Thursday, June 29, 2006

The DS Lite in all its Polar White Glory: Our review of the new and improved Nintendo handheld.

It’s smaller, it’s brighter, and it’s sexy as all get out-- but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

The short answer, if there ever is one, is yes. It’s definitely got some major improvements over its predecessor. The screens are, as promised, much brighter than they used to be, and the lighter weight is a definite bonus. There are a few things that don’t float our boat, but then, nobody’s perfect.

The new slimmer DS still has all the goodies that the previous DS had going for it--the great lineup of titles notwithstanding, it’s got an approach to gaming that matches the upcoming Wii for ingenuity. I think I can speak for many in saying that the initial concept of having 2 screens on one device seemed a bit too wonky to work, but numbers and trends going into the DS’s second year have it eclipsing Sony’s PSP. The launch of its new design has only strengthened this prediction, with Japan being completely sold out of the DS Lite in all its color variations nationwide.

However drool-inspiring the thing may be, there are a few things that have us scratching our head. For example: what happened to the light-level button? Brighter screens generally equal faster battery drain, and with only one tiny little touch control on the main menu allowing you to adjust this setting, we’re not happy. The fact that finding that control was harder than finding Waldo only makes it worse.

Another head-scratcher is the volume control: it's just too finicky. It's practically impossible to get the thing to the 'perfect' volume level, and then once you get it there it's almost guaranteed that you'll accidentally knock the little fader and have to set it all over again.

Our major gripe is the lack of a ‘back’ browser button. At any point, if you go anywhere other than the main menu, you will have to restart the whole system if you want to do something else. This is hardly new, but it’s enough of an annoyance that we feel the need to mention it again. Combine this with the above mentioned lack of light control and what you get is the inability to change the light level while you're playing games, which is, lets face it, what you'll be doing most of the time. If you do want to change the light level, you have to restart the system and, consequently, your game as well.

On the whole though, as the changes here are mostly cosmetic in nature, Nintendo has given us a very sexy package with which to get our Mario Kart or Magnetica on. If you haven’t delved into the wonder that is Dual Screen gaming, this would be a good time to give it a whirl. The good far outweighs the bad here, and even with the bad, it’s not like we’re looking at another N-Gage.

Nintendo DS Lite (Polar White)

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