e-Reader

Nintendo's innovative peripheral for the Game Boy Advance is now available.
Release date: September 17th, 2002.

Nintendo of America has shipped the unique e-Reader device for the Game Boy Advance. This device, a collaboration of efforts and technologies between Nintendo and Olympus, is a self-contained GBA cartridge with a slot that can read specially coded cards. The code is translated into information that the device, and the Game Boy Advance, can understand, turning it into graphic, sound, animation, text, and game data. This original creation gives players the opportunity to not only play mini-games on their Game Boy Advance, but also upgrade or enhance games that feature e-Reader functionality. E-Reader cards are basically standard trading cards and are the same size and style as the Wizards of the Coast Pokemon Trading Card Game cards, but with one difference: a strip of dots on the edges. By scanning the edge into the e-Reader device, users can upload game data, graphic data, sound data, and text data into the Game Boy Advance. Though the e-Reader's been available in Japan for some time now, Nintendo of America went back to the drawing board for the North American version of the device to improve it and make it even more worthwhile to own. The US version features more memory, more internal software, and, most importantly, a pass-through link port so that users can connect their GBAs to their GameCube while the device is in use (the Japanese version did not feature this support, making its functionality extremely limited in comparison). This function will be used in Animal Crossing on the GameCube, where Animal Crossing Card-Es can be purchased and swiped into the reader, transferring the data to the GameCube game which will enable new items and textures to appear in the adventure. The US version also features a female voice that instructs users as they swipe their cards through their device, not really a necessary function, but it does brighten up the unit's interface.














The package that the e-Reader ships in includes the e-Reader device as well as two foil packs of cards. The first pack contains a collection of five e-Reader compatible cards: A Game & Watch mini-game (Manhole), three Pokemon Expedition cards (Machoke, Machop, and Machamp) that give players a unique mini-game, and an Animal Crossing compatible e-Reader card that will transmit a letter to your mailbox in the GameCube title. The second package features one of two NES games, clearly marked on the package (either Pinball or Donkey Kong Jr.), the NES game faces outwards on the back of the blister pack, so you know exactly which NES game is inside. The e-Reader package currently prices around $39.95. The current game's that are available or will be available soon are for the e-Reader are Donkey Kong Jr., Pinball, Balloon Fight, Excitebike, Tennis, Baseball, Donkey Kong, Ice Climber, Mario Bros., Urban Champion, Clu Clu Land, Golf, and Donkey Kong 3. The games currently price around $4.95. Mario Party-e game cards price around $9.99 each for a set of 64 cards. Super Mario Advance 4 SR1&2 e game cards price around $5.99. Certain cards feature scannable Dot Code for access to 11 e-Reader minigames. The Animal Crossing game cards currently have three sets (1, 2, 3, & 4) and price around $2.99 each for a pack of five random collectible cards. The first series of Animal Crossing-e cards contain a total of 66 different cards: 60 character cards, four town tune cards and two pattern cards. Each of the 60 character cards features a high-resolution model of the character on one side, with a small bio of that animal on the other side. It also has a password that players can enter either at Tom Nook's store or in a letter to one of their villagers. There are 71 cards in the second series. There are three types of cards (Special Cards, Sibling Cards, Game Cards), along with the three types from the original series (Character Cards, Town Tune Cards, and Design Cards). There are 94 cards in the third series. In the fouth series there are 90 cards plus a new type of card, classic game card. There are two additional e-Cards currently, that being the Air Hockey game and the Animal Crossing Design Card NES Link. Also, the Pokemon Expedition e-card set, Pokemon Aquapolis e-card set, Pokemon SkyRidge e-card set, EX Ruby & Sapphire, and EX Sandstorm set is available in Booster and Starter decks, there are no set prices for the packs but the boosters range from $3.95-$4.95 and the Starter decks usually sell for $9.95. Pokemon Battle e-card sets are now available, there are Freezing Ray, Iron Defense, Hidden Ruins, and they retail for $5.99. Included with the Games Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire were two special trainer cards, Gentleman Nils and Lady Astrid, along with the EON ticket card, which allows you to access the Southern Islands and possibly catch Latias/Latios. There are four promo's available through the Pokemon e-Card set, they being Celebi, Rapidash, Ho-oh, and Suicune.





















Installation of the e-Reader is a breeze; all you have to do is just pop the unit into the cartridge slot like any other Game Boy Advance cartridge. Power on the system, and it waits for a command from the user. You can choose to either A) swipe a card, B) put the unit in communication mode so that it can receive an external program through the link cable from a GameCube or another Game Boy Advance, or C) load an already installed program from the e-Reader's flash memory. So, naturally, to scan a card into the device, simply select "Scan Card" and swipe away. Many people might have initial trouble getting their cards scanned in, the device requires a somewhat slow, firm swipe, not a quick flick as if it was a credit card or ATM machine. The graphic and sound quality of the data from e-Reader cards isn't amazing by any means...the data strip can only hold 2.2K of memory on the horizontal strip, 1.1K on the vertical, which doesn't leave a whole lot of room for extraneous data. But even for just a handful of kilobytes, Nintendo really impresses with how much it can cram onto that little dotted strip. The Animal Crossing card shows that a single strip can hold at least four pages of text as well as a stationary graphic and a basic MIDI tune that plays once the card swipes through. It also demonstrates that an entire NES cartridge can fit on around ten strips of data, sure it's a bit of a hassle to spend a minute to swipe the cards in before play, but it's still a pretty cool feat. To scan a card into a GameCube game, a little more work is involved. Players will have to upload the GameCube title's specific e-Reader program to the device. In the case of Animal Crossing's loader, this installation takes a good minute before players can scan their cards in. Luckily, though, once the programs in, it's saved to the e-Reader's flash memory and will remain resident until you opt to delete it in favor of another program, like an NES game. Only one program can remain resident in memory. To unlock certain animations and games, you need more than one card to combine, like the Pichu/Hoppip combination in Pokemon Expedition, for example. If you don't have one needed card within the combination, there's no way to load in the designated data. Even if you borrow a friend's card, the mini-games that are scanned in through the Pokemon Trading Card Series aren't saved to the e-Reader...you have to scan those cards in every time you turn on the e-Reader for the first time If you want to play that specific game, of course.

This device is very easy to use, it's literally plug-and-play. The only issue you'll run into is that "Read Error" message when you scan the cards in too quickly. The device is a little more than a Game Boy Advance game (and a little less than a GameCube game), but the value comes from how much you'll get out of it when Nintendo supports the unit beyond 2002. You can unlock features in GameCube games, upload specific game data to GBA or GameCube games, or just play around with simple mini-games that come printed on cheap cards, and overall the longevity of this is good because Nintendo can support this thing until the cows come home by simply including the cheap cards with GBA or GameCube games, as well as issuing new series of cards for the future.

Credits:
Information and Screenshots - IGN.com.
Screenshots - EBgames.com.



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