Tag Archives: handheld games

The Game Boy Micro

img_1501I guess this is a great time for me to dust off some of my less common pieces of video game paraphernalia. Yesterday I talked about Popful Mail which I played on a Sega CDX, and today it’s the Game Boy Micro. My timing is also pretty good as the original Game Boy just turned 31 on April 21, 2020 which is still hard to believe. I consider myself a collector of various things, but one thing I’m not really a collector of is video games. I’m certainly a compiler as after years of regrettable trade-ins at GameStop when I was a poor college student I’ve basically vowed to never part with a game again unless I know I’ll never come to regret it. As a result, I have a lot of games hanging around my house with the vast majority coming from the 2000s. I have some older, classics, but not a ton. And some games I have could be considered rare or hard to find, but I have them because I wanted them at the time. I’ve never really bought a video game for the purpose of collecting. The closest I suppose I came to that was buying the collector’s edition of Arkham Asylum which came in a gigantic bat-shaped box. That thing is so big that I don’t even know what to do with it. It just sits in a closet.

I purchased a Game Boy Micro over ten years ago and at the time I bought it simply because I wanted to play some Game Boy Advance software on-the-go. I had traded in my original Game Boy Advance for a Game Boy Advance SP, which I in turn traded in for a Nintendo DS, that was then traded in for a Nintend DSi. That last trade-in was important because I lost the ability to play GBA software. Years later, I wanted to come back and rediscover the GBA. That handheld mostly existed for me during my college years and I really didn’t devote much of my time to it. I mostly played home consoles instead or busied myself with other distractions. As a working man though I had ample time to play portables during my commute to and from work so the time was right.

The Game Boy Micro is Nintendo’s third take on the Game Boy Advance. The original version had a horizontal layout similar to Sega’s Game Gear, but it ran on double A batteries and lacked any sort of backlight. It was still a great little system, just a flawed one. The SP addressed both issues while also reverting back to the traditional, more vertical, layout of the Game Boy but with the addition of a hinge in the center so the screen could fold down onto the unit. It was great to have a front-light and a rechargeable battery, though the choice to return to the old format was odd as the system was quite cramped. The shoulder buttons were tiny, little, nubs and I could never play my SP for much longer than 45 minutes.

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Nintendo mandates that all reviews of the Micro include a shot of it sitting in the reviewer’s hand.

When Nintendo announced the Nintendo DS in 2005, it was insistent that it was not the end of the Game Boy and as proof it offered up the Game Boy Micro. The Micro, as the name implies, was the smallest Game Boy yet. It’s roughly 2″ x 4″ with a thickness of less than an inch. It featured a backlit screen and rechargeable battery. The horizontal layout also had the added perk of making the system resemble a classic Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom controller only with a screen in the center. The LCD screen is even tinier at roughly 1.69″ x 1.89″ making this perhaps the first Game Boy that truly could fit comfortably in your pocket. It’s so small that one has to wonder just how much smaller it could have been had it not needed to accommodate the comparably bulky GBA cartridges and instead had something similar to a DS or Switch card.

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Unfortunately, I do not have a Famicom controller for comparison so the classic NES controller will have to do.

When the Micro was first announced I though it looked kind of neat, but I wasn’t feeling compelled to ditch my SP for it. Plus if I was going to upgrade I would have just gone with a DS which was backwards compatible with the GBA. And since the Micro no longer supported legacy Game Boy software, it was placed in an odd spot where it basically only targeted those who had yet to get a GBA or Nintendo enthusiasts that would buy everything. The only other defining feature it had was the ability to swap out the faceplate for other ones. Perhaps Nintendo conceived of a vast third party network of custom faceplates in addition to its own, but from the start the Micro was never positioned very well.

I basically decided to get a Micro over another model of the GBA for the novelty of it. I did like the idea of a truly portable gaming device, but I also thought the system was just plain cute. And when I settled on one to buy, I even spent a little extra to get the special Famicom edition (released in December 2005) which was colored to mimic a Famicom controller. It came in a box emblazoned with classic Super Mario pixel art and the only drawback to going this route (aside from the added cost, which at the time was actually somewhat minimal) was it didn’t come with a tool to remove the faceplate as Nintendo didn’t think anyone would want to remove the Famicom faceplate. In fact, the faceplate on this model is supposedly non-removable, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not that hard to get off for someone who is determined to do so.

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The Micro in front of a 3DS which is in front of a Sony PSP.

When I received my Micro I did play it quite a bit. I picked up Metroid Fusion, a game I had overlooked when first released, and also grabbed the Super Mario Bros. 3 port to go along with the other GBA software I still had. Playing these games on the Micro, I was taken by how quickly I got used to the small screen. It’s a bit shocking when first powered up to see just how small it is, but once absorbed in gameplay it basically goes away. The screen is said to be much better than the previous GBA screens, though it’s still not as vibrant as modern handhelds. Helping it is the mostly sprite-based art of GBA games with the small screen size reducing noticeable pixilation. The light is strong and can be adjusted manually as well, and I found the battery would last around five hours which was basically enough to get me through a week of commuting.

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Here’s the Micro beside big brother, the 3DS.

Obviously, a system this small does have some drawbacks. The Micro is so small that it’s arguably too small. I mentioned earlier I found the SP to be a bit tight and this unit isn’t much better. I find the layout minimizes the cramping issue slightly, but it gets rough when playing games that rely on the shoulder buttons. Metroid Fusion became particularly challenging after a half hour as the shoulder buttons are used in that game to angle Samus’ blaster. It’s not as easy to play as it probably would be if it were on the Super Nintendo or being played via the Gamecube’s GBA Player, but it was still an enjoyable experience. I beat the game, and would go on to play Metroid:  Zero Mission as well so it’s not like the Micro prevented me from enjoying Metroid. The only other game I ever had issue with was Final Fantasy VI, specifically performing some of Sabin’s moves as the small d-pad and hand fatigue might dissuade you from unleashing the dreaded Bum Rush attack! Games like A Link to the Past or Super Mario Bros. are comparatively simple, though some hand fatigue will still set in after lengthy sessions. Super Mario Bros. even alleviates some hand-cramping by allowing the R button to function as a second B button which is nice for running, though it takes getting used to if you’ve been playing Mario since the 80s and are accustomed holding B all of the time.

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It’s tiny, but it plays just fine.

The system itself has a rather nice feel to it. The stereo speakers aren’t going to wow you, as they didn’t on any other version of the GBA, but the overall weight feels good. The system is quite glossy making it actually far more attractive looking than a plastic Famicom controller. The format does mean there’s no way to protect the screen, but the system did come with a simple cloth carrying case which has always done the job for me. I wouldn’t recommend tossing it into a kid’s backpack or something, but slip that thing on and drop it in a pocket and you should manage just fine. It has a standard headphone jack, and since it’s quite old at this point it obviously lacks any sort of wireless hookup, but considering the Switch shunned Blue Tooth it probably wouldn’t feature that even if it were re-released today.

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I bought this “new,” but as you can see the box had a rough time getting to me.

If I were to sum up the Game Boy Micro in one word it would be “cute.” It’s meant to be a physically appealing gaming device even more so than a functional one. It doesn’t punt on functionality though and it’s a totally viable way to experience the Game Boy Advance library.  When I bought mine roughly a decade ago it was comparable in price to the Game Boy Advance SP with maybe 20 dollars or so separating the two. Since then it’s become more expensive and standard versions of the unit in clearly used condition now command more money than I paid for my limited edition version. As a result, I wouldn’t really recommend anyone buy a Micro if they’re simply looking to experience the GBA library of games. The SP is much more reasonable, or even an older DS. If you don’t mind spending the money though and you think the Micro is charming in pictures then you’ll probably be happy with your purchase. It’s a fun little device that will probably start a conversation if you pull it out in public and as the last official Game Boy it certainly holds a special place in the hearts of many Nintendo fans.


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

images-194One of the greatest games of all time has to be The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past for the Super Nintendo.  Following the misstep that was Zelda II:  The Adventure of Link, Nintendo put out what I consider the true sequel to the original Zelda.  A Link to the Past took the gameplay model established in the original game and expanded upon it tenfold.  A parallel world, new items and power-ups, a much better and more powerful gameplay engine.  Simply put, A Link to the Past was Zelda perfected and no title in the franchise has exceeded it, though some have come close.  As is the case with most Zelda games, A Link to the Past did not have a direct sequel (unless you count Link’s Awakening for the Gameboy) and subsequent games in the franchise basically function as a retelling of the Zelda legend.  That is, until now, with the release of A Link Between Worlds last fall for the 3DS.  Creating a direct sequel now for A Link to the Past could be viewed as an immense challenge on the part of Nintendo, or a sign that the company is running out of ideas and looking to cash-in on a classic game.  As far as I’m concerned, an all new Zelda title for the 3DS is a good thing regardless of what ties it has to other games, but I won’t deny it tickled me to go back to the Hyrule I knew over twenty years ago.

As best as I can tell, A Link Between Worlds takes place generations after the events of A Link to the Past.  The map layout is the same though and fans of the old game should feel right at home in this one.  Plot wise, it’s basically tried and true Zelda:  an evil wizard kidnaps the princess and wreaks havoc across the land and only Link can reunite the three components of the triforce and save the day.  Replacing the dark world from the first game is Lorule, an alternate Hyrule that uses a similar color palette to the familiar dark world but is broken apart with large chasms sealing off routes.  The game is quite pleasing to the eyes without being a graphical powerhouse.  Character and enemy designs from A Link to the Past are recreated here with more detail and more color.  The soundtrack is upbeat containing many familiar tunes as well as some new compositions.  It often suits the setting exceptionally well, and rarely ever does a Zelda soundtrack disappoint.

Link's newest ability allows him to become a painting on a wall and move around on it.

Link’s newest ability allows him to become a painting on a wall and move around on it.

A Link Between Worlds not only looks familiar, but also plays familiar.  Link obtains most of the items from the first game with really only one or two new ones playing any kind of significant role.  Link is controlled with the circle pad this time around instead of a directional pad, which is to be expected and functions fine, though I did find it challenging to be precise with projectile weapons, something I don’t remember being a problem in A Link to the Past.  There’s some emphasis placed on the early dungeons to show multiple levels at once for Link to traverse, presumably to take advantage of the 3D, but is mostly abandoned quickly.  I did not play the game in 3D, but I suppose it’s fine for those who like it.  As one can probably deduce from that statement, there are no 3D-specific puzzles in this game such as the ones found in Super Mario 3D Land that force the player to switch on the function, which is fine by me.

Where A Link Between Worlds looks to separate itself from other Zelda titles is with the merge ability Link acquires early in the game.  Merge allows Link to become a painting and move along walls.  He can go behind some objects this way or slip through cracks and around corners, as well as apply the power in other creative ways.  It did take me some getting used to, but overall I found it to be an enjoyable addition to the game and one of the better gimmicks to be featured in a Zelda game.  Utilizing the power is easy, but it does take some time to get one’s brain trained in a way to make use of it.  There were a few times I was stumped on how to reach a treasure chest or other location only to realize the solution was pretty obvious once my mind caught up and applied the merge ability correctly.  Aside from that, most of the other challenges and puzzles should feel familiar to Zelda veterans as they’ll know when to use the hookshot or drop a bomb.

Veterans of A Link to the Past should feel right at home here.

Veterans of A Link to the Past should feel right at home here.

The setup for A Link Between Worlds is basically identical to A Link to the Past.  The game starts off in Hyrule with Link having to make his way through three early dungeons before a confrontation at Hyrule Castle opens up a path to Lorule.  Link is able to traverse worlds via fissures that appear in walls and various structures that require him to merge with the surface and slide in.  As these fissures are found, they’ll appear on the map permanently and some areas are only reachable by exploiting them.  Surprisingly, only one dungeon requires the player to bounce between worlds which is something I thought would be exploited further.

The other heavily advertised feature of A Link Between Worlds is the non-linear nature of the game’s dungeons.  Once the player reaches Lorule, they can conquer the dungeons in any order they wish (save for one, which requires an item obtained from beating another) before heading off to Lorule Castle for the final battle.  This feature is enabled by having all of the traditional Zelda items available to Link from the get-go.  Very early in the game, a merchant by the name of Ravio opens up shop in Link’s house.  Here Link can rent any item for a small fee and hang onto it until he falls in battle.  Link can rent as many items as are available, so if the player enters a dungeon that requires the ice rod, for example, the player can simply go rent it if he hasn’t already.  Most players, myself included, will probably rent every item right away and risk having to rent them all again should a game over screen rear its ugly head.  Making the game non-linear in this way is kind of fun, but does lessen the reward for getting through a dungeon.  Each one still has something for the player to find, but not really on the same level as the usual.  It would have been nice if Nintendo added more items to the game for players to find to make-up for this, but oh well.

Many of the game's bosses feel familiar too.

Many of the game’s bosses feel familiar too.

A Link Between Worlds has one other distinguishing feature when compared with its predecessor:  it’s exceptionally easy.  Aside from Zelda II, no Zelda title really has a reputation for being a hard game, but most of them are challenging and have at least one dungeon that sends gamers running to the nearest FAQ.  A Link Between Worlds contains no such dungeons and most Zelda veterans will never see a game over screen when playing it.  I do not consider myself an exceptional gamer, but I did not die once while playing this game.  In addition to that, I had no trouble finding every heart piece, each of the lost maimais (little squid-crab hybrids hidden around Hyrule and Lorule), or toppling the game’s gauntlet scenario twice.  The dungeon puzzles are clever at times, but aren’t likely to leave gamers stumped for any significant length of time.  As for the enemies, I think many are made easier this time around because just about all of them can be taken down with the sword.  Even some enemies from A Link to the Past, such as those statues with a central eye, that required a certain item to fell can be taken down with the sword.  It’s also the type of game that starts off harder than it finishes, mostly because adding hearts remedies any challenging enemies or bosses weak.  Most of the bosses also are retreads of past ones, so there’s less trial and error.  Also making every item available at the start contributes to an easier game.  All of them consume stamina when used, which regenerates over a short period of time, so players can spam the powerful fire rod if they so desire and most enemies are susceptible to the freezing powers of the boomerang and hookshot (and if they aren’t, there’s the ice rod).

Difficulty issues aside, A Link Between Worlds is an enjoyable Zelda title that I was sad to see end.  It’s about as long as most handheld Zelda titles.  Playing at a very deliberate pace and obtaining all items, chests, and so on, the game lasted exactly 20 hours and 2 minutes for me according to the logs on my 3DS.  It was a fairly swift 20 hours with most of the game’s dungeons lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour at most.  A lot of my time was spent roaming Hyrule and Lorule and at least an hour was spent on the Octorok baseball mini-game.  Once the game is finished a harder hero mode becomes available.  I haven’t tried it, but apparently the only difference between that and the regular game is that enemies do more damage, which should help to make the game at least a little more challenging.  If Nintendo set out to eclipse A Link to the Past then it came up short, and from that perspective A Link Between Worlds is a disappointment.  As a Zelda game though, it’s great entertainment and something all 3DS owners should pick up.


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