Nintendo's Game Boy Micro is the third iteration of the Game Boy Advance line. Rather than replacing the Game Boy Advance SP, it is a smaller alternative version, much like the Game Boy Pocket. Nintendo intends to market this new handheld to what they describe as the "image-conscious consumer", the idea being that the small size, cellphone-like design, and customizable look will attract customers who might have reservations about carrying about something as large as the SP, and which looks like a game system. (Superficial thinking, but no doubt accurate - just look at the way the PSP is being advertised.)

The GBM is indeed a tiny machine - to quote Reggie Fils-Aime (Nintendo of America's VP of Marketing), it is "just a hair bigger and two-thirds the weight of an iPod Mini." More precisely, it is four inches wide, two inches tall, and 7/10ths of an inch deep, and weighs only 2.8 ounces. The new backlit screen is proportionally smaller than the Game Boy Advance, keeping the same aspect ratio, but with "tighter" pixels, most people who've seen it first-hand say that it is nonetheless not difficult to view the screen, and text remains legible. Unfortunately, the smaller size means that the Z-80 chip which allows the GBA and GBA SP to play original Game Boy and Game Boy Color games is not present, so the GBM (like the Nintendo DS) can only play Game Boy Advance games (which still gives it a library of some 700 titles).

Having learned from their mistake with the GBA SP, Nintendo has put a normal headphone jack on the Game Boy Micro, choosing to require a conversion dongle instead for the link cable (it goes through the AC port). This, in my opinion, makes a lot more sense - almost everyone will use headphones on their handheld from time to time, but only occasionally does one play multiplayer games or use it for GameCube connectivity. Before anyone gets too excited, this does not mean GBA multiplayer will be available for the DS; even if the GBM uses the same connector as the DS and GBA (which is likely, but not certain), the DS was not designed to send and receive data through its recharger port (which shows a disappointing lack of foresight from Nintendo, in my opinion).

In addition, the GBM's faceplate will be removable, so that customers can put on custom versions. Nintendo's faceplates will include various solid colors and patterns, as well as a few with game characters like Mario and Link. No doubt there will also be a market for third-party faceplates, just as there currently is for cellphones. (I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see a bunch of guys walking around with custom-made faceplates sporting pictures of a scantily clad Rebecca Romjin or Jessica Alba or whatever actress it is we guys are all supposed to be drooling over this month.)

The Bottom Line

The Game Boy Micro's Pros and Cons versus the GBA SP:

Pros: Smaller, lighter, normal headphone jack, backlit screen, customizable faceplate

Cons: No GB/GBC support, smaller screen, requires special additional cable for multiplayer/GCN connectivity, no fliptop cover to protect screen

The Game Boy Micro's intended audience is not those of us who already own GBAs or Nintendo DSes. In reality, Nintendo seems to be trying to garner new consumers from the pool of people who (1) want something ultra-small and are willing to sacrifice other aspects for it and (2) don't want something that "looks" like a game system. (They actually do pull this off; unless you're standing right over a person playing on one, it looks like they're just fiddling with their cellphone or maybe playing the equivalent of Nibbles.) As such, the complaint that you already have a GBA (which is the response I've read quite a bit of in the past few days) is really quite besides the point. Besides, the Game Boy Micro does prove one thing that may make gamers feel better: Nintendo is not giving up on the GBA in favor of the DS or a "GBA2". Creating a new version of the GBA hardware only reinforces their commitment to the platform.

The Game Boy Micro will debut on September 19, 2005 at a price of $99.99.

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