Attack of the Clones: A look at the FC-Compact and the Sega Megadrive Classic

Cheap clones of classic consoles abound on eBay...but are they any good?

The limited release of the Nintendo Classic Mini in 2016 revived the market for “retro-clone” consoles as people flocked to re-live the video games of their youth. Paleotronic acquired a couple of common clones from eBay in a quest to answer the question, “Are they any good?” Read on to find out…

FC-COMPACT

Clones!

While most clone systems seem to go for minimal aesthetic similarity, the FC Compact conjures up memories of the original Famicom.  Well, not so much memories, as I didn’t grow up with one.  Being in Australia we had access to the PAL version of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

There are a few differences though.  Where the Famicom had hardwired controllers, the FC Compact uses two standard (Atari style) 9-pin connectors for the controllers which might be a Godsend if one of them stopped working. Aside from that, it still has the cute slots on the side to dock the controllers when not in use, and the same off-white, gold and red trim that folks would remember.  It also lacks RF-Out in favour of composite video out (but I’m not that sure anyone would miss tuning in their TVs that much).

So, how does it fare? Well, I plugged it into an old CRT television for the most part which works quite well.  The picture is excellent and the colours are vibrant in all their NES / Famicom glory.  Initially I had to fiddle with the set as the signal was NTSC, and there is a distinct looseness on the video out connector.  A few times the picture displayed in black and white and I had to ‘jiggle’ the plug to get color.

The unit plays most games well.  It’s based on NOAC (NES On A Chip) so it has a problem with a few titles but 99 percent of titles will work fine.  Sound is generally good in most cases.  The biggest area of confusion is the button layout for the “A” and “B” buttons, which comes about because there are two of each arranged in a diamond configuration!  The D-Pad, select and start are all placed as expected though.  Maybe they expect button failures and it’s always handy to have a spare, right?  Generally the buttons feel as I would expect them to feel on an original unit.

The unit comes with some erm ‘built-in’ titles of dubious origin;  500 in fact, however the real benefit is being able to play the real 60 pin Famicom cartridges.  It’s important to note this as your old 72-pin NES carts will not work.  You have been warned.  Cartridges with battery backed up save also work fine in the unit, which is a plus.

Overall the picture quality and audio are excellent, and when plugged into our old CRT television, it reminded me of my childhood in the 1980s.  Considering the low price ($70) it’s definitely worth a look if you are having an issue sourcing the real system.

PROS:

  • Looks a lot like the real thing.
  • Decent emulation, video and sound courtesy of NOAC.
  • Good quality controllers. 
  • Plays real cartridges.

CONS:

  • Flaky video connector (might have been just our unit)
  • Potentially confusing A/B button layout.

overall: 7/10

SEGA MEGADRIVE CLASSIC

I have fond memories of getting an original generation Megadrive at a second hand store and being able to play so many cool games with it when I was at University.   It holds a special place in my heart for that reason. Later on I had a Megadrive II which while it was ok, never quite held the same allure as the original.

One option for reliving those days is the At Games has a Sega Megadrive Classic console, which comes with 81 built in games. 

Cosmetically, this is a stock standard At Games clone which means besides Sega Megadrive branding it doesn’t look much like the original.  It takes two controllers using the same connectors as the original system, but the controllers are a bit smaller than the stock Megadrive controllers. It has power and stereo AV connectors on the back, and the unit has a cartridge slot on the top which takes original cartridges.

This unit is officially licensed and as such contains 81 built in titles.  It has a lot of classics like Sonic I and II, Mortal Kombat I, II, III, the Golden Axe games but don’t expect to get 81 originally released games.  By my count, approximately 39 of the titles on here aren’t original Sega games, but seem to be public domain or other non-Megadrive games.

So, how does it stack up? Like a lot of Sega emulation nowadays this is based on the Firecore emulator.  For most part the gameplay is good, although the video out (composite) looked terrible on a flat panel TV and showed rolling interference.  Paradoxically it looks very good upon plugging it into a CRT television. 

Sadly, I wish the same could be said of the audio, but unfortunately it seems slightly distorted and some music seems off key and reminded me quickly that it was just an emulation.  I should remark  that I was never a fan of the Genesis II audio either as they went from a dedicated Yamaha chip to a system on a chip.  Perhaps this is something that can be improved in future versions.

As to the cartridge slot, it seems to work fine, although was a little tight at first.  Looney tunes and Sunset Riders (two games that we had to hand), worked fine in there.  Overall it does what it sets out to do, but lacks a little polish in the audio.

PROS

  • A good selection of classic titles
  • CRT video quality was excellent
  • Controllers ok, can be replaced with originals

CONS

  • Filler games make up the 81
  • Audio emulation could stand to improve
  • Video looks washed out and has interference on a flat panel.

overall: 5/10

 

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