Dusting off the Nintendo e-Reader thumbnail

Dusting off the Nintendo e-Reader

An inconvenient way to play subpar games

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Retrospectives on

Nintendo has a long history of taking chances when it comes to hardware; from the embarrassment that was Virtual Boy to the astronomical success of Wii. Here, I'll explore one of their lesser known products so please, enjoy!

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My collection of Nintendo e-cards
I can't believe I still have all these e-cards lying around

First off, what the heck is an e-Reader? Well, it's a peripheral for the Game Boy Advance that allows you to scan specially encoded cards in order to play games and unlock bonus content in certain GameCube and Game Boy Advance titles. That sounds pretty cool, right? Although it's intriguing at first, it's also incredibly irritating to use. For example, to play a single NES game you have to scan 9 or 10 codes one after the other. It takes forever and once a card inevitably fails and forces you to try again, you'll probably just give up and play something else. Even after you manage to get a game going, most of the available library is made up of stripped down versions of arcade and sports style NES games. Don't get me wrong, it's not all bad. In fact, one of the best games for the e-Reader is Mario Party-e that comes packaged with a physical game board, but I'll talk more about that later; on with the NES games. v1d30chumz 3-237-27-159

Classic NES series e-cards

  • Balloon Fight
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Excitebike
  • Pinball
  • Tennis
  • Baseball
  • Golf
  • Ice Climber
  • Clu Clu Land
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong 3
  • Mario Bros.
  • Urban Champion

Okay, maybe calling them "subpar games" is a bit unfair. There are some great classics that hold up well today such as Excitebike, the original Mario Bros., Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Clu Clu Land, and all three Donkey Kong games. These are undeniably fun but they're also quite bare-bones. After playing any of them for only a few minutes, you'll be ready to try something else. Therefore, get ready to spend more time scanning your cards than playing games. Other titles such as the sports games, Pinball, and Urban Champion aren't really worth tracking down. I remember purchasing them back in the day for a dollar each a few months after the e-Reader came out just so I could complete my collection. You know something is a commercial failure when it ends up in the bargain bin shortly after its release. By the way, if you look at the serial numbers then you'll see that there's a game missing between Mario Bros. and Urban Champion. I wonder what they were planning... Anyway, NES games were just a part of the e-Reader's library so let's get this party started!

Scanning Ice Climber cards on the e-Reader
I just want to play Ice Climber; this is such a pain in the ass

Mario Party-e is the best reason to own an e-Reader. As far as I know, it's the only physical incarnation of Mario Party. Basically, you lay out a paper mat that has the game board printed on it then you and up to three friends take turns drawing and using cards. Whoever collects Mario's shoes, clothes, and hat can use a superstar card to win the game. It's rather simple but where it gets interesting is in its use of the e-Reader. There are 11 total cards that you can scan to play different mini-games. These are either played by one person or competitively between two people and will give whoever wins some sort of advantage on their road to stardom. Such mini-games include fishing with Peach, riding a mechanical bull with Daisy, running from Boo with Mario, and playing chicken with Wario. In the end, Mario Party-e is a ton of fun and definitely worth searching for if you don't already have it.

As I've previously mentioned, some games had unlockable content that you can acquire by scanning cards on the e-Reader. Animal Crossing for GameCube allowed you to hook up a Game Boy Advance so you can scan cards that reward you with new designs, tunes, mini-games, and even NES games if you're lucky. Each card pack only contained a handful of random cards so collecting all of them would be crazy since there are over 300 in total. It's kind of funny that these are now back in style since Nintendo is currently making amiibo cards for the latest Wii U and 3DS Animal Crossing games. Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 also had a line of cards. However, to use them you would need to hook up two Game Boy Advances together. Thankfully, you could use the Game Boy Player as one of them. Anyway, having more content such as demonstrations, power-ups, and new levels in Super Mario Bros. 3 is super-awesome. Finally, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire had a massive collection of compatible e-cards that allowed you to battle unique trainers and obtain special berries. Overall, these little cards sure add a lot of replay value to a few already incredible games.

Nintendo also released a few promotional cards that contained mini-games like Air Hockey and a Kirby slide puzzle. Bundled with the e-Reader itself was a Game & Watch card for the classic Manhole. Why they didn't release an entire series of Game & Watch games is beyond me considering they have a large catalog already available. It doesn't make sense that they didn't pursue it further.

Mario Party-e game setup
This is by far the most amount of fun you can have with the e-Reader

That's all I have to say about Nintendo's e-Reader. Do you have any fond memories of it? Let's talk in the comments below.

Gameplay video playlist for Mario Bros. and Balloon Fight thumbnail
Gameplay video playlist for Mario Bros. and Balloon Fight
GameCube Games Trivia

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