Review: Gateway 3DS
The Nintendo 3DS launched on March 27, 2011. Due to Nintendo's increased safeguards against piracy, it was speculated that it would be years before we would see a "hack" that would make it possible to play 3DS ROMs. Especially after Nintendo's response to Nintendo DS Flash Kit makers and manufacturers, this was to be expected. Finally, with the release of the Gateway 3DS, a new era of hacking has come.
The GW3DS is the world's first 3DS mode Flash Kit and it allows the user to play 3DS ROMs. This is done by creating a stack smash in the 3DS' DS Profile. The stack smash then crashes 3DS mode, making the 3DS reboot, and from there allowing the GW3DS Flash Kit to boot. The GW3DS team has released a few updates for the GW3DS, which include bypassing region locking and the firmware update requirements of newer games. With this review I hope to answer a few questions the consumer might have while they consider buying a GW3DS Flash Kit. Will it live up to its expectations? Is it just a taste of what will come to the 3DS scene? Here is a look at the product that sets the bar for 3DS-mode Flash Kits.
Thanks must go out to the Gateway 3DS team, for not only supplying the review sample but for also providing various bits of information that made this review possible.
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A Brief History of 3DS Hacking
On December 17th, 2012 an image was posted on Twitter by reseller OzModChips that showed a 3DS with both of its screens fully illuminated. The text it displayed was a simple "WE HACKED IT!" message. The hack was confirmed by various scene members to be legitimate, members who included scene veterans Crediar, Neimod, and Yellows8. Yellows8 commented that the hack used a save game exploit, however the name of the game used was not published to protect the exploit from being patched by Nintendo. The exploit functioned in User Mode, so homebrew would be limited to using assets originally associated with the game the save exploit used. This means that there would be no ROM loading, which was a plus because many 3DS hackers are against piracy. Since this exploited seemed rather limited, there was no point in releasing it.
News of another exploit soon surfaced which reported that 3DS hacker Neimod had acquired full kernel control on an unmodified 3DS. The exploit was confirmed to use another savegame exploit of a 3DS game cartridge. This could have been any 3DS game cartridge released before the announcement, and the release date for the exploit is nonexistent, the reason being that it is easy for Nintendo to patch. 3DS hackers wanted to experiment with the exploit to preserve the vulnerabilities across upcoming system updates and patches. From then on 3DBrew.org has been continually updated with newly obtained information, which includes a list of working and failed attempts at exploiting the 3DS. This list further includes attempts at trying to crash the 3DS using the eShop games Pushmo/Pyramid by creating custom QR codes, and exploiting the 3DS through its Internet browser.
Moving forward, on May 30th, 2013 we get an announcement from the GW3DS Team that they have a working Flash Kit that plays 3DS ROMs. They also demonstrate the Flash Kit working, in the form of a video, where they show it loading games such as Luigi's Mansion. The exploit they found involves corrupting the 3DS' DS User Setting strings, making them too long, which leads to a crash in 3DS mode that occurs once you attempt to view the settings. Once the stack smash crashes the 3DS from the corrupt strings in the 3DS' DS Profile Settings, it turns to the SD card to read data. The GW3DS Team released a file called "launcher.dat" that goes on the 3DS' SD card. This file contains information the 3DS executes once the SD card read begins. Once the information is read by the 3DS it reboots into GW3DS mode which allows the GW3DS to function.
A History of the Gateway 3DS Team?
The GW3DS team first stepped in with their announcement of a Flash Kit that plays 3DS ROMs on May 30th, 2013 in a form of a teaser video. The video shows them inserting a microSD card into a 3DS game cartridge, and inserting it into a white 3DS XL. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon appears in the menu, and is launched. After loading a save and showing a brief cutscene, the GW3DS team exits to the home screen of the 3DS. Then they eject the first microSD card, and insert a different one into the GW3DS cartridge. This time once the 3DS game cartridge is inserted Resident Evil Revelations shows up in the menu. However, on boot it gives an error that the save data is corrupt, so a new save is created. The introduction to Revelations is shown, and the GW3DS team exits to the home screen once again. Now a third microSD card is placed into the GW3DS cartridge, and the game that appears in the 3DS menu is Super Mario 3D Land. Upon boot another save data is corrupt error appears, a save is created, and the initial cutscene to 3D Land is plays, ending the teaser video.
The initial community reaction to the GW3DS Team's teaser video was quite diverse. Part of the GBAtemp community was quite excited, and were in anticipation of the first 3DS Flash Kit to get into consumer hands. Other members of the GBAtemp community were against a 3DS Flash Kit appearing so soon in the 3DS' short life span. There arose a plateau of questions about the legitimacy and usage of the GW3DS Flash Kit. In the video, the GW3DS Team demonstrated that the GW3DS required games to be put on separate microSD cards, and that game saving was not functioning properly. In response, the GW3DS Team created a FAQ, to answer most of these questions. The FAQ confirmed the one game per microSD card limitation, its inability to play homebrew, that game saves were currently not working, and that the GW3DS would be available at the end of June. The FAQ created an even more diversified split on GBAtemp, each group with a different stance on the GW3DS Flash Kit. One side remained completely against it due to it being a device purely meant for piracy reasons, this due to the fact you cannot currently dump your own 3DS games and that the GW3DS team said it would not support homebrew. The other side, however, embraced the GW3DS perhaps for their want of free games. The end of June came with no word from the GW3DS team, this lead to suspicions of the GW3DS being fake. Finally, on the 11th of July the GW3DS Team posted an announcement that preorders were now open, and answered a few more questions in addition to giving some new information.
The GW3DS will launch working only on firmware 4.1-4.5, with plans to attempt an update to get it working on later 3DS firmware revisions. The GW3DS will ship with two Flash Kits. One is the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit, which handles running 3DS ROMs and the other is a blue labeled DS Flash Kit that is used to install the GW3DS exploit, and play DS ROMs and homebrew.
On the 18th day following the last GW3DS Team announcement, an update to the FAQ was published. This updates stated that the first GW3DS units were ready to ship, that the blue labeled DS Flash Kit runs homebrew as works on the 6.1 firmware, and that the GW3DS exploit installer only needs to be run once or each time you enter DS mode. The FAQ also informed customers that Animal Crossing: New Leaf would not function properly on the GW3DS due to its NAND based save chip. At this point members began to lose hope that the GW3DS would ever see release, but a day later the GW3DS sent out a widespread email that the GW3DS was on its way to reviewers. A few day later reviewers started to get their GW3DS samples, which gave hope to members who were once having doubts on the legitimacy of the GW3DS Flash Kit.
The GW3DS units are still in transit to resellers in some parts of the world, while resellers closer to the GW3DS manufacturer have already received stock. The GW3DS Team has been busy supporting the product, and has recently posted another teaser video showing off firmware spoofing as well as region lock bypassing. Firmware spoofing is quite useful because newer 3DS games require you to update your 3DS to a higher firmware than the GW3DS supports. This means that firmware spoofing will allow gamers to play those games without the need for updating. Bypassing region lock will allow gamers to play any 3DS ROM, from any region, on any region-locked 3DS. The new update is currently in beta testing, and will be publicly released in the coming days. In the mean time, the GBAtemp community patiently awaits the arrival of the GW3DS to local resellers.
On August 21st the GW3DS team released an update to the GW3DS which includes the ability to play games from other regions as well as implementing a firmware spoofer that allows you to play newer games. The update is v1.1a, and now the GW3DS team is currently working on their goal of homebrew launching.
Packaging and Contents
The GW3DS comes in a blue plastic box with the Gateway 3DS logo printed on the front atop a white background that fades into a deep blue color. The box design also incorporates lines that intersect each other. The back of the box is also blue, and has the RoHS compliance logo printed in the middle towards the bottom. The red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit is the same shape and size of a normal 3DS cartridge. It has a glossy red sticker on both the front and back of the unit, with a design similar to the box but instead of fading out to a deep blue it fades out to a rich red. The red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit also has teeth in front of the contacts in order to give them a bit of leverage between them and the 3DS itself. This prevents the GW3DS Flash Kit from having read issues, which is a major problem for some DS Flash Kits. In addition the microSD card slot is spring-loaded, which I consider a plus. The PCB board pictures supplied by the GW3DS team are green; however in person they seem to be a deep blue, which is similar to the plastic box design. As for the blue labeled DS Flash Kit that's included, it's the same shape and size as a normal DS game cartridge. Like the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit, it also has a glossy sticker, however instead of red it's blue and takes after the GW3DS packaging. The blue labeled DS Flash Kit's shell is not held together by screws or glue, but by little plastic pegs. It has no teeth in front of the contacts, and the microSD card slot is not spring-loaded.
Design and Impressions
In my own personal opinion, considering the price of the GW3DS Flash Kit, the packaging could have been a bit nicer. Some of the DS mode Flash Kits, such as the iEvolution, come in metal tins, are packaged with a microSD card reader, and include instructions. Getting past the packaging and its lack of extras, the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit itself has a nice quality build to it. The red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit is made of a nice durable plastic and has glossy stickers, which look like they could outlast typical wear and tear. Comparing the quality of the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit to a retail 3DS game, I can not really distinguish one from the other besides the GW3DS having a slightly yellow tinge to it. Build-wise, the quality of the GW3DS is on par with that of an official Nintendo 3DS cartridge. Going onto the blue labeled DS Flash Kit, the bar was lowered in terms of quality. The plastic used in the shelling is a bit cheap which gives the cartridge a sort of slick feeling. Like the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit, the blue labeled DS Flash Kit has a glossy sticker, however instead of fading out to a rich red it fades into a deep blue color. The shell is held together by plastic pegs one of which broke when I attempted to open it to take the PCB photos. Comparing it to an official Nintendo DS cartridge it's definitely of a lower quality.
I want to take the time to mention here that when you buy a GW3DS Flash Kit, that you are actually getting two Flash Kits for the price of one. One of them is for playing 3DS ROMs on your 3DS, and the other is a DS-Mode Flash Kit that supports DS ROMs and homebrew.
Set-up and Usage
The follwing is a collection of requirements:
2x microSD Cards: You can prepare, and use the GW3DS using one microSD card, however I recommend having two microSD cards. One that is at least 2 GBs in size to hold the blue labeled DS Flash Kit firmware, along with the GW3DS exploit installer. The other microSD card should be at least 16 GBs in size; due to the fact that the max size a 3DS ROM can be is 8 GBs. Currently, the largest sized ROM dumps are 4 GBs, meaning that you will need a microSD card larger than 4 GBs to get started. However a GBAtemp user by the name of 3DSGuy has created a tool that trims 3DS roms to a smaller size that would allow someone to make a 4 GB 3DS rom small enough to fit onto a 4 GB microSD card. His tool can be found in the download section below, and so far all the roms I've trimmed using it have worked fine.
A microSD Card Reader and SD card reader: Sadly, the GW3DS does not come with a microSD card reader. You will need one in order to drag/drop 3DS ROMs to the microSD card, as well as put the blue labeled DS Flash Kit kernel files onto the smaller 2 GB microSD card. The SD card reader is needed to copy the required “launcher.dat” file.
3DS unit on firmware v4.1-4.5: At the time of writing this review the GW3DS only supports 3DS/3DS XL units on firmware 4.1-4.5. If your 3DS is on a higher firmware then you'll have to wait for the GW3DS Team to release an update. If you are interested in purchasing a 3DS/3DS XL then the way to make sure you get a compatible unit is to check the back of the box to make sure it says "Trademark of Nintendo 2012". This ensures it will have a firmware GW3DS currently supports. The Pikachu 3DS XL, Black 3DS XL, and the Animal Crossing New Leaf 3DS XL, are units confirmed to have a firmware higher than 4.5. (For the US that is it in other regions the 3DS may come with a lower firmware and still be a special edition 3DS XL.) It's recommend that if your 3DS is lower than 4.5 that you find a retail game with the 4.5 update, and update that way. The GW3DS team has recommended not updating to 4.5 using the GW3DS.
1x SD Card (At least 2 GBs in size): All new 3DS units come with a 2 GB/4 GB SD card. A smaller SD card might work, but I have yet to try the exploit with one. This SD card is needed in order to store your games saves on, as well as to store the GW3DS required “launcher.dat” file.
3DS ROMs (Do not ask for these here, we do not support hosting or sharing links to illegal content)
3DS SD Card Set-up:
Assuming you've already downloaded the GW Release zip file, open it in a program such as Winrar or 7zip. This is shown above in the first image. This archive file contains everything you will need to setup the blue labeled GW3DS Flash Kit, and the SD card. Once you have opened it you are going to want to go into the "GW Release folder", in which you will find a file by the name of "launcher.dat". Extract that file to the SD card, and insert the SD card into your 3DS. The second image above shows this being done in the archival program, Winrar. Once that is completed you are finished with this part of the setup. The reason why we are putting the "launcher.dat" file onto the root of the SD card is because once the 3DS crashes from the corrupt strings in the DS Profile Settings, it turns to the SD card to read data. Once the information is read, the 3DS reboots into GW3DS mode which allows the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit to function. So this is an essential step in setting up your GW3DS.
GW3DS Blue Labeled Flash Kit Set-up:
For this setup you must once again open the GW Release zip file you downloaded. Once opened, navigate to the "Blue Card (R4i)" folder, and extract all the folders/files in it to the root of your microSD card. Insert the microSD card into the blue labeled Flash Kit, and then insert the blue labeled Flash Kit into your 3DS. This Flash Kit should show up as a game in the 3DS' main menu, after which you should launch it. After it launches you will see an icon with the GW3DS logo called "GW Install", highlight it and press A. You will now boot into a screen that says "Press A to Install", and "Press B to Exit". Press A, and the GW Install homebrew application will begin exploiting your 3DS system.
(NOTE: You can run the GWINSTALL file on any DS flashcart as long as it's supported by 3DS firmwares v4.1-4.5.)
What the GW Installer is doing right now is corrupting strings in the 3DS' DS User Settings in order to allow you to crash the 3DS in 3DS mode. This will then allow the exploit launcher to function. Once the installer is finished verifying that the 3DS was exploited successfully, you will press the A button once more to exit to the 3DS' main menu. Now, go into the 3DS' settings, and into the other settings option, then proceed to press the profile option, and lastly the option that says Nintendo DS Profile. Your 3DS will crash, reboot, and you will be in GW3DS mode. You must go back into the Nintendo DS Profile setting, and crash your 3DS every time you turn it off. You must also run the GW Install homebrew each time you use the 3DS' DS mode (ROMs, homebrew, etc), and do every step thereafter.
GW3DS Red Labeled Flash Kit Set-Up:
Now for the last steps to set-up your GW3DS to play 3DS ROMs. Assuming you have already downloaded the Win32 Disk Imager program, the next step is to navigate to your 3DS ROM collection. The 3DS ROMs have a file extension of .3DS. With the newest GW3DS update you can now flash any 3DS rom from any region onto the microSD card and have it play on any region 3DS system. With the microSD card plugged into your computer, start up the Win32 Disk Imager. This program is recommended to write the 3DS ROM to the microSD card. Once Win32 Disk Imager is loaded, be sure to check that your microSD card drive letter is selected, if it is not you may end up writing the ROM to another device.
Now click the folder icon in the Win32 Disk Imager program, and select your 3DS ROM. If you do not see your ROMs then you may need to change the file type to browse “All Files”. Once the 3DS ROM is selected, press the "Write" button. Click yes when it gives you a warning about corrupting the physical media. What you are doing right now is writing the 3DS ROM files to the microSD card, which will allows the 3DS to read the information off the microSD card using the GW3DS red labeled Flash Kit as if it was an actual 3DS cartridge. Wait for the ROM to finish being written to the microSD card, and then put the microSD card into the red labeled GW3DS Flash Kit. Finally, Insert the GW3DS red labeled Flash Kit into the 3DS. The game should appear in the menu as a normal game as long as you are in GW3DS mode. Press A on the game, and watch the ROM boot.
The game should play exactly like an original retail version, but initially you might see a longer boot time. This is due to the GW3DS searching the 3DS' SD card for a gamesave, if none is found it will create one on the GW3DS itself. In order to permanently save the game you must let the game save, press the Home button on the 3DS, and then press X to exit the game and A to confirm. This allows the GW3DS to transfer the save from the GW3DS to the 3DS' SD card. The saves are stored in .SAV format, so you can easily back them up to your computer by inserting the SD card into your computer and dragging the .SAV files from the root of the SD card to your computer. Enjoy your GW3DS.
All games were tested on a 32 GB Class-4 AData MicroSd Card. The card was properly formatted using the Panasonic SD Formatter.
Bit Trip Saga - PASS
Bust a Move Universe - PASS
Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion - PASS
Cave Story 3D - PASS
Code of Princess - PASS
Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic - PASS
Disney's Epic Mickey Power of Illusion - PASS
Donkey Kong: Country Returns - PASS
Dream Trigger 3D - PASS
Fire Emblem: Awakening - PASS
Kid Icarus: Uprising - PASS (The game kicked me back to the 3DS Main Menu once, but hasn't again so far. Thought I would note this.)
Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon - PASS
Mario Kart 7 - PASS
New Super Mario Bros 2 - PASS
Paper Mario Sticker Star - PASS
Pilot Wings Resort - PASS
Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask - PASS
Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure - PASS
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked - PASS
Super Mario 3D Land - PASS
Super Street Fighter: IV - PASS
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D - PASS
The below roms are ones that I've tested on the latest v2.0 firmware, and are of a different region than my 3DS XL.
Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry's Wonderland 3D - PASS
Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai - PASS
Mario & Luigi Dream Team - PASS
Spirit Camera The Cursed Memoir - PASS
Taiko no Tatsujin: Chibi Dragon to Fushigi na Orb - PASS
Tested ROMs performed perfectly. The only slowdown I experienced while using the GW3DS is when I'm booting up a ROM. There is a 1-2 second delay to allow the GW3DS to find the save, and then transfer it to the GW3DS' storage system. However, once the save is stored on the GW3DS there are no more slowdowns, which I found surprising considering that I thought the slower data transfer speeds from the microSD card - to the GW3DS Flash Kit - to the 3DS would show some other kind of slowdown.
I tested a few games for which I would consider to require no slowdowns in order to function and play properly. Super Street Fighter IV performed just as well as the retail cartridge. I was able to fight in a tourney, and beat all of the CPUs. There weren't any slowdowns in cutscenes, boss animations, or during the animations at the end of each fight. I'm also happy to say Cooking Mama 4 performed excellently as well. I was able to perform all the steps needed in order to make the perfect steak without screwing up any of the steps. In Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure I was able to do the on screen controls while listening to the beat of the rhythms, which shows there aren't any sound syncing issues while using the GW3DS. In addition to sound I was able to complete a mission in Rhythm Thief that used the 3DS' gyroscope sensor. The 3D mode in all of these games functioned as they should, without giving me any issues.
As a sort of curiosity test, I tried to boot a DSi-Mode ROM using the GW3DS by changing the extension to .3DS. The ROM did not show up in the 3DS' menu at all, leading me to the conclusion that the GW3DS red labeled Flash Kit will only recognize actual 3DS ROMs.
The GW3DS is currently unable to use a 3DS game’s online features. Attempting to do so gave an error "002-0123", which Nintendo's website reports is due to the 3DS not being close enough to the access point. I found this extremely strange considering I was right in front of my router, and 3DS retail cartridges worked without issue on my spare 3DS. Perhaps this error is by design as the GW3DS Team recommends staying offline with the GW3DS. As do I considering that the longer your 3DS is online the higher chance there will be for it to download the latest update. Keep in mind that the 3DS will not auto-update, but it will continually prompt you to update once it has downloaded the update.
The GW3DS is the world's first 3DS-Mode Flash Kit, that allows the user to play 3DS ROMs. So it basically is setting the bar for other 3DS Flash Kits, and from what the GW3DS team promises they seem to be raising it quite high. They are doing this by releasing new features such as bypassing region locking and the 3DS game update requirements. In terms of presentation, the GW3DS is lacking a bit by having a plastic box, no inserts, and the lack off a microSD card reader. In terms of build quality, the GW3DS is top notch, and is equal to official retail cartridges. The GW3DS is easy to set up and use, so even if you are new to the scene you will be able to get your GW3DS working in no time. All of the games I tested worked perfectly, without slowdowns or glitches. The GW3DS team is starting to gain respect, and merit for what they have managed to accomplish in such a short amount of time. With the release of the firmware spoofer, and bypassing the 3DS' region lock the GW3DS has gained a lot more interest from the 3DS community. At the start of the 3DS' life a large number of people refused to buy a system until there was some sort of hack, or Flash Kit out for it. I believe that now that the GW3DS exists, and that it's being supported by the GW3DS team, that we will see a surge in 3DS system sales in the upcoming month.
+ Easy setup and use
+ Ability to back-up save files
+ Works with most games
+ Local multiplayer works
- No online gameplay
- No homebrew (yet)
- Requires a 3DS on older firmware
The Gateway 3DS is presented as a high-end Flash Kit. The GW3DS comes in a blue plastic box with the GW3DS logo on it. Inside, the GW3DS cartridge is stored in a plastic tray. The cartridges are made of a nice durable plastic and have glossy stickers, which look like they could outlast typical wear and tear. The cartridges have teeth, which help put some leverage between the contacts on the GW3DS and those of the 3DS. No microSD reader was included though, something even low-end Nintendo DS Flash Kits typically provided. Given the high price of the product, I feel they could have done a little better. On the other hand, compared to the first generation DS carts, this is average.
Games on the GW3DS work exactly like their retail counterparts. With the exception of online multiplayer and the couple of seconds more it takes for the GW3DS to load the save, I couldn't tell the difference between the GW3DS and my copy of Code of Princess. Even though online multiplayer doesn't work, local multiplayer worked just fine.
With the entire 3DS library at your disposal, the GW3DS is a Flash Kit that would last you for quite a long time. With the recent update of the GW3DS not only do you have access to your 3DS' regional library but also the library of other regions. (Such as Japanese, and European only games on a US 3DS. Also vice versa.)
Overall (not an average)
Overall the GW3DS has a fantastic build quality, works as intended, and is receiving great support from the GW3DS Team. With the only downfalls being ones that were either stated by the GW3DS beforehand or ones they're currently working on fixing. They're a small price to pay for access to almost the entire 3DS' game library.