Archive for the 'Remakes & Reproductions' Category

New Limited Edition Street Fighter II Cartridge Could Literally Burst Into Flames — or Just Ruin your SNES

Friday, September 1st, 2017

iam8bit Street Fighter II limited edition reproduction cartridge is a fire hazard on fire

This is really bizarre.

News hit a couple days ago that “iam8bit,” a boutique retailer of video game nostalgia products, is releasing a limited edition Street Fighter II cartridge for the Super NES.

It is part of a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary package for US $100 (plus $24 shipping, inexplicably) that includes trinket bonuses designed to lure cash out of a video game collector’s wallet.

The cartridge looks and supposedly plays like a real Super NES cartridge on a real Super NES console. There’s only one catch: iam8bit says it might catch on fire while you play it.

I am not making this up. Here’s a quote of the actual product page:

WARNING: Use of this reproduction game cartridge (the “Product”) on the SNES gaming hardware may cause the SNES console to overheat or catch fire. The SNES hardware is deemed a vintage collectible, so please exercise extreme caution when using the Product and make sure there is fire extinguishment equipment nearby. Use of the Product is at the sole risk of the user. The Product is sold “as is”. Neither iam8bit, Inc. nor Capcom Co, Ltd. make any representation or warranty, express or implied, of any kind, including any warranty of merchantability of fitness for a particular use, or that the Product is safe to use, and iam8bit, Inc. or Capcom Co, Ltd. shall have no liability for damage to property or persons arising from use of the Product. Nintendo of America is in no way associated with the release of this Product.

And here’s a screenshot of the warning:

iam8bit Street Fighter II Super NES SNES Fire Hazard Warning Screenshot

That sounds pretty bad! Who knew that retrogaming could be so dangerous?

Since we do not know the exact internals of the new Street Fighter II cartridge yet, we can only speculate about the reasons for this warning.

Or, heck, we could ask.

Just yesterday, I sent iam8bit an email about this issue. I have not yet received a response (I will update this post when I hear something from them).

Melting Super NESWhile waiting to see if I ever hear back, I decided to consult some knowledgeable friends via the oracle known as Twitter.

I received a quick response from Chris Covell, a respected video game tech enthusiast.

Covell said, “As long as modern ‘professional’ retro publishers use 3.3V flash chips without good 5V level translation everywhere, yeah, there may be fire.” Although by email later, Covell said to replace the word “fire” in his tweet with “heat and/or magic smoke.” Not very reassuring, Chris.

The 3.3V Problem

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know what’s inside the iam8bit SFII cartridge, so we’re only speculating here. But when there’s a potential flaming Super Nintendo console involved, it’s for a good cause.

In his Tweet, Covell pointed to a common problem with improper or missing level translation in flash or pirate video game cartridges. Level translation is a term that describes changing the voltage coming from a power supply to fit your needs using a small circuit (such as this product on SparkFun).

Sparkfun Level TranslatorIn this particular case, a Super NES supplies +5V to the cartridge slot. Iam8bit could be using flash chips that need 3.3V and somehow improperly powering them with 5V. Without translation between them, you could be left with excess heat in the circuit that could melt the cartridge. Covell told me more about this in an email:

It has been pretty well known for a while now that homebrew/pirate cartridges for retro systems made in recent years don’t contain the usual CMOS (5V) EPROMs, or even PROMs, but bog-standard modern flash chips that run on 3.3v.

Some pirate carts built this way that don’t have proper level translation have actually failed on NES/Famicom systems, as reported in threads on NESDev. Kira Kira Star Night on FC, and other music carts have famously failed on actual NES/FC hardware. The Shubibinman Zero re-release did bad things to Jeremy Parish’s SNES, didn’t it?

I don’t know about Jeremy Parish’s particular problem with Shubibinman Zero, but as Covell mentioned, there have been a few recent music game releases for the Famicom, and they have been problematic for certain Famicom/NES consoles out there.

In the email, Covell also mentioned a neat electronics blog that explains the dangers of driving 3.3V chips with 5V in detail. There, the author Rene writes: “When the console outputs 5V into a 3.3V input the extra voltage must go somewhere; 1st law of thermodynamics. It is converted to heat through the unintended conduction of clamping diodes, which can be harmful to integrated circuits.”

The level of heat involved might just melt the plastic or ruin the hardware, not burst into flames — and if that’s the case, then iam8bit is just covering all legal liability angles with their disclaimer. But man, why risk it?

Why are modern cartridge manufacturers using these 3.3V chips if they don’t work properly in retro consoles? Covell says it comes down to scarcity of original compatible parts on the market:

It’s sad that 5V chips are getting scarcer. It is merely “ROM” for now but it’ll mean that other chips (4-bit SRAMs & DRAMs, TTL logic ICs) may eventually be hard to come by for repairing old consoles & computers.

Even with scarce parts, it is possible — almost trivial, if you know what you’re doing — to design a game cartridge that uses both 3.3V chips and incorporates level translation, thus completely avoiding any possibility of meltdown or fire.

As to why iam8bit is using an inferior hardware design in an expensive boutique product — insert sigh here. I think video game historian Frank Cifaldi had the perfect response to that in a tweet:

A Profound Ethical Problem

So in the end, what do we know? We know that even if your console doesn’t literally catch on fire from using this SFII release, you could either a) ruin the cartridge you paid $100 for, or b) ruin your console. Sounds like a pretty bad deal.

I’m no philosophy major or consumer rights advocate, but it is not ethical to sell a product that might spontaneously catch on fire while you use it — especially if the manufacturer knows it might happen.

Heck, it might even be illegal in some way.

So stay far away from this one, folks. In fact, I recommend staying away from any of iam8bit’s products in general, because if a firm is willing to sell an openly defective product such as this SFII release, then it is liable to have much deeper ethical and business problems. They do have a few standing complaints against them that don’t inspire much confidence about their ability to deliver a good product, period.

And what about Capcom? I hope they’re listening, because if I were them, I would pull their license to iam8bit quickly before they ruined their reputation with melting cartridges.

VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you’re not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards’ original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards » ]

Analogue Launches ‘Nt Mini’ Modernized NES Console

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Analogue Nt Mini

The upcoming NES Classic has its first high-end competitor.

Just today, Seattle-based Analogue is announcing the Analogue Nt Mini, a miniaturized version of its videophile-grade NES-compatible console that debuted earlier this year. The intention, according to Analogue founder Christopher Taber, is to go head-to-head with the NES Classic console from Nintendo that ships in November.

It will not be undercutting the NES Classic in price, however. This little beauty will cost you $449.

Unlike the earlier Analogue Nt, which was partially made out of recycled parts from authentic Nintendo Famicom circuit boards, the Nt Mini utilizes FPGA technology to simulate the authentic NES chips in a smaller package.

The Mini also includes RGB+HDMI output by default (HDMI was an upgrade option for the original, limited-edition Analogue console) and an 8Bitdo wireless NES controller and Retro Receiver for wireless play. It plays games off of original NES and Famicom cartridges.

Despite its attention to built quality, the Analogue Nt Mini is a very expensive proposition — especially when you can buy a working original NES on eBay for anywhere from $40-$100, and Nintendo’s own HD NES Classic will retail for $59.99 (of course, that model will only play 30 built-in games).

And if you think $449 is expensive, keep in mind that this is the same company sold a 24K gold version of the first Analogue Nt for $5000. So much like buying a $200 bottle of wine, cultural cachet is a big part of Analogue’s marketing angle.

I will try to get my hands on an Analogue Nt mini for a review and see if that price can possibly be justified. Until then, Analogue is opening up its site for Nt Mini pre-orders today if you’d like to dive into boutique NES waters head first.

It’s amazing to me that it’s 2016 and the the NES console market is heating up in ways I never thought possible. (We’ve come a long way from the Generation NEX, which inspired me to launch this site back in 2005.) Between this new unit from Analogue, Nintendo’s NES classic, and RetroUSB’s AVS — a $180 HD NES remake which I intend to review soon — I can see that I am going to have a fun and busy fall.

Own a Glowing NES Cartridge: Glider Special Edition

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

RetroZone Glider NES Special Edition Glowing

Brian Parker of RetroZone is at it again, reinventing the NES homebrew scene with innovative new products. This time he’s selling a special edition Glider NES game cartridge on eBay that, aside from being a previously unreleased title, will glow while it’s being played.

[ Continue reading Own a Glowing NES Cartridge: Glider Special Edition » ]

Buying Real Copies of Wii Virtual Console Games…Ouch!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Wii Virtual Console Prices[ This is JJ Hendricks’ first contribution to VC&G. He is the author of the Video Game Price Charts Blog, which analyzes and charts video game prices. Additional contributions and layout by Benj. ]

Since the Nintendo Wii’s release in November 2006, the Virtual Console service has been one of its most popular features. Yet almost instantly after its launch, people began complaining about how much VC games cost. The most common argument against the VC pricing scheme (aside from the illegal emulator option) is the presumed “low price” of the original games if you bought them used. But how much would it really cost to buy physical copies of all the Virtual Console games? Is Nintendo’s retro service a good deal, or are you getting ripped off?

NESBy analyzing the current market prices of every game offered on the Virtual Console service, I’ve come up with an answer. In the charts below, you’ll find an exhaustive price breakdown that compares the current market value of real cartridges to the cost of their VC counterparts. The prices for the cartridges themselves were determined by using the daily updated prices at VideoGamePriceCharts.com from January 24th, 2008, which, in turn, are taken from multiple sources, including recent eBay auction results, Amazon.com, and Half.com. All prices are in US Dollars.

[ Continue reading Buying Real Copies of Wii Virtual Console Games…Ouch! » ]

The PowerPak NES Flash Cartridge

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

NES PowerPak Flash CartridgeFor a Nintendo Entertainment System fan, it’s a once-impossible dream finally come true: a thousand games at your fingertips in a real NES console. RetroZone has done it first with the PowerPak, a new NES flash cartridge. With the PowerPak, you can fit every NES game ever made, around the world, onto one cartridge. Dumped ROM images of the games are copied to a compact flash card, which slides into the PowerPak unit itself. Turn on the NES with the PowerPak cart inserted, and you’ll see an on-screen menu that lists all the games on the cart. Pick one from the list, you’ll be playing the game as if you had the game’s original cartridge in the console. With a flash multicart like the PowerPak, NES users no longer need to switch cartridges between games. As an owner of over 250 NES games, I personally have been looking for a product like this for a long time.

Perhaps even more exciting is the PowerPak’s potential to jumpstart homebrew development in the NES community. Unlike the Atari 2600, Nintendo’s most famous console is woefully lacking amateur home-programmed software. RetroZone is out to change that with their new PowerPak products, which significantly lower the barriers to entry in developing games for play on a real NES unit.

[ Continue reading The PowerPak NES Flash Cartridge » ]

[ VC&G Interview ] Brian Parker on RetroZone and the PowerPak NES Flash Cart

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Brian Parker of RetroZone Riding a BicycleBrian Parker, a resident of Redwood City, CA, has run RetroZone full time for three years. His company is well known in the retrogaming community for its sales of original console controllers — like NES, SNES, and Genesis control pads — modified to work with the USB ports found on modern computers. In 2005, I reviewed one of his USB NES controller products and found it to be excellent (I still use it regularly, in fact). But it was with the new PowerPak NES flash cartridge in mind that I interviewed Brian via email last month.

Also an avid cyclist, Brian gave me a picture of him competitively riding a racing bicycle, the only known picture of him in existence. Ok, I’m kidding — but it is him.

Thanks for the interview, Brian.

[ Update (11/02/2007): Click Here to read our review of the RetroZone PowerPak flash cart. ]

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Interview ] Brian Parker on RetroZone and the PowerPak NES Flash Cart » ]

VC&G Review: Super Pac-Man TV Games Unit

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Super Pac-Man TV GamesThe popularity of “TV Games” units seems to have waned a bit recently as overexposure and, to some measure, public apathy, have set in. After at least three years on the market, the newly reborn dedicated home video game concept (pioneered by Jakks Pacific) is a product line whose novelty has finally begun to wear off. TV Games and their countless imitators are everywhere you go; you’ll see them as impulse gifts in stores like Best Buy, Toys “R” Us, or even in less likely retail outlets like Kohls or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Literally dozens of different units of varying levels of quality line the shelves of my local Target, for instance. But their absolute retail ubiquity doesn’t mean that a few good new ones aren’t leaking through. Jakks Pacific’s line of classic game units, developed by HotGen of London, have typically retained a high standard of quality over the years. And it’s their latest Super Pac-Man TV Games unit that I’ll be discussing in this review.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Super Pac-Man TV Games Unit » ]

Messiah Announces “NEX Wireless Arcade Stick”

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Image DescFor someone who was highly disappointed with the Generation NEX, I’ll have to admit that Messiah’s latest product looks pretty cool. But then again, the NEX looked awesome when it was announced, and you know how that turned out.

The product is the “NEX Wireless Arcade Stick,” a supposedly arcade-quality wireless arcade stick for Messiah’s NEX system. And that right there is the catch, and it’s a major one: it’s “exclusively” compatible with the NEX system, which is likely a horrible business move on the part of Messiah. Why would they limit a great stick design (which looks…absolutely nothing like a NES Advantage, by the way) to such a cheap NES-on-a-chip famiclone machine when they could probably triple their sales if they included a wireless receiver that worked with a standard NES? This stick is essentially what the Advantage should have been back in 1987, and NES freaks would love to get their hands on it for their own NES. But sorry, folks, you’re out of luck. That’s Messiah for ya — just shy of the target, as always. Gotta love ’em.

So why on earth am I telling you about it?

[ Continue reading Messiah Announces “NEX Wireless Arcade Stick” » ]

Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Prodigy Login ScreenWhen I was but a wee lad, I begged my father to sign me up for Prodigy. I loved BBSes and wanted to try Prodigy so badly. On Christmas 1992, I finally got my wish: an orange cardboard box emblazoned with a blue star appeared under the Christmas tree. One hour (and one father’s credit card charge) later, I was online. Overall, I was mostly underwhelmed with the service and my subscription didn’t last long, but there was one thing I really liked about it: the games.

Madmaze Title ScreenMany of you probably know of Prodigy, a pre-“popular Internet” era commercial dial-up online service that utilized copious amounts of NAPLPS graphics in its client interface. And one of the best applications of this rarely used, bandwidth- friendly graphics protocol was Eric Goldberg and Greg Costikyan‘s very popular Prodigy adventure game, MadMaze.

[ Continue reading Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web » ]