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. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Family Game Famiclone

I am always on the hunt for Famiclones, and when I see one that I don't already have I tend to obsess over it. A few months back that's exactly what happened, and after persuaded someone to buy it for my birthday it finally arrived. I tore open the box to reveal a beautiful grey Family Game Famiclone, in the Famicom style housing, in great shape.

I was dying to test it out, so I wasted no time digging out my box of Famicom games, pirates and multi-carts. After hooking everything up I pulled the player 1 controller out of its slot on the console, grasped it firmly in my grubby paws and flipped the power switch. Perfect! Its working like a charm, I'm so excited to finally have a working Famiclone that looks this close to a genuine Famicom.

After playing with it for a little while I noticed that the colors weren't right, which confused me as I was under the delusion that this was a discreet Famiclone with cloned CPU and PPU chips, giving it the proper color palette and sound response. I wasn't worried too much because I was still enjoying my experience with the console. The AV output was a bit wavy as well, which wasn't a huge deal, but it still is something I'll have to take a closer look at.

Shortly after that I wanted to switch from AV and check out what the RF picture may look like, just out of curiosity, so I pulled out the AV cables and plugged in my NES RF adapter. The picture was absolutely horrible, I mean beyond playable, with bands in the background that far exceed that of the NES top loader. But what did I see between the static lines and wavy screen? The colors were absolutely perfect and 100% correct. My mind was blown, I was confused.

Maybe I could clean up the plugs and freshen up the picture, yeah that should to the trick. Nope. Well what if I did a search on my TV, to see if it could pick up the correct broadcasting for the Famiclone's RF signal. Nope, strike 2! Well that's fine, I don't need RF anyway, it looks much better through the AV outs, albeit with the incorrect color palette and wavy screen.

After playing Bases Loaded (Moero!! Pro Yakyuu) I did notice the console was tapping into the extra audio channel that my Dreamstation did, so at least I was getting the extra sounds. But in the pursuit of better knowledge on how to fix the AV output I decided to change the TV I was using and see if that made a difference in the video quality, and surprisingly it did, but in a very weird way! On the second TV I immediately noticed the RF signal was perfectly fine, with correct colors, but the AV was completely unusable. After trying a channel search on it, which changed nothing, I decided I would just have to use the console through AV on my main TV and deal with it.

To further my understanding I opened the system up to check the solder joints in the AV section, when I was greeted by something I have never seen before. Is that... is that a concealed NOAC? I have no clue what I'm looking at, but it was solitary, nothing else populating the board for miles, so this had to be the brains of the operation.

As soon as I saw this Famiclone I obsessed over it partially because I had seen another blogger (133mhz) write two articles on one that looked exactly like this one. 133mhz wrote up (Part 1 and Part 2) about cleaning and restoring a Famiclone, as well as how to swap out the cloned CPU and PPU for the original Nintendo chips, essentially making the Famiclone 100% a Famicom. My thoughts were to get my hands on a clone just like his and, sometime down the road, swap out the chips and have a Famicom with AV out, but seeing what I see now that's impossible. Even though they are identical outside they are far from the same on the inside, but that still doesn't concern me, as this is my first, properly functioning, Famiclone that looks like a Famicom.

Putting the technical issues aside, I originally had reservations about how the controller had the cable coming out of the top, instead of the sides. After playing with the console for a while, I feel this was a wise choice as this is what I'm more familiar with from the NES as well as almost all of my Famiclone controllers.

With the cable placement out of mind, I did find a few things that are slight concerns, but nothing more than slight. The Button layout is very close to one of my favorite third party NES controllers, so I'm familiar with that layout, but the edge of the buttons are much more rigid and come to an edge, instead of a smooth round off, which is just a bit weird. Also the D-pad is a complete 360 circle, which I sometimes find doesn't allow for accurate movement, instead pushing down to duck causes me to go off to the right a little.

Besides the concealed NOAC not allowing me to swap it out for real Nintendo chips, I'm perfectly ok with this system. The controllers are comfortable, the system works and offers the extra audio channel, which is all I really want in a Famiclone anyway. I feel I can sort out the video quality issue at some point, making this an extremely awesome little Famiclone, but until that I can completely enjoy it just the way it is, and I do!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

NES Sized Pirated Multicart

A long while back I received a Home Computer System Famiclone. What I didn't realize was that the chip that controls the controller input was dead, but the rest of the console worked perfectly fine. When I flipped the console on I was met with a multicart list of games, among which were Mortal Kombat and Street Fight 8-bit pirates. Knowing the console may take a while to fix, I painstakingly removed both ribbon cables holding the multicart board into the system and carefully, since I didn't have any desolder wick, smoothed out the solder as much as I could on all 60 contacts.

Originally I wanted to immediately jam the board into one of my home made Famicom to NES converters and test it out, but as I didn't do too well smoothing out all the solder on the contacts I decided I would go ahead and use one that I hadn't officially turned into a converter yet. After opening the cartridge I removed the Gyromite board and pushed in the pirated multicart board. Everything was going well until I heard a cringe worthy crunch, upon inspection I had gnarled up the inside of the converter.

With some slight adjustments I managed to get everything aligned enough so that it fit and worked perfectly. Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter are what you would expect in 8-bit, slow and kind of boring. The cartridge has many other games built in, but the most name worthy of all had to be the two demakes of well known 16-bit games.

After I pulled the cartridge from my NES I decided it would be best to just remove the Gyromite label and leave the whole thing together, there was no sense in making a converter with a board hanging out of it. Sadly since I was in a bit of a hurry to test out the cartridge, and slightly messed the converter up, I don't think I'll be able to pull them apart, even if I did it really wouldn't be worth it. Even though the cartridge was a 5 screw configuration I could only use 4, as the board covers up the one in the center, but with the 4 corners being screwed down I haven't had any issues.

It was a simple and small project, but well worth what little time it took. I'm thinking of making a label for the cartridge as well, just so it looks better than all grey. Strange to think now if I wanted to play this on a Famiclone I would need an NES to Famicom converter.