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Retro Gadget: An ode to my Game Boy Micro

A look back at Nintendo's last Game Boy... the Micro.

Game Boy Micro, a perfect retro toy. Sarah Tew/CNET

Oh, GBM, you've been hiding. In a plastic drawer, under some socks and a 60GB iPod, you lay upside down next to your coiled-up charger. I admit I've ignored you in recent years, what with the Nintendo DS Lite and iPhone (and sometimes PSP) vying for my mobile attention. Your little plastic case, and the Game Boy Advance cartridges you played, were overlooked.

Recently, though, I pulled you out again. It all happened because the Nintendo DSi, while an excellent handheld, cannot play GBA cartridges anymore. To play Super Mario Bros. 3, I needed your services. Removing you from the gear drawer, I was impressed that you still seemed small. Smaller, in fact, than any of my other gadgets, except for the iPod Shuffle. You make the iPhone seem bulky. While your screen is miniature, it still looks bright and crisp compared with any other handheld screen. Even more amazingly, the battery still worked when I turned you on. I can't even recall another gadget whose battery has lasted that long in disuse.

The Game Boy Micro was Nintendo's attempt at a Game Boy swan song. Released in 2005, half a year after the original DS had already hit store shelves, it was a strange sort of afterthought. Perhaps it was meant to replace the still remarkably selling Game Boy Advance SP. Priced at $89.99, however, it was a more expensive alternative, and had a smaller screen. Plus, the DS already played GBA cartridges, and the Micro couldn't play Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles, something the SP could do. With disappointing sales, the Micro disappeared, its history paved over in 2006 with the release of an equally bright-screened DS Lite.

The Micro's tiny but bright screen playing Super Mario 3. Scott Stein/CNET

Back in 2005, CNET reviewed the Micro as a mixed bag, more of a Nintendo fetish item than a must-buy. Years later, though, that niche styling seems to have paid off. It looks like a mini-NES control pad, and has an appealing novelty look to it. It screams retro, but in the best way. While the GBA cartridges it plays are nearly as large as the Micro itself, they can be had for peanuts at a GameStop, thrift store, or garage sale. And one thing we can say about Nintendo's back-catalog, regardless of quality, is it's the epitome of family-friendly.

Revisiting the GBM, it feels even more ergonomic than before. The buttons and D-pad are generous for the size, and the screen--while really small--at least is extremely crisp, allowing text to pop. The screen brightness is even adjustable. And with a battery life this robust, you know this is built to last. My unit is the 20th anniversary model, which has a copper-and-brass-colored Famicom-themed faceplate. It looks almost like an evolution of their Game & Watch line.

Nintendo, if they were wise, should consider re-releasing the Micro at a lower price as an enthusiast/budget device, with compilation cartridges alongside packing several games in themes (Zelda, Mario). Or, if they really want to get fancy, why not make one of these with Wi-Fi and flash memory alongside a handheld Virtual Console launch, as a way to one-up the PSP Go?

I'd buy it for the right price. But for now, I just know I'll hold onto my Micro for a while to come.

For size comparison, check out the slideshow below of the Micro up against some of our other more modern gadgets, and appreciate how small this thing still is.