A Big Step in the Right Direction

DreamGEAR is one of those companies that’s been steadily releasing affordable plug and play (as well as handheld and mini) hardware for years.  Well over a decade in fact.  So it’s a safe bet nearly everyone with even a modicum of interest in retro video gaming has had some experience with their vast array of MY ARCADE products.  I know I certainly have – from their Arcade Gamer V portable to the Retro Games 200 in 1 controller.

They often seem to get a bad rap from consumers expecting a SNES Classic Edition for sub-$40 investment only to end up disappointed with a selection of games that are either unheard of, unlicensed or sprite hacks of classic titles.

I’ve long championed the idea that if they could just secure some legit licensing, their bulletproof and affordable hardware would make for a very adequate platform upon which to run some classic video games.

It seems that time has arrived.  They managed to secure the rights to some of Data East’s biggest classic titles and bundled them up with a whopping 300 additional games in their Gamestation Wireless 8-bit plug and play hardware.

The $39.99 package includes a pair of identical 2.4GHz wireless RF controllers, the console itself with 308 pre-installed games, the composite TV hookups and a USB power cable for the system.  Interestingly, the console is designed with portability in mind and can be powered by four AA batteries should you find yourself playing without an available outlet or USB equipped TV.  For everyone else (including me), the ability to pop the included mini USB to standard USB cord into a cell phone charging adapter and plug it into the wall is a very welcomed edition to the formula indeed.

The controllers, however, are going to require batteries to operate.  Three AAAs for each.  Fortunately battery life (when used with middle-grade Rayovac alkalines as tested) seems to be excellent.

DreamGEAR wisely adopted the 2.4GHz RF wireless controllers (just as AT Games has with the Sega Genesis Flashback HD); which is light-years better than spotty infrared controllers that required a near perfect line-of-sight position before the console’s sensor to function.  In fact I’m pleased to report having encountered very few issues of latency across this massive library of games.  Another nice touch here (one where even Nintendo should take note) is the ability to reset the console and return to the game selection menu right from the center-mounted button on the controller.

The console itself is surprisingly compact.  Much like the NES Classic Edition, pictures don’t due the small form factor justice.  The hardware tucks away wonderfully in busy entertainment centers such as my own.

Booting it up reveals a whole host of lessons learned by DreamGEAR across countless generations of hardware.  The first game select screen offers you the eight Data East titles from which to choose: Bad Dudes, Breakthru, Caveman Ninja (Joe & Mac), Heavy Barrel, Side Pocket, B Wings, Karate Champ and Burger Time.  These are the NES ports of the games, of course, and the emulation for all is spot on.

Some may not recognize the title B Wings as it was never released to North American markets, instead having been ported from the Data East arcade game of the same name only to the Japanese Famicom.  It’s a top-down shooter, Data East’s very first entry to the Famicom library and a nice addition to this collection.

The second element of note that is incredibly welcome here, especially given the sheer size of the included library, is the addition of graphical thumbnails of each game on the left side of the screen.  This may not sound like much but it makes the process of determining which game you’re considering infinitely more approachable than units past, which simply provided a (often generic) name and nothing more.

So what about the 300 included games beyond the Data East classics you ask?  A majority of them seem to have appeared in various DreamGEAR hardware packages throughout the years – classic card games and tile puzzles, a Tetris clone, a new take on the classic Q-Bert formula.  You’ll find some sprite hacks to popular NES Arcade Series titles.  Given that you have 38 screens of 8-titles per page of games from which to select, there is truly a little bit here for everyone.

I personally found several enjoyable shooters in the mix, a pretty decent superhero adventure called Thunder Man (above) that harkens back to Sunsoft’s Batman games for the NES and both Curly Monkey games (below) are included in this collection as well.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, they are bright cartoony side-scrolling platformers perhaps worthy enough of a modern cartridge NES release by themselves.

All in all, I would be remiss to suggest there isn’t shovel-wear to be found here but at this price-point, it’s almost like you are buying the Data East titles (with a bonus release that never before saw American shores for good measure).  The remaining 300 titles are freebies; and there are a few really good ones along the way to boot.

While playing the console, I found myself continually impressed with the small attentions to detail that make this a marked improvement over hardware iterations past.  I suspect this will be the start of a trend for DreamGEAR to target legitimate software developers with libraries to license.  Nintendo has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a hungry plug and play retro games market out there, eager to relive the past on their modern displays.  The Gamestation Wireless Data East Hits package is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Jason Russell Jason Russell (10 Posts)

Jason Russell has been working in video game journalism since the early 1990s before the internet existed, the term "fanzine" had meaning and sailors still debated as to whether or not the earth was flat. More recently he has been the guy responsible for Thunderbolt Games' Under the Radar column as well as scribes for Game Skinny on a plethora of video game topics. He's somehow managed to author nine novels, writes and runs the blog CG Movie Review in his spare time. And sometimes, when the planets align and the caffeine has fully left his system, it's rumored he sleeps.