Backstage: Why we’re skipping Nintendo DS

We were going to review the Nintendo DS here on Backstage, but we’ve decided not to.

As a former game magazine editor and lifelong gadget lover, I’m about as close to a lock for buying portable game hardware as anyone you’d know. And with a cross-country trip coming up next week, I would sure love to have something new to play with. But after serious consideration, I’ve decided to pass on buying the new Nintendo DS system, cancelled my pre-order, and am most likely going to hold off on picking one up for a while.

There are three reasons for this: software, pricing, and the hardware. Click on Read More for the details.
First, not only isn’t the system’s launch library compelling in any way, but the individual titles that looked most promising have turned out to be not that great after all. The system’s big launch title is Super Mario 64 DS, Nintendo’s umpteenth attempt to repackage a Mario game I purchased eight years ago (yes, eight years ago) and sell it to me on a screen with less detail. Since the DS has no analog controller, I can attach a thumbstrap to my hand if I want to simulate analog control. No thanks. I was the world’s biggest Mario 64 supporter back in 1996, but if I’m spending $30 or $40 on a game, I want something new. Since the Game Boy Advance came out, Nintendo has become all about repackaging old games wih minimal improvements, and I’m frankly sick and tired of it.

The rest of the DS’s near-term software library isn’t anything to get excited about, either. They’ve got such a crappy looking version of Ridge Racer coming that they’re almost selling Sony’s competing PlayStation Portable (PSP) title just by showing DS screen shots, some more rehashes of old Electronic Arts games that I didn’t want before, and a once-promising game from Sega called Feel the Magic that’s turned out to be a blow-through-it, average hardware demo. Potentially good games like Wario Ware, Metroid Prime Hunters, and Advance Wars are all a ways off. I don’t want to be suckered into spending $120-$150 on a few titles that I’ll never turn on again after a week or two, so it’s worth waiting for some legitimate software to emerge.

Pricing for the system’s too steep at $149.99, too. As I said here months ago when rumors were circulating as to the DS’s street price, this thing is a hell of a lot more compelling at $99 or $129 than $149, because a perfectly excellent Game Boy Advance SP sells for $79.99, has substantially better battery life, is more portable and pocketable, and plays a huge collection of decent to above-decent games. I was willing to be persuaded otherwise by good software, but it hasn’t happened. As an adult consumer, the DS looks comparatively weak in the practical features I care about and strong only in features I’d never use. It also looks like Nintendo is shaking down early adopters of the DS for around $50 – there were suggestions that the company was once ready to price the DS at $99 just to move units – and a lot of people are going to be pissed a few months from now when the price drops to fight off Sony’s PSP.

There are plenty of Nintendo apologists who would list off DS features and try to convince you that you really wanted two screens and a stylus, but when it really comes down to it there aren’t any games right now that are doing killer things with both of those screens. I’ve played with the system dating back to E3, and while there have been some good ideas for the double display, there aren’t many. Some high-profile games are using the second screen for nothing more than horrid looking control systems or bland 2-D maps. And you can’t practically use the stylus while controlling games with the joystick and buttons.

At $149.99, I’m passing. Even if they sell millions of them, and regardless of whatever ridiculous crap Nintendo is trying to feed people by handing out DS hardware to and getting quotes from a bunch of second-tier celebrities, the Nintendo DS is a console desperately in need of better software and a more compelling price point before I’ll become interested in shelling out cash for it. Nintendo’s already said that a true Game Boy Advance 2 with better graphics is coming out soon (rendering the DS a third wheel on a bicycle), so maybe I’ll even wait for that, instead. For now, I’ll be enjoying my iPod and old GBASP on my trip, thanks very much.

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