Dragon Wang (ドラゴン-ワン) and Makai Retsuden (魔界列伝)/Kung Fu Kid – Sega Mark III

This one is a weird little series.

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I was introduced to Kung Fu Kid when my family rented a Sega when I was young. It wasn’t the first console game I ever played, but it was the first one I ever played in my own house (i.e. the first game I played for hours and hours in a single night).

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The ‘amazing’ western box art…

It’s a fun little ‘Kawaii’ rendition of the classic Kung Fu Master template (kick waves of bad guys and move up levels) starring a Chinese kung fu master called Wang. It adds in a dash of platformer with a much higher jump, more variety to the settings (not just a tower) and quite nice colourful graphics.

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Years later I found out it was actually called Makai Retsuden (Demon World Story) in Japan and was a sequel to an SG1000 game called Dragon Wang(!). Thanks to eBay and Yahoo Auctions I now have my own copies of both, and it’s time for a write-up.

Dragon Wang (ドラゴン-ワン)

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It turns out Sega were quite accurate in their translations, and the original game was named after Wang.

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It came on the SG1000 card format

The title of Kung Fu Kid now makes more sense, as Dragon Wang is very much a straightforward clone of Irem’s Kung Fu Master, with a tower to climb, full of bad guys to kick. This format was itself based on the unfinished Bruce Lee movie Game of Death, hence ’Dragon’ in the title. As with most action games on the primitive SG1000 hardware, the graphics are quite simple, the scrolling is choppy, and it is very difficult to progress.

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You fight through waves of regular bad guys, and on each level you pick a fight against a couple of bosses, like nunchucks guy here.

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D-Wang…

It’s pretty limited and clunky, but it has a nice rhythm in the way bad guys attack, and can be fun in shorter bursts.

Makai Retsuden (魔界列伝)

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I love it how the ‘Gold Cartridge’ is white…

While the original game was a pretty straightforward kung fu romp, For the Mark III sequel, Sega got weird, and it’s a ghost/zombie martial arts game. After saving the day in the first game, Wang could afford to relax and put a shirt on. But an ancient evil named Mandala has awoken and brought with him an undead army.

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Instead of nunchuck guys, you now fight various Chinese-themed ghosts and zombies and possessed creatures. As a kid I missed all this and just thought it was standard Japanese weirdness, like a Mario game. The game was released in the wake of Mario, and you can see Nintendo’s influence here – jumping is now a much bigger part of the game. Wang has one of the highest jumps in 8-bit games.

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The first two levels are straight left to right affairs, but after that it returns mostly to the more claustrophobic ’tower climb’ structure of the first game.

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The graphics are great, the music catchy, the mechanics solid and fun, and like most Sega games of this era it’s a mean challenge. Overall a top Mark III effort.

More screens:

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Sega Mark III external RGB amplifier with FM audio break-in

The Mark III’s composite output is pretty bad.

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It does have RGB out, using the same pinout as the Master System and Mega Drive.

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Unfortunately, unlike later Sega consoles, it’s an unamplified signal. So while Master System and Mega Drive RGB cables fit, the picture comes out far too dark.

I didn’t grab a picture of the native RGB output, but it looks something like this:

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Rather than tamper with the console internally, I had a theory I could use the 5V and ground pins of the output to power an external RGB amplifier. I grabbed a cheap RGB cable and did a quick and dirty splice in of a THS7314 based amplifier circuit (commonly used to RGB mod Nintendo 64s), powered and grounded by the console.

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Success!

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The only issue was that like many older Sega consoles, it has a weak sync signal, and on my XRGB Mini some sync dropouts occurred. I needed to boost the sync as well. I was feeling lazy so rather than do this myself, I ordered a Mega Drive RGB cable with boosted sync built into the scart plug. It is also powered by the 5V output of the console, but I’ll wire my amp in parallel and there should be plenty of current available.

An additional complication is that when using the FM unit, you only get composite video. You route video through the FM unit, which mixes in the FM audio when appropriate and outputs both video and audio from its own AV out. But it’s only a 5 pin din, so no RGB.

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I did some quick tests, and due to the way the circuit of the FM unit is designed, you can tap the FM audio from both the input and the output. So I’ll be able to use the existing cable of the FM unit as my FM sound source.

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Works perfectly! But doesn’t look too nice like that…

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So now I have to get the whole thing into a little project box. I drilled the holes and sliced up my new (nicely shielded) RGB cable. In this pic you can see I’ve added a 5-pin DIN socket to one side, with four of the output pins removed. This is where I’ll splice in the FM audio.

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 So many wires to fit in. Red, blue, green, sync, 5V, audio… luckily most of the rest are ground, so I can just solder them together and connect them with a single wire. I could just leave them disconnected, but I want good grounding to prevent possible interference, which is common for poorly grounded scart cables.

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With the video circuit working, I also lined up the wires and glued them in place, so nothing can be pulled out by the inevitable cord-trip that will happen sometime in the future.

Disaster struck just before I finished – the picture was too bright! It turned out my new scart cable was wired differently, and was missing some 25 ohm resistors on the RGB lines. So I pulled them from the old one and spliced them in carefully, in series with the 75 ohm resistors already built into my amp circuit. Now what was once a halfway neat job became a mess again, oh well.

 I also completed the audio circuit, spliced in the FM audio pin of the din socket, and closed up the box.

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It connects like so. I have oriented it toward the right of the console, because the power cable connects on the left.

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And the results, all through an XRGB Mini to my Panasonic Plasma:
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Creation of a Sega Mark III Everdrive flash cart

My preferred manner of playing Sega 8-bit games is on the original Sega Mark III. It’s just a great looking system, and with RGB and FM Audio I have a pretty nice set up. I wanted to reduce stress on the cartridge port to prolong its life, so a flash cart would be a good solution. Unfortunately there is no dedicated Mark III or SG1000 flash cartridge.

So I theorised I could create a normal looking flash cart for my Mark III, combining a Master Everdrive with a new-style Master System to Mark III converter. They arrived, and worked!

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I needed to downgrade the firmware to version 5. It seems from version 6 and up, developer Krikz changed the video mode slightly, and the game select menu no longer works on a Mark III or other non-Master System hardware (e.g. a Game Gear in Game Gear mode via a modified converter).

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However, the combined cart/converter was a long way from fitting into a regular Mark III cartridge shell. First of all, the SD card sticks out.

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I looked around for a micro sd card adapter that would work, but a couple I got didn’t fit, or were not low profile enough. Then I came across this. Many SD cards can simply be cut in half! Sure enough, the 2GB SD I was using was just empty plastic in the top 2/3, so I sliced off the excess plastic.

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Now it sat well clear of the edge. This extra gap became very important later on, as I needed that extra few millimetres of clearance on the case.

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Next I had to open up the shell I was going to use – a cheap copy of Space Harrier was my sacrificial lamb. To open Mark III carts you have to access some screws under the label, so I used a hairdryer to warm up the label glue, then a pin to start peeling the label.Mark3Everdrive_0003

It’s fairly easy this way, with no damage to the label or cart.

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After getting inside, I sliced away all excess plastic, but the combined cart/converter was still sticking out the bottom of the shell quite a lot.

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I gained a couple of millimetres by shaving down the top plastic rim

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But the real gains would be had by filing/sanding back the contact pins on both the flash cart and the adapter. Contact pins are often far longer than they need to be, they really only need 1-2mm – just enough to make a solid connection. Wear and tear is much less of an issue than back in the day, as I won’t be inserting and removing the flash cart from the adapter ever again, and the cart itself will stay in the console most of the time. So I brought them down to about half their original height.

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And now it’s going to sit just 3-4mm higher than a regular cart would! I could have gone further, but wasn’t going to push it too far and risk damaging the flash cart or adapter beyond repair.

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Next up I had to brace the combined cart inside the shell. I superglued some plastic that I cut to a shape that would hold the board well, braced them against the bottom of the cart shell, and backed it with hot glue for support from the sides.

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It slots in under the adapter’s slot section, and holds flawlessly, so now I have a snug but secure brace for the board! The braces push slightly outward at the front, and combined with the label over the top, also keep the cart securely closed, so it needs no additional screws or glue with regular handling (it would probably open if dropped however).

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Close up the cart for the finished product! It sits slightly higher than a regular cart, but low enough to be quite stable within the cart slot, as it still sinks into the slot about 10mm. It sits lower than an unplugged cart resting on the cart slot, for example. At a glance you can’t even tell.

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The LED when the everdrive loads shies through the explosion behind the dragon on the label too, which is nice.
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About the Sega Mark III (セガマークIII)

While Nintendo’s first console, the Color TV Game 6, was released in 1977, Sega only turned to consumer hardware development in the early 80s. The original Sega console, the SG 1000, was released, as fate may have it, on the same day as the original Famicom.

It was basically a Japanese edition of the current crop of American consoles, equivalent in power to the Colecovision. Unfortunately for Sega, the Famicom was a massive generational leap in power over these machines.

The SG-1000 got a quick redesign as the SG-1000 II, and when Sega got around to releasing an actual Famicom competitor, they decided on a new naming convention – and called it the ‘Sega Mark III’. I assume it’s a play on ‘Mach 3’.

The SG1000 II

The Mark III, like the SG1000-II before it. takes a lot of design cues from the Famicom. It has controller docks on the side of the console (though the controllers are not permanently attached), a similar cartridge bay flap, and shiny metallic highlights. It unfortunately maintains the SG-1000 II’s controller limitation of only two buttons.

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I love the ’80s futurism’ aesthetic of these things. It looks like it belongs on an 80s spaceship. The controller docks are great too.

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They’re pretty good controllers too. So much better than Master System controllers, which have the same internals but a much less comfortable shape.

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They also come with this mini-joystick that can be screwed into the centre.Mark3controller2
Mark III consoles and accessories were made in Japan, but by the time of the Master System, Sega had began the practice of outsourcing console and accessory production to cheaper countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and China, and quality took a big dip.

There’s also the FM unit, which makes it look even more 80s.

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It’s a great console that is very hard to come by. While games are available, I didn’t see a single console for sale in any retro games store (or Hard Off) on a recent Japan trip.

Restoring a yellowed Sega Mark III console

In my opinion, the best looking version of the Sega Master System was the original, so I decided to get a Sega Mark III. On a recent trip to Japan I looked everywhere I could for one, but I only came back with a controller.

 I saw a beat up Japanese Master System in an outer-Tokyo Hard-off, and an FM unit in Osaka Super Potato, but decided not to risk the latter since I wouldn’t be able to test it.

Mark III consoles cost a fortune on eBay, so I got one on Yahoo Auctions. As google translates the katakana: here is the Segamaku3 (!).

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It oozes 80s Japanese industrial design kitsch.

I got two, one in box and one without. The in-box one was listed as ‘untested’ so I grabbed another that was console only but listed as working. Turns out both worked fine. But both were very yellowed. It seems it is a common practice for Japanese sellers to modify their photos to make things look less yellowed.

Here’s one next to my non-yellowed Famicom:

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Time for some hydrogen peroxide treatment, as outlined in this Neogaf thread.

I did them one at a time to demonstrate the result:

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I love this little message on top, so polite!

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And the result:

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Beautiful, looks like a prop from an 80s Scifi.

So small compared to the Master System.

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This was the first of many Segamaku projects I’ve completed recently. Coming soon: FM unit info, external RGB amplifier, and the world’s first Mark III flash cart!