Sunday, 17 June 2018

"Data East Hits" 8-bit Gaming My Arcade Pixel Classic mini console


Disclaimer: Your kid might in actual fact eventually become bored
Over the years I've seen a bunch of "50 games" type handhelds at supermarkets or department stores. As the games and physical design are always so bland and generic, I've avoided them.

Now I was lured in by a Data East-branded "308 games in one" cheap device that comes in various attractive shapes, notably the horizontal Lynx/Gameboy Advance form and the more obviously Game Boy shaped hand held console. There's also a mini arcade shape that I did not look at twice.

Options. Oh the buttons can be lit up too. Why?
I went for the Gameboy shape for novelty's sake, although to be honest the horizontal form might be better as a controller and for connecting the leads.

Ergonomics to hell, the case has been shaped with "pixel arty" corners, but this matters very little. Designers take note, perhaps this is an indication we've got past that roundening-era of design styling.

The plastic feels a bit flimsy, but the buttons give an adequate response. There's a 5V micro-USB style power connector, AUX out and AV out. The device works on 4 AAA batteries, but the other options sort of sold this to me, even though no cables or batteries were included with the price. (about 30€)


The game collection

The Data East name is boldly visible on the package, and as their back catalog boasts some really iconic stuff (Burger Time and Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja) I was prepared to expect at least a good bunch of playable games.

I prefer Mr. Do's Castle (not included)
The word "arcade" might mislead you to think these are arcade version of the games, not to speak of the screenshots in the inlay card.

I can't believe that in this day and age I could still get duped by a "wrong platform screenshot". Thanks for making me feel like a child again, but perhaps not the way I expected...!

Screenshots may vary.
Yet the shots are made in a way that although built from arcade screens they might arguably represent "game covers" rather than actual gameplay, hence the logo overlays. And it DOES say on the cover, "8 Data East + 300 games", but that "plus" is also quite easy to miss. And it DOES say "8-bit" which should clue in that the games can't be arcade quality.

Let's make it clear: About 95% of the games are simplistic, NES bootlegs or otherwise very poor quality.

Real screenshot for comparison
On the first page we get Dragon Ninja, Break Thru, Caveman Ninja, Heavy Barrel, Side Pocket, B-Wings, Karate Champ, Burger Time... These are up to the quality of the NES versions of these games, which is to say they are not all that hot but mostly they play well enough.

But after the first couple of pages it goes downhill. So, enjoy the excitement of iconic 8-bit games the likes of Man in Red, Repair Urgently, Speed Man, Unusual Space, Girl, Tactful Monkey, Devildom Doom and so on!

There's pages and pages of this shift
Many of the games are old bootlegs and hacks of licensed games, like Dada is obviously Popeye, Primitive Woman is supposedly a Tom and Jerry game and Sunken Ship is worked from 2005's Titanic, which in turn is a hack of a Tom and Jerry again. Astro Robo To To is Astro Robo Sasa. Aether Kadass is Macross. Sky Invader is Sky Destroyer. These bootlegs can be semi-playable or interesting as such because the game content is kind of there. But I'm wondering how this particular collection of games got to be curated.

There are many scrolling vertical shooters, the best might be F22, with actual power ups, boss fights and varying levels. I guess it is another rework of something else.

The bootleg of a bootleg
I'm prepared to say some might even be filler crap made specifically for this device, varying a base source code to produce simple shooters and jump'n'runners.

Some games have visuals that go beyond NES, like Cut Fruit and Curly Monkey 2, but design-wise, there's not much thought on the gameplay or level design.

Some games are so simple it's harder to fault for what they are, like Horse Racing where you simply duck and jump with the horse. However there's a bunch of boring sprite-shoots-sprite stuff, guy jumping on platforms, or collects stuff falling from heaven, with slight variations and different skins. There's even a digital paper/rock/scissors game, which must be the pinnacle of sadness.

Dark Castle. Wasn't this Thunder Castle on the Intellivision? Looks crappier.
At least one track'n'field-type game has been blown up into a dozen, with javelin, long jump, hurdles etc., even making Breast Stroke and Butterfly Stroke into separate games. Although I have to admit it may be a better idea than try to endure a full decathlon. A panda takes the place of the sportsman, possibly a clue about the country of origin of these games.

Then there are card games and board games such as mah jong, reversi, checkers, sudoku and so on. These can't be overtly blamed if they are simply bootlegs of once commercial games. Sadly there's no chess, though. Other genres are absent too, there's no Tetris or Columns clone for example, and no proper top-down driving game with rotational controls either.

Dark square at right = Portuguese draughts? Your move.
Then there are doubles, that is the same game with different graphics. This is a bit irksome as usually both graphic variants are just as visually uninspiring.

Overall the games boast very mediocre, bland and unimaginative visuals and sounds, while the game titles convey an idea of non-IP-infringing nothingness. It's almost as if I'm witnessing a relic from an alternative universe Earth culture that had strangely failed to invent any of the central video game brands we have.

You go... eh, girl!
All in all, the Data East games are probably the most playable of the bunch and Burger Time might indeed be the best game on the entire device.

I'll review all the 308 games later.


Final verdict

I took the device to a composite video TV. As I don't have a proper 2,5mm AV cable I used a single tip/sleeve version which produced only a black and white image. Or is the output only B/W? This was enough to show that the device does produce a smooth frame rate for the TV, which is nice. Of course a few of the games give jerky scrolling or flickering sprites due to programming techniques.
A 5V 1A phone recharger cable seems to be sufficient for powering the device (no specs in the manual) so the absence of a cable in the package might be justified. However the 2.5mm TV cables are less often seen.

One annoying thing is the device can't remember the volume setting when returning to the menu. it can remember the menu positions so why it can't keep silent? Wading through the 308 game menu can be tiresome, even if it can be scrolled sideways too.

So, is the My Arcade 8-bit Gaming Pixel Classic any kind of value for money? Despite all the misguidance, I could still be generous and say there are about 30 reasonable quality games in it. Even then 1€ for each might still be a bit too much!

It's a bit sad considering the hardware might be capable of doing justice to the arcade versions of the games, but the conversion job would have been overbearing. I doubt the device is good enough to really emulate the suggested arcade platforms.

Perhaps if the game ROMs can somehow be rewritten, the device might be much more interesting because the physical hardware is OK-ish and the screen and sound quality is not that bad. I am a bit doubtful if anything inside can be easily upgraded, though. Missed potential I'd say.


Addendum 18.6.2018

As I saw the device might be easily opened, I had a peek inside:


For those interested in subduing the sound, this might be achieved by physically blocking the loudspeaker a bit more. (There are like 2 loud sound levels + silent)


The parts are not especially neatly connected so it was a bit of a bitch to put back together. So I'm probably not going to open it again.


The game ROMs are likely buried inside that alien tar shit thing. (Hmm the SPANSION S29GL256P10TF is memory, though). Putting the screen back, it has to be straightened by hand. Luckily it can be done after the board has been screwed back in.


2 comments:

  1. Great review - "alien tar shit thing"!!!! you are hilarious!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. do we have to change the back?

    ReplyDelete