Review: sky3DS (Hardware)

sky3DS: Official GBAtemp Review

Reviewed by Jakub Kowalski, posted Nov 11, 2014
I was pretty excited to try out the sky3DS - after all, it's on the bleeding edge of 3DS flashcart tech. Needless to say, I was optimistic.
For the longest time launching backups required a 4.5 3DS system, which was a big hurdle for 3DS XL and 2DS adopters. With the sky3DS, this limitation is no more - the flashcart runs on latest 3DS firmware and does not require the user to use any DS Mode exploits. Is it worth the purchase? Read on to find out!

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GBAtemp Review of the...

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sky3DS
Developed by: sky3DS Team
Sample provided by: 3ds-cart.com
Review by Foxi4 – Completed 11/11/14 and Ryukouki - Complete 12/09/14, comments in blue.

A Big Thanks for the Patronage!

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First of all, I'd like to thank 3ds-cart.com for providing us with a sample of the sky3DS. Their representative was great to work with and really helpful, the delivery was speedy and I can only praise them for their great service. If you would like to purchase a sky3DS cartridge from them, follow this link, it will take you directly to their store. In addition to this product, 3ds-cart.com also sells other flashcarts, modchips, accessories and more - check out their website for details!

Hello everyone, Ryukouki here, doing the first ever double review commentary for the Sky 3DS. I would like to take a moment and thank GBAtemp's sponsor, NDS-card.com, for providing us with a unit to test.

Introduction

The 3DS flashcart market has been dominated by Gateway practically since its dawn. The team has managed to overcome the efforts of cloners (with some casualties along the way), but what they never did overcome was the 4.5 firmware limitation or the rather cumbersome process of using the DS Mode exploit, which by nature required the user to use two cartridges - one for the exploit installation, the other for the games themselves. Here comes sky3DS, a brand-new solution for all your backup needs. How does it stack up against the almighty Gateway? Let's find out how much bang you get for the $89 asking price.

Shipping and Packaging

The kit came in via DHL and I have to say, I've never had a package shipped to me that fast, especially considering the fact that it was shipped from China. Shipping only took three days, so chances are that the "sky" in sky3DS' name stands for some kind of rocket propulsion system, because that's a lot of miles and not a whole lot of time - I expected it to take at least a week or two. For that, 3ds-cart.com deserves a big thumbs up - it's well-worth it to pay them extra for fast shipping.

As you can see in the video above, the cartridge was safely protected by the DHL envelope and an envelope with bubble wrap. The cartridge itself is stored in a cardboard and blister box with a convenient flap, allowing you to easily open it without the use of scissors. Since I am terribly used to packages that take Hulk-like strength to open, I didn't even notice it until my cutting instinct kicked in. Nevertheless, props for the packaging, as it is easy to open.

Ryu: My package from NDS-card came in a simple and very tiny envelope. It shipped via Hong Kong Registered Airmail, which takes a bit longer, about two weeks average, your mileage will vary. Overall, the package was very well protected in transit and didn't move around. As you can see in Foxi4's unboxing above, it's a very simplistic package. Not a ton of bells and whistles, and sadly no freebies included. 

The Card Itself

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Exterior of the cartridge

The sky3DS cartridge is very well-made. The plastic isn't too finicky and although the molding process isn't perfectly uniform, the casing does its job just fine. The connectors are protected with a grill, much like on an original 3DS cartridge, so it's clear that the makers of the cartridge paid a lot of attention to detail. On the lip of the cartridge you can see three things - the microSD card slot (which is not spring-loaded, thus more reliable that its spring-loaded counterparts), a red plastic button for switching games and a blue LED light which signifies whenever the cartridge is switching games. On the front of the cartridge you can see the sky3DS logo with some Trasfo-- *cough* *cough*, I mean, robots, some robots in the background *wink*. Build quality is on-par with similar products on the market, there's little to complain about in that department. The cart took quite a bit of persuasion before I managed to open it up, here's what treasures I found inside, for all the PCB lovers out there:

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Interior of the catridge

Ryu: As far as my own cartridge was concerned, the chip is very solid. Its build quality is good, but it wasn't great for me. I actually needed to perform some extra work on mine, which had some fairly sharp edges that actually cut skin. Nothing a good old nail filer couldn't take care of, but even so this minor quality blemish raised an eyebrow. The plastic felt solid, but poorly cut. I hope it's a one off scenario. I have to agree though with much of Foxi's details above, as it definitely took a bit of time to open the chip up. The red button felt very cheaply made and didn't feel responsive when in action to change games. It took several tries for me to actually coax a response out of it.

Usage

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The DiskWrite utility in action

Setting up the cartridge could not be much simpler. The cartridge is not drag and drop, however the tools provided by sky3DS are pretty self-explanatory and effective at what they're supposed to do. Before you start, you'll have to download two things: the sky3DS DiskWriter and their current Template file, both can be found at http://www.sky3ds.com/download.html. Once you have those two files in one directory, you have everything you need.

The sky3DS DiskWriter tool is used to format, manage and flash games onto your microSD cards. The Template file is a text file containing TitleID's and their SHA1 checksums. To use the DiskWriter, right click on its icon and Run it as an Administrator to make sure that it has all of the necessary privileges, then select the microSD reader you'll be using. DiskWriter will then ask you to format your microSD card and once you're done with that, you can start flashing games onto the microSD card by selecting the Write option from the File menu. Should you wish to format the microSD card again, you can always re-format by selecting the Format option from the file menu. All of your currently flashed games will be displayed in the DiskWriter's window, as seen in the screenshot above. It is important to note that the DiskWriter will refuse to flash any image that is not covered by the Template file, which has happened to me once during testing. Fortunately, the sky3DS team is diligently updating their Template file, so be sure to always use the latest one in order to avoid any problems when using the software.

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Better safe than sorry - set the DiskWriter up to work in Compatibility Mode and As An Administrator to avoid issues!

I would like to add that the DiskWriter utility did not work correctly when used in a Windows 8.1 environment. If you are also faced with that problem, make sure to change its compatibility settings by right-clicking on the icon, going to Preferences and adjusting the Compatibility tab. In my case, setting the program to launch in Windows XP SP3 mode fixed all of the issues I encountered, so that's the option I recommend. You can also set it to always Run as an Administrator in the same tab to avoid having to right-click on the application every single time you need to use it.

With our games flashed and ready, it's time for the fun part - booting the games! This is what I like about the sky3DS - it's completely plug and play and hassle-free from this point onwards. Once you've put your microSD card into the flashcart and inserted it into your 3DS, you're done - the first game will automatically show up like a normal cartridge would and you can cycle through the list of games by pressing the red button. There's no fiddling with exploits, no worrying about SysNAND or EmuNAND - the cartridge just works, and that's a huge advantage in my book. In this regard, the device is very user-friendly - anyone could use it.

Cycling the list of games is relatively quick - it takes aprox. 5 seconds for the cartridge to switch to the next game and this process is signified by the flashing blue LED. Each of the games has its own separate save file embedded into the flashed ROM, so there's no worries about one game overwriting another's save file. At present the DiskWrite utility does not feature an option to backup the files flashed to the microSD card, but I was told that this option will be included in a future update of the utility.

UPDATE (12.11.2014): Today the DiskWriter utility has been updated to v.1.07 which does feature the option to back up and restore both individual games and their save files.

The flashcart operates as well as a standard cartridge would - I haven't noticed any significant slowdown or issues when testing it using my two Class-4 microSD cards. In fact, I was surprised to see that the games I have tested all worked Online without having to use any additional utilities! I did not have to fool around with converting between .3ds and .3dz or looking for headers, the games just work as-is - once again the sky3DS proves to be a very user-friendly device.

So far the cartridge sounds like an ideal solution, but the sweetness of being able to boot ROM's on 4.5+ firmware comes at a bitter price. The sky3DS only supports 10 games total per flashcart, and that means 10 total with no option to change the ones you've flashed. You can remove them from the microSD card, but the flashcart itself has their information saved on its on-board memory which has 10 non-rewritable slots. You have to keep that fact in mind when choosing which games you want to play, because once you've flashed and booted one, there's no going back - the slot is now taken. Fortunately, you cannot fill two or more slots with one game by re-flashing it - the Template file is used to keep track of games that have been installed, so it will not install the same game twice.

In addition to the slot limitation, the sky3DS does not circumvent the 3DS' Region Lock - you not only won't be able to boot any ROM that is not native to your console's region. I was told that such unbootable games will not count towards the overall total of 10 games, however in the interest of saving your time, exercise caution and make sure that the ROM's you want to use are compatible with your system.

As far as Homebrew is concerned, the sky3DS does not support it in any shape or form at present - it is only capable of booting officially licensed games.

With all of the positives and negatives out of the way, time to do some testing!

Tested games

  • Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (EUR) - PASS (Including Online)
  • Resident Evil: Revelations (EUR) - PASS
  • Bravely Default (EUR) - PASS​
  • Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright - Ace Attorney (EUR) - PASS
  • Mario Kart 7 (EUR) - PASS (Including Online)
  • Animal Crossing - New Leaf (EUR) - PASS (Including Online)
  • Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (EUR) - PASS
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby (EUR) - PASS (Including Online)
  • Work in Progress - More games to come as I test them

​Hi everyone, Ryukouki here. I received a Sky 3DS unit of my own and have further game tests to share.

  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS (USA) - PASS
  • Fire Emblem: Awakening (USA) - PASS
  • New Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) - PASS
  • Pokemon Y (EUR) - FAILED due to Region Locking

Conclusion

The sky3DS is a hard product to judge. On one hand, it does everything a convenient flashcart should do - it works on up-to-date firmware, it works online and it's easy to use. On the other hand though, it doesn't support Homebrew applications, it does not circumvent the pesky Region Lock and most importantly, it only launches the first 10 games you install on it and nothing more, making the choice of ROM's to use more important than ever. I choose to judge it on what the developers promised to deliver, and delivered they have.

This flashcart is a great choice for all of those users who don't feel like trying to hunt down a 4.5 3DS just for the sake of using a flashcart - that's definitely its biggest advantage. Its plug and play nature makes it ideal for a newbie user who just wants the device to work. If you're interested in storing a couple of your favourite games on one cartridge and don't feel like going through too much hassle, the sky3DS is something to be on the lookout for. It's also the flashcart of choice for current and future adopters of the New 3DS, as it has been confirmed to work on that system as well. With that being said, if you already own a 4.5 3DS and a flashcart, this might not be a product for you. Flashcarts currently available on the market offer a wide range of functionality unavailable on the sky3DS due to the nature of how it operates. This flashcart is designed to support 4.5+ firmware - that's its primary selling point, so future buyers should make their decision based on that.

Ryu: Foxi is right in his analysis above. I have to completely agree here, I honestly had a hard time judging this device, because it does everything that it advertises, and I can't truly compare it to everything else in its competition because the comparison is like apples to oranges. It runs, with no problems whatsoever, on any firmware. The main advantage is that the set up is extremely easy, it's painless, you don't have to pore over hours and hours of discussion about emulated NANDs, or .CIA installations, or any of that. It simply is just downloading two apps, install games, plug in, and play. This type of set up is perfect for a child or someone who is just looking to start out and have games on hand, because it's so easy to use. Its lack of homebrew support, which is starting to gain headway with Ninjhax, is another ding that may affect some users, who like to be liberal with their use of custom applications. The main issue is the region locking and the ten games limit, though. Region locking means that if you flash the wrong game region, you'll end up with one game less, leaving only nine slots - there's no override on that. 

My final thought is that if you have a 4.5 3DS and a flash chip that can run on the 4.5 ecosystem, you're not missing much here, as the competition encapsulates and goes above and beyond what this little guy can do, but for those who don't need all the bells and whistles, this might be something for you.

UPDATE (17.12.2014) - Several updates, actually. For starters, the 10 game limit of the Sky3DS has been broken by creating a conversion tool that modifies standard ROMs into NO EEPROM ROMs, thus avoiding the limitation - it can be unstable, but works. Another method (not recommended) of avoiding the limitation is the organize the ROMs on the SD card in a specific fashion and ejecting the cartridge mid-way through reading. More information on both methods and suppoert can be found here. In addition, a new version of the cartridge without the limitation and a blue button has been released and will be refered to as Sky3DS rev.2 from now on. Finally, thanks to smealum and his NINJHAX exploit, it is now possible to boot homebrew on 9.2 systems via a Sky3DS flashcart.

Verdict
Pros
+ Compatible with latest firmware to date (9.2.0-20)
+ Supports online gameplay without issues
+ Does not require a DS Mode flashcart for installation
+ Plug and Play use, no need for executing any exploit
+ Useful status LED indicating when the flashcart is busy
+ Confirmed to work on the New 3DS
Cons
- It only has 10 non-rewritable slots for games, if you want to play more games, you have to purchase another sky3DS cartridge (refers to rev.1 cartridges with a red button, rev.2 cartridges do not have this limitation)
- Does not support homebrew (unless through NINJHAX), cross-region games or eShop games
- Lacks a menu due to the nature of how it operates
- Relatively high price
7
out of 10
Overall
The sky3DS definitely has a lot going for it, but it does have serious drawbacks as well. The inability to flash more than 10 games or ever change the already installed ones is a glaring issue, but for many users the ability to use the cart online on latest firmware with no hassle whatsoever will outweigh that problem. I can wholeheartedly recommend this product to anyone with a 4.5+ FW 3DS, however if you have an earlier firmware, perhaps you should stick to the more versatile alternatives.
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