While the 2019 article definitely still needed work at the turn of the year, this 2020 write-up was started in order to have a place to log work done in 2020 as to avoid falling too far behind there also. Due to the sheer amount of work done over the year it also lacks coverage of a lot of the progress from 2020 right now, and currently has a bias toward things I’ve worked on as it’s easier to cover what I already know. This is still supplemented by a large amount of work from others that I’ve found interesting, and as time permits, even more work from other people will be added.
To say it’s been a busy year would be an understatement; I think it’s been one of the busiest I can remember in the entire history of the project, so I hope what I have managed to cover so far at least gives some insight into that.
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 some units we’ll cover shortly but the 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.
The Plug ‘N’ Play Rockstar Guitar contains the same songs as the above, and uses the same basic game/music engine, but with entirely different presentation, opting for a 2D look rather than the perspective one.
Another version of the same product offers a different selection of songs. This was dumped earlier, but audio emulation and timing fixes in the emulation brought it up to a much more playable state in 2020.
dreamGEAR put out a branded version of the above in the US, using the same songs, under the title of Shredmaster Jr.
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.
Wrong side of the Law
Many Plug and Play units end up including things that they really shouldn’t, in some cases it’s more obvious than others. Some systems steal graphics or sound assets, others steal entire games, sometimes hacking them in an attempt to disguise what they really are.
While Senario had a good run, one of the later products put out under the Senario brand doesn’t cover those involved in glory. The 101 Games in 1 unit is a lazy effort NES based mulitgame full of unlicensed titles. While by 2009 most US and European based distributors of this kind of thing knew to either omit contact details or avoid selling things containing first party Nintendo IP such as Mario and Donkey Kong, Senario did neither, proudly displaying their address on the packaging while having Nintendo titles that make no effort to disguise what they are. This could well be the final Senario product as we haven’t seen anything with a 2010 date on it and everything about this screams ‘please sue us’ It’s also worth mentioning that there are in fact only 100 games here because some are mislabeled and Warpman just launches Soccer, with Soccer already being elsewhere in the menu so this is even fails on quality control.
The “Plug & Play Game Controller with 200 Games” or Supreme 200 at the splash screen identifies it as is another that crosses the line between a legitimate product and a bootleg in far too many places. This one even includes a graphic hack of Namco’s Dig Dug II that was made for a bit of fun by a member of the community; the last place they expected to find it was on a commercial Plug and Play unit. Some of the usual suspects have hacked versions here too, such as a version of Nintendo’s Balloon Fight. These, like the Senario unit, are combined with ‘Chinese Original’ games from a number of developers, although it’s unclear if those were licensed from the Chinese developers either as it’s an unusual mix.
Some VT systems were added, but weren’t quite ready for promotion, with the VT32 based DreamGear ‘DGUNL-3202’ unit containing the NES versions of some Data East games (along with 300 ‘Chinese Original’ games also found on some other units) is an example. While the menu boots, and some of the Data East games are playable, others fail for various reasons. I’m mentioning this here, because like the Supreme 200 the library outside of the Data East games is from the same selection of ‘Nice Code’ games, which, for a project that went to the lengths to include licensed Data East titles, inexplicably means it’s still full of bootlegs of games like Balloon Fight, and even in this case hacks of Galaga and Xevious, all obviously unlicensed.
Interestingly some versions of this have different menu backgrounds and updated copyright displays on the Data East games. This specific version was from a DGUNL-3201 unit, although such units have also been seen with the original NES copyright information.
Another dreamGEAR product, the My Arcade Retro Micro Controller – 220 Built-In Video Games (DGUN-2869) shows the same lack of care and attention, also including a whole load of hacks of NES games alongside the Nice Code originals and using menu music stolen from Mighty Final Fight
The “Game Sporz” units, while much more elaborately hacked also fall on the wrong side of the line; every single game contained with in a hack of a Famicom or NES game, with graphics updated to use extended VT modes. In some cases the gameplay ends up broken.
The ‘Boxing’ version of the Game Sporz unit has a Boxing game as the primary gimmick, and 23 bonus games.
The ‘Tennis’ version of the Game Sporz changes the primary game from Boxing to Tennis, and adds additional games.
TaiKee’s World Soccer TV Games starts off looking like something original, but falls into a similar trap of having some games that are simply hacks of commercial NES titles.
VT emulation improvements
Senario’s Vs. Maxx range was one that could be found in many stores, with many of the devices often containing Jungletac’s VT games. The 17-in-1 Vs. Maxx is one of the lowest game count versions of these.
The TV MegaMax active power game system 30-in-1 (MegaMax GPD001SDG) from Polaroid is another similar collection.
The dreamGEAR DGUN-851 is a very similar 30 game unit, but with dreamGEAR branding
Senario had a 25-in-1 that was near identical.
The Venturer ’25 Games’ unit has a similar boot screen with different text, but the menu backgrounds are different, apparently being ripped from ‘Best of the Best’
The 35 in 1 Super Twins from SilverLit is another VT system with Jungletac games, although this one has a number of 2 player versions not present in most of the other units.
Senario also had a 2 player version of these things, with a very similar looking controller to the Video Extreme 50 in 1, but with TX2 printed on the wheel part and a port for connection of the 2nd (CPU free) controller that was also supplied.
A single player 25 game unit was probably released around the same time.
Another single player unit, with similar menus was the dreamGEAR Turbo GT. This built the games into a wheel shaped controller, that could be turned, but the turning motion was not connected to the inputs so you were left just using the D-Pad
Another DreamGear 50-in-1 with slightly different menu presentation was the 50-in-1 with part number DGUN-853
Sticking with single player units, one of the highest capacty versions of this from Senario was the 77-in-1 Wireless version
The 77-in-1 has similar menu presentation to the 50-in-1 Video Extreme, but the Video Extreme is noteworthy for carrying a Speed Racer license and a Snood license, although in the case of the Speed Racer license it simply means some otherwise completely generic games already found in other units are renamed and have an extra titlescreen with some Speed Racer art, the games are unchanged.
The RCA NS-500 is a 30-in-1 with the same games but slightly different presentation (and no music on the boot screen or menu) This one shows ‘Enjoy Power Racing’ on the boot screen.
WinFun also sold some of these, with many of the games renamed. The Joystick 30, which lacks WinFun branding on the bootscreen…
.. and the JoyPad 65
An entirely different set of VT games apperas in the TimeTop 36-in-1, although this one needs futher emulation improvements to get the sound working. These TimeTop units are however much more interesting than the majority of the other VT based systems because the games on them aren’t ones typically found elsewhere, that’s not to say they’re good, or they play well, but in terms of documenting what exists, and preserving it for the future, they’re unique systems. The unit claims to be a 36-in-1 but is in reality, 12 games, with the option to start on different stages.
A 7-in-1 version of the TimeTop device offers a smaller selection, but does contain one game not present in the other unit ‘Crazy Speed’ as well as offering the Bomberman clone under a different name. This one also doesn’t have the game duplicates with different starting levels, making it appear a more professional package.
For whatever reason, the early 2000s was a time when both Sudoku, and Plug & Play devices were both popular. This naturally led to a whole bunch of Plug and Play devices being released using Sudoku as the primary selling point.
Some of these Sudoku games were dedicated devices, with controls designed specifically to work with Sudoku, such as, in the case of ‘The New York Times’ Sudoku unit, a numeric keypad for number entry. This one is based on cloned NES hardware.
A very similar unit was released by Excalibur, without ‘The New York Times’ license
Other units went for a more generic gamepad, and often included the same bonus games as found in many other NES/VT based Plug and Play units. The Sudoku Play and Play ‘6 Intelligent Games’ unit is one such device.
Zudugo, or 2udugo, depending on how you read the box, appears to be the same Sudoku game as above, but with a new skin. This one comes bundled with far more bonus games.
Another near anonymous Sudoku Game also came bundled with 5 bonus games.
Many of the other units covered elsewhere in this write up also include Sudoku games (of note, it’s the first bonus game in most of the Family Sport units) but unlike the ones covered here, the Sudoku game wasn’t the primary selling point of them.
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
Gambling is for Adults too!
Konami was also heavily involved in the segment of the gambling market aimed more as what you’d expect to be the target audience, adults, with games like Quick Pick 5 more closely resembling your standard bar / casino slot machines, without any of the cartoony presentation.
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.
Some Game and Watch games used a Panorama type screen, one game that was released this way is Popeye, and it’s an entirely different game to the regular Game & Watch release.
Game & Watch: Mario’s Cement Factory (Table Top)
Game & Watch: Pinball
Game & Watch: Crab Grab
Game & Watch: Snoopy (Panorama Screen)
Game & Watch: Popeye (Panorama Screen)
Micro Vs. System: Donkey Kong 3
Micro Vs. System: Donkey Kong Hockey
Telko / Nintendo Bassmate Computer
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.
One thing that took me by surprise was finding that some issues of the later Senario Vs Maxx series were also based on SH6578 technology. These versions of the games seem to be important too, as they’re probably the original versions of the games JungleTac developed. Later VT based units have the same games, but in many cases the versions present on this SH6578 hardware of have proper title screens with title logo and copyright intact, better presentation, and in the case of some games, such as Big Racing, much better gameplay. It isn’t clear why the VT devices got stripped down versions with the title logos removed and cpoyright details hidden instead.
JungleTac was also responsible for the SunPlus based software contained on the Zone 60, Zone 100, Wireless 60, Lexibook JG7415 120-in-1 and other related units (but not the Zone 40) Those units were emulated last year (although the emulation was improved a bit in 2020) but that doesn’t mean other things containing those games haven’t been added in 2020. The Vs. Power Plus for example is a lower 30 game unit containing many of those JungleTac games.
The Spider-Man Super TV Air Jet shows some of those JungleTac SunPlus games being reskinned for a Spider-Man license
The Disney Game It! Classic Pals put out by Performance Designed Products is one of the few to actually show the JungleSoft / JungleTac copyright notice. These are again mostly reskins of things found in the Zone 100 etc.
Pocket Dream Container
Conny was another company to get onboard with producing SunPlus based multi-games after earlier putting out a handful of motion control standalones. Conny would work with various other companies and even managed to get products localized for the Japanese market (although none of those are dumped) In the US Conny products were published by Anncia, while for European territories, notably in France, VideoJet would handle things. The most famous line of Conny machines is the Pocket Dream Console, a series of portable devices released between around 2008 and 2013 consisting entirely of original software. Occasionally these games ended up on lower capacity units for use with a TV only.
VideoJet’s Plug Play TV Games 2 is a 4-in-1 unit containing 4 of Conny’s games, there was also a Plug Play TV Games 1, with a different 4, but that one isn’t dumped.
The lowest capacity unit that was dumped in 2020 is a VideoJet issued PDC50, it includes some of the games from the above, and of course plenty of others. While usually I would not include screenshots of games already seen in the other units for large collections like this I’ve included another shot of the puzzle game ‘Joe-Ma’ because this release shows additional text stating that the concept was licensed from Mitchell Corporation, the owners of Puzzloop. The other game we’ve already seen is Street Boy, I didn’t show that again.
One of the US units dumped is the PDC100 this carries a 2008 date suggesting it was put to market earlier than the ones released by VideoJet, although it might not be the earliest version of the product.
The PDC200 bumps the count further, although some of these, such as the Brain Training style ones could have been done as a single game, and while this version also adds some larger scale games, there are also a lot of smaller ones that duplicate ideas already seen.
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.
The Dance 2000 / Hot 2000 ‘Jin Bao TV Dancing Carpet’ SY-2000-04 from Soyin is a NES clone hardware (plain, with mapper, not VT) and is one of many incarnations of this type of Dance game. Several exist in the NES Software List, dumped from unlicensed NES cartridges, but this one was a proper TV game unit.
ABL’s Decathlon is one of the better ‘Track and Field’ type Plug and Play units. It’s a bit easy using a keyboard, but all the included events are well executed and have polished presentation.
The ‘Simba’ TV Sports 10-in-1 is clearly based off the same codebase, but uses different presentation and one less direction on the floor mat.
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.
Night Slashers is a Data East game on similar hardware to Tattoo Assassins, and another case where the blending effects were improved, most noticeably on Stage 2 with the carriage chase scene.
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.
Sky Army is another rare game that has never quite worked properly in MAME. The game logic was broken in various obvious ways once you tried to play it properly. This one is so uncommon that another board didn’t show up to verify things, however careful studying of the ROM code did reveal it to be a bad ROM, with a single bit in the code being incorrecly flipped. Hopefully there aren’t any other issues with the dump, but the game functions as expected now.
It’s almost embarassing to admit that Tranquillizer Gun has never worked properly in MAME, but until 2020 the game was unplayable after the 3rd level due to protection checks and should really never have had the working flag. This was finally fixed around the same time as the netlist audio support was added to the driver, meaning that for the first time you can now play Tranquillizer Gun in MAME, as it was intended to be (and it isn’t even a bad game once you understand the finer details of the gameplay and how everything is balanced)
Another Sega game, Quartet, is another that has never worked correctly due to protection issues. In the case of Quartet this only kicks in on level 15, where there are animated platforms under the control of the protection device. Previous simulations missed this entirely, and even with the MCU being decapped recently, the hookup was incomplete, so this issue remained present. A single unprotected set of the cost-reduced, 2 player only, Quartet II was the only version of this game to previously function as expected.
Sticking with Sega we have Ribbit! a game long considered to have been working, but where in reality there was a sneaky protection trick that would cause you to be warped back to the first stage. The game was actually checking how long a sample sound took to play, and setting a flag if it did not fall within a certain range. The MAME emulation of the sound hardware did not delay the sound starting by long enough for it to pass this check, and so the game would suffer from the warp-back issue. This in reality was likely an attempt to stop bootleggers from converting the game to run on an earlier ‘C’ type board, which lacked the sample support, or maybe even at a stretch to prevent it being converted to run on a Megadrive, although the extensive nature of the code changes needed for that make the latter less likely. Either way, it was fixed.
More of a regression fix this one, but Atari’s Rampart was fixed in MAME late on in 2020. The game had previously been fully playable in MAME, but at the time it worked for the wrong reasons, and had broken a good 10 years prior when the Atari Slapstic protection emulation was improved for other games. While the work on revisiting the Slapstic would flow over into 2021, requiring a few more fix-ups to keep everything happy, the progress started in 2020 with the fixes for Rampart, which no longer malfunctions when you reach the 4th stage.
Other Improvements to Long Standing Issues
The Sega MegaPlay games have never quite functioned correctly in MAME, often ending up with the overlay and game logic desynced resulting in eventual hangs. It turns out that was down to the interlace field flag in the VDP of all things. With that fixed, the logic remains in sync, and the games could be promoted to working.
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. It actually took 2 PCBs of this one to get a complete dump, and the 2nd one was marked as ‘Dragon Master 96’ but lacked any program ROMs. It is possible an alt version exists under that title, yet to be found. As with Dragon Master the hardware this uses is a reworked Korean clone of Capcom’s CPS1 hardware, similar to what was used for many CPS1 bootlegs. The code however appears to be original, not hacked from a Street Fighter title.
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.
Soreike Kokology is a rare piece of Sega software on System 32 hardware. The sequel had been dumped for a while, but not the original. It does however seem to be lacking a dump of the CD-ROM that is used for additional audio on these. I think it’s another one of those ‘personality test’ type machines, although I’m not entirely sure.
Incredible Technologies is best known for producing Golden Tee Golf, however other genres were explorered, including light gun games where there was success with the Big Buck Hunter series. Not every concept made it past the prototype stage however, and Must Shoot TV was one light gun game that didn’t. The prototype version, with 8 stage, was located in 2020.
Data East’s Janken Game Acchi Muite Hoi! is maybe the most well presented game to run on the MLC hardware platform. It’s a simple ‘rock, paper, scissors’ derivative, based on a popular version of the game in Japan, but the whole thing is beautifully animated, and when combined with the voice work, the whole thing comes across as a genuinely charming experience.
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.
Family Sports, all the way to 220
The Plug and Play games which boot to ‘Family Sports’ title pages were amongst some of the most popular for a while. They existed in various forms, and while the tech is mostly the same, they’re considered a step up from the JungleTac developed Zone 60 / Zone 100 style machines. The ‘Wii’ clone versions of these offer some kind of basic motion input on the sports games (although only to the most rudimentary degree) while the handheld versions, which would become more popular later used regular button inputs. The Wii clones also had speakers in the remote, although this feature is not emulated.
The Zone 32-bit Gaming Console System is one of the Wii-clone types, it is marked as Not Working due to the sports game inputs not being entirely correct, but the minigames included are functional.
The My Wico Deluxe is a slightly more misleading product. It claims 85 games, but truth be told, it’s the 41 from the Zone 32-bit, a bonus 20 games, and 3 music games that are identical aside from the title screen.
While the music games in the above are a bit of a con, it’s interesting to note that Mi Guitar was also released as a standalone unit, using a Guitar controller rather than the Wii clone controls and as such doesn’t show you the directions above each note. This doesn’t include the other title screens (maybe those too were released as standalone products) It also includes bonus games, but nothing we haven’t already seen (and I can only imagine they’re awkward to play with the guitar controller) Interestingly this identifies as Mi Guitar 2 on the menu, suggesting there was an earlier product too (I suspect the VT1682 based Guitar game, as it has the same songs)
The OPlayer is next up, this is a 100-in-1 unit, it doesn’t have the music games, but it does have the 41 games from the Zone 32-bit, the bonus 20 from the My Wico Deluxe, a Fishing Game in the main menu, and 38 on top of that.
The ‘Millennium M505 Arcade Neo Portable Spielkonsole’ is another 100-in-1, but what makes this one interesting is that it has an updated frontend, one typically associated with later 220-in-1 units on newer hardware. It’s basically the same selection as the OPlayer in terms of games, but instead of Fishing it has Trampoline.
There are units with capacities between 100 and 200 games on the regular SunPlus hardware, but at the time of writing none of them are dumped, so for the next in line for 2020 coverage is a 200-in-1 unit.
The Denver (GMP-270CMK2) 200-in-1 decides to mix things up a little again, this time moving the previous mini-game categories to the main menu, and dropping the usual selection of 8 or 9 sports games that were adapted from the motion control versions entirely. Quite a few games were moved into different categories too, but overall there are 109 games in here that weren’t present in previously covered units.
The Millennium M521 Arcade Neo 2.0 restores us to the better known main menu layout, with all the sports games intact and a few extras added. This is a 220-in-1 unit, and the largest known collection of games from this developer. A version of this collection from Millennium but with the updated title screen / menu style is known to exist, but is undumped, although it’s unclear if it runs on this SPG2xx type hardware, or the updated hardware type (Taikee put out a 220 version with updated title screen, but that is on newer hardware)
It is less common to see reskins of the games found on the Family Sport units, but that is exactly what you get with the 25-in-1 Code Lyoko handheld, 20 standard Family Sports titles, and 5 with a new coat of paint.
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 110 Song Retro Dance Mat (with Bonus Games) is definitely a strong contenter for one of the worst things emulated; a bad DDR knock-off with short, unlicensed music samples that often repeat at least once to make up the time, and aren’t in any way synced to the arrows makes for a miserable experience.
Although the Subor Sports and Dance Fit Games Mat D-555 manages to better it, but having only terrible sports games as a bonus, and a menu that shows 8 songs, but where the final 4 are just renamed versions of the first 4.
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.
The Retro Arcade Game Controller 153-in-1 is a similar product, with many of the same games, but aimed more at the export market, and as such doesn’t feature a ton of duplicates in the menu, with the count better reflecting the true number of games included. One interesting thing with these units is they do contain additional, unlisted games, some of which seem to be complete but can only be accessed via hacking the ROM.
DreamGear put out a 160 game version of this under the name of My Arcade Gamer Mini 160-in-1
The Arcade 10 was a version of this with the game list cut to 10, it does however have a boot screen
The Supreme 150 is the ‘big brother’ of the Arcade 10, using the same style case, but offering closer to the full selection of games with 150. This one is interesting because the Supreme 200 was a NES VT based unit instead.
Going back to the higher resolution versions, the BornKid 218 in 1 is a larger collection of these games, without any exact duplicates.
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.
A rarer version of the Caplet, the 35-in-1 is also supported. This version was only on shelves briefly before being replaced by the 50-in-1, although it is otherwise not too interesting.
The Caplet wasn’t the first time Performance Designed Products (PDP) had secured an arcade license for a multigame handheld, it actually happened with the VT era Jungletac games too, where a license for Frogger was secured. This is the same version of Frogger that Majesco & later MSI would issue as single game joysticks, but here it’s paired a bunch of other games, making for a more complete package. This was featured on a previous write-up, but improvements in 2020 greatly improved the graphics, and the Frogger game contained within is now playable.
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.
The USA 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.
Super Sonic Gold was considered ‘Volume 3’ of the Radica Genesis Arcade Legends series, although took a different form factor, with everything built into the pad rather than having a ‘Mini Genesis’ box with the hardwired controller. This has 4 Sonic games, duplicating Sonic 1 from the Volume 1 and Sonic 2 from Volume 2, but continues to limits you to a single pad, so a good portion of the experience for Sonic 2 and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is missing if using this unit.
Of all the Radica Genesis units, the Street Fighter 2 one was probably the most worthwhile as it used 2 6 button pads, for the proper gameplay experience. Sadly the pads are still hardwired, so if they fail you have no way to replace them, but simply allowing 2 players, and not cutting corners on the number of buttons either made this one a big step up from the others. Interestingly this one doesn’t credit Sega at all for the ‘Game Software’ on the startup screen, despite the Ghouls’n Ghosts port being programmed by Sega.
The Radica OutRun 2019 was also dumped, it doesn’t show any Radica logos, so when it was dumped we were expecting the ROM to simply match the standard release version found on a Genesis / MegaDrive cartridge. To our surprise the unit dumped (which was a European one) instead matched what had for almost 20 years been considered a ‘USA Beta’ version of the game. The dumping of that USA Beta in the first place predates this Radica Plug and Play, so either somehow a Beta ended up on the Plug and Play, or there’s more to that version than it just being a beta.
I mentioned that the USA Volume 1 Genesis collection had been dumped for a long time, the PAL ‘Mega Drive’ release of it had not been, that was dumped in 2020, it’s the same as the USA one except for it using the Mega Drive logo, and PAL versions of the games.
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.
MSI also reissued Frogger. This is actually a reissue of a version that had been put out by Majesco much earlier, although the earlier verison is not emulated. While this is a decent enough port of Frogger to NES type hardware, the game was also available as part of the VG Pocket Tablet, along with many additional games and furthermore the market was already flooded with the original Majesco release of this as it was one of the most common Plug & Play units. The version for which support was added is relatively uncommon, featuring the same type of case as the Mega Man II and Double Dragon releases.
As mentioned, prior to MSI releasing games using the MSI brand they were releasing them as Majesco. Golden Nugget Casino is one of the earlier offerings, from 2004.
Majesco’s best Plug & Play unit by a considerable margin was the “Konami Collector’s Series Arcade Advanced” which again is NES based, and in this case a de-make of a Game Boy Advance product, but is actually a set of games you might want to play, and includes a fresh NES port of Scramble apparently also developed by JungleTac.
MSI would move away from NES hardware for a single release; the Street Fighter II reissue. This one is a surprisingly well built unit for the price, however the software it runs is the Genesis version of Street Fighter 2, and worse, it offers no 2 player mode (as there’s no 2nd controller) and on top of that even the single player game is crippled due to all the options menus and alt game modes being removed; you can’t even play this one in Hyper mode. There was an unlicensed also a Chinese Plug and Play using the exact same case, exact same version oF Street Fighter 2, but with 145 games in total so it seems like MSI probably repurposed an existing product and just strippd it down to the only game a license could be secured for. The previously mentioned Radica Street Fighter II unit offers a much better overall experience simply from having the complete version of the game, and 2 controllers.
The original Atari Flashback ‘Mini 7800’ release is another odd one. In this case I use the term reissue loosely because while the games found on the unit look approximately like a mix of Atari 2600 and Atari 7800 games they’ve been reprogrammed to work with NES-on-a-chip technology. Subsequent devices would instead clone the Atari hardware before switching over to emulation. As a result none of the versions of the games found on this first Flashback device look, play or sound quite as you’d expect them to, meaning it wasn’t the best received of units. Trying to make a NES look like an Atari 2600 is an interesting challenge, so the unit probably deserves some praise for almost pulling it off, but ultimately wasn’t convincing.
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.
Popular Plug & Plays
One big catch for JAKKS Pacific back in 2004 was the license to do a Plug & Play version of Mortal Kombat. This ended up not being a reissue of any of the home versions of the game, but a fresh port of the game to SunPlus hardware. Several versions were released, one with the full gore and fatalities of the arcade, and another with that all censored, although they seem to share the same ROM, with a jumper pad inside determining if the fatlities are available. The censored version is quite limited, while the regular one is a respectable port, not arcade perfect, and the link feature to allow 2 players not yet emulated, but a respectable port.
Another popular JAKKS unit was the Ms. Pac-Man one, which unlike the more recent MSI and DreamGear reissues was an original port of the game to SunPlus hardware done by HotGen, and as such it looks and sounds very close to the arcade original. The Wireless 7-in-1 unit was a less common revision of this product, with a different case style. It predates the GameKey version, but includes 2 of the games that would later feature on GameKeys for those versions. The 5-in-1 versions of this, and 2 of the GameKeys were emulated the previous year, so this progress might seem familiar, but this specific configuration had not been previously emulated.
2020 also saw support added for the least common of the JAKKS Pacific Game-Keys, the original 2 game key for the Ms. Pac-Man unit, which was sold separately from the unit. Later reissues of the Ms. Pac-Man 5-in-1 would come bundled with a 3 game version of this, adding the original Rally-X too, that version is much more common and was already emulated, but this Game-Key marks the first time the HotGen developed SunPlus SPG2xx based version of the original Pac-Man was available to the public.
dreamGEAR came within inches of getting things right with a more modern release, the Pac-Man player, which unlike every other dreamGear My Arcade unit uses Megadrive based hardware. Bad sound on the real unit, and a few silly mistakes in the Pac-Man version such as playing the game start jingle before every stage let it down however. It apparently managed to sell very well, so in some senses it could be considered popular, even if a lot of coverage of the unit was highly negative. There is an undumped reissue of this with a screen that tells you to use the A or B buttons to insert credits on Pac-Man after you select it from the menu, it is unknown if it addresses the other issues.
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.
Designer’s World could be considered a spinoff from the DreamLife series, with similar overall presentation and a similar target audience, but presenting a game that is more of a business simulator rather than a life simulator. Design clothes, manage models, build your fashion empire. For a Plug & Play type game this has a surprising amount of depth; it’s not going to beat a full-blown Tycoon game, but it was definitely a worthwhile product.
Japanese Plug & Play
2020 was a relatively quite year for work on Japanese Plug and Play units; a number were dumped, but many still need work before they can be considered to be playable. Champiyon Pinball is an exception in that it was relatively easy to get running, and uses standard controls.
Mahou Taiketsu Magiranger – Magimat de Dance & Battle is a collection of minigames based on the Japanese version of the ‘Power Rangers’ series. This one runs on Super XaviX type hardware, but does not appear to use any of the Super XaviX features outside of the bootscreen, so works as expected.
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.
Solite Spirits is an early version of 1945k III from when the game was still carrying Promat’s logo as the publisher / distributor. This has some signfiicant differences to the better known version, including different background designs and less developed sound. It’s possibly a prototype, or a version released in Korea prior to wider release.
An early, possible prototype, version of NARC was also found, this identifies as version 1.8. It has numerous differences and is lacking several elements, including entire stages when compared to any of the previously supported versions. If it’s not a prototype it’s definitely a very early version that hit arcades before the game was finished.
Black Touch II isn’t an official alternate version of a game, but it is an unofficial one. Like so many Korean games sold as originals this one is actually derived from a different game rather than being a true original codebase. In this case the original game is Shanghai II, even if the developers did their best to hide it.
An Asian release of Double Wings might look the same on the surface, but it forgoes the entire checkpoint system that makes the other verisons of the game brutally difficult at times, instead respawning you where you died with a brief period of invulnerability. This in turn makes this Raiden knock-off from Mitchell much more approachable.
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.
Quite often we have little information on what these gambling games were sold as when they turn up, especially when there’s no title screen at all, as is the case for this one with ‘rocket’ themed playing card replacements (and unused?) animal graphics in the ROM. It’s about as generic as you can get.
The V.Tech V.Smile and V.Smile Motion systems are two of the most popular educational consoles ever released, but up until 2020 many of the games didn’t function properly as inputs didn’t respond. This issue was fixed, the standard control pad is emulated, the motion one is not, but the vast majority, if not all of the games, function using the regular pad.
The V.Smile was not the only educational system to make the release notes in 2020 as JAKKS Pacific also put out some educational units under the Sharp Cookie brand. One of these, a Thomas & Friends 3-in-1 was dumped and emulated. In this case it was a UK version of the product that was dumped, the UK version features pre-game scenes where the gameplay for each minigame is explained.
As with all technology, the tech powering the Plug and Play titles would evolve over time. The earlier SunPlus SP2xx based systems would give way to the later GPL16250 ones, and JAKKS Pacific would embrace this quickly, putting out TV Games that packed in a greater amount of content, with more visual appeal. This hardware isn’t full understood yet, so most of these titles are not yet playable, and many have complex motion style inputs which will make emulation trickier, but one highlight of 2020 was seeing many of these boot.
Some GPL16250 based games are playable, but haven’t yet been promoted to working as there’s no sound emulation, and overall the quality of the GPL16250 emulation isn’t trusted enough to be sure that they’re working as intended. Gormiti Arena is one such game.
The Pac-Man Connect & Play unit is another GPL16250 device. It’s actually a collection of emulators running on the GPL16250. It’s also a godo example of what I mean when I say the GPL16250 emulation isn’t entirely trusted, because the emulated version of Galaga in here acts as it would if the emulated CPUs aren’t syncronized tightly enough in MAME, whereas on the real hardware it does not. This might indicate that they’re using the timers to split the execution time, and the timers are not yet properly emulated. Other than that, aside from the lack of sound, these versions are playable.
There were versions of the Family Sport collections released on GPL16250 hardware too. These are, for the most part, identical to the ones on SPG2xx hardware, although some of them, such as the “I’m Game” units have custom presentation for the initial menus. Interestingly the hardware type isn’t directly connected to capacity, because the highest capacity 220-in-1 units were available for both types of technology, and this specific I’m Game one, with fewer games, also runs on the newer tech.
There were 220-in-1 versions using GPL16250 too, Taikee put one out with the updated menu style. Compared to the 220-in-1 version on the SPG2xx hardware there are a few changes, including a handful of games not present on those units (with some others being dropped to make room for them) and a few bugs that have been verified on original hardware, for example, the bottom line of the background on Piggy Golf vanishes when you get the ball in the hole.
DreamGear put out the My Arcade Go Gamer Portable with an identical selection of games to the Taikee unit, but with the older traditional style menu found on so many of the lower capacity units.
The Beijue 220-in-1 on the other hand is more closely related to the ‘Millenium Arcade 101 and 250’ units, offering mostly the same selection of games as those, but again running on the newer platform.
Finding anything positive to say about the Mattel HyperScan is difficult. It was a system flawed right from the design board, trying to force games to be designed around a physical collectable card model rather than gameplay, using CD-based media with a slow, unreliable CD drive for the games and software libraries that really weren’t optimized for accessing data from such. Progress on the emulation was good to see however, as the architecture used is based on the uncommon S+Core from SunPlus / GeneralPlus, which is entirely different to the unSP based CPUs. It seems like it wasn’t a huge success however, as the unSP machines continued to be developed and the tech built upon, while S+Core faded into obscurity. All the HyperScan games are actually playable, including card scanning, although there are some logic bugs, visual issues and no sound which prevents them from being promoted just yet. Performance strongly indicates that these would also benefit from a recompiler for the CPU.
ABL’s 4 Player System was dumped in 2020, and it runs on the same type of hardware as Track and Field Challenge and My 1st Dance Dance Revolution, where we saw proress in 2019. There wasn’t much in the way of progress on the driver in 2020 despite the new dump giving some further evidence for how the video registers work. The hold up with this one is the possibility that there’s a small internal ROM with some code, used for one of the interrupts and maybe in part responsible for sound / some logic. This needs further research.
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.