Saturday, May 18, 2013

Level Up: Nintendo e-Reader Part 2

It’s time now to continue our look at the Nintendo e-Reader for the Game Boy Advance by looking at its content. As I explained last time, the e-Reader disappeared quickly from North American markets, lasting for only roughly two years. Still, you could release a whole lot of stuff within two years, but the e-Reader honestly had very little to offer, even if you DO count the Japanese exclusives. I don’t nearly have a complete set for it but I will be talking about what I managed to get.
Let’s start with the Classic NES series that included 12 games from the early NES days. I got three: Balloon Fight, Ice Climbers and Donkey Kong Jr. I now have no reason to use these cards though, since I got them on my 3DS thanks to the ambassador program (of course, these would be the only three found in both collections…). These games deserve to be reviewed on their own, so I’ll talk more about how they’re ported. The changes are minimal, though there seems to be a few options missing, like the two player mode (THIS is the one thing you don’t let me use my link cable for?). There’s also no save feature for high-scores even if you store the game on the e-Reader’s memory. Along with the dot codes, the cards themselves have the rules, the controls, some tips and even the story for the game. So it’s like a helpful version of the instruction booklet conveniently always with the game.
Next up, I also have some Pokemon cards, which was what I was most excited about. I got two games, but those were from promotions, so it’s not like I found them myself. The first game is Machop at work, a single screen game where you crush boulders, and the other is Fire hoops, an auto scrolling game where you need to jump at the right time. In both cases, the sprite work is really good, making great use of a 32 bit system. The games are a little more than a distraction though, and once you hit the 100 point limit, there’s very little reason to play again. I feel like if they made a collection of these games separately on a GBA cartridge, it would have been better. I wasn’t able to collect the necessary cards for other games, however if you scan one card that is part of a game, it lets you know what else you need (for example, I have Corsola, but to play its game, I would also need Quilfish). There are other applications offered, such as a customizable music box and a timer for your card matches, and along the bottom of each card there is a second code which allows you to access Pokedex data.
Two more games I got through promotions are the Manhole-E and Kirby Slide games. The Manhole one is just a recreation of the Game & Watch game and the other is just a slide puzzle to promote “Kirby Right Back at ya”. Both aren’t very fun to play, look at or listen to and aren’t worth the money now.
But the real reason I decided to do a second part was to talk about the Mario Party-E game (terrible title by the way: Mario Part-E-E, Mario ParteeeEEE). This isn’t really a video game, but rather a card game with video game elements. The game is played with a deck of cards which includes coins to play cards, special cards that do different things and the superstar items, which you must collect for the end goal. Where the e-Reader comes in is with some of the mini-games and challenges. There are some games to earn added effects for the card they’re on or that can allow you to play the card for free. On average these games last like 10 seconds for each player. Why even include the e-reader option at all though? The duels could be settled with rock-paper-scissors and you could just ignore the free card options. Bottom line; if you want to play a board game, play a board game. If you want to play a video game, play a video game (like, maybe Mario Party?). This mix of both feels too forced.
So that is most of what I got for the Nintendo e-Reader: the only other cards I have are a couple add-ons for Animal Crossing and Pokemon that that I never used. All and all, it’s just very underwhelming. It’s obvious that Creatures Inc. really wanted to push this to succeed by making the Pokemon Trading Card game compatible with it and that was probable enough to sell a decent amount of units. However HAL labs and Nintendo didn’t seem to want to push it as much, and there is no third party involvement. I’m of the opinion that, if you’re going to make the customers pay so much for the add-on and make games for it so cheaply, MAKE A LOT OF GAMES. This was a really cool concept that was just wasted. Even if you can find an e-Reader for sale with everything I have offered with it, I still don’t think it would really be worth your time or money (especially considering how much they’re priced online). The e-Reader itself isn’t bad; it works fine and does what it was meant to do. But everything for it is either irritating or lacking. I give the Nintendo e-Reader Accessory for the Game Boy Advance 4.5 levels out of 10.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Level Up: Nintendo e-Reader part 1

Today, however, I feel like doing something a little bit different. Instead of reviewing a game, I decided to review a piece of hardware. Now, don’t worry, it’ll be a full review, but I’ll be talking about an accessory that helps you play more games on a pre-existing game console. These types of devices aren’t unheard of in the game industry; if I say “Sega CD”, I think you guys would know exactly what I’m talking about. However, it’s rare that they are a success, so how did this one turn out? Without any more hesitation, let’s talk about the Nintendo e-Reader add-on for the Game Boy Advance.
The Nintendo e-Reader was an accessory released in Japan in late 2001 and in North America in September of 2002. This add-on allowed you to scan specially encoded data on the sides of cards to access games or other features. The concept was pretty cool for a few reasons. First off, cards are a lot cheaper to make and distribute than video games. This meant, not only could they be cheaper for the gamers to buy, but it might be easier to get your hands on them. As a matter of fact, Nintendo Power took advantage of this by including a couple of games inside their magazine, and some of the official Pokemon Trading Cards also had strips of data (so yeah, you could get a video game inside your card game. Xzibit would be proud).Secondly, it was possible to add more content to some already existing games through the e-Reader. Get the right cards and you could have more levels, exclusive bonuses, tips, cheats or other neat stuff (kind of like DLC before it’s time).
The e-Reader itself was packaged with one game from the Classic NES collection (like Excitebike, Urban Champion or Ice Climbers). This was a unique (and relatively cheap) way to play old NES games on a newer system before the Virtual Consoles. There were also a lot of “mini games” and the Mario Party Card Game available for it. Games compatible with the e-Reader for extra content included Animal Crossing, Super Mario Advance 4 and most of the Pokemon games to come out around that time. With all this offered though, why is it that the e-Reader vanished from North American markets so quickly?
The e-Reader was actually a lot of hassle. For example, the classic NES games meant that you had to scan ten dot codes. If you planned on playing one over and over again, you could store one in the e-Reader’s memory and keep accessing it. However you could only store one at a time, so if you wanted to play a second e-Reader game, get your wrist ready to scan. Some of the smaller, mini games (like the Pokemon ones) required fewer cards, but the scanning itself can still be a pain. Sometimes you’ll get that one card that doesn’t want to scan, so you do it over and over until it FINALLY goes through. Plus you could easily lose or damaging one of the cards, and you really need them all.
But that doesn’t compare to how much stuff you need if you want to add content to a game. Let’s say you have a card that lets you import a design onto Animal Crossing. To get that design into the game, you’ll need the card of course, along with an e-Reader and a Game Boy Advance. You’ll also need a copy of Animal Crossing to load it and the GameCube (and a TV) to play it on. All that’s obvious, right? Well you also need the GameCube-Game Boy Advance link cable that’s sold separately. That’s a lot of work and money just to get a picture of Link.
So that’s the Nintendo e-Reader and  honestly, one thing I asked myself a lot while preparing this review was “What would I do differently?”. Well, I’d start by giving it bigger memory so it could store multiple games and not have to scan cards every time (I’m sure it was possible). Also, I would have included the GBA and GameCube to GBA link cables with the system to cut down on the cost, as well as make it a worthwhile bundle (including just one of those would have helped). But one drastic idea could have been not making it an add-on at all: just add a screen and a couple of buttons and you’d have a mini-system (yeah, the price would go up a bit, but it would have to be less than what the e-Reader plus a GBA were together at the time). Regardless, the e-Reader was a good and ambitious idea in theory, but practically it was too much hassle than it was worth. I don’t feel justified in giving the e-Reader a rank just yet though, as since it’s an add-on, so its full value comes with its content. So, how about we look at that next time?