One Man's Quest to Play an Old PDA Game

In the last few years, I've gotten into playing first person shooters on the Gameboy Advance. They're all somewhat awful, but the biggest disaster of the bunch (and therefore my favorite) is Serious Sam Advance. I actually like this game enough that I've taken to speedrunning it, but I can't deny that it's a pretty bad game. It's also a game most people don't know about, since most people are only familiar with the PC shooters and not the bizarre spinoffs.

As it turns out, there is a game in the series worse than Serious Sam Advance. Maybe. Someone at Croteam (or maybe their old publisher Global Star) back in the day had the bright idea of creating a unique entry in the series for Palm OS. Yes, the Palm OS that ran on PDAs in the early 2000s. Apparently the game has fifteen levels, twelve enemies, and six weapons. It's also likely a loose adaption of The First Encounter, judging by its name and the fact that the first level is titled 'Hatshepsut.' Aside from that, I don't know anything.

Looking around on the internet, the above information dump seems to be about all anyone knows. There's no gameplay footage on Youtube, and only the demo is available for download anywhere. There's a guy on Ebay who wants $50 for the game but aside from that it seemed almost completely lost. That is, until I had the chance to buy it for $15. I took that opportunity before I even considered how I'd play it. Fantastic! I'm now the owner of an undumped video game.

I had just spent nearly $20 on a 15 year old PDA game, and I wasn't going to spend another $20 on the old PDA itself if I could help it, so I started looking for an emulator. As it turns out, there's an official Palm emulator that was used for development. I don't trust bloated old sites like cnet and Softonic, so finding a download for that was harder then I expected. Then, of course, the emulator needs to be given the OS rom itself, which you could probably have gotten from your PDA or Palm's website when it still existed. Luckily, I was able to find the exact rom version I needed (OSv3.5) pretty quickly.

Palm OS v3.5

The next thing to do was to test the emulator with something. The first thing I found was 'SUPER_MARIOLAND2.pdb', a dysfunctional half of what couldn't possibly be the real Super Mario Land 2. The next thing I tried was the Russian freeware version of a crappy RPG called Quest of the Hero, which actually worked just fine. After that, I remembered that the Serious Sam demo was actually available online.

Quest of the Hero

Unfortunately, the demo doesn't work. Whenever it tries to load the first level in the color or the black and white version, we get this:

Lovely error message

Which doesn't bode well for the full version. After some fiddling with different versions of the OS rom, I was finally able to get the B&W version in-game!


...For a little while, at least.

Another error message

Ultimately, I think the issue is that the game is running too fast for its own good. What makes me think this is that the credits scroll way too fast to be readable, and the controls in-game are way too strange to be right. Very solid evidence indeed. This doesn't seem to be an emulator-wide issue, since Quest of the Hero worked fine, so the problem may be that Serious Sam specifically doesn't like to be emulated.

Maybe things will be different when it's time to run the full version of the game. Or maybe I'm in the market for a fifteen year old PDA. Either way, I've come too far to give up, and I'll be pissed off if I can't play the worst ad most obscure Serious Sam game ever released.