Nintendo DS Buyer's Guide
With the massive success of the Nintendo Wii, it's easy to forget that Nintendo has been kicking ass and taking names with its fabulously popular line of handheld game machines since 1989. The Nintendo DS was the first to ditch the Game Boy brand name, and at first glance it felt a little gimmicky. With two screens (one of them touch-sensitive) the machine felt like a goofy departure from the sheer simplicity that made the Game Boy a standby for mobile gaming. And the first incarnation of the Nintendo DS that hit in 2004 wasn't all that great. The thing had the form factor of an old Volvo. The screens were dim and most of the games weren't all that great.
But Nintendo quickly went back to the drawing board and in 2006 unveiled the Nintendo DS Lite, a streamlined version of the DS that retained all the original system's great functionality (Wi-Fi, built-in microphone, Game Boy Advance backward compatibility) but crammed it into a package with contemporary iPod-esque styling. In Japan Nintendo has released an updated version of the Lite called the Nintendo DSi, which adds a built-in camera and an SD card slot for additional storage. Nintendo hasn't announced a U.S. release date for the DSi, but you can bet it'll be in stores before next Christmas.
Okay, now I'm confused; which Nintendo DS should I buy?
Don't bother waiting for the DSi. The current Nintendo DS Lite is a fantastic little machine and it's currently available in huge array of colors. Sure, the new DSi is going to have some swanky features, like the ability to download games, but the system is probably going to be hard to come by when it first launches, and will probably only be available in a handful of styles. Why wait when you could be playing Mario Kart DS right now?
But isn't the PSP better?
Sony's PlayStation Portable seemed like a contender when it first launched. It's a sexy piece of hardware with more horsepower than the Nintendo DS in nearly every category. If you're looking for a portable multimedia device -- something for listening to music, watching video, and looking at pictures -- you might consider nabbing the PSP. But when it comes to games, the Nintendo DS' catalog handily outclasses the PSP's. See, many of the games released for the PSP failed to take the idea of portability into account -- they recreated the console experience in the portable setting. And that's not what gamers really needed or wanted. The best Nintendo DS games aren't graphically stunning or all that technically innovative, but they deliver great pick-up-and-play fun.
I have the old Nintendo DS; should I upgrade?
Hell, yes. It's time to put that old DS out to pasture. Or, better yet, donate it -- along with a couple Nintendo classics -- to your local children's hospital or Salvation Army. After an hour with the DS Lite's well-lit screens, you'll be glad you forked over for your shiny new toy.
What accessories should I grab?
Nintendo DS Lite Stylus (3-Pack)
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The really nice thing about the Nintendo DS Lite is that it comes with everything you need. The system is pretty sturdy, and since it folds into a clamshell you won't need anything to protect your screens. So, the only additional stuff you should consider buying is gear that helps you personalize or accessorize the system to better match your style. There are tons of third-party carrying cases that range from tacky to tasteful. If you're the absent-minded type, you can fork over some cash for a spare stylus or two. I prefer the kind that slip into the system's storage slot, but there all kinds of cute pointers that come decorated with videogame characters. If you find the stock stylus too small or uncomfortable, some of these larger styli might be just what you're looking for.
What are games on the Nintendo DS like?
There's a wide variety of games available for the Nintendo DS, serving nearly everyone. Versions of many of Nintendo's standbys, like Super Mario Brothers and Tetris, are available. And the system has become a great opportunity to revisit or become reacquainted with classic role-playing games. Square Enix has re-released some of its greatest old-school games as well as a handful of exceptional sequels. A great deal of the games for the Nintendo DS feature online play, so if you're looking for somebody with whom to trade Pok?mon, all you need is access to a Wi-Fi hotspot and you're connected to millions of other traders. If you don't have a wireless router in your home or apartment, the official Nintendo DS Web site has a list of places where you can connect to the Internet.
You'll also find a bunch of one-of-a-kind experiences on the Nintendo DS -- quirky games like Elite Beat Agents and Electroplankton that are as odd as they are fun. And there's a whole slew of software designed to help the Nintendo DS feel more practical -- programs that help you cook meals, learn languages, and practice math. It's not an exaggeration to say that there's something for almost everybody on the Nintendo DS.
So what games should I get?
There's a lot of junk on store shelves right now, so be really careful what you grab. Try to stay away from any game based on a cartoon, movie or superhero. Skip the game if the name of the game ends with a "z" rather than an "s." Truth is, many casual gamers are perfectly happy with games like Imagine Babyz or Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force. But I'm a videogame critic. It's my job to point you towards the best of the best -- the games that innovated. So if you want a game about dogs, do yourself a favor and grab Nintendogs, the game that started it all. If you're into cats, sadly, you're out of luck.
Below you'll find a bunch of top-10 lists featuring a wide variety of fun games that come with the Crispy Gamer seal of approval. I've sorted these lists in order of accessibility. The first list features games for nearly every gamer -- including the casual player looking for a great game with which to pass the time.
As the lists progress, the experiences get deeper. So if you're just getting back into gaming, try a couple of games from the early lists before jumping into more involved experiences.
Ten Nintendo classics
New Super Mario Brothers
Mario Kart DS
Animal Crossing: Wild World
The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Super Mario 64 DS
Yoshi's Island DS
Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
Pok?mon Diamond Version and Pearl Version
Ten mysteries, puzzlers, parlor games and brain-benders
The New York Times Crosswords
Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (series)
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
Action, old-school & arcade
Space Invaders Extreme
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia
Retro Atari Classics
Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff
Geometry Wars: Galaxies
Ten excellent RPGs
Final Fantasy IV
The World Ends With You
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
Etrian Odyssey and Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Days of Ruin
Ten offbeat options
Elite Beat Agents
Away: Shuffle Dungeon
Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja
Trauma Center: Under the Knife
Personal Trainer: Cooking
My Japanese Coach
Ten recommended imports
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2
Rhythm Tengoku Gold (coming to the States soon as Rhythm Heaven)
Flower, Sun and Rain (coming to the States soon)
Daigasso! Band Brothers DX
Ketsui Death Label
Arkanoid DS (with paddle controller)
GameCenter CX: Arino's Challenge (coming to the States soon as Retro Game Challenge)
Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland
Front Mission 2089: Border of Madness
Super Robot Wars W
What's the deal with these imports? I can't read Japanese!
The Nintendo DS is a region-free console -- meaning games from any country will play on it. You can also buy a Nintendo DS from Japan and use it to play American games. This is a great option if you're looking for a special color of Nintendo DS, or want one of the fancy-pants special-edition handhelds that come out in Japan every so often. And yes, most of the games you nab from Japan will be in Japanese. Some require familiarity with the language to enjoy, but others can be enjoyed by anyone. Keep in mind, too, that Europe occasionally gets games (such as Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland) that don't make it to the U.S. -- just make sure to find out if anybody plans to release the game in the States before you import it, because exchange rates can make some imports pretty pricey. So, yes, some of these games may not be English, but many can be enjoyed despite (and even because of) language barriers. Arkanoid DS is also available in the states, but it comes with a nifty paddle that plugs into the GBA slot at the bottom of the Nintendo DS. If you're in the market for stuff from Japan, try Play-Asia. For European import availability, check out Amazon.co.uk.
If you made it through that last paragraph, you have a pretty good feeling for the diversity of experiences available on the Nintendo DS. The system really does cater to wide variety of gamers. And because of this diversity, Crispy Gamer urges you not to take our word as gospel when it comes to game recommendations. Our tastes may differ. Take the list of games we provided as a starting point and go from there. Ask your friends what Nintendo DS games they enjoyed. Read a couple of reviews from different sources before making a decision. No matter what you do, don't make your game purchases based on the box cover and bullet points on the back alone. Put in a tiny bit of effort before you spend your dough, and you'll be rewarded with endless hours of fun. That said, don't be afraid to grab a cheapo game out of the bargain bin. Every so often you'll find a great gem. And some marked-down games are so terrible, they turn the corner to awesome. Just know that you almost always get what you pay for.
For more Buyer's Guides, check out the following: