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Emulators for Palm PDAs : An Overview of the Best

3 years ago, I posted a review at this site:

Emulators for Pocket PCs: An Overview of the Best
.

Liberty was the first Palm emulator – for use with Gameboy cartridges. It was a
great effort at that time; I liked it so much that I whipped out this review for
it at
SPUG.net.
Now that the Palm OS is more up to speed with the StrongArm chip,
more capable emulators have surfaced and it will be great to have a write up of
an overview on them.

Above is a screenshot of the icons of some of the Palm emulators that I like.
To play these emulators, you will needs game ROMS – get them at
PDROMS, your #1
legal ROM Source since 1998. Running an emulator is like having another computer
on your Palm, with a library of software thrown in as well.



My most favorite Palm emulator is Codejedi’s

CaSTaway
, the Atari ST emulator – and it’s free! it has been updated to
v0.7.11 which includes full screen 320×480 display, Zodiac compatibility,
improved sampled audio playback and other fixes.

I had a great time playing all the blasts from the past – from breakout games
like Impact to 2-disk games like Street Fighter II. In fact, I liked the Atari
ST computer so much that I had 2 of them; one running in colour and the other in
super fine hi-res black and white. There hasn’t been a gaming computer quite
like it since then – the game play is just out of this world.


The 2 screenshots above show CaSTaway’s easy to use launcher and the emulator
in normal mode, running Silkworm.



Whenever emulators are mentioned, MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is
used as the benchmark for all others to follow. I hear that a MAME for Palm is
in the making, but until it sees the light of day, here’s another great arcade
emulator, Xcade, from
Codejedi who brought us the free CaSTaway Atari ST emulator.

For a few dollars, Palm owners get to play the actual ROMS of arcade classics
like Space Invaders, Galaxians, Pacman and the like. At present, over a dozen
arcade games are emulated and it is great carrying arcade machines on your Palm
with good speed and great playability. The latest version is Zodiac friendly and
runs in full screen 320×480 mode.


Above are screenshots of Xcade’s launcher and that of the emulator in normal
mode, running Donkey Kong. Since Xcade predates MAME, some current ROMs for MAME
will not work for Xcade – you have to go back – way, way back to the original
ROMs. Or you can use the free utility to convert MAME ROMS for use in Xcade.




The NES emulator by
KalemSoft
is what a finely crafted emulator should be: good interface,
sound, stable with lots of options – I call this the "Lexus" of Palm emulators.
The latest version, 1.4 supports full screen (320×480) and the Zodaic version is
wonderful (I’m inspired by KalemSoft’s passion for the Zodiac) and NES games
like Battle City, Galaga and Galaxians are really arcade quality.




I first came to know of programmer Aaron Ardiri when he released his Watch
and Game apps for the Palm. Later, he released the first working emulator for
the Palm, Liberty,
a Gameboy emulator. Today, he’s as active as ever taking care of security for
the Zodiac and releasing the Atari 2600 emulator,

Atari Retro
.

This emulator has 7 of the most popular 2600 games – the first home console
that made it big until it went bust. Everything about Atari Retro is very well
laid out, with controls and variations of games like the real thing. For Zodiac
owners, there’s the 360×480 version as well – great blast from the past.




Like I said, the NES emulator by KalemSoft is what a finely crafted emulator
should be – good interface, sound, stable with lots of options. Their other
emulator on sale at this site
Gizmo Ultra, is equally
well done. It is a virtual Game Gear handheld/SMS (Sega Master System) console
running at full speed with sound on Palm devices. For Palm capable devices like
the T3 and Zodiac, the full 380×480 screen is possible. Take a look at the above
screenshots and be impressed at the amount of thought and work that has gone 
into Gizmo. Sound is a plus, screen size options are great and speed adjustment
totally enhances the enjoyment of the games.

Whereas the Atari 2600 was the first gaming console to hit homes in a big
way, its popularity proved to be its downfall when many companies flooded the
market with really bad software. Except for Activision, most Atari game
developers shelled out nothing more than blocky stuff. Then came the Nintendo
Entertainment Systems (NES) who took over the market with quality games like the
Mario Brothers series. Sega challenged NES’ dominance with the SMS console with
its immensely popular Sonic series and upped the ante with a colour handheld,
the Game Gear (which would have beaten the Gameboy except that it sucks
batteries like a thirsty wanderer).




At the time of this writing,
Phoinix is
possibly the only Palm Gameboy emulator that works for OS5 devices until the
gbaZ (Gameboy Advance) emulator sees the light of day. Phoinix’s programmer is
actively working on it and the latest update works fine with the Zodiac also.
Although it is a tad slow and without sound, my favorite cartridges Super
Marioland, Headon and Watch & Game series work just fine.




Frodo is a
c64 emulator that is no longer updated and abandoned. This is too bad as it
already has sound and good key assignments all round. The screenshot above is
from a great an early c64 pinball game, arleady playing as good as it looks in
3-D.





LEDhead
is an emulator for Mattel handheld games, an interesting LED handheld device which
every kid in my neighbourhood wanted for Christmas. This electronic game is
somewhat like Speak and Spell, targeted at children. This device cleverly used
LED numbers to simulate many kind of games – great for developing the
imagination in today’s clueless kids.




apPALM ][ is
a nice little Apple ][ emulator that works pretty well with sounds, disk drives
and all. Unfortunately, the buttons are all wrong for the Zodiac. Can anyone
help here?





Colem
is a pretty good console with some very neat games. For some reason I
can’t get it to run on the Zodiac. This emulator is just starting out and
already it is looking pretty good.



Dave at the SPUG forum called my attention to the
SCUMM Virtual
Machine. He goes on to say that "it is technically an "emulator" and a pretty
good one too".



Jeff aka Codejedi alerted me of his freeware emulator
Kronos.
In his own words, from the man himself:

"Kronos is an interpreter for Magnetic Scrolls, Infocom-style ZMachine, and
Scott Adams style adventure games. Magnetic Scroll’s was a UK based text
adventure game company from the middle 1980’s; their games helped kick off the
adventure game genre by introducing high quality artwork, a fancy English-like
parser and wonderful plots. While Infocom was better known and more influential,
Magnetic Scrolls was light years ahead in their time. Infocom was an American
company who created the adventure game genre and offered some of the most
memorable and involved games in history. Zork will never be forgotten."

Hmm… it will be great to relive the early Scott Adams text-only adventure
games – leaving everything to the imagination!



To conclude this first ‘show and tell’ session of Palm emulators, I want to
share a beta release of an NEC PC Engine emulator by the great guys at KalemSoft
called Dream Engine. I have been playing with the emulator for a few weeks – so
far it does not have a save feature but will have full screen and all the bells
and whistles when it is released. As it is, it plays all the ROMs I have with
sound and in a polished way as you can see from the above screenshots.

NEC came into the console market to complete with Nintendo and Sega. They
released a nice console and a great colour handheld which is tops even by today
standards. The games come in credit size cartridges, costs a bomb but can be
used on both handheld and console. PCE doesn’t have too many games but everyone
of them is good; some even specially customised for PCE.

I leave you with this thought: Gizmo Ultra runs both GG and SMS games at $21.99
while Gizmo lite runs only GG games at $14.99.

Is it reasonable or even wise to shell out $$$ for emulators when there are some
which are labour of love (eg caSTaway) where a Palm user could pick up for free?

Let me answer this question from a personal experience recently…

While preparing to post this thread on emulators at

www.spug.net
, I check them out on the internet and started taking them for
test drives.

Of course, I purchased Xcade, Nesem etc… but I also tried Frodo, CaSTaway,
Phoinix… and here’s my 2 cents:

1. When you buy an emulator, you get a load-and-play software without any hassle
– works first time out of a box like Nesem. As for the freeware Frodo, a c64
emulator, it took me a week to get it working. Then only, because Dylan at the
forum at Zodiac Gamer went out of his way to help me (thanks a million, Dylan!).

2. By paying $$$, you get support all the way. I must go on record to say I am
very impressed with KalemSoft’s support team. When I couldn’t get Gizmo Ultra to
work on my Zodiac, I sent these guys an email thinking at best, I’ll eventually
get a response the next working day. Wrong! It was answered within hours! On the
same morning, I contacted KalemSoft’s support desk 2 more times. All 3 emails
were answered within the same morning and Gizmo Ultra is running superbly
without a hitch by noon. As for Frodo, the author will not respond to emails
period.

3. Because the developer is rewarded for his hard work, the emulator continues
to improve and becomes very polished and great value for the money. On the other
hand, I understand work on Frodo has been abandoned

There are many more emulators for the Palm and new ones are coming out all the
time. I will be happy to hear from anyone about their experiences with Palm
emulators or new ones I have not heard, especially from developers whom I want
to thank for brightening my world.
 

 

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