I’m fortunate enough to own a Nintendo 3DS, GCW Zero, and a Samsung Galaxy S3 Android smart phone. At one time or another I’ve used all three to emulate classic game consoles and play games. How do they compare to each other?

Hardware:

Out of the box the GCW Zero is ready to go. The Nintendo 3DS requires you to buy a $40 DSTWO flash cartridge. The S3 needs a Game Klip and a PS3 controller.

The 3DS has the biggest screen. It also has two screen, this is important for playing DS games.

The GCW Zero is the easiest to pocket. The 3DS is just a bit too big for a pocket, it does well in a backpack. The S3 by itself fits easily into a pocket, the Game Klip and PS3 controller not so much.

The S3 with a PS3 controller has the best controls of the bunch.

The GCW Zero has the best battery life, about eight hours for me. The 3DS around four and the S3 2-3. It’s difficult to judge the S3 since its hard to use it for nothing else than playing a game for 3+ hours.

NES, Gameboy, and Gameboy Color games: All three devices play these games equally well.

Super Nintendo and Genesis Games: GCW Zero and S3 can emulate these darn near perfectly. The GCW Zero has trouble with SuperFX games such as Star Fox. The 3DS has trouble running graphically intense games at full speed. It works well for RPGs or other games where fast responses are not needed.

Nintendo 64 and Playstation Games:  The S3 is the only one that can emulate these. It does pretty well.

Gameboy Advance Games: All three devices can emulate Gameboy Advance with near perfection.

Nintendo DS Games: The GCW Zero cannot emulate DS and even if it did it doesn’t have a touch screen. The S3 can emulate the DS very well, though its screen will be split into two in order to emulate the DS’ two screens. The 3DS can run DS games natively and perfectly.

Other Consoles: None of the three devices have fast enough hardware to emulate consoles beyond the Nintendo 64/Playstation era. The 3DS can natively play 3DS games though. Consoles older than the NES run well on all three.

What about native games? The S3 has the entire Google Play Store to pick from. The 3DS has the library of 3DS and DS games. The GCW has some not so great Linux games.

Using it for things other than games: Hands down the S3. Being a smart phone its all good. The 3DS has a limited web browser and can watch Youtube. The GCW just plays games.

Which one of the three do I use the most? I use my Nintendo 3DS the most. The screen size, battery life, controls, DS and 3DS game support make it my favorite of the bunch. Its the one I take if I’m going on a trip. The 16bit console support is a bummer but the 3DS and DS support more than make up for it.

 

Being able to run emulators on an OpenELEC computer can be tricky. It takes a fair bit of knowledge from several different areas to setup. I’m going to try to give a good overview of putting all together into a working system. By the end you’ll have a setup that allows you to play all of your old games from the comfort of your couch.

Something to consider, the build of RetroArch I’m using doesn’t have emulators for a lot of systems. Here is a list of what it can emulate.

I’m going to break this up into sections. I’m going to assume you have OpenELEC installed and working.

Getting ROMs on OpenELEC

Be sure to organize your ROMs into folders based on their console. EG: put your SNES ROMs in a snes folder, put your NES ROMs into a nes folder, and so on.

By far the easiest way to get ROMs onto your OpenELEC computer is to put them onto a flash drive and plug it in. Once plugged in use XBMC to add a new file source pointing to the flash drive.

Go to Settings and then File Manager

Go to Settings and then File Manager

Select Add Media and then Browse

Select Add Media and then Browse

Select Root File System then Media. Your drive will be one of the folder in there. Select it.

Select Root File System then Media. Your drive will be one of the folders in there. Select it.

Once you've selected your flash drive, click OK.

Once you’ve selected your flash drive, click OK.

The file source is now added and your ROMs are now easily accessible by OpenELEC/XBMC.

Getting RetroArch working on OpenELEC

Our hero and savoir, zaggash, has written a RetroArch addon for OpenELEC which makes installing all of the emulators a breeze. First thing we need to do is download a copy of the addon and install it on OpenELEC. Go to Zaggash’s site and download build appropriate for your computer.  For instance I use the Generic build. Take that file and put it on the flash drive from the previous step and then plug the flash drive back into your OpenELEC computer. Now we need to install it.

Go back to System, then select Addon Browser. From there select Install from Zip file. Navigate to the source we created in the previous step and install the emulator.retroarch ZIP file.

Now we need to add another file source that points to RetroArch. Go back to System->File Manager->Add Source->Browse. This time select Home Directory->.xbmc->addons->emulator.retroarch->bin. Call the new source Emulator Bin.

Getting ROM Collection Browser working on OpenELEC

ROM Collection Browser is also available as an addon. It gives you a nice menu in XBMC to launch your ROMS from. You can install it via addon manager without doing anything special.

Once installed start the addon. We’ll need to add your ROMs. Here is how I would do it for Game Boy Advance ROMs.

Start ROM Collection Browser. Hit the Menu button on your remote and select Add Rom Collection->Scrape game info and artwork online->Game Boy Advance. Now we need to select where RetroArch is, open your Emulator Bin source and select retroarch.sh.

Now it will ask you for any arguments RetroArch needs to start. Change it to: vba_next “%ROM%”

Note that vba_next is the core from RetroArch. If you’re adding different game systems the core name will change. See here for a complete list of cores: http://sourceforge.net/p/zaggxbmcaddons/wiki/Core%20List/

Once it is done scrapping the artwork for your games you should be able to launch them with the remote.

Getting a controller to work on OpenELEC

For me, this was the toughest part of the setup. I tried numerous controllers and spent a lot of time banging my head against the wall. In the end I settled on a corded SNES USB controller.

Wireless XBOX 360 controller: An XBOX 360 controller will actually work just by plugging it in, problem is that the drivers included with OpenELEC are not able to control the LED lights on the controller. Where as on an XBOX the lights will go solid in a spot to represent which player you are, on OpenELEC they continue to flash, forever. If you can deal with the flashing its all good. I’ve had thoughts of taking the controller apart and removing the LEDs.

PS3 Dual Shock 3 Sixaxis: I couldn’t get the controller to work either wired or in Bluetooth mode. In both cases the OS detects it as a HID device, but never as a joystick.

Random corded USB controllers: I’ve had good luck with my SNES USB, old Microsoft Sidewinder, and Logitech USB controllers. All of which only needed to be plugged in to work.

Once you’ve made a choice on controllers you have to let RetroArch know about it. You’ll need to SSH into your OpenELEC computer. The login is root and the password is openelec.

Once logged in:

cd .xbmc/addons/emulator.retroarch/bin/
./retroarch-joyconfig

From there follow the prompts to hit the buttons on your controller. If you don’t have a button it asks for, just hit any button. If says anything about not finding a joystick, you’re in trouble.

Once down you’ll get a bunch of lines mapping buttons to action, you’ll want to copy all of this and put it at the bottom of /storage/emulators/retroarch/config/retroarch.cfg

Also at the bottom of your retroarch.cfg file add:

input_enable_hotkey_btn = 6
input_exit_emulator_btn = 7

Replace 6 and 7 with numbers representing the buttons on your controller you want to hit that will exit a ROM you’re playing. On my controller 6 and 7 represent the Select and Start buttons.

… and that’s it. You should now be able to start Rom Collection Browser, find a game with the remote, start it, play it with a controller, then return to XBMC by hitting two buttons on the controller.

 

Letcool 350JP

Bottom line, for NES and below it works alright. If you can find one cheap, say $20 or less, it makes a nice toy. I can’t really recommend it and I would never consider it a ‘go to’ device.

NES: OK most of the time. Games with lots of sprites on the screen will cause slow downs.
Game Boy/Game Boy Color: Game Boy games work very well. Game Boy Color games suffer from the same problems as NES games; slow downs at inopportune times.
SNES and other 16-bit consoles: Too slow to be playable.

The speakers are not great. Everything sounds tinny.

Some Random Notes and Thoughts:

You don’t ‘install’ emulators. They’re already there. Just put your ROMs on your SD card inside of the games folder. Open the Games menu on the LetCool, browse to your ROM and hit the A button. I spent more time than I should have trying to figure that out.

The D-pad is pretty bad. Where the push registers in the travel of the button varies between pushes. This makes timing jumps and such difficult.

Most Current Firmware: http://boards.dingoonity.org/spmp8000-devices/letcool-new-firmware-and-patch-2012-tutorial/

Doom and Quake: http://boards.dingoonity.org/spmp8000-devices/spmp8kdoom-%28sdldoom-1-10%29-spmp8k-quake/

GCW-Zero

I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a GCW-Zero. I’ve had it for about two weeks now and have been playing with it just about every night for a hour or so before bed. I have mainly been playing Link’s Awakening DX, but I have spent a fair amount of time with each system I can emulate.

NES via FCEUX: Perfect. Tried a bunch of different games without issue. Made it all the way through Super Mario Bros. 1 without a glitch.
Game Boy/Game Boy Color via GamBattle: Perfect. I tried a couple of other emulators at first, both of which had problems with music or colors. (OhBoy notably)
SNES via Snes9x4d: I get the occasional slow down. It’s about like SNES emulation on a 3DS. SuperFX games do not work well such as Star Fox or Stunt Race FX.
GBA via ReGBA: No issues that I’ve seen. Mario Kart plays very well. I’m almost expecting to find something glitchy, but so far so good.
Playstation/PSX via psx4all: PSx4All is an unofficial port and the only PSX emulator I could find. Every game I tried was very slow and the sound stuttered or was lagged.
Genesis: I’ll confess I’m not much of a Genesis fan and didn’t try it. There are several Genesis emulators available.
Nintendo DS, Nintendo 64: Spec wise the GCW-Zero should be able to emulate these but there are no emulators yet written.

Some Random Notes:

The hardware is nice. It’s cool, in a nerd sort of way, to see Linux boot up on a handheld. The GCW is light and feels good to hold. You can hold it a long time and not get fatigued. The buttons are all easy to reach and have a good feel.

The native  games for the GCW-Zero are neat but nothing to write home about.

The one exception to the above is Kobo Deluxe.

ScummVM has a port but most of the games are pretty laggy. Should be all good once the software gets some optimizations.

Quake 1, 2, 3 and Decent 2 run really well. The control scheme made them unplayable for me though.

Doom is supposed to run well but for the life of me I couldn’t get it to work.

Warcraft 2 runs in DOSBox. It’s a little laggy but I was able to play the first mission without wanting to kill myself.

Adjusting the volume by holding the power button and using the D-pad is weird, but does the job.

By trolling Ebay I got my GCW for a lot less than retail. I’m not sure I would pay $140 for it.

The best comparison to the GCW-Zero are the Android handhelds put out by JXD. In my opinion the GCW-Zero has great hardware and questionable software. The JXD devices have questionable hardware (quality control issues) and great software (Android OS). If I knew for certain the JXD handheld I was buying had no hardware quality issues I would buy a JXD handheld over a GCW-Zero. Problem with JXD is no one knows if you’re going to get a device with a jacked screen, buttons, or who knows what else.

ThinkGeek is a reseller if you’re looking for a reputable seller.

Bottom Line:

If you can find one for less than $100 I would recommend a GCW-Zero. I think in a year the software will catch up and it’ll be an awesome device.

My other thought is that in a year the handheld Android consoles will be a dime a dozen with greatly improved build quality.

 
5/9/14 Update: With the release of the newest firmware and some updates to the SNES emulators, SuperFX games work pretty well. Stunt Race FX works great!

The first and only Nintendo 3DS flash cart was released last month. Here is my take on it.

It works, mostly. You can put a Nintendo 3DS ROM on an SD card and play it via the Gateway cart. If you’re used to DS flash cartridges and their features you’re going to be in for some surprises though.

As of this writing the Gateway 3DS only works on firmware 4.5. If you’ve ever updated your 3ds you’re out of luck for now.

The Gateway 3DS only allows one rom per SD card. The SD card does not need to be the exact size of the ROM.

The Gateway 3DS does not run any homebrew yet. That means no emulators for SNES, GBA, ect.

The Gateway 3DS does not run DS games. You need a DS flash cart like the DSTWO for that.

The biggest problem is that games that utilize saves do not save once you take the cartridge out. Chew on the implications of that for a bit.

Sadly, that’s a whole lot of ‘does nots.’ Good news is that the makers of the Gateway have plans to resolve all of these problems in future firmware updates as the cartridge is upgradable.

In the meantime the Gateway 3DS is more of a proof of concept than a real usable flash cartridge.

 

Galaxy S3 with Game Klip

I like playing old games. I missed out on the NDS, Game Boy Color, GBA, and the butt end of the SNES and Genesis. Playing games from those consoles is actually something new for me.

I’ve known about old console emulation on Android phones for a long time. I had an original Droid phone that ran NES games alright. Having to use the touch screen as a controller though makes playing the games frustrating. I’ve played around a bit with using a Wiimote as a controller but then you have to prop up the phone somehow so you can have both hands free to hold the controller, no fun either.

Jump cut to the GameKlip. The GameKlip is a bracket that fits around a PS3 Dual Shock 3 controller and attaches to your Android phone or tablet. You get a real controller to use with your games and you don’t have to try to balance your phone on your lap. The GameKlip is a great idea and I can’t say enough good things about it.

I currently have a Samsung Galaxy S3 running the stock android ROM that came with it. I have attempted to use other ROMs such at CyanogenMod and Slim Bean but they would cause the game emulators to crash after a bit of play. Very cause and effect. Flawless under the stock ROM, reboot into CyanogenMod, load the same quick save up, play for a few minutes, emulator locks up. Bummer.

How well does the Galaxy S3 emulate the different consoles?

PSX: Great! Surprising considering how other emulators perform. Using RetroArch.

N64: It’s hit and miss. Some games wont even load. Speed can be an issue. Mario Kart is sort of playable. Slower paced games like Ogre Battle work ok. I’m currently using MuPen64 Plus AE. I’ve tried several other emulators and its the best all things considered. If you mix and match emulators most anything will at least load. Playability not so much.

SNES: It works well. There can be slow downs in spots with lots of sprites moving around (Contra 3), but nothing that ruins it for you. I’m using SNES9x EX+

Genesis: The same as the SNES.

NDS: Works great. Trying to show both of the DS screens at once on the little S3 screen just makes me wish I had an Android tablet to run the emulators on. Using DrasStic.

GBA: Perfect. No complaints at all. I’m using My Boy!.

GBC/Gameboy: Perfect. I’m using GBC.emu.

NES: Perfect. I’m using John NES Lite.

What about sound lag?

I’ve read a lot about Android emulators having bad sound lag. For instance, you grab a coin in Mario and you don’t hear the sound for it until a second later. Judging from the amount of reports on the Internet I’ve seen it must be a real problem. I already had an Android phone and most of the emulators have free to try versions. I didn’t have any risk involved in trying it out. If I had to buy a phone (or even one of the Android handheld consoles or a tablet) and then hope that emulation works, I wouldn’t have done it. That’s how worrisome all of the lag reports are.

Luckily though I have not had any problems with sound lag in my setup. Is it just my phone? Maybe my combination of emulators, ROM, and Android version is good? Dunno. It just works right for me as is.

What about RetroArch?

Why use all of these other emulators? RetroArch is free and emulates every system!

RetroArch is a good concept. All of the emulators in one place, no questions about licenses, and free. Good times.

RetroArch is hit or miss though. For instance, PSX emulation under it is near perfect. GBC emulation suffers from horrible slow downs and choppy sound. Considering the specs of the two systems you would expect the opposite problem. Using different emulators tailored to a specific system works well for me.  I may have spent $15 total for all of them, but I get a lot of value back in return.

 

I have a Nintendo 3dS XL. I wanted to get a DSTWO flash cart to run emulators. While researching what to buy I couldn’t find a straight answer on how well the emulation works, specifically for SNES and GBA. About the one constant I could find was that the DSTWO has a CPU in it to help out with emulation. Most of what I could find beyond that went from one extreme to the other, it was horrible or it was great.

After trying out the DSTWO for about a month this is what I’ve learned.

SNES: Works very well. Games with lots of sprites moving around at one time will slow down a little, Contra 3 for instance. I remember Contra 3 slowing down a bit way back when I was running it on a real SNES though. Games that use the SFX chip are super slow and not playable. I played a Link to the Past, Ogre Battle,  and Super Mario All Stars (+ World) just fine.

Genesis: About the same as the SNES emulation. The Sonics play well.

GBA: Never saw any problems.

NES, Gameboy, and Gameboy Color titles all play well.

Tip #1: If you try to load the DSTWO and you get a ‘No game inserted’, or ‘No game card inserted’ error, take the cart out and press it back in pretty hard. Its not a problem with how you formatted the card or any other some such. It’s a problem with the cart not seating down properly and the pins not making contact. Just give it a good push in.

Tip #2: The SD slot in the DSTWO is spring loaded. You push the SD card in and it clicks when it is seated. You push it in again and it clicks and the card pops out. The bits inside the card that handle the spring and the seating are cheaply made and wear out after a while. This happened after about ten in and outs for me. I’ve read on some forums about it happening sooner and of course some people never have a problem at all. My SD card will push in, but it no longer clicks and sticks. I ended up opening the DSTWO up, removing the spring and taping the SD card down. I suppose I could of (and should of) sent the card back for an exchange, but I didn’t want to be without it for that long.

 

 

 

After owning a Ouya for a week I’ve returned it to Amazon for a refund. The Ouya had problems that I couldn’t get over. I could have waited and hoped some future update would have fixed those problems, but after dealing with Ouya support and reading their forums I wasn’t confident it would happen.

The Bad

Overscan

I wrote a whole post about my frustrations with overscan. The fact that it had the problem was frustrating enough, the response I received about the problem put me over the edge. This problem and the response is the majority reason I returned my Ouya.

Support

The lack of support is appalling. There are issues, such as the overscan problem,  that make the Ouya unusable for people. The response you receive, if any, is that they’re working on it. In the case of the overscan problem, it’s been about three months and three firmware updates with no fix. I did get a response about my problem with overscan, but I felt the Ouya representative was annoyed I was even bringing it up. It’s a problem with your TV after all.

The touch pad

The touch pad on the controller is an awesome concept. Their implementation is bad and almost unusable. It’s hard to reach and when you do get a finger on it the cursor flies around on the screen almost at random. Also, you have to really give it a good thump for it to detect a click.

Games

I personally didn’t care much for the games. My selection was very limited though because of the overscan problem.

The Interface

The interface was overly simplistic and somehow sluggish. I didn’t like that my side loaded apps were in a different spot than my Ouya Store apps. The store having some options to sort would be nice.

Wifi

The Ouya’s wifi is just plain bad. Side by side with an ASROCK 330 using a no name USB wifi dongle the Ouya had worse reception,  higher ping, and a slower speed. I had to use a wired connection for XBMC to properly play videos on the Ouya.

The Good

I don’t want to come off as an Ouya hating fan boy. The Ouya has some great ideas and some great qualities.

XBMC and Plex ran like champs. They self corrected for my overscan problem. They both played all of my videos without any long buffering or stutters. (once on a wired network)

The emulators are awesome. I tried everything from the Atari 2600 to the PSX, all worked fantastically and corrected for the overscan.

Where it went wrong for me

I have an old XBOX running XBMC I use for emulators, then I have an ASROCK 330 for XBMC. My hope with the Ouya was to combine those into one machine. As an emulator and XBMC box Ouya did well. The overscan and the other problems (especially the overscan) just bugged the hell out of me. I didn’t want to use something I felt was broken.

I think the Ouya as a concept will ultimately be successful. Either the Ouya 2 will correct all of the problems, or a competitor will appear that does. If nothing else, the Kickstarter shows the market for a set top entertainment device that is open and hackable, I just don’t think the current Ouya is it.