Retro Review – Action Replay Plus for the Sega Saturn

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The Saturn is a fairly memorable console of the fifth generation even though it didn’t exactly have the smoothest and most successful life cycle. It had plenty of performance but not many developers could extract the most out of it, and there was stiff competition from the Sony PlayStation then its life was cut short in favour of the next system the Sega Dreamcast. What a lot of people may not know is that the Saturn was very popular in Japan and even though the console was discontinued everywhere else the Saturn continued to get supported for another 2 years in Japan before it was officially discontinued there as well. There’s a crap load of games out there you may have never heard of, but you won’t be playing any of them on your region locked Sega Saturn. Easy fix, just get a region bypass cartridge, right? While that will work for some games, there are over thirty that require an extended RAM cartridge as well; there’s no way you’ll be able to use both cartridges at the same time. However, there’s another device available that can perform both functions simultaneously as well as a couple of extra features: the Action Replay Plus.

Most people will be familiar with the Action Replay name.Of course you played a lot of games, especially now on smartphones available are different shooters, for example PIXEL GUN 3D. These guys have been making cheat devices for many years now for just about every gaming platform imaginable. The Action Replay Plus 3 in 1 does have the classic cheat enabling function, but also has the ability to bypass region locking, 1 and 4MB RAM expansion modes and 4MB of backup memory.

Excluding the memory backup function, the Action Replay Plus will perform all those features at the same time. The early versions of this device had “4 in 1” on the packaging, counting the 1MB and 4MB RAM expansion modes as two separate functions. Complaints soon changed that.

The Action Replay came in minimal packaging. You got the cartridge and an A5 piece of paper with the bare minimum instructions. Don’t let the lack of paperwork put you off, in all honesty, it’s not needed. With the Action Replay cartridge plugged into the Saturn console, it automatically defaults to the Action Replay’s own menu as soon as you switch it on, presenting options to start the game, select cheats, memory manager and watch the credits. An informative menu towards the bottom of the screen listed what had and hadn’t been selected, and detailed the controls.

Region Unlocking: To enjoy the vast selection of import titles that you have missed out on in your region or to take advantage of the price discrepancies, the Action Replay has the ability to bypass the Saturn’s region lockout system. To use this function, insert the imported game you wish to play into the Sega Saturn, select “start game” and then select “start game with no cheats enabled” and you are set. It couldn’t be any simpler, and as an added bonus the Action Replay cartridge will work on any version of the Sega Saturn regardless of region or make.

Memory Manager: The Saturn has an inbuilt 32k of internal memory for settings and game saves, but if you have a few games in your collection it’s easy to quickly chew through that. To free up some space on the internal memory you can copy over game saves from the console to the Action Replay’s 4M memory, which is more than adequate for the average gamer. Unfortunately you can’t use the extra memory as an expansion of the Saturn’s internal memory.

To copy over game saves from the Saturn to Action Replay, highlight the file you wish to copy, press the C button and it’s copied over. Just repeat that process with the other files you wish to copy then delete the copied files from the Saturn’s memory and exit this page. None of your file edits will become valid until you exit this page so there’s some room to backtrack in the event you accidentally delete the wrong file. Reverse the process when you want to access the files. Given the Sega Saturn is really starting to clock up some years, the backup battery that keeps all those game saves could on its way out and due for a changeover.

Keeping a backup copy of your game save files is a good idea just in case the internal battery dies on you, or if a file somehow gets corrupted. These were the days before cloud storage.

Extended RAM: Extended RAM cartridges is something most Saturn owners outside of Japan have never experienced. The only games that took advantage of this accessory are the 40 or so games that were only released in Japan. Here’s the real kicker, a lot of these games are awesome! Top notch arcade ports from two of the biggest arcade game developers, Capcom and SNK, are just waiting to be played.

Some of you will be familiar on how increasing the RAM of a console can improve performance, since we’ve seen the Nintendo 64 take advantage of this system with classics like Donkey Kong 64, Majora’s Mask, Perfect Dark and more. The noticeable improvement in graphics was well worth the dollars spent on the additional hardware. The Sega Saturn’s extended RAM system seems to be a lot more cost effective since the majority of games requiring more RAM came with a matching 1MB or 4MB RAM cartridge.

There’s no way to use a standard region unlocking and extended RAM cartridge simultaneously. This is where the Action Replay Plus really shines. With your imported RAM extended dependant game loaded into the Saturn, Action Replay cartridge plugged in and the system powered on, the Action Replay screen will appear. Select “start game” followed by “start game with no cheats enabled” (enable cheats if you wish to do so) and the Action Replay will bypass the region lock and automatically select either 1MB or 4MB extended RAM mode

Action Replay (Cheats): This function works like most of the other versions of Action Replay that have been released for most game systems. The Action Replay Plus comes preloaded with a decent selection of cheats for a few popular titles. There’s also the option to add new cheat codes and save them to the cartridge, these Action Replay codes are as long as the Wii’s Friend Codes, so it’s a good thing you can save them and avoid punching in all those characters every time you want to cheat.

Unfortunately there’s limited information detailing the cheat codes. The best I’ve found is on this website.

The cheat system works like any other cheat device with tedious character entering and occasional crashing. it’s not an exact science and requires some patience especially when testing out new codes.

Overall the Action Replay Plus is a must have accessory for any Sega Saturn owner. Even the diehard collector that only desires original official accessories will appreciate the features of this device. The fact that it gives you access to many games never released outside of Japan and gets around imported games needing extended RAM is reason enough to buy one. Throw in the memory backup and cheat device and you have yourself a good deal.

If you are keen on getting one of these units there are many retailers that stock them, including eBay. The average price is around $30 to $40. It weighs next to nothing and is roughly the same dimensions as a standard DVD case so postage should be less than $10.

If I were to give the Action Replay a rating it would be 8 out of 10. Great value for money, easy to use and significantly expands the amount of games available to you. It loses a couple of points for the cheat system’s hit and miss reliability and the time it takes to enter those long codes, but that can be said about all cheat devices. Oh and I’m not a huge fan of the cartridges casing colour either. It blends in if you have white Japanese Saturn, but for the rest of the world it sticks out like a sore thumb.

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