests, was licensed by Ford.
Sticking with the dricing theme, the Hot Wheels Plug and Play that was emulated is one of two carrying Hot Wheels branding, the other is not emulated.
The Senario Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Plug and Play was mentioned earlier, but it wasn’t the only one to be supported in 2020. Thie Character options / 2waytraffic version, designed for the UK market, opted for a single controller design, meaning for multiplayer modes players must take it in turns rather than having their own device to answer with.
Bad Dump Replacement
Identifying things that have been badly dumped is important, as it’s good to have on record proper dumps of things. When the GameKing emulation was improved last year a number of cartridge dumps that existed were found to be half size, this was corrected in early 2020. The redumped carts include 9 4-in-1 carts for which there was previously no good dump, and some alt revisions where there was already a good dump, but the redumped one was a different revision.
Just as important with the GameKing and GameKing 3 was the addition of sound emulation.
New Dumps for Rare Handhelds
For a number of more obscure handhelds MAME is the flagship emulator, and so when a new, rare piece of software is dumped for those systems MAME is the place you’re most likely to be running it. The Bit Corp Gamate is one system where MAME is the most obvious choice of emulator, and one of the rarest games for that system, Incantational Couple, was dumped in 2020.
I mentioned the GameKing above, and the GameKing 3 is another platform for which a number of new games were dumped. Nobody is quite sure how many games were released for this system.
Fixes For 20 Year Old Emulation Bugs
MAME isn’t perfect, far from it, especially if you start going over older drivers with a fine-tooth comb. Many of those drivers were written at a time when little was known about the hardware, few references were available, and PC hardware was too weak to handle more complex cases, so if something appeared to work nobody really gave it a 2nd thought.
Throughout the years these drivers have been refined. It wasn’t all that long ago Capcom’s 1942 was given Netlist based filtering to make the audio more accurate to the PCB, but at the same time a video bug had gone completely unnoticed and unreported. The bug concerned the way in which sprites were drawn, more specifically which sprites could occupy which areas of the screen – there was a split down the middle of the 2nd half of the spritelist. Capcom used this to produce 2 different effects when displaying the Capcom logo, neither had ever been correct in MAME. The 2nd of those effects sees the Capcom logo expanding from the middle of the screen as it’s drawn in 2 parts, with each part only being displayable in either half of the screen. We also discovered this effect is partially broken even on real hardware if the Flip Screen dipswitch is set.
Tecmo’s Final Star Force is another that has been incorrect in MAME since it was first emulated, although in that case the issue was more obvious as it would happen before the title screen was displayed every loop of attract mode, and cause the title screen to be rendered incorrectly. The game would scroll the intro for roughly 4 times too long, causing it to zoom past the intended stop position and into garbage areas of the tilemap. With the bug fixed the scrolling stops when roughly 1/3 of the screen is covered by the Earth, which matches the PCB behavior.
Data East blending improvements meant that Tattoo Assassins edged closer to being correct, with characters now fading in and out during the attract demo, and the names under each portrait appearing with a slow fade rather than always appearing solid. For a game with such an infamous development history this is actually a well polished title that makes decent use of the hardware effects available, and emulation hasn’t really been doing it justice.
The games in the ‘Seta2’ driver have always been missing various effects, one of the ones that was reported most often was the map screen on Guardians / Denjin Makai II where the zooming was obviously broken before. This was fixed in 2020
This also improved the zoom effect before / after levels in the excellent Penguin Brothers. The Deer Hunting games, and several others in the driver also use the zooming in places.
IGMO is an 80s title that has had bad colours in MAME for almost 20 years, a dump of the PROM from this rare PCB fixed that.
The emulation of IREMs Green Beret was maybe the biggest arcade emulation highlight of the year, even if sound is yet to be emulated on it. IREM’s early boards tend to be very fragile, and MAME’s emulation of Green Beret had sat in a non-working state for 20 years due to a faulty ROM on the only known PCB for the game. Another PCB did turn up tho, this one with a different faulty ROM, but the combined result of the 20 year old dump, and the fresh dump, was a complete set. It’s an odd little game that gives new meaning to the term ‘Tank Controls’ but they form the basis of the gameplay here, as you can only fire forwards, but must move your tank around in order to turn.
A Variety of Arcade Games
Black Hole is another very rare title, this one developed in Sanremo, Italy by EFG, which, according to one of the developers was an acronym for Electric Flowers Games. It’s basically a copy of Universal’s Space Panic, but programmed from scratch, and as a result requires slightly different play strategy to the aformentioned title. It’s another that uses discrete circuits for sound so remains silent in MAME at the moment.
Unico’s Goori Goori is an ‘adult’ puzzle game from Korea. Flyers seem to suggest that a non-adult version of this with more generic backgrounds also exists, but the version that was dumped has no option to turn off the nudity present in the game.
Another Unico game, Master’s Fury was also dumped, this is part of the Drago Master series. Sadly the sprite ROMs were dumped at half size, and so far the person who dumped them has been unresponsive in terms of getting them redumped. Fingers crossed they do get redumped and I can update these screenshots before the year is out tho! There are some issues with the scrolling layer hookups here too, but those will be easier to fix once everything else is in place I feel.
Gulun Pa! is a CPS1 prototype, it seems to have been cancelled fairly early in development tho, as while this is playable only the bare bones of the game exist, there are a handful of what appear to be unused assets that suggest there were to be other stages, but while the program ROM has an English title of Piyo Piyo no resources at all exist in the graphic data for an English version. No copyright is displayed so this is guessed to be a Capcom development, but it does also have a Mitchell feel to it.
Bingo Time is an odd one. Attributed to CLS, it runs on Alpha Denshi hardware, and is protected by the Alpha MCU. The MCU used was actually an undumped revision, so this board ended up being more more interesting in the sense that it allowed that MCU to be dumped, and simulations removed from some other games using the same MCU type. It’s a video pachinko gambling game, you have to wonder how many more similar things there are out there from the 80s and 90s that probably never left Japan.
Professor Trivia is a German language quiz / trivia game, fairly basic, but appears to be unique.
Konami put out a large selection of titles on the 573 platform and Anime Champ is another Bishi Bashi style game that showed up in 2020
Great Bishi Bashi Champ is another Konami 573 game
Sticking with Konami, but looking at a different hardware platform, Dance Dance Revolution Kids is a less common arcade entry into that group of games.
Photo Y2K2 from IGS feels like a step backwards for the series, replacing the family friendly graphics of the original with ‘saucy’ pictures and a plagiarized Bond theme.
Super Motor is an unreleased driving game from Duintronic, known otherwise only for their “Buccaneers” hack of Vigilante.
The ‘SportStation’ double release of NBA Showtime Gold & NFL Blitz 2000 Gold was promoted to working.
The older version of the SportStation which contains the non-gold version of NBA Showtime was also promoted, as was the standalone version of NBA Showtime. Both titlescreens show Version 2.0 although the boot sequence for the SportStation version calls it version 2.1
A game I was hoping would show up for the best part of 20 years finally showed up in 2020, that being the Sun Mixing ‘Super Bubble Bobble’
The Megadrive release of this, Super Bubble Bobble MD, has been dumped for many years, with HazeMD being the first emulator to simulate the protection rather than requiring a hacked ROM, hwoever the arcade version had remained elusive, appearing only once in that time. The game is of course no licensed by Taito in any way, but it’s interesting because the Megadrive didn’t get a proper version of Bubble Bobble, and while the game in many ways doesn’t play much like Bubble Bobble (no jumping on bubbles, no chains of popping bubbles etc.) it was the closest thing available on the platform, and for an unlicensed Asian game it made surprisingly good use of the hardware. The arcade version unsurprisingly is also cloned Megadrive hardware, but there are a number of changes to the game, having a level select instead of a character select for example. While the concept is not original, the game software is, so I’m happy that this one can now be explored in full detail.
Rewinding again to the start of the 80s, another rare title is Speed Race from Seletron & Olympia. This is another game that was released in Italy where arcades had quickly become established and a number of developers wanted to get in on the act. This has the look and feel of some of the later non-CPU games, but in this case is fully CPU driven hardware.
Break Ball Challenge appears to be something of an oddity, it’s a Pinball game, running on Bellfruit gambling hardware, but it doesn’t seem to be gambling based at all. The Dot Matrix Display is a little glithcy at times because it apparently comes from a pre-release version and mismatches the code, but it isn’t vital to gameplay.
These things show up from time to time, and they’re inevitably worse than the source material, but unofficial arcade conversions of home console titles were definitely a thing, especially in Asia, with a number of popular games for platforms such as the SNES and Genesis getting arcade versions with credit support hacked in. Most of the time these are beat ’em up games, and Rushing Beat Shura was no exception.
Skill With Prizes
One kind of coin operated game that was popular during the 90s in the UK came in the form of machines that offered some kind of prize to skillful players. Maybe the best example of this is the trilogy of games based on the old TV show “The Crystal Maze” which feature good theming, and a variety of trackball controlled minigames. From a technical perspecive there’s nothing too impressive here, but these machines were just as iconic as the show was and you could find them almost everywhere in the UK during the 90s.
The first game has the most basic presentation, and has the older set of zones from the show
The 2nd game improves the presentation, and replaces Industrial Zone with Ocean Zone. It is generally referred to as ‘The New Crystal Maze’ even if the title screen doesn’t show that. This was perhaps the most fondly remembered of the 3 games.
The 3rd game attempts to copy the formula of the show a bit more closely and is dubbed ‘Team Challenge’ as you have the team of characters to manage and select between for each mini-game. It has a more visual representation of the whole ‘lock in’ system should you fail a game.
The progress seen with the Crystal Maze games was the result of emulation improvements to the MPU4 Video platform, so a number of other things sharing the hardware also improved.
Strike It Lucky was also based on a TV quiz show (otherwise known as Strike It Rich) This one is an earlier more primitive looking game that made more use of cabinet artwork and lamps to supplement the game.
Adders and Ladders uses the formula of the classic ‘Snakes & Ladders’ board game, but with questions before each move. Again this used cabinet artwork heavily, showing the playing board using lamps rather than onscreen.
Barquest is more of a generic quiz game with a question trail setup.
The Mating Game is one of the more advanced titles; an adult themed game full of minigames, similar to The Crystal Maze
One of the MPU4 Video games that was marked as a prototype is Vegas Poker
This is quite similar to another game, Red Hot Poker from BWB
Another pair of very similar looking games are 6-X and Shop Window. These seem to be a video form of the popular Bar-X style slot machines, I’ve never been big fan of those because they just seem too minimalist, there’s no hiding their purpose.
Cash Inferno and Sunburst are also very similar
Prize Tetris attempts to combine Tetris gameplay with cash based prizes, with a mechanic similar to the ‘hotline’ Tetris modes found in other games and a strict time limit. This was a fully licensed Tetris game.
Prize Space Invaders would do similar, but with Taito’s classic Space Invaders as the forumla for the base game. This again was a fully licensed product, it even went as far as to use a colour overlay over a black and white display to give it a more authentic ‘Space Invaders’ look despite being released in the 90s.
Some of the MPU4 Video games used slightly different hardware, with a more capable palette chip allowing for more onscreen colours. Big 40 Poker is one such game.
Double Take combines 2 games in one machine, and is one of the later known BWB releases on MPU4 Video hardware.
Not all of the MPU4 Video games were for the British market, some were for overseas, for example, Nova distributed a number of German versions of the games, in some cases those are the only versions we have.
Worst MAME Ever! Redux!
I mentioned in the 2019 write-up that there’s a certain pride to be found in emulating machines which people have considered to be ‘the worst of all time’ because they’re exactly the type of thing that are likely to be lost to time through sheer lack of real world value. In 2019 MAME certainly made a contribution to the emulation of abhorrently terrible devices and 2020 could probably stake a claim to have topped even that.
The Millennium Arcade 250 is a handheld gaming device with 250 games built in. The most surprising thing about this unit is that it’s SunPlus based, because if you compare it to many of the other SunPlus devices, including things like the Pocket Dream Console previously covered, most of the things in here feel closer to poor NES / Famicom games.
Maybe what makes the Millennium Arcade 250 truly special is that is that it doesn’t stop at simply low quality ‘original’ games, but it goes as far as to have bootleg reproductions of games found in other cheap handheld devices, namely the ‘Family Sport’ type units, and unlike many of the other games that make use of stolen assets the graphics on these cloned games haven’t been ripped from ROMs using an emulator, but instead appear to have been captured from a composite video signal, or possibly even photograph of the display, complete with blurring, artifacting and some really bad sprite cuts. To demonstrate this I’ve put snaps from the Millennium Arcade 250, and the Family Sport 220-in-1 units on alternating lines here.
The “HD 360 Degrees Rocker Palm Eyecare Console – 788 in 1 Model 8718” (yes, that’s what’s on the box) also sometimes (maybe incorrectly?) called the PCP 8718, is another contender, although I think this one has enough quirkiness about it to act as a saving grace. In terms of hardware this quite amazingly is running on a GeneralPlus / SunPlus processor clocked at close to 100Mhz, but is entirely software rendered using quite possibly the most inefficient combination of hardware and software configuration you could ask for.
The “HD 360 Degrees…” is actually an evolution of an earlier piece of hardware based on a Sitronix ST2302U chip. Those systems were sold under a variety of names too although the most direct cousin is the “Digital Pocket Hand Held System – Model 8630” which advertises 230 built in games but in reality again contains closer to 100. This one ran at a lower resolution with a 24Mhz CPU, and also had weaker sound hardware. Most of the games did get ported / rewritten for the newer SunPlus hardware used in the “HD 360…” console so it’s interesting to see their earlier iterations in these lower powered devices.
Returning to badly named devices, the VG Pocket Caplet Fast Acting 50-in-1 is a product that you expect a lot more from. This, unlike many of the others, carries licenses from Taito and Data East for the games Space Invaders, Bust-A-Move and Burger Time. Unfortuantely the implementations of those games is so poor it actually makes the generic SunPlus games that are added as bonus items look good. Space Invaders fails to get the shot movement correct, the enemy movement correct, has laggy controls and is misisng several sound effects, while Bust-A-Move is the same bad version of Puzzle Bobble that can be found as Squirrel Bobble in other units, just with the proper Taito characters restored. Burger Time is playable enough but sounds awful. This was a bad product and a complete waste of 3 respectable licenses.
Of course not all multigames are neccessarily outright bad, most are uninspired, offering the bare minimum level of gameplay mechanics needed for something to even be considered a game but the reality of these things is that you know that, and if you’ve done any research at all, you’re aware of the nature of what you’re getting. What makes each one interesting is therefore being able to study the different implementations of the same type of game, find ones which are unique to certain products, trace where each one got used, and in many cases work out who actually developed them.
In terms of unique implementations the MGT 20-in-1 unit fits the bill. It has versions of classic games, with obviously stolen graphics, but the underlying code is different to that found on other units we’ve seen. For Puzz Loop and Puzzle Bobble there’s no attempt to even disguise what’s being ripped off, but compared to many other implementations of the games we’ve seen these ones actually have potential had they been further developed.
VT1682 hardware was used in a large number of handheld and TV Plug and Play devices too, and almost all of them seem to be multigames of some kind. The NJ Pocket 60-in-1, which identifies itself as the “X zero” on the splash screen, is one such example. Some of the 60 games included here we’ve seen before on the Zone units, or in other smaller collections, but there are many that haven’t featured before among their ranks too.
A related collection is the unknown 101 game device, this one seems to have been intended more for the Chinese market, and the games included are less censored with several not even trying to hide what they’re ripping off behind fake titles. It isn’t a true 101 game device, as it contains a lot of duplicate games that simply start from a later level, but it does contain a variety of things not found in the NJ60
One thing we do know about Lexibook products is that most of them are just reskins of games available elsewhere. The Lexibook Toy Story 3 is no exception, and the games contained on it are obvious reskins of a small selection of the games from the NJ Pocket 60. Compared to some Lexibook units the visual changes here are quite extensive, swapping both characters and backgrounds, although the audio remains mostly generic.
Volume 1 of Radica’s “Genesis on a Chip” Mini Genesis had been dumped for many years, and was actually one of the things I looked at back in the HazeMD days (as nothing else at the time emulated the bankswitching needed to display anything but the menu) however a number of the units had not yet been dumped. 2020 saw Volume 2, Super Sonic Gold, and the USA Street Fighter 2 units dumped.
Odd Choice Reissues
For reasons not entirely clear, some of the more recent Plug and Play units have been reissued NES games on VT type hardware, many of these claiming to be ‘Anniversary’ versions and such, which alwys feels a bit misleading as customers are likely expecting arcade versions where arcade titles are concerned. A few manufacturers have done this, DreamGEAR have a number of them, as do MSI.
Double Dragon is one such reissue, the Plug and Play unit from MSI (who previously released this kind of thing as Majesco) is the NES version of the game, with some modifications to run on VT type hardware, and updated boot screens showing the current rights holder of the Double Dragon IP, Arc System Works. These units are however single player only, meaning game modes had to be removed, and as mentioned, they’re based on the NES version, not the arcade. The reception for these units was lukewarm, and while it’s easy to argue a case for the NES version being a better game than the original arcade in the first place, an inferior version of that NES release is not really what collectors were looking for in an anniversary product.
Weighing in with even less sense is the WWE Steel Cage Challenge release. Again billed as an Anniversary release, it’s a reissue of the NES WWF Steel Cage Challenge game that was releaed by LJN back in the early 90s. The problem here is that the original game wasn’t even especialy well liked, it was a generic licensed wrestling game which lacked any of the real character, all wrestlers played the same, no signature moves, no real reason to pick one star over. You got character portraits, and some entrance themes, but the game lacked substance where it mattered. The NES release was also arguably not even the best version of the game with many citing the Master System version as being superior.
The Plug and Play release release makes even less sense when you consider the censorship required. All WWF logos had to be changed, Hulk Hogan was dropped from both the title screen and game to be replaced with The Ultimate Warrior and The Mountie was also droped, replaced with Razor Ramon, and again like Double Dragon this is a single player unit. What you end up with is a bad version of a bad game released over a decade after the much better JAKKS Pacific WWE Plug and Play. Still, it’s part of the story of this game now, and MAME documents that.
The NES version is shown below for comparison
MSI would also grace us with an Ms. Pac-Man unit, again a single game device based on the NES version. This as with the above devices makes little sense, it’s not only a massive leap backwards in terms of the game port quality compared to the units JAKKS Pacific put out in 2004 (12 years prior to this!) but also as it only contains a single game there’s no variety to keep you interested. Even the design is lazy, using the same case style as the others, complete with buttons which have no function other than to pause the game. This really drags the both Namco’s reputation and Ms. Pac-Man’s reputation through the dirt and unsurprisingly was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews.
Space Invaders got the same treatment, again a single game unit based on the NES / Famicom game, and with the art and packaging even looking close to the emulation based multi-game unit JAKKS Pacific put out around 2010 this one again was poorly received as it was a massive step down from that unit, and even compares unfavourably with the earlier Radica Space Invaders unit, which wasn’t arcade perfect by any means, but did contain a number of other games.
Another MSI release is the infamous Mega Man II plug and play. This one had potential, even as a single game unit there is at least a substantial amount of gameplay to be had, but even then it seems not to include other entries in the series. The rest of the product is where this one really fails tho, Mega Man doesn’t play well on a cheap arcade style Joystick, and the buttons are on the reverse side to a standard NES pad and the layout is generally awkward. Furthermore the port of the game here, to the NES-like VT hardware, suffers from a number of issues, the Ready text is missing, the Metal Man boss is glitched, and some parts of the ending are even missing. These factors all contribute to this unit also not getting the warmest of receptions, it’s simply not what people wanted, and doesn’t do a great job of being what it’s meant to be.
Odd Choices in General
Club Jenna Presents: Jenna Jameson’s Strip Poker doesn’t make much sense as a Plug and Play. These devices were typically bought for children, and while plenty had gambling themes none crossed any lines that might make them unsuitable. A strip poker game, with nudity is a different beast, and when you consider it was released in an age where Internet access was readily available it’s difficult to argue a case for this thing as a plug-in TV game.
Sometimes when things get emulated there is a flurry of comments from people who remember the game / device and have fond memories of it. One such game / device where this caught me by surprise was Dream Life Superstar. This was a Tiger product from 2007, but unlike many Tiger products this one seems to have a following of people with positive memories from owning/playing it back in the day. The original Dream Life was emulated the previous year, but this sequel adds more to do across the board with more locations, characters, fashion accessories and a stronger goal with the whole Superstar idea.
Many of the oldest games in MAME didn’t use common audio chips, instead their audio circuits were made from many individual components, much like the early non-CPU video games (which is likely where a lot of the tech was developed) These have always been a challenge to emulate as they require low level simulation of each individual component which has very high CPU requirements and requires a good understanding of the PCB, with either schematics, or, where they’re not available, laborious tracing out of all the circuits involved.
MAME’s ability to support such things saw dramatic improvements in 2020, with many common components added to the library of things that could be chained together to model these circuits, thus opening up many more games to the possibility of having their audio emulated.
Among those to benefit most were the Cinematronics vector games. Boxing Bugs, War of the Worlds, Tailgnuner, Star Castle and more.
Namco’s Tank Battalion also got this ‘Netlist’ audio support, and again it’s a big improvement over the previous ‘samples’ there were being used.
280-ZZZAPP is another.
Every year there are a number of rare game revisions show up. Many of these are worth studying, in order to establish how they fit in with the bigger picture; are they earlier releases? later releases? prototypes? were they made for a specific market? There were several noteworthy cases in 2020.
During the 80s Germany had some strict censorship laws, with games depicting humans shooting at other humans being considered inappropriate. This led to Capcom censoring Commando (it was released as Space Invasion) and also Gun.Smoke. The censored Gun.Smoke revision took much longer to surface, but is full of modified graphics. The most obvious modifications are to the ‘Wanted’ posters for each boss, now depicting them as cyborgs. The ingame graphics are adjusted slightly too, giving enemies glowing eyes so that they can be passed off as non-human. It’s a shame the ingame graphics didn’t see greater adjustment to fit the new theme, but the updated wanted posters are worth a look.
An unusual version of Thunder Force AC also showed up. While it runs on C2 hardware, it lacks the speech (ROM is unpopulated), and has the original Mega Drive version stages. Some have said this is a recent hack of the Mega Drive original, but the changeset looks too extensive, and there are mistakes in the code that wouldn’t make sense if it was a version made after Thunder Force AC has been dumped and emulated, they instead point to it being something earlier. I wonder if it’s a bootleg of an earlier prototype version that was intended for the older ‘C’ platform.
The Last Apostle Puppetshow feels like a half finished, possibly abandoned localization of Reikai Doushi. It features several title screen images that are not used by the code with different ‘insert coin’ and ‘press start’ text on, while still using an alternate rendering for the ‘press start’ using the older style text, now obscured by the rearranged logo and copyright. What is dumped matches all screenshots available for this version, and considering how rare it is I wonder if this was just rushed together for a show / location test outside of Japan.
One potential target for a netlist implementation, of the whole system, is the Gigatron. The Gigatron is a TTL based microcomputer, designed to be built from kit / by sourcing the components yourself. The TTL implements a virtual CPU, so for the time being MAME added support for the system by emulating that virtual CPU, but in theory it would also be possible to emulate it at component level, although it would not as user friendly in terms of developing new software for it!
Love them or hate them, there are a lot of gambling games out there, MAME is probably still only scratching the surface with many not having been seen for a long time, and entire product lines not yet being covered at all due to a variety of reasons. For this reason I’m always glad to see progress / newly discovered material in the genre, even if it’s not one I care much for myself.
WHile most of the lower resolution (non-VGA) Amcoe games were emulated some years back, a handful were not because the dumps were incomplete. Merry Circus was one such game that is only just now supported.
2020 has seen a lot of bad material emulated, but that’s a good thing. Bad games, bad systems, they’re things people are more likely to throw away and want to forget and MAME in many cases is the only thing that stands between these systems being lost entirely or relegated to nothing more than memories in comedy videos on social media. Bad games matter, they’re part of bigger pictures. The same can be said for a lot of the video fruit machines and quiz machines where for many we’re lucky that any dumps exist at all. Most of these things end up being destroyed when they’re replaced with newer models in line with current legislation etc. so projects like MAME become the only snapshot you have into an era that often vanished overnight.
If you dig deeper though, you’ll see there are a good number of important fixes even to the more popular things MAME covers; refinements that bring emulation of a good number of classics closer to what you could call emulated to an acceptable level. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook how poor MAME’s emulation of some classic games is because it’s been like that for so long, but the work we’ve seen in 2020, especially in areas such as discrete sound shows that there’s a huge amount of improvement to be had even in the emulation of things many might not even realise are badly emulated until they see the machines running as they should, with proper sounds etc.