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More Toons

February 21, 2019 Haze Categories: General News. Comments Off on More Toons

One of the 3 GameKeys that was released for JAKKS Pacific ‘NK’ based systems was one containing Nicktoons Volleyball and Birdie Putt. We picked this one up along with the Nicktoons base unit, again thanks to those who donated money to make this possible.


Nicktoons Gamekey

The GameKey boots with your typical logos to the title page, where you can select either game.


Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

I’ll start by looking at the Birdie Putt golf game, which offers a selection of options, including a ‘Hard’ difficulty mode (which presumably sets the par on each hole lower) There are 3 themes to choose from, each offering 6 holes, and a variety of Nicktoons characters each player can choose from. Up to 4 players are supported.

Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

The Spongebob themed world contains objects you’d expect to find in the Spongebob universe.

Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey
Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

Fairly Odd Parents! likewise contains things associated with that cartoon. There are mini Windmills on this set of courses where your timing must be correct in addition to your aim.

Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

Danny Phantom is as you’d expect themed around that one, including warp portals etc.

Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

So you get 18 total holes of Mini Golf, every hole is different and mastering each one could take some time. There’s no AI so this is strictly to play against your friends, or yourself for the best score.

It’s a solid, if unspectacular Mini-golf game that I could see being fun with a few friends; it’s not going to occupy too much of your time, and as an adult you could probably turn it into some kind of drinking game if you were so inclined.

The other game is Volleyball. It offers a similar selection of options to Birdie Putt, although instead of a selection of themes you just get the choice of an exhibition match or tournament.


Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

I also seem to be terrible at this game, haven’t quite figured out the timing / positioning of the characters, so I don’t really have much to show from it.

Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey Nicktoons Gamekey

The biggest drawback I can see to this is that it’s single player only, as the Nicktoons controllers don’t provide any kind of link ability. I’ve never really been a fan of volleyball games, not even the good ones, so there isn’t much more to say about this except it definitely seems better than the awful Dora the Explorer Soccer game on the other Nicktoons GameKey.

So two games, they’re alright, could have maybe done with a bit more content but what’s there is playable and presents some level of challenge.

Again I’ll put a reminder that the GameKeys end up being part of the Software Lists, so to launch this you’d use “mame64 jak_nick volbird” (you can use any of the NK games as a base, the internal system ROM is ignored when the GameKey is in use)

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Toons

February 20, 2019 Haze Categories: General News. 1 Comment on Toons

Let’s look at something I haven’t featured on my YouTube channel yet.


Nicktoons

This is the JAKKS Pacific Nicktoons Plug it in and Play TV game. It’s a GameKeyReady unit and was picked up with the help of the 24 donations that were made in the previous donation drive. It was sent to Sean Riddle who extracted the ROM for studying. It uses NK GameKeys, of which 3 were released. The NK supporting line of products features a number of different units, including the previously covered Dora the Explorer ‘Nursery Rhyme Adventure’ game which in all honesty I wasn’t too impressed with. They use 2 main buttons and a digital stick.

This game is much better than the Dora one, it’s a 5-in-1, and boots to a good looking select screen. Presentation is excellent, each game offers an ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ mode from the start.


Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons

The first game is “The Fairly Odd Parents! – Channel Chasers” which is a maze based around said show. To clear each stage you must collect all the required objects. There are wands that act like keys to open doors, or provide you with a shield, there are TV themed powerups to rewind and pause enemies and I believe 4 different themes which get rotated. All in all it isn’t especially challenging, as the AI is predictable, but as a maze game for a younger player to enjoy it is very well done; you do have to put some thought into your play and can’t just play it blindly without thinking.

It’s also another game that is going to tell us something about our emulation, because the background on the title screen is meant to be a solid blue with stars, I don’t know where the strange pattern comes from.


Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons
Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons

The second game is “Spongebob Squarepants Delivery Service” and again actually plays well. It’s basically a forced scrolling run and jump shooter where you must throw burgers at your friends (or use them to pop bubbles that get in your way) while avoiding hazards. Hit the target, a coin appears, grab enough coins within the time limit and you pass the level, otherwise you fail. Difficulty goes up slightly with each stage. It requires decent coordination to watch where you’re going on the ground and move between the hazards, and provides you with a limited number of burgers so you can’t simply spam the fire button. This is well designed and while not overly difficult, I found myself enjoying it, although the lack of variety in stage themes was a shame (it seems to alternate between just 2)


Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons
Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons

Third game is “Rocket Power Downhill Skateboarding” and this one is not a bad game either. From a technical point of view it only runs at 30fps, not a silky smooth 60fps like the others, but it doesn’t really hinder the gameplay. It’s what you’d expect from this type of game, race down the screen, avoiding hazards, making sure to go through or hit the flags on each gate. Don’t hit a wall straight on or you’ll ‘Wipeout’ and lose a life. The whole thing handles well, controls feel spot on. As with Spongebob, it lacks variety in stage themes, but the stage designs do change enough to make that not really a problem. Only negative I have to say about this is maybe it’s a bit too generous with the extra lives, but I have to acknowledge the target audience.


Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons
Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons

“Jimmy Neutron – A Beautiful Mine” is the 4th game, and it’s basically Lode Runner for kids, but with a twist that your little robot digs the holes, and takes a few seconds to do so, meaning you must plan in advance if you want to trap an enemy. I’ve always quite enjoyed this style of game and this seems like a good introduction to the genre. Here you have a much better variety of stages and backgrounds too. I can’t really complain, it manages to execute what it intended to achieve well.


Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons
Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons

The 5th game is a little different to the rest. It’s designed for 2-4 players and takes the form of a board game. Roll dice, choose which direction you want to go, collect the tokens from each location and get home before the other player. It’s something kids of this age would happily play on a board, but here it’s in video form. Not really my thing, but I never liked these in physical form either, however like the rest the execution of the concept is just fine, at no point is it unclear what is happening.


Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons
Nicktoons Nicktoons Nicktoons

So yes, I was genuinely surprised by this package. I thought all the games with NK GameKey slots were going to be really bad based on the previous experience with the Dora game, but what we have here are 5 games that while not especially challenging, are actually enjoyable for a while. If somebody were to make a ROMhack of this to up the difficulty I dare say plenty of adults could get many hours of enjoyment out of them (not something I’m interested in doing myself, I just do the emulation, but it was a thought that crossed my mind while playing them)

We also got a GameKey with this, but I’ll cover that in a future update.

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Hunny, I Found a Bug

February 19, 2019 Haze Categories: General News. Comments Off on Hunny, I Found a Bug

24 people have donated at this point, and I’ve been able to pick up a good number of the JAKKS Marvel titles etc. for studying as well as some miscellaneous items. We’ve got a complete collection of GameKeyReady units, and all the GameKeys except for the rather redundant 2-in-1 Pac-Man & Bosconian (we have the 3-in-1 which has those 2 and also Rally-X) It’s possible there are alt revisions (we know for at least one game this is the case) but our baseline coverage of those units is good right now. The GameKeyReady units are currently easiest ones for Sean to dump as he has an established technique. The non-GameKey ones (of which we have a good number of units secured) are going to be more challenging, but shouldn’t be impossible (he managed to dump Classic Arcade Pinball previously, which was a non-GameKey unit)

Anyway, trying to balance coverage here with actual work being done is actually challenging; anybody who has been following my YouTube page will likely have seen videos of many of the things I’m going to end up covering before I write about them here, but I do like to have write-ups with static screenshots too so will get round to things eventually.

One of the GameKeyReady units we picked up was “Winnie the Pooh, Piglet’s Special Day” It has a GameKey port code of WP, and no GameKeys were ever released for it. It’s a Disney product, which might make you wonder why it doesn’t use the DY GameKey port code and share games with the Disney Friends etc. The answer is fairly simple, this is a single button unit with a spongy (very squeaky! not sure it was like that 15 years ago or not) Kid-friendly analog stick while the Disney units are digital controls.


Pooh

This one was very much designed for younger children. It’s well drawn, and animated, but ultimately, as you’ll see, rather shallow. Basic ‘story’ and game instructions are presented in big bold dialog boxes that presumably an adult would have read out.


Pooh Pooh Pooh
Pooh Pooh Pooh Pooh

You choose the games from a grid of 6, the analog stick allows you to move the cursor around, which works well as a control method as you can move more quickly by pushing the stick further or slowly with gentle movements. Some of the games have an easy/hard mode option, with the hard mode usually just meaning you have to do the activity for longer, in most cases you can’t really lose, just repeat until you succeed, you know, like Dark Souls, but even easier.


Pooh Pooh

In Rabbit’s Garden you pull vegetables out of the ground and throw them in a basket, there are also moles trying to steal them. Each vegetable has 3 stages of growth, at the 3rd you can either pull it out the ground (by moving over it and pressing the button) or one of the moles will steal it. If you both go for the same thing then you’ll get it as long as you keep pressing the button. Get 10 (easy) or 20 (hard) in the basket and you win. It really doesn’t matter how many get stolen, the count never goes down, and winter never comes.

Pooh Pooh Pooh

Rabbit’s Birthday Surprise involves going full on Metal Gear by hiding in a box with Piglet while grabbing carrots to put on a birthday cake for Rabbit. The cake is the same colour as Piglet and looks disturbingly like a joint of ham. This one does dock you carrots if Rabbit sees you. You can also scare him if you want, which seems a little mean but likely won’t cause as much trauma as when Piglet finds out what the cake he’s sticking carrots in is made out of.



The next game, Butterfly Catch, involves blowing bubbles to catch butterflies. You can also catch leaves too, which is more challenging because there are less of them, but they don’t count. Piglet will free whatever you catch with his stick. Personally I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home as butterflies are defenseless meaning this is just cruel; if you are going to do this, try it with wasps instead, that really should have been what Hard mode was, but alas, it just means you have to get twice as many butterflies. Again there’s no real lose condition here, no penalty for doing anything wrong and no time limit. Pooh Bear was not given a role in the Bubble Bobble movie.



Pooh’s Picnic Fun does have the basics of a game in place. It’s race against Kanga to collect fruit for a Picnic. You must crawl under the bushes by pressing down, and jump across the turtles in the river using the button; fail to do either and you’ll be slowed down. After crossing the river it’s time to toss Piglet high in the air to grab fruit off a tree (a tree of many kinds of fruit, I have no idea if this is Pooh lore or not) and then head back over the river, and under the bushes, to your picnic basket. First to get 3 pieces of fruit wins. You can actually lose here, you have to really try, but you can. Roo probably hates Kanga because she’ll stand there throwing him in the air over and over again making sure he is just out of reach of any fruit until Piglet has grabbed some for you, talk about letting the team down.



Pooh’s Music Corner is very much not a game. At best it’s a limited sound board. You can click on some objects and they make a sound. You can click on some characters and they’ll start playing some music. Maybe it would sound better if our SunPlus audio emulation was better, I’m not sure. If characters are playing music the hunny jar icon in the corner will slowly fill, and at the point it is filled Roo will leap up and grab the jar of hunny from the shelf. So basically the entire game is click on a character and wait, click on more characters and wait less. Clicking on the music box does not actually appear to trigger any kind of sound or animation. Clicking on the hunny jar shows an animation of some being spilled, but worry not, no hunny was actually spilled in the making of this music video as your honey count never goes down.



But.. there is a light at the end of the tunnel in these rather dull mini-games for the final game, Light Tag, might actually prove to be useful.

Light Tag is a simple ‘search our your friends in the dark’ game. You hunt around rocks and trees with your lantern looking for your friends.

The best part about this is that this specific minigame does not currently work properly in MAME, and is the reason the emulation of the machine has been given a NOT WORKING tag. There are 2 issues. The first issue is with the Dynamic Recompiler (DRC). When the DRC is enabled all of your ‘left’ movements in this minigame are interpreted as ‘right’ movements, with the recompiler turned off they correctly move you left. This will almost certainly be useful for fixing a bug in the recompiler. The second bug occurs both with and without the recompiler and is easily triggered too. Once you find one of your friends the game usually locks up completely, making it unplayable from that point (you can’t even exit to menu). This could point us at either another CPU bug that occurs in both cores, or a bug in the emulation of the on-chip peripherals (at the moment where the problem lies isn’t clear)




So yes, even this collection of games, clearly aimed at a very young audience actually has a real use in terms of emulation development and improving our emulation as it provides a useful test case highlighting some flaws that may end up improving other things where the bugs being introduced were less obvious or where we hadn’t even noticed.

There’s also a credits page if you want to see who made this. Personally, jokes I’ve made in this write-up aside, I thought the presentation here was excellent and captures the characters well, but the majority of the game concepts are neither educational or actually fun. It would have been nice to see the ‘Hard’ modes (where present) actually add a degree of challenge rather than just being ‘do it for longer’ as I think even younger kids would have benefited from some sense of progression. Since no GameKeys were ever released for this unit I can’t see it having provided much beyond a day or two of entertainment, I know I would have become bored of it quickly.

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docock

February 16, 2019 Haze Categories: General News. Comments Off on docock

Joysticks, especially those that were available for 8-bit and 16-bit computers back in the day often had a tendency to look rather phallic, but maybe none so quite as much as the 2004 JAKKS Pacific Spider-Man Plug and Play game. For a toy aimed at kids the definitely doesn’t look like the most innocent of designs.


Spider-Man

Anyway, with money from the 22 donations that have been received, I was able to pick up one of the GameKeyReady versions of this Spider-Man plug and play, as well as the game key to go with it. It runs on SunPlus hardware as expected, just like the other GameKeyReady units. Sean managed to dump the ROM with no issues.


Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1

The primary game in the unit is a multi-level platformer, it’s not too bad, there are certainly worse Spiderman games out there. You jump and swing about, collecting bags of money, beating up or webbing enemies until you get to a boss. It’s a shame it only seems to run / animate at 30fps, but it’s a nice little platform game if you like platform games.

Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1
Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1

The 2nd game in the unit is a fast-paced ‘Bank Panic’ style thing, where you must quickly web attack the enemy cards that pop up (those with the red edge) while making sure not to web any of the friendly faces (blue edge) because that results in immediate failure. This plays well and is a good test of reactions.


Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1

The 3rd game plays a bit like a Game & Watch title, you’re having to follow Venom at the top, making sure to throw web to block his projectiles, while also defending yourself from enemies that run in from the sides.


Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1

The 4th game is a pre-rendered 3D maze title, where you go around defusing bombs. It’s a very simple game really, and easy enough just to ignore the main view entirely and just use the mini-map. Probably the least fun thing on here.


Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1

The 5th and final game is a bit like upside down Missile Command, you must blast the rockets and bombs being fired at you using your web before they destroy the beam holding Spider-Man up.


Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1 Spiderman 5-in-1

So GameKey?


Spider-Man

Yes, we have the GameKey, and yes, after seeing the Phallic joystick I thought Sean was having a bit of a joke when he dumped it and had ‘docock’ in the filename. Of course, I was meant to read that as Doc Ock, not Do Cock, but yeah, that happened.

Anyway, the GameKey is some more platforming action, much like the first game in the main unit, however this time round things are much more polished. The whole thing runs at a solid 60fps, so is buttery smooth. Sadly you can’t play the original levels with these improvements, but it does give you some new challenges and builds on what was already the best part of the main unit.


Spider-Man Spider-Man Spider-Man
Spider-Man Spider-Man Spider-Man
Spider-Man Spider-Man Spider-Man
Spider-Man

There are plenty more new JAKKS dumps to write about too, although the next batch to be covered were mostly aimed at younger audiences.

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Back Pac-ing

February 12, 2019 Haze Categories: General News. 1 Comment on Back Pac-ing

One thing I didn’t mention with the previous update is that for a lot of the HotGen developed JAKKS Pacific games there is an easy code to enter a debug / test menu. This is documented on The Cutting Room Floor where they show the screen from one of the later 2009 units. Either way, the method to access the test menu is the same “On the opening screen, hold Up and press A, then release Up and press Down to enter Debug Mode.”

Here is the screen from the Ms. Pac-Man GameKeyReady base unit that we used. It has a build string of “07 FEB 2005 A SKU F” this will be useful for comparing against other units as we know there are quite a few revisions.


Base Unit

2 GameKeys for this unit were also dumped, the first, containing New Rally X + Dig Dug and has a build string / date of “01 APR 2005 A SKU E” while the 2nd key, containing Pac-Man, Bosconian and Rally-X has a build string of “11 JUL 2005 A SKU I”

New Rally X, Dig Dug Pac-Man, Bosconian, Rally X

So yeah, 2 GameKeys, 5 more ports of classic Namco titles

New Rally X, Dig Dug Pac-Man, Bosconian, Rally X

There was a 3rd GameKey, which is the same as the Pacman, Bosconian, Rally-X one, but without Rally-X, so is kinda redundant. Rally-X was a bonus for buying a bundled version, if you bought a non-bundled version you didn’t get it.

Anyway looking at the games, first, Pac-Man, it feels good to play, and in my not fully educated opinion is a respectable port of the game.


Pac-Man Pac-Man Pac-Man
Pac-Man Pac-Man Pac-Man

Maybe subjective, but Bosconian feels more like a port, although is still enjoyable.

Bosconian Bosconian Bosconian
Bosconian Bosconian Bosconian

Rally X is more difficult than I remember it being, with very aggressive enemy AI, but it’s fast, smooth and very playable; maybe I’m just rusty. The original Rally-X arcade is actually one of the first arcade games I ever remember playing.

Rally-X Rally-X Rally-X
Rally-X Rally-X Rally-X

New Rally-X on the other hand is quite easy, and a fair bit slower (but still smooth) The sound emulation also doesn’t work as well. It’s quite strange, because Rally-X and New Rally-X feel like they’re 2 completely different ports, even if logically one would just expand on the other. The arcade New Rally-X was also easier, but the difference doesn’t seem quite as significant as it is here?

New Rally-X New Rally-X New Rally-X
New Rally-X New Rally-X New Rally-X

Dig Dug is probably my least favorite of these ports, but I’ve never really been a fan of the original. I love the sequel, but nobody really seems to care for it, however the original never really appealed to me. This has a slight scroll because the playfield otherwise wouldn’t fit on the screen, I find it to be distracting, although maybe the other options would have been worse for the actual game experience.

Dig Dug Dig Dug Dig Dug
Dig Dug Dig Dug Dig Dug

There you go anyway, 5 more ports of classic Namco games to a Plug and Play system, which is now emulated. One thing to keep in mind if you’re a MAME user, the GameKeys, which include these games, are part of the Software Lists, to be used with the Ms. Pac-Man base machine. This is because the GameKeys are like cartridges. If you’re using a proper version of MAME this isn’t a problem, but some distributions fail to include the vital ‘hash’ files needed for the Software Lists to work.

Again these were purchased with the help of the 20 donations that were made during the previous appeal. Sean Riddle handled the hardware side of things, I handled the emulation side of things.

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Return of the Ms. Pac

February 10, 2019 Haze Categories: General News. 9 Comments on Return of the Ms. Pac

Some of the better known JAKKS Pacific products were the ones based off popular arcade games, late home ports of classic 80s titles. These were some of the last times these games were ported, rather than simply emulated as is traditionally the case now.

That means the games have their own sets of quirks etc. due to either design choices to make the games more suitable for the target platform, or errors / lack of care in the porting.

With the now 20 donations from the previous donation drive, one of the things we picked up was the GameKeyReady Ms. Pacman 5-in-1 unit, and 2 GameKeys to go with it (one has arrived, the other has not yet)

Like all the JAKKS stuff so far this runs on SunPlus architecture. There are imperfections with the MAME emulation still, mostly noticeable with the sound, but otherwise all games in the collection play well.


Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman

With Ms. Pacman you can see how the game was squashed a little to fit on a horizontal screen.

Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman
Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman

Pole Position seems to be the weakest of the ports, the game difficulty is considerably less, and best I can tell you have no brake input. The system has 2 digital buttons, one is accelerate, the other is change gear (there’s also a 3rd on the front for the menu) there was however a special spinny joystick for the analog steering, which makes it a nice little addition anyway.

Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman
Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman

Galaga is Galaga, it feels like a solid port to me.

Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman
Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman

Xevious again seems to play well, the vertical area is cut off a little, and so maybe there are a few more shots coming from off-screen, but it doesn’t seem to impact playability, was a better choice than squashing the graphics or trying to implement a ‘smart’ scrolling, which never works well in a vertical scrolling game as it distorts bullet trajectory etc.

Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman
Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman

Mappy also feels like a solid port, stages and bonus levels intact, gameplay is challenging. There’s a slight vertical scroll to compensate for the playfield being larger than the screen, but it’s handled well.

Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman
Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman Ms. Pacman

You might say ‘why bother’ when it comes to emulating these, as you can just run the originals in MAME, but at least to me, part of the MAME journey is to document the paths each IP was taken on, and as these are official licensed ports, they’re part of that journey, and as they’re running on an entirely different architecture to the originals (the SunPlus ‘unsp’ core is certainly different to the ‘z80’ etc.) they’re interesting to study from that point of view too.

From an emulation point of view, MAME does need work, there’s an odd glitch where after saving the scores (because yes, all these on the GameKeyReady unit save scores to internal memory) a sound channel goes missing. Strangely Disney Friends suffers from a similar issue, but in that case ALL sound goes missing. Hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it.

Thanks again to everybody who has been putting money forward, it’s really helping to source these and cover the unit costs and shipping costs for getting them where they need to go.

I mentioned Game Keys, and I’ll cover those in a future update.

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