Handheld gaming, for me, has always been hit or miss. I’ve never been able to spend the time hunched over a small screen, playing dumbed-down games with subpar graphics and sound. When I first heard of the Nintendo DS, my first impressions were cynical at best.
Why two screens? Would wireless technology ultimately make it a useful addition?
When the DS and I initially met at the first-annual Nintendo Enthusiast Summit, the feisty handheld must have known I had been talking smack because it punched me in the face, kicked me over, and left me in a daze.
The DS itself, is sleek and unimposing, and fit perfectly in my hands. The stacked screens demanded my undivided attention, and my jaw dropped when I realized how incredibly light the device is. The overall design of the DS allows for a very comfortable posture; I felt more like I was interacting with futuristic PDA then a handheld unit. Input options include a stylus and a plastic thumb-pad which enables you to use the touch screen as a controller. While the DS may measure up to be incredibly snug in your pocket, it definitely won’t be spending much time there.
Putting the DS to work, the storage media of choice for the games is a tiny card that’s almost half the size of a GBA cartridge, and a slot in the front accommodates GBA games. When powering on your DS, you're welcomed by a chorus of fully positional, crisp, and clear stereo sound from its pair of kickin’ speakers and a boot-up screen appears. The menu offers several options including a variety of first-time setup and general configuration modes, content download functionality (allows users to temporarily download a game for multiplayer gaming), and the oft-discussed chat application, Pictochat.
The downloadable game system is impressive. For example, Ridge Racer DS can support up to 6 players off of one card. One DS hosts the game, and the rest use the built-in wireless to download and play. Pictochat comes stock with the hardware, no card needed, and can support dozens of people drawing, typing, and goofing around at once. Once we set up our DS to our liking, we quickly saw that the "Golden Child" of Nintendo comes spilling over with technology and hardware features, but how does it play?
The first game subject to slobbering over by me and other Enthusiasts was Metroid Prime: Hunters. Oh, was it delicious. As a pack-in for the hardware’s release, Hunter is more of a demo and proof-of-concept for many of the handhelds features. The premise behind Hunters find our heroine Samus training for an upcoming intergalactic bounty hunter tournament in a series of holographic tests. Players can hone their skills against a slew of enemies in single-player training modes like Regulator, Survival and Morph Ball, then put them to the test when you compete in Death Match arenas with your friends over a wireless connection.
To accommodate most gamers play styles, Hunters features five different controller configurations. The default config is particuarly interesting -- you use the stylus to look around, aim, and double-tap to jump. Traditional FPS keyboard-and-mouse fans will especially relate to control setup. Further, players can select weapons and switch in and out of their morphball form by tapping icons placed around the overhead map on the touch screen.
Ultimately, the real glory of Hunters gaming experiece lies in the multiplayer deathmatch modes. I was in awe as to how easy the overall process of diving into a multiplayer game was. Turn the game on. Position yourself within 100 feet of a future fragmate. Select multiplayer mode, choose a game type. Kill or be killed. Rinse, repeat. Within one round of deathmatch, my three opponents and I were laughing and exchanging excited taunts. Metroid Prime: Hunters is the distilled essence of multiplayer deathmatch.
Those hungering for an adventure game have Super Mario 64: DS to look forward to. Everything that made the revolutionary Mario 64 game is revisited in the new Super Mario 64: DS. This isn’t just a flawless port of the original; some awesome additions have been made, breathing gusts of new life into the classic game.
In SMB 64: DS, gamers can enjoy playing with the marquee cast in the Mushroom Kingdom including Yoshi, Luigi, Wario, and of course, Mario himself. Each character has his own unique abilities: Yoshi for example, can unleash his traditional struggle-jump (what I consider to be something of a constipated flurry), Mario’s other half can render himself invisible and the ever-grumpy Wario can turn to stone.
Collecting stars is even more addicting, challenging you to find over 150 in total. Progression thoughout the game will award you with over 64 games to enjoy, each which will be available during the course of your adventure. These diverse subgames will undoubtedly add breadth to an already, classic epic title which serves as enough reason to purchase it upon release.
In an interesting example of the DS's potential hardware capabilities, you can use the thumb-strap device to slide your thumb around the touch screen, allowing for precise analog control over your character. All of the tight turns, fluid running and tricky jumps would be difficult without this feature. Plus, thanks to the full camera control within the game can be facilitated by the on-screen buttons.
Sega's Feel the Magic was another game which stood out in the crowd of upcoming launch titles and offered an excellent display of the DS hardware. In Feel the Magic, you'll assist the Rub Rabbits, a “Super Performance Group,” complete a series of minigames in a quest to help woo a girl. The graphics and design of the game are hip and trendy; think Andy Warhol with a sprinkle of Wario Ware. The levels consist of coaxing a swallowed goldfish out of a stomach by frantically rubbing it along with the stylus, or blowing out looming candles by actually blowing on the touch screen.
This season, gamers will see the Nintendo DS cement Nintendo's continued domination of the handheld gaming market. Its variety of innovative features, a rich variety of never-before-seen launch titles, and the reasonable pricing. On November 21, prepare to experience the utterly impressive system set to unleash its off amazing potential. I touched it, and it felt good.
Click here to check out our Day Two snapshots.
Nintendo Enthusiast Summit '04: Part I