by Marty Demarest
Which video game system is the best?" I'm asked that question a lot. And for a long time, my standard answer was that it depended on the type of games that questioners wanted to play. It's a lame answer, but it worked. Lately, however, I've become more decisive. Whether the person asking me is pierced like a sieve or topped by a rapidly expanding shoreline of scalp, I say "Nintendo's Game Boy Advance SP."

The SP is essentially a redesign of the Game Boy Advance, which was the latest installment in Nintendo's phenomenally selling Game Boy line. Released several years ago, it was the best system in the series. But the screen was dim, virtually requiring a small light either to be installed inside the system (thereby violating Nintendo's warranty) or attached externally. It devoured batteries. And it was a bit clunky to hold. The SP fixes each of these problems. The screen is now lit - brilliantly - from inside. Players can turn the light off if they want to conserve the built-in rechargeable battery cell (which lasts longer than a pair of AAs ever did). And the screen folds over the controls, leaving a package slightly smaller than a stack of square sticky notes. It's very adult-looking, resembling a PDA more than a video game system. You lose the headphone jack, but that's minor. At this point, the only thing Nintendo could do so make the system better would be the incorporation of a telephone.

Open one of these in a room and you're Captain Kirk-with-a-communicator cool. But the real fun comes from the games that you can play. Right now, I'd have to suggest the latest Pok & eacute;mon games, Ruby and Sapphire. Forget the toys and cartoons - the games on which everything was based are overly long and complex. Imagine instead an intricate version of rock-paper-scissors that changes over time, and you're starting to get the idea. Someone who wants more intensity should aim for Metroid Fusion, which blends old-school action with new-school technology. And since the system is backwards-compatible with almost every Game Boy game released, try tracking down some older classics, which should be available at a discount. Both Legend of Zelda titles - Oracle of the Ages and Oracle of the Seasons are great. Or try the original Tetris in black and white. It's still addictive.

Publication date: 04/1o/03

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