Electronic books have once again become popular among readers. The idea of transforming a paper book into an electronic format isn't a new idea, but with the popularity of devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook, the digital delivery of books seems to be staying put. Nintendo has seen its share of success with handheld gadgets. Their Nintendo DS is arguably one of the most popular handheld machines in the world, and the device's number of non-gaming applications shows the desire for it to be more than a gaming machine. To ride on the success of the electronic book market, Nintendo has teamed up with HarperCollins Publishing to deliver 100 Classic Books to the masses. In terms of what the cartridge sets out to do, it works perfectly.
As the title implies, this cartridge is a compilation of 100 literary classics from the Western world, which turns out to be the title's biggest strength. A majority of literary genres are represented here. You have timeless dramas like King Lear and David Copperfield. Adventures like The Count of Monte Cristo and Lord Jim make an appearance here, as do horror novels like Dracula and Frankenstein. Even children's classics like Through the Looking-Glass and White Fang are available alongside more serious fare like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Each book features a synopsis of the tale as well as author notes and, if applicable, footnotes on things mentioned in the story. If there is one complaint that can be levied against the selection of books, t would be that some of the more modern classics are missing from the list. Books like A Catcher in The Rye, Of Mice and Men, and A Farewell To Arms are nowhere to be seen here, making the collection less enticing for anyone who's interested in authors from the 20th century. This is a complaint that can always be levied against compilations, and it doesn't make the title any less impressive.
As with almost all of the cartridge-based applications for the DS, there is at least one game-like element in the package. The program features a small quiz that will recommend a book based on your answers. The program asks for things like what kind of genre you're in the mood for, what time period you want the book set in, and how long of a story you're willing to read. It isn't much and is barely useful, but it is a nice inclusion nonetheless.
Believe it or not, there is also an online component to the program. After getting your DS set up for Wi-Fi, the program lets you go online to download 10 more classic books for free. Like the ones included in the cartridge, the downloadable books have some variety, from the comedic works of Twelfth Night to thrillers like Secret Agent and adventures like Around the World in Eighty Days. There is no word on whether more classic novels will be added to the download selection, but the inclusion of 10 more books alone makes the investment in the cartridge even more worthwhile. The only caveat to this is that, depending on the books you downloaded, you might not have room for the rest of the novels, forcing you to delete some of the downloaded books to make room for new ones.
There is also a ranking system where you can submit ratings for the books you've read and download ratings submitted by others. You can also send a demo to another DS user locally, though the selection of books that can be sent over is limited, and since the demos only provide small chunks of the book, it only becomes useful if you want to show someone how the program works without having to lose where you are in the book.
The only requirement that the graphics of an application like this must pass is that all of the text is legible under any circumstance. In this case, the program succeeds, as the default text size is legible enough without straining the eyes, even when reading on the original DS model versus the DS Lite, DSi or DSi XL. If the default size is still too small, though, there is an option to enlarge it without a vertical scrollbar appearing. As for the book selection menu, it looks rather nice as you scroll through various book spines to look for the novel you want, almost like a typical bookshelf in a library or bookstore. The only complaint is that the size of the text can make a book seem longer, with each novel reaching page counts of at least 800.
The program has you holding the DS just like a book, and like most DS programs of this kind, there is an option for left-handed people so they can hold the console with the touch-screen on the left side instead of the right. To move forward, you can tap the right side of the screen, and tapping the left side moves you backward. You can also swipe the screen in either direction to get the same effect or tap the bottom of the screen to bring up a scroll bar for much faster navigation. It works well enough with no real problems as far as the controls are concerned.
Believe it or not, there is sound in the game, and it isn't relegated to the sound of a page turning. Outside of the main menu, you can choose the soundtrack you want to hear while you're reading. There are a few calm melodies that can be chosen as well as ambient background noise that ranges from a calm summer day to the bustle of an airport. It is a nice option to have for those who just can't seem to get into a reading mood without some ambient noise. If you prefer to read in complete silence, there is also an option for no background noise at all.
While it has a few bells and whistles, 100 Classic Books is primarily an e-book application, and it does the job well. It's available at the budget price of $19.99, and its value only increases when you throw in the 10 extra downloadable novels. Though it can be argued that all of these books are already public domain and, therefore, can be had for free using other devices, the combination of this cartridge and a Nintendo DS remains a cost-effective and practical solution for those who don't already have portable e-readers or don't wish to tote a laptop or netbook when they want to engage in some quick reading. Unless you live near a library or already have these books in another form, you should have this title if you're a fan of classic literature.
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