Review: Everdrive GG (Hardware)

Everdrive GG: Official GBAtemp Review

Hardware 9,100 views 5 likes 17 comments
Reviewed by Another World, posted Jul 4, 2014
Not even an aging Sega Game Gear will stop me from writing a well researched review of the Everdrive GG Flash Kit.
Jul 4, 2014
The Everdrive GG is a simple to use Flash Kit solution for the Sega Game Gear. Designed by talented Flash Kit designer Krikzz, the Everdrive GG joins a lineup of affordable retro hardware solutions. It supports both GG and SMS ROMs, offering a library of over 600 games while on the go. While emulation has taken amazing strides, nothing beats the feeling of enjoying a classic game on original retro hardware.
Another World

 

GBAtemp Review of the...

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Everdrive GG
Developed by: Krikzz
Worldwide sales by: Dragonbox.deEmere.es, Mmg-retro.deNeotienda.esRetrogate.com, Retrotowers.co.ukStoneagegamer.com
Additional sales by: Various
Also Known As: EGG, Everdrive Game Gear
Review by Another World – Completed 7/03/14

Introduction

Emulation has made incredible strides over the past 10 years to offer viable solutions for retro gaming across a multitude of electronics. Once limited to computers and only fully utilized through hacks and custom builds, emulation now provides a means to enjoy many gaming experiences while on the go. The Sega Game Gear has been emulated many times over and those programs ported to more than a few portable systems. Modern phones, 3rd party Chinese clone systems, Linux-based devices, Tablets, and even our hacked PSP, DS, and Game Boy systems are capable of producing excellent Sega Game Gear emulated experiences. While these experiences feel enjoyable to the casual retro gamer, hardcore retro fans will quickly remind us that nothing beats the actual system. We have reached a point that Flash Kits are not only affordable to produce and profit from, but that their ease of use has been simplified to dropping a few ROMs (Homebrew, Translations, Hacks, etc) onto a microSD card. Finally, a usable and affordable solution exists that will keep us gaming on our Game Gear systems for years to come.

The Game Gear was far from a perfect portable. What it did have going for it was a center-mounted screen, comfortable form factor, and responsive input buttons. The Everdrive GG is a wonderful addition to this aging hardware, as it provides a means to carry the supported Sega Game Gear and Master System games on a single cartridge. This support also provides a unique opportunity to try translated games, homebrew, and ROM hacks on actual hardware. Powered by rechargeable batteries, an AC adapter, or a car adapter, and utilizing the Everdrive GG Flash Kit, the Game Gear begins to feel more modern and relatively complete.

The Game Gear used for all review testing is beginning to show its age. It is suffering from a common problem which can potentially be addressed by replacing its capacitors. Due to the age of the unit and a lack of replacement parts at the time of this review, only a select library of ROMs have been tested. While the ideal situation would be to test every known good ROM dump, this task is unfortunately impossible at this time.

Important GBAtemp Information:
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Special Thanks:
​A special thanks must go out to Krikzz and Retrogate for providing the review sample. Retrogate is the officially licensed store for all Krikzz Flash Kit products. Their customer service, e-mail support, and inclusion of a tracking number make it easy to recommend them.

Product Information

The product information included in this review was obtained after cross-referencing information posted on the official homepage of Krikzz Flash Kit products, inside O/S update readme files, and from various reseller Web sites. Recent O/S updates have provided new features that have not yet been listed in the official product description. Such features as FAT16 support and a less-than 2GB microSD limitation are now irrelevant. An attempt has been made to include the most accurate information in this review. However, this listing may include inaccurate or outdated information. Please use this product information for reference only, and direct all future questions to the designer of these products.

Product Information:

  • Support for almost all Game Gear games
  • Support for most Master System games
  • Up to 8MBit (1MB) ROM size
  • Sega and Codemasters mapper support
  • 32Kb FRAM for game saves (no on-cart battery required)
  • Save RAM data will be stored or loaded from microSD card automatically
  • USB port for homebrew development (optional)
  • O/S can be updated from microSD or USB (optional)
  • MicroSD and SDHC support
  • FAT32 only support (64k clusters required) since O/S v7 beta
  • The flashed game will stay in memory
  • Connection to PC and any additional software/drivers is not required

Previous O/S builds supported FAT16 and a maximum 2GB microSD partition size. While it may be possible to flash an older O/S update, the review sample shipped with O/S v8 (official O/S v7 beta). Assuming all future kits will ship with v8 or higher, referencing outdated features becomes inappropriate. It should also be noted that the product information list makes no reference to creating saves. As of O/S v7 beta, all save data is handled automatically. Users no longer need to prepare or store blank .SAV files on their microSD card.

Contents and Packaging

Contents:

  • 1x Everdrive GG Flash Kit

Packaging:

GBAtemp Review Everdrive GG Sega Game Gear by Another World Box1     GBAtemp Review Everdrive GG Sega Game Gear by Another World Box2     GBAtemp Review Everdrive GG Sega Game Gear by Another World Box3

The review sample was sent from the official Everdrive shop, Retrogate, and shipped without a shell. The Everdrive GG is available in a variety of Game Gear cartridge shells, depending on the reseller. Some resellers simply drop the PCB into an official Game Gear cartridge shell, while others additionally cut a slot for the microSD card. The type of shell, sticker label, and screw used to secure it will change greatly depending on the reseller. The PCB was packaged inside a plain white cardboard box. The box was secured by two tuck flaps that fold over the front and into slots on either side. The top of the box has a white sticker that says "Everdrive" and "www.krikzz.com" in black font. The PCB was secured inside of an anti-static bag, and rolled in a layer of bubble wrap. The box is rather sturdy from the sides, while more easily pushed upon from the top and bottom. The review sample box arrived dented on both the top and bottom, proving that this area of the box is less secure. However, the PCB sustained no damage while in transit and arrived in fully working condition.

Setup and Usage

GBAtemp Review Everdrive GG Sega Game Gear by Another World PCB1     GBAtemp Review Everdrive GG Game Gear by Another World PCB2     GBAtemp Review Everdrive GG Sega Game Gear by Another World PCB3

The Design and Impressions are usually discussed at this point in the review. As this Flash Kit shipped only as a PCB, there was not enough that could be written to warrant this additional section. Skipping straight into the Setup and Usage section made more sense.

If the Flash Kit was purchased without a shell, the PCB will need to be placed into a Game Gear cartridge shell before it can be used. The shell should not require any modification of any kind, and the PCB will simply drop right onto the plastic guide pins located on the back-half of the shell. Officially released Sega cartridges will be secured by a 6 sided security bit. If you do not own a Gamebit, the security screw can be opened by utilizing a basic plastic pen. The one used for this review was a BIC brand pen. What you will need to do is dissemble the pen and hold a lighter to the end that you would normally have written from. The plastic will melt slightly and become malleable. At this point, place it firmly on top of the security screw, wait a few seconds for it to cool, and then turn to the left. If for any reason the homemade tool becomes stripped, simply repeat the melting process and begin again. Those who would rather deal with a normal screw will want to seek out a Majesco rerelease Game Gear cart. These carts repackaged such games as Aladdin, Ms. Pac-Man, Sonic Spinball, and Super Columns, among others. The review PCB was placed into an official Sega Game Gear Columns case and not screwed shut. The case was only clicked back into place using the plastic clips that grab in 2 separate places on each of the sides. These clips sufficiently held the case closed and not a single problem related to the security of the shell presented itself during testing.

Each O/S update has provided changes that make their instillation desirable. The review PCB came preinstalled with O/S v8, which is nothing more than a finalized build of O/S v7 beta. Users who wish to update to the officially released O/S v7 beta can follow the instructions below.

O/S v7 beta and v8 Change Log:

  • FAT16 is not supported anymore!!!
  • FAT32 support
  • SDHC support
  • Saves auto backup
  • New menu interface​

Updating Instructions:

  • Place the update file into the Root directory of the microSD card, insert the microSD card into the Everdrive GG spring-loaded microSD slot
  • Boot the Everdrive GG and navigate to "tools > upgrade"
  • Press "right" to begin the process

After the upgrade is completed a FAT32 warning will appear. As of O/S v7 beta only FAT32 is supported. Remove your microSD card, reformat it in FAT32 (64k clusters) and then replace your ROM folders and files. Each folder can have a maximum of 512 items and ROMs should be sorted accordingly. As of O/S v7 beta, updates no longer require commands sent via the “tools” menu, simply navigate to the update file and run it as if it was an .SMS game. It should also be noted that SRAM files no longer need to be managed. Save games will be automatically written to the microSD card before each new ROM is flashed and if a save game exists it will be loaded when its corresponding ROM is re-flashed. 

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Powering up the Game Gear with the Everdrive GG inserted will display "OS init...". As soon as initialization completes, a microSD Root directory listing will be displayed. This is the same listing that is displayed each time the Everdrive GG is booted-up. Pressing the 2 button while in Root will reveal a Main Menu. Options here are Start Game, Device Info, and About. Start Game simply runs any ROM already flashed into the internal memory. Device Info displays various information about the Everdrive GG (CPLD Version, OS Version, Max Dir Size, Cart Type, Asm Date). About displays the name of the developer, support e-mail and Web site information, and navigation information. The navigational controls are as follows: pressing Left or Right on the d-pad will switch pages. Pressing the 1 button will load the file menu. Pressing the 2 button will go back 1 directory (or cancel out of a menu). Pages consist of 13 items alphabetically sorted in a traditional list view. Items are grouped for efficiency and some “A” titles may appear at the end of the last list. Highlighting an item in the list with display its untruncated file name at the bottom of the screen.

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ROMs must be placed on the microSD card as .GG or .SMS files, compressed formats (.ZIP) are not supported. To flash a ROM from the microSD card simply navigate to the directory and press the 1 button to open it. Highlight the ROM you wish to play and press the 1 button. A new pop-up menu will be revealed which offers options to Load and Start, Load Only, or Hex View. Load and Start will erase the memory, write the selected ROM, and then boot it. Load Only will erase the memory and then write the selected ROM. Hex View will display the hex of the ROM. Fully erasing and writing a new ROM will take approximately 10 seconds, during which you are instructed not to power down the unit. Once a ROM has been loaded there is no way to return to the directory listing. To flash a different ROM, the Game Gear must be power cycled and the entire process repeated. If save data exists in SRAM the O/S will back-up the SRAM before flashing a new game. The backed-up data is automatically stored in Root into a Saves folder. When the corresponding ROM is rewritten, so is its save data. 

Compatibilty

A 2GB Samsung microSD card was used for all testing. The card was FAT32 formatted using the Windows formatter. Sega Game Gear and Master System ROMs were placed inside "GG" and "SMS" directories located in the Root of the microSD card. While a complete listing of fully functional ROMs would be ideal, the aging Game Gear hardware limited the amount of testing time. Instead, 25 random games were selected from the Game Gear library and 20 from the Master System library. In addition, 12 homebrew games were selected from both the Game Gear and Master System libraries. Each game was tested for a period of 5-20 minutes. No game was completed and the potential for errors remains a possibility. The results are listed below, each followed by a color coded phrase. ROMs which failed to run simply did not work or were unplayable due to various issues. Those that loaded and were playable, yet had problems running, may include such problems as pallet color or minor compatibility issues. Files which passed testing ran without serious issue and were fully enjoyable.

Sega Game Gear:

  • Aladdin - PASS
  • Alien 3 - PASS
  • Batman Returns - PASS
  • Battletoads - PASS
  • Choplifter III - PASS
  • Double Dragon - PASS
  • Earthworm Jim - PASS
  • Ecco the Dolphin - PASS
  • Galaga '91 - PASS
  • Hook - PASS
  • Mickey Mouse - Castle of Illusion - FAIL (loads, some graphical issues, will not start)
  • Mortal Kombat - PASS
  • NHL Hockey - PASS
  • Ninja Gaiden - PASS
  • Outrun - PASS
  • Paperboy - PASS
  • Robocop 3 - PASS
  • Samurai Shodown - PASS
  • Shinobi II - The Silent Fury - PASS
  • Sonic the Hedgehog - PASS
  • Star Wars - PASS
  • Strider Returns - PASS
  • Super Space Invaders - PASS 
  • VR Troopers - PASS
  • X-Men - PASS

Sega Master System:

  • Aladdin - PASS
  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World - PASS
  • Alien Syndrome - PASS
  • Batman Returns - PASS
  • Black Belt - PASS
  • Fantasy Zone - PASS
  • Gauntlet - PASS
  • Ghouls 'n Ghosts - PASS
  • Golden Axe Warrior - PASS
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - PASS
  • Kung Fu Kid - PASS
  • Mickey Mouse - Castle of Illusion - PASS
  • Operation Wolf - PROBLEMS (cross-hair does not display, unplayable)
  • Phantasy Star - PROBLEMS (playable with some graphical anomalies)
  • Rampage - PASS
  • Shadow of the Beast - PASS
  • Sonic Spinball - PASS
  • Sonic the Hedgehog - PASS
  • Street Fighter 2 - PASS
  • Strider - PASS

Homebrew:

  • Blockhead (SMS) - PASS 
  • BOoM (SMS) - PASS
  • Canyon Racer (SMS) - FAIL (does not load)
  • Data Storm (SMS) - PASS
  • Fire Track (GG) - FAIL (loads, does not start. unplayable)
  • Frog (GG) - FAIL (loads, does not start. unplayable)
  • Hi Color Demo (GG) - PASS
  • Jetpac (SMS) - PASS
  • Nibbles (GG) - FAIL 
  • SMS Chip-8 Interpreter (SMS) - PASS
  • Tetracycline (SMS) - PASS
  • Zoop'em up (GG) - PROBLEMS (loads and plays. graphical issues make it unenjoyable)

Sega Game Gear and Master System games played without serious issue. The Game Gear release of Mickey Mouse - Castle of Illusion was confirmed a good dump and tested on more than one occasion. This game performed the same across multiple retests and remained unplayable. Sega Master System games suffered from screen flickering, an issue which was managed by lowering the contrast. Due to the limited documentation and discussions about the Everdrive GG, screen flickering issues directly related to the aging Game Gear used for testing can not be ruled out. Homebrew results were mixed between both systems. While it was nice that some projects performed wonderfully, it remains disappointing that others simply did not work. A collection of SG-1000 games were also tested for this review. These games suffered from palette issues that made them unenjoyable in most cases and unplayable in others. Officially, SG-1000 games are not supported by the Game Gear VDP. However, there are projects which detail hacking the ROMs in an effort to run them on the Master System. As the focus of this review was the Game Gear, anything designed to run on the Master System was considered a bonus. For that reason, the SG-1000 testing results have been omitted from this review, as they would be more appropriately listed in a Master Everdrive review.

Conclusion

Emulation is a wonderful way to experience a classic game. Developers work very hard to make sure their emulators have a high compatibility and are loaded full of interesting and fun features. While emulators can often reproduce most of the experience, they can not come close to playing those same games on actual hardware. This is where Flash Kits come in, offering a solution for retro gamers who either are not collectors or would rather preserve their old carts. 

Over the years we have seen a few talented companies step-up to produce retro Flash Kits. It was not until recently that these kits became increasingly simple to utilize and sold at an affordable price. The Everdrive GG is once such kit, an easy to use and affordable solution that does not require any special drivers or equipment. ROMs can be drag and dropped onto a properly formatted microSD card, and within minutes enjoyed on actual hardware. The Everdrive GG is professionally built and designed to last. It features support from its designer that have not only expanded its features, but have helped to ensure its future. It drops security into a Game Gear cartridge shell as if it was an official Sega product. Offering a large library of games thanks to its built-in Master System support, the Everdrive GG will provides hours of enjoyment.

There are only a few choices when it comes to Game Gear Flash Kits. While the Everdrive GG may be somewhat less-than-perfect in regards to homebrew compatibility, its support of official games make it one Flash Kit worth owning. Truly, you’ll find new reasons to pick up and play your aging Game Gear with an Everdrive GG inserted.

Verdict
Pros
+ Easy to use
+ No real set-up required (drag/drop)
+ Supports both GG and SMS games
+ Most games are supported
+ Some homebrew support
+ Automatic save back-up and restore
+ Does not require an SRAM battery
+ Support for microSD and SDHC cards
+ Easy to use menu system
+ Retains last flashed game even after power-cycle
+ Well constructed
+ Well supported
+ Priced affordably
+ Developer can be reached for assistance
Cons
- Disappointing homebrew compatibility
- Not well documented or discussed
- Does not ship with an official shell
- O/S v8 is yet unreleased
9
out of 10
Overall
You really can not do much better when it comes to a modern design of a Game Gear Flash Kit. Easy to setup and use, this kit will have you gaming on retro hardware within minutes. To receive a perfect score it would have needed to ship with its own official shell. Compatibility is high, yet not perfect, and this affected the score slightly as well. Over all, the best Game Gear retro gaming solution for your money!
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