How the DS Lite Came to Be...
When the orignal Nintendo DS launched in 2004 it was met with more than a little skepticism. This was mainly due to the unorthodox features of the little handheld; it featured two screens, one of them being a touch screen. The system turned out to be a success even in the face of strong competition from rival Sony, with their Playstation Portable, or PSP. Even though the DS has met popularity around the world there were still several problems I had with the unit as an early adopter. Firstly, the system was a bit too heavy for my tastes, and secondly, the screens just weren't very well backlit. Months ago Nintendo unveiled a new model of the handheld dubbed as the DS Lite which was revealed just this month. I was quick to jump on it, even as an existing DS owner. Is it worth it, even for those who already own the original model? Read on to find out. What's Included With the Nintendo DS Lite:
The DS Lite Handheld Unit
Two Stylus Pens
AC Adapter / Battery Charger
Please note that Nintendo has opted to not include a few items which were originally packaged with the first DS model; namely the thumb and wrist strap. This isn't a problem for those who still own the original model, as you can simply swipe it from your old DS. Those who aren't so lucky, and who really want the strap will have to buy it separately.
Oh and by the way, those looking to upgrade from their old DS can transmit their wi-fi data (including friend codes) info to their new DS Lite. Props to Nintendo for including this feature. The System
The original DS was big, heavy, and just generally bulky. Pair this with it's ugly exterior and dimly lit screens and you've got an aesthetically displeasing handheld. Nintendo has addressed these problems here with the DS Lite. You'll find that while closed this unit is about half the width of the original system. Along with this size decrease comes lost weight. The new system feels fantastic and significantly less fatiguing than the orignal DS, and the weight feels better distributed. The basic layout is the same though, with the D-pad on the left side of the unit, four face buttons on the right, and the two shoulder buttons on top of the lower section of the system. The DS Lite's power switch is thankfully in a new position than before, and can now be found on the side of the unit. What's more is that Nintendo exchanged the old power button with a new slider switch, which is an improvement in my opinion. The start and select button have been shrunk down and moved to a more friendly position; they can now be found on the lower right hand side of the unit, along the touch screen.
The basic stand-out feature of the DS Lite is in it's two screens, one on the bottom section and the other located on the upper. The unit folds together in clamshell fashion, which, while it's no change from the original unit, feels a lot better thanks to a newly designed and higher quality hinge. The unit folds together nicely making it fit easily into nearly any pocket without worry of scratching either of the two beautiful screens. Gone are the oddly designed potruding edges on the original DS, as the system is now smooth, shiny, and flat on all four sides when the unit is closed. The DS Lite is actually very sleek now, with a quality plastic casing protecting the console on all surfaces outside of the clamshell. If you're looking for a gadget to match your ipod, than this is it. I just wish that Nintendo had opted to release this in more colors than just white.
The D-pad has been replaced with one that more closely resembles that found on the Gameboy Micro. Some may prefer this to the one featured on the original DS unit, however, I am just the opposite. While I'm generally pleased with the design on the DS Lite, it isn't without it's problems. Firstly, the face buttons are way too small. I understand that the unit would have had to be larger to support bigger buttons, but I personally would not have minded a slight size increase if it meant the issue would be addressed. They're just way too small, and playing for generous amounts of time hurts my thumbs. Sometimes it makes me thankful for games that use the stylus. Either way, the pain is worth it. Another slight problem is the curved edges on the inside of the unit, right where you hold the system. At first these may cut into your hands ever so slightly, but after a while you'll learn to hold the system more loosely.
The DS Lite's format medium are small little game carts shaped like SD memory cards, the type that you would use for your digital camera. These little buggers are small, and incredibly easy to lose. Nintendo addressed this problem by nixing the old cardboard boxes for their games in place of small plastic cases shaped like mini-DVD cases, only more square. This is just great in my opinion, especially because each of these cases feature a slot for storing a GBA game. This makes the system that much more portable, and I'm very happy that Nintendo didn't go the cheap route with the game packaging. The Two Screened Wonder's Key Features
The first time you boot up the system you will notice a few things. Firstly, the interface is 99.9% unchanged from the original DS. You've still got your clock (with alarm), calender, selection between DS or GBA game, Pictochat, and download play options. The only new feature here is the brightness icon displayed in the lower right hand corner. It's pretty self explanatory; you use it to switch between four brightness settings for the backlight. More options certainly would have been nice, but the DS was never intended to be a multimedia powerhouse. If you're looking for something that plays movies and music than you should really be looking at the Sony PSP instead.
As I already mentioned, the DS' main feature is that it sports two screens. Only the lower screen is touch sensitive though. This makes for a solid variety in gameplay styles, although not every game uses the touch screen, there are some which have interesting uses for it. In Kirby Canvas Curse you will use the touch screen to draw a path for Kirby to roll, while in the puzzle game, Meteos, you will use it in order to rearrange colored blocks to match with one another. As I said, there are some games which have use for it, some that control exclusively with it, and some that pretend it's not even there. If you're not that big a fan of touch screen games than there's no need to worry because there are plenty of titles which rely on more traditional control methods.
Although the touch screen may be the most used (or overused in some cases) of the system's features, there are still plenty more worth mentioning. Firstly, this unit comes with a built in microphone. This is seldom used, but developers have come up with some pretty interesting ideas with it so far. In Feel the Magic you'll use it for a mini-game involving blowing out candles, while in Nintendogs you'll use it in order to communicate with your virtual puppies. The microphone has been moved to the center of the hinge on the DS Lite which is much more convenient. I imagine that some games in the future will allow for voice chat using it, but this probably won't be incorporated for a very long time. While I'm not the biggest fan of the microphone, I'm interested to see what innovations can be done with it.
Probably my favorite feature of the system is it's ability to play Gameboy Advance games. The slot for GBA games is located on the bottom side of the unit. In an effort to keep the system looking sleek they've opted to include a placeholder mini-cartridge into this slot, which I personally think is a pretty cool idea. At least it keeps extra dust and moisture out. In the DS options menu you can choose which screen the GBA game is displayed on, which is in my opinion, another good idea. The backwards compatibility has one glaring fault however; you can't use the link-up option for multiplayer with your GBA games, not even ones which made use of the wireless adapter. I really wouldn't have minded one extra port for the link cable, and this just seems like laziness on Nintendo's part. Oh well, just another reason to keep the ol' GBA SP around.
One problem with the GBA support is the fact that you cannot map out the buttons how you'd like. Since the A and B buttons were the only two featured on the GBA, those are the ones that you must use on the DS Lite while taking advantage of the backwards compatibility. This forces you to put the thumb on your right hand into a very unnatural diagonal position in order to play GBA games. This is another case of Nintendo just being plain lazy.
Another feature Nintendo is really pushing is the DS Lite's wireless capabilities. Unlike with Nintendo's past handheld consoles, you won't ever need link cables in order to take advantage of multiplayer features. Also cool is the fact that one cartridge link-up has returned from the Gameboy Advance. What this does is allows you to transmit game data from one DS Lite to another so that you can play the same game with a friend. Of course, these multiplayer modes are mostly limited, which is due to the small amount of flash memory inside the DS Lite. It's still a really cool feature that I've taken advantage with for quite a few games when I'm the only one who owns it.
The DS Lite isn't perfect though. It's speakers seem to be of lower quality than those featured on the original DS unit. This is most noticeable when turning up the volume to max. At this setting, it's difficult to hear the handheld if there's even the slightest bit of background noise. What I find a bit odd is the fact that the volume is just fine when you're wearing headphones, and so the problem isn't with the inner hardware, but it's the speakers themselves. Brightness and Battery Life
Unlike the original DS, the Lite features four different brightness settings which can be changed on the main menu page. The first of the four is close to the original DS. In other words, it's a bit difficult to see. The next three settings are progressively brighter as you'd imagine. The highest setting is unbelievably bright; even moreso (slightly) than the PSP. I think it's really cool that Nintendo gives you a choice in the matter because all three drain the battery of the unit at different rates. I've actually found myself using the DS Lite at it's highest setting as a makeshift flashlight; it's really that bright. Because of the brightness the colors are much more vibrant on this unit, and I no longer have to strain my eyes to make out the smaller details. I'll tell you one thing; I'll never be able to go back to the original DS again.
Each of the settings use different amounts of the battery. I use the highest brightness almost exclusively, and at full charge the battery seems to last just a bit shorter than that of the original DS which is around 8 hours. I imagine you can get a ton of playtime in if you were to tone down the brightness, and I believe that Nintendo themselves have claimed the lowest setting would allow for about 20 hours of battery life. That's a ton for a handheld system. The battery life is another reason to pass up the original DS model for the Lite.
The DS Lite comes with an internal lithium Ion battery and a charger for said battery. This is a proprietary battery charger cable, and so you won't be able to use it on anything except the DS Lite. I'm not sure of exact charging times because I usually charge the unit while I'm asleep, but I believe Nintendo gave an estimate of about three hours for a complete charge. Take Your Game Online With the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection
Because of it's wireless capabilities, Nintendo has opted to include online support for the console. As far as online games go, the system's library doesn't support a ton of them, but what's there is high quality. Currently you can deathmatch online in Metroid Prime: Hunters, make friends and hang in various villages in Animal Crossing: Wild World, or you can even take to the race track in Mario Kart DS. These aren't the only titles that support online, but they are the most notable at the moment. Currently Nintendo and it's third parties are showing pretty strong support for the online plan, and there's quite a bit to look forward to in the future. Nintendo is even planning on bringing the web browser, Opera, to the DS later this month.
To take the DS Lite online you will need either a 802.11b-compatible wireless router, a Nintendo brand wi-fi usb dongle, or access to a wi-fi hotspot. Many Mcdonalds restaurants offer wi-fi support that is specifically compatible with the DS Lite's online capabilities. For a list of routers which are compatible with the DS Lite, go here:
Setting up the DS Lite to go online is a bit overly complicated. First off, you cannot access your connection settings from the DS Lite's main menu. This is completely lame, because you actually have to go into an online compatible game in order to change things around. You are given the option of creating up to three different connection profiles but can switch between them only in the wi-fi menu. Nintendo definitely should have made it easier to access these settings. I imagine that those who are inexperienced with the system will have a difficult time figuring out how to properly setup the Wi-Fi settings. Thankfully, Nintendo has a tendency to post the phone number for their online help hotline inside of each online enabled game.
While online I have noticed very few problems with the servers. The games feature next to no lag, and I have never had a problem connecting whatsoever. The online infastructure does feature a glaring problem though, and it comes in the form of friends codes. Nintendo decided to singlehandedly try to protect children from predators online, and so they've made it necessary to use friend codes in order to play with specific others. For others (Mario Kart DS is a good example), the servers feature matchmaking which chooses opponents with comparable win/loss records. This isn't too bad, but I would prefer to have more choice. Communication friendly games like Animal Crossing: Wild World use friend codes exclusively. What's lame is that there's no way of getting these unless you already know who you will be playing with unless you go into chat rooms/message boards to find other players to exchange codes with.
One thing is for certain; Nintendo needs to improve the Nintendo Wi-fi Connection before they release their Wii console. The friend codes are severely limiting to the online experience. Nintendo may feel it their duty to protect those playing over the internet, but the friend code feature should be optional. Forcing it on everyone is just a stupid move. System Capabilities
The Nintendo DS Lite is roughly as powerful as the Nintendo 64 as far as graphics are concerned. The port of Super Mario 64 to the DS is a perfect showcase of this. It's more than a bit odd to play a N64 quality game on a handheld, but it's also very cool at the same time. There is one glaring difference though; the DS Lite lacks a texture filter which causes the textures to look a bit jagged. This gives off a very Playstation-ish feel to some of the games, but it's not a big problem in all honesty. In some instances I actually prefer the sharper textures of the DS. The two different screens feature their own separate processors, meaning that both can display the same graphical qualities without a hit to either one which is also very cool in my opinion.
The DS Lite also features a very capable audio processor in terms of quality, though as I mentioned earlier, it just isn't loud enough most of the time. This processor offers big support for positional effects which can sometimes give off the feeling of having surround sound. Some games make heavy use of this for some of the gameplay elements, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence is a prime example of this with zombie moans coming from either speaker indicating the enemies' location. Overall I'd say that the audio quality is higher than the N64's even, but the speaker is just not loud enough. Oddly enough, the headphones work great even in the face of the low speaker volume. DS Lite's Games
So far developers have been quick to clamor to create DS games, as the system has a huge list of upcoming titles. The DS Lite is best represented in the platformer/side scroller, turn based strategy, and puzzle genres, but it doesn't fare so well elsewhere. Upcoming releases will correct this, especially with the elaborate amount of RPGs planned for the handheld, along with very strong Square-Enix support. The DS Lite however, lacks many fighting games and this is a problem that probably won't be remedied for a very long time. I initially expected that the library would primarily consist of ports of existing N64 titles, but I'm glad to see that this isn't the case. Very few games have been simply brought over from the N64, and it seems that developers much prefer original content. No review would be complete without a look an indication of which games to pick up. And so without further adieu, here are my top five most favorite games currently out for the system. My Top Five Most Favorite Currently Released Games #5. - Mario Kart DS Wi-Fi Online Enabled Released:
Mario Kart DS is the first entry in the series to feature online support, but it also just happens to be the best Mario Kart iteration to date. This game Features more levels and characters than any other Mario Kart and without the lame dual rider feature from Double Dash. Although it's no showcase of the DS' unique features, Mario Kart DS is still the best racing game on the handheld. #4. - Animal Crossing: Wild World Wi-Fi Online Enabled Released:
One of the first things that I thought back when Animal Crossing was released on the Gamecube was that the design basically screamed to be online. Well it finally is, and it's even better than could be imagined thanks to the DS Lite's unique features. This is a life simulation of sorts in which your character moves to a forest inhabited by personified animals. You must build up your house, collect furniture, fish, go bug catching, design clothes, and a whole lot more. This is currently the most addicting and the most replayable DS game so far. #3. - New Super Mario Bros. Released:
It's been around 15 years since Nintendo has made an all-Mario side scrolling game. I was a huge fan of the past Mario titles, and this is why I'm currently obsessed with New Super Mario Bros. This game plays like all the old Mario ventures with power-ups only it makes complete use of the DS Lite's graphical capabilities, rendering Mario and co in polygons. Although it was released just last month this game has already become one of my favorites of all time, even if it doesn't quite stack up to Super Mario World. #2. - Meteos Released:
I'll just say it straightaway; Meteos is my favorite puzzle game of all time. Most Tetris imitations fail in bringing new ideas to the tried and true formula, but Meteos is different. Much different. In Meteos you are given the task of matching falling blocks by moving them around with the touch-screen. Upon being matched, the blocks will blast away into the sky constantly being weighed down by gravity. Once they reach the top they vanish. It's much more difficult, frantic, and addictive than you can imagine. #1. - Advance Wars: Dual Strike Released:
As one of the biggest fans of the Advance Wars series on the Gameboy Advance, I'm more than happy with what they've done with Dual Strike. I wouldn't list it as my favorite game otherwise. It's basically the same formula from the first two titles, but this time you've got battles that take place on both screens and the ability to use two COs at once while combining their powers. All the old features return, and the multiplayer is as fun as ever. If you're a fan of turn based strategy games, than don't let this one pass you by. My Most Anticipated Upcoming Games
The DS Lite's future is as bright as it's screens, and you can't really make an educated purchase unless you have some idea of what's in the pipeline. Keep in mind, I'm a huge fan of RPGs. So here are my top ten most anticipated games along with their respective release dates. #10. - Children of Mana Release Date:
Sometime in 2006
The mana series is one of Square's longest running, and given it's 2-D nature, it's usually more than welcome on handheld consoles. This was one of the very first games Square-Enix announced for the Nintendo DS, and it should be one of the better action RPGs on the handheld. Although no release date has been officially announced, Children of Mana is expected to hit the DS Lite in style in the later half of 2006, so look forward to it. I know I am. #9. - SNK Vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS Release Date:
Card fighters clash was the Neo Geo's answer to Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh. While it never hit immense popularity it still looked interesting enough so I gave it a try. What I found was a truly intense card game in the vein of Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic the Gathering, but instead of dealing with magic and monsters it relied on the Capcom and SNK fighting game themes. This one will surely please fans of card battle games, and should at least raise the eyebrows of SNK and Capcom fans. #8. - Pokemon Diamond/Pearl Release Date:
Probably Mid 2007
Nintendo has only recently announced that these entries in the Pokemon universe will make use of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. This means you'll be able to finally battle your Pokemon against opponents from all around the world. While online you'll even be able to voice chat while fighting it out. Also cool is the fact that you'll be able to connect this game to the Nintendo Wii's Pokemon Battle Revolution title. As usual, you can probably expect a few hundred more Pokemon to the universe for this new quest. I personally don't see how any RPG fan could not be excited. #7. - Magical Starsign Release Date:
This is a sequel to the Japan only Magical Vacation RPG. Magical Starsign is being developed by people who made Secret of Mana for the Super Nintendo. This turn based RPG is about a group of apprentice elemental sorcerers who go follow their teacher on a quest. This journey will supposedly encompass several different elemental planets, and it should be quite a long game. The battles take place on both screens, and the graphics, while 2-D, look absolutely beautiful. I get giddy just thinking about this game. #6. - Harvest Moon DS Release Date:
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Harvest Moon, and this upcoming DS version looks absolutely splendid. The game is set to take place in Forget Me Not Valley, which was the same setting for Harvest Moon A Wonderful Life. Thankfully, this one plays like a traditional Harvest Moon title even despite it's setting. What's more is that this game will feature connectivity with Friend of Mineral Town on the GBA, which is quite cool. Virtual farming just seems right at home on a handheld. #5. - Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
Sometime in 2006
The DS Lite is quite capable even when it comes to cel-shaded graphics, and Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is a perfect showcase of that. In some screenshots it could almost be mistaken for Dragon Quest VIII even. The Dragon Quest Monsters series is basically Enix's take on Pokemon, only it's set in the series universe. You can expect a quality turn based monster collecting RPG from this one. #4. - Rune Factory: New Harvest Moon
Sometime in 2007
Rune Factory is a spin-off Harvest Moon title, and it looks to be totally awesome. You'll still run and maintain a farm and court one of several girls, but the game plays more like an RPG than your typical Harvest Moon title. You'll wield a sword and magic as you slay monsters and tread through dungeons, all the while collecting items and money. Rune Factory will also support limited online functionality. This looks as if it could turn out to be the greatest Harvest Moon game ever. #3. - Tales of the Tempest
Probably Sometime in 2007
Here's yet another series I'm a huge fan of, and I'm very glad that Namco has seen it fit to grace the DS with a completely original entry. Tales of the Tempest is another game which makes use of the DS Lite's cel-shading abilities, and it looks absolutely fantastic. As an RPG it's battle system looks to be very similar to that of Tales of Symphonia, in other words, it's completely in 3-D. As soon as it's announced for US release I'll be one of the first to throw down a pre-order. #2. - The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Sometime in 2007
The Wind Waker is considered to be the oddball Zelda title due to it's whacky cel-shading graphic style, until now. Nintendo is continuing the graphical style on the DS with The Phantom Hourglass. It looks surprisingly close to the Wind Waker in terms of graphics in still screenshots, which is amazing. This adventure will be controlled exclusively with the stylus, but besides this little difference, it should play just like the overhead Zelda titles we've come to love. What's not to be excited about? #1. - Final Fantasy III
And here it is, my most anticipated DS title. This is a complete 3-D remake of the only Final Fantasy title that hasn't been released in the US (for reference, the Final Fantasy III we got for the Super NES was actually part VI). The graphics in this one are absolutely fantastic, and given the series' lineage, the gameplay should be just as great. This entry was what started the legendary job system which alone gives this one street cred with Squaresoft fans everyone. This is the RPG to get on the DS once it's released. My Overall Recommendation
If you were considering getting the original model DS than don't. The DS Lite costs the same price in most places, but it's so much better it's not even funny. The DS Lite is a fantastic deal at only $130, especially to those who may have been considering picking up a Gameboy Advance SP or Micro. The only reason at all to have a GBA around is if you still link up for multiplayer with those games, or if backward compatibility to the original Gameboy is important to you. If neither of those apply, than go with the DS Lite.
Comparisons to the PSP are inevitable because they're competing handheld consoles, and I happen to own both. Although in the beginning of the PSP's lifespan I considered it superior to the DS, the tables have turned. The DS Lite just has the more interesting line-up to me, both current and future, and now that the screens are brighter, I have to recommend the DS Lite over the PSP to almost anyone except those who enjoy sports and racing games. Just keep in mind that the PSP plays movies and music, and if that's really important to you, go with the PSP instead.
My final recommendation? Get a DS Lite right now!
Want little more media player in your handheld? Check out my PSP Review Here