November 14th 2002
So anyway, what's next?
As we enter into the final few weeks of 2002, which lead up to the busy
Christmas period, we now have 10 NES games on e-Cards, some nice series of
Pokémon-e and Animal Crossing-e cards, and a few
promotional offerings. I think it's a good start, but there's still a big
question mark regarding the future. What can we expect to see on e-Cards over
the first few months of 2003, and beyond? We can only make speculations at
this point, but there are a few points of interest which are worth exploring.
The NES-e series
As you probably already know by now, a single e-Card can only hold a few
kilobytes of data on its dot-code strips. This puts a serious limit on the
number of NES games that can be adapted for the e-Card medium: No one wants
to swipe dozens of e-Cards into his e-Reader just to play an NES game, no
matter how good the game is.
This means that only the earliest NES games (the ones that fit in 24 kilobytes
or less) can be considerered as potential e-Card material. The list of
first-party titles that fit this criteria, aside from the ones already released
on e-Cards, is rather slim:
Clu Clu Land
Chubby Cherub (would need to be shrunk a bit)
Donkey Kong 3
Donkey Kong Jr Math
Dr Mario (would need to be shrunk a bit)
Duck Hunt (Zapper light gun game, so forget it)
Gyromite (R.O.B. game, so forget it)
Hogan's Alley (Zapper light gun game, so forget it)
Ice Hockey (would need to be shrunk a bit)
Super Mario Bros (would need to be shrunk a bit)
Stack Up (R.O.B. game, so forget it)
Wild Gunman (Zapper light gun game, so forget it)
Wrecking Crew (would need to be shrunk a bit)
Volleyball (would need to be shrunk a bit)
You can forget about the later games like The Legend of Zelda,
Metroid, or Punch Out!, because they would require too many
e-Cards. I predict that Ice Hockey, Clu Clu Land, Golf,
Donkey Kong Jr Math and Wrecking Crew will be released in NES-e
series 3, and that Nintendo will end it there.
If we look at third-party NES games that fit the 24K limit criteria, the
list is not much longer. The reason for this is that the first third-party
NES games (such as Mega Man, Contra, and Rygar) were made along the 128K range.
The Famicom (which is the japanese equivalent of the NES) had many small
games of 24K or less, but most of them were low-quality games that were never
released in the US, and they probably wouldn't sell very well here, even on
e-Cards. Anyway, here's the list:
Arkanoid (would need to be shrunk a bit)
Hydlide (would need to be shunk a bit)
Raid on Bungeling Bay
We might get to see "partial" versions of old NES games (like a version
of Super Mario Bros with 16 levels instead of 32, for example) or
brand new games that use the NES emulator, but I don't think Nintendo will
commit to such a thing, because I'm sure they will prefer investing their
efforts into GBA and Game Cube software, rather than NES games on e-Cards.
Third-parties might jump on the opportunity, however...
One other thing you should not expect to see are NES games that offer
two-player modes which can be played on two GBAs over the Link Cable.
There are some very complicated GBA-to-GBA synchronization issues that
must be dealt with whenever the Link Cable is involved, and the original
NES games were never designed to handle this kind of synchronization.
If the NES emulator built into the e-Reader was capable of supporting
two-player modes via the Link Cable, games like Excitebike-e and
Urban Champion-e would have two-player modes, and they don't.
I'm not expecting any future NES games on e-Cards to offer this multiplayer
feature. And frankly, neither should you.
Did you say Game & Watch?
All we've seen so far in terms of Game & Watch games on e-Cards is
Manhole-e. Beyond that, Nintendo has remained completely silent, but
this silence is easely explained by the recent release of Game & Watch
Gallery 4 on GBA. If Nintendo were to announce which Game & Watch games
will be released on e-Cards, this would undoubtably affect the sales of this
Personaly, I'm not really worried. I'm certain there will be other Game & Watch
e-Cards in the near future. Still, I'm as anxious as you are to find out which
of these classy little games will be released next.
I'm looking forward to Octopus and Fire!, which are true
classics, but there are so many more! If you want to have a look at every
Nintendo-made Game & Watch, I invite you to visit
There are plenty of Game & Watch machines made by other manufacturers too, and
you can see most of them at the
Handheld Game Museum.
Oh, and here's a novel idea: How about some new Game & Watch games?
To be more precise, games that have the look and feel of Game & Watch machines,
but have never been released in actual hardware form. Might be fun! :-)
The Game Cube connection
This is the area of e-Reader applications which I find the least interesting,
not just because I don't have a Game Cube, but because I don't see much
potential in it to begin with. We've seen the obvious way of using e-Cards to
unlock stuff in Animal Crossing, but really, how many different kinds
of interactions between the e-Reader and the Game Cube can there be?
Also, whatever the application, you need to buy a GBA, an e-Reader, a Game
Cube, a GBA-to-GC Link Cable, a Game Cube game, and at least one pack of
e-Cards compatible with this Game Cube game. That's a lot of money to invest
just so you can spend a few precious seconds swiping e-Card data into your
favorite Game Cube game. It's working out fairly well in the case of Animal
Crossing, but I don't think other similar games will fare as well,
especially third-party games.
From a third-party publisher's point of view, it isn't really worth the effort
to include an e-Reader compatibility feature into a Game Cube game: Anything
that could possibly be loaded from an e-Card can be built into the Game Cube
game, an unlocked without the use of an e-Reader. And even if such a feature
was implemented, how will the e-Cards be manufactured and distributed to
consumers? In random packs? In cereal boxes? Some kind of mail-in coupon offer?
There are important marketing issues that must be addressed, and so far, it
seems only Nintendo can handle them.
There are a few interesting applications that could be devised around
the e-Reader-to-Game-Cube connection (and I plan on discussing one of them
in an upcoming Diary entry), but really, my expectations are rather low.
Besides, would you honestly buy a Game Cube game that absolutely
requires the use of an e-Reader to play? I'm guessing such a game would
not sell very well, so whatever the e-Card gimmick involved, it will probably
always be optional stuff that simply adds some minimal replay value to the
As the novelty effect of the e-Reader wears off in 2003, the device will face
its true test of survival over the next twelve months. The potential is there
to be exploited, and we can assume Nintendo is fully aware of it. However, no
matter what kind of software support plan Nintendo might have for the e-Reader,
they can't do it alone, and the trickle of e-Cards released since last
September proves it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Third-party
developers and publishers need to get in on the action, because they can
contribute plenty of software material for innovative e-card applications.
Trading cards are a lot cheaper to manufacture than cartridges, and although
the marketing aspects are totally different, e-Cards can still be a very
successful and profitable gaming medium. I'm certainly looking forward to