Friday, January 31, 2014

Why I Have a Passion for Famiclones.

Why do I have such a passion for Famiclones? To say that's simple to explain wouldn't be true, and to say it's complicated wouldn't be true either. But then again I understand perfectly why I have such a passion for Famiclones, so I guess its just easier if I took the time to explain it.

Famiclones were never on my video game hunting radar until about 2010, hell I wasn't even familiar with the Nintendo Famicom until about a decade earlier. I live in the United States, where it seems we selectively import what we want from other cultures and never bother to import anything that doesn't fit our current commercial needs. We already had the NES, so why would we want another system that was essentially the same but looked different? Not to mention the cartridges weren't interchangeable without an adapter.

It's not to say the US didn't have an import market, it was just that I never knew about it for most of my life; and even when I found out it seemed very niche, and must less popular than it is now. As an adult I'm now noticing that Canada seems to have imported Japanese video game culture, on a much broader scale then the US, for decades! Mexico has not only been importing Famicom games and consoles, but also the Chinese pirate versions as well. So why did it seem that the US interest in Japanese video game culture was so niche and underground? Your guess is as good as mine, perhaps even better!

Once I knew, or assumed falsely to be more accurate, Famicom games were expensive and wouldn't work in my NES, I completely removed them from my scope of collecting. About 2010 is when I started to see a large influx of portable Famiclone consoles, the Power Joy and Super Joys, in the thrift stores I frequented. It wasn't until I found an extremely cheap Power Joy that I ever really took interest in the whole Famiclone market.

Just having a non-working Power Joy gave me reason enough to do some research on the whole history of Famiclones, I'm a sucker for researching things I enjoy researching. The results were astounding; Famiclones came in all shapes, sizes, colors and where spread throughout the world, far and wide! Famiclones could take on the shape of penguins, racecars, N64 controllers, alien space ships, pseudo officially licensed consoles and even shaped exactly like a Nintendo Famicom. The more research I did, the more interested I became in the subject, causing even more research.

I found it intriguing how they could fit a fully functional (although not really 100%) Famicom clone into the many various shaped consoles and controller style portables. Not only that but the fact that some consoles, and most every portable Famiclone, had built-in Famicom/NES classics without the need for external cartridges, while still adding a 60 pin connector for just that matter in case the user desired it. All of this really appealed to my OCD for keeping things neat, tidy and confined within small spaces.

Knowing these systems were a potential way to play Famicom games, which was a far cheaper alternative to importing the Famicom console, sparked my interest in importing Famicom games. But before my interest in Famicom games could fully blossom, my interest in the dark, seedy world of piracy and its strange history firmly planted itself within the fertile soil of my brain and grew into a vine that encompassed my cerebrum and short circuited my interest in the real thing.

The story of how Famiclones and pirated games came from the desire to have the nice things every other country had, but most countries couldn't afford, also appealed to me, the sheer ingenuity! Call them demakes, pirated or even cheap junk, but these were all the exposure some countries had to the classics we have so readily available. Faced with a desire for the finer things in life, a choice needed to be made. The birth of that choice was an extremely interesting line of consoles and video games that simulate/emulate something most people take for granted.

I take great interest in the way they take consoles that most gamers already know and modify them in drastic ways, while making the internals as simple, yet functional as possible. Although functionality of Famiclones run the gambit from very good to only lasting a few months, I'm certain a lot of engineering goes into the planning and manufacturing of these systems, and engineering is exactly what makes my heart race when I see a new Famiclone I've never seen before.

Necessity is the mother of invention. The need to fill a market left empty in many countries by financial hardships or trading limitations has created something fascinating, a whole sub-market of video games and video game consoles that gave many people the pleasures they couldn't otherwise have. Whether you hate them or love them, the fact is they always will be a part of video gaming history. Even if nothing more than a footnote.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Famiclone Controllers

Over the last few years I have collected a plethora of Famiclone controllers, out of habit and for variety. Some of these controllers didn't come with their respective consoles, but I knew they were Famiclone controllers and picked them up anyway. I won't be giving any extremely in-depth information about the controllers in this article, but I figured this article may help out someone who is faced with a wild Famiclone controller on whether they should take it home or not.

I don't know what to call these (I found 2) controllers other than "the silvers". Blatantly modeled after a Playstation controller, with a few liberties in design thrown in, these controllers are fairly comfortable. The A and B buttons are set to X and O, respectively, meaning that like the other 80% (or more) of Famiclone controllers these too have a backwards A and B scheme, often throwing off the ability to play simple games. I'm not sure which Famiclone these came from, but they seem compatible with all Famiclones, at least the ones I've tested them on.
The Power Player controllers come packed in with the Super Joy Famiclone systems. Over the years I have found plenty of these laying around thrift stores and I would dare say they are the most common Famiclone controllers out there. With a pseudo Genesis shape they are as comfortable as any Genesis controller, although significantly lighter and more bulky. Again the A and B are backwards, as the C button functions as Select, since there is only a stand alone start button. Again these seem universally compatible, so if you need Famiclone controllers in a pinch, these are most likely to be easier to find and ready to go.
The Powerstation controllers are, again, based on the Playstation, even Powerstation is kind of a play on the former's console name. If you're familiar with the Playstation controller, you're pretty much familiar with this one too! Comfortable, A and B are in correct alignment with turbo buttons just above them, diagonally left. This controller even features shoulder buttons being: L1 is B, R1 is A and pressing both L2 and R2 is the equivalent of start. The plastic, although still the cheap melty kind, feels good and solid in your hands, topped of with a good cable length. Seemingly universal as well.
I picked up the Super Video Game controllers with my 57000 Super Video Game, which displays a Playstation feel throughout. Sadly I had to add the D-pad myself, but even so these are very comfortable, albeit maybe a tiny bit smaller than a normal PS controller. The A and B backwards, unsurprisingly, but Z functions as an additional turbo B and C an additional turbo A. Seemingly universal!
Obviously if you're going to try and pass off a discreet Famiclone console as the genuine you'll need to clone the controllers as well! Very familiar Famicom style and comfort with buttons in the correct places and familiar turbo buttons within easy reach. There isn't really much else to say about this controller, other than I do have some third party NES controllers in this design and they are among my favorite NES controllers. Assumed universal.
Some Famiclones tried to mimic the Super Famicom, while having either a 60 (Famicom) or 72 (NES) pin connector built in. I've seen these controllers in both a DB-9 (Atari, Sega, Famiclone) end and even an NES controller end. The SNES style is very comfortable and familiar, A and B are where they should be, with turbo buttons clearly marked. The plastic is a bit chip, as per usual, but the cable seems like a quality thick cable. Again, assumed universal.