Tuesday, August 31, 2010

OT: Sega FireCore Gopher System Review (Portable sega with sd card slot!!!)

Im in taiwan at the moment and i saw these things at the local supermarket (seriously!?): The Sega Gopher Firecore Portable Gaming system - Its pretty much a portable sega with a colour screen and built-in 20 games (including the usual classics like sonic and knuckles, golden axe, ESWAT! , Vectorman and more!!!), and plus... an SDCARD SLOT where you *cough cough* put some "Bin" files *cough cough* and they will play.... So far i have loaded 900+ games on a 2GB SDCARD and theres still plenty of space left, so you get the idea :)

RETRO Gaming Goodness
As a kid , before i got into music, it was all about VIDEO GAMES. I grew up playing tons of megadrive (and then snes/32x/ps/whatever), so the thought of having every single (well almost) sega games in my pocket ready to play anytime - is really damn AWESOME!!! All this for less than a price of a sega megadrive game back in the day - i bought it for NTD 1680 (about SGD $70, probably less than USD$50)

There are a lot of similar devices around , some are exactly the same but with 3 buttons instead of 6, some have the infra red port for a second player (mine does - not tested yet) and some doesnt. I believe they all came from the same source, the company who produced these is called "at games" in china. There are also some with real sega cart slots at the back so you can put real sega games in. But for now, we are covering the Gopher/Firecore...

Sega Gopher/Firecore Portable Game System

Out of the "Box"
Well when i said "box" i meant its one of those plastic thingie - the ones they normally use for shavers and cheap action figures (See above, first pic). Included in the package is the game system itself (decent sized, not too small not too big but VERY LIGHTWEIGHT) , a usb cable for charging (you can charge with your usb port from pc or use the normal ipod usb charger will do), a silly looking orange strap that i probably will never use, a cable to hookup the device to a tv (MONO), and some instructions in chinese and english. I also got a free orange pouch as a gift (nice!).

The Unit
The unit itself, as i said before, is decently sized, its slightly larger than a Dingoo A320 (which is kinda similar except you can load linux/dingux and the dingoo can play pretty much any 16bit/32bit console on the dingoo for just a little more). And other than sega bin games, it doesnt and will not play anything else. No MP3's no movies no nothing. So this thing is strictly for sega gaming. The buttons feel nice, although the way they arrange the ABCXYZ buttons need some time getting used to. The D-Pad is pretty stiff and needs to get broken into, dragon punches and fireballs are doable, but pretty hard. The 2.8 inch QVGA Screen is okay although the colors get kinda "odd,  and you suddenly realise that sega games look pretty sharp and in a much smaller screen!

The sound on the other hand - is not so spectacular, its pretty loud and you got a dedicated volume control, but the sound emulation is far from perfect (more on that later). The battery life is pretty GOOD, expect 5 hours of solid gameplay from a single charge. Also, at the back of the unit it seems like the battery is replaceable? Cant confirm if they sell replacement batteries, but it appears that the built in rechargable batteries are removable

The emulation
This thing does a "near perfect" sega emulation! Things run really nice and smoothly, although there are a few flaws. Some games have some minor graphic imperfections and sound glitches, and some dont even play at all, but for the ones that do (the majority of them are playable) - they are  very playable! If you play outside you wont really notice the not-so-perfect sound emulation, but if you hook up the unit to a large sound system - you will realise how degraded the audio quality are compared to the original sega machine.

No Save Game?? No Save State?
The DealBreaker: One thing you really need to keep in mind before deciding whether to buy this or not : This thing does not SAVE your SRAM files!! So no RPGs - no shining force 2, no beyond oasis, none of the games that support game saving actually saves. When you turn off the unit, the data will be gone. And unlike other emulation devices (like the dingoo A320) that can "save state" aka save anytime, this thing does not support it.
Keep in mind that there are thousands of Sega games that dont really use the save function aniways, so for arcade style action games its not really a big deal, it would have been nice to be able to play the good sega RPGs like phantasy star etc, but sadly this is not possible....

VERDICT: Yay or Nay?
DEPENDS! As a big retro sega fan, for the low price this thing offers a lot of playability. If you are a die-hard rpg fan, then you probably wouldn't (and shouldn't) get this thing as you wont be able to save your games. But for casual sega gamers who love to kill time playing the old action classics like sonic, altered beast, golden axe, earthworm jim - on the go and totally playable? It might be worth it. Even the 20 built in games will kill a lot of time, throw in an SDCARD with more games and you're good to go!

Im really hoping that there would be some sort of firmware update/hack for the gopher so that we can either save games or save state (or both!). Coz if these problems are fixed, then the gopher will probably the  sega fanboy's handheld game system! Unlike the dingoo which has its own dedicated forum with homebrew apps etc, this particular unit seems to be underrated and apart from a 12-page thread in some sega saturn forum, i couldnt seem to find an active community of owners/people dissecting these things and hacking them with new firmware etc (coz there are none!).

For now, the sega gopher firecore is simply a  little portable sega that doesnt save your games, you will have to decide if you can live with it not being able to save games and not being able to update your firmware for fixes/improvements.

For just a little bit more, perhaps the Dingoo A320 is a more viable alternative that plays more systems and videos and mp3s as well, plus 4GB built in storage, but if "ninten-dont" interest you at all and Sega is your thang' , the cheaper price might make this worthwhile to kill some time.

Dingoo A320 Review coming soon by the way...

If you do decide to get one, Make sure where you buy the item from is reputable and has some sort of warranty/returns service - being china goods there has been cases where people receive the item with dead pixel on the screen or sticky buttons - make sure to check upon receiving and possibly get a replacement! If you are able to get the good batch, these things are pretty awesome nostalgic item for sega fans!