Nintendo DS Lite

23rd Sep 2008 | 15:30

Nintendo DS Lite

Two years is a long time in gaming, and time hasn't been very kind to the Nintendo DS

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Compact, innovative and a joy for along time, the Nintendo DS now needs a serious overhaul to push it ahead of rivals like the PSP. Unless Nintendo does something soon, the DS could even be surpassed by the iPod - and that would be a sad thing to happen indeed

Like:

Portability; Battery life; Excellent catalogue of innovative games

Dislike:

Graphics performance; User interface (post iPhone); Display size and shape

A lot has happened in the three and half years since the Nintendo DS made its UK debut.

We've seen a whole new generation of home consoles in the shape of the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii.

Then there was the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) - a handheld that teamed superior on-the-go gaming performance with the ability to playback audio and video files too. And now we have game-toting multi-tasking iPhone and iPod touch.

So where does that leave the Nintendo DS?

The good stuff

At its UK launch in March 2005, the Nintendo DS had three great strengths:

1) It was truly portable. Its 133mm x 73.9mm x 21.5mm dimensions and light 218g weight meant you really could stick it in your shirt pocket.

2) It had some brilliantly innovative games and gaming features - the mind-melting tasks found in Professor Kawashima's Brain Training, or innovative use of the built-in microphone or Hotel Dusk: Room 215, for example.

3) Long playing times - up to 19 hours at minimum brightness setting.

Nintendo cleverly also made a virtue of the DS's compact size, with two colour displays - one in the lid, flanked by stereo speakers, for the visuals; and a second touchscreen in the base for certain gameplay controls which could be accessed using a stylus, or a finger.

Much of Nintendo DS Lite's success - it's chalked up 20 million sales in Europe since 2005 - is down to the quality of its games.

Compared to Sony's PSP (which arrived in September 2005), the Nintendo DS's games catalogue has been broader, more innovative and exciting.

It hasn't seem to matter than DS's graphics performance was sub-par, or that it relied on horrible chip music and reams of tiny on-screen text.

That's probably because, like the Wii, much of the DS's appeal lies with casual as well as hardcore gamers - just look at the range of titles obviously aimed at girls and young women, for example.

Where it's all gone wrong

Despite all of its innovative features and games, time hasn't been very kind to the Nintendo DS.

It's easily bested on spec by rivals like the PlayStation Portable and iPod touch, both of which have been revamped in the years since the DS made its debut.

One key differentiator is the size of the twin displays on the Nintendo compared to its rivals. The DS has two 7.62cm displays offering a non-widescreen 4:3 aspect ratio; the new iPod touch boasts an 8.9cm widescreen display; while the PSP packs a 10.9cm widescreen display.

What a waste

Sadly Nintendo could have easily added a bigger main display from the get-go. Even a casual glance at the DS reveals vast amounts of wasted real estate surround the main display - suggesting that Nintendo could have - should have - snuck in a widescreen version without increasing the DS's overall size.

No doubt this was due to the need to hit a £99.99 price point, but having such a small screen also means you squint a lot - not good.

Grim graphics

The small screen size also belies another increasingly painful failing of the Nintendo DS. Graphically it easily bested by the PlayStation Portable in late 2005, but even the Apple iPhone and iPod touch now give it graphical going over.

Just try comparing the graphics of Lego Star Wars titles on both the DS and the PSP and you'll realise what a huge gulf exists between the two. Crap graphics plus tiny display does not a great gaming experience make.

The Nintendo DS interface also looks rather inadequate compared to the iPhone.

While you wouldn't want to dispense with the DS's physical keypad and control buttons, adding motion sensors like those in the iPhone - or even the Wiimote come to that - would add a whole new dimension to gaming on the DS.

Finger tip control on the touchscreen, perhaps with haptic feedback, would also help bring the DS up to date.

So what should Nintendo do now?

Here are seven things we'd like to see in the next Nintendo DS:

1) A bigger, higher resolution display
2) Much better graphics performance
3) Bluetooth A2DP for wireless audio,
4) iPhone-like touch controls and motion sensing
5) World-class web-surfing and email capability via Wi-Fi
6) Better sound to match that bigger screen
7) The ability to sync games and other content to a Mac or PC

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