Nintendo DS Thoughts

I’ve owned a Nintendo DS handheld gaming system for a year and a half now.  I recently came across an old Game Boy cartridge, which worked in the original black and white Game Boy.  I couldn’t help but think about how far gaming has come in the past couple of decades, and how much playability there is in the Nintendo DS, which is poised to become a successor to the Game Boy Advance as the top selling handheld gaming system.  There’s a lot to like about the DS, and it does a few things uniquely that other handhelds do not offer.

If you’re not familiar with the DS, it is a dual screen gaming system, which opens as a clamshell design.  The current model is known as the DS Lite (or DSL among fans).  The bottom screen is a touchscreen, which is something that other gaming systems do not have, giving it a unique and unprecedented amount of control over gameplay.  The best games make full use of the touchscreen, some of which I’ve already written about here.   It also offers two multiplayer options–you can either play with a group of DS players in the same room, or you can go online via WiFi (Nintendo calls it WFC) and play either against friends or random opponents around the world.  This all depends on the game, of course, some (like Mario Kart) offering all three options.

As I write this, the available colors are black (onyx), white, pink and crimson (which has a black interior).  Special editions this past holiday season were the metallic pink Nintendogs version with a pawprint logo on the lid (and including a limited edition Nintendogs game version not available separately), and a gold metallic Zelda version, familiar Triforce logo on the lid, that came packaged with the Phantom Hourglass game.

Sound on the DS is stereo, and many games take advantage of a “surround” mode that is actually a widened stereo made possible via a phasing effect, which works very well.  The screen brightness is fantastic, and one can’t help but remember that the original Game Boy system did not have a backlight at all.  Neither did the first Game Boy Advance, either.  Batteries are now rechargeable, so you no longer have to burn through AA batteries every couple of days.  (The bright screen and rechargeable batteries helped make the Game Boy Advance as popular as it was.)

Nintendo may not always have the cutting edge in graphics or technology, but they come out on top in terms of playability.  Like the new Wii system, the DS can easily be played by anyone, even non-gamers.  Pointing and tapping/dragging with a stylus is as easy as the Wii’s motion-sensitive remote, and non-gamers take to the system easily.  Depending on the game, of course.  Games like Big Brain Academy, the Brain Age games, and the mini games in New Super Mario Bros. are easy to manipulate.  Some games don’t translate as well to the stylus interface: Super Monkey Ball is nerve wracking at times, and I found Starfox to be counterintuitive…the tactical parts of the game are easy to work with, but the flight sections of the game are better handled with a traditional joystick.

Wireless play is fantastic.  Now having tried it with an opponent with another DS, it is nice to connect in the same room, or across the house, using only one game cartridge to send games to the other player’s DS.  Gameplay is limited in single-cartridge mode, but is still a lot of fun.  Mario Kart normally gives you 32 courses, but the download play version limits you to 8.  While in the minigames in New Super Mario Bros., the multiplayer mode  actually unlocks a handful of new games not available in single player mode.

With some games, like Mario Kart, you can play worldwide against opponents you  know nothing about, other than a screen name.  But many games let you enter the friend codes of other DS players, so you can actually match up online with people you know.  I’m still waiting to try the friend mode in Mario Kart, but I’ve had visitors to my town in Animal Crossing: Wild World, and have visited their towns as well.

One added bonus is the ability to play your Game Boy Advance cartridges in the DS.  And you can choose which screen to play your game on.

I came across my old Sega Game Gear a few days ago…it was nice looking for its day, the only color backlit system available.  It was quite a bit larger, and unless you used the AC adapter, it ate AA cells, six at a time, like candy.  Given its age, it was impressive in its day.  But the DS is of course leaps and bounds better.  It’s the first handheld game system I’ve really enjoyed fully.  The Advance was a good one also, and a few classic Super NES titles made it onto that system, but the games on the DS have progressed quite a bit further.  Memory capacity is obviously impressive in these tiny cartridges, as they are able to pack all of the Animal Crossing characters into it.  You never feel anything is lacking in these games, where the Advance always felt like a “second banana” (albeit a nice second banana).

The list price has dropped to $129 on the DS, so this is a good time to get one.  Supplies after the holiday are better now than they have been in recent weeks.  Keep reading here at the Corner, as I’ll be writing up my impressions of more of these DS games in the near future.

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