Review: Freeloader (Wii)
Posted 25 Mar 2008 at 02:00 by Mark Lee
|"As futuristic as 2008 sounds, Nintendo still seem as archaic as ever when it comes to region-coding games."|
In the electronic entertainment industry, Nintendo were the originator of regional lockouts - so seeing gamers over the pond playing the latest and greatest Nintendo titles months, even years before us, has become an expected norm for European gamers. Bar owning several region-specific consoles or modding one (thus voiding your warranty) it has always been difficult, nay impossible to play games intended for Japanese/US gamers. With that simple truth, there lay a money-making opportunity for third party developers.
Ever since the Super Nintendo housed the epic Street Fighter 2 there have been those titles that everyone had to get their hands on. Evidently, third party developers have always timed their releases carefully. Go back to August 2002 and the internet gasped in delight as Datel's Freeloader enabled gamers to play Mario Sunshine and the seminal Animal Crossing months, and years before they would see release in the US/EU. The Freeloader was simple and cheap. A device which enabled gamers to play import games on their console – through nothing more than a swapping of disks procedure.
Unsurprisingly it sold well.
So here we are again three years later and as futuristic as 2008 sounds, Nintendo still seem as archaic as ever when it comes to region-coding games. At this moment in time the main Nintendo game on everyone's brain is Super Smash Bros. Brawl. With Nintendo (again) not giving us a release date for a major first-party title, Nintendo fans all over Europe are left wishing, wondering, wanting. Datel promised ease-of-use with the GameCube Freeloader and (after several delays and revised versions) they delivered. Will the new Wii-specific version offer gamers the same pros?
The Freeloader comes in a standard DVD case with a simple one-sheet manual detailing how to use it, plus the usual disclaimers and contact details. The presentation and packaging reflects the £10 price point with an 8-cm miniDVD (GameCube disk) inside. The disk is easily inserted into the Wii disk drive and, as expected, upon insertion will begin to load. After a few seconds the screen will then mildly smudge colours from right to left - twice. This is accompanied by an emitted "crash" tone not too dissimilar to loading an old Commadore 64 game. After this the import game can then be inserted. The game will then load as normal with all features intact (yes, online too). However, any games that come with an update on them (Smash Bros/Super Paper Mario) will only work after the Freeloader has been inserted twice. The updates are then accepted by the user yet ignored by the console. This is explained clearly on the included instruction sheet.
So can you play any import game on your Wii console? Not quite.
As effortless as the Freeloader is, there were always going to be some issues - and firmware is the biggest. Firmware is essentially a computer instruction stored in a ROM (as in a game disk), this means Nintendo could incorporate an instruction on future game disks that combats the Freeloader. Furthermore a console update could also render existing titles unplayable. The current Wii firmware (as noted in your Wii Settings) is version 3.2 and so everything equal to/below that should work fine. As mentioned though – any future update from Nintendo could change everything.
Furthermore, those looking to play their imported GameCube games via the Wii Freeloader are in for a lottery. While the Freeloader makes no mention of GameCube compatibility, it does work with some titles. Yet to those that own imported GC titles: Don't expect any/all of your games to work. It's all rather random. US Animal Crossing doesn't, while US Metroid Prime and US Baten Kaitos: Origins both do.
And finally, your console must be set to 60 Hz (or EDTV/HDTV mode) which is what a US/Japanese GameCube or Wii would play in. Without these modes enabled games may play colourless, messed-up or not at all. It goes without saying then that your TV must be able to emit 60 Hz.
We've listed the full pros and cons below...
N-Europe Final Verdict
The opportunity to play Smash Bros. Brawl now and No More Heroes uncut means the Freeloader is already an EU gamers dream come true. But the choice is yours.
Import titles are generally cheaper to buy
Purchase unreleased/uncut games
Simple diskswapping process
Play Smash Bros. brawl now!
Future games could include updates which render it useless
Nintendo could release updates rendering it useless