ACTION REPLAY (GameCube)
For years, Datel have been the pioneer of game enhancers and universal adapers. Why, it seems like only yesterday I was entering pokes into my C64. And only, um, last night that I was plugging a US copy of Super Tennis into the back of a Universal Adapter while a Japanese copy of Assault Suits Valken sat on the top.
Yes, Datel have been good to us over the years, and their console-related brilliance knows no bounds, recently producing devices like DVD Region X for the PS2, simultaneously allowing users to play movies from all regions while simultaneously getting rid of the Matrix-esque green screen. They’ve always been developing various incarnations of Action Replay/GameShark, but it’s only now that they’re going back to the business of universal adaptors, allowing gamers to play games from all over the world.
"Now the circle is complete." But how did we end up where we are?
Whether it was the Action Replay or the GameShark, gamers worldwide flocked to game enhancers with the promise of infinite lives, unlimited ammunition, hidden areas and items, even extra characters and levels. Simply by entering a series of codes, players who had long since given up on games they were stuck on could go back and pick up where they left off, and gamers who had long got bored of older games could give them a new lease of life with some crazy enhancements; one of the biggest pulls of the Pro Action Replay on the SNES was the ability to play as the elusive boss characters on Street Fighter II (the fact that this entailed corrupted sprites and only partial movesets was beside the point). And with the Pro Action Replay 2, gamers were no longer stuck using the codes provided by Datel themselves; now they could use the new hardware to create their own cheats and enhancements. But the SNES actually led Datel into the other field that they have since become market leaders in: universal adapters.
Works on the standard GameCube...
Traditionally, the world has been split into three regions when it comes to video games (which is likely where the DVD committee got their bright idea) the USA, Japan, and Europe. Over the years, through everything from different cartridge shapes to additional chips and eventually region coding, consoles have been unable to play games from other regions. In the early days of the NES (which, for all intents and purposes, was when the videogame industry exploded worldwide), there was no need or desire for doing so, since Japan and the US had a huge catalogue of titles, and in Europe the whole idea of videogames was in such a state of infancy that only die hard fans were even aware that there were hundreds of games that never made it across the ocean. But as the industry flourished, gamers in Europe began to realise that they were being denied the opportunity to play games not only exclusive to the American market, but more enticingly, the Japanese market too.
And the Panasonic Q. Result!
So with the Super NES, everybody went to work. The matter of playing Japanese games on US consoles has always been relatively straightforward, since both territories use NTSC machines that are identical inside. So while all US players needed was a simple bridge adapter to open the full catalogue of titles, European players were stuck in a very different, PAL-shaped boat; consoles had to be adapted to the PAL TV standard, which was a time-consuming process for developers. This meant that games that ended up in European stores were "un-optimised", running 17.5% slower than their NTSC counterparts, and with ugly black borders at the top and bottom of the screen. Not only were gamers being offered only a fraction of the number of games as their American and Japanese counterparts, but the ones that they were actually given were almost unplayable by comparison.
Datel went to work cracking the coding in NTSC games. Soon they released the Universal Adapter, which allowed any SNES from any country to play games from any other country. Nintendo countered by adding new protection chips in their big releases (and by including new technology such as the 3DFX chips which inadvertently had the same effect), and Datel fought back with updated versions of their hardware.
With the release of the Nintendo GameCube, it soon became apparent that two blobs of solder and a small switch were all that was needed to allow US gamers to play Japanese games, and interest in an adapter for this purpose seemed minimal. No, the real demand would be (as always) getting NTSC machines to play PAL games and vice versa. So, just how have they done?
Put the Action Replay disc into the drive, and slide the Action Replay cartridge into memory card slot B. It doesn’t initially matter whether you do this before or after you turn the machine on, but if you’re having trouble loading an import game, there are six different boot methods that will change the order you do everything (see Boot Methods).
Whack the AR disc in the drive, the AR cartridge in Slot B, click on Gameplay...
When you boot up the device, you’ll be greeted with the Datel disclaimer screen (since the device is very much unauthorised and frowned upon by Nintendo), and then the main menu.
... et voila! This is where the magic happens.
From here you can:
Start Game Duh.
FreeLoader Load import games without enhancements.
Action Replay Load import/domestic game with enhancements.
Options Fiddle with shit.
So, where do you want to go today?
Datel’s latest Universal Adapter technology is called FreeLoader, and quite simply it allows PAL GameCubes to play NTSC games and NTSC GameCubes to play PAL games. The FreeLoader software is available separately, but it’s included with the Action Replay, so you can instantly unlock games that will never see a US release such as Doshin The Giant and Winning Eleven.Thankfully, the technology is at a point now where the traditional need for two cartridges or discs (one domestic and one import) in order to connect simultaneously or hot-swap, is a thing of the past. All you need do in order to play an import game is:
Click “FreeLoader” and you will be asked to open the GC lid.
Swap the Replay disc for your import title, and close the lid.
Sit back while the FreeLoader restarts the GC and plays your game.
So, pretty simple, right? Actually, no. The FreeLoader technology works incredibly well, but there have been problems. Literally days after the first batch of the standalone FreeLoaders were released with version 1.4 of the software, people encountered problems with PAL games such as Resident Evil running with slowdown. Datel immediately released version 1.6b of the software and offered free replacements, but it turned out there was a way around the problem without the newer version.
In fact, there are FIVE ways around the problem.
It turns out that “Put in Replay, turn on Cube, select FreeLoader” is not the only way to run import games, and in fact may cause some games to run with errors. There are a total of five different boot methods that change the order of the above process, and between them, make just about every game run flawlessly.
The five methods are (and this will probably only make sense if you’ve actually got an Action Replay or FreeLoader):
- Insert Replay disc, turn on GC. When FreeLoader screen appears, open disc tray, insert import title, close lid, load game.
- Power up GC with no disc. Insert Replay and move to Gameplay mode on the main screen. When the Replay mini icon appears, remove disc and insert import title. Accept and click START to load import game.
- Power up GC with Replay inserted. Go to the FreeLoader main screen, press Z, then choose your region. Once the region has been selected, open the lid and insert import disc. Close and wait for game to load.
- Power up GC with Replay inserted. When you reach the main freeloader screen, open lid and insert import disc but don’t close the lid yet. Now hit Z, choose region, and close the lid.
- Power up GC with no disc in. Move to Gameplay at the main menu. Insert Replay. When the Replay mini icon appears, accept and press START. At the main FreeLoader screen, open the lid and insert your import disc but don’t close the lid. Hit Z, choose your region, and close the lid.
Now, it isn’t without its teething pains. For instance, some import games (like PAL Resident Evil) run fine, but can be difficult to run with Action Replay codes active. And for PAL users running NTSC games, Metroid has caused more than a few headaches (although it turns out that, thanks to a bug in the IBM chips, about 1% of US GameCubes can’t run Metroid either). But as long as you’ve got the latest version (1.6b) of the software, one of the above boot methods will almost certainly load your import game, and it only takes about ten seconds to try each one.
Another issue is that import titles may run perfectly, but may be displayed a little less so. Now, PAL users running NTSC games don’t know how lucky they are, because the FreeLoader converts the GC’s extremely rare NTSC 3.58 signal to PAL, so you can now run NTSC games on any TV (previously you had to have a pretty decent TV to do so). NTSC gamers running NTSC games (American or Japanese) will have no problems, but if you’re running PAL games on an NTSC machine, you’ll need a true RGB lead (I’m not sure how it affects component or digital cables), because if you’re using composite connections or an S-video lead, your picture will look like this:
So if, like me, you’ve got a Panasonic Q, you’re screwed. If you’ve got a conventional GameCube (which I’ve thankfully got as well), you’ll be okay, as you can either tinker with your own RGB lead or track down a true RGB lead (if you buy one in the US you should be okay it’s PAL RGB leads that are the problem). It’s because PAL games run at 50hz instead of 60hz, and NTSC Cubes only process 50hz games in black and white. It’s worth noting, though, that Doshin The Giant (a Japan and PAL-only game that is likely the only PAL game you'll import) was designed to run in 60hz, so don’t worry about picking up that one.
Something else worth bearing in mind is that PAL and American games can be saved on the same memory card, but Japanese games will require their own card. If you’ve got your US/PAL card in the slot and you’re playing a Japanese game that prompts you to save, DON’T DO IT, as it will format your memory card. Draw a flag or something on your cards and make sure to keep the right one in when you’re playing.
A quick trip to the Datel forums can help you sort out just about any import game problem you can think of, though it is worth bearing in mind that the technology is and will always be a work-in-progress. As newer and more demanding software is released (Metroid, for instance, is the only title to completely fill up the GameCube’s memory) the older versions of the technology may not be able to run them. So whether you want to pick one up now or wait a few months in case a newer version is released is up to you. In my opinion, you may as well grab one now, since most of you only want to play Japanese games anyway and there’s no problem with those.
VERDICT FL: A real piece of magic. Using the different boot methods, it is possible to play any import game on any console. American gamers who just want to play Japanese games should go buy one right away, because there are no problems whatsoever. If you want to play PAL games, just make sure you’ve got a proper RGB lead and you should be fine. PAL gamers can play NTSC games with no problems too, so basically this is a thumbs way up.
Anyone who’s used an Action Replay will feel right at home here. There are codes preinstalled for 153 games (86 US, 59 European, 8 Japanese), so there should be codes ready-to-go for most of the games in your collection.
To play a game with cheats and enhancements is easy:
Once you’ve clicked on the Action Replay option, choose the region your game comes from.
This will bring up a menu with all the pre-installed codes for that region. All you need to do now is toggle the codes that you want on or off, then press START. Hey presto! The game loads up with all your cheats and enhancements.
Of course, there won’t be preinstalled codes for every game available, but you can add your own codes to the Action Replay whenever you want. You can find Datel’s official codes on their website or in their G-Force magazine (which is also the only GC mag that comes with a DVD every month). There are also codes in most other magazines and websites like GameFAQs, although obviusly Datel won’t guarantee that they’ll work. Adding a new code for a game already on the Replay menu, or adding a new game entirely are no problem all you do is enter the title and as many codes as you want, and it will save to the Replay cartridge (on the options menu you can turn autosave on or off, save manually, or clear all your own codes and reset the Replay to factory settings).
CHEAT TO WIN~!
Datel are also planning to release update discs containing all the latest codes, so all you’ll need to do is buy the latest disc from Datel's website and your Replay will be bang up to date very cool indeed. As for the cheats themselves, all the codes that I tried on the Replay worked fine nothing caused games to crash or data to be lost. There’s everything from straight-up cheats like infinite ammo in Die Hard and infinite money in Animal Crossing, to wacky enhancements like walking on the sea bed and moon jumps in Mario Sunshine. There’s even codes for some of the latest releases such as Resident Evil 0, 2 and 3, Zelda and the Zelda bonus disc, so you won’t get bored looking for things to play with.
Now, a couple of precautions. Throughout the Action Replay’s illustrious lifespan, there have been instances where using the hardware itself has erased memory cards and gamesaves, and some codes can also have adverse effects on games. There haven’t been any such instances yet with the GameCube, but from the SNES to the PS2 versions people have encountered problems, so it’s worth bearing in mind perhaps you should copy your saves onto a spare card until you’re comfortable using the device. Datel have restricted the number of codes you can use at one time to help prevent such problems, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful. I read that someone said his GameCube got messed up using the Replay, but to be honest, since the GC can’t write to its discs, and since the Replay doesn’t write to the hardware itself, I’m pretty doubtful.
VERDICT AR: If you’ve used an Action Replay before, you’ll know just what to expect. If you’ve never heard of it, you won’t be disappointed: if you’re stuck on a level, give yourself unlimited energy to get past it. If you’ve got an old game you’re bored of, use a bunch of cheats to make it interesting again I’d much sooner play Resident Evil with all the weapons and infinite ammo. Cheating bastards unite!
With an Action Replay, you can import and play games from any region, and cheat the hell out of them. Whether you just want to play Doshin The Giant or you’re too crap to beat Soccer Slam, the Replay is ideal. The thing never goes out of date because you can add all the codes you want, and Datel are offering to upgrade everybody to the latest version of the FreeLoader technology. So what are you waiting for?
All the shit it took to write this review.
In the US, the Action Replay will be marketed under the GameShark brand, but it’s the same thing. If you’re in the UK, I would overwhelmingly recommend buying from Play.com, because a Replay only costs £17.99 including shipping, whereas it costs £29.99 in stores.