Release Date: November 21, 2004
Buy 'NINTENDO DS': Nintendo DS
The DS is the latest in a long line of handheld game consoles made by Nintendo, which is an innovative new design with the approximate power of a Nintendo 64.
The first thing that you'll notice about the DS is that it's a little bigger than the GameBoy Advance and significantly bigger than the SP. The DS incorporated a good portion of the features that were introduced by the SP, like backlighting, a rechargeable internal battery, GameBoy Advance title support, and the same game power connection. The DS also has comparable a battery life to the SP, about 10 hours, and they also added a low battery indicator.
The biggest difference from the DS and anything that Nintendo has released in the past is the two screens, one of which is a touch screen. These screens are slightly larger than the SP screens and of better quality.
The sound of the system is pushed through two internal stereo speakers on the top flap of the device. It also supports headphones and comes with a 1/8"-inch mini jack along the front edge of the DS. This is a significant improvement over the SP, which required an adapter that plugged into the power port. The volume control is also on the front edge, which is also better than the SP, which I had a tendency to accidentally turn on or off the sound. The DS also can simulate surround sound by affecting the reverb and echo of the sound out of a game, if the title supports it, the first of which is Super Mario 64 DS.
Graphically, this game system is levels ahead of anything before it. The system supports 3D graphics and the included demo of Metroid Prime: Hunters, due out next year, looks amazing. The two screens are put to good use, most games having ancillary information and controls on the bottom screen while a majoirty of the action happens on the top screen.
The internal microphone and the capability to plug in an external microphone in what looks to be a proprietary port, allowing for some interesting thought to what could happen in games in the future. There is already one released game, Feel the Magic XY/XX, which uses the internal microphone.
Linking systems has become easier with this system via the use of wireless connection. The DS uses the 802.11B standard to communicate with other DSes in the area. They have between 30 and 60 feet of range, depending on how many obstructions are in the way. Significant obstructions could severely lower the distance.
The DS comes with Pico Chat, an internal chat program that uses the wireless. The Pico Chat program allows up to four chat rooms to be run in the same area, with 16 people per chat room. Since I do not know too many people with a DS, I have not been able to test this out yet.
Multiplayer also occurs over the wireless connection with some neat features added to it. For example, some titles support multiplayer action with only one game cartridge. The player initiating the game only has to have the cartridge and the other players can download the necessary software for the game session. This is an advantage to getting friends into a game and is similar to spawning, a method of installing software on a PC just for multiplayer without having to purchase multiple copies.
The new game cartridges are much smaller than the GameBoy cartridges of the past. They look like a large SD memory card and are about the size of a stamp. The DS also supports the old GameBoy Advance titles via a second game port. The only problem with this support is that there is no capability to play any multiplayer with the old GameBoy Advance titles on the DS, due to compatibility issues. In addition, there is no capability to play the even older GameBoy cartridges, which is sure to disappoint some of Nintendo’s most loyal customers.
Controls on the game are laid out similar to the SP with the addition of two extra button, X and Y. The start and select buttons have been moved to the upper right corner of the bottom half of the system. The power button is in the upper left corner of the bottom half, and is a nice change from the rocker of the SP. The system turns on with a button push, but requires the button to be held down to turn it off. The A, B, X, and Y buttons are a little small, but in general, this is not too much of an inconvenience. The right and left buttons are much larger than the SP and feel more solid to the touch. The stylus for the touch screen is kept in a slot on the back edge of the DS and there is a thumb stylus attached to the wrist strap.
A good feature of the DS is that it goes into sleep mode if it is closed. This is nice since it makes for a quick pause in gameplay for those any title that does not support saving without checkpoints. It does draw a little power while in sleep mode, so I would not leave it unplugged in this state for a few days, but this is a great way to play in the sporadic style to which many of us have grown accustomed, without having to go through the bootup process each time. The only issue with this feature is that it does not work for GameBoy Advance titles, due to how they implemented the support for those titles.
The system can keep track of the current time and date by an internal clock that is kept running. This clock and calendar feature can be used to keep track of events that have to transpire at a certain time, like for Animal Crossing for the GameCube. In addition, the system asks for the owner’s birthday and Pico Chat will tell everyone in a chat room that it is the owner’s birthday. This could be an interesting feature inside games as well, allowing possible special events to occur on a player’s birthday.
The system boots normally into a main menu, allowing for the owner to go into Pico Chat, a DS game, a GameBoy Advance game, change system settings, toggle the backlighting, turn on the alarm clock, or connect to a DS download game. The menu is compatible with both the touch screen and the normal button controls to facilitate ease of use. There is the ability to boot into a game instead of the menu by a simple settings change; but I found it inconvenient if I wanted to do something else, since I had to take the game out to get to the menu.
I have no real issues with the Nintendo DS since it is a solid piece of design work. The system is a little large compared to the pocket -sized GameBoy Advance SP, but this was only a minor inconvenience to me. The DS at E3 had me worried, but Nintendo actually listened to user feedback and made design changes to fit those suggestions. It is an outstanding upgrade in technology for Nintendo and continues them as the dominant force in handheld gaming.