Arcade cabinets always fascinated me. They were objects of beauty as a whole, not just because of the game they hosted. The bezels, the artworks were all part of that beauty.
When I was a child, arcade cabinets fascinated me because they where mysterious magic boxes offering a game experience I could only dream of at home. How they did that, how they worked, was one of the great mysteries of the universe. I was just moving my first steps with C64's basic, and had no understanding at all of electronics.
Now I understand how they work, and they still fascinate me because of that: now I can can appreciate the skill people put in their design. The constant fight with hardware limitations, to squeeze every last memory bit and clock cycle out of it.
For several reasons, Final Fight is the game that to me represents the arcade era more than anything else. The immediateness of the gameplay, the beautiful art direction, the unforgettable characters. All of that.
More than once I considered buying one of the several home-system conversions: C64? Amiga? Why not. Alas, they simply were not the same game, however good the conversion, so it would have been pointless. But I knew I had to have it in my retrogaming collection.
What to do? Go for the PCB, of course.
A PCB (Printed Circuit Board) is the electronic pulsating heart of any arcade cabinet, where the actual game resides. It's a green epoxy board studded with black spidery chips and a few wires coming out of it. Not exactly masterpiece of design, form an aesthetic point of view.
Many arcade PCBs share a common connector, named JAMMA, that allows to easily convert a cabinet to another game just swapping the PCB boards.
Is it possible to play a PCB today at home? Yes, if you have a cabinet, or a supergun. What's that? A supergun is a relatively small device (as big as a gaming console) that encloses all the hardware normally included in an arcade cabinet. You just connect your PCB jamma connector to the supergun and you're ready to go.
Do I have a cabinet or a supergun? Not at the moment, no. So, what's the point? Well, right now the desire to own a PCB is a purely fetishistic one. No practical purpose to be fulfilled. But then again, no game in my retrogaming collection has a practical purpose, does it? So objection rejected.
The decision is made then. Let's take a look on ebay and see what we can find: "Final Fight PCB". Just one result, a seller from the United States. Price: more than 350$. Gulp.
"Bubble Bobble PCB", "Outrun PCB": the results are similar, in both price and availability.
So my mission seemed destined to failure.
As a last resort, I asked for advice to the great guys at Kenobisboch productions, who spend a lot of their precious time streaming retrogaming night live events. The solution was pretty simple (and significantly cheaper): go for the bootlegs!
At first the proposal didn't sound right to me. Isn't a bootleg a more ore less illegal clone of the original game? Yep. But you have to understand that most of the arcades I played as a child were bootlegs, even if I didn't know it at the time. So, from an historical point of view, having a bootleg made perfect sense.
I tracked down a Final Fight bootleg named Final Crash for 70 euros from a french seller and in a few days I had the PCB on my shelf. I'm a happy camper.
My (not so) shiny new Final Crash PCB
What's the next step? I don't know. I may look for other PCBs in the future, or maybe even buy a supergun. A cabinet is sadly out of the question at the moment because of a severe lack of space at home. But in the future, who knows? One can always hope in a better and more spacious tomorrow.