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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Joy Tap 3

    Posted on July 11th, 2009 keving 3 comments

    Joy Tap 3

    Maker: Hudson Soft
    Release Date: 10/4/88
    Price: 1890 yen

    joytap One of the chief selling points for the PC Engine near the beginning was its extensive (for the time) multiplayer capabilities. The Famicom had only two controllers, both hard-wired into the system, which meant you were playing 1-on-1 or nothin’. With the PCE and its fancy-pants detachable controllers, you could connect up a Multitap (released simultaneously with the PCE itself) and have up to five pads snaking out of the white system. It was unique enough to still raise eyebrows two years later when the TurboGrafx-16 came out.

    The only problem: it took forever for games to come out that took advantage of this. Even Hudson, the PCE’s greatest supporter, didn’t release any decent multiplayer games until mid-1989, starting with Dungeon Explorer and continuing with Momotarō Dentetsu and Bomberman. Meanwhile, looking at the PCE’s early lineup, the only truly multiplayer title is YūYū Jinsei, a board game. If multiplayer was such a major selling point in NEC’s mind, then you have to wonder why titles like Pro Yakyū World Stadium and Power League only supported one-on-one play. And yet, even if you wanted to play your friend in baseball, your only choice was the 5-port Multitap — a major case of overkill.

    From the consumer perspective, the request was pretty simple to imagine: “I don’t need five ports, so give me something cheaper!” Thus, Hudson’s Joy Tap 3 — a Multitap with only three controller ports. They could’ve just made it two ports and supported every game available at the time except Pro Tennis World Court, but I suppose giving users three was Hudson’s way of saying “Don’t worry, we’ll think of something for this thing sooner or later.” Dropping two ports made the Joy Tap 3 600 yen cheaper than NEC’s Multitap, which is serious cash if you were a kid saving coins to buy the latest games.

    I don’t know how well this accessory sold, but you don’t see many Joy Tap 3’s in modern used-game shops — or, at least, they’re dwarfed by the mountain of five-port Multitaps lying around, indicating that NEC won the retail battle in the long run. Maybe there weren’t many games that supported five people at once, but what about three, huh? It seems like a bit of an odd number, and there’s no way around that.

    There are also two-port multitaps out there, including Dempa Shinbunsha’s X-HE2 (which came out not long after this) and the Twin Tap, released in 1992 by Sur de Wave for some reason. There’s also the Battle Tap, a four-port extender. You were nothing if not spoiled for choice in this sector.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] Turbo Stick

    Posted on July 11th, 2009 keving 9 comments

    Turbo Stick
    (ターボスティック)

    Maker: NEC Home Electronics
    Release Date: 10/1/88
    Price: 6800 yen

    turst

    The same as the TurboGrafx-16’s TurboStick, except with different colors and horizontal instead of vertical sliders.

    This joystick, the first one made for the PC Engine, has the distinction of being the only stick ever released by either NEC-HE or NEC Avenue for the system’s entire history. Considering all the minor changes NEC made to the basic pad over the years, the fact they never released another stick for the PCE indicates to me that this must have not been a big seller. (And it wasn’t — except for some dead warehouse stock put out around 2003, these things are surprisingly uncommon in Japanese used-game shops.)

    By the time the PC Engine celebrated its first birthday, things were looking decidedly up for the system. Sales were accelerating, the platform had a killer app in R-Type, and three dedicated PCE magazines launched in Japan near-simulataneously in late ’88. The console had built a reputation for arcade ports that the Famicom couldn’t handle, and arcade brats were starting to take notice. This apparently made companies think that an arcade-style controller was just what the PCE needed, and the end of 1988 saw no less than three contenders — the Turbo Stick, Dempa Shinbunsha’s XE-1 PRO HE, and the ASCII Stick Engine. None of them were in the marketplace at full price for very long, and by the end of 1989, you’d be considered lucky to find any of them for sale in the high-street shops.

    As you can tell from the pic, the Turbo Stick is a simple two-button affair. Turbo functionality is included, but instead of the three speed levels on the standard Turbo Pad, you’ve got a couple of sliders that you can push up and down to fine-tune your turbo experience. The XE-1 PRO HE and ASCII Stick Engine both have slow-motion functionality, but that’s missing on this stick.

    The Turbo Stick’s structure — it feels like a cheap piece of plastic and yet it cost 6800 yen — was probably the main reason it wasn’t successful. Try using it these days, after years of using a pad of one variety or another, and one could hardly call this very comfortable…but then, I wasn’t a Japanese arcade brat at the time.

    There was a miniature tsunami of new, 6-button PCE controllers released in 1993 for Street Fighter II Champion Edition, but NEC-HE oddly decided not to participate in the rush. If you insist on playing the SFII port with a joystick, your only choice is Hori’s unlicensed Fighting Stick PC.

  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] PC-KD863G

    Posted on July 11th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    PC-KD863G

    Maker: NEC Home Electronics
    Release Date: 9/27/88
    Price: 138,000 yen

    kd863gAnother example of the “Core Concept” (last seen in the X1 Twin) gone mad.

    Along with envisioning the PC Engine as the “core” that drove a vast variety of home peripherals and accessories, NEC also saw the PCE’s internal hardware as a fully sub-licensable product, capable of being installed into all manner of other devices. These new products would be called “HE-System devices” (HEシステム機), and just as Sharp did with the X1 Twin in 1987, any third party could release PCE-compatible HE-System hardware if they were willing to pay a license fee to NEC.

    The PC-KD863G, by far the most uncommon piece of first-party PC Engine hardware, is the only labeled HE-System device that NEC-HE themselves released into the marketplace. Simply put, it’s a computer (RGB) monitor with PCE hardware pre-installed internally. As you can see from the pamphlet photo, there’s a HuCard slot and a single control port down below the screen, along with speakers on both sides of the CRT. This means that you could play PCE games with this set by itself without tying up Dad’s TV — sort of like a really big PC Engine LT or GT, I suppose.

    The unique thing about this device is that it was the only officially-licensed PC Engine to output straight RGB video. The X1 Twin could only do composite video for the PCE since the console’s hardware was functionally separate from the computer, but the PC-KD863G outputs a direct RGB signal, giving the sharpest picture you can expect to find in real life. (All PCEs output RGB video internally, and at one point Dempa Shinbunsha announced a standalone RGB monitor that included a special video interface for the PCE, but that dissolved into vaporware. High-end gamers used custom cables instead, which were sold by many mail-order joints.)

    The 138,000 yen list price makes this easily the most expensive piece of PC Engine hardware ever released. Most of that price is probably tied up in the cost of the monitor hardware — those things were expensive during the 80s, something rarely appreciated today (there’s a reason why most 8-bit PCs connected to television sets) — and when you consider the PC Engine LT itself cost just a bit under 100,000, that six-figure MSRP begins to become just a tad easier to swallow. Besides, maybe some customers looking for a plain ol’ PC monitor saw the PCE hardware as a little extra bonus. I don’t know.

    In reality, the PC-KD863G saw its most frequent use in the editorial departments of video game magazines, which used it for screenshot snapping until custom RGB cables came along. Otherwise it wasn’t too useful, thanks to its lack of expansion port and resulting incompatibility with the CD-ROM System.

    I’ve never ever ever seen one of these in real life. In fact, I’d honestly be surprised if there were any working examples left. Brandon Sheffield noted that a Hong Kong dude has had one up on eBay since last fall for $1000 even. French super-collector Adol has one, too. The last one I could find on Japanese auction sites was sold back in 2005.