The Nintendo DS gets a $40 upgrade this Sunday with the introduction of the Nintendo DSi. We've had a few days with the system to figure out if it's worth it.
Well, it depends on what your gaming — and non-gaming — needs are.
The $170 DSi is the newest iteration of a line of Nintendo DS gaming handhelds that launched in the U.S. in November 2004. Since then, the company's DS line has sold more than 100 million units, Nintendo announced last month. The DS Lite — which was launched in 2006 as a sleeker model of the original DS — is still a big success in this country, selling several hundred thousand units a month at $130.
So what's the point of the upgrade?
The DSi is not a DS2. It plays DS games just like the original unit and is intended to be an upgrade. Compared to the DS Lite, it's slightly slimmer, has slightly bigger dual screens and can support the downloading of small games and applications offered by Nintendo — shades of the iPhone and the apps offered through the iTunes Store. More importantly, the DSi includes two cameras, one that points out at the world when the clamshell system is unfolded and one that points at the person holding the system. Software in the DSi lets users manipulate the photos, distort them, change colors, merge photos to discover what the love child of two MTV News correspondents might be, add cat whiskers and so on.
The DSi also has some little perks for more hard-core users. It lets players swap DS cartridges without having to turn the system off. It supports WPA web encryption, which the original did not. It has a slot for an SD card for greater storage. Its firmware can be upgraded, meaning that, like a PSP, it might be able to get new features after its release. And it supports what Nintendo promises will be weekly downloads of new content.
Nintendo is launching the DSi with the angle that it is a DS that can be personalized. Any one of the photos that a user takes with the system will pop up on the machine's top screen when it is opened and turned on. That helps the DSi feel less like a generic piece of machinery and more like a new place to find a picture of one's cat staring at you.
The DSi does present a couple of disadvantages: It doesn't include a Game Boy Advance slot, which the first DS and the DS Lite did. So players of games for that system — as well as players of games like "Guitar Hero On Tour," which uses a peripheral that plugs into that slot — may find the DSi lacking. The DSi also has a shorter battery life. Nintendo estimates that the DSi has a three- to 14-hour battery life off of a two-and-a-half hour charge, depending on which features are used. That's compared to a five- to 19-hour battery life for the DS Lite, off of a four-hour charge. The shorter battery wasn't a problem during MTV News' first week playing with the system, however.
Nintendo is launching the DSi without any new DSi-specific games that can be bought in stores. Reggie Fils-Aimé, the president of the company's American division, told MTV News last week that DSi-enhanced software is coming, just not at launch. "Developers are going to want to leverage that installed base and yet they'll want to provide extra content via the features of the DSi, like the camera," he said. "That's my expectation as to how it will play out."
So whether you buy a DSi once it launches this Sunday is less a matter of games and more a matter of the things the new system surrounds games with — and whether the cameras and downloadable content are worth the $40 upgrade. "We will let the marketplace decide what happens between DSi and DS Lite. My belief is that, in the Americas, given the pricing differential and given the current economic environment that these two products will live side-by-side for quite some time," Fils-Aimé said.
When the DS Lite launched three years ago, it was a must-upgrade for DS users. It was significantly more compact than the original DS, offered a much more comfortable stylus for touch-screen control and just felt like a proper improvement. The DSi is a good system, but not so much better than what has come before that it makes the cheaper DS Lite a bad investment. The DSi adds perks, but until Nintendo's downloadable content commitment to the system becomes clearer, the DSi looks to be an upgrade that, for current system owners, is not yet essential.
For much more about the Nintendo DSi and everything else related to video games, check out our video game blog, MTV Multiplayer.