Have you ever tried to flash one of your Gameboy ROMs onto a bootleg cartridge only to find your game would no longer save? There has been a recent breakthrough in the retro gaming community to resolve this exact issue! Read on to learn all about patching Gameboy ROMs for batteryless saves.
Let’s start with a backstory. An origin story if you will. Ever since the Gameboy entered the market, bootleg games have been on steady production from various locations overseas. These are cheaply made games and are normally very easy to differentiate from authentic copies.
These replica’s often use a board that looks very different from an authentic copy. They use an off-branded mask ROM and chips (see this post to learn more about the cartridge internals), and many are missing the battery that enables the save process. Just like authentic cartridges, these still use an SRAM chip for saving; instead of the save data being kept on the SRAM chip after a successful save (by constant power from the battery), it is transferred to the ROM chip for safe storage. When you start playing again, that save data is sent back to the SRAM chip from the mask ROM.
To make this happen, the ROM that is put onto the bootleg cartridge you buy needs to be edited to change this save process. When these edits are done in mass they can often cause other issues with the cartridge. One noticeable issue is that during the transfer process, the game can freeze for 2-3 seconds. Various people have also reported odd glitches throughout games on bootleg cartridges.
So, if these bootleg cartridges are low-quality and often riddled with issues, why would anybody buy them? Well, there are a few reasons. For one, as authentic games age, their prices are skyrocketing. For example, a second hand copy of Pokemon Crystal could cost upwards of $60, while a counterfeit can be purchased for less than $10. Another reason is that people want the bootleg cartridges to flash their own ROMs on. Authentic Nintendo cartridges block you from flashing your own ROMs, so bootleg is the only way to go for this!
Flashing The ROM
Flashing a ROM onto a cartridge is pretty straight forward. All you need is a cartridge flasher and a computer. My favorite Gameboy flasher is BennVenn’s Joey-Joebags. This one device can be used to flash original Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance ROMs.
Once you flash a ROM onto a replica cartridge, you will be left with a game that unfortunately won’t save. That’s because this cartridge doesn’t have a battery and your ROM is not setup for a batteryless save!
Patching The ROM
BennVenn, the creator of the previously mentioned Joey-Joebags, also came up with this batteryless patch. It utilizes GB Studio which is a free-to-use Gameboy editor to patch your ROM. Follow along with the below video to get step by step directions on how to patch your ROM.
If that tutorial was a little fast to follow along with, there is an unedited version available here. If you are a frequent user of GB Studio, you may be in luck here. Developers of GB Studio got news of BennVenn’s patch and are currently working on adding it into the next release of GB Studio.
Choosing a Replica Cartridge
Since there are so many bootleg cartridges on the market from a number of different sellers, BennVenn made it easy for you to choose the best one. He sourced the highest quality cartridges direct from the factory. You can purchase them here! By purchasing these cartridges, you can be sure they work as advertised, and are 100% confirmed to work in the Joey-Joebags flasher.
If patching a ROM seems too involved, or you are looking for a simpler alternative, a flash cart may be for you! I personally have (and use) an EZ-FLASH Junior. It is a high quality cartridge that includes an SD card slot to easily load all of your ROMs at once. Stay tuned for a review coming soon. I will post the link here as soon as it is available.
If you have ever tried to flash a bootleg Gameboy cartridge with a ROM from your collection, you probably ran into an issue with not being able to save your progress. Luckily for you, there are great minds in the retro gaming community that have solved the process of patching Gameboy ROMs for batteryless saves.