In 1992 the 16-bit console market was beginning to hit its stride. In the UK (then, to a far greater extent than today, the last port of call for new console and game releases), the Sega Mega Drive had made serious inroads the previous Christmas with killer apps such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Streets of Rage. The Super Nintendo had its (highly publicised) official UK launch in April of '92, although many gamers had already payed top dollar for an import machine, such was their eagerness to play of Super Mario World and Street Fighter II. The 16-bit consoles were rapidly becoming the new standard. Two powerful machines on the market, with a seemingly inexhausible stream of new titles being released at home and abroad - it was a great time to be a gamer. The only fly in the ointment was the extremely steep prices...

However, if you wanted to play games beyond your means, and didn't mind flaunting copyright law, and knew someone who regularly travelled to Hong Kong, then there was a possible solution. A nondescript black plastic slab with a white floppy drive in the front, manufacturered by the mysterious Venus Corporation. It would set you back a couple of hundred quid, but would allow you to play almost any Sega Mega Drive or SNES game for free. This technological marvel was the Multi Game Hunter, or MGH as it was more commonly known, one of the first modern video game console disk 'backup' systems.

The MGH plugged into the cartridge port of the user's games console, and was powered by a 9V AC Adaptor. There were two slots on the top of the machine, one for SNES and one for Mega Drive cartridges. When powered up, the user could access the MGH's functions through an on-screen menu. The MGH could dump cartriges to floppy disk (with larger games spanning disks as necessary), or load dumped games from floppy into its internal memory so they could be played on the host console. (The MGH used standard single- or double-density 3.5" floppies, but formatted them in a non-standard way, which meant letting the MGH very slowly format blank disks before use.) Any region lock technology in the games (which, at the time, didn't amount to much) was circumvented, allowing European, Japanese and US games to be played. As well as being able to transfer games to and from disk, the MGH could also back up the SRAM (battery-backed memory) used in some games to save the user's progress when the power was switched off (most RPGs used this type of saving). It was even possible, with the right accessories, to play Sega Master System games through the Sega Mega Drive (presumably by activating the Mega Drive's backwards compatibility mode, in the same fashion as the Power Base Converter), or play DSP-powered SNES games such as Super Mario Kart.

The MGH had a few drawbacks (aside from ethical concerns). The original model was fitted with 16 megabits of RAM with no way to upgrade it. This prevented it from playing (and, presumably, copying) the larger (18, 24, 32 Mbit) games that were released over the next few years. (Apparently a 24-Mbit version was released later.) Although the build quality was high (and the machine was certainly the most reliable Sega Mega Drive backup unit), it would occasionally have problems with certain games, either not being able to dump them, or not being able to run them from floppy. There was no way to connect the system to a PC to transfer games. (Later backup systems could be connected to a PC's parallel port.) Finally, the was no support for 'Action Replay'-style cheat codes, or any other convenience features.

The field of 'backup' devices was (and still is) extremely competitive, and it wasn't long before other shady manufacturers developed units which outstripped the MGH's capabilities. Most of these newer systems only supported the SNES (as this was the platform with the most games boasting large amounts of expensive memory and custom chips), although there were a few 'universal' systems that worked with several cartridge formats (right up to the Nintendo 64). The true successor to the MGH was probably Front Far East's Super Wild Card series, which corrected all of the shortcomings of the MGH mentioned above, and allowed the discerning SNES pirate to play the important titles from later in the machine's life (such as Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country).


More information about disk copiers, I mean backup/development systems:

http://www.robwebb.clara.co.uk/backup/

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