by Ken Gagne
For the past several years, the Nintendo Game Boy has not only dominated the handheld games market, it has practically been that market. New competition now arrives from Tiger in the form of the game.com system.
The game.com measures approximately 7x4x1 inches, with a square screen of about 2-1/4 inches. The game screen itself is black-and-white and, being a liquid crystal display (LCD), is not backlit, meaning it does not provide its own source of illumination; like the Game Boy, it cannot be played in the dark. The hardware configuration is more akin to the Sega Game Gear, with a control pad mounted to the left of the screen, and several buttons on the right, including four main action, and the on/off button.
The action screen borrows a feature from today's personal digital assistants (PDA) by being touch-sensitive. Gamers can select menu options and make choices by touching the appropriate areas of the screen. Some games, such as Wheel of Fortune, use this aspect exclusively, eschewing the control pad. A stylus (pen) is included for this purpose and is recommended, though any object will work.
The game.com has several pieces of software built-in. A four-function calculator dispenses quick answers, while a calendar shows dates for January, 1901, through December, 2099. Unfortunately, it does not allow for memos, precluding its use as a schedule book. There is a operable address book, though, and the on-screen keyboard is simple to use with the system's touch-screen capability. As for the solitaire game, it is playable, but completely lacking any gameplay options. High scores from this and any other game are automatically saved directly to the game.com's memory.
Game cartridges are inserted into ports located on the console's right. Up to two carts may be docked simultaneously, for easy switching. Several games are already available, and more are on the way. An impressive lineup includes translations of other system's hits, such as Madden Football, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and Sonic Jam. A link cable (sold seperately) allows two-player simultaneous play in games such as Fighters Megamix and NBA Hangtime.Although several puzzle-type games are available, there is no hint of a Tetris game, that which helped introduce the Game Boy so successfully.
The game.com has no problem with synthesized speech, using it with many games, either in introductions or as integral parts of the gameplay itself. Other music and sound effects are often minimal. The graphics are small, but adjusting the contrast will usually solve any problems. Moving graphics, such as those found in action games, are not as blurry as most Game Boy titles, but still seem a bit sluggish.
Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the game.com is its capacity to be used as an Internet tool. Using a separate cartridge, the game.com can be linked to any external modem and used to call any online service. This possibly makes the game.com the cheapest method available for sending and receiving electronic mail. Although it could, in theory, be used to call any service, Tiger has only tested it to assure it works perfectly with the Delphi commercial service, which also provides text-based web browsing.
The game.com sells for $69.95 and comes with Lights Out, a simple yet addictive puzzle game. Other games cost between $19.95 and $29.95. It is nigh-impossible to judge a new console on the hardware itself, as it is the software that makes the machine. Tiger stands a tough time of matching the Game Boy's success, but with its interesting innovations, the game.com is certainly full of possibilities.
This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 01-Dec-97