The Angry Gamer 02.05.04: Dual Screen?

By now, everyone knows about the new Nintendo console being released at the end of 2004: the Nintendo DS. This is a new handheld gaming system, that’ll feature two screens stacked vertically. It’s also said to use memory card-type media to store games, to keep costs down, though it wouldn’t suprise me if games still cost $20-30 a whack. This new hardware will either be an interesting ploy for Nintendo, or a complete and miserable failure. Before the system was even announced, many cynical game journalists and fans were already calling it the “Virtual Boy 2.” (Of course, the original VB wasn’t nearly as bad as people made it out to be, but it was still a disastrous flop.)

There’s two core questions here: a) Do gamers really need two screens? and b) Does Nintendo really need a third console? I’ll examine both in detail below.

“Do gamers really need two screens?” Personally, I don’t think so. Nintendo executives can go on and on all day about how “convenient” it would be to have a closeup of the action on one screen and an overhead view on the other; having to pay attention to two full screens simultaneously is irritating. Plus, is it really that difficult to press a button to bring up a map view, like current games have? Even games that use a “radar” screen keep it in the corner. The dual screens could also diminish the portability to an extent, but Nintendo’s engineering teams are generally pretty good at overcoming obstacles like that. Since we’ve had monstrous handhelds before (like the Sega Nomad and Atari Lynx), a slight size upgrade couldn’t hurt too much. Regardless, the dual screens in and of themselves seem like a bit of overkill. It was interesting when Nintendo used them for the old Game & Watch handhelds back in the day, but gimmicks like that may not have the same effect 20-plus years later.

“Does Nintendo really need a third console?” This really shouldn’t be up for debate. Nintendo’s not doing so well in the home console market, but their Game Boy family has always dominated the handheld market. However, their power is seeing a real threat at the end of 2004; Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP). Other companies tried to compete and failed, but Sony has kicked Nintendo’s ass in the home market for two generations running, so their entry into the handheld arena with a gadget that far outclasses the GBA has everyone’s attention. So here comes another handheld from Nintendo! Now then, Nintendo has made it very clear that the DS is not a successor to the GBA; rather, it will “coexist” with it. Considering that preliminary specs for the DS show it to be more powerful than the GBA, I see the coexistence claim as rather dubious. It’s more likely that this is a ploy to compete with the upcoming PSP, contrary to Nintendo’s claims. Unfortunately, with Sony’s powerful userbase, the DS doesn’t stand a chance against the PSP. The DS could also steal some of the GBA’s own thunder, which isn’t good at all, considering that the GBA is probably the best console out right now. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Nintendo as a company is in trouble, and we all hope this DS thing isn’t a last-ditch effort to reclaim some of its former glory. The opposition’s too tough, and Nintendo’s just not doing enough to stay afloat. Slashing GC prices gave them a momentary boost, but that’s never enough. It remains to be seen whether “DS” means “dual screen” or “deep shit.”