Steady Stream

Posted May 24, 2014

The past few weeks has been a steady stream of packages at the door. And a new cat, Elliot, who’s an avid game watcher. First up, a few more Neo Geo carts which quickly (maybe too quickly) cracked my wishlist in half, including Ghostlop and Ironclad. Still searching for a few more shmups, which is probably fine for now considering their cost, and the fact that most are on the 120-in-1.  A shipment of shockboxes and covers arrived as well.

For the SNES I picked up Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong Country, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Somehow I’d never owned the first two, and had never even played SNES Yoshi (somewhat due to its Super FX 2 chip). For Saturn: Cotton 2, TwinBee, DonPachi and DoDonPachi, Guardian Heroes, the trio of Parodius discs, Outrun, Saturn Bomberman, and the lengthily titled The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?. All good stuff, but that Bomberman keeps sticking in my head as the most fun, though maybe only because I haven’t played through Parodius since the arcade releases a few months ago.

And then there’s the Dreamcast. Initially this was the console I was the least excited about. The handful of games it came with weren’t that interesting to me, and it was the only console connected by s-video while the others were SCARTing up great image quality. Ironic since it’s the newest old console I have, with the highest resolution. I had ordered a Hanzo/Kenzei combo to get VGA into the XRGB-mini, but after finally arriving from Istanbul I found that it wouldn’t power up due to the sync stripper in my mini’s adapter cable. The creator of the devices, Yossi, was incredibly helpful and ended up sending me a modified Kenzei which I finally got to test a few nights ago. And indeed Dreamcast games now look VGA good.

Even NG:DEV.TEAM games are much sharper and colorful, though still not exactly entertaining. Right now I’m playing a lot of Gunbird 2 and Ikaruga, with Sturmwind patiently waiting. Having played the Ikaruga pcb on a friend’s Astro City a few weeks ago, I realized just how similar the Naomi and Dreamcast really are–same CPU, GPU and Yamaha sound board, but gobs more system/video/sound memory. Still, the experiences can’t really be compared. That vertically rotated Astro City monitor! I still have a dozen Dreamcast shmups on my wish list, though I suspect that number will get much higher with a little more research.

One note about 480p Dreamcast games with the XRGB-mini. While most consoles go through the mini and into the plasma without any tweaks to its settings (except that the Neo Geo requires v-width of 33), the mini/Dreamcast wiki points out Fudoh’s recommendation: HDMI Output: 1080p, Image Mode: Smart x2, H Scaler: 7, V Scaler: 6. I switched back and forth between that and my typical 720p, standard mode, h/v scaler of 5 for both Ikaruga and Sturmwind and could definitely see a difference, though it was hard to decide which looked preferable. It’s frustrating that Micomsoft has yet to adopt custom profiles for the mini. Helpful though is this English overlay for the remote, especially nice if you don’t want to keep bothering your partner to translate for you.

Finding a Dreamcast Arcade Stick on eBay has also turned the Dreamcast into a better shmup console. I’m still waiting on a Japanese Sega Virtua Stick for the Saturn which seems to have been shipped by carrier pigeon. And after realizing an HRAP 2 could cover all the other consoles with adapters, that dude with the Astro City very kindly won one on Yahoo Japan Auctions for me (thanks Eric!).

All this consumerism kinda turns the stomach, but the research and hunting is as much fun as playing the games for me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of people. And I’m not a huge game collector. Everything I have still easily fits onto three shelves. Probably more to do with my somewhat narrow genre interests than anything else (and, to be fair, flash carts). With one or two games per console getting attention at one time, it’s a bit chaotic, and tough to find focus. But that’s a fine problem to have.

Super Vehicle Arachnids

Posted March 19, 2014

The gaming momentum continued all week, with some chance opportunities and others a long time coming. After returning the dead and overpriced Sega Genesis, I found another model 1 in decent condition for $35. Right away you could smell that it had belonged to a smoker, and things didn’t improve after cracking open the console. Dust and hair, sure, but what looked like bits of tobacco, cobwebs, rust spots, even a couple dead spiders — I fully expected it to be another clunker. But after a thorough cleaning it works great. Running off a SCART cable to the XRGB-mini, the picture quality is amazing for a 25-year-old stock console.

I really have to recommend retro_console_accessories for their custom cables. The SNES also looks crisp and colorful with one of their SCARTs. Well built, shipped fast, and they offer detailed advice if you need it.

The TurboGrafx-16 came back from an RGB mod, but sadly has to return again, as there’s a snag with the Genesis 2 adapter he built in and the SCART/XRGB-mini adapter I’m using. So the wait continues on this one.

But I did have a bit of luck with a random Sega Saturn and Dreamcast from a local guy who wanted to unload them, along with a few extras. While initially I didn’t anticipate tracking these down, I’ve come across lots of shmups for both, particularly the Saturn, that easily make them worth having. They’re in solid shape and look like they may have had their caps replaced a few years ago. I grabbed the games he had, including Radiant Silvergun, Soukyugurentai, and Nights into Dreams (with the 3D controller) for the Saturn, and Bangai-O, Typing of the Dead (with two keyboards), Chu Chu Rocket, and Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast. I’m already eyeing several imports, and have ordered some NG:DEV.TEAM shooters.

Lastly, but what I’m most excited about at the moment, was the arrival this weekend of the Omega Neo Geo. I remember playing Metal Slug as a kid in the arcades, this behemoth red cabinet looming over me, looking up at the little backlit cutouts displaying the other games it offered. Take the guts out of that Neo Geo MVS and squeeze it into an AES-style custom molded plastic enclosure and you have a consolized Neo Geo. And of course the irony is that the arcade versions of the games are now vastly cheaper than their AES home console games.

Paired with the Neo Geo CD gamepad and plugged into the XRGB-mini, the Omega is an insanely fun, 2D powerhouse of an afternoon. The build quality is top notch and minimal: two controller ports on the front, power and SCART output on back (or optional component, etc). The image it generates with the mini’s scanlines is beautiful (make sure to set the mini’s v_width from 32 to 33), and the stereo sounds are a far cry from what I’ve been hearing through emulation over the years. Unibios 3.2 was included with my unit, allowing modifications like region change (blood!), DIP switch access, memory card viewer, cheats (zzz), and a surprisingly entertaining jukebox mode for cycling through a game’s music and sound effects. Turning on the gore and bouncing bosoms is one thing, but some games have enough regional differences to play them all. I opted for the Omega model with internal memory, or VMC, for progress and high score saves, a $25 option some may overlook on an arcade console but I’ve found it’s well worth it.

Since I’m new to Neo Geo as an owner, I only have one MVS cart, the 120-in-1. It’s actually a great sampler, but if you’re dumb like me, you’ll probably want to find the originals. Still, the games play great on the multicart. I keep putting random games on attract mode while I write this, their screens flashing in the background keeping me company. And when the day comes that I may have space for a couple arcade cabs, the MVS carts will be twice as useful.