Nintendo DS console

Perhaps itís because I have imported for a long time now, but new hardware launches are always very exciting. From the brand-new box with its seal waiting to be cut, and the careful motions you go through to slide the contents out without damaging any of the packaging inside - itís a great moment. Pull out the hardware, remove the plastic bag, and spend a few minutes staring and smelling your new baby. Itís quite sad when you think about it, but who cares. It only happens every few years, so savor the moment and enjoy it. Itís part of gaming if you ask me.

So on to the Nintendo DS then. With this console comes more than just the general excitement you get from ďconsole AĒ or ďhandheld BĒ - we are about to enter some very exciting times with Nintendoís new dual-screen baby. Nintendo claim this will revolutionize handheld gaming forever, so letís see what they have done, and see if they can meet the bold claims.

   

Upon putting the Nintendo in my hands, I was surprised how nice it actually looked. Sure, itís no Sony PSP (which I too have seen, and played on in the flesh), but itís a nice piece of kit. When the machine was first shown at E3 back in May, it looked rather, well.. crap to be honest. It was functional of course, but it looked very basic. Nintendo have since changed the design to what you'll see in the shops, and itsí much nicer now. Open the clamshell design (which has a reassuringly stiff hinge) and the DS locks into its position. It feels nice in the hands, and the small face buttons have a good, solid feel to them. The d-pad too, feels very good Ė similar in size, but much better than that of the Gamecube and Gameboy Advance (SP) d-pad. The shoulder buttons have a great feel to them too, much better than the ones on GBA SP.

The two screens are a good size, and the stereo speakers sit on each side of the top screen. The back of the machine has a slot for the stylus (you get two with the DS - a great move if you ask me because you just know you're going to lose one of them), a blanking plate that has the lithium battery behind it, and two ports. The first port, at the top of the system is for DS games, and the secondary port, at the bottom of the DS, is for GBA games. One very nice touch here is the removal process of the DS cards (these are about the size of digital camera flash cards). To eject the card you push it in to the system, and a spring pops it out and stops it so it won't fall out. You can then remove it. Itís nice, and along with the little disc eject button on the GC disc spindle, it shows Nintendo think about the little things too.

The first time you power the DS up you are presented with a health and safety warning, and you have to touch the screen to continue. A light touch with the stylus or your finger will work. You are then asked to enter various information about yourself; your name, date of birth, favorite colour, and the current date and time. The front-end of the DS is very neat and well laid out. The top screen shows the current date and time, whereas the second screen (the touch screen) shows you what games you have in your system. The top slot is for DS games, and the bottom is for GBA carts.

   

More interesting, however, are the two middle options. The first one is ĎPictochatí, and the second option is for downloading demos, and games from other DS consoles, and presumably demo pods in stores. Pictochat is a wireless chatroom that connects up to sixteen DS machines together for text and picture-based chat. There are numerous server rooms to choose from. I have tried this with another DS owner (on the floor below me at work), and it works flawlessly. I entered chatroom 1, as did he. We found each other instantly, and straightaway we could type or write messages to each other (using the touch screen), or draw rude pictures using the stylus. Itís incredible how well it works, and itís so simple to do. There is no setup procedure - the DS machines just found each other. Incredible stuff. This is going to be massively popular for school kids and office workers alike - you can see the "Nintendo DS banned in schools" newspaper headlines coming like a freight train. It was a very wise move to include this application built-in to the DS.

The stylus is incredibly accurate, and writing is a breeze. Comparing it to PDAs with similar technology and itís clear that Nintendo haven't skimped on quality in this department - the screen accuracy and clarity is easily on par with units costing hundreds of pounds more. From the games I have played so far (Metroid Prime Hunters demo (which is included with the DS), Mario 64DS, and Feel the Magic XY XX), the touch screen works very well indeed, as does the in-built microphone. I will go further into these features in each gameís individual review.

Speaker quality is very impressive indeed, with great clarity and separation. Putting games such as Mario 64 DS into surround mode is superb, as you really do get a surround sound effect that works very well. I prefer wearing some headphones though, and the sound quality really shines here. They have used a very good sound chip this time around, and it shows.

Both the screens are very bright and clear, and the backlit displays (FINALLY, Nintendo) give very crisp images. But does this destroy battery life? No, that too is impressive with numerous machines here hitting between 9 and 10 hours from a full four-hour charge. Thatís with both screens being used, with backlight on and speakers on loud - some of this life also included the wi-fi feature being used too. This is a very impressive figure considering the hardware, so hats off to Nintendo for not making us run for the mains every few hours.

So the DS is a great piece of kit with some impressive features. Is there anything I don't like about it? To be honest, there arenít many serious issues with it at all. Just a couple of niggles. The thumb strap (which is used on the touch screen for greater accuracy when not using the stylus) attaches to the back of the DS and the lead is a bit short. A slightly longer one would be nice, but you can easily remove it, so it's not a major issue. Every time you change a setting or end a chat session you must power-down the DS. It only takes a second or two to get back into the DS, so again itís nothing major, just a minor quibble.

So will Nintendo revolutionize handheld gaming with this? Well potentially, yes they will. It has some very interesting features that are more than just a gimmick, and some of the games released already are showing what can be done with the system, and itís mighty impressive. I think DS is one of the machines many will dismiss until they have actually played on it, and once they have they'll be hooked. Consoles live and die on their games, so it will be very interesting to see what developers come up with in the next six months or so.


Best Bits

- The dual screens.
- The touch screen.
- Speaker quality is excellent.
- Wireless features.
- Pictochat built-in.
- Battery life.
Worst Bits

- Not the prettiest hardware in the world.
- The thumb strap is a bit short.
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© Gamecell 2004