Nintendo DS

November 22, 2004


The release of the Nintendo’s newest handheld, the DS, marks a new generation of handheld gaming. While the company has stated that the DS is not a replacement for the highly successful Game Boy/Game Boy Advance line, one can’t help but feel that the DS will overshadow the most recent version of the Game Boy family. Compounding the problem is the fact that the DS sports a second game slot meant for playing GBA games. Because Dots and I both game, having a second handheld is a must; so the SP is staying, but not everyone will see the need to have both systems. The flipside is that a DS owner can purchase new games from both libraries for future play.

The first thing you will notice about the DS is that it is quite a bit larger than the GBA SP. This size increase makes the unit a little bulky and not quite as easy to carry around. The DS does sport the same folding design as the SP, which is a great feature because it naturally protects the two LCD screens-yes, two screens. Nintendo is trying something new in the handheld world by tossing two very bright backlit LCD screens into the DS. The lower screen borrows ideas from the PDA world and uses a stylus and touch screen technology. The idea of a stylus in handheld gaming could really change the face of gaming “on-the-go.” You will also notice dual speakers on either side of the upper screen as well as four face buttons instead of the SP’s two. Shoulder buttons are still present, and the DS now has a Power, Select, and Start button. All of these buttons are situated in the upper corners of the lower half of the unit to prevent accidentally turning on the unit. The DS also comes with onboard Wi-Fi to take advantage of the native Pictochat application and wireless head-to-head games.

From a hardware standpoint, the DS is an obvious step up from the SP-but is it a step in the right direction? Many would say that the addition of a second screen and a stylus does nothing but improve the geek factor and cost of the unit. I would say that Nintendo is trying to think outside the box and in doing so has given developers something back that was previously missing from handheld gaming. Console gamers may take it for granted, but having onscreen maps and various other stats is quite common given the size of the average TV. With the handheld screens being only a few inches large, screen real estate is at a premium and can’t be wasted on maps and various other things. The DS eliminates that problem by giving the developer an auxiliary screen to display maps, inventory, or a bulk of other things that will benefit the gamer directly.

[floatleft][/floatleft]The onboard wireless capability also gives way to impromptu gaming sessions with anyone sporting a DS. It also makes chatting with friends a breeze in class. (Don’t tell your parents that I said this.) The bottom line is that the new features of the DS open the realm of handheld gaming to a whole new world.

The few main concerns that I have seen asked about the DS are: [i]Is it comfortable? Is it awkward to use the stylus?[/i] The new size of the DS does make it a tad bit unusual at first, but I recall the same transition period with my SP. I have no doubt that it will become second nature after you spend some time with it. Regarding the stylus, the answer is yes. To date, I am not totally happy with the games that require interaction with the touch screen during gameplay. The reason for this is that you can either use the stylus or your thumb/finger. Making the transition from stylus to no stylus burns far too much time, so jumping over with my thumb has become my preferred method. I still am not sure how I am going to adapt to games that require the stylus during gameplay, since I use my right hand for holding the stylus-which leaves my face buttons untouched-and using my left thumb to hit the D-Pad as the face buttons seems awkward. Needless to say, I have some adapting to do in the case of games like this. Pretzel assured me that he found it perfectly normal when they played [i]Metroid Prime: Hunters[/i], so I expect this will only be a problem for some people.

The DS also debuts a new type of game cart that packs a ton of space with a very small size. The new cards are smaller than Compact Flash cards and are probably just larger than SD cards. The games also come in plastic cases like the console counterparts. These new cases also have room for a GBA cart. Could GBA games start coming in plastic cases, or are we going to see some DS games use GBA carts or the GBA slot for interesting new ideas? Only time will tell.

[floatright][/floatright]One thing is for sure: the DS is sweet. With all the new features, developers are sure to push the limits and come out with even crazier games. I love a change of pace, so I hope that the developers deliver some top-notch games. As always, you can expect the Nintendo first-party titles to be amazing. The DS is not meant as a GBA replacement, but for the average person, having a DS would be a far better deal since you won’t have to forfeit your GBA library.

While I was skeptical at first, I think the DS is going to be a fantastic new platform. The $149 price tag is going to be steep for some people, and with a new platform the launch library is always a little thin; so waiting a few weeks until after the Christmas season may be smart. I think at this point, you may not have much choice since most stores seem to be sold out. It will definitely be interesting to see in what direction this next generation of handhelds goes, and if the PSP can even get a foothold in this market that Nintendo has dominated for so long.

Score: 5/5

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