Players: | Release Date: 03/28/17 | Genre: Hardware
Nintendo's big focus this holiday season seems to be the Nintendo DS. Even Metroid Prime 2: Echoes seems to have been pushed aside to shine the spotlight on Nintendo's handheld revolution. It was all so quick too. It was just six months ago that the Nintendo DS was first revealed to the world at E3, and now the system is premiering in North America. This is the first system that Nintendo has ever launched outside of Japan.
By now, most anyone reading this will know all of the DS's main features. When creating a new handheld, Nintendo aimed not only to improve the technology in a more straightforward manner, but they set out to create new ways to play. I am personally a fan of this philosophy. A straightforward Game Boy upgrade would have been something like the Sony's PSP. It would be like Game Boy, but with better 3D graphics. Sure that's pretty cool, but what I like about the DS is that it gives game designers even more options. We can still have more traditional games to play on the DS, but in addition, we can now have new types of games that wouldn't even be possible otherwise.
The DS has several new features, the most obvious of which is a second screen. At the very least, the dual screen setup can simplify and clarify a gaming experience by separating statistics, menus, and maps from the main view of the action. Game designers can also make more innovative use of both screens by providing two different views of a game world or puzzle simultaneously. Sure, in some games, the second screen will not be as significant as it might be in some other DS games. The great thing is that in the games I've seen so far, a second screen can improve all types of gameplay by offering quick access to maps and menus, and it also makes new types of game mechanics possible.
Probably just as important as the second screen, if not more so, is the touch-sensitivity of the lower screen. Again, while this isn't going to be greatly utilized in every DS game, it gives game designers more options, and new types of gameplay can be created that weren't possible before. I've already played with some games and demos that make great use of the touch screen. This is one of the DS's best features. It's up to game designers to make good use of it, or ignore it if they choose to. Like the second screen, it's just another feature that provides more possibilities. The included stylus is thin so that it stores easily within the system. Though it seems fine to use, I prefer to use a stylus with a thicker body (about the size of a pen) if I am playing for more than a few hours. I also like the thumb strap that is included with the system. Basically, it's a little plastic nub that you place on your thumb and secure with a strap. This allows you to slide your thumb easily across the Touch Screen. Using this control method mimics an analog stick very well. It's the method I prefer when playing Super Mario 64 DS. Using the stylus or thumb strap takes some getting used to as they are not as familiar as a standard D-pad. However, I believe they have their advantages and that all gamers should give them a try.
Wireless communication is an obvious feature to include in a modern handheld gaming device. Decades from now, our kids will be amazed by the fact that we ever sat tangled together with three other friends just to play a game. Of course, the convenience of wireless multiplayer is obvious. There are no extra cables to buy or carry around. It makes it much easier to start up a multiplayer game on a whim. The wireless capabilities are pretty good. I have tested six player multiplayer games and have also chatted with fifteen other people. As far as the DS goes, its wireless hardware is fine. Nintendo guarantees a 30 ft range, but the DS is actually capable of communicating wirelessly at least 100 ft away from other systems. Of course, the DS does accept standard interference from other electronic devices that emit radio waves such as cordless phones and walkie-talkies, but from what I've seen so far, the DS's wireless capabilities are excellent. Depending on the game, up to 16 people can be playing together, though 4-6 player games are more likely. The DS also has the ability to connect to the Internet or LAN via Wi-Fi. This means that online handheld gaming is a real possibility. Though Nintendo has not announced any plans officially, rumor has it that Warp Pipe Technologies is working on some type of system to make DS Internet multiplayer a reality (check out their logo at the top of their page). Actually, it is known that Warp Pipe is now officially working on something for Nintendo related to the DS. The rumors are about what precisely it is that Warp Pipe is doing. Regardless, local area wireless gaming is great, and it looks like we will see some form of online play in the near future.
Like the Game Boy Advance, the DS allows multiple users to play a multiplayer game using only one game card. This process is fairly simple. For instance, say one person has the Super Mario 64 DS and would like to play the game with three other friends who do not have the game. The three players who do not have the game set their DS do a downloading mode in which their DS systems search for multiplayer games being hosted in the area. This is done through the DS's built-in system menu. The person that has the game simply hosts the game in "Single-Card Mode" and waits for other players to join. Not all games have this feature however. For instance, the Metroid Prime: Hunters –First Hunt demo requires everyone to have the game card in order to play a multiplayer game. Just as with GBA games, some single-card multiplayer modes will be limited, and some games will not have a single card multiplayer mode at all. It's up to the game developer. So far, my experience has been that setting up and playing these games has been pretty simple, and the wireless communication works well.
Another new feature of the DS is its microphone. Already a few games are using this feature. Again, it simply gives game designers more possibilities when they create their games. The microphone can be used to recognize voice commands, or if and when the DS goes online, it can be used for voice chatting. The DS has both a built in microphone and a jack to connect a headset.
The DS also includes other obvious upgrades. It is capable of both 3D and 2D graphics, though only one screen can display 3D graphics at a time. The quality of the 3D graphics is reminiscent of the Nintendo 64, but it is better. So far in the some of the games I've seen, it seems that there is a similar amount of geometry to Nintendo 64 games, but texture and lighting quality is better. The Metroid: Hunters demo shows off the system really well and I think it looks pretty amazing. If anyone remembers the difference between Nintendo 64 games released in 1996 and Nintendo 64 games released in 2001, then they will realize that games will continue to look better and better as game developers become more adept with the system. I think that Metroid: Hunters already looks great, and it's a first generation game. In a year or two, the 3D games on the Nintendo DS will look even more amazing. The DS also has improved sound capabilities. Two built-in speakers let you enjoy stereo sound, but I still think that headphones should be used for the best experience.
The physical quality of the DS is up to Nintendo's standards, which are excellent. The system is sturdy and well built. Of course, Nintendo always recommends that users be careful when using the system, but after several hours of experience, I have found that the Nintendo DS is tough and well built. The Touch Screen resists scratching pretty well and it can withstand a good amount of pressure. From my experience, the touch screen is very accurate and easy to use. Though it's a bit heavier than the Game Boy Advance, the DS still feels good in my hands. The button placement is comfortable and they all have a satisfying click.
The screens have a slightly higher resolution than the Game Boy Advance screen does. The lighting quality is also superior to that of the Game Boy Advance SP. There aren't really any complaints here. The upper screen can lock into two positions to fit the user's preference.
A system menu embedded into the Nintendo DS gives the user access to several options. The Nintendo DS has an internal clock which keeps track of the date and time. Not only can you use this to set an alarm (like a watch), games can use this internal clock to affect what happens in the game as well. The user can give their system a name, which is what is shown when playing multiplayer games. There are several other options as well including language, calibration, and light settings.
One cool feature that can be accessed from the system menu is PictoChat. It's a chatting program that allows you to send text messages and hand-drawn pictures to other Nintendo DS users. Although it's unlikely that so many people with DS's would be near each other, up to 64 different users can all be chatting in four separate chat rooms (16 users in each) simultaneously. PictoChat is pretty fun, and because it's built into the system, you'll always be ready for a chat. I can't imagine that older gamers will get much use out of it, but it is still fun to screw around with.
Nintendo DS uses small media called game cards. A game card is about half the size of a GBA cartridge and it's about half as thick. After being inserted into the DS, a game card can be ejected by pushing it down so that it springs out. Don't worry, the game card clicks into place when it is partially in or out so that cannot fall or shoot out of the system when it is not all of the way in the slot. The Nintendo DS can also play Game Boy Advance games using its secondary Game Pak slot. In fact, since both a GBA game and a DS game can be inserted at the same time, DS games can exchange data with GBA games. A Sega game called Feel the Magic XY/XX already does this. The Game Pak slot can also be used to insert future accessories. Understandably, the DS can only play Game Boy Advance games and does not play Game Boy Color or original Game Boy games. This has to do with the fact that even in the Game Boy Advance, there were actually two sets of hardware inside the casing. One was for the new GBA games and one was for old GBC and Game Boy games. Including the ability to play old GBC and Game Boy games into the DS would have been impractical. Likewise, GBA games can only be played in single player mode because the DS only uses wireless communication which is incompatible with the Game Boy Advances wired communication methods.
You needn't worry about the battery life of the DS. I think it's a little shorter than the Game Boy Advance SP, but it has not caused me any grief. The system comes packaged with a charger/AC adapter which means that you'll never have to buy batteries or an AC adapter. Nintendo was also nice enough to include one extra stylus and the thumb strap mentioned earlier.
I am very pleased with the Nintendo DS hardware. It's built to the high quality standards that Nintendo is known for. All of the new features do nothing to detract from game design; they only stand to multiply the possibilities for new types of gameplay. The graphics capabilities, while not as impressive as the PSP, are still amazing. The only thing I could really ask for is an analog stick. Yes, I think that the Touch Screen is one of the greatest ideas for handheld gaming, but an analog stick would have been nice too. I don't think it will be that big of a deal though, especially since the thumb strap is a nice substitution. My only other complain about the Nintendo DS is the launch line-up. In fact, it's the main reason that I'm not giving it an A+. As a piece of hardware, I don't really think there are any flaws. However, Nintendo does not have a launch line-up to really drive home how awesome all of the DS's innovative features can be. Sure, Super Mario 64 DS is a great remake that's more than just a port. However, I think that the DS's real killer apps are coming out in 2005. Nintendo was smart to include a Metroid Prime: Hunters demo with the Nintendo DS because it shows of the wireless multiplayer, Touch Screen, secondary screen, and 3D graphics of the system really well. I think Metroid will be a killer app for the DS in 2005 along with a handful of other games.
I've heard a lot of talk about Nintendo DS's unique features simply being gimmicks and I just don't see it that way. The way I see it, the dual screen setup, Touch Screen, microphone, wireless communication and more give game designers more ways to use their imagination to give gamers new ways to play games. In terms of game mechanics, the Nintendo DS can do what the PSP can do and so much more. It's not like game developers are forced to use the microphone or the Touch Screen or any other feature of the DS. The point is that there are many more options available to them. Because of the games (or lack of) available right now, I can't honestly say that you need a DS right now. However, I do think that it's an awesome system and that by the end of 2005, there will be a lot of incredible games for the Nintendo DS.