Nintendo DSi review

Nintendo's latest iteration of its handheld console is here. But is the Nintendo DSi worth £150?

DSi

Nintendo has always ruled the handheld market ever since the original GameBoy, selling millions of the portable console thanks to a casual appeal and comparably slim design. The platform wasn’t helped much by the release of unusual, gimmicky hardware add-ons like the GameBoy Printer in later life and the Japanese giant arguably had a bit of a tumble last generation with the GameBoy Advance, but there’s no denying that Nintendo struck gaming gold with the DS line.

Unfortunately though, it looks like the makers of Mario haven’t learned much from the errors of old, as the DS is now moving on to its third SKU since the initial release – and it’s one mainly based around the inclusion of some fairly useless hardware. While the upgrade from the supposedly-futuristic ridges of the original DS to the cool, chic lines of the DS Lite was a much-needed and appreciated design tweak, it’s hard to say the same about the new DSi.

The main features of Nintendo’s newest portable platform would have you believe it has more in common with a netbook or mobile phone in fact, what with the cameras and integrated editing software. On the surface of it these sound quite fun and we’d understand it if you’re already a little excited by the idea of snapping pictures of your mates with your DS – but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, unfortunately. Not only is the software limited to still pictures only, but the cameras themselves are only 0.3 mega-pixel, at a fixed resolution of 640×480 – a bar that mobile phones moved past years ago.

The editing programs that come included on the new DS are fun to start with, but eventually they get revealed for the gimmicks that they are too. The DSi allows users to edit simple, small sound clips and pictures by adding various filters and fiddling with the pitch, speed or tone, but really the whole thing is dull and lifeless. The DSi is a gaming platform primarily, not a camera or a dictaphone and these feeble attempts at replicating those functions prove that.

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What makes the matter more damning is that the new cameras and such, which do at least mean that the DSi now has an SD card reader on the side, have come at the expense of gaming potential. Nintendo has utterly dispensed with the GameBoy Advance slot in order to cram other stuff in. Why exactly the designers have chosen to sacrifice the gaming capabilities of its best-selling games platform in order to shove in such useless features as twin cameras actually staggers the mind.

It’s not all bad news though, thankfully. The DSi does at least improve on the DS Lite’s design in a few fundamental areas. The DSi is now thinner and longer than existing models, though the differences are slight at best. Offering up the GBA slot as a sacrifice to the gods of all things pocket-sized has allowed Nintendo to shave 12 percent off the thickness, though the chassis has grown a little in every other dimension.

Inside the clamshell, there have been a few more tweaks and improvements that iteratively improve on the DS Lite. The volume control has been moved to the outer-left and made into a firm elevator switch rather than a slider, while the power button is now safely inside the case and has changed to a simple on/off button rather than a spring-loaded lever. The shoulder buttons now jut out of the chassis more noticeably and offer greater resistance and feedback, while the screen has been enlarged too. That last point would seem like a great reason to upgrade to a DSi – but again, it’s been enlarged only by a few millimeters, so isn’t worth getting excited over.

The main reason to be interested in the DSi is far more commercially-minded in fact, as WiFi enhancements enable the DSi to connect to a new online store that Nintendo will be launching across Europe when the console itself is released at the start of April. Already available in Japan, the DSi store will be offering a bunch of free content and utilities, such as a web browser, as well as plenty of premium content. It’s basically the DS version of the AppStore on the iPhone.

The DSi store is by far the most alluring thing about the DSi, as having new, cheap games to download is great for any console. How great it is in reality though is obviously going to depend an awful lot on the actual quality and cost of the games, which we can’t really gauge just yet as the store isn’t open for business at the moment. The size of the games is going to factor in too most likely, as the DSi only has 256MB of internal memory to play with, meaning that if you’re a big fan of the DSi store then you’re going to spend a lot of time fiddling with SD cards.

What it comes down to in the end is this: the DSi has two cameras that aren’t very good, a screen that’s bigger (but not by much) and an online store. Those are the key features and, personally, we’d discount the first two as they’re not of any really considerable benefit – and not worth paying an extra £50 for over the DS Lite. The online store is a different matter and could be a very attractive option for developers and gamers, but it’s still a bit too early to make a judgment on that.

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The DSi is still a great gaming platform, easily as good as the DS Lite and far superior to the original DS. The reason it’s ‘as good as the DS Lite’ though and not better than it is because nothing has fundamentally changed. The move from DS classic to DS Lite was one necessitated by the awful design of the original – the move from DS Lite to DSi has no such motive, which may dissuade gamers from paying a premium for the privilege.

3 stars

Rating:

3 out of 5