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      Game Park 32 FLU Review - Part Two: Software - by Prophet


    (Links section added now!)

    Welcome to my little software roundup! Having read my hardware review, you've already gotten some idea of how powerful the GP32 is inside, so now let's explore some real demonstrations of what it can do. Keep in mind there is FAR more software available beyond the few games and emulators I'll be mentioning here - this review is only meant to convey what the GP32 can do, not EVERYTHING it can do.

    But before we begin, I've got two interesting photos for you portable system fans out there - here's the GP32 surrounded by various competitors and ancestors:

    Did you spot all the different systems? Now back to software... :)

    Let's begin with a few commercial games. I currently own Her Knights, Tomak, Pinball Dreams and Super Plusha. The first two titles were purchased as typical boxed games contained on SmartMedia cards. The second two were purchased as self-installable encrypted downloads from JoyGP. Commercial GP32 software can be encrypted to work exclusively on a single GP32 or a single SmartMedia card. If you buy boxed games, they cost more (around $35) as opposed to JoyGP downloaded games (around $10 - $18) but they can be used on any GP32 and come with nicely printed manuals and packaging. JoyGP purchases will only work on your GP32 - an important consideration. But as you can tell, JoyGP is the way to go to save money, and they have several free and very inexpensive selections available as well.

    PLEASE NOTE: Several images for Her Knights were obtained from the developer's homepage. All other images are my own photos. Some of the photos look poor because I had a PDA "screen protector" on my screen for a while to avoid scratches - it also makes photos look less than impressive. Most of the photos were taken with the protector removed.

    Her Knights: All For Princess is easily my favorite commercial GP32 game. The graphics are very NeoGeo looking, with nicely detailed characters, backgrounds, animations and effects.

    The music is epic sounding with a driving beat, setting the mood well for each level, and the sound effects are the same. It's essentially a sidescrolling beat'em up, but the gameplay has some unique twists, and it manages to come across as something original and fun despite its obvious roots. In the beginning you have a selection of five different characters, each in the knightly employ of some princess who's being forced into marriage. There's a storyline that develops throughout the game, complete with some good static artwork and goofy "Engrish." Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, as you'd expect. And from what I've read on the net, there are many more characters to unlock and use, not to mention level editors and user designed levels to download and add to your card! But it's the control that makes the game feel special.

    There is no jump button, although some characters can do moves that work like jumps. There's normal attack, special attack, block and direction shift. There are also all sorts of combos, spells and special attacks that can be pulled off with some experimentation. The controls are very deep for this type of game, and as you can probably tell, I haven't completely figured them out yet! But hey, the manual is in Korean. As you go along laying enemies to waste literally all over the ground, you also get items to pick up, from food that knocks your energy back up, to powerups that let you become extra strong for a while. And there's plenty of blood!

    Next we have Tomak: Save The Earth Again!, a sidescrolling shooter with very good graphics, good music (that snaps and pops at times) and some decent, if not weird, sound effects. Visually it looks like a combination of Metal Slug and Air Zonk, which is a very good thing.

    As far as gameplay goes, it's nothing special. You have a choice of 3 characters, you can shoot and drop odd protection objects that block bullets and can literally fill the screen causing massive slowdowns. As you fly along blasting enemies, they also drop items that you can collect to powerup, and at the end of each of the 4 levels (yep it's too short) you meet some impressive looking bosses. Typical fare, done with a nice artistic flare, albeit with some design blemishes. Good, but not great.

    Pinball Dreams is a solid pinball game, originally designed for the good old Commodore Amiga. The GP32 version is quite faithful. You've got four tables, each with good music and sound effects. It plays well, with the shoulder buttons acting as flippers. A solid effort, and especially welcome because it's not Korean, no offense to Koreans of course, but it's good to see commercial developers from other places working on the GP32.

    Super Plusha is a sidescrolling platformer. I bought it because I heard it was technically well done, and I wanted to see what the GP32 could do when programmed well. And it doesn't disappoint. The sound and music are very clean, with none of the pops and crackles that often show up on GP32 games. Graphically it's a nice display of multiple background layers and animated characters. It's also obscenely cute, and although it plays well enough, I couldn't really get into the game. But it's pure quality.

    That's it for commercial games. Next we'll take a look at some of my favorite free homebrew games for GP32.

    Arcano by Franz Lankes is probably what Jeff "Yak" Minter would've done to Breakout if he'd gotten around to it. It's THAT good. Superb psychedelic backgrounds weave and deform beneath the action while some nice techno MODs pump through the little speakers. It's only 5 levels long, but if this were ever developed into a full commercial game, I'd buy it. Gameplay is basic paddles and bricks stuff, but it's smooth and fun even in this basic state. And the most interesting thing is you must hold the GP32 in a vertical orientation to play, which works surprisingly well!

    X-Scape is a great little puzzle game with C64 roots. Nice visuals, appropriate though basic sounds and good music round things out. It was hard to photograph the title screen because it's animated. The gameplay involves guiding your shiny square thingy around the various levels, picking up all the glowing circle thingies and reaching the exit within a limited number of moves and time. Good stuff!

    Next we have Doom - the REAL thing! Unlike weak adaptations made for GBA and other less capable consoles in the past, this is a true port of the original code. It can run any Doom WAD file in fact. The only thing missing is the music, but all the growls, gun blasts and bloody screams are there to be heard. Savestates are halfway implemented, but still need work. Gameplay is perfect - a true classic.

    Lastly, there's SCUMMVM, a port of the Lucas Arts adventure game interpreter for GP32. I haven't spent much time with this great program yet, but it seems very nice, allowing GP32 users to play full versions of games like Monkey Island, Sam n' Max, Day of the Tentacle and others. It even has sound and save support.

    There are MANY more homebrew games and freeware ports for the GP32 out there, from a Pang remake to a perfect port of Rick Dangerous and Wolfenstein 3D. I really haven't scratched the surface of what's available, or what's in coming, but it's a great community for independent developers.

    So... Shall we look at some emulators? I figured you'd say "yes." :)

    The GP32 can handle some remarkably good emulators, well beyond what's available for GBA, and for that matter, better than many PocketPC emulators I've seen! I don't believe it's the super emulation machine some people claim though - full speed GBA emulation? No. It's 133 Mhz with no graphics or sound chips. Full speed 8bit system emulation, and perhaps decently fast 16bit? Yes! Let's take a look at what's available, and even a little bit at what's coming soon...

    GPEngine is a freakishly good TurboGrafx-16 and PC-Engine emulator. It's still early, but already sports a slick GUI and great sound.

    Compatability is quite good, and generally you can run most games at 30fps at full speed with sound. Some important things are missing - the classic TG-16/PCE turbo switches aren't implemented yet, and save states aren't working yet. Plus a few games, like Street Fighter II, don't work. But the author is working on a new version (reportedly with wireless RF multiplayer support!), which hopefully will rectify and otherwise improve what is already a superb emulator. Despite any missing features, once you load up a game and start playing, you will be impressed by how good everything looks and how well the games control. Honestly, many of these games are just as good or even better than what's available for the GBA! Just my personal opinion of course. ;) And there are literally hundreds of good games for the system! Here's a few random photos of various games in action:

    Let's take a look at SMS32 next, a solid Sega Master System and Game Gear emulator for the GP32. This emulator has a full feature set, including sound and save support for games that used sram. In other words, if the real cart let you save, so will SMS32. If it didn't then you can't. Speedwise, it's 100% full speed ahead, 60 frames per second.

    It also has some nice stretching features for the Game Gear, with the full screen "pan" being my favorite. The only real negative is the sound is occasionally crackly, but it's fairly minor - just evidence that this emu hasn't been updated in a while, since most emu devs now have techniques to deliver smooth sound emulation. But don't get me wrong - if you ever play SMS32, you won't find much to complain about - it's excellent!

    How about some Gameboy Color emulation? The best I tried was GPvGB, an odd little GB/GBC emulator that reportedly works on most GP32's but not on others. It worked great for me. It's quite imperfect at this stage, but does a lot well regardless. Many good GBC games work well at very good speeds, and sram is emulated for games that originally utilized it. Compatability is iffy, but the two GBC games I actually own worked so I really couldn't complain. ;) The sound emulation is very poor for many games, but on some games, like Zelda DX and Tetris DX for example, it's quite passable although crackly. It also has some nifty display stretching algorithms, with the full screen option being my favorite. There's room for improvement, although I suspect this project has been abandoned, but reportedly there are some new GB/GBC emulators in the works, so consider this just a very nice preview of what's to come.

    Wanna see a really slick emulator? Here goes - Rlyeh's superb, award winning (seriously, it won the GBAX coding contest!) fMSX32. The MSX was a popular 8bit computer in Japan and some European countries, but we completely missed it here in the USA. I really never gave the MSX much mind until I happened upon this GP32 proggie, and I discovered not only a great emulator, but a great bunch of games I never tried before. As for fMSX32, you've got a slick GUI, superb speed, great sound and nice features. It does have one annoying display bug that occasinally kicks in, which Rlyeh knows about and will fix, and sadly save states aren't implemented yet. But everything else about this program is pure buttery goodness. The title screen alone is fun to watch!

    What about the good ol' NES? Well, until recently NES emulation on GP32 was kinda weak... But that's all changing! Rlyeh sent me a beta version of his latest fNES32, and it's AWESOME. He's also improved it many times over what I currently have, but even this build shows what's coming - a nearly perfect NES emulator with full speed, full sound and full set of features! Here are some preview photos:

    And that's not all - a new NES emulator from YoYoFR called "Little John" recently saw an early public beta release, and it's already superb. I don't have any photos right now, but the GUI is equally impressive as fNES32, with a very cool "Matrix" effect in the background. It has the BEST save/load state feature I've seen on a GP32 emulator - fast and reliable, with 10 slots per game. It even has full sound. But it's a bit slow - you must use about 1 or 2 frame skips without sound, and perhaps 4 or more with sound to achieve full speed. Still, it's just an early beta! Who knows how fast it will be next release!? Fingers crossed...

    Let's go even further back in time now, to the days of the Commodore 64 and Frodo, the superb C64 emulator for the GP32! What can I say - it's another rock solid effort, with tons of features, full speed emulation and full sound. Take a gander:

    And now let's warp ahead some years, to the Atari ST and CaSTaway for the GP32! This emulator is perhaps the most impressive so far. The author, nicknamed Skeezix, clearly LOVES developing this project, and it's not uncommon to discover an update several times per week. Considering the Atari ST had an 8Mhz 68000 CPU and rather good graphics and sound, this emulator is even more remarkable because most things run near full speed with just 1 or 2 frame skips - with full sound! As for features - nothing is missing, it's all there - save states, autofire, control definitions, game databases... Amazing stuff - unfortunately these were also my worst set of photos and I don't have time for new ones right now... First off, the crap on the screen is dust and bubbles on the plastic screen protector (mentioned earlier). The title screen below is actually animated, like an ST demo, and at the end you can barely make out the great Xenon 2 blasting away on the little GP32:

    As with homebrew games, there are many other emulators available or in development for the GP32, from the Vectrex to the Genesis. And yes, there are SNES emulators too, but they're still very early, although SNES9xGP has reportedly reached beyond full speed in private development builds! That's with sound emulation turned off though, but even 20fps with full sound would be awesome for all those glorious SNES RPG's. We shall see...

    Lastly, I'll show you two other programs for the GP32 - the movie player called Movie Park (which costs about $5 at JoyGP) and the wonderful, and free, GP File Manager. You can store an entire two hour movie on a 128MB SMC, with room left for other stuff! Just encode and load onto your SMC, and away you go. As for playback quality, it's limited to DivX 4.12 10fps, 128kpps video and 22.050 Khz, 32Kbps stereo audio. On paper that sounds bad, and compared to a portable DVD player, for example, it is, but in practice it works very well. If you encode your content carefully, you can get some very good results, especially with animated films and TV Shows. As a side note, regular MP3 music playing is not as limited - those specs are for Movie Park, not the GP32 in general. Speaking of animated films:

    GP File Manager, or GPFM, is exactly what it sounds like - a file management utility. But it also does much, much more. For example, it lets you launch programs, view images, read text files and play MP3's! In fact, the MP3 player can work while you read text files, and it even has a selection of equalizer settings. Look carefully at the photos and you'll spot some of these functions in use:

    As always with the GP32, there's SOOO much more available that I just can't cover it all. And when it comes to utilities, file launchers and BIOS replacements, there is an amazing selection. From Wind-Ups to PacROM, the GP32 is beyond versatile.

    Well, that wraps things up for this little review. Hopefully I've given GP32 virgins a taste of what this system is all about, and you can understand why it's garnered such an ardent development scene and dedicated fan base. I love this little gadget, and if you're an emulation fan I bet you will too. But what about the PSP and Tapwave Helix you ask? Well, briefly, I'll just say this - the PSP won't have a fast CPU and uses a new type of disk media, and the Tapwave is still just vaporware. The GP32 is here right now, and reportedly will be officially launched in Europe by the end of 2003. Whether or not that happens, this portable delivers a great bang for the buck and has my highest recommendation. Just make sure you understand what it can do, and cannot do, before buying, and you'll be a happy Game Park camper.

    English GP32 homepage

    Commercial Game Developer Homepages etc.

  • Byulbram - Developers of Her Princess
  • Seed9 - Developers of Tomak
  • Logik State - Developers of Pinball Dreams
  • FaMe Software - Developers of Super Plusha
  • JoyGP - for Movie Park and much more!
  • Insert Coin's GP32 Roundup - GREAT game reviews!

    Homebrew/Freeware Homepages etc.

  • Studio64 - Developers of X-Scape
  • GBAX - Current dev of GP32 Doom
  • PDROMS GP32 - tons of homebrew goodies!

    Emulators For GP32

  • GPEngine - by black- & giffel
  • SMS32 - by Ajo
  • GPvGB - by Zardozj and JeYong Oh
  • fMSX32, fNES32 etc. - by Rlyeh
  • Frodo GP32 - by Mike Davson etc.
  • CaSTaway/GP - by Skeezix AKA Jeff Mitchell
  • GP32Emu - many more emulators!

    General GP32 Sites (News, downloads, forums etc.)

  • GP32Xtreme - News, boards, downloads etc.
  • GP32Emu - News, boards downloads etc.
  • GP32News - News etc., French based site
  • GP32Spain - Superb Spanish GP32 site
  • Japanese GP32 Page - interesting news at times


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