I have made a fair share of questionable purchases over the years. Back when I was still a Nintendo apologist, during the heydays of Gamecube puttering along way behind the PS2 and when the Game Boy Advance was king of all portable gaming, I had bought stuff that in hindsight wasn’t that useful. Such as the GBA-GC link cable that connected a GBA to a Gamecube to transfer data, or in the case of games like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, have all the action take place on the GBA.
But that isn’t nearly as much in terms of questionable purchasing decisions as me buying into Nintendo’s e-Reader. Not to be confused with an eBook reader, the e-Reader was a Game Boy Advance add-on where you could scan cards with codes printed on the side to get cool goodies. It sounds like a good idea on paper, but the execution was poor: Games sometimes needed 3-10 codes scanned to play something, you could only hold one thing on the e-Reader’s memory at a time, and you needed a GBA link cable if you wanted to transfer anything from an e-Reader to another system, or the Gamecube.
It was a mess. Needless to say, Nintendo of America wasn’t having more of this and discontinued the thing around 2004. Thus leaving me with a bunch of cards I had acquired that I didn’t really have much use for anymore.
Over 15 years after the e-Reader came out, I still have the damn cards. And I’m gonna show some of them off here. Now, these aren’t the most rare, or the most valuable, these are just cards I find interesting, because they have a story to them. Note I’m only gonna list cards I personally own, as much as it would be interesting to write about Japanese exclusive e-Reader cards, I don’t have those.
Donkey Kong Jr.-e
One of the two pack-in classic games – the other being Pinball – this was part of the “Classic NES Series” which featured almost nothing but early NES games, the ones you see crop up everywhere on Nintendo platforms: Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, even much-maligned brawler Urban Champion got the e-Reader treatment.
The first card shows how to play the game, with each subsequent card giving some important tips on how to play and eventually master the game. It’s nice considering people even of my generation never grew up on the older NES catalog, but them not being based on more “powerful” NES games like Super Mario Bros. really made this particular series only interesting to diehard Nintendo fans.
It also didn’t help it came on five cards, with one set of two dot codes each. That’s 10 codes I had to scan to play this thing. Worst off, if I wanted to play any other game, I had to remove the game from memory, thus requiring me to scan all ten codes again if I wanted to replay it.
Funny enough, some of these games later got treatment as part of a brief stint of a different “Classic NES Series,” which was on traditional cartridges. These featured more of the NES classics you’d be familiar with, like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Why scan 10 codes of Ice Climber when you could buy the same thing for a higher price on a traditional cartridge? Nintendo probably didn’t think that one through too well.
I’ve seen some of these Classic NES Series card packs on sale during the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, and I sometimes get the temptation to get another one of these. Then I realize I’d have to scan 10 codes, and I could play that game elsewhere with less hassle.
…Have I mentioned I hated having to scan 10 freakin’ codes yet?
I feel this particular card is fairly apt, as these were one of those “Free! Take one” cards, and the place I got it from was a Toys ‘R’ Us, which just shut down recently. Alas I never took part in the closing sale, though seeing images how there were racks full of Ness amiibos almost made me interested. Hell, the last time I think I stepped foot in a Toys ‘R’ Us was 2010 or so, to get Mortal Kombat 9 for the sweet price of $30 (at the time).
But enough fond memories. Let’s talk about the game itself, which sadly isn’t nearly as interesting as the place I got it.
Y’all know air hockey, right? Smack a puck around and try to get it into your opponent’s goal while making sure your opponent doesn’t do the same. Well, this is in the same vein as the real thing, though completely top down. There’s also a power shot-like thing by hitting the A button. First to 10 points wins.
Unfortunately there’s no two player action, forcing you to play with a computer opponent that gets pretty ruthless as time goes on. And if you were expecting a cool victory screen for winning a match, you’d be disappointed.
The look of this sorta reminds me of Windjammers, with those quick dashes looking fairly flashy and stylish for a simple little game. There really isn’t a whole lot else to say about this one.
Kirby: Right Back at Ya! Slide Puzzle
Remember the FoXBoX? It was an attempt by 4kids Entertainment to make a family-friendly cool action block to rival ones like Disney’s Jetix. It eventually became 4kids TV, and as far as I know has since been canceled and replaced by more educational programming.
4kids was fairly infamous for their localizations of Japanese anime. The most egregious was porting over One Piece, removing guns and cigarettes and trying to make the show more kid-friendly. Hell, there was even rumors of bringing over Tokyo Mew-Mew and trying to “Americanize” it like they did with Pokemon years before. I never watched Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, but it seems it also got the “4kids” treatment from what I’ve read online.
But enough about 4kids. The card itself came from Nintendo Power, and it’s just a simple slide puzzle featuring Kirby attempting to inhale something. There really isn’t much else to it, not even a major reward.
It does contain many of the characters featured on the FoXBoX at the time, such as the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, and Sonic X, which I’ve talked about a bit in an article about Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons. Seeing non-Nintendo characters on a card is a surprise, to say the least.
Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 e-Reader special cards
Ooh, now here’s an idea that backfired considerably. Nintendo, going full steam ahead on the e-Reader, decided to make the fourth Super Mario Advance game have a special world. Considering they chose the best Mario game for this, I’d say that was the right decision.
These two are the pack-in cards that come with the game: One gives a raccoon leaf, which could be used in e-Reader levels to help Mario progress, with some of them being items that were either in other games, or unique to this game, like the blue boomerang.
Meanwhile, the other card introduces World-e, the special area to play e-Reader levels. There are several levels in all, having 36 released during its lifetime, four of them throwbacks to the original Super Mario Bros.
To get the other cards, one had to go through card packs which would have the levels, items, even “demo cards” to help get extra lives or special tricks in the main game, which was a neat option, almost feeling like a prototype for the later “Super Guide” that was in a fair share of Wii games.
There’s a major problem that crops up, though. You need a two GBAs and a link cable – one with the e-Reader, the other with Super Mario Advance 4 – to get the unlockables in-game. This is cumbersome and probably the reason it didn’t go very far. I was lucky back in high school to have a friend who was willing to help me out in this ridiculous endeavor.
By this time the e-Reader pretty much tanked and Nintendo of America knew it wasn’t selling, so they decided to go the nuclear option and end the SMA4 cards partway, giving us 11 of the 32 bonus e-Reader stages, and only a handful of the special items were available. Worst off, since Europe never got the e-Reader, they ended up getting a neutered version of Super Mario Advance 4 without World-e, making that version seem no different than the Super Mario All-Stars version, making it a rather worthless value.
Eventually ROM hackers found a way to get all the e-Reader items and levels into ROMs of Super Mario Advance 4, which for a long time was the only way to play beyond those 11 stages. I’m not gonna link to those, even if I could find them as Nintendo cracks down on their games being available illegally on a constant basis.
Several years later, Nintendo released SMA4 on the Wii U eShop, which contained all 36 e-Reader levels, though none of the bonus items carried over. This applies to all regions, so Europe can finally get in on the bonus levels but with none of the painful scanning process. I’d say for $7.99, it’s probably worth grabbing that version instead. Plus, hey, it’s a good reason to dust off the Wii U until Nintendo re-releases GBA games on the Switch.
Pokemon: Trading Card Game e-cards
The last, and probably the more interesting of the set is the e-Reader cards for the Pokemon TCG. I had a brief Pokemon card collection that a friend suggested I destroy because it was worthless. A shame, I had a fairly rare Pikachu promo card from Nintendo Power and a few Japanese cards that probably were worth diddly squat.
The set of three – Machop, Machoke and Machamp – were pack-ins with the system. This was the last set to be published by Wizards of the Coast. Nintendo went all out with this one: it has two special dot codes. The longer dot code on the side corresponded with a minigame, while the shorter card on the bottom gave Pokedex info for that specific Pokemon. I figure there’s a whole bunch of these still around, but I never bothered to get into the card game phenomenon that much.
As for the minigame, you play as Machop and try to smash rocks coming your way. Get 100, you evolve into Machoke, and try to do that again to evolve into Machamp, before wrapping back around. It’s merely an endurance test to see how long one can last without getting hit by a rock. Simple, but a decent time-waster.
Now Azurill is a bit different. Nintendo took over the Trading Card Game from Wizards of the Coast around 2004, and thus did some minor changes to the game. I think I got this from Nintendo Power, though I’m not certain (and searching online didn’t help me any). Compared to the Wizards of the Coast cards, these only showed Pokedex data, which makes sense considering by this time the e-Reader was on its last legs in North America and probably wasn’t worth the time to make more minigames.
I know there’s a few more minigames for these based on various Pokemon types, and they’d be real interesting to look into someday. But for now, I’ll keep trying to smash 100 rocks and fail miserably.
I refrained from talking about the various Animal Crossing cards I have since I don’t have any of the cool ones like K.K. Slider or Tom Nook. There’s various amounts of e-Reader cards that I didn’t even know existed when doing a bit of research on this, and there’s a small bit of me that wants to know more, but it probably isn’t worth the money or effort to collect them.
I liked the e-Reader as a concept. Small items that could unlock things in your favorite games was an extremely novel idea that only a few games used, but what games that did use them had some cool stuff on them. It seemed Nintendo didn’t want to abandon the idea completely: The 3DS had augmented reality cards which could unlock some things, and amiibo can unlock things in some games on the Wii U and Switch. It’s a much better execution of the same concept the e-Reader did.
Nintendo tripping over themselves while Sony dominated the scene with the PS2 was around the point my Nintendo fanboyism pretty much died. I had bought the GBA-Gamecube link cable so I could use the Tingle Tuner in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I had bought a link cable I only used a handful of times, one time for multiplayer Advance Wars 2 matches. The e-Reader was the last straw, showing I was sick of being burned by Nintendo’s novel but flawed ideas.
I’m not anti-Nintendo, for the record. I bought a DS, Wii, and Wii U, and games for each. I’d totally buy a Switch when there’s enough games worth owning on it, or when Nintendo announces Super Mario Maker 2, whichever comes first. (Update: They eventually released Mario Maker 2 the following year.)
It’s just my interest in the Big N had eroded considerably. Partially due to the flaws during those awkward Gamecube years, but I bet also my age had something to do with it. I fell into the trap that Nintendo was “for kids,” like many people of my generation thought as they got older. As a result, I probably missed out on a lot of cool stuff during the Gamecube and GBA eras, and even into the Wii and Wii U. I’ll likely change that someday.
You might have to give me time on converting me back, as I still feel ripped off by Nintendo’s goofy peripherals to this day. All those cards, sitting there in a broken plastic container as they go unused. Fanboyism is a hell of a drug.
(Some screenshots courtesy of Mobygames and GameFAQs.)