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.