Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Super Joy IV

Many Famiclone enthusiasts will certainly be familiar with the famous, perhaps infamous, Power Player Super Joy III. Personally I always wondered where the first and second had gone, but there's no time for that now as the Power Player Super Joy IV has arrived! Yes, the Super Joy family has grown a bit bigger with this new addition. Let's find out whether it's worth picking up or not.

As is standard with Power Player Super Joys you'll find everything needed to start enjoying your Super Joy IV right away inside the box; instruction manual, power adapter, AV cables, zapper gun and second player controller as well as the main console. In short, the AV cables are cheap, the power adapter is cheap and the zapper and second player controller are very small. The zapper and second player controller work perfectly well, but I find the second player controller to be a bit uncomfortable to hold for extended periods of time.

The first thing anyone will notice about the Super Joy IV is the new design. Instead of the Nintendo 64 controller, this time the more ergonomic Nintendo Wavebird has been chosen to house the console. When compared to the genuine article, the Super Joy IV is just a bit bigger than the Wavebird. I'm sure dimensions had to be modified a little to get everything inside of it, but overall the shape is fairly true to the Wavebird. Personally I find the slightly bigger dimensions to be more comfortable than the real Wavebird.

The button placement is the one true fail of the Super Joy IV. In my experience the Wavebird (more accurately all Nintendo Gamecube controllers) action buttons took a little getting use to, but after playing with it for a while I became familiar with them. With the Super Joy IV the action buttons aren't very well thought out at all. The only buttons you'll really need to use, B and A, are along the far right side and kind of easily used by resting your thumb straight up and down on them, but still a bit uncomfortable. And don't get me started on the turbo buttons or the silly B and A combo button in the center, they're just too cumbersome for my liking.

As with every Super Joy Famiclone there are built in games. On the surface the Super Joy IV offers 60 games, but once broken down you'll get more like 50, which all things considered is pretty good for the way built in games are usually broken up. Titles such as Islander (Adventure Island), Grading (Gradius), King Kong 1, 2 and 3 (Donkey Kong) and many of the black box era games are included. In my opinion they're all solid titles; even if you never used the cartridge slot the included games are worth the price for the whole thing.

Super Joy III compared to its younger brother the Super Joy IV

One of the main draws to these types of Famiclones, I think, is that they're portable Famicom/NES style systems that will allow you to play Famicom style cartridges. My particular Super Joy IV has a very tight cartridge port that makes me uncomfortable using any of my Famicom cartridges. I managed to wiggle some in, but the stabilizing ribs are just too snug for me to feel comfortable pushing and pulling 20+ year old plastic in and out of there too many times. I'm sure the ribs can be shaved down, and I may do so, but I'm just more familiar with the massive area the Super Joy III offered when it actually had an open cartridge slot.

So what are my thoughts on the Super Joy IV? It's comfortable to hold, the only buttons you need to use aren't as easy to use as other Famiclones, but they're still functional. The included games are standard Famiclone titles, but they're all pretty good and the joystick actually works this time. Wait, what? Yes, the Super Joy III had a hard plastic joystick that was always useless, but on the Super Joy IV the joystick is very much useful. A bit stiff, but useful. All things considered I'm glad I own it because it's unique, but I feel the Super Joy III is a more user friendly Famiclone.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Nameless NES to Famicom Cartridge Adapter

For NES owners who want to play Famicom games on their console the internet has documented numerous amounts of adapters that will allow you to do just that. But what about the Famicom, or as we prefer Famiclone, owner who wants to play an NES game on their Famicom/clone? Don't fret, there is an adapter that allows you to play the bountiful array of NES games on your 60 pin console!

The Nameless 72 to 60 pin adapter, front (top) and back (bottom).
In most parts of the world NES games are fairly easy to come by, and in some parts of the world Famiclones are just as prevalent, if not more so. It's in the parts of the world where these two situations meet that Famiclone owners needed a way to play the 72 pin cartridges on their Famiclones. That was when Nameless Company stepped in and created this fine adapter.

Since the adapter is essentially the same dimensions as a Famicom cartridge, except it has a 72 pin connector at the top, it works in much the same way. You simply plug the adapter into your Famicom or Famiclone, line up your NES cartridge's angled edges (NES label facing the back of the console), and plug that into the adapter. Voila! You're ready to play NES games on your Famicom or clone console.
The quality of the adapter seems very sturdy overall. With a cheap, nameless adapter one could assume you may run into situations of accidentally bumping the console and getting a vomit of pixels and colors upon the screen. I can't say with complete confidence as I've never given it a thorough testing but I have used this in a handheld Famiclone, which included a lot of movement, and never experienced any adverse effects, glitches or disturbances to gameplay.

Since I don't want to break the adapter open and see the inner workings I've never seen what's inside. Considering this is a bit of a Schrodinger's cat situation, I'm just going to assume this is a straight pass-through device that connects all the necessary pins down from the 72 to 60 and onto the system. As such I've never had any incompatibility issues.

Using the Nameless adapter to check the
functionality of a Super Joy 3 that doesn't have a housing.

Sadly there isn't much information I can offer in the way of how to find one of these. At the time I bought mine, about 4 years ago, they were readily available on foreign ebay sites such as MercadoLibre. Currently I can not find any, but that's not to say they won't make a comeback in the future at some point.

I find this little adapter to be very useful for my needs. If I want to play a Famiclone and later on I want to play an NES game, it's far easier for me to just pop this adapter in and put the NES game on top of it and play. No need to fidget with my NES for a few minutes before it decides to work. I'm quite happy with this little adapter, even though the company who made it clearly wasn't, because they didn't even bother to name the poor thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Famicom Adapter for Power Joy Voyager

Within the past year I've come to find that many different companies have their own Famiclone shaped similar to the Power Joy Voyager. While I'm very glad that mine came with the cartridge, allowing it to work as a Famiclone and not just a portable LCD game, it did not come with an adapter to allow it to play actual Famicom style cartridges. Units under names such as Dr. Boy and a handful of others actually came with a really neat 60 to proprietary (whatever these style of clones use) adapter.

Not the same color, but it works!
After some internal debating I decided to acquire one, just to have one. I figured it would open up the chance to use this oddball Famiclone as a full fledged Famiclone, instead of just the cartridge it comes with. Not to say that the cartridge it comes with is bad, but again it's proprietary, restricting the usage to whatever is on the cartridge it comes with.
Now it may not seem like a lot to most people, but I find this adapter to be quite a useful little tool. The Power Joy Voyager is no longer restricted to just the cartridge it comes with. Now I can use any of my Famicom cartridges, multi-carts or maybe even a Famicom Everdrive, if I decided to buy one in the future.

Use it with Famicom games...
or just be completely silly!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Innovation Super 8 Compatibility Fix Mod

After owning the Innovation Super 8 for over a year, I have to say that I haven't used it very much. The truth is that it's a bit of a problem child, and getting this thing to work properly at a moment's notice is next to impossible. The connecting board is noticeably thinner than any actual SNES or Super Famicom game, making it hard for the console to actually make proper contact with the already imbalanced add-on.

The second issue is that the AV contacts aren't too tight either. Often times I'll be fiddling with the console to get it to work, only to have it work with poor video or no audio. This is quickly remedied by pushing the AV connector back into the Super 8, but sometimes even that slight movement can throw the system off balance and cause it to glitch out, causing me to restart the whole Super 8 balancing dance again.

There is another issue that was a blatant flaw left within the Super 8, perhaps by Innovation or the company that manufactured the units for them. At first I didn't really see this as an issue, as it didn't directly affect me. I simply liked having an add-on Famiclone for my SNES that allowed me to play Famicom, NES and play my SNES region free without having to cut out the little tabs in the cartridge slot.

Shortly after I got my Super 8 I did some research as to how compatible it was, since it is a NOAC. One of the main issues that popped up wasn't caused by the NOAC, but rather that it wasn't compatible with the Super Gameboy or SNES games that utilized the Super FX chip. I'm not sure who or why they made this decision, but there was an intentional gap in one of the traces leading to the connecting contacts.

The trace on the far right shows an unmistakable gap.
For the longest time I just let this flaw go, as I don't currently own any games that would be affected. I did, however, check my Super Gameboy, which yielded less than savory results. The Super Gameboy loaded and worked, except it was too slow to be of any real use. This didn't really bother me, as I just preferred to pop the Super Gameboy directly into my SNES and play it that way.

As time went on I felt that it would be a simple and easy mod, so why not just give it a try? I don't really use the Super 8, but it would still be useful to make sure it was compatible with Super FX chip games and the Super Gameboy, even if I don't currently need it to be.

The intentional gap with clean areas to be soldered.
I started by taking the unit apart, to reveal the area I needed to work. Then I carefully scraped away a small portion on both sides of the gap, to allow me to bridge the gap with solder. My original idea was to solder a small bit of wire, but since the gap wasn't very big I figured I could just bridge the gap with solder.
Not the prettiest, but it does the job!
I am by no means a world class soldering master, but I managed to bridge the gap. Sure it doesn't look very good, and it took longer than I expected to get the two sides to actually join up, but the connection is solid and works perfectly. After fiddling with the system for a while I managed to get it to balance with my Super Gameboy in it and it ran correctly. I still can't be 100% sure that it works with Super FX chip games, but I'm going to boldly assume that since it's just a pass through for SNES games it should work just fine.

If you own or are thinking about purchasing a Super 8, this is an extremely easy and worthwhile mod. As the picture shows, I won't be winning any rewards for my soldering skills, but it got the job done, besides this is hidden within the unit and can't be seen unless the unit it taken apart. But sadly, this mod really doesn't benefit me, because I'll just be sick of trying to get the Super 8 to work and pack it away again.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Power Player Super Joy 3, the Super Joystick!

Throughout the years I passed up so many Super Joy consoles, because I didn't know exactly what they were. Later on, when my interest in handheld Famiclones started to grow, I found a powder blue Super Joy 3 and I decided to take a chance on it. I had only done a little research on Power Joys, but I was told the Super Joy 3 was essentially the same type of Famiclone, meaning this thing played classic NES/Famicom games, and supposedly played Famicom cartridges. Those two facts alone were well worth the couple of dollars I paid for it.

My very first Famiclone is the one on the far left side.
When I got home I scrambled to find all the needed cables and batteries to give the thing a complete test. After powering the system on I was greeted by a little bit of music and a screen boasting 12000 games, which I now know is just a marketing ploy to move these things off the shelves. After a little bit of playing around, I started to wonder how these things could play Famicom cartridges, because mine didn't have any visible cartridge slot. Instead mine had some weird cover protruded from under the console, which caused my hands to cramp if I used it for too long, with absolutely no possible way to externally connect a Famicom game.

After carefully removing the the plastic cover, so that I could reattach it later, I found the 60 pin connector with a small board stuck inside. I grabbed a Famicom game I had bought a few months prior and tried to get it to fit, but there was no hope. I decided I should take the Super Joy 3 apart and see if this thing really would play Famicom games through that slot.

The answer was a resounding yes; yes these things really do play Famicom cartridges. But if I had to take the whole thing apart, rendering in useless, how was I suppose to actually utilize this fact? In frustration, I just put the Super Joy 3 in my closet and used it on occasion the way it was, until I happened to find another Super Joy 3, this time with an actual slot to put a cartridge in.
As you can see above, the Super Joy 3 comes in 2 external variations. The first, and most common, has an actual Famicom sized slot on the bottom, allowing for cartridge insertion, opening the library to any Famicom (or pirate) cart you own. The second design still has the cartridge slot, but it's molded so that the unit only allows for the inserted rom board, leaving no room for any actual cartridge to be plugged in.

My collection has grown quite a bit, and hopefully will continue to grow, so I've found that although the Super Joy 3 is your typical handheld Famiclone, stuffed into an N64 style controller, there are at least two different programs inside that I've found. The first being the one I previously mentioned that boots up with a little bit of music and boasts 12000 games. The second one boots up with no music, a black background and Fun Time written in green, before going to a screen of 78000 options.

The overall quality varies from unit to unit as well. Some of my Super Joys have very nice video output, while others have lines in the background, and others have fuzzy, snowy screens that are almost unplayable! While the inner workings vary from unit to unit, the outer construction tends to stay the same with cheap plastics throughout. I have noticed a slight button variation, but it really isn't a plus or minus as they are all buttons and do their required jobs, no matter what plastic they used.
The Super Joy 3 has a player 2/light gun port on the very front of the unit, outside of where the battery pack goes. I've never owned a brand new Super Joy 3, so I can't comment on the quality of the zapper, but I do happen to own three of the second player controllers. Player 2 controllers are modeled heavily off a Sega Genesis controller, with slight modifications. These controllers are ok, for what they do, and work well with almost any other Famiclone you have as controllers for either player.
After collecting my first one, it seemed that I found them all over the place. If one of them happened to cross my path that I felt the price was worth paying, I couldn't pass it up. So, needless to say, my Super Joy collection has expanded to a total of six. I can't really say the Super Joy is a great unit, because it varies from unit to unit, but I can say that if you get your hands on one that works correctly, it's a great little handheld Famiclone.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The vsMaxx MaxxPlay

When I first started to collect Famiclones, the only ones I could find were the handheld, N64 controller inspired ones. My very first being a Power Joy that I picked up, on a whim, after seeing a handful of them scattered around different thrift stores, but never having picked one up. Shortly after that I found a Super Joy 3, and after that was the vsMaxx MaxxPlay.

The console (left) and 2nd player controller look virtually identical
The MaxxPlay just isn't the same breed of Famiclone as the other handheld Famiclones, it stands out in quite a few ways. Most notably is the fact that the MaxxPlay has the best build quality out of any of my other handheld Famiclones. Although it does look like the typical Famiclone in an N64 style controller, this one feels far superior and a lot more solid when you hold it in your hands.

As soon as I first played the MaxxPlay I could immediately feel how different it was from the Super Joy and Power Joy systems I own. The plastic is substantially more rigid, the d-pad (and working joystick, might I add) is more accurate, and the buttons have a really nice springy response. Another step above is that the intro screen is a very well illustrated set of instructions on how to use the system, in case for some reason you couldn't figure it out otherwise.
 The basic design is much the same as many plug n play Famiclones: N64 controller styling, adjusted to suit the needs of the system dwelling within, with a Famicom 60 pin connector attached to the bottom and using the memory card slot as the battery pack receptacle. While also integrating a light gun, the MaxxPlay has added LEDs on either side of the barrel. And, just like the Power Joy, the plug for player 2, as well as the system's hardwired AV cables, are located on the bottom of the light gun handle.

Bottom of player 2 controller
The main system functions well with 95 built-in games, but the 60 pin connector on the bottom is plagued by the same tight, uncomfortable placement as all other plug n play Famiclones. Although this time there isn’t enough space to make a good enough connection for most of my Famicom cartridges to even work. I have found out that, by their poorly made nature, pirate carts work slightly better. Even so, if you accidentally bump the cartridge you’re going to need to reset the system and try again.

The second player controller is a feature that intrigues me as well as confuses me, all at the same time. The second player controller is completely identical to the main system, without the integrated battery pack holder, but they did leave a bit of it to become a stand for the controller. The second player controller works just as well as the main system controller, but it too has a built-in light gun, which I found a bit excessive, but whatever.

I like the second player controller so much, I actually own four of them.
Even though it's plagued with tight space issues and a 60 pin connector that only works sometimes, the vsMaxx MaxxPlay is still a system worth owning, simply for the build quality and games built-in. The 95 built-in games are hacks of their original counterparts, but you'll probably find them all fairly familiar. The solid plastic and very good controls push this, easily, above all other handheld Famiclones I own.
...and I like the console so much, I actually own three of them!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Famiclone Light Guns

If there is one genre of games that Famiclones and pirated multi-carts love to adorn themselves with, it has to be light gun games. Such classics as Duck Hunt, and all its hacked variations, Gotcha!, Hogans Alley and many more are some of the most common games I find on multi-carts. That means there is one accessory almost every Famiclone has to include in some shape or form, the light gun.

Through testing nearly every light gun I own I can safely say they all work pretty much the same, so I'm not going to bother doing a proper review. But I am going to go over the different kinds I own and give a bit of an explanation about them. Many different Famiclones come with many different shaped, colored and sized light guns, so here is my collection.

First up are what I like to call the System Light Guns. These are the handheld consoles, such as the Power Joy and MaxxPlay, that are a console and light gun in one unit. Even though the MaxxPlay already has a light gun in the console unit, the controller for player 2 is the exact same shape and has a light gun built in as well. A bit excessive if you ask me, but all of the System Light Guns I've used are accurate and comfortable.
Next are the daisy chained controllers for the Power Joy Voyager. For some reason mine have stopped working, which upset me greatly. These are unique little controllers. One controller is perfectly normal, but the other one is a bit elongated and has a trigger and barrel integrated for the light gun feature. Being as small as it is, this is a bit uncomfortable in my hands, personally, but isn't completely useless.
One of the most popular light guns included with Famiclones has to be what I call the Panther, because it's written across almost all of them. Molded after a real handgun (I have no clue which), this one is probably the most comfortable light gun design I've used. The only problem I have is that the orange one doesn't work properly with any of my Famiclones, all it does it reset the console. I suppose if I needed a remote reset button that would be perfect, but I would prefer a bright orange light gun. 
Next is a knew one for me, this one is molded off the Lethal Enforcers arcade gun, I believe. It's very comfortable, but I haven't fully tested this one for accuracy or even if it works! Yeah, I'm a bit lazy, but it looks cool.
Lastly we come to my personal favorite, at least in terms of looks. Up to this point all of the light guns have used the standard DB-9 style connector. This one, however, uses the Famicom style connector. Sadly this one is broken; the internal switching mechanism is poorly thought out, even for Chinese Famiclone standards. I've seen a few of these online that actually have a small, red, flip up sight in the back, which this one has the holes for. Even though this doesn't work, it's still a very cool Famiclone light gun.

After posting this article I sat down and played around with some of the guns I had not tested, mainly the Lethal Enforcers gun. Out of all the guns I own, the Lethal Enforcers, orange Panther style, as well as the Panther with the brown grips would not work properly. I believe the NES zapper style will work, it just needs a switch installed, which is easier said than done.

The Lethal Enforcers and brown grips version of the Panther may have a component malfunction or are wired weird, so I decided to just let them stay that way until I can investigate further. The orange Panther, however, functioned, yet it would actually glitch out the game once the trigger was pulled. After pulling it apart I immediately found the culprit, but I had to do some testing before I officially decided to do the surgery.
As you can see above, the Famiclone light gun is a very simple system. Just a small board holding the receptor LED with a few other components, wired down to the switch and into the controller cable. What happened with the orange Panther was a case of the switch having an additional wire, for what I do not know.
Normally, when the switch is wired up, only A and B are used. Pressing the switch connects B and C, disconnecting the current from A and B, which sends the signal that the trigger has been pulled and the light gun acts accordingly. But since there was an additional wire connected to C, the light gun sent the signal and created an error, causing the game and console to glitch out.

Once I disconnected the strange wire from terminal C, the proper connection was made and the orange Panther works perfectly fine! I believe it was packaged with the Dreamgear Game Station, but I have some controllers from that system, and they work perfectly fine with my Famiclones, I don't see why the light gun would need to be wired differently, but it was. Perhaps just a fluke, or perhaps this was suppose to only work with that console, either way it was an easy "mod", and it now works perfectly fine with my DB-9 input Famiclones. I just hope I can fix the other three soon.