Review by mikaa

"[Original DS Review] A 2D power house, with more than enough power and library to keep around for a while"

This is a tough review to write. Not because of the word count, not because the system is hard to describe, and certainly because I can't tell if it's good or bad.

No, the problem is that I may be a bit biased towards it. I was not always, though, and by telling of my experiances with the DS, I can detail my review. This way, you can tell how I feel about it, and see what I have determined to be highs and lows for the first non-Game Boy portable from Nntendo since the "Virtal Boy" "portable."

Think back about two years ago in early January or February 2004. I'm browsing the net, checking for e-mails, when a friend sends me a document from Nintendo about some new device called a "DS." Reportedly, the system utilized two seperate screens for the game play. As did most of my friends at the time, I dubbed it "Virtal Boy II." The two of you who are confused by that comment need only know that we saw the "DS" as a doomed system.

Then came E3 2004, and, in addition to my browsing a few sites with movies, with the DVD collection of the E3 press conference, I witnessed the DS, in all of its cheaply designed glory. Neverminding what looked like a rushed prototype, I was stunned at the 3D graphics, and absolutely flored when I heard of the back compatibility with the GBA. Keep in mind I didn't pick up on this until after a week after I saw the Metroid Prime: First Hunters demonstration. A 3D Metroid game on the go?

Needless to say, I was stunned.

Flash forward to November of '04: the very day the DS is street-dated for, I am in my local Wal-Mart at nine AM, have bought my system and a copy of Super Mario 64 DS, and am waiting for my shift to begin by sitting in the cart bay, charging my DS while trying out the system.

I was stunned. First, to keep my anticipation high, I loaded the system without any thing in it. This brought up some menus: among other things, I set the clock, the date, my birthday, fiddled with the built-in Pico Chat and touch screen, and fiddled with the system settings for loading up a game.

Then I put in Super Mario 64 DS and a GBA cart. First, the GBA was loaded. The GBA graphcs never looked better, far superior in presentation and clarity than the SP, and light-years ahead of the Game Boy Player. The sound was the same and the games really did not play any different, but I was not worried; how often did you play a game with such clarity on the go (barring my Neo Geo Pocket Color, but I'm talking about a back-lit system).

Next, I reset and loaded Super Mario 64 DS. In all fairness, it was exacly as I expected (except that I was Yoshi, instead of Mario from the start), with wonderous 3D graphics, beautiful sound, and a workable control setup. To say I was happy would be a gross understatement.

But then I powered off the system for what I was really wanting to try out: Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. Loading the demo, I watched in awe at the gorgeous (if slightly pixelated) FMV of Samus loading in a Save Station kin to Metroid Prime, leaping up and standing two screens high. Then the title screen appeared, and I listened to the music. I set the controls. I loaded the Regulator option. I listened to the Brinstar remix.

Ladies and gentlemen, the "doomed DS" was naught any more in my mind.

For a few months after launch, I treasured my DS, ignoring the lack of software and still playing even after I got my PSP. But then, the PSP lured me away with Lumines, Wipeout Pure, and its multimedia abilities. These notable qualities of the PSP, coupled with the lack of DS software, almost drew me completely away.

Yet, for all its multimedia glamor, the DS did something that the PSP could not do: play a large library of inexpensive games that had many titles that I would play over and over again. Though the PSP did have a fair selection of games and a wonderful multimedia system, the battery life and high priced, slow to be released library almost shoved me back to my DS. Heck, before I sold off my last PSP game, I had already sold even Lumines to fund my DS collection, as well as my GBA library.

And now that I have given that back-story to how I fell in love with the system, let me go in-depth on what features I mentioned above, and some I did not.

Aesthesically, the system is very nice to hold and look at, though I must admit it being a bit clunky compared to a GBA SP (or the newer Micro). Using a clamshell design kin to the GBA SP, the two main portions of the system each house different areas I need to cover. For simplicity, we'll dub them "Top half" and "Bottom half."

The Top half houses the stereo speakers (!) and top screen. Basically a high-end LCD screen evolved from those used on the GBA, this screen (and its sibling on the Bottom half) are able to handle both highly detailed 2D sprites and impressive 3D graphics surpasing those of the Nintendo 64 console with ease (just look at the Metroid Prime Hunters demo - a DEMO).

The Bottom half houses the second screen, the action buttons, a built-in microphone, directional buttons, power buttons, cart bays, and headphone jack (yes, Nintendo learned from the GBA SP debacle over the lack of a headphone jack). The lower screen has the same abilities as the upper screen, with a notable diference: it is a TOUCH screen. As in, given the right software, you can write notes, draw designs, scratch your dog, rub off ice blocks, or any one of half a dozen other options. In addition, you can control the movements of a character or use the touch areas as additional buttons. Though I was nervous at first about using the touch screen for fear of damaging or scratching it, I have come to see it as a valuable asset, though one over used at times.

The button array is most comparable to the Super Nintendo, in that you have a D-pad, L and R shoulder buttons, Start and Select, and four action buttons (A, B, X, and Y). Also featured is a Power Button simmilar to one found on a Neo Geo Pocket Color: Press to power on, press and hold for a few seconds to power off. This button is very nifty and nice, as it prevents accidental activation while traveling in your pocket. Not a biggie, but a notable feature that I wished I had on the PSP.

As stated above, there is a headphones jack for the DS, but it is noteworthy that it has an additional section that seems to be designed to allow you to use a remote kin to the PSPs or a CD player. Not sure what goes there, but Nintendo did keep its options open. There are two cart bays; the lower one houses GBA software, and will NOT PLAY OLD GAME BOY OR GBC GAMES. The carts will physically NOT fit, which means that several peripherals will not work as well, such as an Action Replay. Also, you can NOT play multiplayer GBA games, and cannot link to a GBA or Game Cube with the DS. Don't go selling your SP, Pokefans, or you will regret it.

The upper cart bay holds the DS cards, which are pressed in until you hear them click in place, and remove them by pressing to release them. These cards are small, but, thankfully, Nintendo designed custom cases that are best described as a cross between a CD jewel case and a DVD movie case. These boxes hold the small DS games, as well as a single GBA cart and the manual for the DS game. Very nice.

Also noteworthy on the bottom half of the system, in the lower left section, is the microphone. Though currently used in only a few games, you can literally speak into your DS and record or activate programs through the unit. Unfortunately, to really be used accurately in games that record your voice, you must have relative silence around you, or it will not work accurately.

Now, moving on to system capabilities.

As stated above repeatedly, the DS can display gorgeous 2D graphics, 3D graphics better than the average 32-bit/64-bit system, and can do either 2D on one and 3D on the other screen and vice versa, or 2D on both and 3D in reverse. Very nice, and very developer friendly, which means good things for those of us who buy the producs for the hardware.

Controls, for me at least, were very satisfying. Sure, they would have a hard time replacing the simplicity of the GBA with more buttons and the touch screen, and it certainly is not the Game Cube controller (which has become my all-time favorite in overal design and feel), but it gets the job done, and is easy to pick up.

Sound, oh the sound. Assuming the developer decides to put even the smallest effort into a game, the sound abilities are stellar, surpasing the GBA in so many ways, and even rising to give the mini-DVD-like UMDs of the PSP a run for their money. From rush games like Lunar Dragon Song and Yoshi's Touch and Go to projects that the developers actually worked on like Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow and Trace Memory, the sounds are incredible, and is only hurt that more games for the system lack a sound test menu.

Finally the game library must be discussed. Neverminding the GBA back compatability feature, the DS has seen many differient games released in the past two months of this fall season (2005 if you are reading this a year from now), what with Castlevania DS, Advance Wars DS, Marvel Nemesis, Phoenix Wright, and an even better lineup coming this winter, such as Metroid Prime Pinball, Mario and Luigi: Plumers in Time, Sonic Rush, and dozens more.

Then you take into account the GBA ability, where you have great classics like Golden Sun, Final Fantasy IV (this Winter), Gunstar Super Heroes (this month), Super Mario Bros 1, 2, 3, World 1 and World 2, and the countless other titles. I have yet to find a GBA that is not compatable with the DS, and I doubt I will in the future. The mere fact that the DS developers use a backwards compatability feature with their DS games (by having them read from their old GBA carts in the DS slot) to get extras makes things even better.

All said and done, I must say, the DS is one incredible system. Not a multimedia system like its "rival," but a strait-up gaming device. This system is more than worth the money, especially since it plays GBA games.

Score: 9 of 10

* Best Feature: Great sound, great graphics, GBA compatability, great games
* Worst Feature: Not able to play GB/C games, no multiplayer GBA games, having to wait for Wi-Fi internet abilities
* If You Liked: Hard to tell, since this is the first system of its kind. I guess the Revolution when it comes out
* Guilty Pleasure: Constantly debating with fellow associates as to how good or bad the DS is

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/17/05, Updated 11/20/07

Game Release: Nintendo DS Hardware (US, 11/20/04)

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