Review by Phange

"Fundamentally, the DS is a good system. Realistically, it needs to prove itself."

Ask a Nintendo fan if their beloved company has ever made a mistake, and they -might- mention Virtual Boy, but chances are they'd probably shake their head. There's a reason for this: Nintendo makes quality products, and their handheld line is literally spotless aside from the massive virtual blunder. That said, plenty of game aficionados and some gaming news agencies have passed more than a casual question mark about the Nintendo DS. Is it something Nintendo can maintain in the current market? Can Nintendo simultaneously provide support to a console and TWO handhelds? Will the DS be one of a kind or can Nintendo somehow start a chain of DS successors? All of these are legitimate concerns about the new handheld, and for the most part none can be answered. Nintendo has been criticized for creating the DS as a "stopgap" against Sony's PSP device, simply using the DS to buy time while they work on a superior Gameboy to release in the next few years. They may be right, and if so, all the loyal Nintendo fans who bought into the innovations of the DS would be very upset. Whatever the case, this isn't a review of Nintendo's intentions... instead, it's a review of the Nintendo DS, its likely future, and its capabilities as a handheld gaming device.

Graphics

First and foremost, if you're looking for a graphical showcase the Nintendo DS simply can't compete with the vastly superior PSP. That said, the DS is a huge upgrade over the SNES-level Gameboy Advance. Comparatively speaking, the DS is marginally similar to the Nintendo 64, although each platform has graphical features that aren't present on the other. For example, the Nintendo DS lacks the Nintendo 64's coveted Bilinear Filtering, which makes polygons look smoother and less pixelated. It also lacks stable polygon drawing, something akin to the Playstation One era. However, the DS sports some interesting hardware-based graphical features like Cel Shading and polygon transformation that didn't really exist during the days of the Nintendo 64.

It's a bit of a give-and-take, really, and aside from very technical differences between the two platforms, one could very easily compare the two favorably to each other.

Nintendo's focus on the DS's 3D capabilities has been a bit misleading, as quite a number of quality 2D games that look no better than Gameboy Advance titles have been released. 3D is a perk of the Nintendo DS, but it isn't the primary feature.

Sound

Once again Nintendo chose the card-based medium for its handheld, which is both a blessing and a curse in a number of ways. In terms of sound, it's mostly a curse. Generally speaking, most games feature quality MIDI soundtracks in order to free up space on the relatively small 1 GigaBIT cards (that's 128 Megabytes). As a handheld this is perfectly acceptable and nobody should hold it against the DS.

Surprisingly, the DS actually 1-ups the PSP by having louder, more vibrant speakers. The DS can put out some serious audio through its very prominent speakers, and even Gameboy Advance games sound infinitely better on the fantastic stereo speakers.

Ergonomics

The DS isn't the most comfortable handheld in the world, mainly because it's too slim at the base and because using the touchscreen can be a real hassle while standing up. The button layout is basic, with more than a passing nod to the original SNES diamond design.

The D-Pad is a bit of a disappointment, being very thin and "clicky". The DS probably won't make a very good 2D fighting game handheld, but then again neither will the PSP.

There's a DS card slot at the top and a Gameboy Advance cartridge reader at the bottom of the unit, and for the most part these two slots don't clutter up the rest of the unit. In the right top corner you can store the stylus (a disappointingly small stylus, I might add) and at the bottom of the unit are the earphone plugs and the volume control.

In a strange twist of fate, the power button is now on the control face of the unit. Strange, but PDA-like I suppose.

It's not bad, but you can tell that Nintendo slapped the design together fairly quickly. It gets the job done, but don't expect to feel as comfortable as you did when you first held the Gamecube controller.

Features

In terms of extras, there really isn't much the DS can do right now other than play DS and Gameboy Advance games. Pictochat is a nearly worthless program without internet functionality. It's pretty obvious that Nintendo designed the DS for games and only games.

The DS cannot play Gameboy Color or Gameboy games because it lacks the z80 processor found in the Gameboy Advance.

When paired up with the PSP, the DS can't hold a candle to the PSP's features. As a gaming system, however, the DS has the advantage of touchscreen control... but lacks true analog control (which has a significant impact in games like Mario 64 DS)

Overall / Value

It's much cheaper than the PSP and arguably has better games, so true gaming-only handheld shoppers would be inclined to get this first. It also plays Gameboy Advance games, which itself is a library of thousands of games.

The DS is a neat system with potential, but it's going to have to prove itself against the more powerful and menacing Sony PSP. Who will be the victor? Only time will tell.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/19/05


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