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Nintendo Advances to Next Level

March 08, 2001|AARON CURTISS |

It has been 12 years since Nintendo introduced the best-selling video game machine of all time--Game Boy--and now the company is betting big that its new hand-held will keep the streak alive.

The 32-bit Game Boy Advance--set to debut in Japan this month and in the United States in June--is the first complete redesign of Game Boy and delivers better graphics on a bigger screen in a more comfortable box.

In short, it's got everything Game Boy players have wanted for years.

After playing two of the unit's titles in development--"Mario Kart Advance" and "Super Mario Advance"--I'd say the $100 Game Boy Advance delivers a gaming experience unequaled on any portable system. Not that there's much to compare it with. Game Boy virtually owns the hand-held market after pushing out contenders such as Sega Nomad and NeoGeo Pocket Color.

About the same size as the 5-inch-by-3-inch Game Boy Color, Advance pivots the familiar layout of the unit so the screen sits in the middle, with controls on either side--A and B on the right, thumb pad and Start and Select buttons on the left. The only additional buttons are L and R paddles at the top, similar to those atop the Nintendo 64 controller.

Ergonomically, the unit feels better than the traditional Game Boy unit, especially for those with bigger hands. The wider spread of buttons makes it easier to play for long periods. But the L and R paddles at the top can be a little tough to reach quickly and comfortably because the unit is not very tall.

Unlike Game Boy Color, Advance features no infrared port to transfer data between units. It does include a wire port that allows as many as four units to link together and play off a single game cartridge.

That by itself is a major selling point. Game Boy always has required both players to have the same game if they wanted to compete head to head. But half the fun of playing with a friend is trying out new games--before buying them.

The 2.9-inch TFT liquid crystal display is half again bigger than Game Boy Color's screen and can display 10 times as many simultaneous colors--512 from a palette of 32,768 on Game Boy Advance, up from 56 on Game Boy Color. Plus, the unit, which is 17 times faster than Game Boy Color, features a 66% increase in resolution.

Translation: The graphics are more colorful and realistic.

"Mario Kart Advance," for instance, is the first hand-held racing game that actually looks good. Tracks are bright and easy to see and move gracefully across the screen. Creating a 3-D environment on such a small screen is a feat that Advance designers make look easy.

Although the full U.S. launch lineup has not yet been announced, Nintendo promises as many as 20 titles early on, with 60 by Christmas. The games will retail for $30 to $40. Nintendo confirmed this week that "F-Zero: Maximum Velocity"--another racing game--will be among the first titles released in North America.

The big question left unanswered so far is how Game Boy Advance will connect with Nintendo's 128-bit set-top console, Gamecube, scheduled for release in the fall. Game Boy Advance can be used as a controller for Gamecube, but the real potential lies in its ability to transfer data between the two platforms--similar to the way in which players can swap scores in "Mario Tennis" between Game Boy Color and Nintendo 64.


Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

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