10 Minute Review: Mario Kart Arcade GP

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What follows is my “10 Minute Review” of Mario Kart Arcade GP / GP2

Mario Kart Arcade GP -> KLOV LInk
Mario Kart Arcade GP2 -> KLOV Link

Acquisition

One of my cabinets came by way of a hookup through a friend in Birmingham. This cabinet still has a stock tag on it from asset inventory or from an auction perhaps. The inclusion of an NSN number leads me to suspect it may have spent some time on a military base or perhaps it just passed hands through an auction authority that frequently deals with US Government or Military items.

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The other cabinet came by way of a miniature golf closure in Southern Mississippi. Both cabinets are in good shape, they have a few cabinet repairs here and there and some scuffs in artwork or missing decals.

Hardware

The game is based on the Namco, Sega, Nintendo Triforce platform. Typically a IBM power PC w/ 512mb of RAM roughly similar in architecture to the Nintendo Gamecube. The cabinet is a JVS wiring class, includes a Triforce CPU, a JVS IOS Interface Board, a force-feedback controller board & sound amp.

This game also includes Namco’s Namcam(2) camera, a gimmick to snap photos of the player to be used in leaderboards or as in-race identifiers to distinguish players from bot-racers.

The game originally shipped with a 29” CRT but I was forced to put in Wells-Gardner (the video mentions Vision Pro but my memory for these details is crap) 27” LED Monitors in order to get support for Mario Kart Arcade GP2.

GamePlay

The gameplay shares similarity in racing dynamics to the console Mario Kart games with key differences and Namco cross-licensed characters (pacman, ms pacman). The original game advertised 6 worlds and 24 tracks but they phoned-in the effort in that each world really only had two track variations and then environment or reverse traffic flow on those two comprising the remaining 12 tracks.

Mario Kart Arcade GP2 expands the track offering by adding deeper variation between tracks, bringing the total up to 8 cups & 32 tracks.

Maintenance, Value, Rarity, Fun-Factor

These games are pretty rare and tended to be higher maintenance games when placed on location because of camera failures and force-feedback failures.

I’m not sure what they are worth but I have roughly $1400 in the Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 upgrade, roughly $900 in the monitors, $400 in force feedback repairs on top of an average price paid of over $3,000 each. With incidental repairs I’d put the total cost of ownership in the pair a little over $9,000. After about 4 years of ownership they continue to be the most-played-arcade games in our game room. Pinball-inclined friends like to comment:

“You could put three pinball machines in the amount of space these consume”

With that out of the way, I estimate that the Mario Kart Pair has gotten more play in four years than every Pinball machine I’ve owned over that amount of time; combined.

It isn’t just kids and friends of kids, either. Adults have been known to use it as a form of rock-paper-scissors or as a sobriety scale. (Legal Disclaimer: Accuracy of Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 to determine a person’s ability to drive safely has not been established)

Is it fun? Yep.

Review Shenanigans

In the coming weeks I’m posting a series of arcade and pinball reviews of games that are currently being fostered in the basement. Ten minutes (+/- a few minutes) with each game to talk about gameplay, maintenance or whatever comes to mind.

As I post them, I’ll go back and make the game entries below clickable.

Pinballs

Star Trek: The Next Generation
Attack from Mars
Medieval Madness
Indiana Jones The Pinball Adventure
Scared Stiff
Tales of the Arabian Nights

Arcades

Cocktail Table Arcade-SD Multigame
Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 - Review completed on 4/19/19
Ms Pacman (Cabaret)
Centipede (Cabaret)
Donkey Kong (Multi Kong w/ Arcade-SD)
Namco Reunion
Tapper
Tron
Q*Bert (Mylstar FPGA)
Robotron (Multi-Williams FPGA)
Tempest
Mortal Kombat 4 (and MK1, MK2, MK3 w/ RiddledTV Switcher)

Console

Nintendo Entertainment System Online (Nintendo Switch Online Service)

Star Wars Episode 9, Rise of Skywalker Teaser

Get your Star Wars Episode 9 Teaser Trailer on:

Hope this one wraps up the Skywalker Saga in a satisfying way! My expectations have been low on the Star Wars front lately but maybe, just maybe there will be a strong finish?

 

Galaxy’s Edge Disney Land Officially Opens May 31, 2019
Galaxy’s Edge Disney World Officially Opens August 29, 2019

Meanwhile, I believe the line for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World is starting to form along Florida’s I75. Just look for this sign:

I believe an attendant is near this sign and will give you a queue-timing card on a neck lanyard in order to keep the wait times accurate. ;)

The speculated 6+ hour wait times  sound like fun for the whole family! 🥺

The speculated 6+ hour wait times sound like fun for the whole family! 🥺

 

Speaking of movies…

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As of several weeks out, Avengers: Endgame is sold out for opening night and opening weekend at premium theater experiences everywhere.

With the iconic MCU Phase 1 conclusion in early summer and Skywalker Saga completion in winter, a new streaming service launching in November, park tickets & hotel lodging with parking fees, $5 bottled water and $20 cheeseburgers: Disney gets all of the money in 2019.

In a growth-predicated economy with investor-beholden incentives what then do you do in 2020, if you are the The Mouse?

 

..lots of butts in seats, eating popcorn.. maybe they should have bought Orville Redenbacher too?

ah, nevermind then.  carry on.

ah, nevermind then. carry on.

Upcoming Events..

Added two upcoming events to the Calendar, Pinball in Pelham 4 (Plus!) and of course, Southern Fried Gameroom Expo.

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Remember, SFGE is in July this year instead of June.

If you are planning on attending SFGE from the Gulf Coast, this year and want some help loading / unloading games - send me a message. I try to take an extra day or two off work to help all of the kiddos get loaded and unloaded for the trip and set back to their homes when done.

I believe we have a volunteer to drive up a U-Haul this year and their may be room on the truck for any that want to chip in. Ideally, I’d like it so the person renting and driving has their gas & rental covered for the trip. It’s the east we can do for being stow-aways on the journey. :)

Whether you are bringing a game or just interested in having a great time; if you have never been to SFGE, I highly recommend it! The organizers are some of the most awesome people you will ever meet and it is an epic weekend of gaming goodness and camaraderie.

Check out some of my previous trips logs and pictures:

SFGE 2016

SFGE 2017

SFGE 2018

Pinball at Game Over Retro Pub

Charlie getting the games ready for League Play

Charlie getting the games ready for League Play

Good turnout, 11 players showed for this play outing.

Good turnout, 11 players showed for this play outing.

The Yin & Yang of an Arcade bar

The game selection at Game Over in Mobile is comprised of a mixture of 1 part barcade-owned titles and 2 parts on-loan from private collections. It is neat to see the collaboration of the local collecting community & the commercial barcade endeavour co-exist in this way. Kind of a Yin & Yang, Feng shui thing or maybe I’m mixing my Asian philosophical metaphors. I didn’t see Tsing Tao on a tap handle FWIW..

The Arcades..

There are some cool arcade titles… . The highlights of which for me were mostly-working but playable Silent Scope Dark Silhouette, a Ms. Pacman / Galaga Reunion, Soul Calibur, a Neo-Geo, Cruisin USA, TMNT and some boilerplate multicades that seem to get some love.

I believe everything is on .50c per play.

A few games stood out in disrepair, though. The multicade in a Centipede cabinet was sort of a bummer. The NBA Jam was hard to see (LCD monitor with limited viewing angles). House of the Dead 2’s guns were out of alignment making it unplayable. Lots of dark marquees. I suspect the respective game owners are working on these things, though. In fairness, they’ve been on location for about a month so there is still time to get in and get a working baseline on everything.

The Yang: Finishing a game on 1 credit. :)

The Yang: Finishing a game on 1 credit. :)

The Yin: Games in need of repair

The Yin: Games in need of repair

In all fairness, the arcades that are here are still an order of magnitude better than what our local coin op are pawning out to Pizza places & bars. This isn’t a museum, it is a bar with trade stimulators along the outer wall. The measurement for the win-condition should be: Is it Playable? Is it Frustrating to Play? Most games were playable, so that’s a positive step forward, right?

… right?
.. anybody?
(clears throat)

 

The Pinballs..

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The Pinball Machines (on loan from a private collection) include some awesome titles and are in very good condition after a month of play. Much better than any operator-owned games I’ve seen on the Gulf-Coast thus far.

The current titles are:

Star Trek: The Next Generation
No Good Gophers
NBA Fastbreak
Black Pyramid
Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure
Revenge from Mars

It is pretty rare to see some of these Bally-Williams titles on the street, taking quarters. Get out there and feed them while you can. :)

 

Thirsty?

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The only thing I see in this picture is a Guinness handle. It is like those laser-art pictures in the mall from 90’s.

The only thing I see in this picture is a Guinness handle. It is like those laser-art pictures in the mall from 90’s.

 
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Game Over Retro Pub were gracious hosts. The tournament coincided w/ their open-mic night so we enjoyed some home-grown jams while we played.

However, they were..

out of Guinness. (dun, dun, duuuuuuun!)

I think there is a law against having “pub” in your name and not having Guinness? But.. I’ll allow it (this time) considering proximity to St. Patty’s Day & Mardis Gras. The Mobilians were thirsty last week I guess..

(Chants): Guinness of Health!

 

err..umm.. what happened? Sorry, I lost you for a minute in a tasty extra-stout day-dream… . where were we?

Oh, right.. Back to stumping for our friends at Game Over Retro Pub for all of the good things they did… . Plenty of drinks to choose from and a simple menu that will take you back to the hungry snackbar along the bike-route to your neighborhood arcade. Cheez Whiz, ya’ll.

If you are local to the Mobile, Alabama area you should stop into Game Over Retro Pub. Order a drink and a tasty sandwich, cheese fries and get some quarters from the bar. The place has a great vibe, friendly staff and a neat location in Downtown Mobile.

On the-book-of-faces: https://www.facebook.com/gameoverretropub/
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/vGgoZUx45A62

The Tournament

Charlie brought his A-game and schooled us in the A-Tournament with Black Pyramid and Indy acting as the deciding matches.

Pro Tournament Standings: https://matchplay.events/live/v1gr0/standings
Pro Tournament Matches: https://matchplay.events/live/v1gr0/matches


Mike Cast rolled up the Novice matches, undefeated in head-to-head play for the night

Novice Tournament Standings: https://matchplay.events/live/qbxnw/standings
Novice Tournament Matches: https://matchplay.events/live/qbxnw/matches

This is a series… informally.. so the series standings are as follows:
https://matchplay.events/live/series/913

Donkey Kong: The Re-Kongening

Not a restoration log… Maybe….a player’s revival log?

I got my first project cabinet a little over 5 years ago. It was a mostly-empty Nintendo cabinet with no monitor, a non-wide, unpopulated Mario Bros control panel and an incomplete power brick. I wasn’t looking for a project at the time and this one was bound for the landfill before it was diverted to my garage.

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The cabinet was structurally sound - just missing some hard-to-replace stuff and victim to a few cosmetic scrapes and scuffs.

Got Project, Will Derp…

I was really unprepared and quite green in this hobby. While investigating the power brick’s completeness I almost electrocuted myself and welded kitchen scissors cutting through a cable inside the cabinet  while the cabinet was plugged in. [dumbass]

I was really unprepared and quite green in this hobby. While investigating the power brick’s completeness I almost electrocuted myself and welded kitchen scissors cutting through a cable inside the cabinet while the cabinet was plugged in. [dumbass]

Knowing I was short on available time (and frankly out of my league) I ended up slapping in an old Dell Optiplex tower running WinXP & Hyperspin.

Looking back, I think getting Hyperspin “just right” took more time than a full DK restore would have…

..and for years, that is how I left the cabinet. Mostly, people playing NES/SNES emulation and limited MAME on Hyperspin.

Two DK’s

In 2015, I ended up getting a complete but not working Donkey Kong. Still mostly punching out of my educational-weight-class, I bought it thinking it was a really-nice original cabinet. It had a 2-board boardset with a Nintendo logo silk-screened on the board, after all…

Over time, the fog of derpy-ness lifted somewhat and I discovered that the second cabinet was an ArcadeShop remake. ArcadeShop circa 2005-2010 sold these complete DK’s running DK boards in remade cabinets with a K7200/K7300 monitor (not the Sanyo EZ), a JAMMA harness and DKJamma adaptor.

The cabinets were really nice. The controls were a little generic but felt good. Nice & clean modern power supply. The only downside I could see was the blue on the cabinet was a big decal, not a real (thicker) laminate. Of course, you aren’t going to qualify for any world-record play on these cabinets but they were super nice, in all.

FWIW, Arcade Shop in 2019 still sells a hella-nice DK repro cabinet: http://www.arcadeshop.com/i/968/donkey-kong-upright-new.htm

I’m told that item picture is dated and they now have the full-laminate treatment now with speaker slats instead of the black speaker cover. Unfortunately, CRT’s are all gone so that kit includes an LCD.

At this point in the story, I had two blue Nintendo cabinets. One as a DK-Restoration in waiting with the Hyperspin set up and another with the reproduction JAMMA-fied cabinet.

I decided it was time to finally give the DK project some time.

DK Sit-Rep

I decided to let the perfectly-fine repro cabinet go to a friend, in service of Gameroom - cabinet density and as a mind-hack to start the timer on getting my other cabinet restored. Good friend gets a good game for a good price and I get a free-machine slot to work with, everyone wins.

My intention was to eventually use the DK cabinet for an OCD-level restoration. Re-laminate the sides, acquire some DK boards and wiring harness, power and the Sanyo EZ. Get an original control panel and restore it…

cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching (cash register sounds)

Donkey Kong is a $800-$1200 game. You can buy a nicely restored one for $1200 or you can buy one with authentic battle damage for $800. You … might… be able to buy something totally abused for less or you might be able to abuse your own character with an uneducated seller and offer more. They made ~80,000 of them.


If I go through the OCD restore, I’m going to be $2000 in parts alone and some of those parts are going to be tricky to get without buying another populated cabinet and furthering my DK-Gameroom-Density problem.





 
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This is where the current (high) pricing on parts and games seems to really screw me on this. For the full restore I’d have > $2000 and countless hours in cabinet prep and rejuvenation….

All that I really want… is to have a good-enough looking cabinet, something that plays really well and looks original or original-adjacent.

I’d like to keep the price down b/c I tend to drop more in games than I sell them for.. Like the Star Wars Trilogy I essentially gave away last year..
If I keep that crap up, I’ll qualify for a 503c charity.

 

Also, to complicate things I find myself with a stash of NIB burn-free G07-compatible Korean-made pristine 19” CRT monitors w/ Samsung tubes. Well.. a modest stack of them, anyway. Do I really want to go pay an arm, leg and first-born for someone’s Sanyo EZ for the sake of originality alone?

Practicality > OCD

My success parameters are:

  • A game that works

  • A game that uses a CRT

  • A game that looks good & doesn’t smell like a dying animal

  • Play more Donkey Kong, become a better player

My rules of engagement are:

  • No 60-in-1’s

  • Don’t spend more than a DK should cost

  • No 60-in-1’s

  • Less than 40 hours of precious-fleeting night and weekend time

  • No 60-in-1’s

Decision Time

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Instead of going with a Sanyo EZ, I decided to use one of my spare CRT’s.


On the upside, this decouples me from the weird 100V stepdown stuff and the need to work with a Sanyo EZ restoration and I get to use one of my stockpile.

On the downside, it sort of informs the rest of the build. We’ll be going with JAMMA and a modern switching power supply..

Also downside, these are all horizontal frames, so I committed to a chassis-frame transplant as part of that decsion.

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On thing that I didn’t mind splurging on…. The Control Panel. I wanted it to “feel” right from the player’s perspective.

I decided to go w/ a repro control panel from Mikes Arcade, a little pricey but includes a reproduction TKGU-23-50 joystick and a more appropriate button setup than the direct-click generic buttons you often see.

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As a time and sanity savor, ArcadeShop sells a really well-built JAMMA harness that is nicely labeled and includes a reasonable set of connectors that are pre-installed and wire-management tabs for inside the cabinet..

 
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They also sell a pretty bitchin’ little 20amp ATX-like power supply with matching connectors & flexible switching capabilities.

 

Not the cheapest offering for either but I’ve been running one of these power supplies for 3 years without issue in another game. The JAMMA Harness is a huge time saver and promotes some tidy habits in the game, also reducing the likelihood of a stalled project while I pay $10 in shipping for $.75c in connectors because of a shortage in my parts bins.

Monitor and power supply during the install.

Monitor and power supply during the install.

I had to make some slight adjustments (drill new holes) to get a repro upper monitor mount to fit with this not-from-a-DK monitor frame. Nothing too nutty, though.

JAMMA-Adapted Boardset or Something Else?

For this iteration, ArcadeSD won my vote of confidence. I’ve been on an FPGA binge lately but I didn’t see a quick turnkey solution yet available with the quality of the Mylstar FPGA for Q*Bert or BitKit for Pac hardware. While emulation, ArcadeSD plays, sounds and looks really-really good for the Kong games and gives me the ability to do the multi-Kong thing and get DK1, DKJr and DK3 in the one cabinet. Side note: Timber, Tapper - are inexcusably poor on ArcadeSD. He clearly spent the time getting DK right. Like, really-really right.. Also as a bonus you get support for D2K and Foundry.

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Yep, that’s the factory plastic on that CRT…. :)

Yep, that’s the factory plastic on that CRT…. :)

The only real downside I’ve seen so far with the ArcadeSD is that the single-game-boot for DK isn’t compatible with the free-play cabinet-pricing options and they don’t have a simple “back out to menu” option in single-game-boot mode. The multi-Williams FPGA board in my Robotron cab, by comparison - can boot directly to Robotron (with free play intact) and you can exit out to a menu and select Joust, Defender, Bubbles, etc.. ArcadeSD doesn’t really work that way. So, for now, I’m stuck with it booting to a menu. Not the end of the world: it isn’t a 60 in 1.

I could see in the future if a solid multi-Kong FPGA gets released moving to that as a replacement. Less likely, I could give it the multi-board JAMMA switcher treatment that is in my MK4 cab. Though, the idea of a JAMMA Switcher and multiple adapters to DK Edge connectors makes me lean away from really wanting that level of PCB-purity. Because.. you know - no JAMMA Switcher/Adapter survives contact with the installation in a way that wouldn’t raise Purity concerns from the sticklers, anyway.

I’m not that stickler-y.

Other Stuff

I picked up a repro monitor overlay, marquee and instruction card from ArcadeShop and side art from Phoenix Arcade.

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One corner I decided to cut: The blackout surround / bezel.

It was hard for me to justify ~$70 shipped for the Nintendo-like cardboard blackout bezel. The previously-available supply of plastic trim-your-own bezels with CRT curvature seems to have dried up. Instead I used black weed-cloth, staples and gorilla tape. Go ahead and send me hate mail. It looks great with the monitor overlay installed. And.. for $10- I’ll spend the remainder of my savings on an okay bottle of Whiskey and be much the happier for it..

Next Up, I’m going to work on the wood damage in the speaker slits and add the missing quarter instruction card. I’m thinking I’ll have to revert to paint instead of laminate for that touch up work unless I can find a source for laminate that isn’t $200.

All in all, though - as of this weekend I have a playable multi-Kong, so I’m a pretty happy camper.

Done-enough for a Guinness, finally got to spend some time on St Patty’s day putting some plays on the cabinet and new control panel. I’ll continue to whittle away at the cabinet’s idiosyncrasies and while I didn’t end up doing the full-on OCD restoration I originally planned, I’m feeling pretty good about where it sits for the investment in time and treasure to this point.

Which.. leads me to the last game in my game room that isn’t operational… Up Next:

Tempest…

Ms Pac-Man Progress

It’s nice when a full row of games is complete enough to power on and everything is playable..

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This project Ms Pac cabaret came to me complete but not working.

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So far, I’ve recapped the monitor, changed the top CPO, added a marquee light and new T-Molding. New Buttons, rebuilt the joystick and tumbled some of the metal.

Still, plenty of rust on the door hinge and the game counter that I need to address.

The game came with a full not-really-working Ms Pac boardset and original power supply.

I cleaned the original harness, boards and power supply and wrapped and stored them for future purist endeavors. To get the game going, I decided to go FPGA instead - Bitkit to the rescue.

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Storing the original harness, PCBS and power brick in the bottom wrapped in plastic and brown-paper. I built up a power-block with a new 8-liner and isolation transformer and switched the game to a JAMMA wiring harness. I installed Ms Pac on the Bitkit and set it to directly boot to the game instead of a game selection menu.

The BitKit in action:

I still need to address rusty spots, the side laminate and the game could use a new monitor overlay.

All said though, it is running great with the Bitkit with only one caveat.

There are sync frequency differences between the Bitkit menu and the MsPac Rom.

I can get the monitor dialed in for one or the other but not both, so at this point it has little value as a multi-game, it is strictly a dedicated Ms Pac. The bitkit offers some choices for this, including reversing the polarity of the Sync through a jumper. I’m more inclined to blame this on the monitor than Bitkit, though. I’ll spend some time to determine the sync polarity and attack that problem more surgically in the near future. My guess is that I may be able to solve it with some combination of tweaks between V-Sync, h-Sync or sync-ground tweaks on the harness.

UPDATE 3/20/2019: Aaron (from Bitkit) saw this post and proactively reached out to me (because he is that kind of awesome). He confirmed that (paraphrasing him here) the Bitkit’s origins in Nibbler (Fantasy, Pioneer Balloon, Vanguard, Zarzon) so that the original menu was built with the Nibbler hardware in mind. There are some sync differences between the Nibbler hardware and the Pac hardware. He said he intends to release a future update (early May) to port the Bitkit menu system to the Pac hardware.

That said, in my case I haven’t spent a ton of time (aside from pot adjustments) experimenting with the the sync and grounds to see if I can get both the MsPac and the Bitkit menu dialed in equally. As I alluded to above the best I can do, today with the adjustment pots is to get the Bitkit menu w/ MsPac having a large g07-like curl on the right or I can get MsPac dialed in perfectly at the expense of the Bitkit sync.

I’m more inclined to believe this is an out-of-variance condition on this monitor than any real fault or weakness in Bitkit. Don’t take my report here as a strike against Bitkit - I’m extremely happy with the Bitkit board. It plays perfectly, boots fast and was super-simple to get running.

One of those situations where I triaged this to: “okay it plays great overall situation is good enough for now” and I moved on down the line to the next dark marquee in the lineup.. :)

I’m not sure about my long-term intentions having (effectively) three cabinets that will play Ms Pacman in some capacity but I’m sure this could be excellent trade bait for something else down the line, if it comes to that..