DSi puts the whole world in your hands

By Matt Greenop

Handheld gaming used to be the domain of spotty youths looking to escape the world around them - you still see them in airport lounges trying to distance themselves from parents and siblings, glowering like rockstars, frantically pushing buttons and emitting annoying beeps with their eyes glued to tiny screens.

But as the games market has opened up - due in no small part to the demographic-smashing Nintendo Wii console - traditional non-gamers, from grandmas to chic chicks, are starting to catch on.

Nintendo has also been at the forefront of the handheld revolution, packing its DS portable with titles that attract non-gamers - brain trainers, recipe books, sudoku and even collections of classic literature.

The company has owned this sector of the games world for a long time. In 1989 it released the GameBoy and the world stood up and took notice. Parents quickly realised it was the ultimate babysitter and within 11 years, 2 months it sold 100 million units. The GameBoy advance sold a further 81 million, Nintendo says.

The double-LCD screen-toting DS and its DS Lite brethren have now stamped their authority on the marketplace by thrashing Sony's higher-spec equivalent to the 100 million mark in four years, three months - becoming the quickest selling console of all time.

Nintendo's now set to release the third generation of the DS - the DSi - a tiny, ultra-portable device that boasts two cameras, music library functionality and a host of (some might say goofy) photo editing functions.

Fast set-up and ease of use have long been Nintendo fortes - its customers are a bit less pointy of head than the average gamer, and making the experience as painless as possible is a definite strength.

After pulling the shiny white fingerprint-proof DSi out of its box, it's only a matter of minutes before it's full steam ahead. It asks for basic settings, like parental controls and user profile details, and then runs through a host of how-to tutorials in typical idiot-proof fashion.

Music can be loaded from a PC on to an SD card (or microSD with an adaptor) and then sped up or slowed down and generally faffed about with by adding and editing with samples that are bundled or recorded yourself.

Photos can similarly be played with - shots can be taken using the camera on the outside of the case, or one on the inside that sits next to the upper screen.

Both can produce reasonably interesting results with a selection of digitally-controlled lens settings. Distortion effects, mirror effects and various others are more fun for younger gamers, whereas others will get more use of the album functionality, which even provides a calendar that shows when images were taken. The onboard cameras, however, only use 680 x 480 pixel sensors and aren't going to out-do a "real"' camera in terms of quality.

All DS games can be played on the new device, loaded from the diminutive little cards, with future titles tipped to use camera and internet functions to enhance gameplay.

A big change for the DSi is its internet capabilities, with a browser available for free download from Nintendo's DS store. This means it's possible to check email, surf the net and use chat software over a WiFi network which the DSi will connect to by itself when it finds a friendly one.

This isn't a groundbreaking set of features, although it gives Nintendo fans the chance to keep up with the PSP-using Joneses. The DSi releases here on April 2.

- NZ Herald

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