Ben gives the GameCube Action Replay a whirl on both PAL and NTSC systems.
Please Note: The version of the Action Replay used for review purposes was Version 1.06. A newer version is available, which remedies problems running The Wind Waker and has a larger code database (but apparently removes WaveBird support completely). The newer version has a picture of Link on the box with "Includes exclusive codes for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" on it.
The Action Replay has been out for a while now, and I've been able to give it a thorough testing as I use it nearly every time I boot up. When you get your Action Replay, you'll be surprised to see that it comes, not in a DVD case, but a cardboard box. The disc is slipped in between the manual's pages, which is the oddest way of packing a disc ever. The first thing you'll need is some kind of case to protect your disc. You also receive a special "Action Replay" memory card, which is inserted into slot B of your GameCube. This memory card saves any additional Action Replay data you enter, such as new codes or titles for your GameCube.
Once you have all your bits and bobs in place, you simply turn on your GameCube and you'll be taken to the Action Replay main menu. Actually, no. If you use a WaveBird, you'll run into the AR's first problem. It doesn't automatically detect WaveBird controllers. You'll need to turn on your WaveBird, hold a button (preferably not the A Button, as that will take you into the GameCube's system menu) and THEN turn on the GameCube. Once you're in the Action Replay menu, then you can let go of the button.
The AR is pretty simple to use, as it is menu driven. You'll initially start with four options: Start Game, Freeloader, Action Replay Codes, and Options. “Start Game" boots up the game you were last playing with codes. For example, if you played Metroid Prime with Infinite Missiles and Health, then you can select Start Game the next time you play and you'll use those same codes from your previous session (provided you're booting up Metroid Prime again). “Freeloader" runs the Freeloader disc. “Action Replay Codes" gives you a menu of codes as well as the option to add more codes. “Options" allows you to adjust saving options and the like for the Action Replay card. Entering new titles and new codes is pretty cumbersome via the onscreen keyboard. It would have been a bit more user-friendly if the Space and Caps Lock Toggle were assigned to the L and R buttons, which aren’t used at all.
Now for the tests. First, I put the Action Replay in a PAL GameCube with a copy of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, trying it both with and without cheat codes. The game ran smoothly without any problems, and when using the cheat codes, performed as expected. When trying an NTSC version of Star Fox Adventures on the PAL GameCube, the game ran smoothly without any issues at all with or without a selection of codes.
After this, I gave the AR a spin on a Panasonic Q. (The Q's only difference is in its appearance and the addition of a DVD player. The innards of the GameCube system are the same as a regular NTSC GameCube.) The first game tried was again, the NTSC Star Fox Adventures. Trying it both with and without codes, it performed just as smoothly as normal. So far, so good. Trying a Japanese copy of Super Mario Sunshine also proved to be okay. The final test was a PAL copy of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. Here's where the trouble started.
When trying to play Sonic 2 PAL on my Q, the cut-scenes seemed to be a little out of sync with the voices (more than usual -- it's not the bad dubbing I was seeing). Trying out some codes made things worse. There was a green line at the top of the screen, which later became a thin line of coloured mess. The cut-scenes were again out of sync, possibly more than previously.
I then tried Bomberman Generation. Without codes, the game was slightly out of sync and also ran a bit slower than normal. Entering codes slowed it down painfully. It was possible to finish the game, but when the end credits were running, the music made it halfway through a second run. The cheat codes DID work, but at a cost of an agonizingly slow game.
The next game I tested was the PAL version of Luigi's Mansion. Surely this, the first GameCube game, could not have problems. However, it too suffered when running with codes. While it seemed to run fine without, turning on codes caused a fair amount of slowdown.
Finally, I tried a more recent game, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. At first, I didn't enter any codes. The game wouldn't boot at all. Consulting the manual, it was possible to get Wind Waker to run by using the Freeloader's third boot method (pressing 'Y' when in the Freeloader mode and selecting Europe as my region). It ran smoothly without any problems. Out of curiosity, I wondered if it would be possible to cheat in Wind Waker. It was difficult, but you can activate codes by once again using the Freeloader's third boot method. It was a partial success -- the game ran, the codes worked, but the entire game was displayed in bizarre neon colours. Ah well.
Overall, the Action Replay is a capable piece of hardware. It 'does exactly what it says on the tin', as they say. It's perfect for PAL gamers who are planning to import and/or cheat, and also great for any potential cheaters out there. It's not as good a solution, however, for NTSC gamers importing PAL games, due to slower game speeds and other problems. Nonetheless, most games do run. Cheat-wise, NTSC gamers will benefit more from the Action Replay as they'll get more cheat updates than their PAL counterparts, and in most cases, more or better codes.