Ever wish you could have every NES game? Now you can
Stretching all the way back to the mid to late 1980s, Famicom gamers have had the opportunity to buy unlicensed multi-carts rather than official games. The draw to these carts is obvious – they cost a fraction of the price and often contain unique, rare or modified games, or it might simply be that they contain many good games in one place without forcing the player to constantly swap out cartridges.
However, multi-carts also have their share of flaws. More often than not, the games they contain are among the Famicom’s most simplistic. Multi-carts are infamous for the likelihood of containing crappy games as well. Worse, carts that claim to have dozens, often hundreds of games really only ever house a small fraction of that with the small number of real games just repeating over and over. But the biggest problem with any multi-cart is that no matter what games it contains, it will never replace your entire collection because they never contain battery back ups or large games and because the individual gamer has no say in which games are on any one multi-cart.
Now all of that has changed thanks to an ingenious device known as the Power Pak. Simply put, the Power Pak is a NES cartridge dev tool that can convert FAT flash memory from a standard compact flash card into 6502 assembly code, allowing it to read .nes files. The Power Pak is fitted with virtual mappers, allowing it to read and play theoretically every NES or Famicom game ever programmed.
Available exclusively via RetroZone at retrousb.com, the Power Pak is the answer to all the problems with current multi-carts for both the NES and Famicom. Designed to eliminate the wear and tear that occurs to the aging 72 pin connector of the NES through constant use, the Power Pak is the ultimate companion to any NES or Famicom.
This is my first review of this nature, so bare with me as I hammer out a hardware review format.
The Powerpak is housed in an attractive transparent red NES shell with a port for a Compact Flash card in the top right corner. Once inserted, the Compact Flash card lays flush with the top of the cartridge.
The Powerpak imploys a brilliant yet simple latch mechanism that manually slides up and then allows the user to push in to eject the CF card effortlessly.
Although dark red transparent and housing a CF card port, the shell of the Powerpak mirrors a standard Nintendo cartridge perfectly. It will fit in perfectly on a shelf of other NES cartridges.
The only negative point of the Powerpak is that it comes in an NES 72-pin cartridge only; there is no 60-pin Famicom design. Therefore, to play it on a Famicom you need to use an adapter and have the large cartridge face backwards as per usual for NES games on a Famicom.
While I wouldn’t recommend treating the Powerpak with excessive abuse, the cartridge is about on par with the standard durability of original gray NES game cartridges. The Powerpak should be able to put up with years of use and wear without issue. As we all know, NES games are tough.
The Powerpak works like a dream; all you need to do is install the system software onto a CF card and then load up your favorite .nes ROMs. Currently, the Powerpak supports nearly every NES mapper there is with the notable exception of MMC5. This means there are well over one thousand fully playable, bug free games with more arriving with future firmware updates.
As the Powerpak reads .nes files, the entire library of NES, Famicom, and Famicom Disk System games are theoretically playable on any NES or Famicom. The Powerpak will even read PAL games on an NTSC NES or Famicom, although the added speed of the processor will make the PAL NES games about 12% faster than they should be.
Another welcome feature is the ability to load and save RAM data via flash memory for games that originally saved with a battery, such as the Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. All you need to do is create a dummy save file for each game, rename it to the name of the game, and then save to it when prompted.
This little bit of extra work ensures that you will never lose your save data to a dead battery of the NES’s notorious saving error that occurs when you turn off the system improperly.
When you load up the Powerpak, you’re greeted to a simple to use menu interface to select the game you wish to play, just like any Multicart. Once a game is selected, you can also choose to load RAM save data and input up to five Gamegenie codes. That’s two more codes than even the real NES Gamegenie!
Since the Powerpak has the ability to reduce the entire NES library to a mere menu to select hundreds of games from, it brings up the morally gray issue of emulation.
Is the Powerpak a tool of evil piracy or is it the ultimate collectors tool and the holy grail NES games have been looking for? Depending on who uses it, it’s both.
While you can load up all the Mario and other Nintendo titles up on it and play them for free, most of the games you can play on the Powerpak were developed by companies that no longer exist, or at the very least, are no longer making any profit from their 20+ year old games.
I myself have a large collection of NES, Famicom and FDS games, and have actually used the Powerpak to demo games before buying the cartridges. I’ve even used this process before buying a few NES games on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
Ultimately, the choice of how one uses the Powerpak should be left to each individual gamer.
In addition to running games, the Powerpak can also read .nsf (Nintendo Sound Format) files naively. NSF files are the raw data the 6502 processor of the NES uses to produce noise. With the ability to run nearly any nsf, composers can test out their work in Famitracker (an NSF composer for modern computers) and everyday chiptune fans can enjoy their favorite NES tunes without pressing a button sequence to load up the hidden sound test in their favorite NES game.
At a base price of $135 USD plus shipping, the Powerpak isn’t exactly pocket change for most gamers. However, from an economical standpoint, the Powerpak is quite a good deal considering all it offers. If you’re an NES gamer, chances are you have dozens if not hundreds of NES games you’ve bought over the years. What if you’re an NES owner also interested in Famicom games? FDS? Homebrew and game reproductions? You see what I’m getting at?
Just how much money has your collection cost you to build? Is it even complete? For the price of only just a few rare games you can own everything. The Powerpak also gives the ability for owners of sealed games to play the games they’ve been thinking of opening. Since it also can run nearly every 8-bit Nintendo game ever made, it has the benefit of severely reducing cartridge pin connector wear and tear, saving you money and the hassle of replacing 72 pin connectors.
The Powerpak is a great value, offers endless variety and is a good long term investment as the stream of NES homebrew games, worthwhile hacks and even fan translations continues to flow.
While the Powerpak doesn’t do anything a decent PC emulator won’t, the reason why one would buy it is the same as any flash device – to be able to experience everything the original hardware had to offer, on the original hardware.
The Powerpak is the best thing to happen to the NES in years. Step aside Mario. The NES has a new killer app.