August 31, 2017 // 11:41 a.m.
Retro gaming company Iam8bit and Capcom have jointly revealed a collectable re-release of classic brawler Street Fighter II for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) with a disturbing warning of potential fire risk - and the reason may come down to poor design choices in the cartridge's circuitry.
Announced yesterday, the Street Fighter II 30th Anniversary Edition - celebrating the launch of the arcade version of the original Street Fighter in 1987, rather than the sequel's SNES release in 1994 - is a 5,500-unit run of SNES cartridges containing a copy of the game, tri-fold box with foil and embossments, a premium instruction booklet, and 'pack-in surprises' aimed at collectors and fans of the game. A warning at the bottom of the product page, though, gives cause for concern: 'Use of this reproduction game cartridge (the "Product") on the SNES gaming hardware may cause the SNES console to overheat or catch fire.
'The SNES hardware is deemed a vintage collectible [sic], so please exercise extreme caution when using the Product and make sure there is fire extinguishment [sic] equipment nearby,' the warning continues. 'Use of the Product is at the sole risk of the user. The Product is sold "as is". Neither Iam8bit, Inc. nor Capcom Co, Ltd. make any representation or warranty, express or implied, of any kind, including any warranty of merchantability of fitness for a particular use, or that the Product is safe to use, and Iam8bit, Inc. or Capcom Co, Ltd. shall have no liability for damage to property or persons arising from use of the Product. Nintendo of America is in no way associated with the release of this Product.'
No reason for the warning is given, but a possible explanation can be found in the world of third-party flash cartridges: the use of modern 3.3V flash chips in a console designed for older 5V components. An analysis of the issue was published earlier this year by DB Electronics' René Richard, who looked at a range of flash cartridges - third-party cartridges with rewritable storage on which users can load their own games - and found many which use modern 3.3V flash chips without the bidirectional level shifter components that would allow them to communicate with the 5V console hardware at its native voltage. The result: flash chips being fed higher voltages than their upper design limits.
'Prolonged use of components outside of their specified tolerances inevitably leads to failure. On the console side, the stress is excessive current output on digital outputs when driving a logic high,' explained Richard in his post. 'On the cartridge side, the stress is excessive heat dissipation due to conduction of the clamping diodes. I have already heard from several friends that their NES consoles have died most likely due to their admittedly heavy use of cheap [flash] multicarts.'
Iam8bit's warning clearly refers to excessive heat output, and there's little in the low-voltage console and cartridge design that would account for this except the use of 3.3V flash hardware without the components required to shift to and from the console's internal 5V logic. If so, that smacks of poor design and cost-cutting: Bidirectional level shifters are relatively cheap components, and their lack could cause permanent damage to collectors' consoles if indeed Iam8bit has opted out of their use.
Despite this, sales of the $100 (around £77 excluding taxes, less than the £112 the game's UK launch price would be corrected for inflation) cartridge-cum-firestarter have proven brisk: The full run of 5,500 has sold out in less than 24 hours.