Review by grasu

"Touching has gotten a whole <explanative deleted> lot better!"

The DS… what a me-- no wait, it's not that big of a mess anymore! Nintendo's brutally game-starved portable has turned out to be quite good and has now become not only a serious contender for the title of “Best Portable of this Generation” but probably the BEST contender.

Yes, yes, things weren't good at the beginning for Nintendo and the DS still seems to cater to a special group of hardcore Nintendo fans more than to the rest of the world (well, if we exclude Japan) but it would be a gross underestimation to say that things are as grim as they were in the months following the handheld's launch.

Now, this doesn't exactly mean that suddenly the DS will play Doom 3 at 1280x1024 resolution or that the next great racing game is a DS game but it's also equally true that the next innovative game will be a DS game… and not a PSP, PS2, Xbox360 or PS3 game. Fans, both hardcore and casual alike, can be sure of that.

Hardware: 7/10

The DS is slightly more powerful than the N64, but it doesn't really show. Games are very blocky or they're just made in 2D instead of 3D. One producer actually stated that the "DS is a 2D programmer's dream". That's not as bad as it may seem, since the N64 had horrible 3D capabilities. It pushed more polygons, yes, but otherwise, it did nothing else. The images were blurry, characters were badly malformed, the color palettes in most games were down right abysmal, and the framerate was a disaster.

DS' sound capabilities are not much better due to the limiting factors of the cartridge. Other than some basic voice commands and one or two grunts no DS game will ever have truly symphonic music, strong sound effects or fully voiced characters. From the current batch of games though, Mario 64, Castlevania, Trace Memory and Jam With the Band seem to make the best of the DS' limited sound capabilities. Unfortunately though, the lack of any true, rich sound is very likely to hit the DS hard later on when it will be facing the PSP with it's 1.8 GB disks that can store FMVs, sounds and more.

As far as game storage is concerned, nothing will stop Nintendo from protecting their games from piracy, not even loosing 3rd parties it seems. The DS uses cartridges that are about 3 times smaller and just as many times lighter than the GBAs, although they can store more data. Too bad that your still stuck with just one save game per cartridge and the huge space, sound, and visual limitations of fitting games on about 200 megs. On the plus though, cartridges do load faster than CDs (or UMDs) and, technically speaking, if game designers wish they can put all types of sensors on cartridges (see Boktai).

The DS' two screens are used mostly in tandem and they are about the size of a GBA screen (each of them). The screens do help with both framerate and resolution in 3D games creating the impression that both are much higher than normal because they don't have to be stretched to fit on a huge screen. The touch screen is solid and very responsive, as long as you don't use your fingers. It doesn't get scratched easily (which is quite amazing) and is just all around very durable. That's a huge plus considering towards whom this is marketed.

The DS is not too pretty to look at, but it's much better than what it was when it was first shown at E3. It's not nearly as compact as the GBA, nor does it have all that many colors but it manages. It does feature 4 face buttons though, and that's definitely a plus for fighting games.

The DS is really just about crazy gimmicks. The stylus (of which there are 3 with the original packaging) and the touch screen are very responsive and do miracles for some games, while for others not so much. The microphone and WiFi are hardly used right now but that's really something that we may see more of in the future. In fact, the only memorable game that uses the microphone is Nintendogs but tests have proven that both of those features work very well.

Finally, the DS is pretty light and feels solid to hold and play with, and it doesn't really feel awkward. Graphically it's inferior to all machines except the GBA and the N-Gage.

Control: 8/10

There's really only one big issue with the DS: The lack of an analog stick. Nintendo can try all they want to replace that with the touch screen because it won't work. The hierarchy of "best response" goes something like this: mouse, analog, touch pad. It's hard to replace the analog with the touch screen for FPS' and it makes playing these types of games horribly awkward.

On the plus side though, the L and R buttons are very well built. They're hugely improved over the same buttons found on the GBA and the PSP. The DS also has 4 face buttons and a sizeable direction pad, which are both great for playing fighters. The D-Pad is responsive and there's little chance to push down-back or down-forward like on the Dreamcast pad. As for the face buttons, there's enough separation in between them to realize to never hit the wrong button.

Games: 7/10

What really prompted and update of this review was the games category because the DS has made HUGE leaps in the last few months. When Nintendo's new portable was released it was clinging to “Here's a list of great titles” and old N64 ports but now it's library has truly exploded.

One can now easily satisfy all of their platforming and action needs on the DS at a fraction of the cost of a PSP game now-a-days. Besides the updated port of Mario 64 (which I thought was abysmal, but that's another story) one can now pick and choose between everything from Castlevania to Kirby. What's even more astounding is how good these games are for a system's 2nd generation titles. Let's take into consideration Castlevania for a second: Konami did miracles with this game. Dawn of Sorrow has a fully animated intro, great 2D graphics with a flair of 3D sprinkled all over, superb gameplay that catches the classical feeling of a Castlevania game (INCLUDING the RPG elements which were missing for Lament of Innocence) and it even manages to make use of the DS' special features. If the DS keeps this track record, things will change quickly, to say the least.

Beyond platformers the DS is also quickly becoming the favorite platform for the RPG and adventure genres. From the quirky, to the downright idiotic, you can find it on the DS. Trace Memory, Phoenix Wright and Lost in Blue are all great examples of adventure games that have come out in the past 2 months that put the DS WAY ahead of the competition. While neither of those games are perfect they feature something that few PSP games do: An ending.

RPGs are not all that present on the DS, the first one Lunar, being a wanton disaster but those lists of “imaginary titles” are taking shape quite quickly for the DS. In other words, this means the DS is doing what the PSP ain't: Pumping out games in the near future with long complex storylines and actual endings or an action that doesn't involve a car or a ball.

It should come as to no surprise that the DS is the master of quirky and unique games. From puzzlers like Electropakton to Meteos to Nintendogs these are all games that fill that void of “innovative” in your life. There's also Advanced Wars: DS which… is… well, it just kicks the ass of everything before it in this generation of handhelds to say the least.

These are the good things about the DS, now on to the bad.

By far the worst thing about the DS' lineup is that it can be completed in a weekend. I'm not kidding. Most of these games are dreadfully short, with life spans anywhere from 3 hours to 10 hours. And most of them have no real replay value to say the least.

Furthermore, some of these games look very good on paper and are really enjoyable experiences but they're NOT portable. Take Nintendogs for example: During parts of the game you have to give voice-commands to your pets to obey, or you have to blow in the microphone. This might not seem a problem for a 10 year old but when you're a 20 year old male/female on a crowded tram and are screaming at a digitized pet at the top of your lungs people won't exactly find you to be “sane”.

Thirdly, the same problem that has plagued the DS from the begging is still here: This console has a hard time catering to the average, non-Japanese gamer. The evidence of this has been overwhelming in Europe and North America where the DS is getting devastated in sales by the PSP. Why? Because the DS hasn't even heard of the words “racing”, “sports” or “decent” in the same phrase. Now, don't get me wrong, 20 racing releases a month isn't an example of a “great” system, but none at all or botched ports aren't the answer either.

A small, final, problem with the DS library comes in the form of Japanese releases. The DS is getting a lot of great games in Japan that NEVER seem to make it to the US, mostly because of the new surge of great titles for the DS. Unfortunately this means that some great games, most notably Jump Superstars, won't EVER see a release on the other side of either ocean. A problem that, as of yet, the PSP doesn't have to handle due to its severe lack of new material.

Value: 8/10

When this review was originally written, the PSP was going to be marketed at “Below $200” (bull**** company line) and the DS stood a horrible chance against it, value wise. But now, at $130, the DS is a totally superior value. It has cheaper games, more diversity and more colors along with a more durable clam-shell design. However, the DS has nearly no accessories and no other functions except gaming, so an extra camera or maybe a movie player or radio tuner would make this into a more “adult-oriented”, if you will, system than it is now.

Overall: 7/10

When this review was first posted it DID raze hell among DS fans. So much so that it was actually taken off because it badly stung someone in their ass. As anyone with a gram of decency would I'm willing to recognize a mistake: My first view on this system was bad… but not as bad as the state of the DS at that time. However, things have changed and the DS has come a long way. It might not play your porn or allow you to play a decent Madden on the go, but it does allow you to play something BESIDES Madden on the go, and soon, that might be the drop of water that will make the glass overflow in the country of the Rising Sun's gaming industry.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 10/07/05, Updated 10/10/05

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