The team behind the immensely successful R4i Gold is now tackling the Nintendo 3DS market with their latest product: the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe. It's a long name, but the purpose of the cart is obvious. The R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe is the team's effort to run backups of 3DS games on the Nintendo 3DS console. This comes at the heels of the very first 3DS flash cart, the Gateway 3DS, which was released in mid-August of this year.
Before I even begin the review, it's noteworthy to mention that though the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe bears the R4i Gold name, there are still significant limitations to the cart. I mention it first to set some realistic expectations for the rest of the review. This is among the first generation of 3DS flash carts and they are using an exploit that can only be used by consoles that are on firmware 4.1.X to firmware 4.5.X (note that the minor updates within the 4.1 branch are all acceptable). If you are running on a firmware below 4.1.X, your only option is to use an update embedded in a retail cartridge. This means that you will need to purchase a retail game on this list and run the update on the game cartridge itself. An online update will bring you to firmware 6.X.X, and once you are past 4.5.X there is no way to downgrade.
Included in the package are two separate cartridges. The documentation on the R4i website refers to the blue card as "the Blue Card" and the gold card as "the Starter Card". Also bundled is a MicroSD card reader which was tossed in the envelope rather than bundled into the packaging. The reader is nothing special and will get you running just fine.
Both cartridges are shaped like the recent R4i carts with notches on either side. They have both opted to use non-spring loaded MicroSD slots that are not too tight. Neither of them have chips sticking out and are completely flush. They slip in and out without a problem and are well built. The Starter Card is colored grey like the retail 3DS games, though it doesn't have the notch on the cartridge.
Of the two cartridges, the Blue Card is the less interesting one. It is a standard Nintendo DS flash cart. More specifically it is the R4i Gold manufactured by the same team. The cart will run the official Wood R4 releases and also supports all 3DS consoles including the latest 6.3.X firmware. This is different from the Gateway 3DS which includes a cart that supports up to 6.1.X only. I won't go into much further detail, but if you are inclined to, this is a fully functional DS flash cart that will let you run DS backups on pretty much any DS or 3DS device out so far. The capability to run official Wood R4 releases means that it is getting updated regularly to increase support.
Why is the Blue Card bundled? For one, it is now a complete package. The R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe will run DS games as well. But the real reason why the bundle is necessary is to inject the hack. The Starter Card is not recognized until you use the Blue Card to run the exploit. What's nice about the Blue Card is that the installation file is not a separate .nds file, it is built straight into the menu so that you can run "3DS Setup" after you click start.
The setup process for the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe involves setting up the Blue Card, then the 3DS, then the Starter Card. Setting up the Blue Card is a drag and drop procedure. Head over to R4ids.cn and download the latest version of Wood R4. Strangely, it is not listed under the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe section, but it is impossible to miss. Extract the folder and the file into the root of an empty MicroSD card. Once that is ready, place the MicroSD card into the Blue Card then into the 3DS console. Run the game now in the 3DS menu and once it has finished loading you will be looking at the Wood R4 menu. There is a minor change though, if you click the start button, you will see a new option, which is 3DS Setup. Enter the 3DS Setup menu and follow the instructions.
From there, we begin the launcher setup. When you download the firmware for the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe from the R4ids.cn website (please note the exact name of the model, they have a lot of products with similar names), you will get a zip file with "launcher.dat" inside. Extract launcher.dat into the root of the SD card for your Nintendo 3DS.
Future updates to the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe should be changes to this launcher.dat file. Once that is complete, you put the SD card back into the Nintendo 3DS, and go to the device settings. Then click Other Settings, Profile and Nintendo DS Profile. It will take about 5 seconds before you are returned to the Nintendo 3DS main menu. The launcher file is unique for the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe. That is to say the imager and even the exploit can be run with the Gateway 3DS packages, but the launcher is set up so that it will only recognize the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe and not the Gateway 3DS.
Finally, we get to setup the Starter Card. Your MicroSD (could be a new one or could be the same one used with the Blue Card) will be completely wiped. Download and extract Win32DiskImager from the R4ids.cn website. When you open it, you can select the drive that your MicroSD card is in and an image file (which will be your backup with extension .3DS). When you are browsing for the file, you may need to change the "Files of Type" selection to All Files if you do not see your games.
Once you've selected the correct drive and file, click write and you are done. Insert the MicroSD into your Starter Card then insert the card into your 3DS and you are all set to play. It will look identical to a retail cartridge.
The minor quirk for the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe (and the Gateway 3DS as well) is when the exploit is erased. If your Nintendo 3DS runs out of batteries or if you decide to turn the system off, you will have to go back to the settings and enable the Nintendo DS Profile again. This also happens for a few settings changes. If I set new Parental Controls, I have to restart the exploit as well. It's not too bad since you can do this on the go with what you already have (no need for a computer or the Blue Card), but it is annoying.
The other issue here is if you own retail cartridges. Once the exploit is enabled, the 3DS console will not recognize retail 3DS games. It will read the Blue Card and the Starter Card as well as any Nintendo DS games. However, it will not recognize genuine 3DS cartridges. For that, you will have to power off you 3DS.
The R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe has worked extremely well. With the exception of a few of the very latest releases, every game has worked without a hitch. I've tested 40 games (with 15 from different regions) and six games have failed. These games are: Animal Crossing: New Leaf (E), Monster Hunter 4 (J), Pokemon X (E), Pokemon Y (E), Hometown Story (U) and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (E). As you can tell the only games that have not worked are the recent releases. My hope is that these will be taken care of in the next update. I will be sure to update this section of the review when this situation changes.
Multiplayer is really the only problematic issue. Online does not work, you are simply given an error screen any time you try. The good news is that local multiplayer works fine. Both regular local multiplayer and download play works, so for Mario Tennis Open, you can be the sole owner of the game or connect to other people with the game (whether it is another backup or a retail cartridge).
What does get in the way however is the fact that you are not running the latest Nintendo 3DS update. This is not an issue in terms of multiplayer.
One of the major features of the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe is the ability to run games region free. The Nintendo 3DS is a region locked console, so you can only run retail games within your own region. I'm from Canada, so Japanese or European games would not normally work on my console. However, the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe will let you run the latest Japanese releases on your console. Compatibility has been no different regardless of the region of the source file.
If you are someone who likes to backup your saves as well, you are in luck. Because of how the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe works, save files are not stored directly on the MicroSD card, instead it is loaded into the SD card in your Nintendo 3DS console. You can pull the files off the SD card, store them, start over, etc. It might be interesting to note that the save files produced by the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe are completely interchangeable with those from the Gateway 3DS. You can create a save on the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe and exchange it with a friend running the Gateway 3DS or vice versa. This will definitely be helpful in the future when these solutions become a little more popular.
I do have to point out that the save system isn't perfect. For one, they are stored with a string of 16 numbers or letters as a name. If you play multiple games and swap your R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe often, then it becomes difficult to figure out which save corresponds to which game. The string is actually the titleid of the 3DS game, so if you are at a complete loss, it is a unique identifier, just one that looks like a mess. The other thing to note is that there is no method to backup save files from a retail cartridge and run them on your R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe (or restore them). Not a single save dumped by an NDS Adaptor Plus worked (and from what I understand the R4i Save Dongle does not work either). As such, there is no way to exchange a save file between a retail cartridge and the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe.
The R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe isn't able to separate itself from the Gateway 3DS easily. At the moment, performance is identical though the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe does have a few things going for them. For one, it is slightly cheaper to purchase and also provides a second cartridge which is superior to the one bundled with the Gateway 3DS. I've also found that the R4i team has an obvious advantage in distribution channels, stock is more readily available and can be better found in a wide variety of online retailers.
However, it is an inescapable fact that the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe is hugely derivative of the work done by the Gateway team. The cartridge and software are nearly identical to their innovative competitor. It is here where I have to bring up the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe's greatest potential weakness; the updates. I say potential because neither carts have been out long enough to produce any real track record yet. The R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe, since release, has been running Gateway's 1.2 update. Until Gateway's 2.0 update is released or the R4i Gold team introduces their own update, it is hard to say whether the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe will get timely updates.
The R4i Gold team has stated that all future updates will come directly from them and not from Gateway's work. Multi-rom support should be coming in the next release soon, and subsequent updates will include emuNAND, a NAND dumper and more. I will be updating this section as more information becomes available.
In summary, the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe is an early attempt at running 3DS backups, but has worked flawlessly. For average consumers, it may fall short on (admittedly unrealistic) expectations. It will only run one game at a time and requires a 3DS or 3DS XL console that runs on firmware 4.1.X to 4.5.X. There is also no way to connect online for these games. However, outside of these two limitations, the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe works as advertised and will run most games without a problem.
It's difficult to truly recommend or disregard the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe. On one hand, this package is put together by a team that has a track record of supporting their older products. The performance at the moment is identical to its competitor. And they've also included a superior "blue cart", all for a lower price. These are really the most compelling reasons you can give to buy a product, but the unfortunate truth for the R4i Gold team is that the R4i Gold 3DS Deluxe is a Gateway 3DS in new packaging, and it'll take a few updates to convince us to go one way or the other.