Nintendo released the newest entry in the DS series earlier this month, dubbed the DSi. The “i” has two meanings; one, it’s related to the addition of cameras to the hardware, and two, because the DSi is meant to be more of an individual’s property than the DS was. There’s much more room for personal customization in this device than with the previous DS and DS Lite, meaning that you may not be as willing to share it with your brother, sister or roommates as you once were.

MSRP: $169.99
Apr. 5, 2009

Though it may not look like it at first glance, there are loads of changes made to the DSi from the previous upgrade, the DS Lite. Cosmetically, it’s thinner, though it is a bit wider (or longer, depending on your orientation). It also has a full matte finish, instead of the glossy finish on the previous system; this reduces fingerprints and smudges, but you may see more grease on it from your fingerprints (easily wiped off grease, but grease nonetheless). The power switch is now a power button found on the inside of the system-for those who tote their DS around in their pocket on occasion (guilty), this is a bigger change that it may seem like at first. I’ve turned the system off by accident while it’s been back there before, and it wasn’t fun. The volume slider is now a set of buttons, which makes changing the volume to a more exact setting easier. The D-pad is the clicky model from the original DS, rather than the squishy, uncomfortable one from the DS Lite. The speakers now let out their sound through a oval on each side, rather than a series of small circles; this is supposed to increase the quality and volume of the sound from the device. There is also a slot for SD cards on the right side of the device. In addition to SD card support, there is also onboard memory (256mb) which gives you space to put your downloadable games and the AAC music files you want to play.

Rather than the two small hinges that often cracked on the DS Lite, the DSi has one solid hinge that stretches from one shoulder button to another. Also, the shoulder buttons are more like buttons now, and less like triggers. One camera is on the outside of the device, while the second camera is on the inside, next to the microphone. An additional light was added to the charging/battery life ones, to show Wi-Fi connectivity. In addition, your system no‚  longer shows a red light when it begins to run low on battery, but instead shows red when you start to run out, and then blinks red when you’re nearing a dangerous point and absolutely need to charge. This extra differentiation is welcome, especially now that you can adjust the brightness settings in game by pressing select and using the volume buttons, rather than powering off the system and readjusting them. This helps you get the maximum battery life out of the handheld.

Battery life is slightly shorter than on the DS Lite, but not so much that it’s very noticeable. You’re still able to get five hours or so out of this with the brightness and volume jacked all the way up, and you can get 15-18 if you manage the settings more efficiently than that.

The start menu has been overhauled, and now looks more like the Wii Menu in the sense that it has channels. Your photo channel, sound channel, settings, and DSi Ware games are all found here, as well as the game that you have inserted into the device. You can also hotswap games out while on the main menu rather than powering down, and you’ll see the logos appear and disappear on the menu as you do so. The top screen is used to cycle photos you have taken (the ones used for this slideshow can be selected within the photo channel), which is a nice touch, though a bit embarrassing when you’re on the subway and have pictures of yourself all over the place. You can take pictures while on the main menu at any time by pressing the L or R buttons, and then you can switch which camera you are using with the Switch tab using the stylus (or your thumb, if you’re in a hurry for your photo opp).

The photo editing application is fun, but it’s definitely something that’s going to be more enjoyable for the younger DS crowd. There’s a giant section in the DSi manual that details all of the things you can do with the application, so it’s not that it’s basic, it’s just that it seems like the kind of thing where a gamer would rather spend his time with the games than the application. The same can be said about the sound recording device, though I would be lying if I said I hadn’t used that for some of my own fun while out in public already. Don’t judge me.

My favorite addition to the DSi-and the thing that sold me on the device immediately-is the DSi Ware store. Much like Wii Ware, the DSi Ware store releases new games every Monday that are meant to represent the kind of gaming you should be doing on your DS. There are different price points for the games-free, 200, 500 and 800+ points-and they range from things like Bird and Beans, which is meant to be a quick, pick up and play highscore challenge for 200 points to more fleshed out experiences like Art Style: Aquia (500 points), an innovative and addicting puzzler, or to the kind of thing that will make cost conscious handheld gamers very pleased: full retail releases delivered for you digitally at a lower cost than in stores. Brain Age Express Math is an example of this, as it contains much of the content from the retail releases and essentially acts the same way, but for just 800 points ($8 equivalent) rather than for the $20 expected in a brick-and-mortar store. Nintendo also gives you 1000 free points to start with, so you can immediately pick up a few of these titles without spending any more of your own dime.

The one thing that Nintendo has not commented on yet, but is something I hope happens, is the addition of a Virtual Console type store to the DSi. If there’s DSi Ware and Wii Ware, there should be a handheld Virtual Console for both. There’s a wealth of titles in the history of just Nintendo handhelds, never mind if other systems were to be included (much like they are on the Wii’s VC). I think you would see the sales for the system surge even more than they have were an announcement such as this to be made. This would also help to justify the loss of the Game Boy Advance slot, as that is one of the few deductions made on the DSi as it transitions from the DS Lite. Finding even used copies of some GBA games is near impossible, and other times the prices are still close to retail price. Remember what I said about Brain Age Express Math? Picture that kind of reduction in price (remember, no expensive cartridge production!) for classic GBA titles.

The DSi launch was somewhat strange, as the only console exclusives for it were the DSi Ware games and the promise for future content, such as DSi-exclusive cartridges that would act much like Game Boy Color ones used to. Still, the system has enough improvements on it that it’s a worthwhile upgrade even for DS Lite owners. Those of you that still have the original DS shouldn’t even need me to tell you about how you need to go get this version of the DS. Except for the deduction of the GBA slot (and who knows, maybe that gets remedied in the future digitally), this is the definitive version of the DS system, and is worth it’s $170 price tag.

About The Author

Marc Normandin was gaming editor of Blast from 2008 to mid-2010. You can reach him via e-mail at m[email protected], or follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin

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