The Angry Gamer vs. the Nintendo DS

INTRODUCTION

Here it is, folks…the moment you’ve been waiting for. No, it’s not ninja monkeys stalking your ex-girlfriend. It’s a full-on hardware review of the Nintendo DS! We at Inside Pulse didn’t get an advance unit like so many other “big-name” sites (we don’t suck up enough, it seems), so I went out and spent my hard-earned dollars on one myself, right on launch day. Want to hear the resident angry guy’s rant and raves on Nintendo’s latest experiment in the world of console gaming? Read on…

DESIGN, ERGONOMICS, AND TECH

Size-wise, the DS is roughly two GBA SPs side-by-side:


Open…


…and closed.

A lot of Nintendo fanboys are laughing at the upcoming Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), claiming that it’s “too big.” Well – and I’m not sure how anyone could’ve missed this – the DS is bigger. Quite a bit bigger, actually. It’s slightly shorter in length than the PSP, but the DS must be opened to be used. That doubles the width, which was larger than the PSP to begin with. So quit bitching. Both systems are monstrosities. If you want something truly portable, buy one of them microscopic cellphones or something. Sheesh.

Anyways, even though the DS is a beast, it’s still quite comfortable to use. I’ve got big spider fingers, yet they wrap around the system just like your mom’s hands wrap around my…*ahem*. Sorry. The unit’s relatively light, too, which is a bonus. The smaller face buttons may be tricky for those with meaty hands, but I’m sure you’ll manage. The larger D-pad is much more comfortable than the one found on the GBA and GBA SP, a move that’s sure to please gamers.

The twin displays are razor-sharp. Unlike the GBA SP, the displays are backlit, rather than frontlit. Before you shudder at the thought of previous backlit systems like the Game Gear and Lynx, fear not; the DS is in a class all its own. The screens are closer to that of a modern cellphone or PDA; evenly lit, and not a battery killer. 3D graphics tend to look a tad pixellated, but that’s due to fact that it’s on an LCD display. On a TV screen, you get some degree of interpolation, which “blurs” the edges a little. Regardless, when you’re in the heat of a game, the crisp edges on everything actually add to the experience rather than detract from it. Even GBA games look great on the thing; the backlight really brings out the depth of color. (Just don’t try to play any GBA multiplayer; there’s no link port on the DS, so you’re shit outta luck.)

Sound is incredible on this thing. The dual speakers provide true stereo sound, but for the full effect, use headphones. No more buying an adapter for them, either, as there’s an actual 1/8″ stereo headphone jack on the bottom edge of the DS. Many games have multiple options for sound, too; for example, Super Mario 64 DS has a “surround” setting, which sounds fantastic. I should also mention that the DS is f*cking loud; you’ll often find yourself turning the volume down even when headphones aren’t plugged in.

The interface should be familiar to anyone who’s used a Super NES before: a D-pad on the left, A/B/X/Y buttons on the right, and L/R triggers up top. Simple enough. There’s also the requisite Power, Select, and Start buttons as well. And then, there’s the real gem of the interface…the touch screen.

The DS comes with two styli; one snaps in to the back of the unit, and the other you put in a safe place in case you lose the main one. The touch screen is very sensitive, so you don’t need to whack the thing to get it to register. Light taps to get through menus and whatnot work without a hitch, and games that require you to draw or drag the stylus respond better than you’d expect.

The DS includes a wrist strap, which has a very cool secondary function. Dubbed the “thumbstrap,” there’s a small plastic nub on the other end which is naturally designed to be worn on your thumb:


Ayyyy!

That nub is what you use to trigger the touch screen, which makes for much smoother control, especially in FPS games and racing titles. Plus, you can hold the DS much more comfortably; the thumbstrap is long enough to stay connected to your DS while you use it.

Games for the DS come on these tiny little cards, reminiscent of flash media for digital cameras and MP3 players. Here’s a comparison shot of Super Mario 64 DS with its big brother:

The packaging for the games? No more of that cardboard box shit. In a move that’s sure to make Neo Geo Pocket Color fans wet themselves, the DS games come in nifty clamshell cases:


Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt has a shitty cardboard sleeve, but regular games get the real deal.

The center area is for the card itself, and that upper receptacle holds a GBA game. Why, do you ask? Some DS games will recognize if there’s an appropriate GBA title in the system; Feel the Magic: XX/XY is an example. This way, you can make use of the connectivity and keep both games in a handy location. Expect upcoming Pokémon titles to really milk this feature.

Alright, enough technical mumbo-jumbo. You want thoughts on software, right?

OPERATING SYSTEM AND PICTOCHAT

When you first power up the DS, you’ll get a boring warning screen, then you can to set your system’s options. Aside from choosing which language you want to the system to use, you’ll enter your nickname (used in PictoChat), the date and time, and some generic options (like whether or not to autoboot games). “Liquidcross” wouldn’t fit as my nickname; I went with “Liquid-C” instead, which makes me sound like a weird Contra sequel.

While everything’s relatively simple to understand, there’s one thing about the OS that bugs the living shit outta me: every time you make even a minor change to the system settings, the DS will automatically shut down. And that’s after every change; you can’t make a bunch of changes and then shut down. This thing’s worse than a damn Windoze PC in that regard! There’s really no excuse for this.

The other piece of built-in software is PictoChat. This is a program that lets you chat with other users within the DS’ range (anywhere from 30′-100′, depending on environmental conditions).


Which Alex? You decide.

Let me make it clear that I believe PictoChat to be a complete waste of time. Are you really that much of an antisocial loser that you need to use a handheld device to chat with someone across the damn room?! Stupid. If PictoChat gets used down the road for Wi-Fi chatting via the Internet, then maybe it’ll be useful, but as of now, it’s flat out ridiculous. Get off your fat ass and talk to people you want to game with!
Speaking of which…let’s jump headfirst into some gaming action.

METROID PRIME HUNTERS: FIRST HUNT

The DS has a game of sorts packed in; I say “of sorts” because it’s only a demo, not the full game. You’ll have to wait a few months for that one. Honestly, though, it shouldn’t be just a demo, nor should gamers have had to wait for this one in the first place, considering how popular Metroid Prime is. But I digress. I apologize in advance for the lack of a photo, but you really can’t do the demo justice unless you’re actually playing it, and I’ve only got two hands! MPH:FH is quite cool; I’m not a big fan of FPS games, but this one has a particularly novel use of the DS’ touch screen. (Control options can be customized, but trust me, the touch screen method’s the way to go.) Using that handy thumbstrap, the touch screen functions much like a mouse in console FPS titles, letting you look around and aim with precision. Movement’s handled by the D-pad, and you use the L/R triggers to fire. Activating the morph ball and/or your missiles are handled on the touch screen as well. Want to jump? Double-tap the touch screen. The demo handles incredibly smoothly, and FPS fans will feel right at home. Granted, it’s rather limited overall (it is just a demo, after all), but the three “training” scenarios and the multiplayer capability are still fun. Yes, I said multiplayer. It may be a demo, but that won’t stop you from having a full-on fragfest with your buddies.

SUPER MARIO 64 DS

I’m not going to do a review here; just some brief impressions. (Alex Williams will be bringing you a full review soon, so keep an eye out!) Suffice it to say that SM64DS is not just a port of its Nintendo 64 predecessor. Coming from a guy who despises ports, I know it’s a shock. Like MPH:FH, you can use the touch screen to approximate analog control, but I preferred to use the stock setup of the D-pad and buttons. Believe it or not, the D-pad works surprisingly well for a game originally designed around an analog stick. There’s a wealth of new areas, secrets, and gameplay mechanics never seen in the original title; picking up SM64DS should be a no-brainer for anyone buying a DS. Graphically, it’s a bit sharper than the original, but the textures don’t seem to be as clean. Most gamers won’t even notice, anyway.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Preorders for the DS surpassed even Nintendo’s expectations. If nothing else, a lot of people will be exposed to the system and hopefully enjoy it. How will it coexist with other handhelds? Well, the GBA will likely take a large hit, regardless of what Nintendo claims. The fact that GBA multiplayer won’t work on the DS is the only thing saving it, to be honest. And as far as the upcoming PSP goes…I don’t think it’s going to fail like many naysayers do. Don’t underestimate the sheer fanbase and marketing power that Sony has. If all goes well, both systems will get a nice foothold, forcing developers to make excellent games for both of them. That way, we all win.


Nintendo DS: the only handheld approved by Optimus Prime, the Stereotypical Italian Chef, and Koffing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more Super Mario 64 DS to play…and don’t forget to keep an eye out for my Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits review later next week!