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Gamebox Advance: Another shitty GBA clone
09/2011


So I picked up once of these GBA clones the other day, my main reason behind it was to have a replacement system with a nice screen and not have to resort to using a DS or DSiXL. I've read a ton of shit about these clones but nobody really mentioned any differences between the models. There was an original-style GBA with 2g internal memory that you could access, there was a GBA SP style one with 2g that you couldn't access, then there was this one that would let you not only access the internal memory but it also had a built in microSD slot.

It goes by "Gamebox Advance" and it's very similar to the "Gamebox" set-top console that's offered on a couple sites. Well, really it's the same exact thing with just a slightly different (slower) processor and hardware setup, and runs virtually the same bios but has less software support than the stand alone console. It has the same amount of internal memory and a microSD slot, and even has a fucking GBA cart slot built into it. It truly amazed me that the few people that bought it and posted about it didn't have enough sense or ambition to plug a GBA game into the slot; rather they sat on their asses in amazement wondering what that magical port was.

The standalone Gamebox supports GBA, CPS1, CPS2, and PGM &  Neo Geo games with an updated firmware. I've yet to see how to access the bios on the portable version. The Gamebox Advance supports only GBA and CPS1 games. I'd say a combination of slow processor (333mhz) and typical poor Chinese knockoff software support will keep it from doing anything more than it does right now. This is it; whatever it does (or doesn't do) isn't changing in the least because we'll likely never see an updated software revision unless some homebrew coder takes it upon themselves to do it.

The picture on the left is my silver Gamebox Advance next to my black GBA SP. If you look to the left of the cartridge slot on the Gamebox you'll see the microSD slot. The EXT port used for the link cable is the USB port on the Gamebox; it will also charge in USB mode. It also acts as the TV-out jack. Both USB and TV-out cables are included with the system


I'm going to go ahead and list some of the options for the system here, mainly since mine included no manual nor at the time was there any information available about how exactly to do some of this stuff.

On menu the main menu:
L - Language setting
R - Clock setting
Select - toggle between internal/MicroSD card

In GBA games:
R + Select: Savestate, TV out, soft reset menu. You can have up to 10 savestates per game. TV out is NTSC, and will revert back to the console if you switch games.

To access internal USB memory:
Plug the USB cord into the system and your PC then turn the system on. After you add/delete files unplug the cord with your system still powered on and you'll see a screen that says "Searching..." then the file list will be updated. Files are organized by date added, you will have to use a program like Drivesort to make them alphabetical. You can add screenshots for CPS1 games by making a .gif file with the same name as the zip file, and making it the same dimensions as  the ones already included. You could potentially add screenshots for GBA games not included in the .DAT file, but I have no idea how to edit it since it's in Chinese.

About running GBA ROMs and cartridges
You can run GBA and media files from the microSD card slot, with GBA games running very poor from them compared to the internal memory. Real GBA cartridges with battery backup, pirate cartridges, or flash cartridges will not work with the unit. Many 3d games or games with polygon graphics are unplayable, and frameskip is evident in virtually all games. There might not be any slowdown, but there will be frameskipping.

About running CPS1 ROMS
CPS1 games must be in zip format on the internal memory. There is no button remapping, dipswitch/option settings, soft reset, or TV out on CPS1 games. I have found some games will work that are not shipped on the unit (UN Squadron) while others won't (Mercs). I guess if you use the correct file from whatever set the emulator is designed to run on it could potentially run any CPS1 game, but I don't see why they didn't just go ahead and include the whole damn set of games. Also, since you can't edit any options nor can you update the emulator, you won't be able to select different versions of a title if it uses a slightly different ROMset. For example, you can't play Street Fighter II: Turbo because it shares the same ROMset as CE.

Shit the Gamebox Advance gets right
    This part's going to be short in relation to pointing out it's shortcomings, but it actually does have some good points.

  • Screen brightness - Wow, this thing is bright! It has 3 levels of brightness and is very clear and well lit. After you play with it a couple times you'll really notice how crappy a real SP's sidelighting is.
     

  • Control responsiveness - All buttons are stiff and "clickey", just the way I like them. They're not mushy like a lot of knockoff products are, and are even stiffer than the real SP's buttons. I prefer them to a stock SP's buttons and had no problems at all on control-sensitive games like SFII.
     

  • Internal / external memory - It's got a little under 2 gigs of memory and ships about 50% full of games. That's plenty of room to hold all supported CPS1 ROMs plus tons of GBA games. To be honest I can't even thing of more than 2 gigs of GBA games that are worth playing, but just in case their was the microSD card slot does work.
     

  • Game screenshots - Like the other GBA clones, this one has the neat feature of having a bunch of title screen and action screenshots of hundreds of games located in a folder on the internal memory. These screenshots are organized by a .DAT file that reads the ROM header and uses this information to display the correct picture. There's actually a lot of titles covered, and although I haven't tried it I'm sure you could add new pictures by updating the .DAT file. The CPS1 games have a screenshot of the arcade flyer, and they can be updated as well by namign a .GIF the same as the ROMset (ie FFIGHT.GIF for FFIGHT.ZIP).
     

  • TV-out - Well, it works. That's really all I can say, as I've got several other alternatives to play GBA games on a TV and virtually evey one of those options are better than using this console. No CPS1 support for the TV-out is stupid since it's apparently a big selling point. The TV picture isn't too bad, but it's kinda blurry and either cropped or not using the right aspect ratio.
     

  • USB connectivity - Not much other than it does what it's supposed to. I never had problems with my PC not finding the device, nor problems with shorts in the supplied cable or EXT port.

And where the Gamebox Advance completely fails at
    Ho boy, here's the tl;dr

  • Battery life - I can't make this portion clear enough; it will drain a fully charged battery overnight WITH THE SYSTEM TURNED OFF! If you look at the green power LED in a dark room, you'll see that even with the system turned off the power light is lit up just barely. That's because the system never actually turns completely off. A fully charged battery will be dead tomorrow morning because of this. The only option is to plan on being tethered to a charger all the time or remove the battery every time you get done playing. That sucks, it's possibly my biggest peeve with the system. I planned on just leaving this lying around where it could be used every now and again like in my backpack at work on on the shelf in the bathroom, neither of which are feasible since the battery constantly needs recharging.
     

  • Speaker - You can't actually turn the volume all the way down. Even with the slider as far down as it will go the speaker still puts out a tiny bit of sound. Normally this isn't a big deal, but when you're lying in bed with the significant other trying to sleep it sounds like a goddamn PA system.
     

  • Screen resolution - Another point that people often gloss over and act like it's no big deal. I don't know the specific technical specs of what's going on, but the screen is not the same resolution as a real GBA. It doesn't affect the CPS1 games, but it results in this eye-jarring pixel-smear for all GBA games. You'll notice it the most on highly detailed 2D art or prerendered sprites. It's horrible, really really bad, and I don't see how anyone could miss it if you play more than a handful of games on the system. The best way I can describe it is that nothing looks smooth around the edges and all black outlines around art or text looks jagged. Digitized stuff looks the worst since stuff like that usually pretty detailed to start out with. This is one of those points that some users may not act like it's a big deal, but to me it's noticeable right off the bad and takes away some of the enjoyment of playing the game.
     

  • Gameplay - Let me point straight out that anyone that says these GBA clones aren't slower than the real thing are full of shit. Sorry guys, I don't mean to sound insulting but you have no idea what the hell you are talking about. Every, and by every I mean both all GBA and CPS1 games played on this thing have frameskip painfully apparent. Granted some are much less than others, but that doesn't change the fact that it is there and it is apparent if you've spent any time at all with a real GBA. This may very well be "good enough" for most people, but shit like that sticks out like a sore thumb to me and ruins the whole thing. There's a lot of games that flat out just don't work, and that includes games that have a lot of 3D models in them. Ironically they were smart enough to avoid preloading any of the games that don't work onto the system at the factory.
     

  • File management - Running games from the microSD slot is virtually useless since they lag so bad. It's really so bad that I'd never use it even if I had to. You'll also find that the Gamebox is like most crappy devices in that the file list is populated by the date the file was added rather than alphabetically, so you'll have to use a 3rd party program like Drivesort if you want to keep your games listed in an orderly manner.
     

  • Software settings - Since it's running an emulator, where's the cheat code support? Why can I not change any settings at all for CPS1 games, nor soft reset out of them? Playing a Capcom fighter with only the weak kick button is a pain in the ass.
     

  • The cartridge slot is fucked - My main point in buying this was to have a GBA with a nice screen that I could play my cartridges on. Even after all the bullshit with how games run (or don't run at all), how the battery sucks, and how the resolution sucks, they managed to completely trash one of the most basic points behind a GBA clone in that it doesn't even work with most cartridges! Christ man, how stupid is that? Flash cartridges don't work, some pirated cartridges don't work, and legitimate carts that use battery backup don't work, and on top of that if you even put a game with battery backup in the system it erases your save file!

GBA SP screenshot on the left, Gamebox Advance on the right.