With its two screens, Nintendo DS instantly shows its innovative face. But capabilities like a touch-screen input, voice recognition and wireless communication set it apart from every other game device, and again demonstrate Nintendo’s passion for groundbreaking originality. Game players need only use their imagination to see how the DS promises to transform the portable game industry by changing the way gamers relate to their games – and each other. Two screens offer two perspectives on the action at once. The touch screen could make accessing items, moving characters or navigating menus as easy as a tap or drag on the screen. Voice recognition could let players simply tell the game what they want it to do. Chat software will let users transmit text messages, handwriting and even drawings to one another. And wireless functions could link players in the same room – or across the country. The unique features of the Nintendo DS hold a wellspring of potential for the future. Game players will be wowed.
In a surprising number of ways, the Nintendo DS is quite unlike any video game system that’s come before. First, there’s the two screens, one above and one below. The idea might seem like a gimmick — the screens are far enough apart that you won’t be able to see them as one long screen — but the format works in a complementary way. Depending on the game, the DS serves action in one screen and details, maps, stats, or alternate views in the other. Switching your eyes between screens takes a little getting used to, but quickly becomes automatic, like checking a rear-view mirror while driving. Both screens are back-lit and a little larger than that of the Game Boy Advance SP, so they’ll be easy to see in most conditions.
|Players can control games using the touch-sensitive bottom screen of the DS.|
The bottom screen also functions as a PDA-style touchpad. It comes with a small stylus, as well as a stylus that attaches to your thumb. This touch screen might be both the best and worst feature of the DS. One one hand, it brings the freedom of PC-style mouse control into gaming, but using it also tends to block what’s going on in that screen. For example, while playing the Metroid Prime: Hunters, you could use the left thumb pad to move, the left shoulder button to fire, and the touch screen to look and jump. As you track foes on the bottom-screen map, however, your view will be partially obscured by your own right thumb.
The good news is that Nintendo has stressed a lot of comfort options, both in the operating system and in their games. Want to play Metroid without the touch-pad? Select a different control scheme in the game’s option menu, which also includes configurations for lefties. You can even customize your DS to automatically play the inserted title or to start with the main menu, choose which screen to display your GBA games, to add a nickname for wireless play, and more.
|Up to 16 players can connect wirelessly within a 100-foot radius.|
That’s right, the DS is wireless-enabled. Say good-bye to that daisy-chain of network cables that was previously necessary for portable multiplayer gaming. Nintendo’s proprietary wireless format has a radius rated at 30 to 100 feet depending on environmental interference with its signal. Surely, it’s more than enough for friends to game from one end of the bus to the other. We experimented in a small, nearly empty parking lot and got great reception at the upper end of that rating. The DS network can handle up to 16 users, though you can expect the maximum number of players to vary from game to game.
Also, unlike all but the earliest video game systems, the DS comes with a built-in application. It’s called PictoChat, and it allows people to write and draw pictures in a chat-room format. Since it’s built in to the DS operating system, you’ll always be able to interact with other DS users.
|The built-in program PictoChat lets you write and draw with others.|
But not all is new; Nintendo has re-invested some favorite features of older platforms into the DS. It’s backward compatible to the Game Boy Advance, which means that older Game Boy and Game Boy Color games won’t work in this machine but GBA games will run fine (sadly, the wireless feature doesn’t extend to GBA games). Like the GBA SP, the DS is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that provides approximately 10 hours of play on a four-hour charge. Old timers might recognize the A/B/X/Y face buttons from the Super Nintendo controller, though they’re not in the same positions. The standard headphone jack and wide-body comfort of the first GBA model is back, coupled this time with the SP’s screen-saving clamshell design. In terms of its ability to display graphics and sound, the DS is a little better — and a whole lot smaller — than the Nintendo 64.
Overall, the Nintendo DS represents a rather large leap in portable gaming. With some mystery shrouding the future abilities of its internal microphone (voice recognition) and its IEEE 802.11 wireless network, the DS may have left some surprises up its sleeve. –Porter B. Hall
(Please note prices are subject to change and the listed price is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of posting)