Few years back I decided to pick up and review Battle Mania‘s Chinese knock-off/reproduction cart from eBay for cheap. Time hasn’t been all that kind to my views on the reproduction, and in hindsight it is just atrociously bad. Fast forward to 2019 and I’m sitting here with another new Mega Drive game cart in my hand. This time, a licensed re-realease of Advanced Busterhawk Gley Lancer. extreme has their hands on all of Masaya’s IPs, and apparently Columbus Circle saw it fit to license Gley Lancer and give it a quality rerun. This is review of the package and quality of the production, not a review of the game. The game’s 9/10 shooting game, go buy it. I would recommend reading the previously linked Battle Mania review for some comparison.
First impressions are important, and the packaging doesn’t falter. The box has the same feel as the original Mega Drive game boxes, that sort of somewhat cheap feel of plastic that could break anytime, but can still take a beating. The surface texture on the transparent plastic wrap is there and it gives the perfect kind of feel under your fingers. It looks and feels the part; a genuine Mega Drive game. The cover sleeve is thin matte paper, again just like the original MD games. The print quality is perfect without losing any details. Furthermore, if you don’t want to see two girls on a box of this game, you can always reverse the sleeve for the original boxart image.
This adds value, and collectors can have the original cover just fine. However, Columbus Circle did make certain that people would not be tricked, as they slapped their logo on the spine and contact information on the back. I should also point out the additional text at the bottom of the cover mentioning that this isn’t Sega Games endorsed product. This is sort of unofficialy official Mega Drive game, produced with the proper license from the IP holder, but without Sega’s involvement.
These first impressions on the outside of a product like this take a long way. Collectors who showcase their games want the appearance to be right. However, the insides need to be satisfying as well for those who will keep playing the game as normal, like yours truly.
Everything is, of course, new. While pretty much every and all MD carts out there are black, Columbus Circle used a semi-transparent smoke coloured one for Gley Lancer. While a personal preference says it looks like, it might’ve been better to go with the same solid black as standard MD cartridge. However, the texture around the label gives a nice grip. Again, this sort of tactile feedback takes a product a long way forward. Some Japanese cartridges did feel a bit cheap back in the day for whatever reason, Western carts just had better build overall. This one is somewhere in-between, having better plastic than the Japanese releases, but not as good as European or American. The mould used however has been excellent, as the shell halves fit together rather perfectly. The label print is top notch, nothing to bitch about here. It just has been applied too close to the bottom, meaning there’s a lot of empty space at the back, and that the on the lower left corner is taken some very minor damage. Not that this was all that rare back in the day, but whoever put these on probably didn’t really care.
At the back you see the main reason why this review won’t have PCB pictures; the screws are covered by a label. You can see the spot on the left where I’ve pressed the label is somewhat to expose the rims of the screw holes. Columbus Circle branded these carts with their own logo, which again makes it stand apart from original cartridges. Your mileage may vary whether or not you like this, but it nevertheless does give the whole deal a different feel. You won’t forget that this was produced in 2019. By that extension, you might not feel that this is “real” despite having licensed and all under its belt. Notice that the label is slightly peeled on the right there. This either means that the label is robust enough to start coming off by itself, or the applier just screwed this up as well. Heating the adhesive a bit and reapplying should remedy this well enough. In addition to this, there are some problems with the cartridge.
While original cartridges had the injection tabs in the same place, the quality assurance never left large, broken surfaces. This isn’t the case with this particular copy, and I don’t really think the manufacturer cared too much about the rest either. Rather than taking the time and effort to file or sand down the tabs completely, they’re largely left in their original state. The tabs rise some two millimeters off the inside surface, and while they don’t interfere with the game’s insertion into the console, they do look rather tacky. Taking a knife and cutting them even or otherwise leveling them isn’t a problem or a major task, but something that just degrades from the overall quality of the product. This probably is the largest gripe, which says a lot otherwise about the quality.
While I won’t be opening the cart for now, we can use the transparent plastic to our advantage. Here you can see how clean everything is, though just ignore the dust bit at the top. The PCB seems to be standard MD size, and there doesn’t seem to be anything extra, unlike 8Bit Music Power. Columbus Circle did improve their PCB design right after all the negative feedback after this. I’m betting they’re using flash memory to store the ROM, but unlike with the Chinese Battle Mania knock-off, this seems to utilise a full-sized PCB, similar to 8Bit Music Power FINAL. Columbus Circle has released a music title on the Mega Drive previously, one which I’ll probably pick up at a later date for comparison how this release compares to it. That smoke colour really comes to through nicely against light though.
The manual, however, does let you down a bit. Not much, but enough.
The manual’s printed on a good matte paper. This is seems to be clear cut difference between people who haven’t done project like this and those who have; experienced people use matte paper most of the time. If glossy paper is present, its used for an effect and even then the nature of the paper is selected carefully. Saying glossy and matte don’t really tell anything on themselves, but opening the can between paper qualities would take a whole blog in itself. That matter aside, the manual uses the new boxart slightly cropped, which is a good choice. You can reverse the cover sleeve to the original boxart while still keeping the new style look at hand. The rest though?
This one page really should tell it all. On one hand, the print quality is pretty good, nothing short of original Mega Drive runs. However, the characters on the left seem too dark. It is very likely that Columbus Circle had to resort to scanning the original manual rather than gain access to the original materials. This either means the original manual was this dark as well, the printing colours were off, or that something happened between scanning and printing. This seeming darker-than-intended issue of course is on every page, colours saturated and all. However, because most lines and text are sharp, I can’t help but this is was the original result. You can also see that the grid is not exactly straight, but if we’re completely honest, the grid like this is never completely straight. Neverthless, the manual feels off to drop a point off from the whole package.
Nevertheless, compared to the original Mega Drive games and packaging, this run of Gley Lancer is up to relative standards. There are some spots that should be improved, especially when an official license is in play, but this is far above any Chinese knock-off. Chinese can produce good stuff, as long as you put the money and skill in the production. Practically all repros and releases like this are made in China anyway, its just a question of picking the proper subcontractor to work with and all that. I would still recommend this release of Gley Lancer if you want to play games on your Mega Drive, as it is a complete, official package.
However, I would raise a question whether or not this should supersede the original release, if you had the possibility to choose one or the either. Perhaps it is because there is no license from Sega, or just to differentiate this release from the original, it is 2019 run of Gley Lancer and this will rub some people the wrong way.
Differences include the MD logo, genre classification icons, different Mega Drive text at the top, different cartridge materials and label. We can understand the lack of any Sega related logos and materials, but why change the cartridge label? Perhaps to unify the look of the packaging, to make the overall package look the same across the board. It an be argued that Columbus Circle should’ve stuck replicating the original release as much as possible, but at the same time this could’ve lead some people trying to sell the re-release as original release. An issue these releases always will have is the compatibility with original hardware. While I am a proponent of using modern PCBs and methods to deliver older games in more efficient manner, we’ve seen how haphazard it come become, like it did with 8bit Music Power. However, as said, these issues have been seemingly fixed, and the current method of making reproduction cartridges seems to be solid and without any real hitches. The game also lacks any reference to Sega when it boots up and has the updated Masaya logo alongside Columbus Circle’s own right after. Of course, because Nippon Computer System wasn’t involved in this release, extreme has replaced them in the credits. However, the game code and how it plays is still the same. Here’s a full playthrough of the game with a Mega Drive with sound modified for your enjoyment.
The image quality is much sharper than Columbus Circle’s own trailer, as Framemeister is still the best option to run old systems on modern televisions
Because of all the changes to the packaging and changes in credits, some will consider this as a good knock-off or a repro. Some will consider this release weaker for the same reason and the lower level of quality control. However, when put into context, a small independent circle re-releasing a cult-classic under official license from extreme and Masaya. While it is regrettable that few issues keep this from being an absolutely stellar release, the fact that this wasn’t their first MD release, and Columbus Circle is intending to publish more, they need to tighten up on quality control once more to achieve the same level of quality as original game releases. Neverthless, if you’d like to own a copy of Gley Lancer and can’t spot an original copy or don’t want to spend the money, I would recommend this re-release warmly despite its shortcomings.