We are in the golden age of portable video games. Nintendo’s DS Lite keeps delivering innovative new software, attracting an audience that didn’t previously have much interest in games. Sony’s PlayStation Portable has stumbled, but it’s still a solid alternative for players who want handheld versions of their favorite console games. And sooner or later, Microsoft is bound to come out with a portable Xbox.
Add in all the games that are available for cell phones and personal digital assistants, and you never have an excuse to be bored while waiting in line at the DMV. And we haven’t even mentioned the granddaddy of handheld game devices: Nintendo’s Game Boy.
Seventeen years after its introduction, the Game Boy is still hanging in there. Sure, it’s been through a lot of changes, as the chunky, black-and-white original has slimmed down into the credit-card-sized, color Game Boy Micro. But it’s outlasted three generations of home consoles and helped keep Nintendo afloat even as the company’s GameCube struggled.
The greatest threat to the Game Boy is that it’s likely to finally be superseded by Nintendo’s own DS. But the DS plays Game Boy cartridges — so even if you can’t buy the actual hardware, the Game Boy abides. And publishers continue to release new games for the old warhorse — although the offerings can be inconsistent.
“Summon Night: Swordcraft Story," by Irvine, Calif.-based Atlus U.S.A Inc., combines good old-fashioned dungeon-crawling with the whimsical humor that’s becoming an Atlus trademark. In the game, which retails for $29.99, you assume the role of a kid (a boy named Cleru or a girl named Pratty) who aspires to become a “craftlord,” a master weapon builder.
To find material for your weapons, you must venture into your friendly neighborhood labyrinth to kill monsters and steal their loot. After you’ve forged a weapon, it’s off to the arena to compete against one of your fellow “craftknights.” It’s lively, fast-paced action, and the challenge of forging and improving your weapons is rewarding. Eventually, you’ll stumble across a conspiracy involving the powerful craftlords and the mysterious death of your father, rounding out a satisfying role-playing adventure.
B-Daman, for those of you who don’t watch Saturday morning cartoons, is a nifty little tabletop game in which two robots shoot marbles at each other. It has inspired comic books, anime and now a video game, "Battle B-Daman,” also by Atlus. In the game, which sells for $29.99, you play a kid named Yamato who, naturally, sets out to become the greatest B-Daman player the world has ever known. (He was also raised by cats until he was 6, which is indicative of the sort of goofy comedy that permeates this game.)
The fights are too simplistic — mostly, you’re moving left and right, trying to shoot your opponent while avoiding his marbles — and there’s not enough variety from one battlefield to the next. Still, it’s kind of addictive, and you may feel compelled to keep fighting just to collect all the cool doohickeys you can add to your robot.
Every few months, someone notices the popularity of “casual games” — like chess or solitaire — and whips up a compilation for those of us who want something like that for the Game Boy. It’s a great idea, and it’s too bad they almost always screw it up. THQ's latest offering for the Game Boy — “Games Explosion!” — is the latest such failure.
You’d think it would be easy to program the old logic puzzle Mastermind, for example, but here they’ve made the pegs so small you can’t tell what color they are. There are equally inept translations of bowling, darts, checkers, sudoku and a dozen other games; you can easily find far better versions for your cell phone. “Games Explosion!” — which sells for $19.99 — does offer the only commercially available simulation, as far as I know, of tic-tac-toe, which may set a new standard for the lamest game ever published.