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:

  • 10-Yard Fight
  • 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)
  • Golf
  • 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)
  • Popeye
  • 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)
  • Bomberman
  • Burger Time
  • Defender II
  • Dig Dug
  • Flipull
  • Galaga
  • Galaxian
  • Hydlide (would need to be shunk a bit)
  • Joust
  • Lode Runner
  • Lunar Pool
  • Mappy
  • Millipede
  • Ms Pac-Man
  • M.U.S.C.L.E.
  • Pac-Man
  • Raid on Bungeling Bay
  • Space Invaders

    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 compilation cart.

    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 main game.


    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 2003...