There are occasions, viewers, when emulation transcends the mere replication of existing forms and creates something entirely new and wonderful. Simple examples include altering bad control layouts, adding the ability to cheat in arcade games with MAME, permanently saving their high scores so that you’ve always got a goal to aim for even when you’re just sitting down for a quick blast, or the fact that PCs don’t (usually) die like the save battery on game carts, rendering your “real” copy of Super Mario 64 worthless after about four years while the emulated one lives on forever. But now and again emulation really pulls something fancy out of its sleeve and adds whole new functionalities to already-great games. And now is such a time.

Turn-based strategy games are somewhat out of favour on the PC these days, usurped by their real-time comrades. But the form is a timelessly beautiful one (anyone bored of chess yet?), and it’s currently enjoying a whole new lease of life in the shape of the mighty Advance Wars on the Game Boy Advance. Strongly reminiscent in style of PC classic Battle Isle (though AW’s lineage in fact stretches back much further), it’s widely regarded as the GBA’s greatest original title, and one of the finest games on any format in recent memory. But now, thanks to the wonders of emulation (in the shape of top GBA emu Visual Boy Advance), you can enjoy it in a way that no mere GBA owner can do – by playing multi-player Advance Wars online.

Well, in fact it’s something more akin to Hasbro’s much-lamented and brainlessly-killed Email Games series - which included the awesome Email X-COM, which Advance Wars quite strongly resembles. All you have to do is set up your game using the myriad of maps, levels and options, and select from two to four players. Then each player makes their move, and uses VBA’s “Save State” facility to save out a game state file, which will be no more than 70Kb or so. Then you simply email the state file to your opponent, who loads it in, makes their own move, and sends the new state file back to you. Warning: Checking your email at work while you’ve got an Advance Wars game going on may be hazardous to your career.


AW maps range from tiny to huge.

Air, sea and land units in one big rumble.









SPACE FANTASY ZONE (PC Engine CD, Sega, 1992)

The other special thing about emulation, of course, and one particularly close to Emu Zone’s heart, is the chance to play the games that never made it to release and would, without emulation, have been lost to history forever. One such curio is Space Fantasy Zone, a title created for NEC’s flop PC Engine CD add-on, a format which died before the company had a chance to actually get the finished game out. (Though depending on which story you believe, legal complications between NEC and Sega were the real reason.) It’s a hybrid of two other popular Sega games, taking the characters and visual style of Defender-style scrolling shooter Fantasy Zone and melding them with the surreal 3D gameplay of the classic Space Harrier. It’s a lovely little game, with the beautiful music you’d expect from its bloodline, but until now only a tiny handful of people who’d got a promotional version given out with a Japanese games magazine could enjoy it.

To play it, you’ll need David Michel’s superb Magic Engine emulator, and you’ll also need to find the ISO file of the game and actually burn it onto a CD, but it’s worth the effort.



(Left) That’s you just left of centre. Your arse, anyway.


Emulation Zone is brought to you in association with the International World Of Stuart Foundation.