Pick Date: 2/21/19
Congo Bongo was released by Sega in 1983 as an "ape" game to directly compete with Nintendo's wildly successful Donkey Kong.
This game is played in isometric perspective, 3D if you will, similar to Sega's Zaxxon.
Not only that, but Congo Bongo was ported to nearly every major home computer system and console system BITD.
I'll be honest here. Congo Bongo was never on my radar. I wasn't very good at the game when it was in the arcades and usually lost
my quarter pretty quickly. I did have some fun playing Congo Bongo on my trusty Commodore 64 in the early 80's with its abundant
freeplay capability. I enjoyed the
game but wasn't actively looking for the full stand-up arcade.
Lucky for me it was a long, cold winter and I haven't had a new pickup in quite a long time. In comes Craiglist once again,
a non-working Congo Bongo arcade game in my neck of the woods. I contacted the guy, and setup a pickup time in a gas station parking lot. He said he had bought a commercial
property and this arcade game had been abandoned in there, so now he was selling it. I was ready for a new game and a challenge,
so I brought home this Congo Bongo. I was sure I could breath life into this game pretty easily.
Besides all the dust and mud dauber nests (wasps) all over and inside this game, it actually cleaned up really well. I have found that a
good decade or more of dust actually acts as a protectant of all the color and artwork on a game. Clean off the dirt and dust, some games
look fairly new with usual scrapes and such. So the next issue was this game was all locked up. Of COURSE this guy didn't have keys, sellers never
do. This meant I had to drill out the locks. Now I was a little concerned, as when I loaded and unloaded the game something was clunking around
inside. When the front door finally sprung open, I was a bit shocked at what I saw. A heavy, massive power supply was unbolted, disconnected,
and rolling around inside the cabinet on top of the game board, the main PCB, every time the game was moved around. That's not good. To
make things worse this power supply had been Frankensteined and all its connectors were burnt up, so I knew it was toast.
At this point I have a bad power supply. It's also possible the power supply may have damaged the mainboard either from its sheer weight
or it could have fried the components when it went bad. Finally, I could also tell the monitor wasn't trying to turn on, you could normally
hear it power up and see neck glow even if the game wasn't working. What did I get myself into? Every single component in this game might be bad.
First things first, I start poking around every inch of the cabinet, checking wiring, etc. I noticed someone had unplugged the monitor. What the?
What was the point of that? Who did this? I plugged it in, the monitor pops on with neck glow, just no game yet. Well that's good at least.
As already mentioned, the power supply is toast, Frankensteined with burnt edge connectors. It was pointless to rebuild, it was trash.
I decide to wire up a switching power supply to see if the game board was bad or not. I had to look up the schematics for power requirements
online. Then I soldered together a custom power harness that could plug right in to the existing power connector.
Finally, I finished wiring up the
switching power supply and nervously turned on the game. Next thing I see is a thing of beauty. A BEAUTIFUL colorful monitor with Congo
Bongo playing on the screen. Success! I get the monitor all dialed in and this thing is nice, no screen burn and probably one of the
nicest 35 year old monitors I've ever seen.
I go to coin up a game and start to play.... and uh, oh, HERE we go again. Disappointment. No sound. I start to poke around in there and noticed
SOMEONE had disconnected the speaker. Once again... what the? What is wrong with somebody? I plug in the speaker, and I can hear a faint,
scratchy soundtrack of Congo Bongo playing. Turning up the volume didn't help. The sound was bad from the main board, which is why someone
unplugged the speaker. Nope, they couldn't just fix the problem, why don't we just unplug the speaker.
So here's a bit of repair knowledge. Many arcade boards use an LM324 audio amp IC for sound. You can take a good LM324 and piggyback it on top
of another one to see if its bad. I did just that, and got good sound! Well good news, and bad news. I know the board is good, I know
the sound is good, I know I just have to replace the LM324. Bad news, it was not socketed and it was in a really tight spot to get out.
At this point I enlist my wife with her little fingers to help snip out the bad LM324, then using tweezers and a soldering iron pulled
out the bad IC. With it pulled out I put in a socket so I can just plug in the new LM324. Success! Game is ready to rock and roll!
Now you would think this is the end of the journey to bring this Congo Bongo back to gameroom ready status. But
not quite yet. Congo Bongo had the unusual setup that you can access the main board and power supply from the front, but it is kind of
cramped in there. I noticed things getting warm pretty quickly with the front door closed. Now when originally cleaning up the game
I noticed a fan grill above the back door, but no fan. I looked up a Congo Bongo manual and sure enough it was supposed to have a fan
to pull out the heat build up. What happens is when the bearings in these fans wear down, they get loud, REALLY loud like an airplane
taking off. So NOW all this is making sense. This is the final piece of the puzzle.
Here is how I believe the sequence of events occured with this game to end up in my possession.
1. Some time in the late 80s the bearings in the fan wear out. Fan gets really loud.
2. Tech removes noisy fan from game. Problem solved.
3. Heat build-up and/or bad +-12v from hot power supply causes LM324 to go bad. Sound gets scratchy and low.
4. Tech unplugs speaker. Problem solved.
5. Power supply connectors burn up from heat build up.
6. Tech solders in extra wires and puts large capacitors across power supply lines. Problem solved.
7. Power supply get really hot and burns up for good.
8. Tech unplugs monitor and unbolts power supply. Looks at game and scratches his head.
9. Tech sticks loose power supply back in the cabinet and throws away the key. Puts in back of warehouse.
10. Several decades pass. Building gets sold, guy buys building and contents, sells me the broken game.
Now back to the repair work.... at this point I wire in a new fan to help keep the game nice and cool. I realize that all this bad tech work probably kept the game dead
and dormant for 30 years, which is why the monitor is super bright and like new. Thanks bad tech guy!
As a final touch I put new t-molding on the game, and then graduate Congo Bongo down to the Vintage Vault Arcade.
Keep on rockin' Congo Bongo, I just might keep you around for awhile!
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