Recently a friend of mine (a chap called Lloyd who I happened to meet at Retro North many moons ago) made mention of a device he had bought called the PowerPak realising that I was keeping a regular NES blog he offered the cartridge up for a review. So with glee I rubbed my hands together and accepted what is probably the most important piece of emulation hardware that is available for the NES.
For those that don’t know what this wonderful device is its basically a NES cartridge that can take Compact Flash cards and run the vast majority of Famicom, Famicom Disk and NES games including most homebrew titles that are available. The cart itself can be bought for the princely sum of $135 (around £70) from a company called RetroUSB who offer a large range of USB devices for various retro consoles and pieces of NES development kit even homebrew games on their own cartridges.
The PowerPak pictured contains everything that you receive for your $135. A specially developed red cartridge, case, PowerPak manual created in the same style of all NES games, a card reader and 128mb Compact Flash card. Some of you may think that 128mb doesn’t amount to much but with the average size of a NES ROM being around 500kb it’s obvious that the card can hold a huge chunk of the NES library catering for most tastes. As stated in an earlier entry I tend not to agree with emulation and try only to play games that I’ve bought myself but there are always a few titles that are out of reach due to rarity or just plain expense. With this in mind I decided to add Dragon Warrior 4, Mr Gimmick and Rodland to the card as the latter are extremely rare and the former being priced over the £50 bracket. I have considered purchasing DW 4 several times in the past but the high price point has always put me off so it seemed fitting to load a Rom of it onto the cart.
Putting the Rom’s and neccesary files onto the cartridge is simple enough, using a standard directory listing similar to that used in Windows its just a matter of dragging and dropping the required files onto the Compact Flash card. Once this is done you are pretty much good to go and it’s simply a matter of placing the card into the PowerPak. There is a single card slot on top of the cartridge with a black release button and with this in place the PowerPak is ready for the NES.
Turning the NES on to be greeted by a RetroUSB logo and the version number of the PowerPak software, another great thing about the RetroUSB site is that they provide updates to the software meaning if a few games don’t work presently there’s a good chance a future update will fix the issue. After the main screen I was presented with a basic text directory structure and pressing up or down lets you flick through all the available games. Choosing one provides a couple of options a chance to input up to 5 separate Game Genie codes much better than the 1 code the physical GG device actually provides and a start game option. Loading the game takes nothing more than several seconds and once the game has begun there doesn’t seem to be any different to what it looks like on a normal cart. Everything runs at the same speed and out of all the games I tried none of them had any graphical glitches.
The PowerPak doesn’t include a battery backup device instead saving a game to the cart’s memory you simply reset the console and save what’s in the battery memory to a file on the Compact Flash card through the menu system. It can be a bit fiddly (and certainly sounds it from this description) but once you have the hang of it you will be saving various games in no time. With the added benefit being that each save file can be added to or taken from the PowerPak whenever you wish, handy if you want to email someone if you get stuck on part of a game.
So that leads me onto my thoughts for the device. Staying away from emulation I can certainly see the benefits of being able to play pretty much any hard to find game it’s even persuaded me that I need to add DW 4 to my collection sooner rather than later. My only real grumble is how fiddly the save system is but even that becomes second nature after a couple of tries though I would like to point out that hitting the power button instead of reset to save loses everything (Yes it happened twice, I’m a fool). My only other comment would be on the PowerPak’s menu’s which all seem a bit basic, functional but lacking in appearance though this could simply be put down to the limitations of the system rather than the device itself. Another feature I didn’t mention is the removal of region locking from any game the cart runs which pretty much means you can run anything you wish on a NES from the US, UK or even the rest of Europe.
Overall it’s an interesting emulation device which will run most games you throw at it so for those who still want to sit in front of TV with the console and feel a NES pad in their hands its the ideal solution. Once loaded with games you would probably never remove the cartridge again. So it all comes down to value for money. Would I pay this much for it? Personally no as I enjoy actually hunting a cart down, cleaning then firing it up but if I ever had enough money in the bank account spare then I wouldn’t hesitate to pick one up. At the very least it’s a nifty addition to any NES collection with its unique looking cartridge and from what I’m told they don’t come into stock all that often on the RetroZone site making them all that much more desireable.