Archive for the GBA Category

The Super Card SD is a flashcart for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS. (I dont currently own a Nintendo DS, so for this review the Super Card SD was only tested on a Gameboy Advance.)

The difference between the Super Card line of flashcarts and most other carts is instead of having on board memory, the Super Card has a slot where either SD RAM or CF RAM (depending on the model purchased) can be inserted into the cart. Most GBA flashcarts start at 128 megabits of storage (32 megabytes) and cannot be expanded. For approximately the same price you can now get a Super Card and a 512 meg SD RAM cart (16x the amount of storage). However, like the old saying goes, size isnt everything.

The Super Card lets you do some pretty neat things with your Gameboy Advance. The Super Card home page (http://www.supercard.cn) has utilities that will let you read e-books, look at JPG pictures, and even watch videos (after converting them to GBA Media Format) on your GBA. The Super Card also has built in support for several types of emulation ROMs, including NES, GameGear/SMS, PC-Engine, and original Gameboy (but not GBC) games. The real (illegal) reason most people buy these cards is to allow them to play downloaded Gameboy Advance ROMs for free on their GBA.

Transfering GBA games to your Super Card is relatively simple. First, youll need some Gameboy Advance ROMs (Google). Next, youll need a way to read/write to your SD card. Third, youll need to install the Super Card Software, which you can download from the Super Card site. The rest is a piece of cake. The software will convert/patch your ROMs to work with the Super Card. Copying each game over only takes a matter of seconds. Turning on your GBA reveals a simple text menu, at which the games can be selected. After being patched and converted, the card also allows for save states, saving to/from the card, and dropping back to the menu without cycling the units power. Games can also be compressed on the SD card (trading free space for uncompressing load times), but with so many 4 meg games on a 256 meg, 512 meg or 1 gig card, I cant imagine needed to save space.

So whats not to like? Compatibility issues, for one. Several of the GBA ROMs I tried flat out wouldnt work. Some wouldnt run at all; others ran but with graphical glitches, or locked up during gameplay. The good news is the card is easily flashed with firmware upgrades which are continually improving compatibility, but that doesnt help you if the game you really want to play isnt currently supported.

The original Super Card SD (the one I ordered) is slightly longer than a real GBA cart, causing the cart to stick out the front of the cartridge slot a bit. The new Super Card Mini is the same size as a real GBA cart.

As the owner of an EZF Advance as well, Im torn between the two products. While the EZF offers more compatibility, the gigantic amount of storage possible on the Super Card is phenomenal. The native support for NES and SMS ROMs is nice as well. Its a good product; to be great, Super Card needs to improve its compatibility list.

Ultimate Puzzle Games
Gameboy Advance

Ultimate Puzzle Games is the perfect solution for word puzzle aficionados who can’t afford a pencil. And with over a thousand different puzzles included for gamers to solve, this game may be cheaper than buying all those pencils anyway.

Packaged in the compilation are a dozen types of word games including crossword puzzles, word searches, and several other close variants thereof. Most of the puzzle categories include over a hundred unique puzzles, bringing the actual number of included puzzles to 1,001. Three of the included categories are for “mini” puzzles that are smaller in design, perfect for younger gamers (or adults on a bathroom break). The larger puzzles typically expand beyond the screen’s boundaries. In each game, clues are given and answers are entered via a virtual keyboard. The game’s input system is simple and intuitive — the on-screen keyboard is quick and easy to navigate and input words with.

The puzzles include several handy features including the ability to save your place at any given time in one of the game’s two save slots, toggle the sound effects and music on and off, and, for the time impaired or the just plain stumped, display each puzzle’s solution. The menu system also includes a quick tutorial to explain the rules of each game. A nice inclusion is the ability to track which puzzles have already been completed.

The variety and sheer number of puzzles included should keep gamers coming back for a long time. Ultimate Puzzle Games is not only fun to play, but also a lot more entertaining than a box of pencils.

Super Godzilla
GBA, Toho (1993)

It’s Godzilla against the world in Super Godzilla, a game that pits the giant green monster against everything from other giant monsters to tanks, aliens, and UFOs. The future of the world lies in Godzilla’s success.

The 16-bit Super Nintendo (SNES) was light years ahead of its predecessor, the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Super Nintendo boasted huge improvements in both graphics and sound, which games like Super Godzilla brilliantly demonstrated. Unfortunately all that newfound crunching power didn’t always guarantee better game play, to which Super Godzilla is a testament. It’s a great looking game that wasn’t much fun to play.

Super Godzilla is presented in a split-screen fashion, with animations of Godzilla’s actions shown on the top half and a map of the city shown below. The map is a square grid that shows players the locations of water, buildings, tanks, and enemies. As Godzilla makes his way across the map, the top half of the screen shows colorful animations of the big green guy walking through the city. The animated sequences look very nice, which is fortunate as you’re forced to watch them for long stretches of time as Godzilla lumbers his way from one side of the map to the other.

It appears that great efforts were taken to ensure that anything remotely fun about videogames was removed before Super Godzilla hit store shelves. Compared to other fighting games of the era, Super Godzilla’s fighting engine is incredibly primitive. Godzilla only has four attacks, all of them made less-than-fun by the game’s awkward battle system.

The goal of each level is ultimately to defeat a boss while avoiding army attacks. There are six levels full of enemies, power-ups and bosses to work your way through, but chances are you’ll fall asleep long before you make it to the end. Super Godzilla isn’t as bad as it is boring, which is amazing for any game based on a giant, fire-breathing monster. Worth checking out for Godzilla fans, but those looking for the same levels of action found in the movies will be crushed.

Spy Hunter / Super Sprint
GBA (2005)

Destination Software’s combintation Spy Hunter/Super Sprint cartridge for the Gameboy Advance is perfect for brief gaming opportunities, whether they occur during your morning commute or afternoon bathroom breaks. While neither game provides days or even hours worth of depth, they’re both good enough to fill the dull breaks throughout your day. Unfortunately for fans of the original versions, both games suffer from the same two problems, mainly watered down conversions and inherent control issues — two side-effects resulting from cramming two classic arcade games (which originally used steering wheels) into a tiny Gameboy Advance cartridge.

Atari’s Super Sprint is the simpler (and slightly less frustrating) of the two to play. In this classic formula racing game, your goal is to be the first of four cars to complete four laps around a variety of racetracks. Throughout your races you’ll encounter obstacles, ranging from oil slicks to tornadoes. Small yellow wrenches that appear randomly can be exchanged between races for car upgrades.

Obviously, the game’s original steering wheel been replaced with the GBA’s very digital-feeling d-pad, turning the game’s original “violently whipping a steering wheel back and forth” experience into tiny little tap-tap-taps needed to correct your car’s steering. The controls are not nearly as frustrating as the fact that the race cars in this version appear to have been sculpted from nitroglycern — even the slightest wall tap causes your car to explode into a huge fireball. On second thought, maybe it’s the walls that are explosive, since you’ll often find yourseld driving right over the top of your fellow racers without even a nudge. The cars and some of the obstacles are so small, it’s hard to tell if the game has wonky collision detection or not. The game’s graphics and sound effects are surprisingly loyal to the original version. While the graphics have been slightly shrunk and the victory music may be missing a voice or two, everything is very recognizable and helps pull the game together.

Less cohesive is Spy Hunter, the other half of the collection. Porting Spy Hunter to consoles has never been an easy task, as the arcade cabinet included a steering yolk, five buttons, a gear shift and a gas pedal. And while gamers are willing to make certain concessions, there are certain things that simply cannot be missing. In Spy Hunter it’s the Peter Gunn theme, which sadly never materializes here. Ask a hundred people what they remember about Spy Hunter and the majority of them will mention the theme music. Without that, the game starts off on the wrong foot and never truly recovers.

Once again, anyone who’s ever played the original will find controlling the game using the GBA’s d-pad challenging. Pressing the d-pad up and down shifts between low and high gears, while left and right steer. Unfortunately for you, your spymobile seems is built from the same explosives as the cars in Super Sprint, meaning even the slightest rear end collision leads to fireball city, baby. Bumping them from the side isn’t much easier, as even slight taps will send your car careening off the road into yet another firey death. All of this is made even more difficult by the fact that Spy Hunter originally appeared on a vertical screen. On the GBA’s horizontal screen, you’ll need lightning-fast reflexes to get far at all.

While it’s hard to pick apart a package that retails for around $10, both games lost something in the translation. While either title should hold your attention for five minutes or so, any longer than that will quickly reveal both games’ flaws.

Rampart/Gauntlet
GBA (2004)

Gauntlet will be forever imbedded in my mind as the first four-player cooperative quarter eater. From the day I first saw it way back in seventh grade, the game has always held a special place in my heart. At least that’s the story I told my wife as I was moving a vintage Gauntlet arcade cabinet into our home gameroom.

DSI’s port of Gauntlet to the Gameboy Advance is surprisingly good. The speech samples, the sound effects, and graphics are all on par with the original. In fact, the Gameboy version’s only two flaws come from porting the game to a Gameboy. One, the game’s entire structure (insert quarters for more life) has never worked on home consoles, and it doesn’t work here either. Some versions allow you to insert virtual coins to add as much health as you want; this version doesn’t allow for any additional coins, although you are allowed to continue after dying. Fortunately the game starts players out with 10,000 health, which should be more than enough for almost any gaming session. The other problem comes from taking one of the arcade’s most famous multiplayer games and turning it into a single-player game. While the game is certainly playable in single-player mode, it’s not nearly as much fun. Other than that, the only thing conspicuously missing is the between-level music.

Rampart is a completely different style of game from Gauntlet. I fell in love with the game’s combination of strategy and action the first time I played it in the arcade, and ever since it’s held a special place in my heart. At least that’s the story I told my wife as I was moving a vintage Rampart arcade cabinet into our home gameroom. I have a very loving and understanding wife.

Rampart consists of two different game sequences. After choosing a castle to defend, you’ll have to fire you castle’s cannons at a fleet of ships that are firing back at you as well. Each well-placed shot from an enemy takes a randomly sized chunk out of your castle’s outer perimeter. This phase of the game takes place for around a minute. Once completed, you’ll get a short amount of time to rebuild your castle. I’ve always felt this phase of the game resembled Tetris. The game hands you randomly sized and shaped pieces that must be rotated and used to repair the damage to your wall. If you do not completely repair the damage to your castle before the timer expires, the game is over. Repair your castle and the game continues. There are also other castles near yours that can also be encapsulated. As you expand your territory you’ll earn additional cannons, which means more firepower in the wartime rounds. The game continues until you fail to repair your castle’s walls, or you destroy all the enemies and move to the next round.

The original arcade version of Rampart used a trackball controller. The game was later converted to work with joysticks, but it always worked best with the original trackball system. That becomes the weakest link in Rampart’s own defenses; controlling your cannon’s aim accurately and sinking enemy boats is nearly impossible because the cursor simply moves way too quickly. Other than that, everything else is great. Rampart is probably DSI’s most accurate arcade translation to date.

Paperboy / Rampage
GBA (2004)

In both Paperboy and Rampage, you can break glass. I had to think a long time to come with something these two games have in common, and other than both currently being owned by Midway, that’s all I could come up with. Despite the unlikely pairing, both games were fun in the arcade and remain fun on the Gameboy Advance.

In Paperboy, players must guide a bike-peddling newspaper delivery boy through what can only be described as the world’s most dangerous neighborhood. If the inattentive drivers and open manholes weren’t bad enough, this particular street has roving lawnmowers, rabid dogs and a full roster of characters and obstacles that would send most newspaper boys straight to the unemployment line. Your goal is to pick up bundles of newspapers and throw them into the mailboxes of your subscribers. Miss a house and they’ll drop your services; hit all of them, and you’ll pick up new customers. The game ends when you loose all your Paperboys, lose all your subscribers, or make it through all seven days without dying.

One of the most challenging things about playing Paperboy was that due to the games isometric presentation, the area where your Paperboy resides is actually a small corner of the screen. This problem is multiplied on the Gameboy Advance’s small screen. The small play area means problems will present themselves quickly and often, testing your reflexes constantly. The original game’s controls (which were included on a real pair of bicycle handlebars) ported over nicely to the GBA; A pedals, B brakes, and either trigger button tosses newspapers. Many of the game’s speech samples made it to the conversion, and the original music, while simplified, is also there. The game’s only major annoyance is that your bicycle constantly drifts to the right, making “going straight” a constant battle.

Rampage, in contrast, is much simpler. After choosing the mutant of your choice (King Kong, Godzilla, or the Wolf Man), the goal of Rampage is to simply tear stuff up. Smash buildings, bash cars, and eat anyone who gets in your way. Each mutant has a stamina meter that goes down as your take damage; lose all your stamina and it’s goodnight, Gracie.

This version of Rampage has been watered down slightly. Kicking has been removed from your monster’s repertoire, while punching and jumping have been retained. Destroying the buildings seems to be easier in this port, although that may be intentional as the original videogame allowed three players to team up against cities. As with Paperboy some of the sound effects and graphics have been watered down, but there’s so much going on in Rampage that it doesn’t take away from the overall experience.

Millipede / Super Breakout / Lunar Lander
GBA, DSI Games/Atari (2002)

DSI Games’ latest game pack consists of three games, Super Breakout (1978), Lunar Lander (1979), and Millipede (1982). DSI has a consistant track record of offering gamers two newer games (Gauntlet/Rampart, Paperboy/Rampage, Spy Hunter/Super Sprint) or three classic games (Pong/Asteroids/Yars’ Revenge, Centipede/Breakout/Warlords) per pack. This pack contains three classic Atari games, although none of them will hold your attention for long.

Super Breakout is the sequel to Breakout, the spiritual successor to Pong. As Mitch Hedburg once said, “The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how much I play, I’ll never be as good a a wall. I played a wall once. They’re relentless.” The same goes for the miles of bricks waiting for you in Super Breakout — eventually, you’ll lose. Other than Pong itself, there is really no more simplistic game. In Super Breakout you control a paddle and must bounce a ball against a wall of bricks. DSI’s port plays exactly like the original arcade version, which is no technical feat of wizardry as most cell phones can do the same thing.

No more technically impressive but slightly more entertaining is Lunar Lander. In Atari’s first vector game, you must land the Lunar Lander on one of several landing platforms, varying in size and difficulty. Each thrust of your engine uses some of your fuel (which cannot be replentished), so you’ll want to make adjustments sparingly throughout the game. In the arcade you could buy more fuel throughout the game by inserting additional quarters, but that’s not an option here. There are several different difficulty levels to choose from, but a finite fuel supply guarantees your game will be over in just a few minutes.

Millipede, the newest game included in the pack, is the sequel to Atari’s Centipede. Millipede these days would be called “Centipede, Part II” or, at best, be a free downloadable expansion pack. Back then though, a couple of program tweaks equalled an entirely new game. In Millipede, gamers must defend themselves from waves of centipedes, this time backed by an army of inchworms, beetles, mosquitos, spiders and even earwigs. Yes, earwigs. There are also now DDT bombs on the playing field, which release bug-killing clouds of poison when shot.

None of the three included games originally used a joystick. Lunar Lander handles the best with the GBA’s control system. Millipede is (at best) “okay” — while it’s difficult to be accurate, at least it’s not as frustrating as Super Breakout is to control. Which, in it’s defense, is no worse than playing any other game designed for paddles with a joystick and/or d-pad. My average game length in Super Breakout is about 37 seconds. Lunar Lander games last upwards of two to three minutes, which makes a five minute session of Millipede seem like a marathon. In all three instances, my interest level lasted about the same length as the games did.

Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits
GBA (2001)

Arcade cabinets stand between five and six feet tall, weigh between two and three hundred pounds, and can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars — but thanks to the various retro compilations available for the Gameboy Advance, you can now fit several “arcade games” in your front shirt pocket (without the splinters). Arcade games are a great match for portable gaming systems; rarely lasting more than a few minutes, they’re perfect for gaming sessions on the go.

One of the first arcade compilations released for the Gameboy Advance was Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits, released in November of 2001. Featuring Joust (1982), Defender (1980), Robotron 2084 (1982), and Sinistar (1982), the collection presents four conversions sure to make those who remember the arcade versions raise an eyebrow. It stands to reason that by cramming four gigantic arcade cabinets into one itsy-bitsy Gameboy cartridge, a few things might get squeezed out. A lot of crammin’ and squeezin’ went on here.

Defender is probably the best of the four games, which isn’t saying much. The game’s simplistic graphcs (the background is a jagged brown line on a black background) are reproduced faithfully, but the gameplay doesn’t seem right. The aliens are more aggressive and move faster than I remember. And forget about sitting still and firing in both directions — you’ll be alien target practice in no time. Catching falling humans is almost impossible due to the small screen area, and using the map at the top of the screen will get you killed. It’s not 100% accurate, but it is action-packed and playable.

Every review of Robotron must begin with a whine about how the controls are not authentic, so here’s mine. In this version, you can only shoot in the direction you are facing, which inherently means you are constantly running toward the things that are trying to kill you. Again, the graphics here are not the problem — it’s that the gameplay itself isn’t the same. I realize that certain changes (such as controls) must be made when porting a game between systems, but changing how the game plays isn’t acceptable to a purist. The rest of the game is fairly loyal.

I didn’t play Sinistar much as a kid, so all I’ll say is this game is basically impossible to play. In Sinistar you fly around for a few seconds bouncing into asteroids until things kill you. I have read that the Sinistar is being assembled and crystals need to be collected, but to be honest I don’t think I ever got that far.

Joust, which most cell phones can now faithfully replicate, is the most disappointing of the four. This version plays more like a cheap fan-made shareware clone than the real thing. Again, it *looks* like Joust, but that’s where the similarities end. The sprite detection is atrocious, the screen is crowded (the platforms were squished together when the screen was changed from vertical to horizontal), and the animations are choppy. When porting a popular game that people have been playing for 25 years, you’ve GOT to get it right. They didn’t.

The problem with retro compilations is that the target audience has been playing these games for a long, long time — and as such we know how they’re supposed to look, sound, and play. If these were four original games I probably would have given Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits a higher score. They’re fun in their own right, but when all you can think about is how different they are from the original, it takes away from the fun.

Centipede / Breakout / Warlords
GBA, DSI games/Atari (2002)

Two of DSI’s retro compilations for the Gameboy Advance are fairly similar in composition: there’s this one, the Centipede/Breakout/Warlords package, and the Millipede/Super Breakout/Lunar Lander compilation. Centipede and Millipede (its sequel) are comparable as are Breakout and Super Breakout (again, a sequel), making the main difference between the two packages Warlords vs. Lunar Lander.

DSI’s Centipede port is loyal to the arcade version, and except for minor changes in sound effects and graphics, this version passes for a clone of the original. Except, you know, it’s much smaller. In the game, players must shoot the titular centipede as well as scorpions, fleas, and a random assortment of other baddies while avoiding touching any of the enemy insects. Dead insects turn into mushrooms, which affect the playfield’s dynamics and the centipede’s path. Overall the game translates well (but not great) to the GBA’s controller, meaning I can usually get to the general vicinity I want to be in, but hitting specific targets takes as much luck as it does skill.

Breakout, on the other hand, takes ten times as much luck as it does skill to successfully bounce a ball against a wall using a controllable paddle. Just like Super Breakout, the game’s analog controls translate poorly to the GBA’s d-pad, making movements erratic and more frustrating than they should be. Even more disappointing is the fact that this port of Breakout appears to be of the Atari 2600 version instead of the arcade ROM, apparent by the lack of detail in the graphics. Of course, complaining about any version of Breakout’s graphics is like complaining about an 87′ Geo Metro’s hubcaps.

That leaves Warlords, the videogame that introduced the phrase “hey, stop crying” into my family’s living room. A popular game amongst divorce counsellors, this one to four-player game pits four warlords against one another in a battle to the death. The object of the game is to destroy the other three castles and make it to the next round by deflecting a fireball away from your own castle and aiming it at your enemies’. Your moving shield can temporarily hold the fireball (which allows you to aim shots), but the longer you hold a fireball the more damage it does to your own castle, so it’s best to quickly catch and release. The best part of playing four-player Warlords was ganging up on a family member until they cried and left the room, so playing by yourself on the GBA isn’t quite as fun. The game does support link cables so if you happen to have four friends with four GBAs, four link cables and four copies of the game, theoretically you can all play together — of course by the time you’ve spent that amount of cash you’d be better off simply buying the original arcade cabinet. The graphics on DSI’s port have been updated from the arcade version and look bright and colorful, complete with a new background and an animated dragon (who releases the fireballs). It’s good, but without the ability to afflict pain (and usually therapy) on your friends and loved ones, it’s slightly less than great.