The Nintendo DSi, launched November 1st in Japan and April 5th in North America, is the third version of Nintendo’s dual screen hand held console. However, unlike the first upgraded version – the DS Lite – this version comes with a good portion of useful and far more significant upgrades. The majority of the updates, whether hardware or software specific, are useful for the most part while a good portion end up seeming gimmicky and somewhat useless.
The most significant hardware update to the DSi is the reduction of the Game Boy Advance (GBA) game port. The previous two DS versions had a slot on the bottom of their machines that allowed a GBA game card to be inserted there so that the DS would become backwards compatible. This isn’t too much of a big deal when you look at the number of people who already own a DS. Players wanting the backwards compatibility most likely already own a GBA or one of the previous two DS machines. People picking up a DSi for the first time (not currently/previously owning a DS) probably aren’t interested in the older generation games. It shows that Nintendo was ready to establish that they have moved on and set their priorities on their newest hand held gaming platform.
Another great addition the DSi has in order to tower over its previous versions is a larger screen size. Not only are the screens both noticeably bigger, but they have once again been made brighter. This helps make the game play much more colorful and bold; leading to an overall better time with your video games.
The second biggest hardware addition to the DSi is the inclusion of two built in cameras. One is located on the top of the machine, pointed away from the viewer while the other is located inside on the hinge’s center. This allows you to be able to take a picture of your subject matter in front of you or take a shot of yourself while being able to see how your photo will turn out.
To use the camera, you can either press the L or R buttons (located on the “shoulder” region of the machine) or you can enter the Nintendo DSi Camera option from the main menu. This section allows you to choose whether you would like photos to be taken and saved to the machine’s built in memory, or onto an external SD card you may have. Choosing to save photos to an SD card, or transferring them onto it later, allows you to upload any pictures you have taken to your computer.
Once choosing your storage source, you can begin taking photos and then “editing” them. Your edit options can range from Distortion, Graffiti, Emoter, Merge and etc. For the most part these options seem quite childish and would in no means be used for any serious photographing. This shows how the DSi is now being aimed at an even larger age group and video game audience. Since adding goofy sunglasses to your friends face may give the average gamer a quick giggle, it may provide hours of fun for the more casual gamer looking to just mess around.
Though there are a few options that the camera section has that are quite interesting. Choices like Emoter: where the machine will change the emotion of your face and make it look almost natural, were quite a cool idea. Another, Merge, allows you to take a picture of two people’s faces and the machine will merge their images together to make a 50-50 comparison of the two. Though, once again, these would never be taken serious for anything other than a quick laugh, it shows that Nintendo did put some thought in to some of the options to give people and ensure a good time.
The more minor functions of the camera are using it to create a background like image for your main menu or even setting up a calendar in which you can view a slideshow of the photos taken that day. These were probably my favorite part of the camera since I could actually see using them and enjoyed being able to customize my DSi to the way I liked it.
The addition of a camera opens Nintendo up to yet another form of game play. With games like WarioWare: Snapped! that utilize the machine’s camera for a good portion of the game, we can see new ways to enjoy and play video games.
The next available option from the main menu was Nintendo DSi Sound. This is a section that allows you to record your voice, edit the track or play back your own music. When selecting Record and Edit a Sound, you are brought to a screen with 18 speech bubbles on it. Each one acts as a file to save a recorded track. Selecting one of the bubbles will bring up a panel where you can record a 10 second clip of your liking. Once you have created your track, you can then go in and customize the speed and pitch however you like. Out of the two editing options, this is the one I enjoyed most. Being able to slow down my voice and/or making it a higher pitch was quite intriguing.
Your other option is represented by four panels together and basically allows you to change the sound of your clip. Your options from there are Parakeet, Electric Fan, Low Harmony and Trumpet. Each of these have sub categories in them, for example: clicking the parakeet button twice will change it to Robot and thus change the sound of your clip to a robot’s voice. Like the majority of the Camera program’s options, these come across as nothing more than a quick 2 minute demo. I couldn’t see myself ever coming back to use these functions after I had tried them once or twice.
Instead of recording your own audio tracks, the DSi allows you to import music from an SD card. And though it promised me the ability to play around with pitch and speed of my songs, I was never able to get it to work. The machine asked for ACC formatted music and when I uploaded in the requested file format, it still came up as unreadable. It was a shame that I couldn’t get this function to work.
Overall this program came up a bit short in terms of enjoyment. I can’t see myself ever coming back to the Nintendo DSi Sound option. Like the Camera program, the majority of this didn’t catch my attention for longer than five minutes. Maybe if the SD card option had worked out my opinion would have changed a bit.
Probably the biggest addition to the system is the inclusion of a DSi Ware shop. This acts like the shop available to the Wii in which, if you have a wireless internet connection, you can go online and purchase games. The new DSi shop also has the option of purchasing not only games, but gadgets and other add-ons to your system. These can range calculators to an internet browser. When shopping you are presented with four options in terms of price points: free, 200, 500 and 800+. Like the Nintendo Wii, the currency is in a points like system called Nintendo Points.
This is probably the best part of the DSi as games are now being made for the system itself and come at a much cheaper price point. Of course, the games aren’t as lengthy as a retail game but if we are presented with some of the games coming out on WiiWare (the Nintendo Wii’s downloadable game service) then this will be a great program. It also opens up another stream of marketing when presented to independent game companies.
At the same time however, there are a lot of useless products to download from the DSi Shop. I don’t really need an Animal Crossing themed clock, especially when the DSi has a built in calendar and digital clock. As eager as I am to see what great products will be launched through the DSiWare service, it seems that you’ll need to keep an eye on what’s really worth your money, and what is just junk.
Like the previous DS versions, the DSi still comes with the options of PictoChat and DS Download Play. PictoChat is a chat room like program that allows any version of DS to chat if they are within a set proximity. Here you can type messages to one another or even draw pictures.
DS Download Play is a feature that allows users to engage in multiplayer sessions when only one person has the game. For example, you can play some multiplayer Mario Kart DS together, even if only one of you has purchased the actual game.
The majority of the updates on the Nintendo DSi aren’t anything game changing. If you are just looking for a machine to play the average DS branded game, any of the three versions will be fine and you most likely own one of the previous ones. If you’re a core gamer, you won’t find many of the software inclusions to be very significant. The majority of the in-game programs won’t keep your interest for very long. If you already own one of the original two DS versions, it would be hard to recommend this as a “for-sure-deal.”
That being said, if you’re on the market for a DS and don’t know what version to pick up – this is the one to get. With all the upgrades on the original format, it becomes a well structured machine. And though it may not be the best MP3 player or camera, with the larger, brighter screens it stands as the best to play your Nintendo DS games on. And with the addition of the new downloadable game service: DSiWare, more games are becoming available to play than ever on the machine. The Nintendo DSi is a great and well thought out machine; it just sets itself back by not bringing enough new and significant features to warrant a $200 price point.
When it comes to my verdict on whether you should rush out and purchase a DSi, or hang back, I remain a little on the fence. If you own a previous Nintendo DS handheld, I would recommend holding on to your money. But if you’re a new gamer out there and looking to pick up one of the Nintendo DS versions, your best bet would be the Nintendo DSi. Considering the small difference in price point between the DS Lite and the DSi, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth on the latter.