Attack Of The Clones

My top 5 favorite re-issued / retro themed gaming consoles .
August 13, 2007

We've reached a day and age where demand for classic games and dusty patents have unleashed a steady flow of 3rd party and licensed retro inspired game consoles. These systems can run anything from Atari 2600 games to original Nintendo NES and SNES game cartridges. Even the term "Famiclone" has popped up more prominently on gaming forums and various web pages lately.

What is a Famiclone you ask? A Famiclone is a 3rd party console that runs NES/Famicom games, and so far is fully dependant on the "NES on a Chip" architecture. NES on a Chip (or NOAC as I'll refer to it from now on in this article) systems can pretty faithfully run most of the huge library of Nintendo games that are still easily found at thrift stores and garage sales to this day.
To make it quick these consoles run off of a chip that is a "rough" recreation of the original Nintendo NES hardware architecture.

Enough technical talk though, I'm sure most of you knew that info already. I just wanted to identify that early on as I'll be referring to the NOAC quite a bit in this article. Let's get on to the guts of my article and get to know some of these systems a little better.

Number 5 - Atari Flashback 1

Well, this is the first system that really peaked my interest from it's first introduction. There was a large build up of anticipation for this console within the atari community early on. Unfortunately due to time constraints and complete recreations of 20 of Atari's well known games it was received with a cold reception. I personally enjoyed the system for what it was but it definitely had some flaws.

Ironically the Atari Flashback console was built off of a NOAC and featured all new re-programmed versions of 20 classic Atari Games. To me this seemed like a rushed concept, but I still enjoyed the versions of Centipede and Missile Command enough to keep it around through the years.

It's design is based off of the classic Atari 7800 system, and features recreations of the loved/hated 7800 pro line joysticks. I haven't played it much recently mainly due to owning most of the original games that are far superior. This is a great little console for what it is, but it is definitely not a good representation of true atari games. Overall I'd give this little console a 4.5/10 based on it's recreation of the games, and I'm not a huge fan of the Atari 7800 style joysticks.

On a more positive note this little system can be found for $10 or less at thrift stores or ebay, and as long as you can get past the fact that you're not getting the actual original games it's not too bad a deal. Another plus is that it uses an AC power adapter as opposed to running off of batteries like other comparative entries in the very poplular TV Games line.

Here is a list of included games for the Atari Flashback console:
Atari Flashback 1 game list:
Atari 2600

* Adventure
* Air-Sea Battle
* Battlezone
* Breakout
* Canyon Bomber
* Crystal Castles
* Gravitar
* Haunted House
* Millipede
* Saboteur
* Sky Diver
* Solaris
* Sprintmaster
* Warlords
* Yars' Revenge

Atari 7800

* Asteroids
* Centipede
* Desert Falcon
* Charley Chuck’s Food Fight
* Planet Smashers

Number 4 - Yobo FC Console

Oh the Yobo FC Console... This little System is as cheap as they come as far as price and overall quality. The Yobo is one of the more well known US famiclone systems that plays most of the NES games. The system really packs a punch and remains a favorite for the following reasons. The price is perfect, I got this system for $20 and it has more than paid for itself through the last couple years of use.

The controllers shown come with the system (along with composite AV cables and power supply) and are not too bad - they even feature turbo buttons. The build quality isn't top notch as you'd expect from any famiclone (they're known for less than perfect quality). I've used my Yobo controllers for almost a year until I found my old NES controllers. You heard correct, this little console features the standard NES controller ports so you can use your NES controllers, Advantage Joystick, or even the Zapper for Duck Hunt.

As far as game support this is where the downfall of the NOAC comes into play. It will not run later games with added features such as Castlevania III, and even has slight issues with the scrolling on Legend of Zelda. The NOAC also only emulates the original sound from games roughly, and sometimes you can even hear static. It's mostly noticeable In the Super Mario Bros. games as we are all very familiar with the music. The drums are always a higher volume for some reason on the famiclone systems.

If you long for quality then you may want to stick with the old NES or official NES top loader. If you want a simple solution to play Contra every once in a while and don't mind a few minor sound imperfections/game incompatibility this is overall a great little system. It's better than emulating on a PC as you really get the full experience if you pick up a few NES controllers. I prefer picking up an old NES and replacing the 72 pin connector, but if you're on a budget, just have a handful of (supported) games, or you're in need for a quick fix this is the little system that could. I give the Yobo system a 7/10 based on overall quality. My main qualms are the cart compatability, and the audio differences (from the original NES hardware)

Here is a list of known games with Compatability issues with NOAC systems. With over 97% compatability that's a number I can deal with. It also helps that I do still own an original NES to play any of these games if they come my way.

Games that are Incompatable with NOAC Hardware (rough list):
*Bandit Kings of Ancient China
*Bignose Freaks Out
*Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (sigh... as this is one of the best NES games!)
*Challenge of the Dragon
*Chessmaster, The
*Crash 'n the Boys Street Challenge
*Dizzy the Adventurer
*Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy
*Gauntlet (another great game)
*Incredible Crash Dummies, The
*Jordan vs. Bird: One on One
*King Neptune's Adventure
*Krion Conquest, The
*Laser Invasion
*Legend of Zelda (works on certain famiclones like NEX and FC Twin, but not on all famiclones)
*Menace Beach
*Micro Machines
*Nobunaga's Ambition II
*Pipe Dream
*Quattro Adventure
*Quattro Sports
*Rad Racer 1 and 2
*River City Ransom (works on certain famiclones like the NEX supposedly, but I've yet to see it run)
*Romance of the Three Kingdoms II
*Uncharted Waters
*WWF King of the Ring
*WWF Wrestlemania Challenge

Number 3 - Atari Paddle 2 Player TV Games - Jakks Pacific

This little gem of a system is right up my alley. Growing up during the golden age of Atari the paddle games for their legendary 2600 system were always some of my favorites. This system isn't really a console per say, but a new sub genre known as TV Games/ Plug and Play systems. These can be found in the toy or electronics section of most stores, but the 2 player paddle set is a little harder to come by these days.

They usually fetch upwards of $20-$50 at times but it is well worth it if you find it for a low price. Surprise surprise, these systems are also built on the NOAC architecture, but the games are very closely recreated by the wonderful team at Digital Eclipse.

My one issue with this system is that there is no 4 player support for the classic Warlords game. Long before Goldeneye and countless other 4 player games this occupied a lot of my time as a youngster. For some reason I always liked the smooth quality of the paddle controller and there is nothing that beats the smooth control of an atari 2600 style paddle.
I thought I'd note that this is the only system in my round up that takes AA batteries as it's main power source. Not too much of an issue though as they seem to last forever. This set get's a 8/10 only due to not having 4 player support, and the fact that the games are still technically remakes.

Here is the list of great games that come with this set.

*Canyon Bomber
*Circus Atari
*Demons to Diamonds
*Night Driver
*Street Racer
*Super Breakout
* Arcade Pong
* Video Olympics
* Warlords Arcade

Number 2 - FC Twin

This was truly a dream come true for me as this really sparked my fascination again for famiclones. Not only is this unit a famiclone (in the sense it uses an NOAC for US NES games), but it also has hardware to run SNES games! Since the NES side is pretty much the same exact unit Now don't get too excited though. Although this isn't as rough as an NOAC, it is still a rehashing of the old SNES hardware. The colors differ a bit, and don't expect to play any of the last generation games like Street Fighter Alpha 2 due to added protection in the later cartridges.

Overall this is a feat of modern technology. It comes with 2 spot on SNES style controllers, and much like the Yobo offered NES compatible controller ports, the FC Twin offers SNES compatible ports so you can plug in and use your old SNES controllers. I actually still prefer the real SNES controllers as the cable is 6 feet rather than the FC Twin controller's 4 feet cable. The control quality is also a little better.

I have only noticed very slight color changes for the SNES games, and it is overall a very solid unit. The sound is surprisingly spot on. It's a great system for someone with a meager collection of NES/SNES games who doesn't have either an official NES, or SNES. My approach to this system is that it's a great way to preserve the old NES/SNES systems. You can save shelf space, and use this 3rd party console to test out games and use for casual game play limiting wear and tear on the original Nintendo hardware.

I give this system an overall 9/10 due to build quality, price point (roughly $40-$60), and sheer coolness of being able to play 8-bit NES and 16 bit SNES games on one console. I take a point down due to the NOAC use for NES emulation, the slight color differences for SNES games, and last but not least the incompatability list (though very small) for the SNES games)

Here is the known incompatability list for the SNES side of the FC TWIN:
* BatterUP
* E.V.O.: Search for Eden
* Street Fighter Alpha 2
* Star Ocean
* Kirby Super Star

And the winner is...

Number 1 - Atari Flashback 2.0!

Here it is! The Atari Flashback 2! This is by far my favorite new retro styled console. Not only does it feature 40 games for the original atari 2600 system, it also runs on what has been dubbed the "atari 2600 on a Chip". I could tell that the Flashback 2 was put together with care by Curt Vendel and his team as it had that special Atari feel to it. When I opened the box it was the same excitement of getting my first Atari 2600 system.

The joystick controllers are backwards compatible with the original 2600 system so you also technically get 2 new 2600 joysticks with this set. The paddles also work with the system and there is even a trick to unlock an easter egg that unlocks a couple more paddle games (I won't mention the games as it would spoil the fun). Last but not least is the fact that it is hacker friendly so you can add a cartridge slot! That is something that really appeals to classic gamers like me.

Now I haven't hacked my unit yet, but just knowing I can makes me very happy. Fortunately I've amassed a large pile of 2600 systems throughout the years so I may not hack the little guy just yet. With the addition of some Flashback 2 exclusive games like Save Mary, and Adventure 2, this system was above and beyond of what I was expecting.

The Price Point on this system was amazing as it sold for a meager $29.99 retail. They are pretty much out of retail circulation by now, but it can already be found for a reasonable price at thrift stores and online. As far as my rating this gets a 10/10 for me. My only very minor gripe is no reset switch, but turning the console on and off is so nostalgic I grew to like it.

Just to let anyone know who hasn't picked one of these up some games are a bit glitchy. Not due to the hardware, but more the programming of some of the games. Games that stuck out for me that flickered a lot, or seemed rushed are Yars Return, Asteroids Deluxe, and Cavern of Mars. I didn't rate it down though as this was only a few games out of 40 that I wasn't too impressed with and are mainly there as just an added glimpse. Don't expect Atariage quality on the new games, those guys make some great homebrewed games.

Here is the full list of games featured on the Atari Flashback 2.0:
*3D Tic-Tac-Toe
*Adventure II
*Arcade Asteroids
*Arcade Pong
*Asteroids Deluxe
*Atari Climber
*Caverns Of Mars
*Combat 2
*Fatal Run
*Frog Pond
*Haunted House
*Human Cannonball
*Lunar Lander
*Maze Craze
*Missile Command
*Off the Wall
*Radar Lock
*Return To Haunted House
*River Raid
*Save Mary
*Secret Quest
*Space Duel
*Space War
*Video Checkers
*Video Chess
*Yars' Return
*Yars' Revenge

So there you have it, my top 5 favorite retro re-issue consoles. Oh wait, it's not over yet!

it's time for the ***Famiclone Bonus Round***

Well, I felt that the Generation NEX needed an honorable mention, along with the up and coming Hyperkin Super FC Loader. The Hyperkin runs the same as the Yobo, has the same square look but has the distinctive ridges on the right side of the console. This is a very new clone as there isn't much on the net about this one yet.

Rumor has it that the NEX runs a little better than the average Famiclone. Messiah Entertainment did really make a good looking console here, but to me a famiclone is a famiclone. At $59.99 it seems to be a little bit much for me as I can get a real NES for that price with a stack of games. Then again, I could easily see the NEX as an impulse buy sometime down the road if I find it cheaper.

It really is a class act when it comes to famiclones. It can run both american NES Games (loads in the front) and japanese Famicom games (loads on top). You can even pick one of these up at your local Game Stop stores. With the addition of the Messiah 24 ghz wireless controllers this system is pretty nice, and the build quality is top notch.

In closing, I hope this can be helpful for anyone considering any one of these systems, have fun! If you are starting out and don't own the originals I still recommend an official system over these newer versions, but the above systems can provide a cost effective alternative as the original systems are getting harder to find in good condition.
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