Malik (12/01/04)

Nintendo DS

Nintendo (Obviously)

So, the big holiday release this year is shaping up to be the Nintendo DS. For some people, this little trendy system is a ture piece of gadgety wonder. On the other hand, some people have problems with it just because it seems like a trendy piece of shit that has about as much future as Nintendo's previous piece of trendy shit (the Virtual Boy). So, which one is it? Does it actually have any merits? Should someone buy one? Does it have a future? All of these questions may or may not be answered in the next few paragraphs. 

Since this is a console, I won't handle things in my usual review format, but rather as a special review...let's see how this works. 


This system has the same basic shape as the original GBA (the non-SP version). It's wide and it's not so small as to crunch the hands of anyone over the age of 7. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. In terms of comfort, however, it is purely a good thing. The system is wide enough to fit in the hands of even the largest of people with far more comfort than any previous system, with the exception of the original GBA (to which it's about equal). 

Also, the button layout and design is brilliantly executed. The four face buttons, plus the start and select buttons, are all located on the right side of the console with a easy to reach layout. Also, the buttons are put down in a style that forms a cross key, which comes in handy when you use the touch screen as a control, if you use the touch screen with your left hand. However, since so many left-handed people are accustomed to using their right hand for mouse use on a PC, it doesn't really matter that you can use the system in this backwards configuration (this is not some stereotype on lefty people, since I am proudly one of these "sinister" freaks...only one out of seven people are lefties, so we lefties are freaks). However, if you are not a PC user and still are a left handed person with aspirations to try the DS, this could be to your advantage. The only possible issue with these face buttons is how they are mighty small. While it doesn't hamper actual usage of the system, it will invoke some additional learning curve time to handing the system. 

The cross key is also small and suffers from this same dilemma. However, once you become accustomed to it, it is quite easy to use and love. It's basically a slightly smaller version of any other Nintendo made cross key ever built since the days of the NES. 

Most importantly, when compared to the SP, the DS is wide enough to give us real shoulder buttons. The buttons are full sized, and not just the little nubs found on the DS. I know that many full sized people had some problems with the small L and R buttons on the SP, and the DS handles this with extra large should buttons. 

The second screen is on the flip top case, and thus it is elevated from the rest of the control scheme. This means you can comfortably see the main visual screen with no issues at all. Your hands will never block this screen when played in a normal way. The touch screen, also is relatively un-obscured in normal game play. Since the screen is between the cross key and the face buttons, your hands will not block this screen from any realistic angle. However, when you use the screen as a controler, you may have some problems. But in such games you are usually meant to only view the screen when you are not actually in action (in other words, you're meant to use the touch screen as a viewable screen only when there's a break in the action, so it doesn't hurt you to pull away your hand). 

One important factor, with this new design and technology, however, is how comfortable the touch screen actually is when in use. This is both a good and bad point for the DS. On one hand, the included stylus is a pain...literally. It is obviously designed for a smaller handed individual, while the system, ironic enough, is being marketed towards older (and typically larger handed) people. The stylus is small enough to make one's hand cramp from extended use. However, on the other hand, the thumb pad, that is meant to serve as an analogue controller on certain titles, is really comfortable. This pad is attached to the wrist strap, and thus is on a long enough cable to be able to reach the screen, but not on a long enough strap to actually hinder one's movement (from it tangling, etc). As for the actual comfort of using the touch screen; it's in the middle of the system and clear of all possible obstructions (and clear of being an obstruction). So, if you feel like picking up a larger stylus (they are available) that won't fit into the DS built-in carrying hole, then you're golden. 


The DS, in short, is very responsive. It has all of the responsiveness one would come to expect from any first party Nintendo controller/portable. The screen is quick to pick up your touch, the buttons are quick and are smooth to the touch (as in, if you press them, you will feel only a slight, and needed, level of resistance to their movement), the cross pad is top-notch (like all Nintendo cross keys have been since the NES days). There is nothing to complain about, and not much to say since it's the usual Nintendo quality you'd come to expect. 

Sound and Visuals 

The sound quality out of the built in stereo speakers (located to the sides of the top screen) are definitely a step up from what previous portables have given us. The sounds are crisp and clear and, best of all after how the SP was, able to get some nice volume to them. Beyond that, there is also, on some titles, a simulated surround sound that actually is pretty impressive for a $150 portable system. You won't notice much of a difference over standard stereo, but that little bit is a nice bonus. 

Also, unlike the SP, the headphone jack is standard issue. No more worrying about buying a headphone adapter. Also, the headphone jack is designed to take a headset (mic plus headphones). This is of no real use right now, but can serve some nice purposes if some rumors come to truth (like the rumor of the DS eventually being VOIP compatible). Also, like with the built in speakers, headphones sound clear, crisp, and of nothing less than higher quality than any portable has ever given us before. 

As for the visuals...well, they are breath taking. However, this is only really true when the system is live and running (still shots don't do the DS any justice). As an example, Mario 64 looks about 4-6 times more detailed on the DS than the N64 version ever looked. The resolution is really high and clear, and the frame-rate is first class for a portable. It's not like you'll see anything more detailed than a standard console of this generation, but this is the highest quality you'll see from a portable (at least until the PSP comes along...then, we'll just have to wait and see which one is king). 

Also, like with the SP, there is that backlight (or front light, or all has about the same final effect to anyone short of the most picky of geeks) we've come to love. Also, like with the SP, you can turn off the backlight with a little work (more work than the face button on the DS, however). Some games will have a menu option to turn off the light, while others won't give this feature. However, if worse comes to worse, you can always turn it off (if, for some weird reason, you like to not see the screens) from the DS main menu. 

Bonus Stuff 

The DS includes a few nifty bonuses that I've found myself enjoying. The first of which is the included (built-in) software. The main menu, found when you start up the DS without a cart (or automatically at any time if you select the option for it), is a nice bonus in itself. This menu contains a standard issue of configuration options. These include selecting your DS name (for multiplayer games, chatting, etc), setting the time, selecting a menu color, asking if you'd like to automatically boot a cart or enter the main menu by default, remembering your birthday (probably for a special b-day greeting), etc. Also, there is an included calendar that is nice for those of of who may use it. 

Best of all, however, is the Picto-Chat utility. This is a small utility that allows for an IM-like chat room from your DS. The built-in software allows for up to 4 chat rooms with 16 people each to exist in one network. At first, this seemed like a useless utility, but it can be a good way to set up a multiplayer game in a public area (turn on the DS, see if anyone is in Picto-Chat, ask them if they want to play something). Also, in P-C, you will be able to use a touch screen keyboard (click a letter on the screen with the stylus), free-drawing and writing to write a message, or a combo of both. 

On the note of playing a game with strangers, or friends for that matter, you can use the high speed transfer of the wireless DS connection to share a game. From the main menu, if you have a game which only requires one cart for multiplayer (like Mario 64) that you want to play, but don't have the cart yourself , you can select the "Download" option from the main menu. Then the DS will look for anyone sharing a game (which is set up within a game by the host) and then you can download your game selection and join the game. However, this only works for titles that support multiplayer on one cart (which is signified on the box of games that support it). 

Also, the DS has two cartridge slots. One, on the top, is for the new DS rom carts. These carts are much, much smaller than the GBA and GB carts of the past. However, on the bottom of the system is a GB/GBA sized slot. The primary purpose of this is to serve as a connection port for peripheral devices. Not many of these devices have been announced yet, but one example is a TV Tuner (Japan only, so far). However, the secondary purpose of this slot is for backwards compatibility. Yup, you can play GBA games on the DS. Also, by playing in the menu, you can even pick which screen to show the game on (which may seem minor, but it's fun to customize shit for no reason). However, for some sick and twisted reason, you cannot play GB games on this slot...only GBA. Also, if you chose to have your DS enter the main menu by default on boot up, you will be able to freely pick which slot is loaded, in case you have two carts currently plugged in. 

Also, as everyone should be aware of, by now, Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (a demo of the upcoming Metroid DS game) is included with the DS. This is not too bad of a free item, assuming you know people who have the DS. Otherwise, the single player training mode is quite shallow and only worth a few plays. In terms of what one usually gets with a new system, this is still a good bonus...however, compared to the days of Tetris with the GB, Mario with the NES, and Altered Beasts (and later Sonic 2) with the Genesis, this is a rather pathetic bonus. Particularly since this title will only appeal to a small number of fans compared to what a platformer or a puzzle game would reach out to. 

Lastly, the DS has a built in battery pack, included AC adapter/recharger, a second stylus, and the wrist strap/thumb pad. All of these are pretty standard issue, but it definitely beats getting a GB or the original GBA and not getting anything more than a few included batteries for a total of 6 hours of game time before you have to shell out $30 for a battery pack. 


So, in the end, like with all consoles and game systems, the ultimate deciding factor of how good the DS is will come down to two things...who makes the games, and how good these games are. If Nintendo can keep up a steady and strong supply of developers and games (like they have done with the GB and GBA in the past) then things should look great for the DS. The design is brilliant, the controls are smooth and responsive, the technical abilities are as flawless as a portable can be. What more could you ask for (besides more games)? I, based only on the hardware and not on the available games (which are pretty skimpy so far), have to give the DS a 9.0 out of 10. There are some minor flaws, which won't hinder a gamer too much (like how you have to reset the system every time you want to exit a menu in the system menus...including just looking at the config settings, not changing them, and then wanting to use Picto-Chat), but are noticeable enough to require a less than perfect score. While the system may seem trendy and pointless at a casual glance, the true value comes out once you actual give the thing a shot.