How to play NTSC-J RF-only consoles on PAL televisions

Sometimes it’s difficult being a fan of Japanese games when living outside of Japan. If you’re in a PAL country, older RF-only NTSC-J consoles cannot ever display properly on PAL screens. You could possibly tune in a fuzzy black and white picture with no sound, at best. Even if your TV was NTSC compatible via other inputs (eg composite), it is  unlikely to support NTSC over RF.

You can mod most RF-only systems to output composite video or better, but personally I prefer  not to mod rarer or older consoles such as the SG-1000, Color TV Game 6, or some of my original Famicoms.

No modding for you!
No modding for you!

The traditional method was to use an NTSC-J compatible VCR which takes in the RF signal and outputs in PAL composite, but they’re getting harder to come by, are cumbersome, and you also end up with additional artifacting from the composite signal itself.

So here is a cheap solution, a $20 NTSC RF to VGA box – essentially designed as an external analogue NTSC TV capture card. It takes in RF (or composite via side inputs) and outputs in VGA plus 3.5mm stereo jack for audio, with various scaling options.

RF_4231  RF_4234

It can tune in these older consoles, and output via VGA, and the results are much better than I expected. The scaling, for what it can do with a fuzzy RF image, is quite solid. Options are selectable via an on-screen menu, and it even comes with a remote control.

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And here are the results, Turtles 2 on on original Famicom to a 1080p Panasonic plasma.

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The distortion lines are just from photographing the TV, it’s actually quite clean.

I’ve made a video of it running here:

The downside is that the tuner is NTSC-U, so still not 100% compatible with all Japanese consoles. I couldn’t get the SG-1000 working perfectly, the colours were off. However the Color TV Game 6 worked great, as did two different Famicoms, and a Super Famicom via RF.

It seems to have particular trouble getting sync with primarily plain background games. It eventually clicks and then stays in sync, but this can take a couple of minutes. However, in all these cases, sound is pretty much perfect the whole time.

Overall, it’s a pretty cheap solution to at least test RF consoles, and good enough to play many!

Update: I’ve since gotten a new TV which has no VGA input, but which has an international analogue tuner, so I no longer need or can use this box, but will hang onto it for possible future usages.

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Circus Charlie (サーカスチャーリー) – Secret Konami Famicom game #2

Similar to Smash Ping PongCircus Charlie is a Konami arcade game that was released on the Famicom, but published by another company. In this case the publisher is the mysterious Soft Pro International, who dropped a few 8-bit games in the 80s then disappeared.CircusCharlie_3460

Circus Charlie 1In the game you play as Charlie the clown, and must perform various stunts for the crowd over five levels. The first level has Charlie riding a lion and jumping through rings of fire.

Circus Charlie 2 Circus Charlie 6 Circus Charlie 9 Circus Charlie 13

There’s also tightrope walking, trapeze, balancing balls, and a strange level where you jump onto trampolines from the back of a pony.

Circus Charlie 11 Circus Charlie 12

It’s very much in the early 80s arcade mould of simple, short levels which repeat after a loop, and the goal after seeing each level is simply to get the high score (think Donkey Kong).

Circus Charlie 14It’s a relatively faithful adaptation of the arcade game. Five out of six levels are intact, and they play almost identically, despite the move from vertical to horizontal orientation.

CircusCharlieArcade1 CircusCharlieArcade2 CircusCharlieArcade3 CircusCharlieArcade4

But while sound effects and music are pretty much on par, the graphics have taken a pretty big hit. Gone are the bright, colourful tones of the arcade, replaced with a sad, drab circus right out of the Communist Bloc.

Circus Charlie 15
Comrade Charlie?

Matching the early Famicom arcade heritage gameplay and presentation, Circus Charlie comes in the original small size Famicom box, much like the first Nintendo games, and the original Konami orange package line.CircusCharlie_3473

Circus Charlie was later released in original arcade form in the compilation packages Konami 80’s Arcade Gallery on the original Playstation and Konami Arcade Collection on Nintendo DS. The Playstation version is pretty much the go-to if you want to experience Circus Charlie properly. The DS version is a nice novelty but to view the game in correct vertical resolution you need to hold the DS sideways which is pretty awkward.

ArcadeCharlie_3748 ArcadeCharlie_3739

As for the Famicom release? It’s still pretty fun, in that pre-Super Mario Bros arcade gameplay kind of way. It is however extremely rare. I bought the only boxed copy I have ever seen.

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Circus Charlie 6 Circus Charlie 4 Circus Charlie 10 Circus Charlie 8

Konami Orange Box Famciom line – complete set

Konami’s first Famicom line was basically a direct copy of the Nintendo template, except with consistent  orange colouring. There were seven games in the series, and this is the complete setKonamiBoxes_3465 Road Fighter, Antarctic Adventue, Hyper Sports, Twinbee, Hyper Olympic, Yie Air Kung Fu, and Goonies.KonamiBoxes_3467Goonies was somewhat of a transition game – it skips the uniform ‘FAMILY COMPUTER’ branded sides of the preceding six releases and started the short-lived ‘puppy face’ icon period. The next Konami release was Gradius, which is I believe the final Konami release to feature the old 70s style logo.KonamiBoxes_3475The next evolution is shown here in King Kong 2 – which maintained the size of Gradius and introduced the new Konami logo.KonamiBoxes_3478Contra is an early example of the final evolution, with the artwork framed by a bright colour which covered the rest of the box, and the Konami logo on a white background in the top left corner. Almost every Konami game for the rest of the Famicom generation followed this final template.KonamiBoxes_3480

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Of course there are exceptions to every rule…

It’s nowhere near as consistent as their flawless Famicom Disk release presentation. But it’s still a relatively classy line.

Konami Famicom evolution, 1984 – 1988.KonamiBoxes_3481

19/20 Konami Famicom Collector Cards

This is a follow up to a previous post on the Konami collector cards.
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Recap: At some point starting in 1987, Konami decided to include a collector card with all their Famicom titles. Each card had an illustration related to the game; some cards featured screenshots or pieces of screenshots, others had artwork of scenes in the game.

After much searching, I have now almost completed the set! While there were multiple cards per title in some cases, I’ve only collected one per game.

It seems unlikely I’ll ever get a complete copy of Exciting Boxing. It came in a huge box with a novelty inflatable controller, and commands insane prices online now.

Here’s my set:

Ai Senshi Nicol and Arumana no Kiseki

 KonamiCards_Kiseki KonamiCards_Nicol

Dracula II and Contra

KonamiCards_Dracula2 KonamiCards_Contra

Do Re Mikko and Dragon Scroll

KonamiCards_Doremikko KonamiCards_DragonScroll

Exciting Baseball and Exciting Basketball (Double Dribble)

KonamiCards_Baseball KonamiCards_Basketball

Exciting Billards and Exciting Soccer

KonamiCards_Billiards KonamiCards_Soccer

Falsion and Getsu Fumaden

KonamiCards_Falsion KonamiCards_Fuumaden

Konami Wai Wai World and Majo Densetsu II (Knightmare II)

KonamiCards_WaiWai KonamiCards_Gallious

Meikyujin Dababa and Metal Gear

KonamiCards_Dababba KonamiCards_MetalGear

Salamander and Tetsuwan Atomu (Mighty Atom aka Astro Boy)

KonamiCards_Salamander KonamiCards_Atom

Top Gun

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Update:

I managed to get the card for Exciting Boxing!

Updated article here.

The Complete Konami Famicom Disk System Set

This is the full set of Konami Famicom Disk System games.KonamiFDS_1Up front you can see the two games I covered recently –  Smash Ping Pong (which was published by Nintendo), and my custom designed Goonies/Twinbee ‘retail’ box, housing the official Disk Writer releases of those two games. There’s also the DoReMikko box up the back, and disk at the front.

Some true classics here. There’s the obvious brilliance of Arumana no Kiseki, Akumajou Dracula, and Ai Senshai Nicol, and the awesome shooters Falsion and Gyruss.KonamiFDS_2The sports games are top notch as well, I love Exciting Soccer and Konami Ice Hockey in particular, while Exciting Basketball has fantastic music missing from the NES version. Exciting Baseball and Exciting Billiards are great too.

Really every game has its merits, from the cutesy platformer Bio Miracle Bokette Upa, the creative spin on the Breakout formula in Nazo no Kabe: Block-kuzushi, the alternative layout of NES Jeep shooter Jackal in Final Command, to the flawed but revolutionary Dracula II.KonamiFDS_3Konami. In the 80s and early 90s they were Nintendo’s equal.

DoReMikko (ドレミッコ) – Famicom Disk System

DoReMikko (ドレミッコ) is a game I never thought I would ever be able to obtain. It usually goes for hundreds of dollars. But a few months ago on I unexpectedly won an auction on Yahoo Japan for a complete copy, far below usual price!Doremikko_1

The name DoReMikko is a play on ‘Do Re Mi’ – the anglicised versions of the first three notes of the Solfège scale (probably most well known from the song in the musical The Sound Of Music).

It’s a music game/software package for the Famicom Disk System that came with a keyboard controller. The keyboard is pretty nice quality, if a bit small.Doremikko_3

There are three main modes.Doremikko.000

First up is Concert Mode. Here you can play along with a Gradius melody medley with a full band accompaniment.Doremikko.001

You can select the instrument the keyboard sounds like, and set tempo and style, everything from rock to country to techno (and a strangely 4/4 waltz). More options are available in a menu, allowing you to adjust various parameters of yours and your accompaniment’s instruments. You can also record your performances to disk.

If you’re into 8-bit music, it’s pretty fun to fiddle around with the instrumentation, limited as it is.Doremikko.002

The instrument you pick affects the animation that plays. Including a full Chuck Berry/Back To The Future style stage rock-out if guitar is selected.Doremikko.006

Next up, Solo Mode is a simple keyboard-only mode. You can only select Piano or Organ, and play without accompaniment.Doremikko.008

So what’s the point? Well, this mode gives the entire system’s audio capabilities to the keyboard. Effectively it allows you to use your Famicom (with extra Disk System audio channels) as a digital keyboard, allowing up to 10 notes to be played at once in full synth quality. It also features the recording functionality of concert mode.  It’s fairly limited, but would have been impressive in 1987 for the price, quite a decent way to record your compositions.Doremikko.009

Finally, there’s ‘Play Along’ mode. Each of the boxes contains the accompaniment to a song, and these songs have their music written out in the game’s manual. The keys light up on the keyboard on screen, helping you learn to play the piece. Of course the highlight is once again the Gradius medley.Doremikko.010

Doremikko_6

Overall there isn’t too much to it. It’s actually more useful as a tool to write music on than as a game for entertainment. It’s so trivial today to make quick digital recordings, but in 1987, on the cheap Family Computer, it must have been some budding musicians’ dream come true.

DoReMikko is also one of the Konami games that came packaged with a collector card.

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