Stuck on a bus in traffic, I reached into my pocket for my new Game Boy Micro and instinctively held the slender device to my ear. Nintendo’s newest handheld device is not a cell phone, but its diminutive size reminds me of one.
Measuring four inches wide, two inches long and a half-inch thick, the $100 Game Boy Micro is a slimmer, sleeker Game Boy Advance that weighs in at only three ounces — small and light enough for a shirt pocket. The Micro comes in two flavors: black and silver. In both cases, black directional buttons and the black “a” and “b” buttons — lower case for that retro feel — lend the device a vaguely 1970s springtime in Dusseldorf flavor.
The look is completed with silver “Select” and “Start” buttons that glow a fluorescent red against the black plastic fronting.
Not interested in Kraftwerk-inspired electronics? Flashier gamers can opt for the camouflage faceplate or one of the other interchangeable flaceplates that come with the device.
The Micro plays every game in the Game Boy Advance library — roughly 700 games. The Micro’s two-inch screen delivers crisp graphics, better than anything the Game Boy Advance produced. There’s a built-in headphone jack so fellow commuters won’t need to hear you battle the “Dynasty Warriors.”
Beyond its size and style, the Micro doesn't offer anything new. It won't play games made for the Nintendo DS. Wireless play is possible, however, although it requires the purchase of an adaptor.
But the re-sizing is a welcome reprieve from the recent “SUV-ing” trend in handheld gaming, with the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable bulging pockets to the breaking point.
Maybe we should regard the Game Boy Micro as this generation's version of the metal lighters that swells once pulled from their coat pockets to impress the ladies. Sophisticated, stylish and ultimately, frivolous.
Addictive 'Advance Wars'
Game addictions come out of nowhere. One moment you’re bemoaning the lack of interesting titles, the next you’re sneaking in game time late at night and between meals.
My current drug of choice is "Advance Wars: Dual Strike," a turn-based conquest title that originally appeared on the Nintendo Game Boy.
Re-tooled for the Nintendo DS, "Advance War: Dual Strike" supports wireless play for up to eight players and takes advantage of the DS's dual screens to simultaneously report battle statistics — troop strength, firepower, location — on one screen and the grid-like battle map on the other. This division of display ends when two battles erupt at once, but more on that later.
The goal is conquest. The player takes a turn, then the computer, or an opposing player, takes a turn. Each turn involves a number of smaller moves such as creating new battle units, moving existing units around the grid-based map and, if the enemy occupies a nearby space on the map, initiating battle.
How a particular unit fares depends on a number of factors from its relative strength to the location of the battle, which may favor one side over the other.
There is a hierarchy of arms. Infantry units can capture towns and factories — essential for earning conquest points to build new units — but in battle against armor units they crumble like the French Army. Rocket launchers beat tanks. Stealth fighters dominate virtually anything.
This is old school turn-based strategy. Old school like chess. Or rather, cartoon chess because “Advance Wars” is set on a planet called “War World” inhabited by armies with names like Blue Moon and Green Earth and Yellow Comet and commanded by officers who speak in a hip-hop patois that was old when LL Cool J was still wearing a Kangol hat.
The commanding officers do have a purpose beyond groan-inducing dialogue. Leading an army means choosing a CO to oversee the action and because each CO comes with his or her set of tactical strengths and weaknesses, the one chosen shapes the strategy the player takes. One may have masterful control of armor; another may specialize in fixing or replenishing depleted troops.
The "Dual Strike" component comes with the new ability to choose two COs to lead the troops. The fun is in learning how to combine their respective powers for devastating effect. Occasionally a second front is established. With two battlefields, both screens on the Nintendo DS relay the action. Players can let the game control one of the commanders or take on the task of managing two fronts separately themselves.
“Advance Wars: Dual Strike” packs additional game modes like a real-time slug-fest (think Atari 2600's "Combat") and a survival mode where the player is thrown into almost no-win situations and must ward off an aggressive enemy.
As mentioned, the wireless multiplayer component supports up to eight players. I didn't get a chance to participate in such a melee, but with standard head-to-head battles running long enough I can’t imagine how long an eight-player battle would last. One major bummer — you can’t save multiplayer games in progress.
I’m perfectly happy with the single player version, however. Like a true junkie, I don't want to share.
Warmed-over 'Death Jr.' for Sony PSP
With apologies to John Donne, R.I.P., and readers everywhere:
“Death Jr.” be not proud, though Konami has called thee
"Zany” and “wacky,” for thou art not so;
Though you boast C4 bearing hamsters to throw,
Die not, "Death Jr.," although you bore me,
Suburban horror, thy Tim Burton scenes leave
Much pleasure, but from thee much more must flow,
Such as plot and better, addictive game play
3-D graphics you most succeed on delivery
Still thou art slave to marketing and spin
And dost with near-misses and B-games dwell;
And Mario or Jax can make us game as well
And better than thy play; why swell’st thou then;
One short scene, goes on eternally,
And "Death Jr." could be so much more; "Death Jr.", why o; why?