Review by CloverLeaf

Reviewed: 05/05/02 | Updated: 05/05/02

A hand-held that may not be suitable for all.

THE BANDAI WONDERSWAN COLOR
The Wonderswan Color (WSC) is a hand-held console made by the Japanese company Bandai in late 2000. It is an improvement over the black and white Wonderswan, because as its name implies, it is a color hand-held. As of this moment, the Wonderswan Color is a Japan only console. Let me take you through it:

DESIGN
The first thing you will notice is how compact this hand-held is. The dimensions are 128 x 74.3 x 17.5mm (W,D,H). By comparison, the Gameboy Advance is seemingly twice as thick, slightly longer and about equal in depth. It is also much lighter than the Gameboy Advance, weighing in at an amazing 95 grams. On this count, the Wonderswan Color wins hands down, easily fitting into a pocket. One thing that may annoy some is the battery case on the rear protrudes out about 5 or so millimetres. The game cartridges slip nicely into a port on the back and completely meld into the shape of the console. In fact, the WSC feels slightly odd without a cartridge.

The Wonderswan Color comes in a variety of ''hip'' colors, including see-through casings that are designated as Crystal Orange, Crystal Blue and Crystal Black. In addition, there is Pearl Blue and Pearl Pink which are non-transparent casings that give the hand-held a metallic sheen. Several limited edition casings have also been released to co-incide with popular games such as Gundam and Final Fantasy: these WSCs are almost all white with several graphics on them.

Next is the button layout...you'll notice the WSC has 13 buttons. Yes...13 buttons. They are: the A and B buttons, which serve as the basic command buttons for games. Then there are the X1, X2, X3 and X4 buttons, which are your directional controllers. That's right...the WSC has no D-pad, rather, it relies on 4 closely situated X buttons to serve this purpose. About 10 mm above the X buttons are Y1, Y2, Y3 and Y4 which are placed in exactly the same layout as the X buttons. You may be puzzled as to why these buttons would exist, since in many games they serve little or no purpose, but the answer is simple. You see, some games allow the WSC screen to be turned vertically. In these cases, the Y buttons suddenly become 4 command buttons. I must admit, in the regular horizontal mode, the X buttons and the A and B buttons are placed quite low on the casing, which will cause most people to bend their right thumbs more than you would be used to on all previous handhelds.
The final buttons are the function buttons made of soft rubber. They are the Sound, Start and Power buttons (in that order). The WSC actually has no volume dial, rather, the Sound button can be pressed multiple times to allow you 4 levels of sound.

There is however, one dial on the WSC. It's a contrast control. This helps if the game is using a dark color palette (I'm sure people who have played Castlevania on the Gameboy Advance would understand).

Soundwise, the WSC has one monaural speaker in the top right hand corner, so there is no real improvement over any other handheld before it where this is concerned.

There is an extension port that allows for peripherals and this is located on the right hand side of the console. Unfortunately, the WSC has no earphone jack. Instead, you must buy custom earphones that will fit into this extension port.

Battery-wise, there is an excellent improvement over previous hand-helds. In order to avoid the loss or breakage of often flimsy detachable battery lids, Bandai has designed a battery case that the battery (only 1 AA battery is required) fits into. This case is then slid into the back of the WSC and locked with a sliding clip. If you have trouble imagining this, think about the battery cases that are now supplied to walkmans and mini-disc players. For those such as myself that may not want the slight bulge this battery case creates, it is possible to buy a sleeker Ni-Cad battery and charger produced by Bandai but beware...you will need to plug this charger into a 100 volt outlet.

Finally, the bottom left-hand side of the WSC provides you with a rung that allows you to slip a mobile-phone strap onto. Why no one had ever thought of this concept before for a hand-held is truly beyond me.

SCORE: 8/10 Some practical innovations such as contrast control, strap rung, improved battery design and vertical screen capability. 14 buttons allow for all complex functions to be neatly accounted for. Ultra-slim compact design and very light with a novel choice of colors. Downsides include an ordinary speaker, lack of an earphone jack and buttons that may be placed too low.

SCREEN
The WSC screen is 2.8 inches diagonally and 224 x 118 pixels in size. This makes it slightly smaller than the Gameboy Advance screen by only a hair's breadth. As with the Gameboy Advance screen, it is reflective (not back-lit) in an effort to economize on power, so you will still need to move the screen at angles to best catch the closest light source. Worm lights are available, but my experience on both the WSC and GBA is that they produce more glare than they do illumination. Fortunately, you do have the contrast dial. Keep in mind that the WSC screen is also 118 x 224 pixels wide when it is used vertically.

SCORE: 8/10 Equal to that of the GBA in terms of size and reflectivity and allows for additional vertical use. Downside is that it really offers nothing over the GBA screen.

GRAPHICS
The WSC has a 16-bit processor that runs at 3.072 Mhz, this is lower than the Gameboy Advance's estimated 8 Mhz, but keep in mind that the Super Nintendo system also ran at about 3 Mhz. The WSC color has 512 Kb of memory to work with for all its functions, which is much greater than what the Gameboy Advance can afford.
So how do the games look? The graphics are comparable to the Gameboy Advance. I would say they are about on par for everything except the very best the Gameboy Advance has to offer. If you can remember the graphical capabilities of the Super Nintendo, then that is a good reference point. The still-picture graphics are especially beautiful on the WSC, soft and vibrant without the pixilated harshness the GBA can sometimes produce.

SCORE 9/10: 16-bit processor allows graphics of a SNES level with rich colors and soft tones that separates it from the harshness of the GBA. Additonal contrast control allows for increased adjustability.

SOUND
I've been told the WSC has 4 channels of digital sound, but this can't be appreciated without the earphones. For most of us, we will have to rely on the speaker and its jingling tones that are indistinguishable from the Gameboy Advance except for the fact that they can be adjusted louder. Expect your basic hand-held music and sound effects.

SCORE 7/10: Competent, but nothing new to offer. Sound cannot be truly appreciated without a custom earphone set.

BATTERY
Battery life is an important factor in hand-helds and truly the WSC is Queen. It requires merely one AA battery that lasts an impressive 20 hours of use. How Bandai managed to make the WSC into such a power-miser without compromising any of its functions is something to be marvelled at. Great value here over the vampire that is the GBA. (See DESIGN for an explanation of the battery casing).

SCORE 10/10: Wonderful battery life on just one AA. No compromises made to the system itself because of this.

GAMES
Since the WSC is a Japanese console with no outside release, the games themselves are very much of a Japanese content. Bandai themselves are the main producer of WSC games and as a result, many games under the Bandai license such as GUNDAM are heavily represented. Many popular animations in Japan have WSC games. Examples include Inu Yasha, One Piece, Hunter X Hunter, Yamato, Macross, Card Captor Sakura, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Digimon. These games are story driven and hence text-heavy, so there will be great barriers to those who cannot read Japanese, although you should be able to play the game through trial and error. The WSC also offers action games, including Guilty Gear X, Golden Axe, several shooters and platformers. Puzzle games are also represented with offerings such as Mr. Driller, Soropan and Gunpey EX. But perhaps what will entice foreigners to the WSC the most is the fact that it has support from Squaresoft. Ports of classic RPGs such as Final Fantasy I, II and IV are available as are the SA.GA games and the Front Mission series.

The WSC has a large proportion of RPG, strategy and story driven games that are heavy in Japanese text.

PERIPHERALS
The WSC has several peripherals including screen guard, worm light, link cable, mobile phone adapter (known as the Wondergate), earphones, USB connector, Wonderborg (the Wonderborg is a mechanical bug that can be controlled by the WSC when plugged into it. Think of those Lego robotic kits and you won't be far off) and Wonderwitch (the Wonderwitch allows budding amateur programmers to create their own games on cartridges).

VALUE
The Wonderswan Color retails in Japan for 6800 yen, which is cheaper than the Gameboy Advance. An average game will cost about 4200 yen, which is about equal or slightly cheaper than Gameboy Advance games. You will need to import games though, so conversion rates and shipping costs must be taken into account.

WHO SHOULD BUY THE WONDERSWAN COLOR?
The Wonderswan Color is not suitable for everybody.

Who is this hand-held suited for?
* Those that like Japanese animation. Some of the great animation series have representation on the WSC.
* Those that like Squaresoft.
* Those that like RPGs and strategy games.
* Those that like Japanese-style story driven games that may be lower on animation, action and higher in text and character interaction.

Who should stay away?
* Those who like an abundance of frantic action games, fighting games and platformers.
* Those with a lack of knowledge in Japanese that would be easily frustrated by not being able to understand.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
CPU: 16-bit, 3.072 Mhz, 512K internal RAM, DMA forwarding
ROM: Flash ROM Max 512 Mbit, EEPROM Max 31 Kbit
DISPLAY: 2.8'' FSTN LCD, 224 x 114 pixels, 241 / 4096 colors
SOUND: 4 channels Digital Sound
DIMENSION: 128 x 74.3 x 17.5 mm (width, depth, height)
WEIGHT: 95 grams
BATTERY: One AAA battery, 20 hours continuously
MEDIA: Cartridge, maximum 512 Mbit
FEATURES: Can be played horizontally and vertically, auto power-off when inactive
SHELL COLORS: Crystal Orange, Crystal Blue, Crystal Black, Pearl Blue, Pearl Pink


************* FINAL SCORE *************
(average of the 5 given scores rounded DOWN)

8/10

Fans of Japanese Animation can consider the WSC a 9/10.


Rating: 8

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