Hardware Review: Nintendo DS

The dual-screened wonder is out. Is it cool?

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The Nintendo DS is out. Well, sort of. The big N's new portable dual-screened gaming system flew off shelves in its first week and those quick to eBay are making a profit on the initial demand. But is it worth all they hype?

I'll be honest. When I first heard about the DS I wasn't impressed. Two screens, huh? One screen is touch-sensitive. Okay. But once I used the device for a couple hours, I was hooked. Although it can play Game Boy Advance games, this is no successor. This is an entirely different platform. Hopefully, we'll see the third party developers treat it as such.

The layout is very sleek. One directional pad with four buttons plus two shoulder buttons. The stylus and bottom screen act just like any PDA does and is tight, bright and responsive. The wide clam shell design works really well. The speakers are also impressive boasting a much purer stereo sound than the GBA . The games are still referred to as cartridges but look more like the small SD Memory cards used in many PDAs and digital cameras.

It has a microphone for future use, possibly for voice command-centric titles. Its wireless 802.11 protocol lets multiple DS's connect via wireless LAN. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been uncomfortably silent about actual internet multiplayer capabilities. This would send the likeability of the DS through the roof. Hopefully they'll see how much the lack of online play hurt Gamecube sales and the DS will get online soon. It just makes so much sense, especially with the Pictochat instant messaging software that is built into the machine.

Playing the Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt demo took a bit of getting used to. The default control set-up has you using the stylus on the bottom screen to turn and look while using the directional pad to strafe and the shoulder button to fire. To select missiles or other weapons, all you have to do is tap the respective icon on the touch screen. To jump you merely double-tap the touch screen. It's very different but after you're used to it, it controls like a breeze.

In other games, the second screen is used merely for maps. In Super Mario 64 DS, the mini games use both screens as the game screen, expanding your total view of the action.

I have seen the light. The Nintendo DS is a grand and different piece of gaming hardware. My only concern is that there isn't going to be enough software support from third parties to differentiate it from the GBA. Nintendo's own games will for sure, though. Also, its future success also hinges on Sony's PSP being much more expensive since the processing technology is much better. At the PSP's rumored $199 price point, Nintendo better have a bundle or pricing strategy ready to combat Sony's handheld release.

Regardless, the Nintendo DS is a winner. It's stylish, innovative and is a perfect third pillar to Nintendo's hardware library. It retails for $149.99.

Overall: A

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