Review of the Month; Mayflash GameCube controller adapter

Mayflash is a Chinese producer of console and PC gaming goods. For at least decade and a half they’ve been producing adapters and dance mats, as well as the odd dongle for your WiFi needs. They have offered alternatives to officially licensed product pretty much all of their existence, and it’s not rare for them to offer adapters that would otherwise be too obscure for any other company to produce. It would seem that their philosophy has always been It has to work and be cheap, design be damned. I can’t really fault this philosophy, even if a designer’s heart bleeds because of it.

If you want to cut the chase with the review, I can condense it in one sentence; it looks cheap, but the insides are good quality and it works. However, if you want something more, let’s look at what’s on the outside first.

The dimensions of the box itself is 128 x 71 x 23 mm, with a . It is, all things considered, surprisingly small. However, it is also very light and prone slide every which way. All this makes a very portable piece of equipment, but it does feel a bit cheap due to this. The plastic used is rather standard and its matte finish makes it feel a pretty standard piece of tech. Despite this, due to the text and lightness the adapter does feel rather cheap. The lack of any sort of striking design, or moving the text to the bottom and leaving the top completely vacant, does add to the cheapness factor.

The controller ports have been marked with with dots, like in GameCube itself. However, they’re a bit too small to see, and you can see my haphazard attempt at painting them in the middle of the night didn’t exactly product the results. It would’ve been preferable to have the slots marked with paint, or have concave dots made on the plastic that the user could have painted himself. I can’t really say they do their job well enough, they’re just there. Better than nothing, but again Mayflash’s idea of skimping on the surface raises its head.

As said, the adapter slides on surfaces, but I’ve added few rubber pads to make it sit in place. Surprisingly, this little addition makes it feel a bit more quality product, but in the end is a useless addition. The box itself is held together with Phillips head screws, which is great. Not only it probably cut some costs off, but also allows the consumer to open it up, fix if anything’s broken or otherwise has a need for modifications or such. I’m somewhat surprised that Mayflash didn’t opt to use their logo on the top of the adapter, as their logo would’ve made a nice looking splash. However, I recognize that having nearly brandless piece of tech opens much easier avenues of surface modifications, some of which I’ll probably take advantage at a later date. Case modding is fun, after all.

While the controller ports themselves are the same as in the original GameCube, the inside that does the job is what matters more. I must say, this isn’t what I expected. While some bits here and there seem like they could’ve seen just a tad better soldering, all the components are of good quality and the tracing is nothing to scoff at. Compared to what sort of botch-job 8bit Music Power offered, this looks nothing short of great. It may not be as sturdy as Hori’s Famicom Mini Commander, but having a modern electronic device build as sturdily as they were in the 80’s is rather rare. This is really where Mayflash’s competence has come through most often. While the cases are pretty terrible, and I’ve had few of them just come apart due to shoddy design, the PCBs and function of the devices have always been between decent and top-notch.

The use for the adapter is, of course, emulation. Very few player would prefer using a GameCube controller elsewhere. Dolphin, currently the choice for GameCube and Wii emulation, offer native support to GameCube adapters and Mayflash is one of the best, if not the best, alternative option to the official Nintendo adapter. Hell, I’ll go for broke and recommend it over the official adapter anyway just because Mayflash’s adapter’s price is half of Nintendo’s and readily available from your local Internet seller. It also does allow change between Wii U and PC mode, which helps quite a lot of you’re aiming to use GameCube controllers for other games. I wouldn’t blame you, the controller is still pretty comfortable all things considered.

Of course, it functions just fine with Wii U, there are no problems here.

Just to reiterate, the box itself, and its terrible packaging design, are nothing to look at. However, what’s inside the box and how it functions is terrific. Just remember to go to Mayflash’s own site and download the latest drives, as Mayflash is a manufacturer that aim to tweak their stuff from time to time.

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Review of the Month; Huion GT-220 v2 pen display

When I was initially writing this review last month, I came to a point where all I could say If you’re looking into moving digital drawing and painting, Huion GT-220 v2 fills that want with third the price of Wacom’s similar sized product. That’s the whole review in a nutshell, and expanding on that is slightly difficult. The reason for this not because Huion is worse product than its competitor, no. The reason for this that a pen display is only one-third of the equation. The second third is the software/s you’ll be using with the pen display, which doesn’t only impact what sort of lines you’ll be using, but also the digital tools you have in your use but also what you are able to do. Using Adobe Photoshop is a different thing from Paint Shop Pro or SAI. The last third is experience. You have may skill, which is easy to transition to digital realm in an extent, but you will always lack experience with any new given tool. If you’ve accustomed to work in a certain way with specific set of tools, changing to new ones will screw you up for a time, if not completely in certain situations. This applies to pen tablets doubly, as brands have fine but significant differences to them. We can always argue which brand has the best functions and why, but that’s always up to opinion.

To continue setting up personal point of comparison between tablets, my first proper drawing tablet was a version of Cybertablet M14 from early 2000’s. Before that I had used random huge, almost toyetic, drawing tablets on and off whenever I had a chance at certain schools. During the last decade or so, I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Wacom’s tablets and pen displays. None of these had been what I’d call productive, as I always found myself being extremely limited for not being able to see where I was drawing. The fact that my eye-hand coordination was extremely hard to break made me abandon digital drawing altogether and concentrating on ink. TL;DR, I couldn’t get handle of digital drawing because the tip of the pen didn’t produce the line, it was the pointer on the screen.

Due to all this, this review will be more personal take on the item than previous, more objectivity driven reviews I’ve done. May that be a bonus or a detractor to you.

That said, any pen display would solve my problem. The problem just was that picking up a 13″ display would be too small when you’ve accustomed working on A3 size, but Wacom’s 22″ pen displays cost far too much for someone who always has to question his income. Thus, alternatives would need further research.

You can read GT-220 V2’s parameters at Huion’s own site, so I’ll be concentrating on the user experience and overall design of the pen display itself.

It’s hard to take good photos when you have no proper light, indoors or outside. Autumn is such a drab

First things first, I have a screen protector on, hence some of the bubbles and very slight scratching from the usage appearing in the photo. The design is very conservative in many ways, with it being a simple screen with nothing else going on with it. That’s a strength to GT-220, as this means there’s less things to break down on the outside.

The rubber bottom that serves at the basis of the display is meant to prevent shocks and raise it higher for easier access of the buttons on the lower right, as well as keeping the cords from the back from bending straight. However, this allows the display to pivot left or right if one is to lean unto it when working. I’ve solved this problem momentarily with thick cardboard rolls. This is not a problem for those who work in off the paper with only the pen touching the screen. I’ve found that this almost painting-position causes less stress and strain. This, in effect, is the only objectively negative point in the design of the piece, the rest are more or less subjective.

The back has two vents on both sides and one long line running near the top, otherwise they’re just your normal everyday plastic with texture. However, it’s good to show all the three leads you’ll need to run this pen display; the USB, the power and the VGA/DVI/HDMI. Without the rubber bottom, these would have to experience unnecessary stress, though it has to be mentioned that the way the rubber bottom has been installed is clearly an afterthought. Huion is using the same housing as they did with GT-220, so taking that into consideration the solution is understandable, but not wholly satisfactory.

Software installation was easy and there was not problems when following the guide. The software Huion delivers is rather spartan in function, but is efficient and does what it needs to do.

Pen configuration, pressure sensitivity, monitor select, test, calibration, settings import and export options. You don’t really need anything more with this tablet. Everything is very to the point. I’ve seen some claiming that the program does not save settings, but all that really is dependent on your screen setup. The pen display is recognized as a screen as long as you have it plugged to your computer and/or to the wall, even when powered down.  My setup is so that I have three screens, one of which is not always powered and recognized at all. This is relevant to the settings, as when you Export your settings, those same settings are imported every time you boot up. If you don’t Export your specific settings, the program will load up the default one. Now, because the pen display is the third screen I have, and the mostl-of-the-time-unpowered one is second, this means I need to check out whether or not the program recognized the pen display as the second or third screen. This also means that I can use the GT-220 as a standard, non-display pen tablet whenever I’d like to and draw to any other two screens.

The pen itself has lots of levels of pressure, which are all good and dandy. The tablet may not recognize angle of the pen, but that’s largely unnecessary. It’s a nice bonus to have, but this is one of the things you can work without just fine. You don’t miss what you don’t have. The pen’s light, and while others regard this a bonus, I would like to have slightly more heft to it. It feels just as cheap as any other pen I’ve used, but then again I would like everything to be made of steel. The pen display came with two pens and a USB charge cable (and a glove!) all of which is nice. The base contains a tool to pry a used tip off, with space for spare tips. Buttons are nice and clicky, just as you’d want them. The battery inside seems to have power for about three weeks worth of juice in it, but as usual with modern batteries, I’d recommend charging it after each use. During charging, a red light can be seen through the buttons.

The pointer does float somewhat off the pen’s tips, but this is not as straightforward as people tend to make it. There are three factors that affect how far your pointer is from the pen; thickness of the glass, the angle you are at and the calibration. You can muck around in the calibration and set your pointer into widely different positions from the tip, or spend a day like me and optimise the distance, only to change your posture and see the tip veering off a bit. How much the pointer lags behind the tip is within standard deviation compared to other tablets, and partially based on your hardware setup. The GT-220 doesn’t have any computing in it, so everything has to be done in your PC.

Speaking of buttons, the pen display lacks any of them outside Menu and settings. No shortcut keys to you. Whether or not you want them is up to you, but the lack of them is a plus to yours truly. Never cared for those anyway. The way I solved the lack of Ctrl+Z in one key press was to use a separate keypad and configuring that to host wide variety of macros, though I still tend to rush back and forth in Paint Shop Pro and using its on-screen buttons. Because how I’ve learned to utilise the pen as a tool in general, I have no need for a touch screen or quick macros, though I should get a better keypad with in-built macro modifier, like in Logitech G13. The total price would still be lower to Wacom’s 22″ displays, and you can use that keypad for variety of games, and with different settings, for variety of programs to boot.

The way the display reads the pen is really what you’d expect. The best way to showcase some of it is through it’s own Pressure Test tool.

Scribbles, always with the scribbles…

While not a draw tool in itself (hence the angles rather than smooth lines), the Pressure Test shows that with the above settings, the pen can do wide variety of thicknesses from the get go. While some prefer a heavy handed  approach to achieve thickness, I’ve set it one notch below middle way, meaning all I need is a light touch. The lines the display gives is very good, very standard, nothing to scoff at. A better example might something very quick, like a Pikachu done in Microsoft Paint.

Well that’s a piece of shit

Paint is something everyone on Windows can start up and make a comparison to. Paint limits the way line thickness works, but the that’s slightly beside the point. Here you can see that it does not do angles, unless I decide to do so. Pretty much everybody use a stablisation program anyway, but I’ve had a hard time getting my head around getting used to any I’ve tried out, be it Lazy Nezumi or something else. If you want something more wholesome, roll into Twitter. I do scribbles from time to time. Now that I think of it, in the previous transforming mecha design post I already used this pen display to quickly draw the examples. Nothing terribly exciting or decent, but showcases things a bit more.

This might be a good spot to say that a pen display does not make you better. It certainly give you better tools, depending on the software, but it’s up you just take up the pen and draw all day long, every day. Practice makes perfect, and perfection can’t be achieved.

The screen itself is nice. It’s bright enough to blind the ever living shit out of me, and the colours are satisfactory enough, hard to say how off they are without external equipment. I didn’t see any colour popping too much on top of another.

Part of the experience is, of course, with the screen itself. Huion uses a glass display, which is very sleek and very friction-less. It’s not like drawing on paper, but drawing with a tablet never is. Wacom advertises itself with its surfaces that have slight paper-like grit to them. Whether or not you value this is up to you, and you can pick up screen protectors with different grit to them. Again, to what you’re used to plays a big part. Once you learn to paint on glass, moving up to this kind of pen display is easy.

Huion GT-220 v2 might lack some of the capabilities its three times more expensive Wacom equivalent costs, I really have to question how much there is need for a touch screen function, macro keys on the display itself and angle recognition. Again, it’s all about how you’re used to work and what’s most efficient way for you to work rather than what’s available to you. Sometimes too many options and tools hampers the progress, and the core tools and the mastery over them is often more than enough.

At the moment, Huion is selling these pen displays on Amazon for some 510€. At this price, the GT-220 v2 is extremely good for starting to draw with a pen display or tablet in general. All that it lacks is luxury after all that only add to the price. Wacom enthusiasts will scoff at it, but Huion as a Chinese manufacturer has been catching their missteps along the way, and GT-220 v2 is their best piece thus far.

While I don’t have enough time to properly practice, for the last three months I’ve done all my drawing wants and need on the pen display. I’ve been happy that it works as expected, and the only thing that keeps things from being better is me myself.

Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power Final

This one has been in the making for some time, mostly thanks to Amazon Japan never shipping my piece. I had to resort to proxy services to get a new copy and the sound jack expansion elsewhere. Rather than keep bitching, let’s jump to the review right away and start with the usual stuff on what’s on the outside.

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World needs more pastel blues

Continue reading “Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power Final”

Review of the Month; Hori Mini Commander for Famicom

Hori’s been a long time on the third-party controller market. Usually they are of pretty high quality, offering relatively cheap price for a solid, no-nonsense controller that serves just fine. I’ve covered quite a few Hori product on this blog, and I have to say that I do have a slight personal bias for their products due to my good experiences with them. Hell, I still use my Rockman.EXE GBA softcase that was designed for the Game Boy Advance, because it’s so well made. Currently it houses my European 3DS.

This time we’re going back to one of Hori’s earlier third-party controllers, the Famicom Mini Commander. It seems like Hori has been doing smaller alternatives since the start. This controller also seems to be relatively obscure, and is the miniature version of the more well-known Hori Famicom Commander. For a more comprehensive review, we’re also going to open the controller to see what it has eaten.

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I’m also using large file size with these photos, because I’m sick and tired of gnat-shit size pictures that are all around the net. Notice how neat Hori’s old logo is. More after the jump

Continue reading “Review of the Month; Hori Mini Commander for Famicom”

Review of the Month; Battle Mania Chinese reproduction

What is a man to do if you want physical copies of games, but games are incredibly, stupidly high in price? Find cheaper alternatives or better deals. One consists of digital copies and reproductions, whereas the other takes time and impeccable timing when it comes to auctions and spotting those deals. Sometimes, reproductions can be a way to go, especially for titles that have no physical release or homebrew. Or when you can get one for a laughable price compared to what the real deal goes for.

During one of mid-night browsing sessions on eBay I noticed that a Chinese seller had Battle Mania in “perfect” condition for some 20€. Fully knowing that it would be a Chinese reproduction I decided to give it a go. While we could raise a discussion whether or not reproduction carts of twenty years old games that are not available anywhere any more counts as piracy, I’ll just slide the question aside for now and mention I already got the US version of the game.

So, does the item do any justice to the real deal? The comparison point I’ll be using is any other Japanese release of Mega Drive games I’ve got, mainly the excellent Devil Crash MD and an interesting SF Golf RPG game Battle Golfer Yui. Let’s get on with the show!

Honestly, I love this cover. It’s a good example of how games used to have low-level work done on them, yet came out great. The use of genre markers on the lower left should’ve crossed the pond, so people would not have invented multiple bullshit genres

The first thing we see here is that the case doesn’t really follow the Japanese style box because it has the rack hanger on the top. Second is that the plastic used on the box is cheap, as expected, but it could be much worse. It’s shiny, sturdy, but also very prone to warping under slig

ht heat. My copy has bulked out a bit, probably during injection phase. While it locks close just fine, it does look a bit strange on the shelf. The wrap is also extremely glossy and lacks the texturing a real Mega Drive case would have. The glossiness throws glares a bit too much and does feel cheaper. However it’s not exactly terrible, just cheap.

The back shows the bulking much better

The cover slip is very thin, good quality paper. It’s a good substitute to the one used on actual Mega Drive games, but the print quality doesn’t stand up to the task. This is understandable, as in order to have these prints, the seller must’ve first scanned the original piece. The only place you can see scan generation deterioration is on the text. The text is slightly blurry and soft, mostly because necessarily sharpening was not applied, thou in cases like this I would’ve re-typed the text in order to ensure that it would come out in better quality. The first impressions on the case is overall good for a Chinese reproduction.

The cartridge, however, is pretty terrible.

The cartridge opens up extremely easily, and even the slightest tug cracked the casing. I didn’t really care about the review at this point, and switches the casing with Art Alive‘s

This sort of generic cheap plastic is common with cheap productions. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it used, but here we are. The plastic itself has a slight hue of grey to it and the parts don’t fit exactly perfectly to each other. Again, this is due to the material being that much cheaper and living during and after injection moulding. The label on the back you see there had to be peeled off through heat treating and suffers from the same scan degradation as the slip. This is disappointing overall. The cartridge really should’ve been the place where the effort should’ve been put into.

The scan degradation is most apparent on the cover label. While it looks decent on the first sight, the label is tacky and of low quality. The paper used here is thick and glossy photopaper, which doesn’t want to bend right and has really low quality scan on it. The real Mega Drive cartridges have very thin matte label on them with very high print quality on them (most of the time) and this comes off as a terribly lazy way to waste this kind of paper. It doesn’t help that the label’s too damn long.

That’s no good

So, the label was so long that it went far over the usual region where Mega Drive labels reside. Seeing Mega Drive games mostly used a standardised cartridge, this is a weird fault I can’t fathom. I had to cut out the extension out, and you can see both of the labels slowly peeling off. The thing with Mega Drive carts is that they have screw under that back label, and to open a cart you either have to peel off the label or cut holes.

The show doesn’t stop here, a complete package should come with a manual.

Oh for fuck’s sake

This is pretty damn terrible. Both print and scan qualities are low and the paper used is the same glossy photopaper as the label. It doesn’t sit well in the case and the ink hasn’t set on the surface. You can see scuff marks on the bottom, where the case’s tabs took ink out. The manual is overall terrible and not worth the paper its printed on, so I won’t be taking it out for any sort of photos. The contents are there, just in a very low quality.

So, if you took the cartridge apart, what’s in the inside? Good question.

Guess which one is which

A reproduction on a chip and it runs about the same as the real thing. It looks very cost-effective build. It has no weight to it and while it looks cheap, it… it really is. However, this is what I discussed previously about reproductions. It’s much cheaper to put a ROM on a chip rather than replicate the original pieces. Saves time, money and space. Of course, in order for the contacts to have something to stand on, you need to have something to it. This Chinese reproduction opted for a very interesting but sturdy plastic to add area to the PCB. It doesn’t exactly fit into a proper Mega Drive cart, but with some creative knife use it fits in just fine. Interestingly, the chip is so low that it interfered with the real cartridge and a slot had to be cut for it. However, the game sits well in a real console, regardless the cartridge its in.

The reproduction plays Battle Mania just as you’d expect. Outside the casing the ROM sits in, during gameplay there’s nothing that would make it stand out from the real thing. While that’s great, the fact that the thing its wrapped in is bit of a letdown does make me question whether or not I wasted 20€ for a review. It does look decent when it’s sitting on the shelf, and after changing to a proper cartridge it doesn’t feel as cheap. In the end, that’s what you get. The price does seem on the point in the end. With a tenner more the quality could be upped considerably, both in print and plastic, but more work should be on the computer to ensure the scans and their prints would stand up to much more intricate tests.