As I was getting ready for bed a few minutes ago (yes, I am very tired), I did one last check of my Google Reader to find that the rumors of a new Nintendo DS unit were true. It wasn’t until I read the whole article that I realized just how horrible this really is. While it is clear that Nintendo is clearly trying to play catch-up to the Sony PSP in terms of capabilities, it apparently decided to find the biggest gun it could to blow its own foot off.
Lets address the playing catch-up with the PSP before we talk about how they are clearly shooting themselves in the foot with this new version.
There seems to be three major areas where the DSi is trying to play catch-up to the PSP. They are increasing the screensize slightly to compete with the larger PSP screen, they have added an SD card slot, and they are finally getting a real wi-fi experience. To be honest, as long as the DS or in this case the DSi remains a gaming platform, a slightly larger screen really makes little difference as its not a multimedia platform that is trying to play videos among other things. While an SD card slot is a big leap for the DS series, the PSP has had the expandable memory capabilities since the day it launched. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities, especially when it comes to hacking and homebrew, but from the sounds of it, it likely wont be used for much other than photos and content purchased over wi-fi. Speaking of wi-fi, the DSi is finally going to have a browser, something that the PSP had shortly after launch with the 2.0 firmware (actually there were browser capabilities from the launch if you consider the one that you could use from the Wipeout Pure game). While I have no details at this time, I asssume it will likely be the Opera Mini browser considering Opera is the browser of choice for the Wii. Being able to get stuff from an online store is also something that Sony has had for a long time with the ability to put all kinds of content on the PSP such as demos.
That said, it is only fair to point out some of the new features that it will have that the PSP does not. Actually, there is only one distinguishing feature, two cameras built into the system. There is a three megapixel camera on the outside and a smaller one on the inner hinge of the system. I can’t say this excites me any as I would choose a normal digital camera over something tacked on to a system like this any day, although I will reserve judgement on its performance until I get a chance to try it. Apparently you can sync your photos with the Wii photo channel which is cool even though I have always found that channel completely useless.
Now its time to talk about where Nintendo went horribly wrong. First, and this isn’t a big deal, but the new DSi will be 12% thinner than the DS Lite. Never once have I thought to myself, I wish this was thinner. I do understand how people want their portable electronics to be smaller, but not at the expense of functionality, which is the first bullet through Nintendo’s foot. In order for the device to be a hardly noticeable 12% thinner, the GBA slot has been removed from the system. Killing the ability to play thousands of titles going back 20 years is probably the dumbest move I have ever seen Nintendo make (Yes, worse than the VirtualBoy). Just because I have a dozen or so Gameboys laying around, doesn’t mean I want to have to scrounge through boxes for them to be able to play some classic Tetris if the mood should strike. Just because the content is old and doesn’t max out the DS capabilities, doesn’t mean that you should kill the backward compatibility that made the system great.
Like I said, I have close to a dozen or so Gameboys and other Nintendo portable devices laying around, so I am used to having a change in form factor every couple of years. From the Gameboy, to the Gameboy Pocket, to the GameBoy Color and so on, Nintendo is known for bringing some refreshes to its mobile lineup every couple of years. The difference between how the Gameboy line evolved and how the DS line has now evolved is where the real problem lies. With the Gameboy line, the size and shape of the system would change, the screen would change to add colors or a backlight or whatever, but the way you interacted with the system never changed. You always had the same buttons no matter what version of the Gameboy you were on. The DSi on the other hand, breaks this wonderful model. By adding a second touchscreen, Nintendo has fundamentally altered how you interact with the system and as such, splintered the market. You now have hundreds of titles that can’t take advantage of the new touchscreen and titles going forward will either not be backward compatible or will have a very stripped down experience when going from two touchscreens to one. This is yet another move from Nintendo that baffles me with stupidity. In all fairness, Nintendo said the DSi was a compliment to the DS line rather than a replacement to the DS Lite although I don’t know if that will be the case for long and will only cause consumer confusion.
While I applaud Nintendo for trying to catch up to the PSP in functionality, albeit 4 years late, the boneheaded decisions made for this new model make wonder if its not time for Nintendo to do some major house cleaning and get some people with common sense in the company.
If you want a little more information about the new handheld, you can find it at Engadget.