I’ve been really enjoying Nintendo’s creations lately, and I wanted to take a minute to tell you why, and announce something new I’m going to do on my blog periodically. Read on for the full text. I’ve got a lot to say.
Awhile back, Neal asked for a review of the device, and I said I’d give one sometime. I’ll do one now, because it leads right into what I’m about to talk about. For those who don’t know anything about the Nintendo DS, you may want to skim Nintendo’s overview of it. The general idea is that “DS” stands for “dual screens” (to most people. Let’s not argue about “developer system”, Nintendo fanboys.) and those two screens are the machine’s defining feature. Nintendo wanted to introduce something totally new into the market, so they gave us a system with two intependent screens that game makers can do all sorts of crazy stuff with. Its bottom screen is touch-sensitive, it has a microphone, stereo speakers, and two different kinds of built-in wireless networking. Its graphics power is about equivalent to the old Nintendo 64, apparently. In short, it’s a pretty powerful little system for a handheld. With the creation of the DS, Nintendo was throwing down a gauntlet to game developers (and to themselves), saying, “OK, let’s get creative and do something totally new instead of creating the same, stale, predictable games over and over again with slightly-better graphics.” Nintendo’s mantra these days has been, “Better graphics doesn’t equal more fun.” And that’s true. I still love playing the Intellivision, and those graphics suck!
The day the DS was released in the USA, the system had a relatively small number of games (or “launch titles”) available. Feel the Magic was the only game I bought besides the Metroid demo that came with the system. Some argue the low number of launch titles was due to the extremely different way a game developer must think when he’s given two screens (one of which is touch-sensitive) and a microphone, instead of being given the classic “one screen and some buttons” system that everyone else currently uses. So the developers had a harder time imagining games that would work on the DS, and the games just weren’t ready at launch time. I can accept that hypothesis. I also wonder if some developers were hanging back because they thought the DS would fail because it was “too revolutionary.” Well, now Nintendo has sold 4 million DSes, so I’m pretty sure the developers realize that people want something different and are scrambling to come up with it.
My only complaint with the DS surrounded one fact: the DS has built-in wireless capabilities, and it’s able to see and get onto the wireless “hotspots” that are so ubiquitous these days, but if I’m not physically near other DS owners (and in my case none of my close friends own one) I can’t play games with them. So if I wanted to play multiplayer games with other DS owners, I would have to organize a “wan party” (with strangers, no less) like some kind of geeky cruise director, instead of just clicking a few buttons while sitting on my couch. I’m sorry, but that sucks. I’m not doing that. Aside from that fact, all the wireless games that would benefit from a persistent online community weren’t getting that benefit, so the system had all the right hardware, but inadequate software. And that’s a tragedy. Software is supposed to be the easy, flexible, changable part.
Well, as innovative companies are known to do, Nintendo realized they were missing this wireless potential. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president, gave a keynote last week at a conference and announced that the lack of long-distance wireless gameplay is going to change this year (Iwata’s speech is also available in MP3). Animal Crossing DS will reportedly allow players from all over the world to visit each other’s towns, chat with each other, exchange items, etc, etc. If you’ve never played Animal Crossing before, that probably won’t excite you, but if you understand how the game works and what makes it fun, you will have fallen out of your chair by now. The version on the GameCube had in-game “email”, special events on certain days, etc. I can only imagine how a world-wide, persistent network will change and enhance that. What if they say, “If you go to this town in Denmark on this day at this time, something special will happen?” The possibilities are endless. Aside from that, Nintendo’s online service is going to be free (unlike Microsoft’s) so every DS user will be able to use it whenever they want, and every developer will probably make their games compatible with it. So having a DS means always having someone to play with, wherever you are (at home, at work, in a coffee shop, in the mall).
I’m so excited I could burst. The fact that Nintendo’s next console after the GameCube will have built-in wireless is just another sign that gaming is going to get better from here on out. I can’t wait, and I want to give back to the community in some small way, so I’ve decided that I’m going to do mini game reviews when I get a new game. I’ll try to find a way to do custom video and screenshots too, just to add something extra into it.
If you don’t have a DS yet, and you want to be able to play with me some day, run out and grab one! They’re $150, and they’re worth it. I’ll be recommending some good games in the next few days.