Well, my Wii Freeloader has gone 1 for 2 so far in my quest to play obscure, often-crappy Japanese Wii games that probably have no chance of being released here in North America. Will I ever be able to play this somewhat poor-looking Arkanoid clone without making the investment in a Japanese Wii? OK, maybe I should back up a bit.
The Wii Freeloader is a GameCube-sized disc put out by the fine folks at Datel, which is the same company responsible for all those great old cheat devices, like the Action Replay. It's designed as a boot disc for import games, meaning you can put in the Freeloader disc, it loads (complete with crazy screen effects), and then presents you with the Wii's main menu. You pop out the Freeloader disc, pop in a European or Japanese Wii game--which normally wouldn't run on your North American Wii thanks to region lockouts--and it automagically loads as if you were playing it on the console it was originally encoded for. Sounds easy, right?
Well, my first experience with the Freeloader was pretty negative. I ordered it as soon as it came out and, realizing that I didn't have any foreign Wii games to actually test, I quickly ordered a cheap-but-interesting-looking Wii game, Simple Wii Series Vol. 5: The Block Kuzushi. It sounds like a budget Arkanoid clone.
Upon receiving both items, I managed to get The Block Kuzushi to boot on my Wii. However, once it gets into the game's first menus, I quickly realized it wasn't working properly. The first option screen is probably asking me if I want to create a save file, but there's no text on the screen at all, just a gray box with two buttons at the bottom. Regardless of what I select, the game swaps to an all-gray screen and locks up right there. Bummer.
So my freeloadin' schemes were quickly brought to a temporary halt. I recently decided to give it another shot with another budget-priced Wii game, a little something from Hudson called Puzzle Collection Vol. 1: Sudoku. After letting it sit for a couple of days (for good luck, obviously) I finally tossed it in.
Unlike The Block Kuzushi, Sudoku boots up and gets to a menu. On top of that, it's actually playable, too... well, that is if you consider a super-budget sudoku game that doesn't use the Wii's pointer at all to be "playable." But, alas, there's still a catch. All of the non-stylized text shows up as total gibberish. That's not me making fun of the way kanji looks, it just shows up using characters from the system font. Makes me think that North American Wii hardware doesn't even have Japanese characters buried deep in its guts. In most higher-budget games, developers are providing their own slick, stylized fonts and stuff, so you probably won't see this issue in too many "real" Wii games. At least, I haven't really seen too many Freeloader users complaining about it.
In other Freeloader news, a handful of reports about Mario Kart stated that the newly-released Wii racing game wouldn't work with the Freeloader, but the import-friendly posse over at NCS got some copies in and gave it a go. Looks like they aren't having any trouble getting it to load, provided you're running the 3.1U or 3.2U firmware on your Wii. As of this writing, 3.2U is the latest firmware here in the States. So if you're absolutely crazy for Mario Kart and can't wait a couple more weeks to get it sans hassle, the import option is still available.