Monday, December 7, 2009

Tototek PCE Pro 32M PC Engine / Turbografx 16 Flash Cart Review

I recently ordered one of these cartridges because Tototek was having a sale on them, which incidentally is still going on as of this writing for those who are interested. The cart usually runs for $80 but will be $50 for the duration of this sale, which is a damn good bargain. For those who are for some reason reading this review without knowing what a flash cart is, it allows one to write ROM files from your computer onto a cartridge that you then place in the system and run more or less like a regular game.

One thing I want to get out of the way is to acknowledge that the PCE Pro 32M has one other competitor, the NEO Power PC-E Flash Cart. I do not have experience with this cart, but if you're looking for a PC Engine flash cart, know that this is your other option. The price is significantly higher - $99 for the 64 megabit model, $129 for the 128 megabit model, and $149 for a 128 megabit model with a save feature that would probably be handy for those who don't have a Duo. It seems to be a bit more stylish in looks than the Tototek model, and it also has a separate programmer that works via USB, which may make it your only option if your computer doesn't have a parallel port integrated into the motherboard. The Tototek cart I review here requires you to have this.

The system I am doing the testing on is a region-modified PC Engine Duo-R. It comes with a switch on the back that allows me to play US Turbografx games on the Japanese system. My system was purchased within the last couple months from Dean at Multimods. He performs the modifications to order so it does take time, but you get a quality system in nearly mint condition for far less than you'd spend on a US Turbo Duo system. His website isn't updated with the latest prices, but you have to contact him personally if you're interested in having one built anyhow. It took him about a week and change to modify mine, but it was well worth the wait as it plays Japanese and US games perfectly. I have tested the cart both in Japanese mode and US mode for the sake of this review. I will refer to everything from here by the Japanese names, but unless stated otherwise, the information will be relevant to all versions of the console.

THE BASICS

The first thing you will notice about the Tototek flash cart is that it's essentially a printed circuit board with a parallel port (for data transfer) and a USB-B connector (for power). I suppose if you were going for stylish, this might be a turn off, but it's a functional design. Compared with a HuCard/Turbochip game, it's a tiny bit thicker and requires a tiny bit more force to insert into the console. This also makes it sturdier than a standard PC Engine game; where you could potentially risk bending and ruining an original game, you have no risk of doing this with the flash cart. I store my cart in the anti-static bag it came with when it's not in the console. As far as convenience and handling go, you really won't notice much difference from it over a HuCard.



The cartridge comes with 32 megabits of flash memory. It does support the only 20 megabit game, which is Street Fighter II: Champion Edition. Other than this game, the biggest games for the PC Engine top out at 8 megabits. It supports up to 31 games being loaded at once, but you probably won't be able to fit that many unless you're purposefully loading 1 megabit-sized games. More reasonably you can expect to fit about 4-8 games on the cart at any one time, which is more than enough for the average player.

You interface with the cart by plugging it into your parallel port with a standard parallel cable. Power is supplied with a USB-B to USB-A cable. Neither cable comes with the cartridge, but you can find them at any online or brick and mortar electronics store, on eBay, or you can include them in your order from Tototek. You will also need to download (for free) a copy of the Dream Writer software to be able to write to the cart. I will cover this in more detail in the next section.

The cart is multi-region, meaning it will play on any system, but as far as I can tell, it does not allow you to play games from outside the region on your system. This is not because of a lockout chip, but because of the way the PC Engine and Turbografx 16 arrange their pins differently. If you want to read more about the region protection, this section of the Wikipedia Turbografx-16 article does a good job describing how it works. If you want to play out of region games, you're still going to either need a modified system or a converter like this. I attempted several US games with different settings with my modified system on Japan mode and they did not work unless I switched the system to US mode. The same was true of running Japanese games on US mode. Perhaps with a hex editor or another tool it's possible to patch a game to run on an out-of-region system, but I have not delved into that yet. If anyone has any information on that, post in the comments and I'll be happy to amend this review to include it.

One other interesting feature is the inclusion of a cheat mode. In order to use it, you must put in the cheat codes before you flash the cart. A switch on the cart allows you to turn the cheat mode on and off just like you would be able to on a Game Genie or other cheat device. Cheat codes for the PC Engine are significantly harder to get a hold of as there was no device similar to the Game Genie for the PC Engine available during the primary years of the system. You can find some cheat codes at the Tototek forum. You can also use the Magic Engine or Hugo emulators to search for values you want ot modify and create codes for yourself.

HOW TO USE

The PCE Pro 32M uses a parallel port to exchange data between your PC and the cart and a USB port to supply power. This may seem baffling as USB ports can also exchange data, but simply think of the USB as a universal power adapter; whereas different countries would require different AC adapters to achieve worldwide compatibility, all powered USB ports use the same connectors and the same amount of power. Use of the parallel port is a bit antiquated, but once you have the settings adjusted (you'll need to set your parallel port to EPP mode in the bios or it will not work) you probably won't have any more problems with it in the future. Unlike on other Tototek flash carts, the programmer is integrated into the flash card itself so you don't have to shell out extra bucks simply to be able to use the flash cartridge. The cart does hang a bit out of the system because of this but honestly, whatever, you're not playing a flash cart because of how it looks, you're playing it because you either want to play games that aren't normally available to you or because you want to play multiple games without having to flip carts in and out constantly and quite possibly for both reasons.




As with Tototek's other flash carts, there's a simple program you'll need to use to write files to the flash cartridge. The PCE iteration is called DreamWriter. Curiously, in order to install the latest version of the Dream Writer software, you have to use an installer to install version 1.4 and then copy over a binary of the 1.5 version into the folder. It's not that bizarre, but it resembles copying a cracked executable more than updating a program.



You'll find the program is easy to use with nothing really bizarre or out of place. In order to set cheat codes into a game, you'll have to double click the file before you flash it. This is also a way to edit various other settings, the most important of which is the US region flag which occasionally needs to be added to a game from the US and curiously occasionally doesn't.

This really is my major bone to pick with this cartridge and what has caused most of my delay in writing this article because I was trying to figure out what was wrong. I've found its use of the US region flag baffling at best and it really does require you to do some trial and error before even being able to program the cartridge. When I first used it I actually thought my cartridge wasn't working properly but after some trial and error I discovered that I had to set the US region flag specifically for certain games but not for others. When you're playing Japanese games on a Japanese console (or a US console with a region adapter) you won't have this problem, but for some reason you have to do this for certain US games.

In the interest of being thorough, I'll also state that even if you have a region modified console or a region adapter, you do not want to mix USA and Japanese games on the cartridge. There's simply no way that the cartridge will work as you can't simply flip between USA mode and Japan mode while the console is running.

When you're using the cartridge, the menu looks much like the one in the Tototek SNES flash cart. Blue background, white font, and a list of the games you have available to play. Simple, does the job, and works perfectly adequately. You can see the menu in action in the Youtube video I made at the bottom of the review.

I didn't explore the cheat function, but from what I have read on the Tototek forum, it seems like it works fine if you can either find a code for your cartridge or if you want to take the time to pinpoint values to create codes of your own. I've done this in the past, and it probably would only take 10 or 15 minutes to make one on an emulator after you've figured out how to do it.

CONCLUSION

I found the Tototek cartridge to do what it's intended to do - play ROM images of a game on its intended hardware. It does have the additional feature, previously unavailable on the PC Engine, to add a cheat mode to PC Engine games. It does not (and I imagine quite a few people might be looking for this feature) allow you to play ROMs from another region on your console unless your console is region modified or has a region adapter.

Some people may be initially put off by its appearance, which is to say how it is a bare PCB with various components added on, but I found it generally sturdier than a HuCard with the only real danger I could foresee being a careless gamer spilling liquids (but what gamer who's invested 200+ dollars in a PC Engine or Turbografx would let drinks near their system?) or the possibility of static. Handle it on the edges and keep it in the anti-static bag it comes in and I can imagine that it will probably last for years.

One other benefit, and this is more a benefit of the system than of the cart, is that while other systems have games that use memory mappers or additional chips that prohibit you from emulating them, as far as I know the PC Engine has none of these - so you're not going to find that a certain game you wanted to play doesnt' work on the cart. Every game in your region will work on here. This is more than any cart can say.

Do I have fun when I play with the cart? Yes. Does it seem to me like I'm playing it on an original cart when I'm playing a game? Yes. Do I recommend it? Yes. If you've read the whole article, you know far more about the cart than I did when I first purchased it, but you will have to do some trial and error to get every game working on it. It's a small price to play to be able to play some games that you otherwise would have to fork out some big dollars to be able to get a hold of. For whatever reason Turbografx games have skyrocketed in cost and I highly recommend this to people who do not want to shell out huge amounts of money to build a collection. I also recommend this to collectors who want to try out games before they spend the money on them.

THE TOTOTEK PCE PRO 32M IN ACTION:

This video was all done on real hardware, meaning this is what you will see if you put it in your system and play it on your television.


1 comment:

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