Nintendo essentially invented the handheld-gaming market back in 1989 with the original Game Boy, a clunky black-and-white portable that rocketed to success, thanks largely to the availability of the addictive Tetris game. The company continued to refine the portable concept, going colour in 1998, then sizing things down to the more compact Game Boy Advance in 2001. Two years later, the company released the SP model, which, with an improved screen, a smaller size, a clamshell design and rechargeable battery, was hailed as a nearly perfect portable device by many gamers. Now, Nintendo is retooling the Game Boy yet again with the Game Boy Micro.
The £69 Nintendo Game Boy Micro -- or GBM, as it has already been dubbed by the Nintendo faithful -- lives up to its name. It's a minuscule 102mm wide, 51mm tall and 18mm deep -- that's roughly the size of an iPod Mini or a small mobile phone, but bigger all around than Apple's "impossibly small" iPod nano. The horizontal design is a departure from the squarish clamshell of the SP -- in fact, the Micro looks more like a downscaled version of the old Game Boy Advance. To the right of the 51mm (2-inch) screen is a four-way digital control pad, while the two main A and B control buttons are to the left. Two shoulder buttons along the top edge round out the main controls. The Select and Start buttons are below the screen on an angled border.
Game cartridges slide into the bottom side of the Micro. (For the record, the Micro accepts only the recent Game Boy Advance titles, not the larger Game Boy Color or original Game Boy cartridges from decades past.) The slot is flanked on either side by the power switch and -- hallelujah -- a standard 3.5mm headphone minijack. The latter corrects the most glaring flaw of the Game Boy Advance SP, which needed a small dongle to connect standard headphones to its proprietary port. If you don't have headphones, the small speaker on the Micro's front face will suffice. A tiny rocker switch on the right side controls volume. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery is found under a screwed-down cover on the rear and can be replaced by the user when it eventually gives up the ghost.
The SP has two small expansion ports on its rear, but the Micro has only one: a new proprietary connector, centred on the top edge between the shoulder buttons. At present, it's limited to providing a connection for the AC power adaptor to recharge the battery, but it will eventually be used to connect to some forthcoming Micro-specific accessories. Nintendo plans two multiplayer link cables (for head-to-head Micro versus Micro and Micro versus SP connectivity) as well as a Micro version of the SP's wireless adaptor. So, while none of the existing SP accessories will work with the Micro, it should eventually have the same multiplayer capabilities as its predecessor, assuming you're comfortable with extraneous link cables and bulky wireless adaptors. The Nintendo Game Boy Micro ships in four colours: blue, green, pink and silver. But those are just the unit's body colour -- the front is actually a swappable faceplate, like a mobile phone or the Xbox 360. While the Micro loses the clamshell design that provided screen protection for the SP, the faceplates cover the screen, so cosmetic scratches and scrapes are restricted to the surface. Expect to see a variety of 'collectible' faceplate packs from Nintendo and other third-party vendors in the future.
Aside from cosmetic variations, then, are there any significant differences between the Micro and the SP? In a word, no. The Micro is just the SP in a smaller package; it's not intended to deliver anything new in terms of gameplay or features. Even battery life is basically even, about 10 hours between charges. It comes down to which Game Boy delivers a better user experience. And while the answer is more subjective than absolute, we came down on the side of the Micro. Despite its overall smaller size, the Micro is actually 19mm wider than the SP. The broader form factor combined with its lighter weight -- 88g (with cartridge) as opposed to the SP's 150g -- yielded better overall ergonomics. Gaming sessions on the Micro were more comfortable and less fatiguing on the hands and fingers.
At just 51mm (2 inches), the Micro's small screen appears to be a liability; it's fully 33 per cent smaller than the SP's 3-incher. View both units side by side, however, and your eyes will immediately gravitate to the Micro. The screen is so much brighter that few will miss the larger SP screen. Instead, you'll be wondering how you could've lived with that comparatively dull, washed-out image for so long. On the other hand, fans of text-heavy games -- RPGs, for instance -- may find the Micro's screen is just too small.
More sophisticated gamers may want to splash out the extra £20 to upgrade to the Nintendo DS -- it plays a growing list of popular titles (Nintendogs, Advance Wars Dual Strike, Castlevania), but its beefy size means you won't be slipping it into the pocket of your jeans. By contrast, the Nintendo Game Boy Micro is the perfect go-anywhere gaming machine. It's an easy recommendation for children, for whom it will no doubt provide hours of Pokemon- and Dragon Ball Z-fuelled delight. Adults with a favourite Zelda, Mario or Advance Wars title will find the Micro a worthwhile travel companion as well.
Edited by David Carnoy
Additional editing by Nick Hide