Nintendo DS - My impressions after the E3

On this year’s E3 Nintendo presented their new handheld console, the Nintendo DS. But what’s so special about it?

Well, it has 2 displays (one of them being touch-sensitive) and it has wireless connectivity through 802.11b (WLAN) and a proprietary protocol. Nice, but two displays?

Yes. During an about 15 minutes presentation published on someone from Nintendo showed the world some small games (although most of them looked more like tech demos) that all looked quite funny, but they all have IMO one big problem. The player uses the touchscreen as primary control unit which seemed in one demo a great idea but in another it … well, at least I don’t think that it’s a good idea. The first one was a small game where Baby Mario falls from the sky and you have to draw slips so that he doesn’t touch enemies etc. In the top screen you see where Baby Mario currently is and if your slips really have they affect you’ve planned. In the lower screen you actually draw the slips. Really a nice idea :-)

On the other side Nintendo showed IIRC 2 first-person-shooter that were both controlled through the touchpad. You control the view angle and first by tipping on the screen. To be honest, I don’t think that this is such a great idea because no matter how slim your pen is, you’ll always lose some parts of the viewable area of the screen to it. IMO the best way for controlling in a fps-game on a console (or handheld) is still the 2-sticks way, but perhaps it isn’t all that bad after all :-)

Nintendo indicated that they see the DS as a big success for the current business year. I personally don’t think that it will reach that high goal esp. because there’s currently no Pokémon title announced for it. Be honest: The GBA is market leader in the handheld sector but only because there is no real competition in this sector. If Nintendo wouldn’t have the Pokémon franchise the GBA would still be market leader but not with this spreading degree. From what I know and see most of the GBA players are around 7-15 years old so they’d probably get their DS from their parents as Christmas or birthday present. There’s a big IF here because why would they want a DS if there’s no instance of their favorite franchise available for it? None of the games there were shown on the E3 looked like a “KillerGame”. Most of them looked really nice (like the Mario 64 port or the Metroid game) but none of them seemed to be really targeted at Nintendo’s 7-15 customers (I don’t count that Baby Mario game for now, because it definitely looked more like a tech demo than a standalone game.). So far I’ve only found a game staring Pikachu which seems like a remake/port/successor of Hey You Pikachu (N64) which has never been released in Europe. Because it isn’t a classic-get-them-all games I don’t give it the potential to because a system seller, although it would really be nice :-) The whole market needs some new ideas :-)

I’ve mentioned Mario 64x4 above. Yes, this is currently the only game that I’m really looking forward to simply because I really liked the original Mario 64 and the multiplayer part looks really promising. According to Gamespot you also can select the multiplayer characters in the single player mode. What this will do to the game remains to be seen and also the whole single player mode seems to be only a port of the original Nintendo 64 launch title. I really hope that Nintendo will add at least one new level.

Metroid Prime:Hunters is also one of those titles that could help the DS get some market shares from the GBA. The graphics look like MetroidPrime-light and it will probably have a multiplayer mode. As I’ve already mentioned above, Metroid Prime:Hunters uses the touch screen for change the view angle, aiming, firing and selecting weapons. The concept looks nice but it remains to be seen how good you can control the game with a stylus esp. when there are many enemies in the room and you start hammering around on the screen ;-)

Nintendo said, that the DS will have two wireless connectivity options:

  • WLAN (IEEE 802.11b)
  • A proprietary protocol developed specifically for the Nintendo DS

This connectivity could be used for multiplayer gaming without having a cable lying around :P and also for communication (within the games or not). A really nice thing to have although I don’t know why Nintendo has developed also a proprietary protocol and I couldn’t find any information about it’s benefits over WLAN yet.

Another big problem I currently see for the DS is, that it probably no longer targets the classic handheld gaming market. At least for me this market can be found on the backseats of a car, in the bus, in the train, in the plane. Controlling games with the classic control units like pads and buttons is not a big problem but having a really sensitive device like an analog stick or even something like a touch screen could become unusable in a place where vibrations are normal. Same for the microphone that could be used in Pikachu DS.

It probably a quite pessimistic view presented in this small article but better to be surprised in a positive than in a negative way ;-) I don’t think that the DS will help Nintendo that much this year but more next year. It all depends on their launch titles and especially on how fast Nintendo can ship system sellers like class Pokémon titles too the new system.

As for the PSP competition: IMO the DS and the PSP are not target the same kind of users so I currently see no point in writing about the competition between these two new handheld gaming platforms.

This article just reflects my impressions and the things noted in here don’t have to be true.