The first time I even encountered the concept of the e-Reader, I was playing Animal Crossing for Gamecube. There was a section in the post office area that allowed the use of the e-Reader and, for all the time I played it and the time I spent browsing game stores, I never actually saw an e-Reader. That part of the game was forever a mystery to me that I simply put out of my mind because if I didn’t, I’d be absolutely furious there was content I was missing out on.
So, what’s an e-Reader?
The Nintendo e-Reader was an accessory for the Gameboy Advance, released in 2003 in Australia, though it was also compatible with the Gamecube (much like the Gameboy Advance itself was with certain games like the above mentioned Animal Crossing or other titles like Wind Waker). The idea was, you’d plug your e-Reader into your Gameboy Advance and from there, you’d use a series of cards for different games that would do different things, like unlocking new levels or allowing players to obtain items.
However, it didn’t do particularly well outside of Japan. It was discontinued after two years in America, while Europe and Australia did get it, very few units were actually made and even fewer were sold. It was also an incredibly bulky piece of hardware that didn’t actually work with every model of the Gameboy Advance due to its layout. And when it did work, it was still a tedious thing to use.
So how did it work?
Remember buying Pokemon cards, all wrapped up in foil packs, the excitement of unwrapping them to a delightful surprise but also Metapod was there? Imagine opening an entire pack of Metapod and maybe like. One cool Pokemon like Totodile or something. Also you know this is exactly what you’re getting and you buy it anyway. The e-Reader cards came in foil packs like this which came in different varieties for different games, such as the following:
- NES games (such as Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong Jr., Mario Bros. and Golf)
- New levels and power-ups for Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (this is a bad title and I don’t like typing it out)
- Items and clothing designs and patterns for Animal Crossing (still salty I never saw them)
- New trainers to battle in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire
- Mini-games, and even a special version of Mario Party
- Game & Watch cards, with the original plan to release every Game & Watch title on the system, but only having one actually officially released (probably because the novelty was quickly wearing off)
The NES games in particular were a special kind of hell, with each individual game coming on 5 separate cards that needed to be scanned. Usually two or three times because of how touchy and prone to error the system was. It was like its own special and absolutely terrible kind of mini-game you had to succeed at before you got to play the actual game you paid for and expected to work properly.
Other games required two Gameboy Advance consoles, connected with a link cable, to actually obtain the content in question. For example, that Super Mario Advance game with the long and terrible title I don’t want to type out again required two linked Gameboy Advance’s, with one player scanning the cards while the other player got that sweet, sweet bonus content and the ire of the person scanning the cards umpteen times. Or at least, I assume this would have been the case.
So what exactly did you get for it?
As well as the above mentioned 5 card NES games, let’s take a deeper look at the kind of bonus content you’d get for individual games, such as Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. These were called Pokemon Battle-e cards. You get the extra trainers, like I said, but you also get… Berries, I guess? Even the extra trainers you do get to battle, you don’t get experience, money or… Anything, really. It’s just an extra trainer.
Animal Crossing had new patterns and outfits, but it also offered new town tunes and… That’s about it. Long awfully named Mario game had a grand total of 36 cards so you’d think it would do something pretty cool, right? Nnnnnope! Just power-ups, a few new levels (which is actually pretty cool) and some demo cards. There were even cards packaged with the Australian copy of the game which, when you think about it, kind of sucks considering the difficulty of actually finding an e-Reader.
Essentially, the cards were like DLC before DLC was really a thing. Small packs of extra content that were tedious to implement, hard to find and only really worth it for people who were diehard fans of the games they were buying the cards for.
So, while pretty cool in theory, and more proof of Nintendo’s innovative nature, it’s… Really more of a miss than a hit.