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games: ds lite
Smaller, better.Despite the millions of hours of fun the Nintendo DS has given punters, there has always been one thing left to be desired about the whole experience: the design of the actual hardware you are clutching. Sexy gadgets are big business, as indicated by the runaway success of a certain music player that gets far too much free press coverage, so shall remain nameless here. The PSP, meanwhile, may have been slow in providing worthwhile handheld games but it undeniably beat the DS hands down in the sex appeal stakes. The contest isn't so clear-cut with the launch of the DS Lite, though.
The DS “Heavy” certainly seems like a bit of kit that can contend with the practical expectations of portability with aplomb, surviving the jolts and bumps of being carried around in one's bag or pocket. However, Nintendo have pulled off a coup with the DS Lite. Like the transition from GBA to GBA SP, the evolution from DS to DS Lite has seen the virtues of the extant hardware discreetly improved; in this case with brighter screens, a repositioned mic, a redesigned stylus and, most immediately notable, a smaller size.
DS Lite and New Super Mario Bros.
Two thirds as big as the “Heavy”, the Lite is 60g lighter and oodles more aesthetically appealing. It doesn't seem to have sacrificed the robustness, however. Doubtless they've been flying out of the shops, building on the 4.5m DSs already sold in Europe, despite the distraction of the World Cup. (Out of interest, the Lite launched in Japan in March and has already sold 2.2m units.)
To coincide with the launch of the DS, Nintendo are releasing some great games too, key among them New Super Mario Bros. This is classic Nintendo gaming – side-scrolling, colourful, challenging platform action that is essentially a revamp of the early Mario games, rejigged and polished. Of course it's exactly the sort of title that will divide people: it's either a top quality experience that emphasises the strongest virtues of gaming, or it's so much navel gazing from Nintendo.
Rest assured that the DS release schedule provides a diversity that should deflect the latter criticism though. If you're keen to keep using your DS as a tool for keeping your brain nimble, the new sub-genre nominally created by Brain Training now also includes Big Brain Academy. It's not quite as refined as Brain Training in terms of the clarity of the exercises but this provides a slightly more colourful take on similar notions.
Big Brain Academy and Electroplankton.
For something even more unusual, look no further than Electroplankton. Like Brain Training this is another DS title that arguably sidesteps the notion of “game”. Instead, it's, well, what is it? Media artist Toshio Iwai's title is a pint-sized psychedelic musical playroom. Using the stylus, you interact with a variety of glowing entities, the titular Electroplankton, each of which has a different look and different audio abilities. With stylus gestures and even hand-claps and vocal utterances, you can make melodious music. Or just odd sounds. It's not necessarily the deepest experience as there's no structure, no goals, no save options, but it's beguiling and unique, like an interactive artwork in your pocket.
So not only is the DS Lite gorgeous, but the array of titles for it continues to diversify; Nintendo are not just providing the core gaming they've long been associated with, they’re also offering very different handheld experiences. Summer 2006 is shaping up to be a great time for handheld activities.
The DS Lite and New Super Mario Bros are out now. Big Brain Academy and Electroplankton are out 07 July 06.
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