Hardware Review: Everdrive GBA X5 (Game Boy Advance) Flash Cartridge

Everdrive-GBA-X5-ReviewIn what could be described as the most anticipated arrival from Krikzz’s retro gaming headquarters, the Ukrainian mastermind has finally released an Everdrive flash cartridge for the Game Boy Advance. Simply dubbed the Everdrive GBA X5, this modern solution for Nintendo’s 2001 handheld enters a slightly crowded market with the aim of coming out on top.

For those unfamiliar with the other options available, the Nintendo Game Boy Advance saw a flurry of backup devices hitting the platform just mere years into its release. Many of these came during the slow transition which home computing took towards adopting the USB standard, and of course the growing popularity of memory cards. This in turn saw several Game Boy Advance flash cartridges bundled with parallel port writers, whilst the newer options began to utilise writing on the fly via a USB cable.

As promising as this progress was for gamers, the general experience was somewhat lacking when it came to playing Game Boy Advance ROMs on flash cartridges. If it wasn’t the unreliable parallel port connectivity causing issues, the proprietary software needed to either write ROMs or patch them to run was incredibly cumbersome. Even the later cards which made use of removable media also suffered from mandatory software causing issues, which all in all meant there wasn’t a simple drag-and-drop solution available.

Despite these frustrations, these dated flash cartridges still managed to play the majority of hits from the Game Boy Advance’s catalogue. The trouble if anything arose once you decided to reshuffle your choice of installed ROMs - especially given storage came at a premium in the early 2000s.

Fast forward to today though, MicroSD cards are now pushing 128gb in capacity, and you’d like to think that the days of being selective with which ROMs to install are over. This is where the Everdrive GBA X5 comes in.

Introducing the Everdrive GBA X5

Originally revealed in October 2014, Krikzz’s announcement that a Game Boy Advance flash cartridge was in development was met with an excited response worldwide. While development on the device may have been taking its time, the small snippets of news which arose out of Ukraine continued to promise just about every feature fans of the handheld wanted. This included support for simplistic drag-and-drop of game ROMs onto an MicroSD card (without the need of patching or software), a Real Time Clock for use in Pokemon games, near 100% compatibility with the Game Boy Advance library, and support for the Gamecube Game Boy Player too. Following the sporadic updates which trickled out, the Everdrive GBA X5 was finally made available to pre-order in early July 2016 with those lucky enough to secure one receiving their cartridge around mid to late August.

Even prior to a purchase the first thing most have noticed about this new device is the shape of the cartridge. Instead of finding itself in a similar sized case to the standard Game Boy Advance cartridges, the Everdrive GBA X5’s form is more akin to the likes of the unique Drill Dozer and Yoshi's Universal Gravitation game carts. Once slotted in for play the cartridge’s shell sticks out of the handheld with both the MicroSD card slot and the on-board battery visible through the translucent case. While perhaps not as flush or tidy as the prior Everdrive GB or Everdrive GG cartridges, this small protrusion is purely cosmetic and doesn’t get in the way of the action.

Everdrive-GBA-Cartridge-Size

Temporary MicroSD Card Mayhem

With the visual side of things out of the way, we spent the next thirty minutes loading up a range of classics onto a 32gb MicroSD card. From Advance Wars to Wario Land 4, our standout choices were also coupled with the all important BIOS/menu files too. Unfortunately for us though, booting up the device for the first time presented an error message on screen. Reading ‘SD IO Error’ and refusing to show the game selection menu, we went back to the drawing board and tried formatting the MicroSD card and starting again. Frustratingly we were once again shown the error code. At this point in time we made the assumption that the device might not be able to handle storage as spacious as 32gb. We changed over to a 8gb MicroSD card and then found the exact same problem present once more.

Krikzz’s products (as many in the retro gaming world will tell you) are second to none. The constant sight of an error message was somewhat unfamiliar territory, and a little worrying. As a last resort we switched over to a 1gb MicroSD card that’s been sat in a box of spares and left unused for years. Much to our surprise the Everdrive GBA X5’s built in menu system showcasing our selection of ROMs appeared on screen.

Having finally stuck gold we decided to do some research on why the promise of compatibility with up to 32gb MicroSD cards wasn’t being held up. Looking over the discussion forums on Krikzz’s official website we soon found a whole host of other users suffering the same fate. As it stands reports suggest that the Everdrive GBA X5 struggles to work with MicroSD cards that exceed a Speed Class rating of 4. This means you’ll need to be selective in what MicroSD cards your purchase for use in the device at this point in time. Krikzz has since stated that a firmware upgrade to fix this issue will be released in the near future.

The only other point worth mentioning with the MicroSD cards is that the Everdrive GBA X5 firmware doesn’t automatically sort ROMs alphabetically. As a result the game selection menu will appear somewhat random, when in reality it’s sorted by the order the games are placed onto the MicroSD card. The two ways around this are to carefully place ROMs on in order, or instead use software such as DriveSort to put them back in order once done.

Everdrive-GBA-X5-in-a-GBA-SP

Gaming on the Everdrive GBA X5

Starting out with Advance Wars, the late 2001 war strategy game was chosen from the menu and running within seconds. Everything was on show as we remembered with the anime styled introduction playing out. As far as the Game Boy Advance could tell, a legitimate copy of Advance Wars was in the sat in cartridge slot occupied by the Everdrive GBA X5.

Having played the first few missions of the game, we saved our progress and shutdown the handheld. Before moving on to another classic, we booted Advance Wars up again to ensure that the save functionality was working correctly. As you’d expect our progress was waiting to be resumed from where we left off. The only thing worth mentioning with how the Everdrive GBA X5 handles save games is the unusual way it stores them on the MicroSD card. Instead of using a single file format for saves, the Everdrive GBA X5 gives each type of save a different file extension. For example we have .SRM for SRAM, .EEP for EEPROM, and .FLA for Flash Memory. Although anything but a problem, it does mean that anyone wanting to copy over existing save games from emulators or other backups will need to not only work out what save type their game uses, but also rename its file extension to match up.

On that note we decided to putting an existing save backup from Mario Kart Super Circuit onto the MicroSD card. By making use of the free software GBA Tool Advance we were able to determine that game uses Flash Memory for its saves, and thus we renamed our save file’s extension to .FLA and copied into the GBASYS/SAVE folder on the MicroSD card. It’s important to note here that the name of the save file must match that of the ROM it belongs to. Upon loading up Mario Kart Super Circuit the save file was instantly detected. The warm orange glow of the sky on the title screen of Mario Kart Super Circuit was visible - a sight only seen once you’ve beaten the game.

Pressing on we tested a wide range of games including Castlevania Circle of the Moon, Road Trip Shifting Gears, Kururin Paradise and F-Zero Climax. Each and every game we selected was running like a dream. In an attempt to push the device further we selected the Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories ROM which weighs in at a massive 256MBit. Needless to say Square Enix’s fantastic 2004 portable adventure was in action and awaiting our input.

Elsewhere the Real Time Clock functioned exactly as expected. Within Pokemon Sapphire the protagonist’s bedroom clock correctly matched the actual time of the day, and we can only assume that the time-based events including evolutions would work too.

Everdrive-X5-Menu

Last but not least our final attempt to trip up the Everdrive GBA X5 up was with fan translation patches and trainers. As the Everdrive GBA X5 is currently lacking support for Pro Action Replay or Gameshark codes, we opted to patch several games with (cheat) trainers that can be found dotted around the net. These little patches add a small screen before the game loads that allows you to toggle infinite lives or weapons, similar to the many found in cracktros in the home computing scene of the 1980s. Our tests soon saw F-Zero Maximum Velocity’s trainer tearing apart the game with instant full speed buttons and unlimited boosts on offer. The Everdrive GBA X5 once again showed no form of slowing down.

On the fan translation side of things, we did hit a few hiccups but these aren’t faults with Krikzz’s creation. Having enjoyed what we saw of Kururin Paradise previously we patched the game ROM with the fan translation available at ROMHacking.net. Sadly this brought around a whole host of graphical and audio glitches, making the game unplayable. This is down to the method of translation/patching used here, presumably intended to be compatible with emulators instead of the actual handheld. Elsewhere the recently released Magical Vacation English language patch ran like a dream, with Brownie Brown’s Japanese exclusive adventure finally playable on the original hardware.

Everdrive GBA X5 Video Demonstration

Conclusion

As you may have already noticed we’ve been blown away with the Everdrive GBA X5. For years now the Game Boy Advance has needed a fuss free flash cartridge that doesn’t rely on software coded for Windows XP or older operating systems. While the Everdrive GBA X5’s problems with specific MicroSD cards may be problematic, it’s a temporary hiccup which will soon be resolved through a firmware update.

Simply put, there is no other Game Boy Advance flash cartridge out there that’s capable of containing the entire library within - nevermind offering what appears to be perfect compatibility and quick ROM loading. Costing £94.99 from Retro Towers, it’s a worthy investment given just a handful of retail releases could cost you that today.

Link: Everdrive GBA X5 (Game Boy Advance Flash Cartridge) at Retro Towers

Many thanks to Retro Towers for providing a cartridge for review.


 

Cauterize

Better known as Adam offline, Cauterize is one of RetroCollect's final bosses with an unhealthy addiction to pixels. When he's not out searching the web for the latest retro gaming news or creating content for RetroCollect, he'll will most likely be found working on his Sensible Soccer skills.

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) The Raffle King 2016-08-23 10:24
Hi,
I am new to all this ROM stuff and have always preferred to play my original GBA cartridges.
However, I have wanted to play Magical Vacation for ages so stumped up for the EverDrive GBA.
Could someone please tell me how to find and download these GBA ROM's.
Thanks in advance.
John
+1 (Link to this comment) Cauterize 2016-08-23 12:49
Quoting The Raffle King:
Hi,
I am new to all this ROM stuff and have always preferred to play my original GBA cartridges.
However, I have wanted to play Magical Vacation for ages so stumped up for the EverDrive GBA.
Could someone please tell me how to find and download these GBA ROM's.
Thanks in advance.
John

Hey John,

You're in for a treat - it's a great game from what we've played so far. Unfortunately we can't link you directly to ROMs to download, but if you're wanting to play the translated version here's what you will need to do:

1) Download LunarIPS for PC
2) Download the Magical Vacation fan translation (http://www.romhacking.net/translations/2662/)
3) Patch the ROM using LunarIPS
4) Play!

Nice and easy!
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