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[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 08/07/04 ] = Dualism

Recently, the Nintendo DS has been all the talk among Nintendo fans and casual gamers alike. With dual-screens and a laundry-list of extra functions, fans have been salivating over Nintendo's new "third-pillar" of gaming. While some have praised the hardware for being innovative, others have labeled it a mere gimmick. Over the past few months, I have heard the impressions of many, and now it is time to voice my own...

I stand somewhere in between on the Nintendo DS; for many reasons it is a difficult piece of hardware to pin-down. I was sold by the GameBoy Advance when it came out, and I was elated when I got the GameBoy Player, but as of this writing the Nintendo DS hasn't impressed me as much. Not that I dislike the hardware (it hasn't even been released yet), I'm just not that impressed with what has been shown thus far. My impressions of the NDS are bittersweet; I think the system has potential, but some of its features sound insignificant. I have to see more to be impressed. Below are my initial impressions of the Nintendo DS.

[ Specs ] = Potential
The NDS features two screens (one standard, one touch), two processors (one ARM9, one ARM7), and six buttons for control. In contrast to some, I wouldn't say that the dual screens are a gimmick; the concept has potential, but it might be hard for Nintendo to actually get developers to utilize it enough to impress. Sure, there are a few games that have demonstrated a bit of what can be done with the dual screens, but what will it be like further down the line? The dual screen concept might appeal to the average consumer, but then again, is the average consumer open enough to innovation? Will it catch on more with the average consumer (i.e. Billy Wal-Mart), or more with those who live for games (i.e. gamers)? If the NDS appeals enough to both crowds, Nintendo could have a real hit on their hands.

The dual processors are also interesting at first glance; the NDS can push 3-D graphics a notch above that of the N64, run games at 60 fps, and create effects like fog and cel-shading. Although I am a big fan of the N64, the truth is that I was a little disappointed to see that Nintendo hadn't made the NDS a bit stronger in the visuals department. When compared to that of Sony's PlayStation Portable, the graphics engine of the Nintendo DS is inferior; the PlayStation Portable is said to be capable of graphics beyond that of the PlayStation 2. Even if the PSP turns out to be capable of only PS2-quality visuals, graphical comparisons could be a difficult hurdle for the NDS to overcome. Affordability is always a factor to consider, but it would have been nice to see a slightly stronger NDS.

On the other hand, even though the NDS can't match the PSP in sheer versatility in graphical ability, the system still has potential. Developers can use the hardware's unique graphics engine and dual-screen concept to design some truly innovative games. While the orthodox approach of the PSP hardware can be used to develop games that refine genres, the unorthodox approach of the NDS hardware can be used to develop games that reinvent genres. For example, developers can remake classics and design them to take advantage of the dual screens; developers can create new ways to play old games. Sure, If developers can create new ways to play old games that we love, they will create new gaming experiences that can only be found on the NDS. However, developers must be be willing to create such experiences.

The NDS also has six buttons, which is a relief. The four-button layout of the GBA was somewhat limiting, so it's good to see that Nintendo decided to go with six buttons for the NDS. I would have opted for all six buttons on the face (for easy access) rather than having them on the corners, but I guess beggars can't be choosers. Then there's the digital-pad, which looks similar to that of the GBASP, but better. It looks comfortable, easy on the thumbs, and in contrast to that of the GBASP, it doesn't look like it will smash in with time (never to return to its original position). In comparison, the NDS looks like it will have a more comfortable digital-pad than that of the PSP. And although it has nothing to do with control, it must be noted that the new, most recently unveiled model of the NDS looks a lot better than what was shown at E3. When I first saw the fat and bulky preliminary NDS model from E3, I thought to myself, "what's up with the design, Nintendo?" It was like an ice cream sandwich that played games. It was almost as if Nintendo wanted to be the ass-end of even more jokes when they designed the preliminary model of the NDS. They're past that now, though, and the new design looks sleek-enough to appeal to the masses. Now, all I have to say is that they better make a model to match their upcoming hardware if they plan to implement connectivity once again.

[ Multiple Functions ] = Essential For Success Of Modern Hardware?
Alright. Although many think a shit-load of extra functions is what makes a piece of videogame hardware better, I beg to differ. The NDS has some features that are actually useful, but then it also has some that aren't so useful. Aside from the practical functions of backward compatibility and wireless connectivity (finally, no more link cables!), I don't really give a rat's ass about the extra shit that the NDS will be able to do. I don't give a shit about using the touch-screen for messaging, drawing, or PDA functions; I want to play games. Besides, PDAs are bullshit; what ever happened to actually writing things down and keeping track of them on your own? Nevermind. The wireless game-sharing feature is probably the hardest of them all to swallow; when the GBA came out Nintendo said that we would be able to play multi-player games with one cartridge. That is, we were to save money on buying cartridges, and wouldn't have to deal with region issues when linking. Did things turn out that way? No. Not at all. How many multi-player GBA games are there that can actually be played using one cartridge? Hardly any; all of the good multiplayer games (SSFIITR, KOFEX2, KOFEX, FFO) require two cartridges to play. In other words, for reasons we may never know, the whole "use one cartridge to play multiplayer games" feature of the GBA was hardly utilized; will the same thing happen with the wireless game sharing feature of the NDS? Maybe the wireless game-sharing feature of the NDS won't be ignored, but I'll remain skeptical until I see common utilization.

The microphone capability is another feature I could care less about. You can tell characters in games what to do, or you can chat over the Internet. Well, I can see how talking to characters or clapping would be good for the kids, or how music games could work well with it, but who gives a shit about chatting over the Internet with a piece of game hardware? If I wanted that shit, I'd get an N-Gage. I'm not sure what the other extra features of the NDS will be, but chances are, the only ones with redeeming value are the backward compatibility and wireless link functions. Nintendo calls it "more than a gaming system," but the truth is that Nintendo fans are into games, and want to play games.

[ Third-Party Support ] = Who's Got Nintendo's Back On This One?
Over 100 developers are said to be making games for the NDS, many of which have made rather positive comments about the hardware. Big guns include Capcom, Sega, Konami, and Namco, along with several others, like Koei and Tecmo. And who can forget the traitors that stabbed Nintendo in the back with the N64? Square! Surprisingly, Square is on the list of NDS developers, and they even made a positive comment about the hardware; holy shit! You know something's up when Squeenix rears its ugly head; will Square bail on Nintendo again? Speaking of bullshit, EA has also signed the big book of developers for the NDS, which means it'll get a surplus of shit football games (accompanied by equally sickening celebrity appearances and commercials). Now, where the hell is SNK (er, Playmore)? So Nintendo was able to get cocky-pricks like Squeenix and EA to sign, but wasn't able to get SNK to sign for development? Shit.

On paper all of this looks good. Capcom says they will bring the Mega Man EXE and Viewtiful Joe series (and hopefully more) to the NDS, Konami has announced a Castlevania title, Sega's bringing good 'ol Sonic, Koei has a Dynasty Warriors game in the works, and even the assholes at Square Enix have a title planned. But how will things really turn out? Will developers end up making only a handful of games for the NDS (similar to the GC and N64), or (like Squeenix) just end up bailing completely? These initial announcements of development sound good, but what will they become? If developers already see successful Nintendo systems like the GC and GBP/GBA as a risk to develop games for, then what do they really think of the NDS (a system whose fate is yet to be determined)? Sure, developers have made warm comments about the NDS, but when it comes down to it, will they embrace and support it as much their comments indicate? I would like to be more positive about the situation of development for the NDS, but the plain fact is that Nintendo is given very limited support from third-party developers. For such a devoted company, time and time again they are denied sufficient third-party support from even the biggest of developers in the industry. Will Nintendo end up supporting the NDS almost single-handedly, like with the N64, or like Sega with the DC? Let's hope not...

[ Conclusion ] = An Uncertain Future
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata says that the NDS "will change the future of handheld gaming," and who knows? It just might. But for the NDS to change the future of gaming at all, both developers and the gaming populace must embrace it. And it might be hard for both sides to embrace something as unorthodox in concept as the Nintendo DS. If developers actually utilize the power of the NDS hardware and show enough interest, the consumer might also show interest. Going up against the PSP is already a challenge; additional obstacles could spell disaster for the fate of the NDS. At this point, the NDS seems to be somewhat of a wildcard for Nintendo; it seems like the fate of the hardware could go either way. I'll probably buy one eventually; I'm just hoping that more than anything it'll get proper third-party support...

[ Extra ] = Features
[ 1 ] = Official Nintendo DS Site
[ 2 ] = GameSpy Nintendo DS Coverage