Sunday, 10 May 2020

Sunsoft Megadrive Mini Collection

Recently I’ve been getting into the Pal Megadrive and talking about building up my collection.  This week my focus turns back to the East, with my Japanese Sunsoft mini case collection.  I love these little mini case games, they’re so cool.  A total of seven games were released in this format.

Shikinjoh / Shi-Kin-Joh
Super Fantasy Zone
Tel-Tel Mahjong
Tel-Tel Stadium

Lemmings was on my Japan trip wants list back in 2011, and I picked up a copy from Friends in Akihabara.  Friends is a great little shop.  The selection and prices were fantastic, and the little old lady behind the counter was so helpful and friendly.  I also picked up Flashback and Super Star Wars for the Super Famicom, The Ninja Warriors and Popful Mail for the Mega-CD and some video game soundtracks from there.

A trip to Friends back in 2011.  I can’t wait for a revisit!

My console gaming pick ups from the trip.

I also picked up Batman, Flashback and Super Fantasy Zone in Japan.  I can’t recall where exactly, most likely Super Potato or Trader.

After discovering that seven titles were released in the mini cases, I wanted to track down the remaining titles and complete the collection.  I picked up Shi-Kin-Joh, Tel-Tel Mahjong and Tel-Tel Stadium from Genki Video Games, a UK based online import store.  This wasn’t as much fun as hunting for them in Japanese game shops, but the service is always excellent.  Admittedly these titles aren’t ones I’d usually go for, but they do have some interesting Sega history.  These three games utilised the Sega Meganet internet service, using the Sega Mega Modem.  Tel-Tel Mahjong and Tel-Tel Stadium were the only two games for the Meganet to feature competitive play.  Whilst the Meganet showed great innovation for the time, it proved to be a commercial failure due to the system’s low number of titles, high price and the Megadrive’s lack of success in Japan.

My Sunsoft Megadrive Mini Collection.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

New PCB Arrival - Salamander – Konami - 1986

I remember my school discos well.  A can of Shandy or a carton of Tip Tops, a packet of crisps and change for the arcade machines was pure happiness!  I first played Salamander at the annual school disco, probably not too long after its release.  The game is a spin-off to Gradius and introduces a simplified power-up system, two-player cooperative gameplay and both horizontally and vertically scrolling stages.  I remember the swirly fire dragons as I’ll call them, and the game being very hard.  Twenty pence didn’t seem to get me very far on this game! 

The venue was a pub in the village, The Kings Head.  They had two generic cabs in the function room and one in the bar area.  I think they were Electrocoin Goliaths, but my memory is hazy.  In the function room they seemed to change out the least popular game each year.  The cabs were always busy at the discos, and there was always a crowd round the cab featuring the new game.  In addition to Salamander, I remember Empire City: 1931 (I think!) Final Fight and Shadow Warriors.  I was blown away when I saw Final Fight here for the first time, and I remember watching someone clear Shadow Warriors and the excitement as Ryu Hayabusa defeats the boss and sails back to Tokyo in his boat.

The King’s Head during April 2020 during the lockdown.  Unfortunately the arcade cabs are long gone!
I didn’t get to play the machine in the bar area very often, only playing it when my parents decided to go there for a drink.  The only game I remember playing in the bar was Capcom’s awesome Magic Sword.

Going back to Salamander, the game has an interesting history.  The arcade version was released under its original title in Japan (version J) and as Life Force in North America.  The Japanese and European versions are nearly identical, but the American version changes the game’s plot by setting the game inside a giant alien life form, infected by a strain of bacteria.  Stages featuring star field backgrounds were altered to reflect this, and the power-ups were given different names.  An enhanced version of Salamander was later released in Japan, with the American title Life Force.  The theme was extended, with the backgrounds and mechanical enemies being completely redrawn and given organic appearances.  Also the power-up system was modified, using the same system as Gradius and some of the music tracks have been completely changed.

It’s also cool to note that Electrocoin released a dedicated cab, complete with awesome artwork.  These are pretty rare now, and I’ve only seen a few come up over the years.

On my most recent Raid I picked up a Salamander board.  I was really happy to find one, and it was definitely one of the highlights.  However the boards had been stored poorly, and I didn’t expect it to work.  Upon testing, the game booted to garbage and required extensive repair work.  VectorGlow has once again worked his magic.  Repair work was time consuming, with him replacing nineteen logic chips and all of the optocouplers, two EPROMs, the main 68000 CPU and a capacitor.  These were all on the top board, there were no faults on the lower board.  The board is version J.

The Hyper Neo is my cab of choice for this board. 

I love how much room there is inside the cab, and I recently had a shelf made to fully utilise the space.

The game is now once again fully working.  I’m really happy to have the board in my collection, and I’m extremely grateful for VectoGlow’s awesome repair work.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Tales of Console Collecting – Megadrive Game Hunting

Before Covid-19, and the subsequent lockdowns, I visited a few more retro game stores in the UK.  Checking out the retro game shops in Norwich fuelled my desire for building a Megadrive Pal collection.  In this day and age, it’s all too easy buying a game online with a few clicks of the mouse, but there is something I still find quite special about visiting a game shop, finding games I’m interested in and being able to hold the game and inspect it before purchase.

Sore Thumbs – York

This shop felt like an Aladdin’s cave of gaming awesomeness, with an extensive range of games across all formats.  The staff were very friendly and helpful. 

Although Pal systems are the main focus, they also have some Japanese stock.

More expensive games are kept in the glass cabinets.

Some of the cabinets have a specific game series theme, such as Final Fantasy, Mario, Pokémon, Sonic, Zelda etc. which was pretty cool.

There was even one for Godzilla!

It’s always cool to see some SNK systems.

Now this is what we’re here for, an impressive wall of Sega awesomeness with a fantastic selection of Megadrive games.

I picked up quite a few games on my wanted list as well as ones I didn’t know I wanted!

Pick ups

Captain America and The Avengers – I remember this scrolling fighter by Data East in the arcades.  Despite being developed by a Japanese team, the Megadrive port never saw a release in Japan.
Comix Zone – I remember this game getting lots of praise in the gaming press, but it somehow passed me by and I’ve never played it.  I’m looking forward to giving it a blast.
Judge Dredd – This is one of those games were the Japanese version is very expensive compared to the Pal version.  I had this cool platform action game on the SNES back in the day.  I enjoyed it, but I remember it being pretty tough and was never able to complete it.  It will be cool having another crack at it and seeing how this version fares.
Sunset Riders – This was never released in Japan and was high on my Pal Megadrive wanted list. 
The Chaos Engine – I’m really looking forward to playing this top-down run-and-gun port of the Amiga game.  Another game which never saw a Japanese release.

I was pleased to pick up this copy of Sonic 3 signed by British artist Duncan Gutteridge.  He was commissioned by Sega Europe in the early 1990’s for various pieces of airbrush artwork, including Sonic 3 European box artwork.

The Game Pad – Scarborough

This shop was a cool find with a nice selection of titles.

There was a good selection of Sega.

As I was checking out the Sega section, the owner informed me that he’d just got a new bundle of Megadrive titles in and hadn’t had a chance to go through them / price them up.  He retrieved a massive box from behind the counter, opened it up and started pulling out and handing me the games. 

There were some really nice titles in the bundle.  Some of the cases had the odd cobweb attached, but they were mostly complete and in great condition.  In fact some of them looked almost brand new.  The previous owner had certainly looked after his games.  I left a note of the titles I was interested in, and a bit later he sent me a list of prices.  A deal was made, and a couple of days later I went back to buy them.

Pick ups

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist – Another fantastic side scrolling beat-em-up and Megadrive favourite.  The Japanese version has a different name, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Return of the Shredder.
Splatterhouse II – Another game high on my Pal wants list!  I love the series and already own the Japanese version.  I really wanted this for the awesome cover art, which is completely different to the Japanese release.
Strider II – I’ve never played this U.S. Gold developed sequel, but I’ve heard it’s poor.  However it’s in great condition, and I’m looking forward to giving it a go.  It was never released in Japan.
Alien3 – I had this on the Super Nintendo back in the day, an awesome and pretty atmospheric game, with a slight Metroid vibe.  I really must go back and try to finish it sometime.  I’ve never played this version before, which was made by a different developer and is a completely different game.  I’ve read reviews and opinions seem divided as to which version is the best.  It seems that the Megadrive version has less exploration and adopts a more arcade like approach.  Interestingly the game was released on the Master System, Game Gear and Megadrive on these shores, but the Game Gear was the only Sega console it was released on in Japan.

This was another highlight.

Scarborough does awesome fish n chips!  This was at Winkin Willy’s famous fish n chips shop.

We also checked out the seafront arcades.

The arcades had a good selection of the latest games.

Sadly I think the days of finding dusty Jamma cabs at the back of seaside arcades are gone.   However we did see a tidy looking Space Invaders / Qix Silver Anniversary Edition. 

There was also a Daytona USA twin, but only one side was working, and the less said about the LCD conversion the better!

With Sonic’s approval, we set off to find more Megadrive games.

Lees Games - Morecambe

I visited this shop a couple of years ago and was really looking forward to returning.  There’s a fantastic selection of games, and the owner is really knowledgeable and great to chat to.

Pick ups

Rock n’ Roll Racing – Another title I’ve never played, but I remember it scoring highly.  It was never released in Japan.
Streets of Rage II – One of my favourite games ever, and a game I had back in the day.
Sega Megadrive Mini – Well it had to be done!  It’s worth it for Darius and Tetris alone, both of which are new ports.

Morecambe Games

Located in the indoor Festival Market, this stall has a cool selection of games, both retro and modern. 

I’ll be back to going on more Raids and Megadrive game hunting once this horrible virus blows over and the world gets back to some sort of normality.  In the meantime, stay safe and happy gaming!