A not-so-well-known and rather peculiar item on the video game market is the so-called “iQue Player” (神游机), a Chinese version of the Nintendo 64. When Nintendo had already abandoned the Nintendo 64 in favour of the GameCube in Western markets and Japan, they decided to re-release the system in China around 2003. At a time when companies around the world were exploring business opportunities in China, Nintendo set up iQue 神游科技(中国)有限公司 (lit. “Shenyou Technologies Ltd.”), a Suzhou-based Joint Venture with a Chinese company, to produce the iQue Player, a system based on the Nintendo 64 which uses System-on-chip technology — i.e. the whole Nintendo 64 has been reduced in size to fit on a single chip that rests inside the controller.
The iQue’s controller itself connects directly to the TV. Games are stored on a quite small (size- and memory-wise) 64MB memory cards (divided into 250 so-called “blocks” 格), which, by default, contain a full version of Dr. Mario 马力欧医生 and time-limited demo versions of Super Mario 64 神游马力欧, Zelda: Ocarina of Time 塞尔达传说-时光之笛, Wave Race 水上摩托 and Starfox 星际火狐. A dozen first party games are available for the system and can be downloaded to the memory card from iQue Depots 加油站 (lit. “charging station”) or via USB from the Internet at 48 Yuan a game. Piracy is often cited as the motivation behind this choice of hardware architecture. After all, China was the place of origin of the Doctor V64, a Video CD player that was able to copy and run Nintendo 64 games from CD. By selling outdated but attractive games at a low price, Nintendo hoped to deter piracy.
List of games available for the iQue player:
- Super Mario 64 神游马力欧 (31 blocks, game ID: 10011)
- Wave Race 水上摩托 (32 blocks, game ID: 51011)
- Mario Kart 64 马力欧卡丁车 (48 blocks, game ID: 52011)
- Dr. Mario 马力欧医生 (13 blocks, game ID: 61011)
- Starfox 星际火狐 (46 blocks, game ID: 41011)
- Yoshi’s Story 耀西故事 (68 blocks, game ID: 11021)
- F-Zero X 未来赛车 (63 blocks, game ID: 52021)
- Zelda: Ocarina of Time 塞尔达传说-时光之笛- (114 blocks, game ID: 21011)
- Super Smash Bros. 任天堂明星大乱斗 (65 blocks, game ID: 12021)
- Paper Mario 纸片马力欧 (160 blocks, game ID: 21021)
- Excitebike 64 越野摩托 (62 blocks, game ID: 51021)
- Animal Crossing 动物森林 (62 blocks, game ID: 21041)
- Sin and Punishment 罪与罚-地球的继承者- (129 blocks, game ID: 41021)
- Custom Robo 组合机器人 (65 blocks, game ID: 21051)
What makes the system interesting for European gamers is that Custom Robo and – until the advent of the Wii’s virtual console – Sin and Punishment were Japan-exclusive releases for the Nintendo 64. I personally found Paper Mario and Animal Crossing very attractive as well, since these two games had been released around the end of the N64′s lifespan and therefore have not received much coverage by the media and are hard to buy outside of Japan these days. Although the iQue Player is a ‘small Nintendo 64′, it differs a little from the original machine and games need to be specifically ported to the system, giving them a slightly different look, sound and feel when compared to the originals. That being said, I was still surprised people didn’t try to hack the system and make it run ROM images. Even ROMs of 64DD games – a system arguably even less widely available than the iQue – have been released already, so it’s indeed confusing nobody tried to take advantage of the iQue’s unique architecture and easy hardware access.
Getting an iQue Player and setting it up
My days of video gaming have long since passed. But having read about the iQue before, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to explore the system myself while in China. After all, this is not about playing video games but about cultural experience And as few people know, all games available for the iQue have been localized for the Chinese market, which means that all in-game dialogues translated into Chinese, including the voice acting in games like Starfox. Surprising if you consider that localizing wasn’t a very common thing in the era of fifth-generation video game systems.
With the recession at its peak, I figured department stores would give me a good deal on the system. Wrong. Xujiahui’s Pacific Department Store 太平洋百货 wanted 498 Yuan for the system. The same price the system used to cost when it was released five years ago. Since China’s generation of gamers has long since moved on to more sophisticated systems like the Wii or the PSP, I figured I could find a better deal on Taobao.com, the Chinese version of eBay and found a brand-new system for around half the price.
It took me a while to figure out how the iQue worked. The system runs on 220V/50Hz, the same power frequency as the rest of China and Europe (Japan and the USA use 110/60Hz). It is surprising, though, that while Chinese television use the European 50Hz PAL system, the iQue’s output signal is 60Hz NTSC, the American standard. This is strange because TV signals usually run on the same frequency as power grids, but might be related to the fact that the Nintendo 64′s PAL conversions were usually of very poor quality, running at lower speed and lower resolutions than their NTSC counterparts. I was fortunate to find that the TV I am using supports NTSC signals, but I am not sure if this is the case with most TV sets in mainland China. It might have affected sales, but the system never really took off anyway and plans for it to be released in other Asian markets have been abandoned.
Buying Games from iQue Depots
As mentioned above, games can be downloaded to the system’s memory card from iQue Depots, called 加油站. These can be found in most major first-tier cities thoughout China. A list of iQue Depots is available on the iQue homepage. Those who think about getting an iQue for nostalgic reasons should hurry though. I noticed that most of these stations are being removed. Mainly because the industry is moving on, but also because games can be downloaded from the Internet now too.
The following is a list of iQue Depots in Shanghai:
Pudong Babaiban, 8th floor, Zhangyang Rd. 501
New World Department Store, 8th floor, Nanjing Rd. West 2-68
Oriental Department Store, 5th floor, Caoxi Rd. North 8
Pacific Department Store Xujiahui Branch, 7th floor, Hengshanlu 932
Jiuguang Department Store, 6th floor, Nanjing Rd. West 1618
Pacific Department Store Huaihai Branch, 5th floor, Huaihai Central Rd. 333
Fandoucheng Zhengda Department Store, 4th floor, Lujiazui Road 168
I personally found the nice Fuwuyuan (服务员, fúwùyuán n. clerk, service personnel) in the Jiuguang Department Store 久光百货 next to Jing’an Temple 静安寺 most helpful Downloading games to your iQue memory card 神游卡 works as follows: You connect your memory card to the iQue depot and wait for the menu to come up. You will be presented with an overview of what is already on your card and how much memory is left. Unfortunately, all the memory is used by the games and demos by default, with Zelda taking up roughly half of the memory. You will have either have to delete some demos or upgrade them to full games. This is definitely a weak point of the system, since iQue memory cards cannot be bought separately, except for a few used ones from Taobao. And I am not sure if memory cards from one iQue Player can be used on another one — I could imagine that games will be locked to the first iQue player running it.
The option to download games from the Internet has alleviated this issue a little, since the system retains a record of games that have been bought. So even if you delete the full version of Dr. Mario, you will be able to download it for free again from iQue depots or the Internet at a later time. Another advantage of this system is that demo versions of games are easy to come by, which wasn’t the case in times of large, expensive, difficult to produce game cartridges.
After having chosen a game, the iQue depot asks you to swipe an iQue ticket 神游票, available at 48 Yuan, to certify that you have paid for the game. Scrap off the cover to see the bar code and swipe the card through the card reader. Downloading the game to the memory card takes a while. When the process is finished, you will be taken back to the main screen to choose a new game or to log out. Keep the iQue ticket as a souvenir
Connecting to the Internet
Later during the iQue’s short lifespan, the iQue online service “iQue@Home” 神游在线 was launched. This service is supposed to enable users to download games and demos from the Internet rather than through iQue depots. A detailed manual on how to do this is available on the iQue homepage (in Chinese). According to the iQue@Home homepage, this connection was also supposed to enable people to participate in long-distance competitions with other players, chat and compare their scores online. Since the status of these items is still “to be released soon” 即将推出, I suppose these features won’t see the dailight anymore. Similar features for other obscure Nintendo products, like the 64DD or the Satellaview, shared the same fate.
At first, I wasn’t able get the software to do much more than browse the memory card’s contents, since it couldn’t connect to the Internet for some reason. But thanks to the extremely quick and helpful iQue Customer Service, I was able to single out the poor Internet connection at Jiaotong University as the reason It seems the university blocks ports 16976 and 16977, both of which are used by the iQue@Home software.
According to the manual, the oldest iQue players don’t support connecting to the Internet, but this is merely a problem of an outdated operating system. Start your player and check if the system menu has a coloured text string in the upper left corner that reads 神游在线. If it doesn’t, head over to the next iQue Depot and upgrade your operating system (“UOS”) to the latest version.
Before connecting the player to your computer, download the iQue@Home software from http://www.game.ique.com. This is the standard version (简易版, 1.2MB), to find the full version (完整版, 205MB), go to http://www.ique.com/M_athome.htm and click the second link “完整版205M” (compressed WinRAR archives). I’m not exactly sure what the difference between these two is. But given the size of the second package, it may very well be that it contains encrypted/compressed images of the games, saving you the trouble to download them from the internet every time you just want to move games back and forth between the card and your computer. The item “Game data” in the installation dialogue supports this guess. It’s just speculation, though.
To connect the iQue player to the computer, a simple Mini USB cable that fits the plug on the iQue controller is needed. Connect your player and wait for the Windows device manager dialogue to pop up, asking you what to do next. Tell it to install the software automatically. After that, run the iQue@Home software and start the update when asked. Please note that the software was designed for a Chinese system, so it may be best to change your operating system’s codepage to Chinese or use Microsoft’s Applocale utility, which allows you to run non-Unicode applications in your own locale. It’s available for download on Microsoft’s homepage and a detailed tutorial on how to use it can be found here. Use Applocale to run “C:Program FilesiQue@homepkgsupdateUpdate.exe” with the argument “launch” and set the programme language to Simplified Chinese 中文(简体).
Wait for the application to connect, afterwards you will be taken to the software’s main screen, which has three links — to buy games 购买游戏, to browse the memory card 游戏存取 and to join the iQue Club 神游俱乐部. If the link to buy games and to join the iQue Club are greyed out, the software wasn’t able to connect. Check the connection to the iQue player, reconnect to the Internet, relaunch the application and make sure ports 16976 and 16977 are open for the software. If all that doesn’t work, have a look at the programme’s log files, which are stored at “C:Program FilesiQue@homedatalogs”, or ask the iQue Customer Service (Chinese) about the problem.
Click the link at the very top to buy games, download demos or download game manuals. You will be shown a list of games to choose from. After selecting a game, you will be taken to the game’s info page, which contains a decription of the game and information about how much memory it requires. Click 我要试玩 to download a demo version or 下载指南 to download the game manual. To download a full game, you need to have a 48 Yuan iQue ticket 神游票 available. Uncover the passwort on the backside of the card and enter it on the game’s info page, afterwards click 我要购买. Afterwards, the items you chose will be transferred to your memory card. When the transfer has succeeded, go back to the homepage (click 首页 in the upper left corner) and click the second link to check the memory card’s contents.
The third link on the home page takes you to the registration page of the iQue Club. I’m not sure what this club is used for exactly — and since Christmas time is the busiest time of the year, I’m not sure when I will be able to check this out. I’ll definitely post the information here as soon as I find out. Consider this tutorial a work in progress — suggestions are very welcome
Comments (26-08-2009): One user asked about upgrading the iQue player’s operating system (UOS升级系统). I would be glad to give a few clues on that, but the iQue Homepage is inaccessible at the moment — at least from outside China. From what I can gather from a Google cache link to the former website (http://www.ique.com/Player_upgrade.htm), you need to upgrade the UOS operating system at an iQue depot and purchase a so-called “charging pack” 加油装, containing a USB cable and a CD with the iQue@Home software to go online. Technically, though, any standard USB cable that fits the player’s port should do, but given the lack of iQue depots and since the iQue website seems to be offline, I am not sure there is still a way to upgrade the player now.
Comments (27-08-2009): iQue homepage is back online. Seems it was a temporary problem.
Comments (08-04-2011): Some iQue users have reported problems connecting the iQue player to their computer. I’ve had the same issue and managed to estabish a connection after I replaced the original Mini USB cable that came with the player. Seems iQue used rather cheap hardware here
- Wiki.en: iQue Player
- iQue Website: iQue Player
- iQue Game List
- iQue Online Service: iQue@Home 神游在线
- iQue Online Manual
- List of iQue Depots 加油站 in China
- iQue Customer Service
- Dicas Online: iQue Player review
- 64DD.net: List of iQue games
Originally published at http://blog.portblue.de/2008/12/chinese-nintendo-64-ique/