Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Everdrive GB Review - Game Boy and Game Boy Color Fans Rejoice : Your Prayers Have Been Answered!


Last year, Krizz released his long-anticipated Everdrive GB.  The Everdrive GB is a flash cart that supports Game Boy and Game Boy Color ROMs.  It is extremely important for two reasons.  First, it is a modern cart that uses removable micro SD cards to hold ROMs.  Earlier cartridges relied on flash memory built into the cartridge itself, which limited the number of games that could be stored on the cartridge at any one time.  The use of an SD card means that you can use any device that will write to an SD card to load games onto it.  The EMS Smart Cart 64M(egabit), probably the most widely available older-style Game Boy/Color flash cart, only supports two 4 Megabytes banks for games.  It also requires the use of software to load games.  This software uses an unsigned driver and intended to work with Windows XP.  Getting it to work on Windows Vista, 7 or 8 is an increasingly annoying hassle.  The Everdrive GB supports up to a 32GB microSD card, formatted with FAT32.  A 2GB or better card can easily hold every ROM you would ever want to play.

Second, unlike the other flash carts currently on the market, including the EMS Smart Cart, it is designed to play games, not for music creation.  The Everdrive does not need any configuration files or mapper files.  Out of the box it supports the MBC1, MBC2, MBC3 and MBC5, which encompasses virtually every licensed Game Boy and Game Boy Color game.  It also of course supports no-MBC cartridge ROMs like Tetris (32KB).  The EMS Smart Cart only supports MBC5, which virtually all Game Boy Color games use but no pure Game Boy game needed to use.  Unfortunately due to differences between the MBCs, this caused many issues with Game Boy MBC1, MBC2 & MBC3 games.  Also, there are Game Boy and Game Boy Color games that, intentionally or inadvertently, do unusual things with the Game Boy hardware that screws them up when playing on an old-style flash cart like the Bung GBXchanger or the EMS Smart Cart.

The Everdrive GB does not have these problems.  The Everdrive also supports Super Game Boy features and also allows the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance to display custom color palettes for recognized monochrome Game Boy games.  You can still change the palette used for Game Boy games in a Game Boy Color or Advance using the d-pad and buttons.  This is why it starts twice (except for Super Game Boy, see below), once for the menu and then a second time for the game.  This ensures maximum compatibility.  As of this writing, there are no OS updates, all you need is a formatted microSD card and you are all set.

Compatibility is the key here.  When I purchased the EMS Smart Cart, there was always a possibility that Game Boy games would fail to work for some reason or another.  This would require the game to be patched.  I contributed a few patches myself, but even so, issues still crop up from time to time.  With the Everdrive GB, you won't have to worry about your game suddenly crashing or failing to save.  I have tested many of the games that required patches with the EMS Smart Cart and all worked without any problems on the Everdrive GB.  It supports entering sixteen Game Genie codes, but this feature is somewhat hit or miss. You can change the type of MBC emulated if you wish, but no game needs this feature.

Whereas the EMS Smart Cart would load all games onto its internal memory and allow instant access to whatever games it could hold, the Everdrive GB must write a game stored onto the microSD card into its internal flash memory.  There is 8MB of flash memory, most commercial Game Boy Color games maxed out at 4MB, and there is only one licensed game, from Japan, that uses 8MB.  The Flash is written to in 64KB blocks, and each period you see after Write, which corresponds to an LED pulse on the cart, means it has written a 64KB block.  A 4MB game, the largest typical commercial Game Boy Color game, would take sixty-four periods.  Each block can be written to in less than a second, which gives less than a minute for the largest Game Boy Color game to load.  Note that Game Boy Color, Advance and Player systems have a CPU that is twice as fast as the CPU in the Game Boy, Pocket, Super or Light, so they will write ROMs much faster.

While this is slightly less convenient than the EMS Smart Card's instant access, you can restart the game that was last written into the Everdrive GB by pressing start when you next turn on the system.  This save you from having to wait while the game is rewritten.  There is a coin-style battery used to store the contents of the battery backed S-RAM when the system is turned off.  The cartridge will write the contents of RAM to a file automatically when you start another game.

Everdrives run off a menu system that displays a page of a folder at a time.  Each page on the Game boy can show twelve files or folders at a time.  The first twenty characters of the file or folder's name will appear in the selection area.  There is also a three row shaded area on the bottom of the screen that will show the first sixty characters of the currently highlighted folder or file.  This should be sufficient to identify most games without having to eliminate too much of their file name.  It is a very convenient system to use.

Despite the currently-available cartridges using a Game Boy Color-shaped translucent cartridge shell, it will fit and work inside an original DMG Game Boy (original off-white and "Play it Loud" colors).  There is a plastic corner cut into the back that allows the power switch tab the appropriate amount of room to allow the switch to move into the ON position without any problems.

Things it does not support (does not encompass Japanese hardware) :

MBC3 Real Time Clock

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial - Digital Companion
Harvest Moon GBC
Kate and Ashley - Pocket Planner
Pokemon Crystal
Pokemon Gold
Pokemon Silver

Patches exist for the Pokemon games to allow you to set the clock before running the game or loading a game, but the clock will not change while the game is playing.  Games should work otherwise.  The RTC functionality in Harvest Moon is pretty limited, so you won't miss it.

MCB5 Rumble Pak

10-Pin Bowling
3-D Ultra Pinball: Thrillride
Disney's The Little Mermaid II: Pinball Frenzy
Hole in One Golf
Missile Command
NASCAR Challenge
Perfect Dark
Pokémon Pinball
Polaris SnoCross
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing
Rhino Rumble
Star Wars: Episode I - Racer
Test Drive Off-Road 3
Tonka Raceway (US Only, European version did not come in a Rumble Pak)
Top Gear Pocket
Vigilante 8
Zebco Fishing!

Games still work and some came with and without the rumble feature.  The rumble feature is only slightly missed.

Game Boy Camera

ROM may work, but functionality will be severely restricted.

MBC7 Tilt Control

Only used with one Game Boy Color game, Kirby's Tilt 'N Tumble.

HuC-3

Only used outside of Japan with Robopon - Sun Version, supports an RTC, an Infrared Port, Battery Backed Save RAM and has a speaker that can make some simple sounds when the cart is off.  The physical cartridge is oversized and has a compartment for a user-replaceable battery and also has an internal save battery.  The game will not go past the Hudson Soft Logo on the Everdrive GB.  The Japanese only mappers HuC-1, TAMA-5, MMM01 (and MBC4 if it exists) are not supported.  Nor are the :

Unlicensed Games :

Wisdom Tree
Exodus: Journey to the Promised Land
Joshua & the Battle of Jericho
King James Bible For Use On Game Boy
NIV Bible & the 20 Lost Levels of Joshua
Spiritual Warfare

You aren't missing much with the lack of support for these unlicensed games.  Graphics will be too garbled to play, just like most emulators.  The great bgb emulator does support these games, if you feel compelled to try and read the bible on a 160x144 screen.  These games will work in a real Game Boy but not in an Everdrive GB.

Rocket Games
ATV Racing
Full Time Soccer
Hang Time Basketball
Karate Joe
Painter
Pocket Smash Out
Race Time
Space Invasion

These were unlicensed Game Boy Color games by Rocket Games, a label from Datel and InterAct, makers of the GameShark and Pro Action Replay cheat devices.  They also issued some multi-carts with these games.  I assume these games will work in a real Game Boy Color.  They do not work in an Everdrive GB.

Sachen and Gowin also released unlicensed Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, but they are too obscure and awful to be worth mentioning.  They will not work in an Everdrive GB.

Mortal Kombat I & II

Uses the MBC1 chip in an unusual way, trying to select a game will just go back to the menu.  Play the standalone releases instead.  Typical MBC1 games have a maximum 512KB ROM, if the ROM size is 1MB like Mortal Kombat (and there are a few Japanese games like Genjin Collection that are that large) it will not work in an EverDrive.

Transfer Pak

The N64 Transfer Pak, used for Pokemon Stadium 1 & 2, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mickey's Speedway USA and Perfect Dark will not work with the Everdrive as it would with a regular Game Boy or Game Boy Color game due to its menu.  However, there is a way to get the transfer function to work if you have an EverDrive N64 and are willing to mod your Transfer Pak : http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=1780.0

The EMS Cart may work if only one game is on it, but the Everdrive GB will not.

Nanoloop and LSDJ

These music cartridge programs are not fully supported on the Everdrive GB.  Nanoloop uses custom hardware and saving songs does not work in the Everdrive GB.  LSDJ requires 128KB of RAM available to it.  The Everdrive GB only makes 32KB of RAM available, which is all that virtually any Game Boy and Game Boy Color game would ever need.  Only individual songs can be saved.  The EMS Smart Cart is a better choice for LSDJ.

Game Boy Pocket

The Game Boy Pocket may not be able to provide sufficient energy to run the Everdrive GB or the EMS Smart Cart on batteries. Reports have been hit or miss as to whether it works.  I would suggest finding the strongest AAA batteries you can find.  Rechargeable batteries tend to not do well because they are nominally 1.2v, whereas alkaline and lithium batteries are nominally 1.5v.  I would suggest using Energizer Ultimate Lithiums or the Duracell equivalent.  I have had success with Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable batteries and my Game Boy Pocket, so it can work.  While eventually the voltage tends to even out over time, it is when you start up that the extra little bit is most needed.  See here for some advice : http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=1972.15

All other official Nintendo Game Boy systems will work, including those that take batteries.  This includes the DMG Game Boy, the Game Boy Light, Game Boy Color, Super Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP (front lit and back lit) and the Game Boy Player.  They have no problems with good rechargeable batteries like the Eneloop.

Minor Issues :

Please do not be alarmed by the above list, it is really only a small fraction of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color experience.

R-Type DX will not work properly until you perform a soft reset using Start + Select + B + A.

Shantae will write a save file which cannot be copied or deleted in a card reader.  The game will save and load games just fine.  This could be an issue with my micro SD card.

The Everdrive GB certainly works on the Super Game Boy.  It will support games with Super Game Boy features like Donkey Kong and Kirby's Dreamland 2.  It will work just fine with Space Invaders, including the part that transfers control to the SNES to play The Arcade Game.  However, 24 of Nintendo's games had a predefined palette, and when inserted in the Super Game Boy, the hardware would default to the specified palette.  When you first load a game with the Everdrive GB, you will see the default palette.  You can change it manually to the correct palette, using the information from here : http://tcrf.net/Super_Game_Boy_1_and_2, or you can push the reset switch of the SNES.  When the Super Game Boy boots back up, you will see the predefined palette.

One minor complaint I have is that the button to select a game or an option is B and the button to go back is A.  This just feels wrong on a Nintendo system with two buttons.  This can be changed on the Everdrive N8, but not here.  I do not have a problem with this scheme on the Mega Everdrive because a Genesis controller uses three or six buttons.

With GBOS v2, you can now swap A & B buttons so that A does the selecting and B goes back/cancels.  Just put it in the GBOS.GB file in your EDGB directory on the SD card and that is it.  It adds a half a second to the startup time because it has to load the file into RAM rather than have it embedded on the FPGA.

The Everdrive GB saves games in 32KB files.  Typically only the Pokemon games used battery backed save RAM that large.  Most Game Boy and Game Boy Color games used 8KB and some used 512 nibbles to save.  Editing save game files will require an extra step.

The Everdrive GB will not sort files alphabetically, you will need a program like DriveSort for that.

Conclusion

The Everdrive GB, while a bit more expensive than previous Game Boy flash carts, is a steal at $88.00.  I cannot recommend it highly enough to all fans of 8-bit handheld Nintendo games.

3 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Bomberman GB Collection doesn't work on Everdrive, probably same reason as Mortal Kombat, regardless of which of the 3 games you select, it loads back to the Title Screen.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

Minor quibble, but there's at least one other game that used the Tilt Sensor: the Japan-exclusive Command Master. To be fair, I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't stumbled upon it at a recent anime convention. (For collectors' purposes, it also has a very cool-looking translucent blue cartridge.)