Handheld Underground

Zook to the Future

posted by taizou @ 2024-05-01 00:00:00 Dumps

Back in 2007, the dumping group Sky League announced a certain game to be released on May 1st of that year.

But that release never happened. And the game has remained elusive. Until now! 17 years later to the day, we can finally bring you:

路克英雄傳3 / Lu Ke Ying Xiong Chuan 3 / Zook Hero 3
aka SUPER洛克人 / Super Luo Ke Ren / Super Rockman

Dumped by dhx and yy小龙虾, many thanks to you both!

This is a game with many names, but the one that might have grabbed your attention is "Zook Hero 3". That would make it the third entry in Vast Fame's Zook series! Vast Fame themselves had released Zook Hero Z and Zook Hero 2 for GBC, and then Zook Man ZX4 for GBA, and that was it. But that seems to leave a gap in the numbering, doesn't it? So is this a long-lost game from Vast Fame?

Well... not exactly. The team that stepped up to fill the gap was not Vast Fame themselves, but Sintax. So this is a Zook game, but it's not exactly a true Zook game. As far as I can tell, Sintax probably had permission to make it; they had a relationship with Vast Fame, being part of the same group of companies linked to Gamtec, and there is precedent of their collaboration in the form of Sintax's GBA titles, which made use of Vast Fame's sound driver and music. Also, if there was any doubt that it is supposed to be a Zook game, and not just another Mega Man clone, the box for the Taiwanese release of the game actually says "Zook Hero" in English.

This game was released in 2004, when Sintax was past their prime, but hadn't quite descended into the lows they'd reach in the subsequent years. Accordingly, it does make a serviceable effort to mimic Mega Man (but not Mega Man X) gameplay, and makes the fairly neat addition of a Metroid-style morph ball move. But it inevitably doesn't come anywhere close to reaching the high standards of Vast Fame's original Zook games. The music is taken directly from the official Game Boy Mega Man 2, so it at least comes from an appropriate source, but that is considered one of the poorer soundtracks in the series and again it doesn't really match up to Yishen Liao's work on the original Zook games.

Of course, Sintax would never pass up an opportunity to recycle a game, and this one would be reworked into the already-dumped Metal Slug game Yuenan Zhanyi X, but that version is actually cut-down and simplified from the original, lacking a stage select, save system and subscreen. Another reskin based on Crazy Arcade retained these elements. however. Sintax would then go onto produce a more tenuously-linked fifth game, Luo Ke Ying Xiong EXE5 aka Luo Ke Ren X5, which was simply a reskin of their previous Castlevania title.

But, regardless of quality, this is still a semi-official entry in one of the most famous unlicensed Game Boy series, and undeniably a significant work as a result, with a ROM dump being sought-after ever since it was first teased by Sky League. So I'm incredibly grateful to both dhx and yy小龙虾 for making it possible to bring this game back to the world, and finally fill a longstanding gap in the Game Boy canon.

Note that in this case, we don't have a raw dump, only a pre-cracked version. In order to play it on hhugboy you'll need to set unlicensed compatibility mode to "disabled", as it's not able to auto-detect that it's not protected. Other emulators and flash carts should support it with no problems.


Lu Ke Ying Xiong Chuan 3 (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip


We also have some scans from yy小龙虾, this is the mainland Chinese "Super Rockman" release. The title screen and game content is identical in all versions.


The jame's bond. Games Bond

posted by taizou @ 2022-09-19 18:44:51 Dumps

It's that time again! Sintax time! It's always Sintax time around here.

Big thanks to Robyn who dumped and scanned all of these!

Jue Dui Wu Li (絕對武力)

This one is commonly referred to in English as "James Bond" or "007", which makes sense when you look at the intro, tuxedo-wearing spy front and centre on the cover art, "007" graphic on the status bar and game over screen, and so on. But the name Sintax gave it, 絕對武力, literally "absolute force", seems to have nothing to do with James Bond whatsoever, it isn't a Chinese title for any of the Bond films, nor any kind of reference I could figure out. Instead it's the Chinese name for... Counter-Strike. OK sure! Counter-Strike was huge back then and I suppose they wanted to flip their Bond game into a CS one last-minute, similarly to how they disguised a Metroid game as an Ultraman one, only this time they didn't manage to pull together a more appropriate cover. James Bond, a Terminator and two anime girls?! I thought this was Counter-Strike, not Fort-*is killed instantly*

For real though I think the two foreground characters were drawn by an in-house Sintax artist, or at least a freelancer they regularly commissioned, since similarly styled art appears on some of their other releases and doesn't seem to be obviously yanked from somewhere. And I like it, honestly! Is the public ready for an anime Bond? The Queen is dead, anything could happen!

Much like Ultra-Metroid it's a reskin of the not-so-old not-so-reliable Yue Nan Zhan Yi 3, quickly becoming one of late-era Sintax's faves down at the recycling plant. Curiously, the character sprite gives off more Terminator vibes than Bond, which is maybe why they put one on the cover? As if they were originally making a Terminator game, then decided to turn it into a Bond game, then at the absolute last minute decided to rename it as a Counter-Strike game. And Sintax did, at least, file copyrights for 007 and Terminator games, but I don't know if they ever actually released anything under those names for the GBC, or if those filings were just artifacts of this game's confused heritage.

GBX: Jue Dui Wu Li (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Raw: Jue Dui Wu Li (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Cracked: Jue Dui Wu Li (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (外星探險の星球大戰)

Hey it's a Star War! Do they still make those things?

Here we have yet another shake of the Yue Nan Zhan Yi 3 tree, but someone at Sintax finally got tired of hearing that GBC Lemmings music and decided to rip something else - so we now get to fight through the galaxy to the sounds of... Gradius! Yeah! It's a late Sintax game with a good and appropriate soundtrack!? Miraculous! And again, the cover art seems to be original, from the same artist as the previous game. I really love their smug anime Yoda.

Despite the source game being gun-based, they gave the protagonist here a lightsaber, which shoots out projectiles when they swing it, but I think the result looks pretty cool. 3-way spread-shot lightsabers! Disney are you listening? disclaimer: they might have already done it, I stopped paying attention to Star Wars about 20 years ago

GBX: Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Raw: Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Cracked: Wai Xing Tan Xian Zhi Xing Qiu Da Zhan (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

forple also uploaded scans of the box, manual and cart here along with their own dump, so be sure to check those out too!

Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (異形VS鐵血戰士)

Alien vs Predator, except in this game they're both playable characters, along with a human (who seems to be based on Linn Kurosawa from Capcom's arcade game), and the enemies are all aliens regardless of who you pick. So it's more like alien + predator + human vs other aliens. This is probably the original incarnation of Mo Shou Shi Ji: Zhan Shen, the World of Warcraft game, since that one still has "AVP" in its header. Honestly it's not very good! The first couple of levels are boringly straightforward and the rest are boringly mazelike, each character only has one attack and no powerups, and of course the music is from GBC Lemmings.

GBX: Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Raw: Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Cracked: Yi Xing VS Tie Xue Zhan Shi (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Robyn also dumped Chao Ren Te Gong Dui from one of the half-size GBA-like carts, but it matches my dump from last time, so I just added her cart pic to that post.


Super zeroes

posted by taizou @ 2022-07-18 22:20:41 Dumps

The last few posts here have taken us on a rare and exciting trip into Vast Fame town, but, well, nothing lasts forever. Except, of course, for Sintax's game library. So we're back here again, once more taking a dive, Scrooge McDuck like, into that seemingly bottomless pit of brightly-coloured cartridges. Sorry to do this to you in pride month hangover month but my sporadic posting habits on here have long since drifted free of any anchoring in real-world festivities. (Remember when I actually timed releases for Christmas hahahaha yeah)

Today's selection comes from the later era of Sintax's Game Boy Color development, around 2004-2005, firmly in their "decline" period, so don't expect peak quality or anything. There isn't really a theme beyond that, but I did realise after putting this post together that 3 of them have titles referring to some kind of "super man" (超人) in Chinese, so you could pretend that was intentional.

Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (瘋狂阿給Ⅲ-超級炸彈人)

Big thanks to Lady Bluestreak for buying this one! This is one of the more distinctive of Sintax's later efforts, being an honest-to-god Bomberman clone and not just a bad generic platformer or rehash of something from previous years. The main title alludes to "Crazy Arcade", a longstanding online game, and the ingame sprite does seem to resemble its characters, but they also hedged their bets a bit with the label depicting a regular-style Bomberman and a subtitle translating to "Super Bomberman".

(It's also one of their later GBC releases that shipped in GBA-sized carts, mostly seen in the Taiwanese market, meaning it's only physically compatible with GBA & GBA SP despite actually being a GBC game)

The classic Bomberman gameplay is present here, but it comes off a little more exploration-focused since you have these big open scrolling levels and you need to find 3 keys in each to unlock the exit, which you also need to find. It's quite apparent also that, despite the change in gameplay and perspective, this game is at least somewhat based on the same codebase as Sintax's contemporary late platform games, featuring the same odd palette shift when you pause the game, the same GBC Lemmings music and even some leftover graphics from those games in the ROM.

Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Feng Kuang A Gei III - Chao Ji Zha Dan Ren (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Wang Zu Tian Tang (王族天堂)

I THINK this one is based on the MMORPG Lineage, which is called 天堂 in Chinese, but I don't know enough about Lineage to substantiate that. Game-wise it's a straight reskin of Sintax' old Star Wars game, which is... alright!

Wang Zu Tian Tang (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Wang Zu Tian Tang (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Wang Zu Tian Tang (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (超人特工隊 / 超人特攻队)

The Incredibles, unfortunately, have been cursed to appear in an iteration of Sintax's Bad Late Platformer Engine, which most commonly hosts Pokemon games like The Original Pokemon Platinum, but has also counted Sonik the Coolhog among its victims. You can pick from 3 characters which all play the same and all have a seemingly non-functional MP gauge, and then you have to search for the exit in a handful of mazelike platformer levels, before fighting a final boss which may or may not be from the movie (which I haven't seen). Naturally GBC Lemmings music plays throughout all of this.

Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Chao Ren Te Gong Dui (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip

Update 2022-09-19: Added pic of the alternate GBA-sized cart, thanks to Robyn, she also dumped that cart & we confirmed it matches my existing dump

Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (閒蛋超人 / 咸蛋超人)

Finally, this is a particularly weird one. It seems pretty obvious that they set out to make a Metroid game here, with an intro and character sprite depicting Samus, and a plot resembling Metroid Fusion's. But at some point they decided to switch gears, for some reason, turning it into "Ultraman" simply by replacing the title screen and nothing else. And if you were hoping they might've at least rehashed their Metroidvania-like Castlevania game for this attempt... well, no, it's just the Metal Slug clone Yue Nan Zhan Yi 3 with the sprites replaced and the level order changed around.

Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (Unl) (Chn) [C] [GBX].zip
Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Raw].zip
Xian Dan Chao Ren - Ultraman (Unl) (Chn) [C] [Cracked].zip


Prohibido jugar con Giles

posted by taizou @ 2022-05-05 21:08:44 Dumps

This day has been a long time coming. Almost 12 years ago I imported a batch of rare games from Taiwan in the hope that I could just stick them in my newly-purchased EMS GB Transferer, dump them, and produce a ROM image that would immediately work in emulators, just as you could with any conventional, licensed Game Boy game. But, in the end, the only thing I was able to do was extract a single game from a multicart, Shi Kong Xing Shou. Of course, that was nothing to be sniffed at - it's a very good game that had been undumped until that point - but that still left a failure rate of over 75%, which was naturally a little disappointing.

Soon enough I'd learn why those dumps didn't work - copy protection, in short - and in the decade-and-a-bit since then, I've learned a whole lot, and dumped and emulated many many games with protection and other odd mappers, including the full entire multicart that Shi Kong Xing Shou had come from. But two from that early batch still eluded me: a pair of fighting games, developed by the well-regarded Taiwanese developer Vast Fame, probably the most-wanted yet most-elusive unlicensed Game Boy games out there. Unlike every other Vast Fame GBC game, these hadn't seen more easily-dumped re-releases on multicarts or by other publishers, instead remaining locked away behind the company's own custom protected mapper.

Vast Fame's history with the Game Boy fighting genre goes back possibly as far as King of Fighters '97, the hack of Takara's Nettou King of Fighters '96 which reintroduces the missing characters from Nettou KOF '95, as well as adding a fancy new SGB border. I believe this hack predates Vast Fame as an entity, but it does seem to have some connection to them or their staff, and all their subsequent fighting games were based on it.

Next came Super Fighters S, aka Super Fighters '99, aka Fighter 2000. This took the KOF '97 hack as its foundation, but built a whole new game around it, including new music, new stages, a new intro, full GBC support, and new characters, with its roster coming from the real KOF '97. It was one of the first games developed by Vast Fame as we know it, released in either 1998 or 1999, and although the original version didn't explicitly credit them on the packaging nor in-game, it does feature the V.fame boot logo which would appear in their subsequent own-brand releases.

From there, Vast Fame would go on to pump out a new fighting game for GBC every year until 2002 - and, relevantly here, the rest of those games adopted the same copy protection they'd use for the majority of their subsequent self-published games in Taiwan. So of course I've had my sights on reverse engineering and emulating this practically ever since I first thought "hey what if I made my own emulator" back in 2013 - but I never got anywhere until an extremely unlikely hacked-together software & hardware combination bore fruit earlier this year.

And so: finally, after all these years, hhugboy 1.4.0 supports most of Vast Fame's Taiwanese releases from around 2000 onwards, including those stubborn two fighting games and a whole lot more! But for today's releases we'll be sticking with the fighters. Let's rumble?!

Nü Wang Ge Dou 2000 (女王格鬥2000)

With the new millennium came Vast Fame's true debut on the gaming scene in Taiwan, firmly stepping away from their former semi-anonymity with the introduction of their double-diamond logo and custom cart shell. Nü Wang Ge Dou 2000 (loosely translatable as Queen Fighters 2000) would be their first fully own-brand fighting game, and they really came out strong with this one. As you might have surmised by now, it was their take on an all-female fighting game, no doubt taking inspiration from SNK Gals Fighters for the Neo Geo Pocket Color (the internal header name literally is "Gals Fighters") but Vast Fame at that time had quite a few women in key development roles, so they may well have pushed for it internally too.

Now, Super Fighters S was cool and all, but ultimately it was just the foundation of the Nettou KOF series taken to its logical conclusion, an imaginary "real" Nettou KOF '97 for GBC. And yeah it was well-done, with a bunch of quality audiovisual work put into it, but the nature of the thing meant it could only exist in KOF's shadow. This, on the other hand, was peak Vast Fame breaking out from the confines of imitation, with a brand new original 16-character roster, big expressive NGPC-style sprites and a whole new soundtrack from composer Yishen Liao. And the result is really leagues ahead of Super Fighters S in terms of the amount of distinctive Vast Fame style and personality and charm that shines through as a result.

Unfortunately, the larger sprites do come at a cost: the extra time taken to copy them to VRAM takes an extra frame, making animations noticeably choppier. It's still not as bad as, say, the Game Boy version of Street Fighter 2, but it's a very clear illustration of the tradeoffs that developers had to make in order to pull off a fighting game on the system; either you can have snappy responsive gameplay or nice big sprites but not both.

As I mentioned in the intro, for whatever reason this game doesn't seem to have seen widespread secondary releases in other regions, aside from being distributed by Kong Feng in apparently untouched form in mainland China. So this version is, probably, the only one that exists. And now you can play it! (Note as with all these releases it'll only work in hhugboy for the time being, until such time as other emulators implement support for it)

Nv Wang Ge Dou 2000 (Unl) [C] [GBX].zip
Nv Wang Ge Dou 2000 (Unl) [C] [Raw].zip

Chao Ji Ge Dou 2001 Alpha (超級格鬥2001α)

This one is a straight-up followup to Super Fighters S, with its name translating to Super Fighters 2001 Alpha. As such, it reverts back to being Basically A KOF Game, but presumably the standards of VF's own-label releases didn't allow them to quite commit to an outright copy-job, so all characters are recoloured in the artwork and their names changed to random shit like "Oswald" and "Jason".

This time we have 24 characters, with a roster loosely based on KOF '99, except with not-Rugal appearing as final boss, and Dina and Cio making a welcome return from Queen Fighters. Again it has bigger-than-Nettou sprites with the attendant performance issues, although the NGPC aesthetic is dropped here in favour of something partway between the chibi Nettou style and full-on human proportions. Perhaps inevitably, the non-original characters and more-realistic sprites result in a game that doesn't quite have the same charm as Queen Fighters, but it's all still very well-presented, there is a cool new Yishen Liao soundtrack and a cool intro and a cool title screen and all. Another unique addition for this one is a training mode where you can practice your moves against an inert CPU character.

Once again, this game doesn't seem to have had any kind of altered secondary release, just an untouched Kong Feng one & that's all. I really wonder why that happened - if Vast Fame was more precious about these games for some reason, or if other publishers just weren't interested... but surely this one had at least had the whole "just rename it to KOF and sell it as a KOF" potential? I dunno. It was a weird business.

Chao Ji Ge Dou 2001 Alpha (Unl) [C] [GBX].zip
Chao Ji Ge Dou 2001 Alpha (Unl) [C] [Raw].zip

Ge Dou Jian Shen (格鬥劍神) - Soul Falchion

And finally! This batch of releases comes to an end with the very last fighting game from Vast Fame. If you aren't familiar with Soul Falchion, it's a weapons-based fighting game heavily influenced by Last Blade and Samurai Shodown, specifically the Neo Geo Pocket Color entries in those series, with most (or all?) of its 20 characters being based on those games. However, the sprites are actually downsized to fit the smaller Nettou KOF-style proportions, undoing the performance downgrade of the previous two games and making the whole thing feel more responsive again.

So, gameplay-wise this might actually be an improvement on the previous two, but unfortunately it's otherwise quite obvious that it came after Vast Fame's creative peak - there isn't any original character art to be found, for example, the intro is just a slideshow of character portraits edited from the NGPC games without any animation. Overall it's still a solid game and there are even still some good new music tracks here, it just doesn't quite live up to the standards of their earlier work.

Another pretty clear sign of something being up, though, is the fact that Vast Fame's name is totally absent - there's no credit to them anywhere in-game nor on the packaging, and even the "V.fame" boot logo which was present ever since the otherwise-anonymous Super Fighters S has been replaced with "SOUL". This would be the case for all of their subsequent games even as they moved onto GBA, with their only known credited release in 2002 being Xin Feng Shen Bang. So this period marks Vast Fame slipping back into the background after their couple of years in the sun.

Now, other versions of Soul Falchion have been dumped for a long time, because unlike the prior two games, it received a large number of secondary releases, often with reduced or no copy protection. It also appeared on Vast Fame's multicarts, again with no protection, which I dumped and extracted a while ago. Why this one and not the others? Who knows! However, none of those versions exactly match this standalone Taiwanese cartridge. The common dump, sourced from a mainland China release, has a different title screen and buggy fade effects in the intro. The multicart version meanwhile seems to be an earlier revision, with the soundtrack from Super Fighters 2001 Alpha in place of the partially-unique one found in standalone releases, and all the characters having different palettes. So I think we can probably consider this new dump to be the "definitive" version.

Ge Dou Jian Shen - Soul Falchion (Unl) [C] [GBX].zip
Ge Dou Jian Shen - Soul Falchion (Unl) [C] [Raw].zip


hhugboy v1.4.0 release & status update

posted by taizou @ 2022-03-21 23:44:52 hhugboy

This was never supposed to happen! The hhugboy project was never supposed to go on this long. I never wanted to be an emu dev at all; this little fork was a means to an end, a way to get these games playable somehow at a time when Game Boy emulation had stagnated. Of course, Game Boy emulation has long since un-stagnated, hhugboy's limitations and inaccuracies only became more apparent with the passing years, and the idea of knocking it on the head and contributing future mappers elsewhere has been floating around my useless brain for a fair while. But, well, I'm a creature of habit, it's easier to just shove more mappers into the framework I've created to keep getting these things supported, and so it has persisted.

Meanwhile. An experimental idea I had a few years ago, of bolting gblinkdx to hhugboy, in order to proxy mapper/protection-related reads and writes through to an actual cartridge, actually worked and I did indeed get a few unemulated games running using this technique. For gameplay this is pretty useless; not only is it dog slow, but its requirement of a very rare game cartridge plus a specific combination of obsolete, modern and custom hardware renders it inaccessible for most. Its true value is as a reverse engineering technique - by observing the reads and writes done to the mapper as the game runs, it becomes much easier to figure out the logic behind what is happening, and then in theory you can proxy less and less through to the real cartridge, replacing it with emulation, until eventually the cartridge is not required at all.

That unholy fusion leaves hhugboy now in the position of being one of my key reverse engineering tools as well as a functional emulator, so it's gained a new lease of life that way and become a little bit harder to shake off once again. Sorry about that.

And, naturally, all of this means I'm releasing a new version today, version 1.4.0.

This includes hooks for the gblink integration, but I haven't directly embedded the whole thing into the emulator for various reasons (mostly licensing), instead hiving it off to a library called libgblink. I've also overhauled the visual rumble feature, fixed some issues around saving (notably in MBC2 games) and made a bunch more behind-the-scenes changes mostly to clean up mapper-related code a bit.

But, don't worry, this isn't only a bugfix and self-indulgent fuckaround release. There is one new mapper supported in this version, the first I was able to implement using the gblink technique. And it's a big one. This is the one I've been waiting for for YEARS. I won't name names until the ROM releases though. I mean obviously you can find out if you want to, but it won't be written upon the official HHUG Blog Scrolls until Next Time...