November 22, 2004

Nintendo DS Initial Review and Impressions by Arogan

Stopped by today at Best Buy and picked one up with no problems. No forced bundle either. $150. It comes with a metroid demo. Frys is enforcing bundling. I also picked up Super Mario 64 DS for $30.

First Impressions
- It's big. Much bigger and thicker than I thought it would be. One word you would NOT use to describe the device is sleek.
- Shares the same port as Gameboy SP, so you can use it's ac adapter and headphone adapter. It also has a built in headphone port.
- Graphics are n64 level with a very solid framerate. Metroid looks very good.
- Sound is nice too. I really like the stereo speakers. Volume is pretty good, but could be a bit louder.
- Has 6 buttons (4 on the face, 2 shoulder). I can see a perfect SF2 on this system.
- Only digital control pad, no analog stick.
- Comes with a wrist strap that hooks to the top of the device. At the end of the strap is a small plastic nub and loop that you are suppose to fit around the end of your thumb and use it as a thumb stylus. There is also a regular stylus that slides into a storage slot on the back.
- DS carts go on top and spring lock/release, gba carts go on the bottom.
- Has a built in chat room app that lets you draw/type messages.
- User removable battery. [Read More]

- Ok the controls completely suck. You have basically two ways to control it. Run around and strafe with the left pad, use the thumb stylus on the lower touch screen to "mouse look." Unless you have mutant 7 inch long thumbs this is going to feel really awkward. Your right hand pretty much has the thumb stretched way over and uses maybe the right half of the touch screen only since you can't reach the other side. The strap the thumb stylus is attached to is awkwardly wrapped behind the machine and gives you just enough travel distance (a little more length would have been welcomed or just have it attach to the bottom!). Then, your right hand can't do barely anything else. In this awkward stretched position you can't really hit any buttons, not even the shoulder button very well. You end up using your left hand to move and shoot with the shoulder and support most of the weight. If this all sounds very uncomfortable IT IS! Less than 5 min you are rewarded with two cramped hands in different places.
- The alternative control scheme is to use the 4 face buttons to "mouse look" which is bad to begin with but then they got up/down reveresed. OK nintendo this goes against EVERY SINGLE MAJOR PC AND CONSOLE look control scheme. And there is no way to flip the y axis. Maybe this will get flipped in the retail version when it comes out next year. If this was a flight simulator that would have been fine.
- Throw in jumping moving platform puzzles and you got a DS smashing good time.

- You start of playing as Yoshi instead of Mario (Mario gets lost in the castle). The levels and play are almost exactly like the n64 version except Yoshi has a tongue and eats/spits out stuff while mario grabs/throws. Yeah...not much difference.
- No analog stick again hurts the controls. The digital pad moves your character slowly at first then it accelerates after a second to medium speed. If you hit Y then you run. So there 3 set speeds. Now to run and jump you have to hit 2 face buttons at the same time. Also the smooth n64 360 analog stick is replaced with a clunky 8 way digital pad. Yeah try getting yoshi to point exactly in the right direction while the bomb things are after you. Frustrating.
- About 10 mini games (maybe you can unlock more). They are very simple and remind me of wario ware. I would say only about 2 are interesting and make good use of the stylus.

- It's as if Nintendo thought of all these cool hardware and alternative input features to promote new types of games, but they launch with ports and established game genres that scream for better traditional controls (read ANALOG PAD!!!!). If you are going to push tradition 3d type games then IMO you have to have an analog pad (if not two).
- The graphics and sound are there but the controls are not.
- Next batch of games come out dec 7. Hopefully Nintendo will have a killer app that makes good use of the new input controls. Even if they do the way it is designed it's always going to be an ergonomic nightmare.
- So far the touch screen feels pretty gimmicky. Great, now I have a dedicated hand held that controls as bad as my Pocket PC.