Saturday, October 1, 2016

Nintendo Mini Mania Redux - The Classic Mini Family Computer



Nintendo has released another retro-themed surprise.  Back in July, Nintendo announced the NES Classic Edition/NES Mini, an emulation box containing 30 classic NES games.  Here is the original trailer for it :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAGVilt3Rls  I discussed it here :

http://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/2016/07/nes-classic-editionnes-mini-nintendos.html

Yesterday, Nintendo announced a Famicom version for the Japanese market.  Like the NES Mini, the "Classic Mini Family Computer" is a miniature replica of a Famicom with a power and a reset button.  It also has 30 games and will cost 5,980 Yen, which is close to the NES Mini's $59.99 price.  It is going to be released on the same day as the NES Mini, November 11, 2016.  While the official trailer is in Japanese, the visuals are self-explanatory :




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GQ02nXQQiM

Like the cartridge door on the NES Mini, the Fami Mini's cartridge flap, eject lever, expansion port and cover and the microphone on controller II are all non-functional.  Unlike the NES Mini, which comes with one detachable controller and two controller ports, the Fami Mini comes with two hardwired controllers.  While scale can be tricky to determine based on video alone, it appears that the Fami Mini's controllers are much smaller than the NES Mini's controllers.  The Famicom and NES original controllers were almost the same size.  The Fami Mini's AC adapter (a USB brick) is a separate purchase, unlike the US NES Classic Edition.

On the official Fami Mini page, the specs for the console are given.  The original Famicom measured in at 220mm by 150mm.  The Fami Mini measures in at 142.47mm by 97.45mm.  Because the controllers must fit into the controller cradles on the Fami Mini, you can expect a somwhat similar reduction in sale for the controller size compared to the original Famicom's controllers.

So here is the game list for the Fami Mini:

Game Name NES Mini Year Released Company U.S. Release Title
Donkey Kong Y 1983 Nintendo Same
Mario Bros. Y 1983 Nintendo Same
Pac-Man Y 1984 Namco Same
Excitebike Y 1984 Nintendo Same
Balloon Fight Y 1985 Nintendo Same
Ice Climber Y 1985 Nintendo Same
Galaga Y 1985 Namco Same
Yie Ar Kung Fu N 1985 Konami None
Super Mario Bros. Y 1985 Nintendo Same
Zelda no Densetsu – The Hyrule Fantasy Y 1986 Nintendo The Legend of Zelda
Atlantis no Nazo N 1986 Sunsoft Super Pitfall II (Prototype Only)
Gradius Y 1986 Konami Same
Makaimura Y 1986 Capcom Ghosts ‘N Goblins
Solomon no Kagi N 1986 Tecmo Solomon’s Key
Metroid Y 1986 Nintendo Same
Akumajou Dracula Y 1986 Konami Castlevania
Legend of Zelda 2 – Link no Bouken Y 1987 Nintendo Zelda II – The Adventure of Link
Tsuppari Oozumou N 1987 Tecmo None
Super Mario Bros. 3 Y 1988 Nintendo Same
Ninja Ryukenden Y 1988 Tecmo Ninja Gaiden
Rockman 2 – Dr. Wily no Nazo Y 1988 Capcom Mega Man 2
Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari N 1989 Technos River City Ransom
Double Dragon II – The Revenge Y 1989 Technos Same
Super Contra Y 1990 Konami Super C
Final Fantasy III N 1990 Square None
Dr. Mario Y 1990 Nintendo Same
Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku - Soreyuke Daiundoukai N 1990 Technos None
Mario Open Golf N 1991 Nintendo NES Open Tournament Golf
Super Mario USA Y 1992 Nintendo Super Mario Bros. 2
Hoshi no Kirby: Yume no Izumi no Monogatari Y 1993 Nintendo Kirby’s Adventure

The NES and Fami each have eight exclusive games.  The Famicom's are :

Game Name 2p Save Wii VC Wii U VC 3DS VC






Atlantis no Nazo n n Y Y Y
Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku - Soreyuke Daiundoukai 4 p Y Y Y
Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari s p Y Y Y
Final Fantasy III n b Y Y Y
Mario Open Golf a b Y Y Y
Solomon no Kagi n n Y Y Y
Tsuppari Oozumou s p Y Y Y
Yie Ar Kung Fu n n Y Y Y


The statistics for the non-exclusive games are identical for the NES and Famicom Minis except for the Famicom Disk System games, which saved to disk and used passwords (Metroid), batteries (Zelda & Zelda II) or did not save (Castlevania) when converted.  

Note that Nekketsu Koushinkyoku supports up to four players, but that functionality beyond two players will not be available on the Fami Mini.  Similarly, there is no microphone to kill Pols Voice in Zelda.

For easy reference, here are the NES Mini exclusive games :

Bubble Bobble 
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest 
Donkey Kong Jr. 
Final Fantasy 
Kid Icarus 
Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream 
StarTropics 
Tecmo Bowl

I had originally thought that Nintendo would release a Fami Mini with a more tailored game list for Japan, given that some games that are not popular here are more popular in Japan and vice versa.  I was surprised that Dragon Quest III was not the traditional RPG.  Square Enix owns both the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises, but DQ3 was insanely popular in Japan.  Final Fantasy III is still a fine choice and graphically more impressive.

Taking this list here : http://blog.hardcoregaming101.net/2012/02/top-100-famicom-games-as-voted-by.html as a reasonable measure of the tastes of Japanese consumers, of the Fami Mini exclusive games, only three are in the top 100 games.  Atlantis and Yie Ar are in the runners up, but the rest do not get a mention.  None of the NES exclusives are on the numbered list either.  

The game list is surprisingly very English-language friendly.  Ironically, Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, which was released overseas as River City Ransom and Steet Gangs, is a less friendly game to non-Japanese speakers than the later game Downtown Nekketsu Koushinkyoku - Soreyuke Daiundoukai.  Nekketsu Koushinkyoku is an urban racing game with Monogatari's mechanics, which encourages beating on other players to get ahead.  It does not have the RPG-like shopping system of Monogatari, making it is easy to figure out.  Tsuppari Oozumou is a sumo wrestling game and uses plenty of kanji, but the actual game is surprisingly easy to get into and play.  The ability to truly enjoy Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari will likely hinge on your knowledge of the English versions of this game.  Final Fantasy III is probably the only game on the list that is likely to remain obtuse to most English-speakers due to the sheer amount of text.

Atlantis no Nazo was almost released here as Super Pitfall II, and while a rather simple game with mechanics that can feel like they were designed as part of the challenge at times, it is a playable game.  Similarly, Yie Ar Kung Fu is an early Konami port of an MSX game and is extremely simple, but as an early fighting game it is much better than Nintendo's Urban Champion.  I still feel that the NES Mini has the better caliber of exclusive games overall.  However, the Fami Mini has at least one game released from 1983 through 1993.  The NES Mini has no 1991 or 1992 games.  Games were officially being released for the Famicom in 1994, but the only real standout from that year is the last game released, Takahashi Meijin no Boken Jima IV (Adventure Island IV).

Note that there are four Famicom Disk System version games on this list, the two Zelda games, Metroid and Akumajou Dracula.  The first three require FDS audio emulation, a tricky thing to get right in software.  Other than the FDS games, the only other game that uses non-Nintendo cartridge hardware is Atlantis no Nazo, but its Sunsoft mapper is only slightly more complex than CNROM.

When Nintendo announced the Fami Mini yesterday, it released a trailer that was much longer than the NES Mini's trailer.  Today it released another trailer for the NES Mini, showing off its features :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62bI0zItF6g  The Fami Mini's trailer is still much longer than both NES Mini trailers combined and briefly showcases every game on the system.  

There is a longer video released on September 27 which showcases many of the games on the Fami Mini for more than a few seconds each.  It plays when you go to the official Fami Mini page and click on the white TV set image, then on the TV set.  The site is pretty cool, https://www.nintendo.co.jp/clv/, and a lot better than the NES Classic Edition site : http://www.nintendo.com/nes-classic

The video itself is hosted on Youtube but unlisted.  Fortunately I managed to find the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvG-1hRRNYs (The title of the video is Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer Play Video).

As far as the emulation quality goes, the games look good, although many of them are just running through their attract modes instead of being actively played.  In some videos Super Mario Bros.' sky has a lavender shade which I do not prefer compared to the sky blue my CRT TV shows, but there is room in the NTSC standard for both.  Makaimura is zoomed in for some odd reason, I don't believe that is how it will appear on the real console.  The official trailer shows the proper full gameplay screen.  When I listen carefully to the audio, I find that the noise channel is "off" at times.  You can hear differences from the ideal noise in some areas :

Percussion in the Rockman 2 title until the screen stops scrolling vertically
When Kirby's star or beam strikes and defeats an enemy or uses the fire breath weapon
The thunderclap sound and the firing sound of the machine gun in Super Contra
The sound of the punches landing in Double Dragon II (listen to the trailer)
Pit shooting his arrows in Kid Icarus : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Giu-fFS_iJY

All of these sounds are demonstrated in the trailer except for Rockman 2 and Kid Icarus.

More information is now available about how these consoles will work.  The reset button will bring you back to the main menu.  Here you can save or load a game suspend point or start a new game.  Each game will have four suspend point slots.  Suspend points are Nintendo's term for save states.  A screenshot and the date and time will be shown to help you figure out what state you need.  You can also lock a suspend point to prevent it from being instantly overwritten.  Given that the cords for these consoles are short, you will need your console pretty close to you if you want to frequently access the suspend point feature.  The original NES controllers are 6' long, but these are about 3' long.  Japanese console owners always had to put up with short cable lengths, but Westerners live larger and are used to longer.

Each console has three filters, a "pixel-perfect" mode, where every pixel is perfectly square; a 4:3 mode, where the graphics are stretched horizontally to better approximate the pixel aspect ratio of the NES/Famicom; and a CRT Filter mode which tries to simulate the look of the NTSC TV signal, complete with staircased vertical lines.  The pixel perfect and 4:3 modes look miles better than the dark and fuzzy Wii U Virtual Console and still kind of fuzzy Wii Virtual Console.  They also sound crisper and bassier than the Wii U VC as well.  If it weren't for the second rate noise channel emulation...

Unlike the Virtual Console games, which give you instructions on the screen, with the Minis you will a URL or a QR Code when you navigate to the manual icon on the screen.  This will send you to Nintendo's website where you can read the scanned documentation.  You can take a picture of the QR code with your phone to avoid all that typing and read the manual on your phone.  

The NES Classic Mini for the UK, Europe and Australasia will have a selection to allow players to play these games in 60Hz or 50Hz, the latter being the PAL frequency that the original NES in Europe and Australasia used.  Look at the trailer here : https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Misc-/Nintendo-Classic-Mini-Nintendo-Entertainment-System/Nintendo-Classic-Mini-Nintendo-Entertainment-System-1124287.html  It won't be identical to the PAL games running in a PAL system.  The US NES Classic has no need for such a feature.  

Thanks to the Fami Mini's specs, we have learned that the NES and Fami Mini are outputting 720p or 480p.  The audio is said to be two channel, but whether that means that the audio is duplicated or the sound channels are split is unknown.  A USB power brick or power source will require 5V/1A, most do.  It can also be powered by some USB ports.  I would suggest a USB 3.0 port, which can provide 900mA, a USB 2.0 port only provides 500mA.  The official Nintendo USB brick will set you back 1,000 Yen.  

There has been a lot of speculation that the NES Classic Edition will be a hard to find item this Christmas season.  Nintendo has been known to underestimate the number of console units needed to satisfy demand in the past.  Whether this is because it takes a conservative approach because hardware is expensive or because it likes to have its products keep a highly desirable reputation, it will likely tax Nintendo's abilities to release a product like this worldwide on the same day.  Preorders for the NES Classic Edition have been completely filled up at present.  

4 comments:

Raifield said...

I'd love it if this sort of thing became a trend. One can only hope it would cause the prices of actual NES cartridges to decrease somewhat, for collecting them in 2016 is a far more expensive proposition than it was even four years ago.

onmode-ky said...

Good article, but I'd like to point out that the Japanese name of Ghosts 'N Goblins is misspelled (twice). It's Makaimura, not Makimura. "Makai" (魔界) means "demon world" (and "mura" (村) is "village"); "Makimura," in contrast, is actually a Japanese surname (where more than one kanji is possible for the "Maki" part).

Great Hierophant said...

My mistake, I have corrected the name in the article. "Makimura" can mean, for example, "sushi roll village" :)

Anonymous said...

in kanagawa region these are impossible to source locally