A look back at Codemasters’ amazing J-cart

Mega drive j-cartMultiplayer gaming in the modern era is defined by online gaming networks such as PlayStation Network, Xbox Live and dedicated servers. Back in the 90s, we had multi-taps, an accessory that allowed more players to plug in controllers and join in on epic games like Bomberman, NBA Jam and any of the EA Sports titles. Codemasters developed their own creation in 1994, calling it the ‘J cart’, and here we will take a look at it.

The J-cart was like any other Sega Genesis/Mega Drive cartridge, but with two extra controller ports built into it. This allowed for 4 player multiplayer games to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, Codemasters didn’t license the J-cart to any other developer, meaning the technology wasn’t used very frequently. Codemasters only released a handful of games that made use of it, and it came late in the console’s cycle anyway. It wasn’t long before we had the Sega Saturn and PlayStation consoles, leaving the old systems to gather dust as we moved into the era of 3D gaming.

j cart controllers
Image credit: sagamer.co.za

The first game to make use of the J-cart was All Star Tennis, or Pete Sampras Tennis. This allowed for multiplayer games of doubles, with two per side. The second game to make use of the J-cart was Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament, which I covered in one of our weekly Retro Corner posts. As detailed in the Micro Machines 2 retro post, the J-cart allowed for four players, but it also allowed for eight players by letting two players share a side of each controller, the d-pad or the face buttons.

The list of J-cart titles was short, but here is what Codemasters released in the course of two years:

j-carts

The last game on the list, Super Skidmarks is a favourite of mine, because it took the Micro Machines gameplay style and let players race across dirt tracks on brilliantly constructed track layouts. To this day, whenever I play Rock N’ Racing Off Road DX on my Xbox (also available on Wii U), I think back to Super Skidmarks. The only difference with Rock N’ Racing Off Road DX is that the whole course is static on the screen, instead of focusing on the cars traveling around the track. But that’s beside the point.

The J-cart was a fantastic little device, and it’s a shame Codemasters didn’t let other studios or publishers make use of the tech to make more 4 player titles accessible. A multi-tap was hard to come by as a youngster, costing a bit of money before even getting extra controllers, when I just wanted to buy more games instead. The J-cart didn’t cost extra, you just paid for the price of the game. It was awesome. I miss those days.

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