Nintendo really shouldn’t be here now. Its Game Cube console, if you believe some areas of the press, has been a total failure, while the Nintendo DS was all set to be completely overwhelmed by Sony’s PlayStation Portable hand-held.
And yet here we are. After the PSP’s strong start, Nintendo’s DS has shot ahead in sales, the Game Cube has still managed to ship over 20 million units worldwide and the forthcoming Wii console has been garnering the kind of positive buzz that money alone simply can’t buy. And it’s arriving on time.
Nintendo has, to be fair, been arguing for some time that there’s more to games machines than sheer brute force. Certainly on paper the PSP eases ahead of the DS in terms of sheer performance potential.
But in the same way that the original monochrome Game Boy saw off the colour Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear, the DS is winning many friends, and rightly so. For Nintendo has focused, wisely, on the software.
And that doesn’t mean retreading as many old franchises as you can dig up. It’s about games that may not have the best graphics, may not look the finest in the shop window, yet in terms of playability and originality, they’re simply fresh.
And so for every Mario Kart or Mario Bros, there’s a Brain Training, a Nintendogs or an Advance Wars. Compare that with the PlayStation Portable, where those quirky, interesting little games that lend themselves to handheld machines are notable by their almost total absence.
Yet all that’s a preamble to the reason we’re here: the DS Lite. This is a beauty of a machine that’s a major argument in its own right for clever thinking over packing as much tech into the box as possible. The key selling points of the original DS are all in here: dual screen displays, built-in wireless connectivity (meaning multi-player gaming without a snake of wires), a touch screen with stylus and a microphone for voice control of certain games.
Yet it’s two-thirds of the size of the original DS, has better screen lighting and power save functions (to extend the life of the in-built battery, which can easily be recharged via the mains anyway), has been redesigned slightly for easier and clearer use, and aesthetically looks terrific. Several colour choices are available too.
The machine has slots for the DS games themselves, as well as a covered slot to plug in your old Game Boy Advance games too. Backwards compatibility should, in our view, be a must with all future consoles, simply as a common courtesy, not to mention being good business sense.
Priced at under £100 and with a software library that’s already featuring several must-have titles with the promise of plenty more around the corner, the DS Lite is a triumph. It’s not only cheaper by far than Sony’s PSP (which does have plenty in its corner, in case you think we’ve got a downer on it), it’s also got a stronger software base and generally seems to be a more intelligent piece of hardware.
This refined version is more comfortable to use, particularly for longer periods, and proves, refreshingly, that speed and raw power really isn’t everything. And given that it’s markedly cheaper than its nearest rival, it’s one of the finest gaming hardware bargains currently to be found on the market.
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