Outside of the known ‘game districts’ in Tokyo and Osaka, specialist video game shops are a bit harder to come by these days. You have Yodobashi and Bic Camera for new games, and all the HardOff/HouseOff/BookOff variations, but you have to look a bit harder for specialist stuff.
I’ve recently been travelling in Hokkaido, and came across this tiny slice of old-school Akiba in Sapporo – Game Shop 1983.
It’s a tiny place, packed with stuff in that haphazard ‘run by an enthusiast not a businessman’ way. The guy who runs it is nice though, and the prices are not insane.
All eras are represented, from Famicom through to modern stuff.
It’s so cramped and…unkept… it reminds me a lot of the game shops in the Golden Arcade in Hong Kong more than most Japanese shops.
In a cute touch it seems you can get a papercraft version of the shop. They were all out at this moment however.
Not much more to say about the place, but it’s worth a visit just to see this: the Dreamcast Karaoke unit version of the ‘Tower of Power’
Nintendo’s Micro Vs. System series was the cutting edge way to enjoy multiplayer gaming on the go in 1984, combining the multiplayer fun of the Famicom with the portability of the Game & Watch line.
With (semi) detachable controllers for player 1 and 2, each unit only played one game, but quality engineering made the whole thing very cool.
Thirty three years later, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The idea has been reborn as one of the key features of the new Nintendo Switch.
If there’s anything Nintendo loves, it’s revisiting old ideas. Dual screens, stereoscopic 3D, and now on-the-go multiplayer have all made multiple appearances in the company’s history. The hybrid Switch has finally fulfilled the promise of the Micro Vs. idea.
Similarly, in the 80s, handheld Zelda was a massive compromise. Now there is no compromise.
In a sense, all of Nintendo’s gaming history has been pointing here. Exciting times.
No? How about a high quality production made by Nintendo themselves?
Okay so the concept of a ‘mini Famicom’ isn’t exactly unique. There have been quite a few ‘mini Famicom’ systems released over the years by Nintendo and others, including two Famicom versions of the Game Boy Advance SP, the fancier one on the left being a super-exclusive run of only 200.
But here’s the latest mini Famicom – the Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer.
It’s a tribute console, built as a small Linux computer running an emulator with thirty pre-installed classic games. It powers via USB and outputs a 1280×720 pixel picture, upscaling the original 256×240 resolution of the games. It’s the Japanese counterpart of the Nintendo Classic Mini NES, and much like the western equivalent appears to have been a huge hit.
The thirty built-in games cover the entire run of the original Famicom, but there is definitely a focus on earlier titles.
Right from the start this one is a classy affair, with the packaging and presentation matching up to the original as perfectly as possible.
Even the manual is a tribute.
Without context, a photograph of the device itself could be confused for an 80s Famicom even by a fan.
Nintendo has done some vintage style television commercials for the new console
It’s not quite as small as the NES Mini, at around a 2/3 scale of the original.
The obvious reason for this is that unlike the NES Mini’s full size replicas of original controllers, the Mini Family Computer controllers are also scale models.
It’s a take on the mid-period Family Computer, as it has round controller buttons, but lacks the Famicom Family ‘FF’ branding on the left of the front faceplate that Nintendo introduced to the console in 1988.
While the controllers are tiny they remain perfectly usable – the directional pad and buttons are identical in size to those of a Game Boy Micro.
From the front the system is almost identical, but it is missing the instruction stickers for power and eject buttons and expansion port cover. Which begs the question: did Nintendo mean for owners to remove these stickers on the original models?
Of course the major change is the back of the system, with new micro USB power and HDMI video output replacing the ancient original selections.
Just like the original, it is designed for the players to sit near the console to play since the controller cords are very short. The reset button is used to switch games on the mini, so it makes sense here to use long HDMI and power cables and sit near the console.
Like the western NES Mini, games are selected from a menu, and boot pretty much instantly. There is a save state feature, allowing saving at any time into four slots per game with various cute animations. A brand new mid-80s style 8-bit tune plays in the menu, it’s the same one as the NES Mini and will get stuck in your head.
There are three scaling options for the games, all of which have issues. 4:3 is the default and displays the games in the correct aspect ratio, but you end up with minor scaling artefacts when scrolling. A pixel-perfect mode allows for no scaling artefacts, but the graphics are stretched vertically.
And there’s a ‘vintage’ mode which applies a scan line effect as well as approximations of various composite/radio frequency noise that you would experience on original hardware. The vintage mode is actually very well done, but more of a novelty since half of the point of a new device is to get a cleaner picture.
There are some minor emulation issues such as sound lag (and a couple of frames of overall lag), but the presentation is pretty solid overall. It’s not going to replace an RGB modded Famicom and Framemeister combo for dedicated retro enthusiasts, but is still very well done for the price.
Here’s the original Nintendo trailer, which covers most of the basic features in depth.
It’s a very cool toy, and a great collectors item. However in my opinion the classiest ‘mini Famicom’ ever remains the Famicom Game Boy Micro, as that thing is a work of art.
The biggest, and perhaps coolest of the Color-TV game range, 1978’s Nintendo Color-TV Game Racing 112 (カラーテレビゲームレーシング112)
It’s a huge game, due to the realistic wheel and gear stick. The wheel is removable for transport so it can fit in a smaller box, but the box is still huge, here it is next to a Famicom for scale.
The centrepiece of the system is obviously the wheel.
On the right side of the system is the game modes panel. You can select between one or two player modes, track width, speed level, enemy car behaviour (zig zagging or straight lines), if hitting the barriers counts as a crash, road hazards, and if there are one or two opposing cars at once. Down is the easier position for each of the option switches. The red button is reset/start.
And on the left is the two position gear shift.
In terms of design, it’s pretty much a straight clone of Taito’s 1974 arcade game Speed Race, which was the first ever game with a scrolling background effect. You view the track from above, and steer left and right to avoid the other cars on the road. It scrolls quite smoothly, the moving effect being provided by trackside ‘stripe’ markers.
Personal side note: I remember playing Speed Race in a local (ish) arcade in the late 80s/early 90s. The arcade, know as ‘Funland’ opened in 1970 as a pinball parlour (even before there were video games) and collected and maintained games from every era over the years. I didn’t appreciate at the time, but that arcade’s maintenance of old machines gave me some early gaming history lessons!
Back to Racing 112. There are two major variations of the one player game, with wide and narrow roads. You must pass the other cars without hitting them, and last as long as you can. The feature switches allow you to adjust speed, number of cars on the road (one or two per screen/wave) and the way the cars move (straight or in patterns).
Just like the paddles in the previous Color TV games, the Steering wheel is an analogue controller, so the steering speed changes based on how far you turn the wheel. The gear shift is digital, and simply allows you to move between two speeds
It’s pretty basic, but compelling, and the basic gameplay formula remained popular well into the mid 80s with the likes of Midway’s Spy Hunter, Konami’s Road Fighter, and Sega’s Action Fighter.
The two player mode doesn’t use the steering wheel, but instead two paddle controllers, which you can pull out from storage slots on the back. You stay at only one speed in two player, but while all game modes remain intact, it’s basically just a head to head for score, as the two players stay on their own track and do not interact with each other.
Just like all the other consoles in the CTV series, it connects via a hardwired RF cable and tunes to the same Japanese channels (1/2) as a Famicom, and uses an external 9V power supply which was sold separately and compatible with all models. A Famicom compatible power supply works perfectly too.
The Color-TV Game 6 had six Pong variations, and and the Color-TV Game 15 had either seven or about 20 Pong variations depending how minor a variation counts. Does Racing 112 have one hundred and twelve racing game variations? Technically yes, something like that. In an era where adding a feature like zig zagging cars might mean a whole new release (Super Zig Zag racing Turbo III!) saying there were over 100 game variations isn’t actually false advertising.
The Color-TV line ended the following year with the awesomeBlock Breaker, which was also the first game to feature the Nintendo brand on the casing. But for going all-out, it’s hard to beat the Racing 112.
A small confession: My Wii U is not a Japanese model.
There were a few more minor revisions of the consoles along the way – FF logo/non FF logo Famicom, output changes, different coloured consoles of various sorts (even shapes like the Pikachu N64), but these are all the major Japanese revisions. The Wii Mini revision was not released in Japan.
There’s one major item missing – the Computer TV-Game.I’ll almost certainly never get one of these. This ‘console’ is incredibly rare, insanely expensive, and its questionable if it was even a consumer product since it was literally an arcade game with TV out. It sold for ¥48,000 in 1980. For comparison the Color TV Game Racing 112 was selling for ¥5000 in 1980, and the Famicom launched in 1983 for ¥14,800.
The Sega set is on its way, but will take a few more years I think. So many revisions…
Released one week after the Color TV-Game 6, the Color TV-Game 15 was the ‘deluxe’ model. Or perhaps the 70s equivalent of the NES ‘Action Set’.
It was apparently designed to be the more profitable of the two consoles, offering more features for ¥15,000, vs ¥9,800 for the Color TV-Game 6. It dropped to half the price eventually, and outlived the CTVG6, as can be seen from the updated price listing in the later Color TV-Game Block Kuzushi manual.
It’s not too much larger, but has a more stylised design and detachable controllers for a more comfortable playing session. The first model was made of orange plastic that matched the orange CTVG6. This is the second model, which is a reddish orange colour.
The controller cords are the standard Japanese controller cord length (short) so you still needed to sit near the console to play. The controllers are pretty decent paddle controllers, definitely higher quality dials than the original white version of the CTV6.
You can still power the console by batteries or a standard 9V power supply.
The 15 in the name is something of a misnomer. There are really about seven Pong variations, adding various board options, along with additional paddle number, size and speed changes. There are far more that 15 game types if you count every possible variation, so I’m not sure why they drew the line at 15.
Here’s a look at the basic board variations:
It doesn’t quite have the cachet of the ‘first Nintendo’ CTVG6, and isn’t anywhere near as cool as the beautiful Block Kuzushi. But it’s still a nicely engineered Pong game which is more comfortable to play and has more game options, so can be a fun retro afternoon sometime.
By the mid 90s, pretty much everyone had given up attempting to compete with Nintendo in handheld video games. Nintendo had seen off every competitor quite easily in the early years, and in the mid to late 90s the release of the first Pokemon games started a new handheld boom period for them.
So in 1998, with the original Pokemon explosion just rolling out worldwide, a struggling SNK thought they’d give it a go, and released a handheld partner to their Neo Geo home consoles – the Neo Geo Pocket. The platform ran through three models in its short life between 1998 and 2001, and while now a footnote on gaming history, it managed to be a worthwhile Game Boy alternative and is now quite a nice little platform to collect.
In terms of capability, the system is somewhat comparable to the Game Boy Color, but what sets it apart from your average handheld is its focus on the fighting game genre, which until then was always quite weak on handhelds.
To facilitate the easier control of fighting games, SNK developed a mini joystick to use as the directional controller instead of a dpad. Feeling somewhere between a genuine joystick and the rather excellent floating dpad of the Sega Saturn controller, the ‘clicky stick’ takes up more profile than a dpad would, but it’s simply a fantastic little controller, much better than dpads for fighting games, and makes playing the handheld a unique experience.
The original model used a black and white LCD like the original Game Boy, but was quite shortlived, as unfortunately for SNK Nintendo had just released the Game Boy Color to great fanfare. It was followed quite rapidly with the backward compatible Neo Geo Pocket Color, which used a similar non-backlit reflective colour LCD display to Nintendo’s machine. SNK attempted to respect early adopters, and most games continued to be compatible with the original black and white model, which probably held certain games back somewhat. While the original was only released in Japan and Asia, the colour model was also released in Europe and the US.
The initial colour model is slightly larger in every dimension than the original. But there is also a final Japan-only revision, the Neo Geo Pocket Color ‘slim’ model.
The slim is comparable to the original black and white machine’s size, and has a slightly sharper, higher contrast screen. It’s definitely the best model.
The system has an odd two battery design. In a similar fashion to Sega’s Saturn and Dreamcast it uses a button battery to save console settings, and like those systems it has a bios with some basic built in software like a calendar.
Of course also like those systems, it has a nag screen about a dead battery, and asks you to set the date when the sub battery has died.
Black and white games can be ‘colourised’ on colour models in a similar manner to original Game Boy games on a GBC, except that the choice is made and saved on the bios screen, instead of selecting via a button combination at boot.
The games came in extremely cool little cases fashioned after the Neo Geo AES ‘Shockboxes’.
At least they did in Japan and Europe. The USA got basic cardboard boxes, and unfortunately late in the life of the system the Japanese games moved to cardboard as well.
Frustratingly the cardboard boxes are thinner and slightly taller then the mini shockboxes, so the two types of game packaging don’t like up nicely next to each other on a shelf.
While the system is mostly famous for the handheld versions of many SNK classics such as Samurai Spirits, King of Fighters and Metal Slug, it actually received some support from third parties as well, such as Puzzle Bobble Mini from Taito and a pretty nice version of Pac Man from Namco.
Quite famously, Sega released a Sonic game on the platform, Sonic Pocket Adventure. A semi-remix of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, it’s probably still the greatest original handheld Sonic game. Sega and SNK entered into something of a partnership, as there was a Neo Geo Pocket Color to Dreamcast cable released that allow transfer of data between certain games, such as the Dreamcast ports of King of Fighters 98 and 99 and the Capcom vs SNK games.
The system is unique for the many excellent fighting games. While all the fighting games look pretty similar, in a super-deformed style, they evolved and got significantly better as time passed. Earlier games like King of Fighters R1 and R2 and Fatal Fury First Contract are decent, but the latter ones are much smoother. Match of the Millenium: SNK vs Capcom is simply the best handheld fighting game ever released, and the super-kawaii Gals Fighters, with its female only cast, isfull of crazy-cute animations reminiscent of Capcom’s Pocket Fighter.
It’s a pretty nice system to collect. There are decent to great games of most genres (action, RPG, puzzle), and many people love the quite addictive SNK vs Capcom card game. But it’s really about the fighters, as they’re what sets the system apart.