In the 15 years since Nintendo’s groundbreaking Gamecube first introduced the concept of portable gaming, several competing companies such as Sega and Neo-Geo have made futile runs at Nintendo with their own portable devices, to no avail. But with the looming release of Sony’s Playstation Portable threatening their dominance of the market, Nintendo struck back last week with the release of its DS portable videogame system.
Straight out of the box, the first noticeable thing about the DS is its namesake: the dual-screens. The upper functions as a traditional screen, while the bottom acts as a touch screen. The DS’s backlighting provides the necessary light to play the system in any condition. The system comes with a voice-activated microphone necessary to certain games and two styluses for the touch screen. There is also a wrist-strap/thumb-strap which provides another way to use the touch screen as a sort of joystick by moving one’s thumb around. The DS has a Super Nintendo button layout with the traditional directional pad as well as four face and two shoulder buttons.
The DS comes with a built-in messenger program called “PictoChat” which allows DS users to wirelessly communicate with other DS users within 100 feet. This is a perfect way to communicate in class or to find someone to play against in multiplayer games.
Additionally, the DS comes packed with a playable demo of “Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt.” The demo beautifully shows off the 3-D graphic capabilities of the DS, which are slightly better than those of the original Nintendo 64. Controls for the demo are similar a PC shooter because of the use of the stylus and touch screen to look and aim like a mouse and keyboard setup. The movement with the touch screen is awkward at first, although using it eventually becomes second nature.
While Nintendo claims that the DS is not a next-generation Gameboy, it is hard to ignore the similarities. The compatibility of the DS allows gamers to keep playing their Gameboy Advance library. The DS is backward-compatible to all Gameboy Advance games, but does not play original Gameboy or Gameboy Color games.
Nintendo is no stranger to innovation. The DS is the next step in what Nintendo hopes will be a new and inventive form of gaming. Whether it’s using the touch screen to move through the rich, textured atmospheres of “Mario 64 DS” or using the built-in microphone to blow out a digital candle in “Feel the Magic XY/XX,” the potential for the Nintendo DS ulitmately rests on the creativity of videogame devlopers.