A delicate piece of hardware

Much like with other modern technology, we’ve managed to squeeze more into smaller space. The laptops or pads we have nowadays are engineered to a point that barely anyone can open up their cases and fix them without further studying on the subject. Game consoles aren’t any different, though the PlayStation 4 is almost as big as the original Xbox. It wasn’t until we began to have consoles that began to show easily damaged sections in the mainline consoles. While the PlayStation could take some hefty damage (personal experience tells me it can survive a trip in a lake), the PlayStation 2 could be damaged by having enough weight at the wrong spot. This was the time when PCBs started to become thinner and more packed up with components downsizing with almost each year. You could lob a NES or SNES outside a window have it working with a cracked case, and the same really for the PlayStation as well. Personal experience, don’t ask. PlayStation 2 however was the first truly delicate piece of hardware that in the end begun to have issues with reading the discs. Sometimes from the very beginning.

Goddamn, this video came out sometime early 2000’s. Takes me back

Nintendo’s consoles usually have been durable, especially their handheld consoles. There has even been discussion how Iwata drove the DS’ tech team mad by demanding the console to be able to withstand multiple drops from a standard height.

However, the more we pack delicate technology in a smaller place, the more easy it is to break it. While most people fellate companies over the hardware, it’s uncommon to see anyone appreciate the design and intentions of the design. The PSP was applauded for its higher raw power over the DS, and while it was snazzy to have in your hands, it was a delicate piece of hardware that could break down very easily. The console wasn’t meant for everybody, and much like how SEGA used to sell Mega Drive for more mature gamers, SONY’s western branches clearly had the more adult audience in mind. The PSP really couldn’t take much damage, I’ve had to fix a few. The same applies to the Vita to some extent, thought the Vita seems to be able to take a beating or two more than its elder sibling.

The Switch has been out only for a while, but it’s already showcasing very erratic behaviour. Some have it going completely mad in sound department, some consoles refuse to launch games, connection issues with the controllers, and the screen’s been scratched by the dock itself. I saw the dock scratching issue the very moment the whole thing was revealed (it had no guiding rails to keep the screen clear), but having a plastic screen is a necessity. Why wouldn’t you want to have a glass screen? They’re so much better! The reason for this is safety and durability design. See, when you have a plastic screen, the console can dissipate a fall impact by wobbling around rather move the energy directly into rigid parts, destroying them. The very reason your phone’s screen shatters so easily is because it can’t bent, and the energy from the is released by shattering. It’s a design decision between durability and looks.

To sidetrack a bit, this really applies to Muv-Luv‘s BETA as well. The Destoyer-Class has a shield hardness of Mohs-15, but because that’s hardness topping that of a diamond, their shields should shatter when shot at. They don’t flex when hit due to their hardness. Mohs scale is for mineral hardness after all and should never be applied outside jewellery.

Newly borked devices is nothing new, either. The 360 had firmware issues since day one, and the infamous Red Ring of Death haunted machines every which way. Hell, the 360 may be a good example overall how to fuck your console from time to time, as some of my friends have told me their 360 crapped out because of an update. For better or worse, my 360 hasn’t crapped out yet.

No modern console is truly finished at launch. Firmware and software issues are relevant and will be patched out at a later date. This is largely due to modern technology. A Mega Drive never needed firmware patches, because it was less a computer than the modern machines. Whatever problems with the firmware Switch has now will be patched at a later date. However, the hardware and design problems are harder to fix, and if Nintendo is anything to go by, they may revise some of the designs in later production versions.

Though there really isn’t any good excuses to use paint coating that peels off with stickers. That’s just terrible. Who puts stickers on their consoles any more? You’d be surprised.

The first wave of adopters will always have to go through the same pains with modern technology. New smart phones and tablets suffer from firmware issues to the point of most common consumers willingly buying last year’s model in order to get a properly functioning device. The price has already dropped at that point too. Apple has been infamous with some of their smart devices’ firmware problems, and sometimes they were removing basic utilities from the hardware alone. Nobody really expected iPhone 7 not to have a headphone jack.

The question some have asked whether or not it’s worth buying a game console, or any modern smart device or computer component for the matter, if they require multiple updates months later down the line? We can’t see into the future, and it’s hard to say what device will go through a harsh update cycle. Essentially, you’ll need to look into history of a company and make a decision based on that. Just trusting that a company will update broken parts is strongly not recommended.

I guess releasing things partially unfinished and patching them up is an industry standard practice. Games get patched to hell and back, and while this isn’t much new for PC side of business, it’s one of those things that show how little of classic console business is in modern consoles. Not all games get patched though, even when they have console destroying bugs in them. NIS America’s track record with localised games that supposedly lock permanently and prevent you from finishing the game, break your console or generally have terrible translation would a perfect chance to use these patches to fix these issues. However, unlike with consoles and other devices, game developers can ignore these problems as the purchase has already been made and they probably are banking on hardcore fans.

Not that any product is final when it’s released. All products are good enough when released, but that good enough has seen a serious inflation with time.

Monthly Three; The Game Boy march

While reading on materials on the history of the Game Boy, there was always two things that popped up; people saying it outsold like no other despite having technological disadvantage and the fans of the its competitors calling each others’ favourites a piece of overpriced garbage. Unlike the NES, the Game Boy was a much larger success in all three main regions, despite it still seeing shortages in Europe overall. However, going into GB’s market success is not the point here. The design philosophy is, and how pretty much all ‘victorious’ consoles reflect this.

While I tend to give Gunpei Yokoi loads of credits about his philosophy about mature technology, he was no different from any other Japanese business executive. The corporate culture is that the man upstairs gets the glory over the hard-working underling, and this can go well up to the main chairman if it benefits them. Such was the fate of Satoru Okada in Nintendo’s R&D1 under Yokoi. In an interview with Retro Gamer (shortened here) he goes over the main design points that the Game & Watch, the Game Boy and the Nintendo DS had. Even in this small bit you see that Yokoi’s Game & Watch series was a good starting point for what was to come, as the Yokoi’s group first wanted to downsize it and make more pocket fitting. Indeed, while Game & Watch was led by Yokoi, and the D-pad design is credit to him, Satoru Okada deserves the same amount of credit for creating said device when he handled the technicality of things. A designer is only part of the solution, unless he is a jack of all trades, master of none.

The point of this group wanting to do technologically better game system is nothing new, and while on surface is all about the cutting edge technology, nothing in the Game & Watch games was new when it came to hardware. This is where the design sets in with the D-Pad and the overall shape of the unit. These are the hardware design choices that matter more than how powerful the CPU is or the architecture of the machine in terms of what makes things tick right. It’s not exactly about bringing in something new. I hate to use this term, but innovating based on existing facts. The D-Pad was, and is still a great solution to a control problem. Single buttons don’t really give the most intuitive feeling out there, unless they’re in a cross shape like on the PlayStation controller. The wrong kind of design can make it feel terrible, like on the Dreamcast and Xbox 360. In the end, the D-pad really is a very downscaled, flattened joystick in its core form.

As for the Game Boy, what is a surprise that Yokoi’s initial pitch is essentially a continuation of the Game & Watch, which Tiger Electronics’ games essentially were in many ways. Indeed, the Game Boy as it came out is the child of Satoru Okada’s ambition to push the envelope further. If Yokoi had not given in to Okada’s persistence to develop a far more robust and ambitious handheld gaming machine, we might be calling any other handheld game console a Game Gear.

This is one of the elements of the silver bullets in creation a successful console. It’s not enough it to use existing, mature technology and innovate with it, but it also is required to innovate. The Game Boy’s legacy for future handheld consoles is in its careful design to be cheaply produced and sold, while offering a lasting housing that can be carried easily and take serious damage before being decommissioned (or even survive a missile strike in Gulf War), but also offered games that last more than few minute at a time. The hardware was not cutting edge for these reasons precisely, but was good enough. Good enough is a magical term that is more successful than cutting edge. Game Boy didn’t succeed because it was like the Game & Watch, it succeeded because it used the same ambitious model the FC and NES had… at least in Japan and US. We know how well Nintendo handled Europe.

There is nothing special or magical in Game Boy’s victory march over Atari Lynx, Sega Game Gear or PC Engine GT/TurboExpress. It sold for $99 at launch and was packed with Tetris, the only game that could be called perfect in design. Atari’s Lynx was out at $179.99 two months later, with lesser titles in its launch library. Game Gear launched at slightly lower price of $149 with the usual marketing campaign of it being the cooler option for mature gamers who liked hardcore titles. Like the PSP. While Game Gear was essentially a Sega Master System in a smaller box, the PC Engine GT really was a portable PC-Engine and able to play the same card based games as the home version. Its $249.99 price point was stupidly high, and this is 1990 money we’re talking about. Taking account devaluation of the dollar, the price equals around to $453.00 modern day money.

Paying $99 for a console that came with a game, earphones and a link cable to play with your friend was an option that couldn’t be beaten. Better, more robust hardware with backlit and coloured screens lost to a console designed to be enjoyed en masse by everyone, everywhere. Batteries ain’t cheap, and the fact that you got a whole lot more bang for you buck with the Game Boy than with any of its competition. The successive sales encourages more third party developers to develop games of the Game Boy over less popular options, and the rest is history. Nintendo would replicate the grey brick’s success with the DS… after they stopped treating it like portable N64 and tackled it as it were a portable SNES.

Yokoi left Nintendo at a point in the mid-1990’s and developed the WonderSwan, a terribly Game Boy-like console, for Bandai. Other than its extremely slim form and monstrous battery life of over 24h on a single AA-battery, it was also completely out of date and had no driving ambition behind it. Even its buttons were inferior in design, especially the loose D-pad that had no feeling to it. For a handheld console that came out in 1999, it had no legs to stand against Game Boy Color that was released a year prior. SwanCrystal, the best version of the console with colour LCD, saw a release in 2002, but with little support and mostly Bandai’s own games on the system, it was a relative niche product overall. Sure, it saw one of the best versions of Final Fantasy I, II and IV before modern era remakes, and even that is debated sometimes. WonderSwan is something what Game Boy could’ve been if Yokoi’s original idea had been implemented instead of Satoru Okada’s; a system standing on old ideas, re-using concepts rather than innovating based on them and creating something new.

To return to the opening to the start of the post, the very reason why people are astonished by the fact the Game Boy was so successful is because it was good enough, but still better than its predecessors. You don’t need to be cutting edge, just ambitious to have the good stuff available for everyone, and keep the quality high while delivering all sorts of games across the spectrum.

With this, I’m officially putting Monthly Three’s on hold. Whenever I get a subject that requires more than one post, it’ll return.

Monthly Three: Death of the casual industry

The title may be click bait-y, but it’s really the best title for this topic. This will kick off a loose Monthly Three for the time being, as it seemed most people deemed themed posts worthless. But first I’d like to note that I am talking about the casual game industry, not about the casual gamer.

What the term casual gamer entices in the end is muddy at best. Its meaning has changed significantly at the core to the point of it being mostly a throwaway marketing term to push certain kinds of products over the other, and largely to condemn consumers with certain tastes and habits.

The first console in the 2000’s to be named as casual to any extent was the DS due to it having low-end games in mass quantity. Low-end game does not mean a game that is bad, technically or in design, but a game that is extremely easy to get into and play. A low-end game is not necessarily lacking in content or anything that most people would associate with so-called casual games, as New Super Mario Bros. on the system would show. To go further back in time, many modern industry workers who played the NES would not consider Super Mario Bros. 3 in the same league as Wii Sports, but both titles are high-quality low-end games. In comparison, the DS had high-end games like Solatorobo and Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban, which in comparison weren’t massive hits. Mostly because the aforementioned Umihara Kawase title was Japanese only, but you get the picture.

The Wii is often regarded as the pinnacle of a console, where quantity was over quality, thou history would disagree. There are consoles out there that may have smaller library of games, but in reality only one or two games are even decent. Virtual Boy being an example of this. The other end would the Game Boy and the DS itself. Nevertheless, the Wii was regarded as the most desirable console out of the three of its generation and sold higher number of consoles than its competitors. Not because of wagglan, like most suggest, but because the Wii disrupted the game industry.

The industry had abandoned low-end games almost completely before the DS and the Wii, producing mostly high-end games. These games were not of highest quality either, so for every few good title you got loads of titles with pretty design and technical aspects. The PS2 library is like this in large extent. The consumer base was not being expanded and companies continued to cater to the niche, red ocean consumers. Most people who bought a PlayStation seemingly moved to the PlayStation 2, with those who didn’t have faith in the Dreamcast and whatever Nintendo would be pushing out after the N64 were doing the same. Much like how most American comics only sell to comics comic nerds without any regards, and even in that there has been changes to cater a more niche audience.

The Wii however started much like other Nintendo’s successful consoles; low-end, but high-quality titles. This disrupted the industry, as there was very little production of low-end games going on at the time in comparison to the 1980’s or even the early-to-mid 1990’s. This goes hand in hand with the rising costs of game development, where higher-end game requires higher bucks to be finalised, but it will also lose big if it’s a bomb. Wii Sports is a perfect example of a low-end game hitting what the general consumers were looking for. Without a doubt it’s a game with a very simple surface that anyone can access, but the underlying layer of complexity, the physics, offered a challenge. There were multiple modes too. It’s execution left people to yearn more of content in similar philosophy, but after a booming start, not even Nintendo kept up with this. It’s much easier to realise your own dream of a game than take consumers’ voice into account.

However, making a good low-end game is hard. Not anyone can replicate Super Mario Bros.‘s quality, and even the Big N themselves shot themselves in the leg by giving their later 2D Mario titles less attention and resources during development, thou Miyamoto himself has admitted that 2D Marios take more work to make right. No wonder they released Mario Maker to take off that load from themselves.

The game industry doesn’t like being disrupted, especially when disruption ends up making a company huge amounts of money. Looking at the coverage the Wii was getting from both industry insiders and gaming press, the news are pretty raw. Outside the usual Nintendo’s finished we see every time they release a new console, the consumers were pretty much called idiots and considered almost like subhumans who couldn’t appreciate the marvels that HD gaming and cutting edge hardware could produce. This attitude is very apparent in the third-party games on the Wii across its years, as there is no passion in the titles. These people who bought the Wii, they weren’t the people who bought the PS2, these weren’t the people who played games. They were casual gamers.  Who has a passion to make games for people they consider as idiots, unworthy of appreciating true pieces of works?

The game industry created an industry just to cater the consumers they thought they were seeing with Wiimotes in their hands, but in reality no such area existed. This was apparent in the sales as well. When the third-party games turned out to be less than satisfactory, the Virtual Console titles became the main point of the console, outselling even Nintendo’s own new titles. Super Mario All-Starts 25th Anniversary Edition was a surprise to Nintendo, as people still wanted to play those games. Low-end and high-quality combination has always been highly desired combination when it comes to gaming, and largely is the silver bullet in plans to make a successful game. The rest comes with world and game design.

The death of the casual game industry essentially came to an end when the industry stopped making games for idiots. It wasn’t because of the hardware’s power, but the design and utility of it. It’s surprising how little people consider a console’s design anywhere else but in outer appearance and technical hardware, except when something negative had to be mentioned. The Wii could use traditional controllers, it had the Motion controls, which also served as a more traditional NES style controller, and it had the possibility for multiple other input methods (at least on the outer appearance.) However, all this largely fell apart, the potential of the Wii was kicked in the curb when Nintendo moved onwards to concentrate with their next console. If I were to say my view on the matter, the killing blow Nintendo dealt to the Wii was Wii Music, a title that nobody ever wanted and a title that showed that Nintendo too believed their consumers were idiots, unwilling to purchase their masterpieces… like Metroid Other M. Indeed, Metroid Other M is like anti-thesis to Wii Sports, filled with the intentions of making the best story-driven high-end Metroid that would wow the opposite audience of these idiots, ensuring that Nintendo and the Wii that they were the shit. What happened is common in cases like this, and the less said about it the better, except that it is a title that showcases how Nintendo once again left their larger audience, the audience that had made them a recognized name in the overall popular culture.

Nobody makes a bad game intentionally is something I hear people saying when it comes to terrible titles. However, not everybody aims to make the best title either, lacking either in passion or will to go all out on a game they themselves have little faith or value in. The casual game industry died when the industry largely stopped producing those games, to some extent. The Wii U is filled with middle-end games with no quality whatsoever, despite Nintendo making it the anti-Wii. The 3DS had such an awful start with ports and carry-over titles that it wasn’t desired until the library had grown and saw more low-end titles with less emphasize on the 3D. The less Nintendo listens to the industry, the more they find success. It just takes loads of work.

The argument that you need third-party products to succeed nowadays is partially correct. You need high-quality products on your system across the spectrum, not just from one end of the spectrum no matter who makes it. A game library is like a food circle, with high-end games being the meat and low-end games being the greens. Breads, rise, pasta etc being lower-mid end, milks, meat and fish being higher-mid end and high fat foods being the high-end foods. Roughly speaking, that is.

Ports of games people are already playing on a different systems does not allow it to rise above from the sea of grey, and seemingly ports are treated as the fries of a console library; they’re there to supplement the main burger. Third party burgers aren’t rare either, seeing both Microsoft and Sony have largely relied on third-party to make their systems big hits. Except for Halo in many ways.

Will Nintendo Switch have a casual game industry? Only if the developers start treating their consumers like retards again and unwilling to produce quality products for the system. They’ll feel that in their pockets then. Whatever the Switch ends up being is completely tied to its software library.

Monthly Review; Kira Kira Star Night DX

I reviewed 8-bit Music Power earlier this year, a new software title for the Famicom. Now, Riki has produced another title named Kira Kira Star Night under Columbus Circle, and this time it’s an actual game rather than a music album in cartridge form.

Before we start the game up, let’s check whether or not the hardware we have in our hands is as terrible as last time. If you want to be spoiled, the answer is a surprising No.

And now everybody has diabetes
And now everybody has diabetes because of  キラキラスターナイトDX

Continue reading “Monthly Review; Kira Kira Star Night DX”

Games on your wall

There’s a Kickstarter up called Linked to the Wall, which aims to create game cartridge wall mounts. The driving idea they have is that games are made into similar form as paintings, framed to the wall. The idea seems to be solid in principle, but there’s few problems, one logistic, that they are either side-stepping or haven’t thought about.

Looking at the prototypes they have, I have to question why do they need to create separate wall mounts to different cartridges. They want to streamline and eliminate all possible manufacturing problems by creating a solid piece of plastic, which is understandable and admirable to a point, but also tells me they want to produce these as cheaply and fast as possible. Designing a wall mount that would be adjustable according to a cartridge’s width isn’t terribly hard. Designing it well is somewhat challenging. Smaller cartridges, like the Game Boy, Game Gear and GB Advance carts would require a smaller solution, one they are also offering, but again with a different mounts for each cartridge. Their design is also lacking Famicom cart design.

Let’s take a look at the depth of the cartridge connectors’ grooves between a Famicom, NES, Mega Drive, Super NES and N64 game carts. To measure the depth, I am using metal ruler that starts from 0mm at its end and a caliper to measure the width of the connector groove.

The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm

Let’s put the NES images up before we compare the two.

19mm, perhaps just slightly over
19mm, perhaps just slightly over

The Famicom cart is shallower than its Western counterpart on either direction. The width is not a problem with either of these in the design they are currently using. The depth is a minor inconvenience, but 10mm is more than enough build a prong that holds  NES cart in place. The plastic thickness is not a problem either, as long as the prongs are not made of too rigid material, which is a given. An adjustable arm could allocate both FC and NES carts just fine, as their design currently places the cartridge on two prongs that supports both front and back with one additional support column going into the groove. This additional piece is what keeps the cart straight, whereas the main prongs take the carts’ weight.

Their prototypes have been 3D printed and it shows. All the larger cartridges they have are slightly slanted forwards. This means they don’t only need to invest into material research than just create injection moulds.

The Mega Drive carts' groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width
The Mega Drive carts’ groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width.
Just a shy of 91mm
Just a shy of 91mm

The Mega Drive carts’ groove depth is a bit shallower than either FC or NES carts’, but the width is between NES’ and FC’s. Because the MD cart is shallower, the support column would need to be 1mm shorter, but at this scale and weight that’s not an issue with the right material.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
97mm, I most likely jammed the instrument a bit too hard in

Super NES/Famicom cartridges have the same width and depth across the board despite their different outer appearance between US and EUR/JPN region. The NES still has the widest groove, meaning SNES carts shouldn’t pose a problem with an adjustable arm.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
71.5mm in width
71.5mm in width

The N64 has similar depth to the FC carts, but a Mega Drive cartridge still beats it. It’s width is the smallest, which means the adjustable hand should be at that size, minimum.

Let’s say that the adjustable arm is a design where there’s basically two tubes inside each other and you pull them out. If the minimum width is 70mm, it’s has enough room to spread at least 40mm either direction, adding a whopping extra 80mm to the total width, making the arm at 150mm at maximum, an unneeded amount. The needed width could be marked down with slots a peg slides into or with a small screw, both low in profile if done right. Another option is to position the adjuster the point where the mount is secured to the wall. Just have two slaps of plastic that you screw together at whatever distance from each you want. They wouldn’t even need to make large change in their current design to accommodate this.

If you have an access to a 3D printer, you could actually just use these measurements and do your own mounts if you wanted.

With Game Boy and GB Advance games, you have the exact same width and depth with both cartridges and there’s no good reason why to have separate mounts for both of them. Have the support wedged slightly into the connector groove and it would keep either GB or GBA carts in place.

A thing that I haven’t mentioned at all is thickness. For the record, here are the measurements for the carts used:
FC – 17mm

NES – 16.5mm

MD – 17mm

SFC/EUR SNES – 19.8mm in the middle, 17mm at screw point

US SNES – 20mm in the middle section, 17mm in outer sections

N64 – 18.9mm before tapering out

Having the main supports elongating to 18mm should be just fine, keeping the mount low profile. With the adjustable design, you could have the support prongs holding the cartridge in place with similar level of low profile.

The design given in the Kickstarter also leaves the cartridges’ connectors all open for further oxidation. While this is supposed to be a solution to problem of having games in boxes, which is really a non-problem to begin with, at least in these boxes the games were sealed from excess moisture and other unwanted materials floating in the air.

The problem of connectors being exposed is not really all that easy to solve without additional design tweaking. To keep the production as low as possible, you really can’t have luxuriously separate pieces that would seal the grooves, as they have a different height. The height with Nintendo’s cartridges’ are pretty solid 10-12mm, with N64 having the largest height, but also the thickest wall. Mega Drive’s height is same as N64’s; 12mm. The wall thickness is not the same across the board either. An adjustable solution for this would not be too low profile. A solution would be to have the lower support be thin enough but strong enough to be adjusted according the width and height, but as mentioned that’d skyrocket the costs both in design and production.

They also have basically opened some of the game boxes in their examples. These cardboard boxes are hard to come by as it is, and opening them as such ruins them. I hope they used a scan copy from the Internet.

I also have to question their advertisement slogan “Turn your games into unique wall art!” seeing there are thousands of these games out there.

Of course, you could also do what I did to throw some of my games to the wall and save some room while you’re at it. Just pick some shelves from Ikea and put your games on it. You can put more games on the wall that way, save some money and protect them from dust. Plus, when you’re tired with them you can use the shelves for whatever else than just stash the frames and mounts away.

Not saying this is the best solution, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best
Not saying this is the best solution or the prettiest, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best on the long run

Review of the Month; Hotblooded High school Dodgeball Club: Soccer Chapter/ Nintendo World Club

The end of the month always creeps on me. I never realise that it’s here until I have no time to react. As such, have a game review of Nekketsu Koukou Dodgeball-bu Soccer Hen, or the translation in the title, or the English localisation known as Nintendo World Cup. For the sake of this review, I will call the game as Nekketsu Soccer, even if that’s inaccurate by all accounts. While I would like to use football in this post, I will use soccer to differentiate it from hand egg.

The Famicom and NES saw a lot of great sports titles, and sports titles were the thing adults went for the NES. Some games like Kick Off replicated the real soccer as closely as possible at the time, thou it should be noted that the home of the series is on Amiga, meaning the NES version was a port of a computer game. It showed, and the game ultimately wasn’t really all that fun.

Nekketsu Soccer on the other hand is just fun. It doesn’t concern itself with most rules of soccer, mostly just resorting to the idea of getting the ball into the opposition’s goal with your feet. What adds the flavour to the whole deal is the cartoon violence Kunio games are known for. You can actually tackle your opponents enough times to cause them permanently be floored on the field, and they can do the same thing to you. In addition, some fields are less than properly taken care of, leaving stones for you and other players to trip on. It’s hysterical at times and lots of fun.

Nekketsu Soccer does what the series should be always stick with; simplicity. There’s no unnecessarily complex commands to use, as the player controls just one character at any given time. Because of this, the controls are tight and as responsive as they should be. The team control is done via commands that reflect the overall simplicity very well. When one of your team mate has the ball, you can tell them to Pass it to you or Shoot. Otherwise they will advance towards the goal and act according to their AI. When the enemy has the ball, you are able to tell them either Tackle or Slide. As mentioned, tackle some poor bastard enough and he won’t be getting up anytime soon. I remember playing few rounds so that every single opponent outside the goalkeeper was down.

There’s also a secret weapon; the Super Kick. By hitting A and B together you’re able to hit the ball with a scissors kick, launching the ball towards the goal while sending any opposition flying high. Well, almost. There’s limit how many times you can use it and its power varies a little bit. You also need to hit it while the ball is in the air, meaning that you need to command your team mate to pass it to you. Timing the kick is a bit tricky at first, but once you get the timing right, you’re able to repeat it with ease.

Each round has 1min 30sec timer, and in that time you can usually score relatively high in early games, but later one when the AI actually starts getting competent you might find yourself working hard to keep the ball and enemies dead on the ground. These short burst work the best for the overall pace of the game.

Speaking of the AI, each team has its own strengths and weaknesses, thou some do seem to share similar approaches on how they act. Some tend to pass more often, some just rely on hard tackling while there seems to be those who keep really damn close to your players and steal the ball whenever possible.

The music sounds striking, but it’s not memorable. It gets you pumped and while it does leave a lasting impression, you don’t really hum any of the themes too much afterwards. It’s perfect background music and fits the game.

It’s a damn fun soccer game, one of the few I can pop in and just play for the sake of fun. If you’re looking for some light cartoony soccer, this game is for you. Hell, even if you don’t like soccer, give it a look anyways.

The game is sparse in its graphics department, and there are some flickering and very rare slowdowns. Technosoft did their best giving the stages some variety, but there’s only so much you can do with a soccer field. The characters use the now classic 8-bit Kunio series sprites, and as such are very cartoonish, especially when hit hard with their eyes bulging out. They’re not necessarily very Japanese in their visual, thou if you know where they comes from, it’s pretty clear that the characters are some sort of mish mash of super deformation and mushrooms.

Now, you might wonder what are the differences between Nekketsu Soccer and its Western localisation, Nintendo World Cup. Well, first of all, Nintendo World Cup supports four player mode through the NES 4-Score, and that’s awesome. However, if you don’t have three friends to sit down with you, you can do just fine with the two-player option in Nekketsu Soccer. Additionally, Nintendo World Cup cut all the cutscenes that existed in Nekketsu Soccer, because it has no links tying itself to the previous game, Nekketsu KouKou Dodge Ball club, even if the games was localised as Super Dodge Ball in the West as well. You’re not really missing with the intermissions, they’re just Kunio messing around. Because Nintendo World Cup made the game’s teams international, you do lose that special relation with each of the team, as they originally had a special title card for each of the match. This is understandable, as you really can’t expect to see Buddhist priests as Team Germany or similar. They still have some images showcasing the opposition, but they’re a bit more simpler in overall terms, and they still seem to use the same musical cues as the Japanese version. The round times are also a lot more longer, which kinda forces the game to overstay its welcome.

From the Kunio Sports titles, Nekketsu Soccer is one of the stronger titles. Perhaps it is simplified to a fault, where after exhausting its contents there’s not much to return to, but grabbing a few friends to play this shouldn’t be too much a problem. Despite that, it’s a title worth returning to, especially in an era where most high profile games tend to become unnecessarily complex.

Trivia; my copy of Super Mario Bros., Nintendo World Cup and Tetris was almost destroyed by a dog. The dog managed to get its teeth on the cart when we left it with the game in car for five minutes. It would act strangely, sometimes resetting the game by itself or refusing to play anything but Tetris.

Review of the Month; Nintendo home console cartridges

Cartridges or cassettes. Whatever you call them, the bottom line is there is something tactile in holding one. The corners, the plastic and the label artwork’s surface, they all carry something any of the disc based medias just lack. They can take abuse and survive being dropped into a lake below zero degrees after drying them out and other things like that. You can have them without their casing and still be sure that they’ll survive.

While it may sound stupid to review the cartridges Nintendo had for Famicom, NES, SNES and N64, take this as a thought practice. The insides of the carts don’t matter here, just the casing. Of course, you can’t have just the cart, you need to take into notice the overall design of the console. It would be unnatural to design a console and not give a damn about how the cart would look, right? With the exercise I hope you all think what has gone into each and every detail, how and why they were designed. One thing you all notice right away is that none of these carts have sharp corners. Things like that, small but every so vital are hidden in each design. Everything that looks simple has a complex design behind it, and these carts have some simplest shapes with reasons we can’t even begin to think why,

Let’s start with the FC cartridges.

From right to left; Salamander, Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match and Joy Mecha Fight
From right to left; Salamander, Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match and Joy Mecha Fight

I admit that I’ve grown to like FC carts more as the time has gone by. My first FC-sized cart was a 64-in-1 multicart that contained not too uncommon set of games. A good set, ranging from shooters like Gradius (renamed Grading) and B-Wings, to platformers like Nuts and Milk and Ninja JaJaMaru-kun, all the way classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Anyway, the problem with the cart is that FC carts need an adapter part in order to be pulled out from a NES that, and the pin layout is different. Still, FC carts are neat little things, combining a good size/weight ratio.

The 64-in-1 open. There's not much room for the PCB in there, but that's as intended
The 64-in-1 open. There’s not much room for the PCB in there, but that’s as intended

The FC cartridges came in variety of colours and shapes. Many hardcore Famicom collectors seem to pride themselves on recognizing the manufacturer of the game simply by glancing at the case’s shape, a deed that is not all too difficult with certain moulds having the logo of the company, like IREM or Jaleco. This is a splitting thing, as some of the designs are good, but some of the designs are just awful. The Bandai cartridge above baffles the mind, as the ribbed sides tend to get caught on the cart slot on the console. Well, this is a problem only if you don’t pull the cart straight up. However, this is not such a huge deal if you have a version of Famicom with the cartridge eject function, like the original or Twin Famicom. The AV Famicom could’ve used the same function, as just pulling the cart from the console isn’t a valid option, unless the accepting pins on the console are loose as hell or manage support your pull against the console with your fingers. It’s just faster and easier to hold the console with your other hand.

Still, the overall design serves the function very well. Sadly, most FC carts lack any sort of end or top label, whichever you prefer to call them. However, in the photo you can see that Konami games usually have a label that wraps to the top whereas Bandai has opted to use a specific slot for a sticker. Joy Mecha Fight actually has a tape on top of it, to which I’ve written the game’s name. Companies also tend to put something in the back of the carts, like a quick guide how to play the game and an area where to write your name in. This was dropped in every other Nintendo cartridge afterwards, replaced with the standardised info box.

The size can be a bit a problem, as the smaller the carts are, the easier they are to misplace and lose. The construction is good and the plastic used is pretty damn high quality, resisting mechanical stress very well. Next to this the plastic just doesn’t want to give in, unlike the plastic used in 64-in-1, from which we can see the insides.

Overall, the FC carts are well designed that have certain elements lacking, but seeing how there are wide variety of different ones to choose from and some of them fix problems that the other ones have. The lack of standard design has allowed more dynamic use of the carts, and everyone will find styles they like, and styles they will deem worthless.

On the other hand, the NES cartridges take a different approach. While some of the FC carts without a doubt look more like toys in comparison to the industrial grey, standard sizes and shaped carts West is more accustomed to.

Go play Sword Master. It has great music with decent gameplay. Frustrating as hell at times, but fun
Go play Sword Master. It has great music with decent gameplay. Frustrating as hell at times, but fun

The design made design choice is easy to understand. As the NES was redesigned to fit the Western sensibilities, the cart is to the console what a VHS tape is to a VCR. The Zero Force insertion, while pretty damn neat idea and functionality, was more or less a flawed design. Still, properly treated consoles didn’t have any troubles, as one of my consoles didn’t saw any sort of maintenance in fifteen years, and it was still working just fine.

Anyway, the NES cart is more utilitarian than the FC carts were. The division of the NES cart front follows the Golden Cut somewhat loosely, having the rectangle pattern on the left, and the label positioned so that its centre is in one of the cross points of the Cut. The label also wraps to the top, allowing for an end label. The arrow, which points what end goes into the machine first, is in the middle of the cart but also positions itself near the lowest line of the cut. Overall, rather pleasant design that allows the label to pop out more. The whole front is also covered in a very slight pattern fine sand-blast like pattern, which is common. It adds a nice feeling, despite the sides and the back being completely sleek.

The rectangle pattern ends with a spot for pulling the cart out from the console. The rectangle pattern also add friction and the whole position is pretty natural. However, I can’t but wonder whether or not it would have been better to shuffle these design bits around and dedicate the whole top for a sort of handle. This would have forced the label to be moved down and could’ve taken most of the cart surface. Could’ve been an interesting take.

The NES cart is about twice as high as the FC cart despite the PCB inside is still the same size. I have seen some people having problems with that, as it does waste space and plastic, but ultimately it is a very good sized cartridge. It offers more tactile experience, but sadly the carts after all these years do look somewhat barren in comparison to the Eastern brethrens. Nevertheless, the standardised appearance and more utilitarian design does work, and as the carts are sitting inside the console, there were no need to add additional bells and whistles to them. The toploader NES did change this, but this is more the fault of the redesigned console than the carts’ had one them.

The NES carts are of good design. Unlike the FC carts, they the standard shape doesn’t leave anyone cold, but at the same time they are incredibly subdued. Not many companies add so much space for the sake of design, and Nintendo did good with these. If you wanted more eyecandy from them, just remember that they’re not something to have your eyes on; they’re just containers for the game inside.

It should be noted that the FC and NES carts use different number of pins and the insides are turned. They don’t mix and match. As such, when you put a FC game into a NES with the adapter, it needs to face wrong way. Same with the NES games on FC consoles. It’s kind of stupid to play Turtles III: The Manhattan Project on my AV Famicom facing the back to front.

Enter the Super Nintedo Family Entertainment Computer System
Enter the Super Nintendo Family Entertainment Computer System

The Super Nintendo never lied. It was essentially a super version of the NES in many ways. Unlike with the NES, all the core designs each side of the ponds adhered to the top load mechanism. Unlike with the NES, PAL region shared the same console and cart design with Japan. For whatever reason the US design saw a change.
The insides of the carts are the same this time around, PCBs facing the same side and all that. The US and JPN Super NES shared the same regional coding, so the shape is different and the US carts have grooves in the back for further prevention. Funnily enough, the PAL carts have nothing to prevent the user from inserting JPN games into PAL consoles.
The JPN/PAL design is more curved and fits most hands just fine. There’s small ridges in the sides of the cart, but they offer no real purpose outside visuals. They could be for adding more friction when the cart is pushed into the console, but it’s far more practical just to push it down from the top. The lines going from the all around the cart are neat little touches on otherwise a very NES like standardised appearance. The slot on the front of the cart is part of the locking mechanism. When the power is turned on, a tab is pushed there and this is what holds the cart in place. It also prevents ejection until power is turned off. The back of the cart has a slight texture, and this adds decent amount of friction, despite the Super NES carts having no need for it.
The size is now utilitarian, build to house just the PCB and nothing more. The plastic quality is still good, thou the larger size means that the same thickness of the shells can raise some worry. I actually own a Super Return of the Jedi with the back cracked in. The PCB itself is still in perfectly fine condition, but the amount of room the PCB has inside the shells is surprising. Next to this, the JPN/PAL carts feel slightly cheap despite the plastic quality.

The Super Famicom cart is pretty neat. It’s like the best of both words of FC and NES cart, but it lacks the end label. Otherwise it’s very pleasing thing to look at. Unlike with the NES cart, the whole surface of the JPN/EUR cart is covered with that fine texture. The cart fits fine with the console design itself, and the slight curves are met with few straights.
The US carts however are… I’ll just say it straight; I’m not a fan of the US redesign of the Super NES with its darker gray and purple. The cartridge of course mirrors the console and follows the similar rugged, almost prototype look the US console has. Gone are curves, in are straight lines and levels. The locking slot is in the exact same position, but lacks the textured lines of the JPN/PAL carts. Instead of vertical lines, the US cart has sectioned 1/6 on both sides of the carts for what I imagine is where you hold the cart from. The rectangle pattern returns from the NES carts in a different form and are much larger and wrap to the back of the cart. They don’t really add much friction, as the lines on the carts are too shallow and too far between to service in this fashion. As such, they seem to be more akin to visual lines, which is not all too horrible. However, the side sections are just perfect size for pushing the carts down with your thumbs, leaving the label nicely into your view.
The US Super NES carts have a juxtaposition where they are just a tad too busy with elements with little to no detail in them. This opposes the JPN/PAL cart, which has less larger areas like that, but has the little details on the side. On the positive side, the US cart has an end label, which is nothing short of great. Perhaps it would be applicable to say that the US cart suffers from having the US Super NES as its parent console. Nevertheless, if you like how the US console was redesigned, then you’ll most likely find the US cartridge more appealing than the JPN/EUR design. It’s interesting to look at the two designs and notice how they both have a mix if FC and NES cart designs, but in different amounts.

Sleek, stylish and surprisingly far removed from the general 90's designs
Sleek, stylish and surprisingly far removed from the general 90’s designs

The N64 cartridges on the hand are meagre in comparison to either 8-bit generation or 16-bit cartridges. The design path from Super NES to N64 cartridges is pretty clear and not necessarily a good thing.

First of all, there is only one version of the N64 cartridge. No regional variations. However, similar physical region locking still applied and the back mould had different slots between Japan and US once more to prevent people from playing games across regions. Let’s get the similarities off the table first.

The N64 cart has the same vertical lines for visual flavour as the Super NES cart and are relatively in the same place, framing the label in the middle. However, the label is now more confined and has more vertical dimension. It would seem similar area for holding the cartridge applies here as it did with the US Super NES cart, but lack any sort of texturing outside the fine grain. The N64 cart has also inherited both curves and straights from both Super NES carts, saving the curve for the top and being otherwise flat. This is closely tied to design of the console too, as the curve is exactly the same the N64’s front. It’s an excellent design consistency, something that lacked in previous consoles. Well, the NES did have it to some extent, but mostly because the NES was a box you pushed the cart in.

N64 carts are hefty. They are smaller than Super NES carts and their weight/size ratio is more closer to the FC carts, and perhaps are too heavy for their size. However, unlike the Super NES design, the N64 carts don’t feel cheap. On the contrary, a N64 cart feels almost like a luxary item with its sturdy build and the ever present high quality plastic.

While the design overall is rather minimalistic, the label is there to draw your eye in. The small concave areas at the lower front corners of the cart are there to add some good visual, but don’t take too much attention. They don’t serve any functional purpose, though adding just ever so slight guides into the cartridge port in the N64 could added some firmness in keeping the cart in place. The lack of locking and ejection mechanism had an impact on the design without a doubt and most certainly were taken away as a cost cutting method.

Sadly, N64 games lack end labels. However, the design doesn’t permit them from the get go. The curved top doesn’t allow the label to wrap to the top, but I would imagine a small section could have been reserved for a separate sticker.

Out of all Nintendo home console cartridges, at least from their main line, the N64 has the least elements to mention about. In a way it is the peak of Nintendo home console cartridge design, however I would argue otherwise. If there had been one more step, other than the 64DD, I would imagine Nintendo could’ve made a cartridge to finish all cartridges. A cartridge that would’ve become the very epitome what it means to have a part of the console itself in your hands. Nevertheless, as a swansong for home console cartridges from Nintendo, N64 carts do an admirable job in showing that a well designed and a well built piece is just a joy to use. It’s a well designed piece of hardware, it can proudly say it was the last.

(The reason why 64DD disks are not included in this is because 64DD was a failed addon and they were Zip Disks and not cartridges. GameCube also had a cartridge, but that was intended only for the developers and never for the home consumer.)

Compliance should be resisted

This week we had a Nintendo Direct. I watched it to keep some of my friends company and report whatever interesting stuff came up on the Japanese stream. The Direct was as expected, filled with video footage rather than gameplay, Iwata talking and acting like a stuck-up wind doll and… that’s pretty much it.

I found the Direct bothersome for some reason. Nothing wowed me. All footage shown from Fire Emblem If to the upcoming Rhythm Heaven looked like something we’ve seen many times before. There was the usual Amiibo advertising with new upcoming Super Mario Bros. branded ones with more neutral posing and something about an Amiibo adapter for older 3DS models that lack support for Near Field Communication.

Then there was news about Wii titles coming to Wii U eShop. This is something that we should be vary of, as this leads to a huge possibility of Nintendo dropping backwards compatibility support, substituting it with selling previous console titles on their next iteration of eShop. Whether or not this come to fruition is an open question, one which I hope to see a negative reply. The lack of backwards compatibility for PS3 games on PS4 was met with an outcry, yet for some reason that outcry died out far too fast.

A new console doesn’t automatically make your old one obsolete. The Super Nintendo didn’t make the NES obsolete because the library is ultimately very different, especially if you take into notice the differences between Western and Japanese libraries. When a game makes the previous one obsolete, it has done its deed. Thus, to make the previous console obsolete you either need to give the consumer the option to directly move their older library to that new console, or produce games that would obsolete the older library. Of course, it’s easier to allow the consumer to move over rather than simply make good games.

That sounds pretty bad, actually.

The length a console lives nowadays is regulated by bullshit. The GameBoy lived long damn time because it saw support. The recent consoles, and by recent I mean post-SNES ones, could’ve lived a tad longer if there had been continued support. The Wii saw a dive in quality, and sales, when Nintendo moved their support to then-upcoming 3DS and Wii U. The same happened with GameCube, N64 and to some extent, SNES. The NES saw support from Nintendo even after the SNES was released with titles like Joy Mecha Fight being released in 1993. Granted, Joy Mecha Fight never saw release in the West, but the US saw Wario’s Woods in 1994 and Europe as late as 1995. Similarly, Zoda’s Revenge; Star Tropics II saw a release in 1994, and while opinions are split whether or not it is better than its predecessor, the game itself is guaranteed Nintendo quality and manages to how the NES shouldn’t be underestimated.

The cross-pollination between consoles and PC side has given a risen to a thought that hardware has overt significance over the quality of the games played on consoles. The comparison can be made with cars; the one with the better engine is not always the better ones. With food, the eternal comparison point with everything ever, would have that a dish with higher grade ingredients may be worse than dish with mediocre ingredients. It’s how they’re used in order to deliver the end-product matters more. Making a system like the Sega Saturn or N64 is pretty damn stupid; you always want the people working with the machines to have easy time to make the best use of them. This applies to other fields of design just as well; a service system needs to have easy usage for the service provider in order to guarantee smooth experience for the consumer.

The evolution of technology can’t be ignored. The more complex consoles grow, the more it will require from the developers. Game design becomes highly important at this point and… here’s where the crux is; nothing in the Nintendo Direct was actually interesting. All the footage shown looked much like various other games before that. To say nothing had a proper wow factor seems applicable. Even when games are relatively new medium compared to others, have we already exhausted everything the medium has to offer? During the Atari and NES era we had saw game that made the previous year’s games look like archaic pieces. It wasn’t just the visuals, but the game design and gameplay. The difference between games released in 1985 and 1986 is rather remarkable. The same can be said of movies of that era to some extent with 1983 being a high year in science fiction movies.

I question if game design has improved during the last decade or so. While there has been tweaks to tried and tested formals with every new sequel, there has been no chances made, not boundaries broken or new frontiers found. While some would argue that Oculus Rift is one of the new devices opening new regions, yet thus far we’ve seen the same game design repeated with new interface.

Evolution is regarded as a gradual process, and that it is. However, when it comes to breaking new boundaries there are moments where there is no gradual changes, simply steps. Similarly we should regard the evolution of gameplay, and games in general, taking steps rather than gradual change. It should not be enough to want same game with slightly different package and a new lick of paint, like a new G1 Optimus Prime toy, but something far more greater.

There is no denial that brand loyalty allowed my friends to hype the hell out of the games seen in the Direct. One almost creamed his pants after hearing about the Rhythm Heaven, despite it being a repackage with new minigames. Of course, what sells, sells. I can’t argue against numbers, and whatever my personal view may be are irrelevant. Nevertheless, there is also the point that games could sell more, like during on the NES, DS and Wii.

Are video game consumers far too comfortable with the current situation in their hobby? We should not be too compliant and demand better service.

PAL NES Region Free mod without tampering with CIC Chip’s leg, now with confirmed compatibility with US NTSC NES.

While most guides on how to mod your NES for region freedom instruct you to lift or break one of the legs of the CIC chip, this has never sat well with me. I’ve always wanted to have the option to remove any and all modifications from my console in order to return to its original state, if possible.

The modification I’m showing here is from the late 80’s. One of our local electronics store owner used to modify both NES and MegaDrive consoles for the people who knew about the possibility for a decent price. The mod doesn’t take long to do, as it’s really just soldering two wires on the PCB.

I’ve successfully replicated this mod on other consoles, and thus far both US and Famicom cartridges have been working without a hitch. Well, as well as you can expect NTSC game to function on a regionless PAL machine. You also need an adapter for Famicom cartridges, but that goes with any region mod with the classic model.

This bit requires a bit more explanation, if we want to get down to it. This mod only circumvents the CIC chip. It does not change the frequency the console runs on. A PAL machine runs on 50hz vertical frequency, unless it’s PAL60, while NTSC runs at 60hz. This difference either way significant, as the formats also affect how the screen is displayed. PAL has aspect ratio of 720×576, whereas NTSC has a boxy 720×480. This means NTSC game running on PAL console will stretch itself by 96 units and run about 17% slower. Properly optimised games run just on the same “speed” as their NTSC counterparts, but more often than not developers simply added boarders to the games and be done with it.

This of course works backwards as well. NTSC consoles will screw with the aspect ratio as the game is squeezed into smaller frame, frames and all, and the game gains wrong refresh rate, making it slightly faster than intended. An interesting case study of PAL optimisation can be found in Super Mario Bros., where to Mario’s movement speed was increased to compensate the framerate. Later on, the whole game was made to run faster than its NTSC counterpart, which can be heard from the music. As such, it’s possible to clear PAL Super Mario Bros. faster than its American or Japanese version. Playing this version on a NTSC console would be even faster.

Because of these issues, there will be glitches on the screen when playing an out-of-region. Not game breaking by any means, but absolute purists will always call PAL format awful, despite it having its own benefits in having more lines, which equates to better picture quality and resolution, but this is rarely if ever taken advantage of in-game localisations. It’s just cheaper and faster to do a quick and dirty job, those Europeans won’t know any better.

It is not entirely impossible to have a multi-speed NES, but that would require extensive modding to the point of it being stupidly convoluted with NTSC parts being bolted unto it and having switches to change between modes. You’d be better off just getting an AV Famicom and rocking that. Truly region free machine does not necessarily offer faultless compatibility, as discussed above. It would be silly to assume that changing hardware level standards from thirty years ago, would be an easy task or even worth achieving total compatibility, when you can and should play the games on their intended machines and screen set. Not to say there is no value in this, on the contrary. This mod is the easiest and fastest way to modify your console which also allows complete removal if one wishes to do so, and gives you an access to a new variety of games on a real platform for a cheap price.

This region mod has stood the test of time, plus it requires less disassembly than the CIC left lift. All you need is to remove the top, the shielding and the loading mechanism for proper workspace. Due to this mod, the blinking light/screen won’t occur any more. Instead, you will just have a white screen, which then can be fixed with any of the normal means.

Is this mod safe? My main NES unit was modded on the day it was purchased, which means the mod has not done anything negative to hamper the function of the console in the odd 25+ years. It’s alive and keeps bringing me entertainment after all these years. I love you, my good old friend.

 I’m not sure if this mod would work on an American NES, but if any of you give this a try, please do notify me. (Update 26.11.2016; It does not, unfortunately. See comment section. Maybe it’s a revision difference or something else, perhaps worth some research? Update 22.12.2016; As seen in the latest comment, it would seem like this does indeed work on NTSC console as well. A wild guess from my part would be that this board revision is shared between regions. I’ll need to take better shots of the board and the info on it for further update down the line.) If needed, I can also modify your machine with the same board revision, but that would mean you’d have to send it over. You also need to make sure the board revision you have there is the same I got pictured here. Otherwise you may screw up your machine, but this does seem to be one of the more common board revisions out there. Of course, toploader is completely different and doesn’t even need to be modded.

Do note that all the versions I have at hand were imported by Bergsala with NES-CPU-10 on the board with the date of 1987. CIC chip says 3195A on it. Due to how mucked the European NES market was (there’s a whole post about it) yours might not work, but little detective work with this should yield the right soldiering points as this is a very simple mod.

The NES PCB is sitting in its casing.
The NES PCB is sitting in its casing
Closer look at the wires and their solder points
Closer look at the wires and their solder points
Even closer look. I would recommend putting some tape to keep the wires down
Even closer look. I would recommend putting some tape to keep the wires down. Also, I should clean my consoles at some points
The same PAL NES running TMNT III; The Manhattan Project
The same PAL NES running TMNT III; The Manhattan Project, a game that was never released in Europe for whatever reason.. You can (barely) see some of the wires going under the loading mechanism, but with proper alignment and using shorter wires you can avoid this completely

Microsoft registers Battletoads trademark

Battletoads is an often discussed game when it comes to old, hardass games. There’s not much one can say nowadays about it without repeating the words that have been coined at it multiple times over. That kind of comes with the territory of NES games, after all. But news struck with some somewhat astonishing news; Microsoft did register Battletoads as a trademark and Phil Spencer tweeted something about uniquely Rare game. There may or may not be connections.

Let’s assume that we are getting a new Battletoads game for the sake of argument. After all, it’s something that was getting a GBA remake at one point, but thank God was soon dismissed after three weeks. That doesn’t fill me with too much confidence alone, as most new instalments, or remakes, have been less than satisfactory. Then again, there are the good ones that come once every ten blue moon, like Killer Instinct. Of course, everyone has their own mileage. Anyways, the Battletoads remake on GBA never went too far and only had few levels that looked anywhere near finished, which is good as the game even in its less than 10% finished state had so many things off. Disregarding the design of the ‘toad on screen, which look like they were ripped from the Punk Toads of the 1987 TMNTurtles cartoon, there’s some baffling stuff in there like the Lifebar being hidden behind the Battletoads logo on the upper left and the damn voice acting. Battletoads has an edge to it, a rough style that reflects the attitude most mascots of that era were to be known for, Sonic being the most famous example.

I’ve got a serious history with Battletoads having it somewhat soon after its release (relatively speaking in the early 90’s) and it being my go-to game to test any of my NES hardware. I’ve managed to finish the game once without a GameGenie, a feat I most likely won’t repeat anytime soon, because Intruder Excluder, Terra Tubes and Rat Race just kick my ass back to Wednesday. I have some rage filled memories of the game as well as some interesting ones. For example, my brother was the first one to see Arctic Cavern because he kicked the table where the NES was, causing the game to glitch. Can’t do that on modern consoles anymore.

Why is that Battletoads, glitch ridden as it is in certain ways, is remembered by so many? Much like other NES games, it’s a rough game that doesn’t hold back. The controls are spot on; the ‘toads do what you wish them to do and by abusing that the game design pits the player against odds that by all means would be deemed unfair. I’d argue that Battletoads is a hard game due to it relying the player to be good at it, to have rather high execution skills in order to oppose the whatever is thrown at them. Battletoads also has a change in the game, where in the beginning the player most likely will be using the punch-punch-punch combos quite often, before things changing later on. Of course, power players know how to initiate running instant kills wherever needed. As such, Battletoads is a gauntlet. It requires the player to be able to handle pin-point accuracy at times and leaves no room for mistakes. Learning some of the stages certainly helps, but in all fairness everything in this game is telegraphed enough to a person to react to, even in Turbo Tunnels.

That said, not everyone loved Battletoads. It’s very nature separates men from boys, so to speak. It doesn’t hold the players hand at all. Most negative reviews I remember reading emphasize the very same things as negatives I’ve described above. Super Mario Bros. isn’t Battletoads, but Super Mario Bros. is no Battletoads either. The other region releases did address some of the criticism given to the game, one of which was actually a level of game breaking glitch. In Clinger Winger, the Player 2 would freeze due to a bug. This was fixed in PAL and JPN release. JPN release also saw further changes, making the game easier and slower at certain segments. Some stages saw slight remodelling, like Karnath’s Lair’s patterns the snakes move in. The later Mega Drive release seems to use the JPN Battletoads as its basis, but the general rule of thumb is that all other versions of the NES original are absolutely garbage and it’s good idea to stay away from them. If you’ve ever felt that Battletoads is an unfair piece of shit, give the JPN version a try. Even Arino of GCCX agreed it’s a hard and fun game.

That’s perhaps the crux where modern Battletoads lies. Much like Earthworm Jim, Battletoads is remembered only the only people and younger gamers simply know it from the fables. They’ve only played it via emulation and have not faced the game first hand with friends on a Saturday afternoon. EWJ saw a modern remake that left something to be desired of, but perhaps that sort of game would be the best thing for Battletoads, at first at least. With that the staff at Rare could address all the given criticism while creating a more difficult gauntlet to those who deem Battletoads an easy game.

Much like EWJ, it would be a flash in the pan, a momentary revival just waiting to be ignored after a month.

Modern Battletoads feels like something that can’t exist in modern electronic game industry. Much of what Battletoads is can’t work nowadays. The industry and press would frown upon a game that’s about pure, undiluted gameplay. Story would be forced in there and it would be forced to drive somebody’s agenda. Then you would have to revise the outlook of the franchise. The GBA remake had ‘toads in casual clothes, which is weak as all hell when it comes to character designs in games like this. Battletoads had some level of British edginess in there, most evident in the selection of animals used. The designs these characters have would not fly nowadays. Dark Queen would no longer be a S&M mistress, Big Blag wouldn’t be just a huge, fat rat, General Slaughter would be something else than an ox in spiked biker gear, not to mention how the Scuzzes mirror some of the lower class punk culture. To reflect TMNT further, take a look how their designs have been updated through the years and how characters like the Rat King has seen some facelifts. Battletoads could go the same route; keep the player character designs at their core the same while giving them a more modern feel, while redesigning some of the enemies with a heavy hand. Robo Manus and Big Blag would definitely require complete change while still staying true to the core idea, whereas something like Dark Queen merely demands a slight facelift. Much like Shredder has seen in each iteration of TMNT.

As a oneshot game Battletoads works extremely well, but as a franchise it failed. The arcade game was too edgy for its own good with the upped violence and gore. While the more adult fans enjoyed it, the arcade game feels a bit too inconsistent to garner further playthroughs. Battlemaniacs shows how the franchise already needed a facelift in character design, having pigs in pink leotards as one of its enemies. They didn’t look good back then and they still don’t. The arcade game had oomph to it, every hit was satisfying and deliver just as satisfying effect, much like how the NES Battletoads had that CRACK when you beat up an enemy. There’s something off with Battlemaniacs, but I’ve never sat down with the game and give it a proper plythrough to give it a fair assessment.

Perhaps it’s that NES roughness that served Battletoads so well.

Battletoads would need similar level of handling as the TMNT has seen, but in different areas. Conker’s Bad Fur Day handled seemingly childish characters with an adult flavour to certain degree of success, and I could see a modern Battletoads be done in a similar fashion. However, that would also require more clips and plot shoved into the game, which would also show all the weak points of Battletoads, which is that is basically has none. Most of the characters are archetypes and they function only as the player avatars with an added attitude and that works. Then there’s the fact that RARE has not done anything of worth since 2007 or so, when they began to churn out Kinect games.

Battletoads done in modern fashion wouldn’t be good as its fame would bog it down. I’m not sure if a Battletoads game done in the vein of the original would see success, but at least then the production costs wouldn’t need to be in the millions. I’m fearfully hopeful to wait any news on Microsoft-Rare Battletoads. I hope it’ll just be be a port of the arcade game.