Nintendo DS Lite review

Even though it has been over a year, since this incredibly popular console was launched, it was only now that I had the opportunity to purchase it. The announcement of Leopard’s delay was one of the main reasons that convinced me into buying one. Although I was surprised with the quantity, and quality of the titles, the console is not flawless, and has it’s shortcomings, like any other.

Shape and Design:

There are not many bad things you can say about the design. In terms of thickness and height, it’s just as big as PSP (I didn’t get into any precise measurements, but the difference between the dimensions doesn’t justify the need to), it is only in width that it’s a bit slimmer than the PSP. When closed, it looks a miniaturized laptop, and if you happen to have the crystal white model, like I do, you will definitely feel that it’s look is comparable to that of a MacBook.

When opened, you are greeted with a “world” of interaction. There has never been a console with so many ways to interface with it. Usually, with television-based consoles, sometimes some special accessories will allow it to use new ways to interact with the game, like the EyeToy games, Dance Dance Revolution, or Guitar Hero. With the Nintendo DS, and with any game that wishes to do so, you can interact with voice, touch and the normal “button interface”. Although there are these 3 ways to communicate with the console, it’s very rare to see a game fully using these functionalities.

So far, the best games that use these input methods are the graphical adventure ones like Phoenix Wright, or Hotel Dusk. Despite being limited to one screen, Kirby’s title is the best cursor-controlled (or in this case stylus) platformer I’ve ever played.

But returning to the hardware itself, in terms of design, the DS is a very well conceived product. It doesn’t have the same “cool” factor that we get when we look at it’s competitor, the PSP. But still, the simplicity of it’s interface and it’s Apple-like lines give it it’s own appeal.

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Ergonomics:

Although the console seems very nice to look at, it falls a bit short when it comes to ergonomics. Although the console was designed to appeal to a wide range of people, it was certainly not designed for all hands. Let’s have a look at how a couple of hours of game experience, in different titles will change your experience:

* Platformers – One of the first titles I purchased for the console was Sonic Rush. Being a Sonic fan since the days of the Genesis, it had been a while since I played a “proper” Sonic title, and, ironically, the only place where they seem to be found is on Nintendo’s consoles, which is something I would have never guessed a few years ago.

The problem with platformers on the DS, specially ones with fast gameplay, like in the case of Sonic Rush, is that after a while, your right thumb will start to hurt due to the small dimension of the buttons.

Unlike the PSP which has bigger and less accentuated action buttons, the DS Lite’s are smaller, and with a “grownup’s hand” your experience will become increasingly worse the more you play it. This is either a sign that a) you’ve been playing for too long, or b) this console wasn’t made for button-mashing games, because this issue isn’t as noticeable when you’re playing one of Nintendo’s platformers like the New Super Mario Bros title or the brilliant Yoshi’s Island DS.

* Shoot-em-ups – This is a genre which I never expected to find on the Nintendo DS. Although it may sound a bit weird, or “too easy” (when you consider that you just have to click on your target) the titles that I’ve tried so far (Metroid and Starfox) play incredibly well, for an incredibly short time.

The problem with these titles has nothing to do with the design or ergonomics of the console. In this case, the only flaw is the console’s own weight. Although it’s very light, specially when compared to the PSP, when you play it with only one hand (because the other one will be holding the stylus), your wrist will start to hurt very quickly.

So on one hand it seems that the console was designed for smaller hands because of the 4 action buttons, on the other hand it seems like it was designed for grownups when it comes to shoot-em-ups. So basically, if you want to get the most out of this console you need to be very young, or have small fingers and have strong wrists, and those are two traits you don’t usually see on the same person.

All of the other games I’ve tried so far, even those which are stylus-oriented play just fine, and the console still feels comfortable even after a relatively long session. The difference between those titles and shoot-em-ups, is that unlike shoot-em-ups you don’t always have to hold the console with one hand. In the case of Hotel Dusk, in which you hold the console vertically like a book, the console’s weight is distributed better, so you can play it at ease until the battery runs out.

Other Aspects:

The battery life has proven to be excellent, with both 3D and 2D titles. You can easily play the console for a whole afternoon, or even a whole day (depending on the game) without having to worry about charging it. So, compared to the PSP, the battery life is excellent.

In terms of specifications, what you have is basically a Nintendo 64 that fits in the palm of your hand, which is very surprising, considering how badly that console sold, and how well this one does. Microsoft and Sony should have learned from the DS’s existence that there is a very big market for devices that focus on gameplay rather than just fancy specifications.

The two screens are great. They both display vivid colors and the brightness levels are also varied. Unlike the PSP, which can’t be played under sunlight, the Nintendo DS, in most cases, can.

It’s hard to say whether the Nintendo DS’ speakers are better than the PSP’s or not. Since I don’t have a media player for the DS, I can’t compare it with the same audio files. But I can say that it’s very satisfactory. I don’t know if it’s due to the simplistic tunes that most games use, but the sound seems very nice, and it unlike past generation “Gameboys”, you won’t feel ashamed to let people hear the sounds that come out of it.

Conclusion:

As I already said, the Nintendo DS Lite was very well designed, and despite it’s shortcomings in some aspects, it’s a very fun console to play with a great game library. When you pick it up and play with it for a while, you’ll quickly realize why it appeals to so many people, and why it sells so well.

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