Thursday, May 31, 2012

Report Card - Nintendo DS

My Report Card segment took an extended holiday, but it has returned. This time we are examining the Nintendo DS line of handhelds. One of the best-selling systems of all time, did the DS deserve all of its sales? Let's find out by looking at the hardware, software, features, and online-- but not in that order.


There have been four major models of the DS: the original bulky DS, the DS Lite, the DSi, and the DSi XL. The original DS wasn't very pleasing to the eyes, and the power button was in a precarious location. With the DS Lite (which will now be initialed as DSL), turning on or off the system was moved to the right side. You just moved the slider to turn it on or off (with you needing to push the slider for a longer time to turn it off). The start and select buttons moved from over the face buttons to underneath them and near the lower right side of the touch screen. Instead of being rectangular in shape, they were circular in shape. One of the things I really love about the DSL and its future successors was that the system had a matte finish on the inside. This meant that fingerprints wouldn't show up and make your handheld's insides look absolutely messy. This is something I am flabbergasted that the Nintendo 3DS does not have. Regardless, all isn't well with the DSL. Many models of the system had issues with the hinges where they could crack, leaving the portable unplayable. I haven't encountered this manufacturing fault myself, but it is important to make note of.

Meanwhile, the DSi once again moved the power button, but this time to the lower left side of the bottom screen. A low resolution camera was added for friends and family to take pictures, but as stated, the quality of the photos left much to be desired. With the advent of the DSi XL, the whole build of the system was increased in size to show off a bigger screen and for use for people with bigger hands. The hinge problem that plagued the DSL seemed to have gone away. If not for the hinge chaos, the hardware would be graded higher than a...

Grade: B


Depending on which build of the DS you get, you have different features at your disposal. I personally enjoy the features provided by the original DS and DSL the most. All models give you Pictochat, a fun drawing/messaging app that is for local players with two or more DS systems, as well as the ability to perform Download Play, allowing two or more players with their own systems to dabble in multiplayer with one another. Some games require all players to have a game card while others like Mario Party DS only need one game card and up to four DS systems.

The main draw for me of the vanilla DS and DSL is the backwards compatibility with Game Boy Advance games. There is a slot on the bottom of the DS and DSL to play every GBA game under the sun. That boosts the library available to DS and DSL owners sevenfold.

Meanwhile, for DSi (XL) owners, you have an entire shop filled with downloadable games of varying prices at your every aching whim. You have games like Pictobits, Aura Aura Climber, Bomberman Blitz, Cave Story, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, Rayman, Shantae: Risky's Revenge, UNO, Metal Torrent, Mighty Flip Champs! and many more to choose from. DSi (XL) owners also get to play around with the built-in camera to take photos of friends, family, nature, and other oddities. If only the DSi and DSi XL offered the option of being able to play GBA games, it would be the ultimate handheld.

Grade: B


The DS was Nintendo's first try with online... and it most definitely shows. Each game required players to acquire a much dreaded twelve digit friend code to share with other players if they wanted to enter a match with them. You can't add a friend unless they have added you in return, and there is no easy way to tell if they've added you except for hopping online and hoping. With Nintendo's poor online this meant that patches were impossible to implement (patches wouldn't show up until Nintendo's next mainline handheld, the 3DS), so hackers who glitched games and cheated were free to run amok. Combine these problems with occasionally atrocious netcode, and you have a losing formula in the online space. You can tell that Nintendo went in kicking and screaming towards online. Thankfully, Nintendo has greatly improved in the online arena, and the Wii U should show what they have learned. That said, the DS' online gets a...

Grade: F

First-party Exclusives

Nintendo brought a fair majority of their biggest IPs to their ultra-popular portable. For traditional 2D platforming you had games like the return to form of Mario in New Super Mario Bros., the sequel to the SNES classic Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island in Yoshi's Island DS, for the first time in the West, The Legendary Starfy, multiple Kirby games like the innovative Kirby Canvas Curse, Kirby: Squeak Squad, Kirby Super Star Ultra, and Kirby Mass Attack, and for the first time ever in a starring role, Princess Peach in Super Princess Peach. Other series got their due time such as Metroid Prime Hunters, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, WarioWare: D.I.Y. and Touched, Pokemon Black/White, Mario Kart DS (the best in the series), Tetris DS, Star Fox Command, Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Days of Ruin, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, a new Fire Emblem and Golden Sun, and many more. Nintendo even brought forth some new franchises to stimulate the casual market like a publishing deal with Level 5 for Professor Layton, Brain Age, Picross 3D and Picross DS, Planet Puzzle League, Elite Beat Agents, Clubhouse Games, 100 Classic Books, and Nintendogs. Nintendo created new gaming experiences with old and new IPs that really utilized the features of the DS with terrific success.

Grade: A

Third-party Exclusives

Third-parties spent a lot of their time slowly warming up to the Nintendo DS. The support was at a snail's pace at the beginning of the system's life, but as the handheld took off in Japan and then shortly thereafter in other parts of the world, third-parties jumped onto the bandwagon and began producing, publishing, and developing some stellar hits. We had three Castlevanias of the classic so-called "Metroidvania" design, two Sonic games in Sonic Rush and Sonic Rush Adventure, multiple Dragon Quest remakes and a huge exclusive in Dragon Quest IX (which sent message boards in a terrible tizzy), a load of Final Fantasy games such as remakes of III and IV, Contra 4, Phantasy Star 0, Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, a port of Chrono Trigger, Okamiden-- the sequel to the brilliant Okami, several Mega Man games, and two original Kingdom Hearts entries. There were even new IPs such as Radiant Historia, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Jump Superstars, Soul Bubbles, The World Ends With You, Meteos (from the mind of Masahiro Sakurai of Smash Bros. fame) Nanostray and its sequel, and Drawn to Life. Japan supported the platform more than the West, but you'd be hard pressed to find a better lineup of third-party offerings on any other handheld.

Grade: A


My Nintendo DS Lite still holds a special place in my closet, and unlike when people say they've placed a system in their closet, I still play my DS Lite. How else can I play Game Boy Advance classics without hooking up the ol' GameCube and Game Boy Player? That notwithstanding, even without the GBA backwards compatibility, there is an abundance of tremendous titles awaiting any DS owner, and now with the 3DS that can play most DS games, the library gets another chance to shine. It is not only one of the best handheld libraries in gaming history (it might even be considered the best), but it is one of the best libraries handheld or console in gaming history. Design flaws aside, the system is one of my favorites which I will always have numerous cherished memories of.

Overall Grade: A-
(not an average)


What would your grades of the Nintendo DS family of systems be? Did you enjoy this edition of Report Card? I hope you did as I enjoyed writing it. Share your thoughts and memories of the DS in the comments section.

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