First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
The Nintendo DS is the much hyped new handheld console from Nintendo, and competitor to the Sony's PSP. Whilst Nintendo have stated the DS is not a Gameboy replacement, for all intents and purposes it is a more powerful handheld console, and thus will be viewed that way by many people.
- Touch screen, wireless technology, brilliant games
- Not the most powerful thing around
A brilliant, innovative device that has the full support of the Nintendo games machine behind it. If they manage more games like Mario Kart DS, they'll have a winner on their hands.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
The huge selling point of the DS is its dual screen design, which employs a regular screen on top and a touch sensitive screen below. This creates a myriad of innovative ways that the user can interact with their games, but whether or not it is enough to make the DS a long term success remains to be seen. Already there are several brilliant games out there that take advantage of the new technology; some, such as Kirby Canvas Case, almost entirely forgo use of the regular keys all together.
Using the DS was definitely an enjoyable experience. Managing to game away hours without button bashing our thumbs into bloody stumps was a refreshing change. The touchscreen opens entirely new modes of play that we hadn't even considered could be part of a game. In the aforementioned game for example, Kirby has been reduced to a legless ball, and you must use the power of the stylus to draw Kirby through the levels. Tapping him will cause him to move and drawing vertical lines will create walls that stop him. The possibilities are endless.
The dual screen setup also offers better communication of information, by displaying things like maps or other pertinent game information on the second screen. This way, even games utilising the regular controls can still benefit from the new design.
For those not overcome thrilled with the touch screen, the conventional controls also function very well. The DS has a regular directional pad for controlling movement, and four buttons arranged in the standard square format. There are also two shoulder buttons for more complicated games, and the now infamous start and select buttons. We found the DS controls easy to use, although after a few hours play our hands were not thanking us. This really isn't anything to worry about however, as any gamer who has played more than a few hours on a console will quickly attest that sore thumbs are unavoidable; a mark of honour amongst gamers if you will.
We thought that the two screens may be a bit of a power hog, but Nintendo have had years to master the power constraints of handheld consoles, and thus the DS manages a healthy 6 hours of playback on a single charge. Not the longest life we've ever seen, but for a handheld of this quality we were more than impressed. One of the problems that occurs with LCD technology are 'dead pixels' - pixels that just don't work - and these can be very distracting, especially on small screens. In a reassuring move for consumers, Nintendo has offered to fix or replace any units that experience dead pixels - as long as the product is still within it's one year warranty.
One of the most talked about features of the DS has been the ability to play wirelessly, against other players from around the world. All you need is a compatible wireless router and you're good to go. The DS transmits to the router, which picks up the signal and sends it out to other players. No more clunky cables across the table with your friends, the next generation of handheld multiplayer is here. Just recently, Mariokart DS was released, the first title to support this technology, and already people are calling it the best iteration of the series yet; hefty praise considering the success of the franchise in the past. It is hard to comment on these features at this stage, because they have not yet reached maturity, but rest assured there is an enormous amount of potential there. Already implemented in Mariokart are features like region select and a friends list, as well as the ultra-cool rivals list, which allows you to locate and race against that arch nemesis who keeps pipping you at the post.
The other thing that has been discussed endlessly is the comparative power of the DS and the PSP. The DS is definitely inferior, technology wise, but that doesn't necessarily make it an inferior product overall. The graphics on the DS are close to those present on the Nintendo 64, and look great even on the small screen. High powered graphics aren't the be all and end all, especially with the more cartoon orientated style of games currently available on the DS. They may not be the sleek, real world graphics the PSP is aiming for, but Nintendo's target market is clearly different.
The DS comes in at less than one third of the cost of the PSP, and bears all of Nintendo's trademark characters, the characters that have captured entire generations across the world. The likes of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong don't need awe inspiring graphics to perform at their best, and their implementation within the constraints of the DS' hardware will be critical to the console's success or failure. There is a certain amount of attachment to characters you have grown up with, and we loved being able to play all our old favourites with updated graphics and a new control system.
This will be the other critical factor to the success of the console; how well Nintendo's partners take advantage of the touchscreen. The first generation of games on a console never properly utilises all its features. In the coming months and years we will really start to see some innovative ideas pop up. As far as we are concerned, this is just the beginning for the DS; taking into account the potential of the technology and the almost infinite integration with the upcoming (and aptly named) Nintendo Revolution, things will be getting very interesting. At a relatively cheap retail price, it is worth the cost just to see what the future holds.
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