Review by Bach_741

Reviewed: 08/12/05

8/11/05 Nintendo DS Review - by, the guy who waited until now to buy one.

Needless to say, this review is geared more towards the late DS purchaser, be that fact intentional, or unintentional, as was the case with myself. I had never really planned on waiting this long after its release to buy the DS – in fact, I had never planned on purchasing one at all. Rarely do I wait close to a year after a release to buy anything videogame related – software or hardware. The story goes: I showed a friend Wario Ware: Twisted on my SP, he liked it and bought the game, as well as a DS… I liked the DS and bought my own. (There… don’t you wish everyone told stories as simply as that?)

First, we’ll look at this purchase you’re considering making (a position I figure roughly 90% of anyone reading this review would be in) from an objective point of view. Let’s square up the corners, whip out the abacus, and look at the numbers. The SP was a fantastic system. The idea of holding a fully-functional Super Nintendo in the palm of your hand was largely appealing. I purchased mine when they were $99, and never regretted a penny of it. Now, you’re looking at buying a Nintendo 64 (which the DS is roughly comparable to), which also sits in the palm(s) of your hand(s), and plays both the GBA titles AND those released specifically for the system, for $149.

Numerically, the price-per-processing-punch makes a great deal of sense:
Pay $99 for the handheld 16-bit system
Pay $149 for the handheld *64-bit system (*it may or may not be 64 bits exactly, but that’s the system we’re shadowing the DS against, so… shut up)

Obviously – 4 times the power, for only 1-and-a-half times the price is a better deal. If you can’t figure that one out, maybe you shouldn’t be playing video games.  Also, consider that you’re getting two screens instead of one, brilliant colors, touch-screen technology, stereo sound, wireless multiplayer, and the backwards compatibility. If that doesn’t float your boat, well… go buy a PSP then.

Now, we’ll start hitting it from a more subjective point of view:

Starting with the worst first, let’s address the controls. Definitely not bad, given the tool you choose to wield, but also not the system’s strong point. Yes, everything you’ve read about the buttons is true. I scoured every ‘gee, the buttons are small’ comment on this entire website. Low and behold, when I finally laid eyes on the system for the first time, my initial response was… you guessed it; “Gee… the buttons really ARE small!” (These are the face buttons we’re talking about here – A, B, X and Y – the shoulder buttons are just fine) NOTE: I don’t really expect the size of these buttons to interfere with your game play. True, they could be larger, but their positioning on the unit is just fine, and once you can remember which one is which (been a LONG time since I had a SNES controller in my hands), you’ll do great.

How about the thumb stylus? Useless. The one game I thought may have the slightest use for it (SMB64) turned out allowing me much better control through the pen-stylus, and even the d-pad. In fact, of the five or six DS titles I have played so far, I would love to know if anyone actually utilizes the thumb stylus for any of them – except the obvious few unfortunate enough to have lost both their pen-styluses. (Yes, the DS even comes packaged with an extra one) Aside from the tiny buttons, and awkward thumb stylus, the controls are, for the most part, ‘good’. Nintendo has made a noble effort to offer alternate button layouts in games, catering to those who choose to operate through different mediums – even the left-handed have the option of switching things around in some titles.

This does not escape the fact that, sometimes, the unit can be the slightest bit taxing to hold, especially at first. While it certainly is not a heavy unit by any means, switching from an SP to a DS will be a noticeable difference. Once you slip into the grooves of your games, and know which hand position serves each the best, you’ll be perfectly fine. Every once in a while you’ll wish you had an analog stick – especially when your stylus reaches the border of the touch screen as you’re trying to make Mario run faster! – but I said we’d hit the worst first, and we did. A very slight aggravation over the occasional inaccuracy is easily outweighed by the freedom and excitement the touch screen adds. Even on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d still give the DS’s control – worst of all attributes – a 7. And remember… George W. pretty much graduated from college with a ‘7 out of 10’, and HE’S president. (DS for Mayor, anyone?...)

Bottom line: you may be turned off by the controls at first, like I was, but all you really need is a little patience, and a little time, before you’re hooked.

From what I’ve heard, there weren’t many games for the system at launch, and, frankly, there really aren’t many available now. Still, that shouldn’t detract from the rating of the system itself, which I’ve actually seen done in a few other reviews. If we were rating Nintendo as a whole, THEY would receive the red marks for not providing the DS enthusiast with a broader library. The fact that there aren’t many titles to choose from has absolutely nothing to do with the functionality of the unit… just making that point clear.

Unless you plan on, for whatever reason, being stealthy and secretive with someone who also owns a DS, you will most likely have absolutely no use for the Pictochat function available in the unit’s boot menu. I’ve never really grasped Pictochat’s concept, to tell you the truth. If the wireless range of the DS is 30-100 feet, and you’re going to bother typing / scribbling in a message to another person within that range… why not just WALK over to the person, and actually speak your message to them!? Or forget about walking and just yell? I understand that society in Japan – home base for Nintendo – is rather different than ours, and that finding a group of DS players, completely anonymous to one another, might actually provide a social outlet for some closeted, friendless gamer. Still, chatting on the internet is fair because a) you’re doing it from the comfort of your own home, and b) you’re communicating with people from all over the world. The concept of actually taking that internet WITH you, meeting up with someone where you’re close enough to verbally communicate, and then using that internet function to talk to each other – the concept beguiles me. Yeah, maybe if you and a friend have a class together, and want to talk or share answers without the teacher or professor knowing… yes, maybe then is it applicable. The functionality of Pictochat will depend largely on your lifestyle, I guess. My friend, who tests the multiplayer capabilities of the system with me, and I had a few good minutes of laughing and sending pictures / messages back and forth to each other. After that, we were pretty sure we would never have another use for the application again.

Speaking of wireless, my ‘DS buddy’ and I put a number of games through their multiplayer paces recently, and frankly – had a pretty good time doing so. In case you didn’t get the memo, a good handful of the DS titles are capable of supporting multiplayer action through the utilization of ONE game cartridge; also known as Single Cartridge Multi-play. In several cases, that multi-play is broadened if all participants have copies of the game; known as Multi Cartridge Multi-play. Obviously, you’re going to have more stages to choose from / characters to select / variety to enjoy when each player has their own copy of the title at hand. Still, don’t let that detract you from thinking Single Cartridge Multi-play is fun, because it is! Sure, you’re going to limit yourself as far as variety goes, but hey – when was the last time you played multiplayer ‘anything’ on two separate systems without having both / all competitors need their own copy of the game? This is a feat that Nintendo tackled well; an attribute that anyone who enjoys owning a broad library of titles will be sure to indulge in at great lengths.

Let’s see, what else?...

Is it at all possible for a system to have cartridge sizes that are too small? If you answered ‘no’, then you must not misplace things as often as I do. Seeing how an entire DS game cartridge could be completely hidden from view by lying it underneath your standard matchbook, or even a stamp, they’re almost ‘too small for comfort’. Handy? Absolutely. Heading down the air-conditioner vent if you’re unfortunate enough to drop it at just the wrong angle? Also absolutely. If you plan on purchasing multiple games, find a trusty container of some sort to keep every cartridge in, immediately. If you try leaving these things lying around like N64 cartridges… well, let’s just say don’t be surprised when the family dog poops out your copy of Meteos, because it could totally happen. (How’s THAT for mid-air docking!?)

What’s our evaluation? This is a two-handed system which requires pen-stylus usage, a moderate level of physical co-ordination, and super-tiny games.
What’s our conclusion? This system is NOT for clumsy people!

Oh, and by the way; thank you, Nintendo, for actually putting a standard headphone jack in the friggin’ system this time, and not making us wear these goofy-looking clip-on things that came standard with the SP, and connected via a port that looked like anything BUT a standard headphone jack. (That one blew my mind.) Also, on the topic of sound, prepare to be impressed! In a quiet setting, even raising the DS volume to the halfway point will provide you with plenty of sound – as opposed to me constantly having the volume jacked all the way up on the SP, and not once ever considering it to be ‘too loud’. Even when I’m playing the DS, outside, sitting right next to the loud air-conditioner unit, with the volume turned all the way up, I can still hear what’s going on. (In fact, I even feel like turning it down when it becomes very quiet, for fear the neighbors will complain! Yes, the sound is that good!!)

Well, I’ve prattled on long enough. Handheld-wise, I went from the original Game Boy, had a hiatus, to the SP, then to the DS, and I’m glad I did. Even though, when it comes to console videogames, I’m rather impartial and never stick to just choosing one over the other, I will say I’m glad I stuck with Nintendo when it comes to handhelds. I smirked at the Lynx, I chuckled at the Game Gear, and I almost wet myself from laughing so hard at the people who thought the N-Gage would actually work. While I’m sure the PSP is no joke, neither is the DS. Hail Nintendo, for churning out another fine handheld product that will assure me the comfort of never having another boring cigarette or bathroom break ever again. ;)

Appearance / Design: 9
Fits in the pocket despite its length, attractive, available in various colors, internal rechargeable battery, dependable stylus holder, a tad awkward to hold at first
Graphics: 9
Great resolution, awesome colors, both screens provide good detail, GBA games appear to have a very slight decrease in contrast and sharpness when played on the DS
Sound: 10
Don’t see how they could have gone wrong here – stereo sound, and standard headphone jack
Controls: 7

Overall (not an average): 9

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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