12bit Blog

RS-1 part 5: Zhishan GB-9X

Posted by taizou at 2019-08-26 23:00:12 Clones, Famicom

I'm wrapping this series up with a look into an variant on the later RS-1S (or ES-9S) revision of the venerable RS-1 NES clone handheld. I mentioned in my previous post that the Zhishan GB-9X was probably the RS-1S sibling worth getting, because it restores some functionality dropped from the 1S/9S, and even comes with some additional features not seen on any prior RS-1. So I got one! How is it?

Packaging

Generic "gift just for you" box with "Retro Game" label

Here's what arrived: a gift! Just for me! Not much indication of what's inside, other than that little "Retro Game" label up there. This seems to be standard for Zhishan's packaging; they use generic designs just saying something like "handheld game" without anything really depicting or describing the product itself. These things were never intended to be sold on store shelves, only online marketplaces, so I suppose it saves them some design work on a box which will be rarely looked at.

End panel of box with "GB-9X" number and various colour options

The side at least lists the model number, plus the colour options. I wanted the fetching Tiffany Blue originally, but unfortunately they were sold out, so hence I ended up with the black & red Hell Edition (*not really called that).

Contents of box: console, manual, screwdriver, cable

And here's what you get! The console, of course, plus a screw and screwdriver for the battery cover (standard for the RS-1S), a TV out cable (certainly NOT standard for the RS-1S, since it had no TV out), and a small manual.

Manual front page Manual inner pages Manual back page

The manual itself is actually unique to this version, and provides some generic advice. It's probably used for other Zhishan consoles too, since it even offers an excuse for repeats, which this console doesn't actually have.

Hardware

Console front view

And here's the console! Of course, it's almost identical to the RS-1, but looks pretty nice with its shiny black front. You can't really see where the screen is in these photos, as it's black too, but that'll become clearer later.

The RS-1S/ES-9S had lacked a volume wheel, replacing it instead with a simple sound on/off button, but the GB-9X brings it back. The dropping of physical volume controls is probably my greatest beef with modern cheap handheld designs, so I'm glad to see it return here.

With the volume wheel restored, the spot once occupied by the sound button is once again reverted to the semi-useless "T" turbo-A as seen on the RS-1, and the rest of the controls here remain the same. Unfortunately, that means the D-pad is still the uncomfortable split type, A and B are still reversed, and there's still no select button. But, hey, that's what you get from the RS-1 family.

Console back view

On the back, it's almost the same as the RS-1, but with the addition of a screw hole to keep the battery cover on. Makes it safer for the kids, you know. Don't want 'em swallowing those triple-As.

Console top view, showing AV/headphone jack

On the top, we can see the other thing the GB-9X brings to the table over and above the RS-1S/ES-9S: the TV-out port is back! And, not only that, it doubles up as a 3.5mm headphone jack! Take that, Apple! Interestingly, that means the GB-9X has a unique mould, since it couldn't simply reuse the RS-1S (lacking a jack and volume wheel) nor the RS-1 (lacking the battery screw hole, and with a 2.5mm jack rather than a 3.5mm one). It seems like a reasonable amount of work went into this variant on the hardware side.

Since the jack serves this dual purpose, it means the LCD screen now doesn't turn off when a cable is inserted, even when you're using TV out. The TV out cable itself is equipped with both left and right audio connectors, but both channels are the same what with the NES only being capable of mono sound in the first place. The volume wheel also now affects audio output through this jack, and it can go up REALLY loud when using headphones. So, uh, be careful you don't blow out your eardrums or anything.

Console switched on and playing Super Mario Bros 3

And here it is switched on! The screen seems brighter than my RS-1, although I'm hesitant to make any blanket statement about screen quality between models, since I have no doubt the factory uses different screens in any and all of its handhelds depending on price and availability, rather than matching a specific part to a specific unit.

The brightness in this particular screen actually makes some of the palette issues with the hardware more apparent, making things seem a bit washed out in certain games. It's not a problem over the TV out though. Unlike my other RS-1, there's no screen tearing, but some jerkiness is apparent when scrolling, maybe due to a poor refresh rate. You win some, you lose some. Such is the nature of the great LCD parts bin lottery.

There's also another new addition in the form of a small blue power LED. I can't say it's massively necessary, since the screen is always visibly on when the unit is on, but it's a thing.

Semi-teardown

Let's take a look inside:

Back of main PCB Back of sub PCB Front of both PCBs with screen Front of sub PCB Front of main PCB Back of front piece of shell

The PCB has, like the case mould, been redesigned specifically for this model to accommodate its unique features, rather than attempting to hack them onto an existing RS-1 PCB. Evidently it was designed in November 2018, and according to Zhishan's website it first went on sale in January 2019. I've also taken a picture of the rear of the front plate to show that sets of buttons are connected together, which was not the case on the original RS-1 (and I didn't take a picture of that, but the buttons did all fall on the floor when I took it apart).

Menu

I've captured a full runthrough of the menu plus a few sample games here:

No title screen nor any language select, you're just launched straight into the main menu.

168 in 1 menu screenshot

This is a fairly common style of menu that you'll often find in Famiclone handhelds, often in "PVP Station" type products, and almost always accompanied by Mighty Final Fight music. The cool dude on the bottom left is Jake from Totally Rad, which is actually not on here.

While there's no test screen that I could find, if you hold down Start+B and press A on the menu, it will crash; this may be a remnant of a removed/broken test function, since other consoles do have a test screen accessible through a similar button combo.

Note I recorded the video in mono due to my own oversight, despite the console having separate left/right audio outputs; however, as I mentioned previously, both channels are identical since the NES is a mono system... I even rerecorded some footage in stereo and compared the waveform of each channel just to make sure they were the same.

Unfortunately, as you may be able to hear if you're familiar with the soundtracks showcased in the video, there's still no triangle channel in the audio, as with the prior RS-1. For me that's the biggest flaw with this unit, and so many others based on the same hardware. But the Law of Clone Consoles states that each clone must be somehow disappointing, and I suppose with this triangle channel issue they've managed to mass-produce the same disappointment, and therefore avoid having to engineer a new one into each product. That's efficiency.

Games

So how about those games? The game selection (and menu) seems to be identical to the RS-1S/ES-9S, and is probably the strongest point of this unit. They've included a lot of big games, with the flash chip inside clocking in at 256 megabits (32 megabytes), four times the size of the common 152-in-1 RS-1 variant.

Here's the list:

  1. SUPER MARIO BROS2
  2. SUPER MARIO BROS3
  3. SUPER MARIO WORLD9
  4. SUPER MARIO 14
  5. SUPER MARIO BROS6
  6. DR MARIO
  7. MARIO BROS
  8. MARIO IS MISSING
  9. MARIO'S TIME MACHI
  10. SUPER MARIO BROS
  11. SONIC
  12. ALADDIN 4
  13. KRION CONQUEST
  14. MEGA MAN3
  15. MEGA MAN5
  16. EARTHWORM JIM3
  17. BART VS WORLD
  18. BATMAN RETURNS
  19. TMNT2
  20. SUPER CONTRA
  21. TOM JERRY3
  22. DRAGON BALLZ2
  23. THE FLINTSTONES
  24. GI JOEATLANTIS FA
  25. GI JOE
  26. WORLD CUP
  27. THE JETSONS
  28. KINGOF FIGHTERS 9
  29. MORTAL KOMBAT TRI
  30. SPIDER MAN
  31. STREET FIGHTER V
  32. TEKKEN3
  33. KIWI KRAZE
  34. ADVENTURE ISLAND2
  35. ADVENTURE ISLAND3
  36. ALIEN 3
  37. ALTBEAST
  38. ANGRY BIRD 2
  39. BATMAN
  40. KICKLE CUBICLE
  41. PACMAN
  42. MITSUME GA TOORU
  43. BUBBLE BOBBLE 2
  44. CRAZY CASTLE
  45. CAPTAIN AMERICAN
  46. CHIP DALE2
  47. CHIP DALE1
  48. CONTRA FORCE
  49. WHOMP EM
  50. DOUBLE DRAGON2
  51. DOUBLE DRAGON
  52. ROCKIN KATS
  53. DOUBLE DRAGON3
  54. POCKET MONSTER
  55. TINY TOON2
  56. GUERILLA WAR
  57. CROSS FIRE
  58. JUMPIN KID
  59. JACKIE CHAN
  60. JOE MAC CAVEMAN N
  61. JUNGLE BOOK
  62. KAGE
  63. LITTLE NEMODREAM
  64. MIGHTY FINAL FIGH
  65. MONSTER IN MY POC
  66. NINJA GAIDEN3
  67. PLANTS VS ZOMB
  68. BUCKY O'HARE
  69. TETRIS2
  70. P O W
  71. POWER BLADE2
  72. POWER RANGERS2
  73. ASTYANAX
  74. PUNISHER
  75. ROBOCOP
  76. ROBOCOP2
  77. SIMPSONS
  78. SNOW BROS
  79. CYBERBALL
  80. STREET FIGHTER 20
  81. SUPER C
  82. TURTLES FIGHTER
  83. KUN LAND
  84. TOKKYUU SHIREI SO
  85. TOM JERRY
  86. GUN NAC
  87. 1942
  88. BOMB SWEEPER
  89. WORLD CUP SOCCER
  90. ADVENTURES OF LOL
  91. FANTASY ZONE
  92. CONTRA
  93. RBI BASEBALL
  94. BADMINTON
  95. GOONIES
  96. ICE HOCKEY
  97. HELLO KITTY
  98. ONYANKO TOWN
  99. PENGUIN KUN WARS
  100. PRO WRESTLING
  101. ROUTE 16TURBO
  102. SON SON
  103. RAD RACER2
  104. SEICROSS
  105. LUNAR BALL
  106. ANGRY BIRD 3
  107. PACMANIA
  108. WRECKING CREW
  109. SOCCER
  110. ADVENTURES OF DI
  111. ANGRY BIRD
  112. SUPER CHINESE
  113. FLIPULL
  114. GRADIUS
  115. GYRUSS
  116. ADVENTURES OF LO
  117. KUNG FU
  118. ROAD FIGHTER
  119. SOLOMON'S KEY
  120. TRACK FIELD
  121. ARKANOID
  122. ASTRO ROBO SASA
  123. BOMBER MAN
  124. LODE RUNNER 2
  125. DIG DUG2
  126. ELEVATOR ACTION
  127. EXEDEXES
  128. F 1RACE
  129. FRONT LINE
  130. GALAGA
  131. GALAXIAN
  132. POOYAN
  133. STAR FORCE
  134. VOLLEYBALL
  135. ARABIAN
  136. BATTLE CITY
  137. CIRCUS CHARLIE
  138. DONKEY KONG 3
  139. DONKEY KONG JR
  140. EXCITEBIKE
  141. MS PAC MAN
  142. POPEYE
  143. TENNIS
  144. URBAN CHAMPION
  145. BIRD WEEK
  146. ADVENTURE ISLAND
  147. MICKEY MOUSE
  148. MUSCLE
  149. TRANSFORMERS
  150. TWINBEE
  151. GYRODINE
  152. BWINGS
  153. DONKEY KONG
  154. BABEL
  155. BINARY LAND
  156. BURGER TIME
  157. MACROSS
  158. CONTE ENEGY
  159. MUSIC MOMENT
  160. SPELUNKER
  161. VOLGUARD 2
  162. BENTHAL
  163. FORMATION Z
  164. MILLIPEDE
  165. NUTS MILK
  166. SLALOM
  167. DEFENDER 2
  168. ICE CLIMBER

I won't really go into the games in detail, because, I mean, these are all regular ass games! Good ones! You probably know them already! Most of them are just the normal versions of the games, too, there are few weird hacks like on the RS-1; at most they might have the copyright or 2-player mode removed, but many are fully untouched. That actually makes this thing less interesting for me, because, I mean, I live for the weird shit, but in terms of actual games you might want to play it's a very strong lineup.

Super Mario Bros 2 screenshot Super Mario Bros 3 screenshot

Notably, both Super Mario Bros 2 and 3 are here, which is pretty cool; usually these things only have Super Mario Bros 1 and a selection of Mario-themed hacks. Of course, some of the hacks are here too, for good measure. AND the two Mario edutainment games.

Earthworm Jim 3 screenshot King of Fighters 99 screenshot

There are a surprising number of bootleg originals and ports of 16-bit games; Hummer Team is particularly well-represented with Sonic the Hedgehog, Aladdin 4 (the MMC3 hack with broken music, unfortunately), Earthworm Jim 3, Dragon Ball Z 2 and Tekken 3 (the cut-down MMC3 hack). We also have Tom & Jerry 3 by Dragon, "King of Fighters '99" (a hack of Rex Soft's KOF '97), Mortal Kombat Trilogy by Cony/Hosekn, and "Street Fighter V" (a hack of some version of Cony's Street Fighter II ports). Also present is the Pokemon-themed platformer "Pocket Monster".

Incidentally, the menu thumbnails for two of the Hummer games are wrong; "Sonic" shows the Adventure Island hack of the same name, while "Aladdin 4" shows the hack of Magic Carpet 1001.

Jumpin Kid screenshot Rad Racer 2 glitchy screenshot

For the most part, the rest of the game set consists of various NES and Famicom games, including a whole bunch not commonly seen on multicarts. Yes the common staples are mostly present and correct, like Double Dragon, Chip & Dale and Mitsume ga Tooru, not to mention of course the set of ubiquitous smaller/earlier titles towards the end (also revealing one other mistaken menu thumbnail, where "Kung Fu" is depicted as Yie-Ar Kung Fu but is actually the Nintendo/Irem game). But there's also plenty of unusual stuff like Jumpin' Kid, Cyberball, Whomp 'Em and Rad Racer 2 (graphically slightly broken here - it's known to have compatibility issues with clones, I wonder if some previous revision of RS-1S was able to play this correctly?). Sadly notable by their absence are the first two Ninja Gaiden games.

Krion Conquest screenshot Bucky o'Hare screenshot

We also have Mega Man 3, 5 and witch Mega Man, plus a bunch of late Taito games like The Flintstones Rescue of Dino & Hoppy, Bubble Bobble 2, The Jetsons and Power Blade 2, some of which are the kinds of games that cost a bajillion dollars if you were to actually purchase them. Bucky o' Hare is also an extremely strong choice, and they didn't remove the copyright so it doesn't activate the one-hit-death protection mode.

Tengen Tetris screenshot Asmik-kun Land screenshot

As mentioned, most of the games are fairly close to their original states; even "Tetris 2" is, unusually, the fully unhacked Tengen version of Tetris, not crudely retitled to "1993 Tetris Game" or something. Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle is, however, the "Tiny Toon 3 Crazy Castle" hack. Another couple of pretty neat inclusions are the fan translations of Asmik-kun Land (listed as "Kun Land") and Tokkyuu Shirei Solbrain. And Bomb Sweeper is here, a homebrew game by Snowbro which managed to look enough like a classic Nintendo game to find its way into countless bootleg ROM sets.

Bart vs the World screenshot Adventures of Lolo 2 screenshot

There aren't many repeats here, but a couple snuck in, probably by accident. Bart vs the World is duplicated as both "Bart vs World" and "Simpsons". A handful of games are also present in multiple regional versions, like Super Contra and Super C, and Adventures of Lolo (JP) and Adventures of Lolo 2 (US), which are actually the same game.

Benthal World screenshot Music Moment screenshot

Of course, there's no way a console like this would come out without any 2000s-era weird stuff on it. A grand total of two "classic" Inventor hacks snuck on: "Conte Enegy", a hack of Lode Runner, and "Benthal World", a hack of Sachen's Pyramid. Nice Code is represented with their ports of Plants vs Zombies and Angry Birds (as "Angry Bird 3"), plus a lone original in the form of "Music Moment", an extremely simple game even by their standards. Finally, two more Angry Birds-themed hacks are here, in the form of "Angry Bird", a Moai-kun hack, and "Angry Bird 2", a New Zealand Story hack.

Relatives

The game set and menu found on the GB-9X, RS-1S and ES-9S are also in turn shared with several other consoles. Some examples include the Retro FC, PVP Game, and ... this other one. I'm not sure what connection those devices have with this one, or if the game set was simply copied between them, but it's a decent set to be reusing in any case. Maybe some of the others don't have the triangle channel issue! (I doubt it!)

Meanwhile, the Powkiddy Retro FC Q3 looks just like the other Retro FC, and has what initially appears to be a similar menu and set of 168 games (with the addition of a Chinese language option), but as you get further through the list there's a much heavier emphasis on smaller early-gen stuff, presumably also having a smaller ROM size to go along with it. The "Q3" variant also seems to have been supplemented by a "plus" version, which again lags behind the GB-9X in terms of ROM size, but interestingly includes a few rare variants of Inventor hacks which were historically mostly seen on ABL consoles. So you could buy a "168-in-1" console, looking identical and bearing the "Retro FC" name, but get one of three different sets of games. Of course! Why should any of this make sense?

Yet another similar-but-different 168-in-1 console is this version of RS-8, also known as ES-16, because why not. As with the RS-1, the RS-8 has TONS of variants which I'm not planning to get into right now (or at all, if I'm honest) (please no), but this particular unit has a similar style of menu and shares some games with the GB-9X/RS-1S set, as well as having a Chinese/English language option like the Q3.

Anyway, enough about... all of that.

Availability

Now, as much as I've talked this up as being the one to get if you're interested in the RS-1S... something happened as I was working on this. First of all, it became clear that the GB-9X was disappearing from the market. Zhishan advertised several colour variants, but when the one I ordered was out of stock, they were only able to supply the red and black version. This wasn't too unexpected, as at that point Amazon only stocked the red and black one too, and the Zhishan store actually just ships from Amazon. I figured Zhishan had overreached, overestimated the sales potential of 5 different colours of this thing and were winding back to a single variant. But, after receiving my 9X, I checked back on Amazon, and found the red and black one was unavailable too. Zhishan's website, meanwhile, has now marked them all as "out of stock". LightInTheBox and sister site MiniInTheBox still claim to have stock for the time being, if you want to try your luck at getting one, but it's definitely on the way out.

Interestingly, it wasn't just the 9X winding down - I couldn't find any listings for the RS-1S or ES-9S on Amazon either. Aliexpress still has a few hanging around, but honestly without a volume control I wouldn't really recommend it. So it seems like the 1S and its variants are possibly ending production, with some remaining stock still filtering through the system, while the original RS-1 still goes strong, and its oddball expanded successor the RS-1 Plus maybe taking the place of the 1S as a sister machine. The 1S was always a strange one, really, branded iPhone-like as an improved RS-1, but in fact lacking significant features from the original despite a stronger lineup of games. So I wouldn't be surprised if the manufacturer had decided to pull the plug on it.

The end...?

And so, this brings my exploration of the RS-1 line to a fitting end. With possibly the high point of the whole family, which, in fact, turns out to be an obscure variant you can't actually buy anymore.

The YouTuber Phelan Porteous has a running thing in his bootleg toy reviews called the "Galaxy Hole", which refers to the absolute incomprehensible mess of toylines derived from the "Galaxy Warriors" series of Masters of the Universe knockoffs, both from original manufacturer Sungold and a whole slew of imitators, maybe-connected-companies and who-even-knows-what. And I feel like the RS-1 and its descendants have led me down a similar path... an RS hole, if you will. The "RS-1" designation began with Renshun, but did they actually create the console? Did they have anything to do with the subsequent international-market releases? Five posts later, I still have no idea!

As I said way back in the first post of this series, this whole RS-1 thing only started as a lead-in to coverage of a subsequent console, the one I REALLY wanted to write about, so no doubt that'll be coming soon. I don't think it has such a ridiculous history of variants, but the contents are way more interesting to me. Anyway, for the time being, thank you for joining me on my journey into this RS hole. See you in the next one!

0 Comments

Comments