Have I got a bargain for you….

Astonishingly, the cheapest and most expensive games I’ve ever owned — and I’ve owned a lot of games — both arrived at my home within the last week. For the record (only a few people will get this), I’ve paid my own money for both of them; they weren’t industry “freebies”. Such expense — and lack thereof — deserves a review, but this isn’t the kind of stuff I can particularly sell to my regular outlets. So, instead, I’ll pass the savings on to you, and review them right here!
First up, let’s start with the scraping the bottom of the barrel end of the equation, shall we?

Digital Dragon System GB-150
I’ve got this weird soft spot for gaming tat. Games in general, of course, but specifically wonky pirate knockoffs amuse me no end. I once spent a highly enjoyable thirty minutes haggling in a Kuala Lumpur market with the vendor of a dodgy GBA cart, not so much because I wanted the games on it, but simply to see how low a price could actually be achieved before they gave up on me. They started out wanting (after conversion) the equivalent of $120 for the cartridge (which promised a feast of then-current games including Zelda: Minish Cap and The Road To Wrestlemania, amongst others — more on this shortly).
After walking away more than a dozen times — with them calling after me each time — the price had dropped to a level where I felt compelled to buy it purely for the humour value.
The original price: $120
The price I actually paid — and which they were clearly happy to get: $3.50
I could live with that, even though I knew exactly what was on the cart in question. Not a bevy of pirated current generation gaming, but instead a bunch of very old NES roms that would happen to fit on the cartridge. Call me weird, but I find it amusing to check the exact lies they’re telling in the name of a sale.
(For the record: I don’t condone software piracy for the sake of playing games for nothing, and these items form part of my collection as an interest point. I’ve got a healthy — probably too large — collection of the original carts, should I choose to play them. Pay for your games, and there will still be an industry out there to provide them).
Anyway, this kind of NES-cloning is incredibly rife in South East Asia, with many systems sold under various brands offering up increasingly unlikely numbers of included games. Some have a dozen. Some have 32. Some even promise up to 99 games, although typically that’s done with a lot of palette swapping and declaring that you have Super Mario 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
WOW!
Eight whole Super Mario Bros games, in a series that only went up to three!
But not so fast. There’s not enough space on these carts for even part of Super Mario Bros 3, for a start. When they add a number at the end, that just refers to the level of the original Super Mario Bros that you’ll start on. And it had eight levels, hence eight “versions” of Super Mario Bros.
In other words, the quality control isn’t up to much.
Anyway, while I was doing a bit of NES research for an article, I came across what had to be the utter king of all lies when it comes to multi-game systems. A portable NES (not that it stated this, but they almost always are) that promised not ten games. Not twenty. Not even a hundred games. But a stunning nine hundred and ninety nine games.
For $24. Even if it exploded in my hands, my curiosity was piqued. One swift order later, it was on its way to me.
Today, it turned up. Yes, I know the few hours since it arrived isn’t terribly long to spend testing a product, but that might just give you a hint as to how much quality is built into this product.
Now, with 999 games for $24, that means that each game has only cost me 2.4c each. Bargain, right? But wait — don’t spend yet! Because (for whatever reason), there was also a cartridge in the box labelled as a further 99 games, bringing the total up to 1098 games, and the price per game down to a much more affordable 2.18c each. I pity those poor suckers paying 2.4c per game. Clearly, they’re the fools being ripped off.
As is the tradition on the internet, a review wouldn’t be complete without unboxing photos. Not that I stopped to take them then and there, but then very few unboxing photos you see on the internet are completely fresh anyway. It’d be a bit daft; if there was an in-box problem, you’d want to know about it before you started snapping, not to mention planning out the series of shots to take.
Digital Dragon. Contra! Metroid! Sonic! None of which appear in any way within the box.
Anyway, initial impressions are.. amusing. That’s Contra 4 on the cover, flanked by Metroid (twice), Contra 3, an unidentifiable bit of tank clip art and Sonic The Hedgehog. And a Dragonball character whose name escapes me bursting out of the top. It’s even late era-Metroid, too, so unless the Digital Dragon is a combination Gamecube, PS2, Megadrive and SNES, somebody’s telling porkies.
What would an unboxing be without shots of the side of the box? Hold back your excitement, youngster!
On to the side, which seems OK, except that it suggests that there’s only 76 “Classic Games” built in. Oh no! Have I been ripped off? (yes). Note also that the “Corel” of my unit is blue.
Too,,,, man,,,y,, commas,,,
On to the other side, where much hilarity can be drawn from the very poorly translated warnings. They probably don’t come across in all their excess comma glory in the picture — hey, why take an expensive picture of a crummy gadget? — but they include such gems as:
“The game contains tiny objects, children should not remove, remove alone, must be accompanied by an adult, please send packing plastic bags”
(OK, I get what they’re pitching for here. Except the last bit. Do they expect me to send them plastic bags?)
“Be careful to use gam e, not in to water, prevent from high falls to the ground.”
(Again, sensible enough albeit not clear. I do like how they’re concerned I might have a high fall to the ground.)
“This game is for 6 years old children and adults.”
(That seems awfully specific. Oh well. One of the kids turns six shortly; he can enjoy it for a year I suppose.)
“Game is not used batteries,different types of cells or batteries and practice. Please note th at the polarity, replace batteries and must have adult, Long, please don t u se games to battery.”
(WHAT?)
“Please fill out the serial number when buying to guarantee”
(To guarantee what, exactly? And where do I fill it out?)
999 games. Sort of. Only really for very low values of 999.

And here it is in all its glory. Amazingly, it’s actually worse than the picture makes out, although, as the advertising promised, it does contain 999 games. Or 999 entries for games, but there’s a LOT of duplication. A whole lot. I haven’t had time to go through and check precisely — or, if you prefer, I’m too lazy to do so — but I’d say it’d be having a hard time to crack 100 actual games. OK, 199 with the included cartridge. Except that’s rife with duplicates too. Look, at least four of the entries take you to different games, OK? Maybe five.
The weird thing about this particular system is that I’m not entirely convinced that it’s just a dumb NES clone system. The 99 games cartridge is, without a doubt, and it’s packed with the usual suspects, including (sigh) “Super Mario Bros 1-8”. Except that Mario is, for some inexplicable reason, tinged green. One too many magic mushrooms, perhaps. The packaging of the cartridge (and associated items available from the site I purchased from) suggests it’s part of the Chinese-produced “Onestation” family of NES clones. Some quick Googling suggests that there are local sellers flogging these things for around $100 a pop for the 20-game variants. Ouch.
PKA-CHU! Not to be confused with Pikachu, obviously. That would be wrong.
The inbuilt 999 games are.. odd. Some of them are clearly NES ROM hacks, such as an obvious Gryzor clone, and yet another Super Mario Bros reskin, called PKA CHU, featuring a certain yellow rat of Nintendo origin. But the other games aren’t the usual fare of M.U.S.C.L.E, Balloon Fight and Pinball that usually infest these cartridges. There’s a weird Spiderman game that only seems to let you fire out webs vertically in neon colours and then get killed. There’s a couple of very odd Tetris clones. A game called “Octopus” which is sadly not the classic Game & Watch title, but instead a strange Pac-Man style thing with slight overtones of tentacles going… where they shouldn’t.
Santa. Elf Underpants. Roller Skates. I couldn't make this up if I wanted to.
The game snapped above is “Mad Xmas”, a game which involves a clearly possessed Santa dropping toys for an Elf to catch in the front of his pyjamas. Quite why isn’t clear, and you don’t seem to be able to actually lose the game, or for that matter suffer hideous pain by catching a full rollerskate in the groinal area. Perhaps elves are magical that way.
It’s always possible that the whole weird bunch IS indeed a cast of far eastern NES rarities, some reskinned, but the graphics style doesn’t entirely suggest that. Also, most of the games are just plain insane, which has a certain charm that many early NES games don’t possess.
Spider-Man. Doing whatever it is that Spider-Man doesn't.
Needless to say, the build quality is awful, even for a cheaply produced product of an unnamed Chinese factory, and believe me, I’ve had more than my fair share of experience with those. The directional pad squeaks horribly during use, the buttons are squishy and I’m convinced that 90% of the weight of the unit is in the 3 AA batteries that feed it.
Equally needless to say, they lied to me, but then I knew they would. Normally in this part of the review I’d bust out a “buy/don’t buy” kind of recommendation, but then if you’ve been paying any kind of attention at all, it should be astonishingly clear that the answer to that is “Don’t buy in any situation except where your actual life might be on the line, and even then consider how long it is you’ve got left anyway”.
Unless, of course, you’re a collector of game oddities. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’ll get my 2.18c value out of each game, but I have had a couple of hours worth of fun out of it. For the equivalent price of a movie ticket, and about as much time spent.
Coming soon: The other side of the spectrum — the game that turned up this week that is the most expensive game I’ve ever owned. No, it’s not Stadium Events…

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

2 thoughts on “Have I got a bargain for you….

  1. Hi,
    I just picked up one of these hand-helds on Apr 23, 2010. The above review is accurate. The 99in1 cartridge has 8+ flavors of SMB. True and funny. It does have a few good games like Popeye, Pac-Man, Joust, and Defender II. The 999 built-in games are terrible. Some of them aren’t even playable. They remind me of games made for development purposes only (i.e. not for sale). However, some are slightly amusing like the spider-man game. The Santa game is just creepy. The buttons did seem a little squishy, but functioned fine. No button squeaking for me. The plastic screen scratches really easy. The LCD does look nice and bright. The volume is loud and adjustable. The 99 cartridge fits snug but not too tight to remove.
    I did encounter a problem with the battery compartment. The batteries supplied with the unit work fine, but USA made batteries like Energizer or Duracell don’t seem to work without a mod. The + side terminal (the nub part) on our USA made batteries doesn’t protrude out far enough to contact the + terminals inside the battery compartment. I had to dab a little solder on the terminal inside the battery compartment to build them up so they made contact with the batteries. Not a big deal. Tiny round rare earth magnets or small scraps of metal to fill the gaps would have worked too.
    Just curious, but did you test the AV cable? I can’t get mine to work. The cable seems to plug into the game unit and the TV just fine. However, the TV shows a very fuzzy image of what’s on the hand-held and it’s flipping like a 1960’s TV with bad reception. I tried jiggling the cable in both the unit and TV with no better results. I wonder if it’s PAL only.
    Thanks for the review.
    Regards,
    jeep

  2. Didn’t initially test the AV cable (largely as I wasn’t that fussed with that particular part of its alleged functionality). But having done so, it seems to work fine — for rather low tolerances of fine. No obvious ghosting like you’re getting, but the colours are woeful. Then again, they’re woeful onscreen — green Mario and the like — so perhaps that’s stunningly accurate.

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