The DS is too heavy to play in bed or on the subway ? so right off the bat it failed my usability test. Try holding
the DS up for more than fifteen minutes without getting a cramp. You will eventually need to lean your elbows on
something. A workmate pointed out that it reminded him of an old Polaroid camera. The ones that fold up ? you remember
them if you?re over 30. He?s absolutely right. The Nintendo DS is called a handheld console. That may be so. But
Nintendo really dropped the ball if they were trying to build a portable handheld console. The sucker won?t fit in any
pocket I?ve ever seen.
Now that I?ve gotten my hands on it, I?m more convinced than ever that Nintendo will have a lot of returns on its
hands. The stylus control (a wonderful idea) will result in thousands of run-down screens within months. I already
notice scrape marks from using the Nintendo stylus. I can only imagine what my nephew?s DS looks like. My guess is
something between a 1989 polaroid camera and a ten cent whore.
Another downside to the design is the overall build quality. The DS is certainly heavy but that doesn?t translate into
a feeling of sturdiness. The thumbpad and buttons are a flimsy, black plastic that don?t look or feel like they should
be a part of the DS. This can be excused as a first-generation oversight, of course. As the price of making the console
drops, I?m sure Nintendo will up the quality of the buttons.
In the ?splitting hairs? department, the two screens seem to offer a different resolution and contrast, which can be
distracting in bright, happy games like Super Mario DS.
So the design of the DS makes it cumbersome to play and carry around. But that?s not where the experience ends, thank
goodness. It?s only fair that we get into why the console is such a failure in the usability department. The short
answer is, because it?s been designed to offer us some amazing games.
While I?ve cursed the hell out of the thing from the moment I shoved it open (like the two huge iron doors that
Aragorn pushed through in The Two Towers film), I also enjoyed Super Mario DS from the start. A good part of the reason
I enjoyed it is due to the same details I?ve been blasting, above.
One, sound. The sound on this bugger is unbelievable. Nintendo did not scrimp on the aural stuff. You can set the
games to surround sound, and it bloody well works, if you can believe it. The waterfall and chirping birds in Marioland
surround you. Beeps and woops tumble from the DS like it was a high-end stereo component. My guess is that a good part
of the heft is the speaker/sound hardware.
Two, dual-screen. While the stylus-control pad combo of Super Mario DS is next to impossible to get down within a few
days (a big minus), the controls also show the potential of the DS to offer up unique titles. The Super Mario DS
minigames reveal the stylus? potential better than the main game. Each character (Mario, Wario, Yoshi and Luigi) get a
couple of their own distractions, all of which are nifty and fun due to the stylus screen. For example, Wario?s
slingshot cannonball is a great time-sucker, where you pull the sling back and let it loose upon falling bombs.
Three, graphics. The processor in the DS is more powerful than I thought. I bet it adds to the heft, too. The graphics
are crisp and clear. The boot-up times are short. There are no dropped frames at any point in Mario, or the Metroid
demo. The DS delivers the eye candy, and I ate it up.
Four, backward compatibility. I can play my GBA SP games in the DS. While this will take a while to get used to
(should I decide to keep the DS) it is a very welcome feature. I certainly wouldn?t want to discourage it in future
Nintendo products. But, once again, feature-rich seems to mean extra tonnage and gargantuan size. Insert heavy sigh
If you take a look at the upcoming titles for the DS you can see the obvious ? developers are creaming over this piece
of hardware. They love the idea of split-screen. They love the idea of stylus input. And they love the processing
power. So, once again, the biggest deficiencies of the DS?s usability and design ends up contributing to its biggest
strength. Go figure.
As you can probably see, my experience with the DS has been confusing. I genuinely dislike the device?s design and
feel. In my opinion, Nintendo has dropped the ball on making a portable handheld that I can whip out and play at a
moment?s notice. But the DS is also going to do exactly what Nintendo said it would do?change gaming forever. I guess,
to be revolutionary you have to make some sacrifices. As long as I don?t have to sacrifice my lower back to the DS?s
sheer heft, I?ll be happy to overlook its weaknesses.
After all is said and done, I look forward to the next round of DS games in early December. At which point my
love-hate relationship with Nintendo?s latest baby will, no doubt, continue. In the meantime, I will defintely be
playing my GBA SP games in the best handheld console ever made, the GBA SP.