December 31st 2003

My review of 2003

It's been quite a while since I last added an entry to the diary section. I created this section to explore certain ideas for e-Reader applications, and also to discuss certain issues. But after a few months, it became clear that discussing such things was a waste of time, since Nintendo has no intention of realizing the e-Reader's full potential. Why do I say this? As we close the door on 2003, let's review Nintendo's track record in terms of e-Reader support.

How to mess things up, let me count the ways...

During the winter/spring of 2003, when Animal Crossing-e cards were hot items, there was a general expectation that the fourth - and last - series of these cards would unlock certain highly-desired items, namely the unobtainable Legend of Zelda, Punch Out!! and Super Mario Bros NES games. We all know the games are hidden in Animal Crossing, since many gamers have been able to unlock them with cheating devices. When this fourth series finally hit the streets in May, all we got were cards to unlock Ice Climber and Mario Bros. Very nice, but where are the cards to unlock the other games? Still to this very day, Nintendo remains silent on the subject. Nintendo pissed off a lot of people with this...

During that same period, Nintendo released a wonderful e-Reader application: Mario Party-e. I found it to be a pleasant way to use the e-Reader in a social setting, but it seems Nintendo was disappointed with the product, because while the instruction manual of the game refers to the pack of 64 cards as the "base set", no other expansion packs were released, aside from a "Double-Coin" card found in GamePro magazine last summer. Okay, so Mario Party-e didn't sell that well, but what did Nintendo expect? Anyone can see that playing the Mario Party games on the N64 and Game Cube is more fun than this card game, so why should anyone be actually expected to buy a 10$ card game that requires a 80$ GBA and a 40$ e-Reader? It would have made much more sense to release some kind of involving role-playing boardgame (based on the Zelda franchise perhaps) that would have generated more media hype, but alas, no one working at Nintendo's R&D was able to figure this out.

By the way, did you enjoy waiting well over six months for the Pokemon Battle-e cards? Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire were both released in March, but the card series were released in October, at a time when Ruby and Sapphire were old news. At this point, no amount of publicity could generate any hype for those poor little cards. Ridiculous. I hope Nintendo learned something about timing in marketing... At least they gave us the cards in non-randomized packs.

And then there's the whole story with Wizards of the Coast and the Pokemon trading card game. Admittedly, WoTC did a very bad job of promoting the e-Reader features of the Expedition, Aquapolis and Skyridge expansion sets, and I can understand how Nintendo wanted to take matters into their own hands, to insure the future of the trading card game. In terms of tournaments and promotional events, Nintendo delivered the goods in a very "thumbs-up" way, but the cards themselves are a disappointment: Not only do the cards in the EX Ruby/Sapphire, EX Sandstorm and EX Dragon series carry only a small e-Reader dot-code data strip at the bottom (no more mini-games, cartoons, etc. encoded on long data strips) but the actual content of these strips is laughable. Have you tried swiping these cards in your e-Reader? While the WoTC cards offered useful tips related to the trading card game, the Nintendo cards have only futile information that has nothing to do with the card game.

But the worst offense, in my humble opinion, is the way Nintendo pushed the release of the Game & Watch-e cards into 2004 practically at the last minute, back in November. Yes, there were several e-Cards series released during that period (Pokemon Battle-e, Super Mario Advance 4-e and Pokemon-e EX Dragon) and Nintendo wanted to avoid releasing too many e-Cards series during the Christmas shopping season. I can understand that, but I ask that the good people at Nintendo understand this: A lot of people are waiting for the Game & Watch-e cards, and a good number of these people bought an e-Reader in anticipation of this series. We've all been waiting for over a year now, and you want to make us wait several more months? I dare say our collective patience has limits...

Some good points

Nintendo messed up a few times this past year, but they also offered us some nice candy, namely the Super Mario Advance 4-e series, which is arguably the coolest e-Reader application currently available. It's a little expensive though, since you have to buy another GBA and a Link Cable to make it work, but I say it's worth it. And besides, it's also a nice reason to buy a Game Boy Player if you already have a Game Cube and a GBA...

I also happen to think that the "GBA/e-Reader" bundles that Nintendo has been offering since late October is a very good marketing move. But why is the e-Reader still being sold at a regular price of 40$? The coupons found in packages of certain Nintendo products do help, and you can find additional rebates at certain stores if you look hard enough, but the e-Reader is still an expensive add-on over a year after its initial release.

At the very end of 2003, some news came out in Japan about Capcom releasing the first ever third-party e-Card series, for Mega Man Battle Network 4. This is truly terrific news, but there's really no guarantee that the e-Reader support will be included in the North American version of the game. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed, and also hope that other third-party companies will follow Capcom's example.

My wishes for 2004

If it hadn't been for Tena's generous gift back in November (she sent me a free copy of Super Mario Advance 4 with the Wal-Mart exclusives), this web site would probably be shut down for good right now. Instead, I'm going to stick around for one more year, but without any particular expectation. Nintendo has disappointed me too many times this past year for me to get my hopes up about anything.

At least Nintendo has "fed" us with well over 1000 cards since the e-Reader's initial release, which is certainly not bad, and there's more to come in 2004. My only real wish at this point is to see e-Reader support in the next Zelda game on GBA (the one Capcom is currently working on). I'd love to have new dungeons encoded on e-Cards!

And please Nintendo, no more delays for the Game & Watch-e series...