Nintendo DS Lite arrives, dazzles with iPod-like redesign | iLounge Backstage

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Nintendo DS Lite arrives, dazzles with iPod-like redesign

In the video games world, it’s nearly a truism that people will not line up more than once - if at all - for the launch of a new piece of games hardware. Even in Japan, land of video game release lines, crowds famously failed to materialize for the launches of Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s Xbox. And while lines formed all over the place in America for the Xbox 360 - the only exception to this truism - Japanese game stores were discounting their massively overstocked machines almost immediately.

This should put this month’s two - yes, two - Japanese launches of the Nintendo DS Lite (Y16,800, approx. $141) into some perspective. The first launch of the white, iPod-inspired unit on March 2 provoked huge lines, nation-wide sell-outs, and even an apology from Nintendo’s headquarters, posted online and in Japanese subways. Then a second launch - for two blue-colored versions - took place on the 11th, and the lines were even bigger, tallying hundreds and reported over a thousand people at certain stores. Yes, this might be flock mentality. Or eBay profiteering. Or it might be genuine enthusiasm for a much-improved redesign of its predecessor, the controversial Nintendo DS.

We’re not doing a full review here, but you can click on Read More for additional details and more comparison photos with the new DS Lite.

You may recall Nintendo's launch of the original DS system in late 2004, one which we skipped thanks to a mediocre slate of launch titles, and the spectre of Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) looming on the horizon. By handheld standards, the DS was chunky, suffered from an outdated industrial design, and emphasized features that didn't excite us - a stylus or thumb-strap for touch-screen input, and a second (vertical) screen that appeared set to be poorly used in upcoming games.

These feelings were only exacerbated by the PSP's Japanese release. Many initially described Sony's design as the sexiest piece of portable entertainment hardware ever designed, equipped with a phenomenal widescreen LCD that only suffered in one way - dead pixels. Nintendo quickly proved willing to replace DS systems with even slight screen issues; Sony shipped PSPs with surprisingly large numbers of dead or problematic pixels, and refused to take them back, even under extended warranty. In the process, a little of the PSP's luster was tarnished; then, a higher-than-expected ($250) U.S. price then led to an unexpected failure of the machine to sell out on its American launch day. Subsequently, AAA software releases for the system have been few and far between, and many formerly enthusiastic buyers have noted that their PSPs are collecting dust.

Meanwhile, the DS staged a comeback, starting in Japan. Nintendo released the puppy simulator Nintendogs, which enticed female and casual gamers, and followed up with a series of IQ test titles called Brain Training. Other quirky titles, such as Ouendan and Elektroplankton - previously covered on iLounge - have also helped generate both interest and respect for the DS's unusual features. And a number of sequels to familiar titles, including Castlevania, Mario Kart, Advance Wars and Animal Crossing, have received favorable attention from old and new gamers alike.

Not everything has been rosy for the DS, though. There have been a large number of really disappointing games - ones that look shoddy by comparison with similar PSP titles, or otherwise struck us (and others) as weak. Many titles have made only modest use of the second screen, most frequently using it as a map. And despite the DS's impressive numbers in Japan, and recently, the U.S., the PSP still dominates media attention, and Sony continues to use inflated "shipment" numbers ("15 million") to suggest that the PSP has outsold Nintendo's console. It's presently unclear as to whether that's true, but widely suspected to be false. Regardless, Sony will offer the PSP at $199 in the United States starting next week, and could potentially see gains here, depending on whether Nintendo has a counter-announcement to make in the near future.

The DS Lite represents a major cosmetic improvement over the original DS, and a fashion counter-point to the black, bad boy PSP. Even in 2004, Nintendo's DS design looked dated - a bigger, weirder evolution of its popular Game Boy Advance SP. Launched in an inexpensive painted silver plastic finish, it was updated with additional colors, each of which made the DS look a little better... but not anywhere as good as the DS Lite. It's obvious that Nintendo knew this; it did everything possible to improve the DS's shape, given the requirements of its internal components.

The DS Lite is smaller in every dimension than its predecessor, and lighter, too - easier to fit into a pocket, though still not iPod-sized. Yet its screens are the same size as the first DS's, and its stylus larger; it also does a superior job of protecting its second (Game Boy Advance) cartridge slot, thanks to an included plastic insert. Most appealing is its new finish - gone is the cheap-looking and -feeling metallic paint, replaced with an iPod-like double layered plastic. The first layer is clear, the second white or blue, depending on the model you pick. It's expected that the U.S. will get a black version in the near future.

Amazingly, Nintendo went even further than just improving the shells, and this is the primary reason the DS Lite is a hint more expensive than the standard DS. There weren't a lot of complaints about the original DS's screen quality, but Nintendo has actually sourced new screens that are unbelievably clear and bright - so bright, in fact, that they put the PSP's display to shame, as well as even the best iPods.

Still images look amazingly vivid and detailed; similarly moving images look clean from even odd angles. The picture below shows the old DS on its normal brightness setting and the new DS on its top setting, for comparison.

This shot shows the DS (top, highest setting), PSP (middle, brightness 3 - highest without AC power), and iPod (standard). The PSP's screen can do a bit better than what's shown here when it's plugged into wall power.

It's an amazing step forward, and one that spells good things for future handheld devices; if a $150 Nintendo device can afford to use two of these parts, so can more expensive products. And that will hopefully mean that upcoming handhelds will look more like what we see on the right than what we see on the left.

The DS Lite is exciting to me on a personal level - games that were sitting here unplayed are getting their first breaths of air, as I can finally actually carry them around with me. Metroid Prime Pinball, for instance, is now getting some action; you may note that its included Rumble Pak, sized like a GBA cartridge, now juts out of the system's front bottom rather sitting flush with its surface, but this is OK - a fair compromise in order to shrink the system down for everyday use.

Though it doesn't need to be said, the DS Lite is no iPod competitor - it lacks music storage capability, is still quite a bit larger, and unlike Sony, Nintendo isn't trying to position this as a potential alternative to an Apple product. But it's surely a nice complement to an iPod - a point we'll discuss further in the near future. Nintendo and Apple should really be working together on these things.

When can you get one? Nintendo hasn't announced a U.S. release yet for the DS Lite, but it's widely expected to debut in May, around the time of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Pricing here is expected to be in line with Japan's, and only more aggressive if Sony's PSP price drop starts to cut into DS sales. All of this, of course, assumes that Nintendo can make enough of them to satisfy demand. The company hasn't even been able to come close in Japan - could the U.S. possibly be sated simultaneously? We'll have to see what happens.

Update Mar. 18: Here are a few more pictures - enjoy.

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Comments

1

“The picture below shows the old DS on its normal brightness setting and the new DS on its top setting, for comparison.”

I’m confused—why compare one’s normal setting with the other’s top?

Posted by Konstantinos on March 16, 2006 at 6:49 PM (CST)

2

You say iPod, I say iBook.

Posted by Gordy on March 16, 2006 at 7:25 PM (CST)

3

Read another article a few days ago that says game shops in Japan were buying back used DS Lites almost at original price and selling them back for higher-than-original prices because they’re so in demand. Gimme!

Posted by chibidani on March 16, 2006 at 7:55 PM (CST)

4

iPod like design!

What the fuck are you talking about!


You say iPod, some say iBook, I say iElephant!!!

Posted by Bill on March 16, 2006 at 8:54 PM (CST)

5

The original DS has only two backlight settings - “on (normal, default)” and “off,” which some people don’t even know it has. DS Lite has 4 - all of them are “on,” ranging from low to high.

Japanese game stores are actually doing the resale thing with original Nintendo DS systems. There has been a shortage there recently.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 16, 2006 at 9:23 PM (CST)

6

Great pics Jeremy!

Sure the iBook has a more similar form factor, but Nintendo probably got “inspired” more by the iPod and its success.

But can we blame them?

Remember, the original iPod form factor was heavily inspired by the original GameBoy. I’m sure some people would say otherwise, but in my view I think it’s obvious.

Nintendo got inspired back with the iPod mini when they released the GameBoy micro, and now, with the DS.

Interesting thing to note, the new president of Nintendo, Mr. Iwata, was seen using a PowerBook at the Tokyo Game Show in 2005. I have an old picture of Miyamoto in his office, where you can find a PowerMac 7600.

Iwata and Reggie Fils-Aimé of Nintendo of America both quoted Steve Jobs and referred to Apple in their speeches.

Does it mean Apple and Nintendo will form an alliance?

I used to believe it could happen. But now I feel hesitant, with the move to intel.

I had built a complicated theory about why it could and would happen. The main factor is that Nintendo and Apple don’t compete directly with each other.

Nintendo is focused on games, while Apple is in just about everything else in the entertainment and software business. Apple doesn’t produce and sell games.

The XBox 360 and the PS3 are sold as multimedia-powerhouses, with the promise of being able to buy/rent and play music and videos right from the box. Both these companies already have the infrastructure for that.

Nintendo remains focused on games and don’t try to compete on the movie/music part. On the Revolution, they’ll sell their back catalog online, not music and movies, but they don’t have much experience in building an OS and online store for things like that.

So what if Apple built the game store for them a-la-iTunes, and while at it, add a music and video section with the whole iTunes catalog? How about Front-Row on the Revolution? The controller would be perfect for that. Notice how the Rev controller and the Apple remote look similar? The motion detection aspect could be used to scroll lists with a variable speed.

Will it happen? I don’t know, I guess not.

Maybe Steve Jobs never took the time to play Nintendo games? Maybe he doesn’t like video-games period? Or maybe it’s something that would be sooo cool that it won’t happen, because life is not perfect ;)

Sorry for the long comment, but when an article mention Nintendo and Apple, I just can’t help it :)

Posted by VL-Tone on March 16, 2006 at 11:14 PM (CST)

7

Hmm I forgot to say: Jeremy, great article too :)

I guess your opinion of the DS is now more positive? I know you never hated the DS, but in the Electroplankton article you had pretty harsh words for the state of the DS market.

Maybe it was true by then, there wasn’t that many games that justified buying a DS then. I was optimistic about the future while you were more pessimistic. But hey maybe Nintendo got their act together after reading your article ;)

Posted by VL-Tone on March 16, 2006 at 11:27 PM (CST)

8

All i have to say is wow… it’s amazing how far the DS has gotten and how similar the style is to the iPod. I saw a magazine article for the new DS, but i never thought that it would have a similar casing like the iPod.

BTW, great article!

<Krn iPod>

Posted by Krn iPod on March 17, 2006 at 12:28 AM (CST)

9

It drives me nuts when people complain that there is a lack of software for the DS and it is/was “a disappointment.” What? While that may have been true six months after its launch, it certainly isn’t now, nor has it been the case since roughly last summer. In the U.S. alone, the system has produced one hit after another (Meteos, Kirby: Cursed Canvas, Animal Crossing, Nintendogs, Mario Kart, Advance Wars, Mario & Luigi: PiT, WarioWare, Castlevania…I could go on) Tetris and Metroid Prime Hunters are coming out in less than a week and a new Super Mario Bros. platformer will debut a few weeks after that. The only confirmed hit on the PSP so far is Lumines (though, in fairness, two or three worthwhile titles have FINALLY appeared on the system in recent weeks). But at the end of the day, it proves once again that quality games sell systems, not impressive tech specs and pretty graphics.

I think it’s disingenous to imply that the PSP is still actually in close sales competion with the DS. It’s not. It’s been soundly trounced in both software sales and sales of the unit itself, no matter how Sony tries to camoflauge that fact. Everyone’s seen the images of people falling all over themselves in Japan to get the three (white and two different shades of blue) DS Lite colors. I think people need to remember that all of that fervor is for a system that ALREADY EXISTS. It’s not comparable to the launch shortages of the Xbox 360, PS2, or any other big platform launch in recent memory because this is just a redesign of an existing system. Still, they line up.

While demand for the system has not been as psychotic here, it is still very high. Who knows what will happen when the DS Lite arrives? I will say that I’ve seen the DS, homely as it is, make a lot more cameos on TV and film than the PSP.

It’s a good article, Jeremy, and more or less even-handed (even where it maybe shouldn’t be). But I definitely get the sense it’s written from the persepective of someone who is more annoyed by the PSP’s failings than pleased with the DS’s success. ;)

Posted by Hrothgar on March 17, 2006 at 12:20 PM (CST)

10

VL-Tone: The DS has made significant strides since its introduction. We’ve catalogued a few of them here on Backstage, though I will freely admit that since I’m not a huge Mario Kart or Animal Crossing fan (give me F-Zero and then we’ll talk), and couldn’t get into Nintendogs (I have a real dog, and didn’t want to play with the other breeds), these titles didn’t wind up getting a lot of my attention. But they have obviously done well for Nintendo and expanded DS’s appeal dramatically.

Hrothgar - a few things:

First, the second paragraph mentioned the relaunch frenzy.

Second, you’re really getting worked up about something that was never said (a “disappointment”). The article never said that the DS was a disappointment, only that there were quite a few disappointing games. But that was after mentioning the good and unique games that have helped DS stage a comeback. So chill. :-)

Third, the article highlighted the ambiguity over Sony’s numbers, which the gaming media has not been doing. We distrust them, but it’s really up to Nintendo to quantify the reality here.

Fourth, note that I personally purchased the DS Lite myself. We weren’t asked by Nintendo to cover it or anything - the fact that it’s sitting here on Backstage is attributable to my personal interest in the system, which I’d actually ordered before the launch frenzy in Japan took place. So any sense you’re getting to the contrary - either that it’s being covered because of its success, or that it’s only here because the PSP has had problems - is misplaced. I try to give credit where credit is due, and thought this particular product was worthy of coverage; end of story.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 17, 2006 at 12:34 PM (CST)

11

Jeremy,

Good points, all. I apologize if I came off like a spittle-flecked fanboy. My frustration was not so much directed at you specifically as it was journalism both within and outside the video game industry that have done a rather poor job of analyzing the PSP and DS. The fact that we can’t get solid numbers on just how many units either is selling at this point is ridiculous. And you’re right that Nintendo is just as much to blame as Sony for that. I guess they think they’re taking the high ground, but if Sony is inflating numbers, they shouldn’t be afraid to call a spade a spade.

Thanks again for the great story and great pics. Enjoy your DS Lite. You earned it with your prescient preorder. A lot of us are envious. ;)

Posted by Hrothgar on March 17, 2006 at 2:25 PM (CST)

12

Hrothgar: Funfact - the place it was pre-ordered from failed to deliver because of the price inflation. I was _actually_ so interested that I then paid a jacked-up price from an eBay vendor to get one anyway. I may not be spittle-flecked, but I’m still a fan at heart. :-)

Re: Nintendo vs. Sony numbers, Nintendo offered a rebuttal of sorts a couple of months ago if memory serves, but it was mild and didn’t get a lot of press. Sony followed up by reiterating its “15 million shipped” number, which sadly no one has the cohones (or the detailed facts) to challenge.

I am personally really not happy about the continued use of “shipped” rather than “sold-through” numbers by certain companies. Competitive misrepresentations really put me off - now I’m starting to see them in the iPod market, too, and may start speaking out about it.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 17, 2006 at 6:58 PM (CST)

13

Jeremy, remember this quote of yours from Decemeber of ‘04?:

“My basic comment on the DS was that it is an entirely skippable portable game console, and regardless of how it’s sold since release, I still hold firmly to that statement.”

Obviously, you’ve changed somewhat.  I think the inherent problem with an iPod site reviewing game machines is the intrisic difference: the software makes the hardware in the game industry, not the other way around.  There is, of course , the argument that iTunes makes the iPod, but in reality, it’s up to the portable device to make the song sound better and make it easier to access.

I must admit, it’s been fun seeing you literally salivating over the PSP, and then, literally, salivating over the DS.

Posted by Joe T. on March 17, 2006 at 8:59 PM (CST)

14

Joe T: It’s equally fun for me to see the occasional comment like yours. Of course I remember that quote, as well as the many related ones that have followed it.

If you’d followed the DS coverage that’s appeared here for the past year, you’d have a pretty clear understanding of the evolution of my views on both the PSP and the DS, both of which I said “hold off” about. (See below.) You’d also know that I never even reviewed the DS, or “salivated” over either platform, literally (huh?) or figuratively; this is a pretty major mischaracterization of my views both then and now.

To recap, and perhaps provide clarity:

* DS came out of the gate with what I felt was a weak software lineup and a weird hardware package with new features of questionable value. These features were poorly exploited by initial titles to an extent unusual by Nintendo standards. And DS (lacking an adequate 3D controller) actually wrecked the experience of playing one of my favorite games of all time (Mario 64). I was far from the only person to feel this way at the time, and I again stand by my statements from back then - for my readers, the DS was worth holding off on at that point.

* PSP launched in Japan with what has widely been agreed to be a small but impressive selection of games, including a couple (Ridge Racer(s) and Lumines) that really shattered prior conceptions of portable gaming. It also inspired international praise for its aesthetic, though it suffered from well-known quality control issues in both screen and controls. Those were catalogued here, too. Additionally, when Sony opted to shaft U.S. gamers by only offering it in a $250 package here, my comment on Backstage was “skip it.” I’ve also said that it was aggressively mismarketed by Sony, and that despite its incredible horsepower, mine’s collected dust.

Please feel free to point to any other publication that advised its readers to hold off on both DS and PSP until their prices or software became more attractive. I don’t recall seeing that view enunciated anywhere else; rather, I’ve seen a lot of hype and fanboy-level idol worship for both machines. My views were (and are) more conservative: wait until the software and pricing get better.

* In July and August 2005, I noted that, having said “hold off” on both machines, the balance was beginning to shift in DS’s favor, that the console was starting to get truly great games, and that its lower $129 price was pushing it closer to being recommendable in my view. Separately, I also said the exact same thing you said (“in the video game world, great software is the content that drives console sales, and is one of several truly critical factors separating successful platforms from failures”), making the exact same distinction versus the iPod/PMP worlds. You even commented on that story, so I’m guessing that’s where you got it from.

* Yesterday, I said that the DS Lite is a nice improvement over its predecessor, and praised how far it’s come in design, software sales, and popularity, especially overseas. Etcetera. We’ll see what Nintendo does on pricing for the U.S. market. Maybe there will be more to say on that subject.

From where I stand, there are some consoles that were as superb and worth owning on day 1 as they were at their day of discontinuation - the Super NES/Famicom was one, Sega’s Dreamcast was another, and Sony’s original PlayStation was arguably a third. By contrast, there are other machines that took a while to warm up but became strong, others that never warmed up but were okay, and others that basically sucked from beginning to end. Those “platforms” that have improved over time owe that mostly to software, but also sometimes to hardware redesigns, and on rare occasion, peripherals.

So have my views evolved? Obviously. So have the machines and their software libraries. To fail to acknowledge this would be foolish.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 17, 2006 at 11:58 PM (CST)

15

DS!!!

one hot thang!!!!

i love my original ds but this thing i lust!

Posted by hey on March 18, 2006 at 9:59 AM (CST)

16

The DS or DS Lite…no difference to me if it just sits there gathering dust.

I kept trying and buying the occasional ‘well-received’ titles—granted by others more in-tune with all-things Nintendo, usually—that have come out since that initial release week for the system and aside from brief foray into Advanced Wars, none really have pique much interest with me unlike the demo Metroid Prime Hunters that came with the DS did. That game—or more precisely==the anticipation of that game, was the main reason I convinced myself to buy the DS at the end of ‘04 to begin with. Somehow, though, I simply missed the part that it would take eighteen months to go live (sigh). And ignored the obvious in that Nintendo is hardly a company that conjures the reputation as making systems geared towards ‘M’-rated gaming, the stuff I’m saturated—my wife would add ‘over’—with these days.

Finally, just a couple or so days until Metroid Prime Hunters is released. Maybe now I’ll finally use the DS as much as I do the PSP.

As for the newest version, I actually DO like the downsizing with the DS Lite, though I’d never be able to justify its purchase given how little use my current DS gets. But I detest the white color, however; original it is simply not.

Posted by flatline response on March 18, 2006 at 8:01 PM (CST)

17

i could care less what any1 says…. i like ds i have fun with it if someone tells me it sucks… well i just dont care. i have fun playing it and what other people think doesnt change that fact

Posted by bob on March 19, 2006 at 12:27 AM (CST)

18

“Though it doesn’t need to be said, the DS Lite is no iPod competitor - it lacks music storage capability, is still quite a bit larger, and unlike Sony, Nintendo isn’t trying to position this as a potential alternative to an Apple product.”

You’re right, it doesn’t need to be said. That’s like saying “The telephone is nice, but it’s no competitor for the television.”. I don’t understand the comparison. How is a device that plays video games supposed to compete with a device that plays music? If they don’t have the same purpose then they aren’t competing.

Posted by rainking187 on March 19, 2006 at 6:02 AM (CST)

19

THe best reason to justify a Nintendo Apple alliance would be that apple would make the OS and hardware while Nintendo would stick to making software for macs as well as their console now produced by apple.  Apple is missing the nitch when it comes to PC gaming but with Nintendo on board they could make a killing. A KILLING!

Posted by Apple and Nintendo on March 20, 2006 at 11:29 PM (CST)

20

anyone know where can you get one of these babies now?

david

Posted by david on March 20, 2006 at 11:47 PM (CST)

21

As of today, I’d point people to NCS (http://www.ncsx.com). They do a good job, and claim to be able to fulfill new DS Lite orders this week.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 28, 2006 at 12:16 AM (CST)

22

for who owns a DS, can you use it to store stuff like phone numbers, notes, appointments, etc.??

Posted by motha on March 29, 2006 at 9:43 PM (CST)

23

There’s been rumors floating around that the DS will have PDA capabilities in the near future (this year).

I don’t see why it hasn’t been made already- I see great potential.

Posted by fyta on April 2, 2006 at 3:05 PM (CDT)

24

Yes, PDA functionality would be great.  In addition, web browsing to match its Wi-Fi capabilities would be fantastic too.  Oh, and backward compatibility with original Game Boy games would be the icing on the cake.  The DS has so much unused potential, yet I love my electric blue gadget dearly….

Posted by Sir.Pinkerton on April 15, 2006 at 3:47 PM (CDT)

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