The most popular handheld on the market is also arguably the worst. It’s underpowered, flooded with mediocre games and increasingly marketed toward the all-important grandmother and little-girl demographics that Nintendo lusts after so fiercely. Still, if you like your games filled with ponies, puppies and babies, this may be the handheld for you.
Even its best graphics look outdated: Games like Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and Final Fantasy IV have pushed 3D visuals to their limit on the DS, but they still look years behind some of the PSP’s most mediocre titles. And yet the PSP lags way behind the DS in sales worldwide. If you judge the worth of a system by its processing power, that totally defies conventional logic.
Above: Final Fantasy IV - looks good for DS, but no better than PSone
Below: God of War: Chains of Olympus on PSP
‘Best graphics’ don’t happen that often: Most DS developers seem content sticking with Super NES-level 2D graphics and occasional 3D effects that wouldn’t look out of place in a PSone game. When developers DO make the effort to push the system’s visual limits, the result is all too frequently a shoddy 3D abomination with clunky controls that wouldn’t have been fun in 1999. Just… just please, stop trying to make first-person shooters until you know how to make them right.
Above: Technically impressive, immensely boring
Friend codes: Hey, want to play online? Guess what you’ll need to exchange? The 16-digit Friend Codes that make online play so onerous on the Wii originated on the DS, partly in order to give the appearance of protecting children from roving online pedophiles. Once again, we learn that there’s nothing a concerned parent can’t ruin for everyone else.
Baby games for babies: The DS has pioneered the rise of what might be the worst genre ever: baby games. And we don’t just mean crappy games intended for toddlers – we mean shit like this:
Above: ENJOY ‘EXCITING’ NEW VIRTUAL PET
That’s just the tip of the awful iceberg, as the DS is almost as notorious as the Wii and PC for crappy shovelware. Endless virtual-pet sims aside, it seems like for every quality DS game, there are about a hundred crappy minigame collections, half-baked games based on Disney Channel properties and pricey adaptations of free Flash games that are somehow worse than the originals.
New versions every two years: The original DS was released in 2004, and as of this writing we’re weeks away from its third iteration. Consoles don’t do this. The PSP doesn’t go through complete overhauls every time an updated version comes out. But it’s been Nintendo’s M.O. since the company introduced the Game Boy Color, and each iteration of the Game Boy saw stopgap models released just a year or two before the next major upgrade.
Above: The DS circa 2004, 2006 and this April
The Color was one, and so was the GBA Micro. The DSi is suspiciously similar, what with its raft of little upgrades that don’t do much to improve the overall experience. Admittedly, it’s a wickedly savvy business strategy, but how many times are we going to have to buy this thing before Nintendo’s satisfied?
One step forward, one step back: While we’re on the topic of the DSi, it’s worth noting that it removes an important feature in exchange for the ones it adds. The slot for Game Boy Advance games is gone, so forget about playing your old carts – or, for that matter, Guitar Hero or any other games that use the slot for hardware add-ons.
No MP3s: While we’re still on the topic, what the hell is up with the DSi’s music capabilities? The machine now has a slot for SD cards, which is great, and it can store and play music files, which is even better. But for some reason it only supports AAC files, meaning that anyone hoping to use it to play MP3s – like, you know, every other successful digital audio device ever – is S.O.L.
Advertising model: Remember back when Nintendo’s ads were all about showcasing new games and playing with power? Now they’re about celebrities sitting around on soft-focus couches and playing games that came out two years ago, like this bit starring Lisa Kudrow and Professor Layton:
Again, we know: Nintendo needs to appeal to its customer base, which is entirely made up of middle-aged women who like watching famous people react to sedate puzzle games. Or at least it will be, at this rate.
Nintendo abstains: As a game maker, Nintendo has almost single-handedly carried every console it’s made since the N64. With the DS, however, it’s mostly contented itself with making things like Nintendogs and Brain Age, while releases like New Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin and Metroid Prime: Hunters are few and far between. Meanwhile, third-party publishers have stepped in to dominate the system with their Castlevanias, Final Fantasies and Grand Theft Autos. As happy as we are that there’s no shortage of games we want to play on the thing, it’d be great if Nintendo combined its fat stacks of cash with the relatively low cost and difficulty of making DS games, and started cranking out awesome new games that… that didn’t involve Link driving a goddamn train.
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