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I’ve never been a huge fan of emulation, or using another system (most commonly a PC) to emulate or “think” its something else such as a SNES or Genesis or even a different type of PC. I know it has its uses but I’ve always found the real hardware to run smoother with less issues. a lot of games use certain nuances or quirks in its native system that are either very hard or sometimes virtually impossible to emulate, games sometimes run at incorrect speeds, sounds wrong or even looks wrong and that’s not taking into account the pure feel of playing on actual hardware. To be honest though physical media tends to wear out and die. This is where flash carts and copiers come in. Basically a flash cart or copier takes a ROM or the data that is on your SNES or NES cart and by some means, either a flash storage device or a floppy makes it playable on actual hardware. a ROM is the actual game you play, the chips it is written on inside a cartridge or on a CD/DVD is the physical means we use to store and access that game data. At times flash carts have created some controversy over copyright and piracy issues and it would be naive to say that this does not happen but there is also a HUGE amount of legitimate use that can be had from these devices. being able to access your entire legitimately owned games via a single cart and a PC without having to get out and cause wear and tear on your originals is a huge advantage let alone not having to store every game you own within hands reach. another great advantage is the ability to play games that were never officially translated and released to the USA. Several individuals and groups over the years have created excellent English fan translated ROMS of games that never got to be released stateside and if you import the actual game a flash cart lets you play those unseen classics on actual hardware in English. I should also take the time to point out that even these flash cart/copier devices are not perfect. some games use special chips built into the actual game carts that are not physically present in the flash carts or encoded in the ROM data. An example of this would be the famous Super FX chip in some SNES games that allowed polygons and 3D on the SNES. The NES is also infamous for its use of a variety of special chips inside carts and “mappers”.

THE EARLY YEARS

Above is a Chinese manufactured Game Doctor 7, a rather well known SNES copier from the early 90’s. this was my first experience with a copier which I had purchased around 2005 and i hated it. What you did was find your particular game ROM on the internet and then copy that ROM to a 1.44MB floppy disk. Usually the game was far larger than 1.44MB in size and required several floppies. The interface was a little awkward but manageable. From what I’ve gathered these devices were very popular but I just felt it was way to cumbersome and archaic not to mention it looked kinda unflattering humping my SNES all day. I should add the unit also took up a wall socket with a big AC adaptor box and I never did figure out how to save a games save file to disk, only the built in RAM which ment if I ever lost power to the system or accidentally unplugged it my save was gone.

A COMFORTABLE MIDDLE GROUND

I knew there had to be a better method out there. From a little research I had found an answer, the flash cart. How the flash cart differs from the earlier copiers is it does away with the hardware and unreliable floppies and using flash storage like the type found in your flash drive condenses the process down to a flashable cartridge (requiring no external power, simply insert in your system) and a small interface device and software program for your PC. Another bonus was that these devices were relatively cheap and were created for many old school systems such as the Genesis, SNES, TG-16, Master System and so on. there were still some problems though. I once read as a comment on a forum I can not recall that the people who make flash devices love antiquated hardware and would “make us use 5 1/4 floppies if they could”. Amusing but not to far from the truth, the earlier flash carts were still somewhat archaic and require some rather unintuitive methods. A non computer savoy individual may indeed end up having a hard time setting up these early flash carts. Also they tend to only be able to hold 1-4 games in memory at a time with only 1 able to use the save function. A reliable webpage based in Hong Kong that still sells these devices is Tototek. I’ve bough several affordable flash devices off them over the years and I can personally vouch for their reliable products and good customer service.

First off make sure you have a running PC that has one of these

A parallel Printer port. I don’t think they are standard anymore but PC’s were still commonly sporting them in the mid 2000’s so put that old Pentium 4 or AMD 3500+ to use. Also be SURE to go into the computers BIOS and set the printer port to EPP mode or it won’t work. You can usually access the BIOS on startup before Windows or whatever your running boots, press the del key or F8 key after powering on. Also I’m fairly sure the cable used must be bi-directional else the cable won’t transfer the information correctly.

So, you have your flash cart itself (I put mine inside an old extra cart of Super Mario World) and your small green board you connect to the PC. the board connects via a USB cable (for power) and a parallel printer cable. your also going to need a program such as Super Flasher that can be downloaded free from the above Tototek website, keep in mind the flashing software is different for different flash carts. The Genesis flash cart uses different software also available from the site.

It’s all rather self explanatory at this point. Insert the cart to the board, turn on the board via the power switch and use the software to load your ROM file. The Tototek carts are nice because you don’t have to do any goofy things with your game saves. it saves in game via a battery on the flash cart but keep in mind you can only save with one game at a time if you load multiple games onto the cart. Wait a few minutes for your game to load to the cart, pop it in your SNES (or whatever system you have a flash cart for) and

look at you, your playing an English translated Japan only strategy RPG on your actual SNES, yay!

THE PRESENT

As convenient as these style flash devices are over the older copiers technology moves on and flash carts of the present (2012) have evolved beyond the need for either clunky interfaces or limited space. enter the modern flash cart.

This is a modern example of a flash cart. This specific one is for the NES system but they are also made for a variety of cart based systems. This cart as well as its SNES version can be purchased here at Retrozone. The modern flash cart consists of the cart itself and usually either a Compact Flash card or in some devices an SD flash card. Everything you need is in 2 devices. For the NES you just buy a compact flash card, mine is 512MB in size. Insert it into the CF slot on your PC which most have them now and if not you can get USB adaptors for only a few dollars on eBay. drag and drop your ROM files into the folders you easily set up on the flash card and that’s it.Insert the card with your ROMS into the cart, insert cart into system and there you go, access to hundreds of games if you so choose. I need to point out again though that not all games work as I stated earlier many games on the NES use special hardware in the form of chips on the games. Good news is updates are always being worked on and as time passes more games are becoming playable via software updates to the carts available freely via the website. The one real downside I find, at least with the Retrozone version, is that the method of saving in game is somewhat clunky. You create a separate .sav file for whatever particular game you wish to save in. In order to save in game you have to get up and hold the RESET button down 5 seconds and let go and hopefully you get a little screen asking if you would like to save. its awkward but manageable. Another drawback is price, these style carts tend to go for well over $100 where the older Tototek style carts can be had for under $80. And that’s it for flash carts. A very useful way to have all your collection on hand and still use the acual hardware.

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3 Comments

  1. Your style is really unique compared to other people I
    have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess
    I will just book mark this site.

  2. A NES or Nintendo 64 flashcart wouldn’t be too shabby to play unreleased games in your region, or as you say, translated japanese games. Definitely something I’ll look into in the future.

    • The NES powerpak is an excellent NES flashcart. I don’t have a N64 one yet simply because it was never one of my favorite systems though there are a few Japanese games I’ll love to play translated versions of like Wonder Project J2


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