12bit Blog

Finger Stinger

Posted by taizou at 2019-01-22 20:49:53 Misc handhelds

If you've heard of Gamze, it may be through Ashens' video on one of their consoles, featuring three of the common Pop Station-type LCD games in an inventive rotating design. But a whole host more consoles were released under the Gamze brand, including multi- and single- game handhelds and virtual pets, sold chiefly in the UK but also in other parts of Europe and occasionally worldwide. Some Gamze products were essentially re-shelled generic LCD consoles like the one Ashens reviewed, but others offered more original concepts like "Digit Dancerz", "Fitboyz" and "Manga All Stars" - a football-training game offering the opportunity to star in your own manga soccer comic live on the internet(!!??!) (its website is sadly long-gone and doesn't seem to be archived). And there are also some with the Annoying Thing (aka Crazy Frog) license, because it was the mid-2000s and of COURSE there are.

Gamze products were distributed by Nikko UK at some point, seen here listed on Nikko's website in 2006 - but far from being a sub-brand of Nikko as I'd initially assumed, Gamze was actually an independent company with both UK and Hong Kong branches. The UK side was "Gamze International" run by Les Forgham (interviewed here about Manga All Stars), with the Hong Kong company "Gamze Ltd" presumably handling manufacturing and games development with the help of various Chinese subcontractors. Sadly Gamze's former website at "gamzes.com" isn't archived. Les Forgham himself was once a managing director at Tiger Electronics UK, so you can probably see where his taste for LCD games came from; at one point Gamze even put out their own version of Tiger's classic Lights Out game.

And so, finally, this brings us to Gamze's Finger Stinger, the stinger of fingers. With 50 great finger stinging gamze! This seems to be an exceedingly rare product compared to others in Gamze's lineup, with searches for "gamze" and "finger stinger" together turning up only a handful of trademark registrations, a single Amazon listing (with none available for sale) and Gamze International's own YouTube channel - more on that later. I'm not sure why the Finger Stinger is such an obscure product - Gamze (or distributor Infoport) may have struggled to find retailers willing to carry it, or it may have been a victim of Gamze's own downfall in the late 00s, apparently due to the European financial crisis (according to this Hong Kong court case). It may be that the only units ever sold were shifted through that one Amazon listing, or in a few obscure discount stores.

So, just what is it? The name makes it sound almost like those joke fake game consoles that deliver a small electric shock when you press the buttons, but, well, it's not that. The box here advertises it as "the ultimate test of skill, endurance and concentration for any gamer", with "50 in-built randomly generated games" - so it's a reaction tester of sorts? But what are these 50 games? Randomly generated, as in procedurally-generated? Or what?

Here's the console out of its packaging - it's quite a nice compact little unit, with the front part of the main body seeming to be actual brushed aluminium. Premium!

The back is just metallic painted plastic, and it takes 3 AAA batteries but the back cover doesn't seem to fit properly with them installed. Less premium!

Anyway, let's turn it on:


Well that's a surprise - a fully one-minute long animated fantasy intro sequence, rendered in single-colour low-res LCD glory, coupled with bleepy single-channel music plus the occasional sampled sound effect. This is really sub-Game King hardware, something along the lines of what you'd find in a Tamagotchi (I suspect it might be derived from what Gamze's own virtual pets used), but I mean ... it's something! It's not a Pop Station! It has graphics, and music, and programming, and they even gave it a story! So it goes, apparently a witch with the ability to transform into a hawk has stolen some kind of precious artifact from a town of blob-people, and when a couple of blobs set forth to recover it, she proceeds to kidnap one of them too. Nightmare! Fortunately, the remaining blob-person is filled with DETERMINATION and sets off on a journey to the witch's castle. And honestly, given the extreme hardware restrictions, this is all really cute and well-animated? The Finger Stinger is looking pretty good so far!

Start! Of course, this has all given no clue as to what the actual game will be like. There are two modes, so let's just dive into the first, "Story Mode", as the manual has it:

whoa wait what just happened

OH

IT'S WARIO WARE

yes! What the Finger Stinger ACTUALLY is is a standalone-handheld take on the Wario Ware concept, with minigames of a few seconds each, where a big part of the challenge is often figuring out what you're supposed to do before it's too late. This is rendered harder than in Wario due to the lack of any on-screen instructions, coupled with the low-res visuals sometimes making things less than clear (although, again, the artists have done a pretty damn good job with the limitations they were working within) but by the time the games have repeated a few times you'll probably be on top of most of them

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP

Hey here's an interesting quirk not found in Wario Ware! Gotta ROTATE THE CONSOLE

Yes, some of the games are played in portrait mode, and require you to rotate the console 90 degrees, Wonderswan-style, using the rotated D-pad in conjunction with the button next to it. And when I say require, I mean REQUIRE - the console actually has a sensor inside serving the sole purpose of making sure you rotate it in the correct orientation for the next minigame, and it will beep at you until you do it. Unfortunately, the cheap LCD was not particularly designed for multi-angle viewing, so the screen is usually rendered harder to see when you do this.

In total, there are indeed 50 of these minigames/minigamze, offering various timing-based challenges - some of them seem to be directly inspired by those in Wario Ware, while others are original. Every 10 points you get a bonus stage allowing you to earn back one of your 3 lives, and after 3 bonus stages you apparently get the chance to challenge the Ultimate Final Bonus Game (this is what the manual actually calls it). I say "apparently", because the "up" direction on my unit's D-pad is barely functional and requires a huge amount of force to register - literally finger-stinging! - which renders any game requiring that direction almost impossible to beat. Therefore, sadly, I've been thus far unable to reach the Ultimate Final Bonus Game and clear the Finger Stinger's challenge.

Now, there is one more mode here, and its menu looks like this:

The manual calls this "collection" mode, similar again to Wario Ware in that you unlock games here after playing them in Story mode. But with the slightly strange limitation that this mode actually just contains demos of each game being played, and doesn't allow you to actually play them? Seems like a missed opportunity, given that playable versions would have allowed you to both practice the games for the main mode and try for a high score on each. But that's the Wario way, not the Finger Stinger way, I suppose. wah

The Stinger does save your high scores in Story mode and games unlocked in Collection mode, but unfortunately it only does this using the AAA batteries inserted in the unit; it doesn't have a separate internal battery to keep the SRAM powered up. So whenever you need to replace the batteries, all your hard-earned(?) achievements(?) will be lost.

I have recorded a video of the Finger Stinger's intro and gameplay, which you can view here:

But wait! Didn't I also say I'd come back to Gamze International's YouTube channel? That's because they posted their OWN video of the Finger Stinger's gameplay, not filmed from a real unit but obviously using footage from whatever emulator was used to develop the system, superimposed over a mockup render of the hardware. Here's their video:

As you can see, there are differences! While all the graphics appear to be completely identical to the released version, the music is COMPLETELY different, using some kind of MIDI or FM audio miles ahead of the single-channel beeper found in the actual unit. Now this may have just been a mockup - perhaps the original recording was silent for whatever reason (emulator limitations or the sound just not being finished yet) and they just played some music from another source over the Finger Stinger gameplay footage. But it's also possible the Stinger was intended to have much more sophisticated sound hardware at some point, and it was cut down later to something cheaper and more in-keeping with its visuals. How mysterious!

Anyway, that's my overview of the Finger Stinger; I'm not going to catalogue all 50 minigames just yet (maybe later, if someone REALLY wants to see that) but it's a pretty neat little console! Definitely a cut above what I expected from a cheapo dedicated handheld from a company previously responsible for redesigned Pop Stations. Consider my fingers STUNG

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12 in 1 Colour Games Console

Posted by taizou at 2014-02-11 02:40:23 Misc handhelds, Jungletac

So I've covered the Game King previously as an example of a Chinese handheld with its own proprietary cartridge format - a bona fide almost-Gameboy in the tradition of the mighty Gamate and various others littering the pages of gaming history - but much (much) more common these days are the all-in-one type affairs, those which usually take the sort of hardware previously found in plug and play TV systems and forgo any kind of cartridge slot in favour of bundling a selection of pre-loaded games. One of the more successful in this field has been Jungletac, the company behind:

the 12 in 1 Colour Games Console! Yep, a games console in colour. Exciting. If it was 1997. Or if you've just been playing on a Game King, I suppose. This particular version was distributed by Premier Portfolio International, a UK based company seemingly engaged in the supply of overpriced crap for in-flight shopping catalogues and the like (although I got this one on eBay). The side of the box describes it as "fun for all ages" and claims "twelve arcade games in one", by the way, although that's the usage of the word "arcade" meaning "games that have never been anywhere near an arcade but they look like they sort of could have in a weird alternate version of the 90s".

Out of the box, the console now refers to itself as a "Classic Max Pocket", which is Jungletac's usual name for this line. As for the hardware, it's quite an unremarkable little design, sadly lacking in frills like a headphone port or TV out (other Jungletac handhelds do have them but it seems to be the distributor's choice whether to include them or not) but the d-pad is fine (if shiny; apologies for the fingerprints), the buttons are fine, and the screen is nice, as I will attempt to illustrate by taking a picture without the flash:

That's Jungle Soft's logo, by the way, Jungletac's name for their internal game development division; all the games here have a 2007 Jungle Soft copyright, although they have been known to outsource (particularly to Nice Code) so the games here may or may not be 100% their work - but I think they probably are. And those games are:

  1. Bubble Blaster - Just a Puzzloop clone. Or possibly a Zuma clone, which would make it a clone of a clone. Maybe you could even call it a Luxor clone if you like - there are just infinite onion layers of unoriginality where this game is concerned. Either way it's a fairly well-done implementation of the concept - the controls work nicely and it never feels like your balls are sticking in the wrong place like some of the lowlier clones, so no complaints here.
  2. Jewel Master - Columns clone! Actually judging from a few telltale elements (like the use of the word "Jewelry") it's probably a clone of Hwang Shinwei's unlicensed NES Columns clone Magic Jewelry (a common multicart staple back in the day). what is it with this thing and clones of clones? if it was still 2010 I might be inclined to use the word "cloneception" (but it isn't, so I won't (except just then))

  1. Night Wings - a horizontally scrolling shooter, pretty much like Scramble. Or exactly like Scramble, with better graphics and some irritating farty music.
  2. Space Castle - A Space Invaders clone. except there are some powerups and for some reason it's set in front of a rollercoaster.
  3. Move Fun - A Bejeweled-type game with a mouse, and some fruit, and the most generic name ever given to anything ever.
  4. Push the Box - Oh go on, guess. (it's a Sokoban clone)

  1. Hero Legend - Clone of Don Doko Don featuring someone who looks vaguely like Link. in red. This one suffers from some severe slowdown though, which is a shame.
  2. Win or Lose - Some kind of mad bastard Breakout where infinite balls just rain down at you from the top of the screen and you have to bat them away for points. Possibly an odd choice of name in that this is the only game in the system in which you can't win or lose, you always play for a fixed amount of time and just attempt to beat your high score.

  1. North Salvation - A Mr. Driller clone! Mr. Driller doesn't get cloned enough, honestly. This version is reframed as, I guess, someone digging in the Arctic for some reason, and instead of air capsules you have to collect heat capsules. Also all their efforts at disguising the game are kinda thwarted by the fact that they just went and put "Driller" at the top of the screen. Unfortunately it's waaayy too slow which kinda kills the fun of the original :(
  2. Mini Golf - pretty self-explanatory I think. mini golf game. it works.
  3. Hard Win - Another one of those names that tells you absolutely nothing about the game. Basically a stream of coloured balls come from a thing at the top, flow down a series of pipes and you have to move some pipes or flippers so they're sorted into the correct coloured jars. It's not as boring as I just made it sound.
  4. Gear Race - An overhead-view vertical racing game, sort of like Road Fighter except you can (and indeed should) just ram all the other drivers into the side of the road.

As per usual this also comes with a manual in a few different languages; the English version seems like it was written by at least two different people with wildly different levels of English proficiency, so Bubble Blaster has a nice coherent description in reasonable English and then Night Wings comes along with something like "This is continue to use the core game rule of the plane fire"

Anyway, I said I'd come back to the box, and here's why:

The back of the box has a selection of screenshots of the games' title screens, but some of the screenshots here actually contain considerably more detail than the versions displayed by the console. An easy one to compare is Space Castle since it's right there on the front; here's the box screenshot vs what it actually looks like:

This, coupled with the slowdown in a couple of the games, would seem to suggest they originally ran on more powerful hardware and have been ported down to whatever this thing runs; there are maybe five or more different variations of 16(ish) bit hardware used in Jungletac consoles, so presumably these screenshots show the original versions.

Also, like pretty much every Jungletac console, this thing holds a secret - hold down A and B when you turn the power on and you get this little self-test screen:

... So that's it! Not a bad little console really, although its selection of 12 games seems positively minimalist in comparison to later Chinese handhelds that come in closer to (and sometimes even above) the 100 mark. Which I'll have to cover at some point. And it'll take me ages. ;_;

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