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Will you buy an Xbox One X on November 7?

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Accessories
FINAL SCORES
10


 Written by Ilan Mejer  on October 09, 2002

Accessories: Explore a new way to play classic games on your GBA, and bridge the gap between the handheld and its bigger brother, the GCN.


Have you ever wanted to play your old NES games on your Nintendo handheld? Nintendo has made it possible to play classic first party NES games (in the form of a deck of five cards per game) on perhaps their most innovative peripheral ever, the E-Card Reader for the Gameboy Advance. However, the E-Card Reader is more than an on-board NES emulator for your GBA, it also provides an entirely new way for you to interface with the GameCube! Surprisingly enough, the American version of the E-Card Reader contains a couple of additional features that essentially turn it into an entirely different product than that which was released originally in Japan earlier this year.

The E-Card Reader comes in two packages, one containing the Donkey Kong Jr. classic NES game, the other Pinball. Both come with the same three enhanced Pokemon cards (with entire Pokedex info encoded on them), the Animal Crossing expansion card, and the Game and Watch card, Manhole. The only difference between the two packages is the NES game they come with. Either way, the first wave of NES games released by Nintendo (DK Jr., Pinball, Tennis, Balloon Fight, and Excitebike) is available as stand alone purchases for five dollars each. Another wave of NES cards, containing Urban Champion, Ice Climber, and Baseball, will be available within a month's time.

Of the games available so far, Balloon Fight-e, Donkey Kong Jr.-e, Excitebike-e, and Tennis-e all hold up surprisingly well. Pinball-e was a relatively bad game even then, though collectors would be tempted to buy it simply for the price alone. The games are intact, and the built in emulator more than does the original games justice. Additionally, if you purchase your E-Card Reader from Toys R Us, you will also receive a special limited edition promotional e-card called Air Hockey-e, while supplies last. It was created as a free sample, and is quite a fun mini-game! It is quite impressive that Nintendo was able to program digital sounding effects, slick graphics, and tight, true gameplay into a simple stripe of dot-code.

So, in some form or another the Reader is getting content, but how does it work? Well, the unit itself is quite attractive, a slick, relatively small, black plastic construction that plugs into the GBA's game port, much like the GB Camera for the classic GBC system did. Booting up the GBA will take you to a stylized menu screen with options allowing you to scan a card, communicate with another program (such as Animal Crossing's downloadable communication program), or access the program currently stored in the Reader's flash memory. The interface is pleasantly complimented by an ethereal, calculated female voice, which speaks clearly throughout the program.

Scanning cards is as simple as accessing the proper option from the main menu, and awaiting voice confirmation that the unit is ready to accept a coded strip of data. Of course, there are also graphical prompts that inform you when the Reader is ready to scan. Scanning itself is a bit tricky, since those of used to sliding our ATM, debit, or Metro cards through scanners are forced to do so at a fixed speed. Scanning on the Reader is just as sensitive, though with entirely different timing. Scanning an e-card must be done at a very consistent, relatively slow pace. It may take a few swipes for you to get accustomed to its speed, but once you do, you'll easily be able to scan the 9-10 swipes (2 on each of the five cards) required to play an NES game in about a minute. The Reader recognizes what program you are attempting to scan with the first swipe, and reports how many total swipes are necessary, suggest the next card to be swiped, and keep track of which ones you did swipe, all with a very nifty graphical puzzle-like representation.

One you finish the requisite swipes and the ?puzzle? is complete, the program prompts you to save the scanned data onto the onboard flash memory. Doing so allows you to power down your unit and still be able to return to that scanned game or program later. This feature is unique to the US version of the Reader,as the Japanese original product had no flash memory and required you to re-scan NES games or other programs every time you powered down the GBA. Another new feature unique to the US version of the Reader is its pass through port, which allows you to hook up the GBA + Reader to the GameCube via the GBA-GCN Link Cable.

Nintendo was even kind enough to include a sample Animal Crossing card that perfectly demonstrates this new feature. By accessing Animal Crossing's ETM feature, you'll be able to download a program to the Reader which will allow you to scan Animal Crossing cards and permanently upload that data back into the GameCube game. The included sample card prompts an AC character to send you a letter in the mail, bearing two relatively important gifts. The true Animal Crossing cards, which will see release in the coming weeks, will allow you to add new content to the game, such as texture patterns, town musical themes, clothing, furniture, and other special features. Throughout the retail life of Animal Crossing, Nintendo plans to release waves of such ?expansion? cards; the first wave of 66 cards is due out in the middle of October, just past the one-month anniversary of the GameCube game's release. These cards will be sold in booster packs of about three dollars each and will contain random cards.

Rounding out the starter package is a Game and Watch card, which allows you to scan and store the classic handheld mini-game, Manhole, to your GBA to play in perfectly emulated form. While there are no other Game and Watch cards available yet, or even due out, it is inevitable that the Game and Watch library will be expanded, much like the NES library will be. The three Pokemon cards that are included are for Nintendo's official Trading Card Game. They function exactly like their non-enhanced counterparts, except for the inclusion of the dot-code stripes. When scanned, you will be able to access complete Pokedex entries that explain your Pokemon's history, strengths, moves, and stats. With the proper marketing, this E-Card Reader could essentially become a real life Pokedex containing all of the data you would expect it to hold. Additionally, certain Pokemon cards belong to specific sequences, like the three included in the package, that when scanned together will unlock a small Pokemon-related mini-game, which can be stored on the unit's memory. While not as playable or varied as the NES games already available, it is a nice bonus feature for hardcore Pokemon enthusiasts out there.

Overall, the E-Card Reader represents a lot of new potential, both for handheld gaming and for inter-system connectivity. Releasing waves of NES game cards and Animal Crossing expansion booster sets are significant steps into a new direction of gaming for the industry, but Nintendo will have to continue to exploit the technology in order to truly live up to its long term potential. As far as the gaming end goes, I cannot wait for some truly AAA titles to be made available. Super Mario Bros. and Metroid (the former featuring no save, the latter password save) would make brilliant entries. Legend of Zelda would be extremely fun to play on my GBA, though how the battery backup that game required would be circumvented is unknown, or if its even possible. So far, I am thrilled with all of the features and expanded gameplay that the Reader has afforded me, practically out of the box. It is a rather inexpensive package, complete with a generous selection of cards to sample, and promises to change the way we play our Gameboy Advances and GameCubes together.



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