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Game Boy Camera: Morph Your Friends!

Edward Weston I ain’t. And it’s doubtful the master of straight photography would have approved of all the gizmos built into Nintendo’s latest peripheral for its 9-year-old Game Boy.

But for those of us who just see a green pepper when we look in the refrigerator crisper, Game Boy Camera is surprisingly fun--the perfect way to waste a weekend snapping throwaway snippets of everyday life.

Yes, it’s a real--although low-rent--digital camera that plugs into Game Boy’s cartridge port, turning the liquid-crystal display into a viewfinder and darkroom. An optional printer allows shutterbugs to print out their work on sticker paper.

I went through an entire roll--at $10 a pop--in just two days.

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But I was not always so enthusiastic.

Let’s just say I was skeptical when I heard about Game Boy Camera. Sure, I thought, it’s popular in Japan, where teen-age girls are--or were--fanatical about making stickers of themselves and their friends at coin-operated kiosks. But it all just seemed too weird for America.

Introducing Game Boy Camera here held the potential to be a redux of the flop Nintendo suffered with Virtual Boy, the three-dimensional headache machine. That potential still exists in the fickle gaming market. But after a few days with Game Boy Camera, I am enamored. Next on tap is a digital camera for the Barbie franchise, set to be released in the fall.

The $50 Game Boy camera slides in place like a cartridge, and the opening screen allows users to choose between snapping pictures or browsing their photo album. Electing to shoot turns Game Boy’s screen into a 128-by-112-pixel viewfinder. Line up the picture, adjust the contrast and brightness and hit A to shoot.

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That’s it.

The images are grainy, somewhat better than heliographs that birthed the photographic age more than 170 years ago. Put another way, they look like a scene from a convenience store surveillance video. If that’s all Game Boy Camera could do, its appeal would be limited.

But shooting pictures isn’t even half the fun. Various menus allow users to manipulate their pictures. For instance, I created Hugo the Dog Boy using the camera’s ability to superimpose fangs and a wet nose on an otherwise ordinary mug shot. I also saw what it would look like if Julie and Eric ever had children by blending two face shots together. Not a pretty sight.

(Note: Others not in possession of the camera may find its repeated use annoying, especially when being turned into dog boys or having their mugs blended with co-workers.)

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Although the camera holds 30 images in memory, the optional thermal printer allows users to make black-and-white stickers. The printer, about the size of a Game Boy, works like a charm. I printed out dozens of stickers in a row at a birthday party and the thing chugged along without a jam or a hitch.

Even professional photographer friends were amazed at the size and range of Game Boy Camera.

ARMY MEN: Sadly, “Army Men’s” nostalgic concept is better than its game play. The idea: Command a squad of plastic soldiers through a series of 30 combat missions in what could have been the perfect marriage of low-tech and high-tech toys.

Although “Army Men” delivers fast-paced, top-down combat with the ability to call in air strikes and order paratroop drops, there’s really not much new here. Multi-player action over the Internet is fun for a while, but often feels a little like “NetWar.”

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Single-player games pit squads against digital opponents that just don’t seem very smart. Scenery rolls nicely on faster machines and the graphics contain nice touches of detail. But fighting through that scenery can be problematic because some of the keyboard controls aren’t very intuitive.

“Army Men” needs a Pentium 90 with at least 16mb of RAM, but runs better on a Pentium 133 with 24mb of RAM and 2mb of video memory. The game consumes 115mb of hard drive space on a minimum installation and 150mb on the recommended installation.

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Times staff writer Aaron Curtiss reviews video games every Monday in The Cutting Edge. To comment on a column or to suggest games for review, send e-mail to aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Essentials

Game Boy Camera

Platform: Nintendo Game Boy

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Publisher: Nintendo

ESRB* rating: None

Price: $49.99 for the camera; $59.99 for the printer

Bottom line: A shutterbug’s delight

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Army Men

Platfor: PC CD-ROM

Publisher: 3DO

ESRB rating: Teen

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Price: $39.99

Bottom line: Cool concept, mediocre execution

*Entertainment Software Ratings Board

*

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Next week: “Panzer Dragon Saga,” “The House of the Dead,” “Major League Baseball” and “Deathtrap Dungeon”


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