Vampent vBagX Review: Gameboy Advance on your S60

http://www.vampent.com

While Nokia is trying to build creditibility to their N-gage mobile gaming platform, much of the portable gaming market was and continues to be held by dedicated gaming systems like Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. Just the number of top rate games available on one of these systems far outweigh all the games available on the S60. One way to quickly increase the number of top quality titles is bringing it onto the S60 through emulation.

The power of S60 phones have dramatically increased in the past few months and software like vBag make emulation of yesterday's dedicated portable gaming systems like the hugely popular Nintendo Gameboy Advance possible. With vBag your phone can play any number of games from the GBA's huge library of portable games. Imagine classic like Super Mario Advance 2, Super Mario Kart, and the Legend of Zelda on your phone:


It may sound impressive so find out if the claims are true that you can really get the GBA experience on your S60 phone by following the jump to read the full review...

For this post I will be reviewing vBagX x1.20 S60v3 on the most common Nokia S60 architectures:
ArchitectureDetailsPhones
32bit Freescale MXC300369 MHz ARM1136JF-S + 220MHz StarCore SC140 DSPE63, E66, E71, N78, N79, N81, N85
Texas Instruments OMAP2420330 MHz ARM1136 + 220 MHz TI TMS320C55xDSP + PowerVR MBX 2D/3D Graphics Accelerator + IVAN82, N95


I don't have all of these phones so I'll be testing on both a N82 and a E71 to cover both of these architectures on vBag 's performance. A SanDisk 8GB microSDHC class 4 on the N82 and a Nokia 2GB microSD on the E71 memory card were used during this review. vBag was installed on the memory card in both cases because all GBA ROMS (.gba) must be placed in \Data\Others\vBag\

Graphics
vBagX gives you the option to use Bitmap (software rendered) or Direct (hardware rendered) but Direct has never worked for me on either the N82, E71, or even other Vampent products on my 6682.

From my experiences, the E71 renders games exactly as they are on the GBA but some games do run into issues with sprites not appearing in the right spot (see compatibility).

Super Mario Kart Advance runs smoothly with all image layers on the Nokia N82

vBagX comfortably handles the portrait layout found on most S60 phones like the N82 and the landscape layout like the E71. It can also handle screen rotations but the rotation must be done before starting a game otherwise the rotation will cause a screen problem. You can also manually change the screen orientation under Graph > Size (you can rotate the screen 90 degrees left or right, keep it at original reolution or expand to fill the screen).

You do encounter some frame drops here and there even on the higher powered N82/N95. The E71 is more choppy. You can adjust how much frames (0-9) you're OK with vBagX skipping to keep a consistent game speed.

Sounds
vBagX supports full stereo audio on the GBA. However there is a very very minor lag in audio on the N82 but the audio was very out of sync on the E71 by about 0.5 seconds.

Performance
This is highly dependent on the model and firmware of your phone.

My E71 encountered choppy frame rate and lagged audio. There was no way I could play Street Fighter II the same way as I did on a GBA.

I didn't experience any of the lag with the dual core architecture of the N82. But there were a few dropped frames here and there in high speed games like Super Mario Kart. It was very playable but not as smooth as playing on a real Gameboy Advance.

Compatibility
There is currently a running thread of compatible games on Vampent's forum. Here is a list of games I've tested and played:
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario Advance 4 (Super Mario 3)
Super Mario Advance 2 (Super Mario World)
Contra Advance (Contra 3)
The Legend of Zelda - The Minish Cup
Final Fantasy Advance Tactics
Mario Pinball Land
Super Street Fighter II

All of them worked for me running on compatibilty mode 1. That's the scary but powerful thing. Vampent thought to add a compatibilty setting that goes from 1 to 3 (where 3 is slowest but closest compatibility with GBA) in vBagX so some games work in one setting but not others.

The single core architecture used in the Nokia E71 lends itself better to RPG games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Phone keypads for gaming
You're playing games designed for the GBA's keypad. First off you're losing out on the left (L) and right (R) buttons at the top of the GBA since no S60 phone features these. Secondly, the ring D-pad of most S60 phones don't lend themselves well to diagonal (ie. left-right) presses. Similar to the keyboard on computers, a certain combination of simulataneous key presses can register an error on the phone and thus ignoring the key press. It's annoying when you have to hold one key while tapping another like flying in Super Mario Advance 4.

If you can get past all those physical limitations, vBagX allows you to map any GBA key to almost any phone key. Unfortunately only the volume up/down media keys are currently supported for N95/N96.

I've frequently referred to vBag, vNes, or vBoy under the keypad sections in my reviews as these games were designed for the highly comfortable, high quality, and dedicated to gaming keypad of the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. More often than not, the keypads of a phone aren't built with gaming in mind so button placement is compromised and button quality isn't high on the priority of phone manufacturers. If you plan to game a lot on the road then I highly recommend bringing along a Wii-mote and downloading Mobipad so you can use the better Wii-mote controller for gaming.

Playing GBA games with a Wii-mote paired to your S60 phone via Bluetooth is a lot more enjoyable and comfortable

Overall
vBagX delivers high quality gaming to the S60 platform by giving users access to Gameboy Advance's library of games. Most of my Gameboy Advance games ran fine on vBag with an acceptable framerate, little to no graphical errors, and mostly synchronized audio playback. Since most games require quick reflexes and timing, you need to get either a N82 or any flavor of the N95 to fully enjoy vBagX. I highly recommend downloading the trial vBagX to your phone to test before purchasing it to ensure it runs your favorite games smoothly and you're confortable with the keypad on your phone. If you do decide to purchase vBagX, Vampent offers lifetime upgrades of the vBagX product and I've heard their customer service is really good.

Software rating: Highly Recommend
Vampent vBagX Review: Gameboy Advance on your S60 Vampent vBagX Review: Gameboy Advance on your S60 Reviewed by Eric on 11/25/2008 Rating: 5

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