Editorials and Features
Article by: MrCHUPON
OPINION: Roses: What's With the DS? [Written 2005-03-17]
But until the Game Developer's Conference in March of 2005, not everything was roses for Nintendo's innovative, strange new machine. I'm not talking about its biggest perceived competitor, Sony's Playstation Portable. I'm not talking about its older brother, Nintendo's own Gameboy Advance.
I'm talking about the Nintendo DS' world itself.
When I walked into the Gamestop on 86th Street and Broadway on November 21st, I walked out with a brand new Nintendo DS box with one game in hand: Super Mario 64 DS. A portable version of Super Mario 64, 1996's revolutionary Nintendo 64 title, Mario 64 DS is a touched-up, extended version of a nearly 10 year old title that remains as one of the best pioneers of three dimensional platforming.
So what's wrong? Part of what made the N64 original so great is the emphasis on the new kid on the block: analog control. The Nintendo DS' touch screen analog stick "emulation" just doesn't cut it. Worse, those who expected the innovations Nintendo was pushing so hard got, well, a port. The myriad of minigames, addition of a few levels and the multiple-character dynamic only barely makes up for these shortcomings.
As someone who hadn't played the original Mario 64, this game was wonderful for me. But did I spend $180 to play something I could very well play for less than $50 at home? I could sure live without Mario 64 on the road. Other options on launch day included EA's Madden 2005 and Urbz: Sims in the City, Sega's Feel the Magic XY/XX, Activision's Spiderman 2 DS, and Ubisoft and Gameloft's Asphalt Urban GT. While Asphalt turns out to be a very fun racer, and Feel the Magic is a charming, challenging title, doesn't something seem a little wrong about walking into a product launch with only six titles to choose from -- with nary a killer app among them?
Furthermore, even with the titles slowly trickling in throughout the following months, where was the revolutionary innovation Nintendo promised? To date, only four of the 15 titles make extensive use out of the system's special features -- and one of them doesn't make use of them in the main game mode.
Finally, Reginald Fils-Aime boasted at E3 2004 about the Nintendo DS' dual wireless format, including the 802.11 standard for possible internet play. "It's not online, it's no line." Three months have passed, and Reggie was right: no line. No internet infrastructure had been created in time, and thus gamers pining for online Ridge Racer DS were left out in the cold.
Let's face it: the Nintendo DS launched too early to provide for a reasonable software library, that made good use of the system's features. Sales-wise, the tactic paid off. Can over 2.5 million units in three months - with a hardware shortage - be wrong? I counter with, can a handful of really good titles, a bunch of ho-hum titles, and no triple-A titles, be right?
Rebirth: Game Developer's Conference 2005
It was a triumphant and redeeming moment, then, when Nintendo Co. Ltd. President Satoru Iwata made some much-needed announcements at this year's Game Developer's Conference. A man who has consistently puzzled and pissed off Nintendo fans with his non-commital stance on online gaming and (somewhat misinterpreted) claims of the unimportance of technology, Iwata redeemed himself during his "Heart of a Gamer" keynote speech. It was announced that the company would be supporting Wi-Fi internet play in everything they do going forward - Nintendo DS included.
In addition, two potential killer apps were finally shown: Animal Crossing Wi-Fi, and Mario Kart DS. One emphasized the just-announced wireless internet play. The other emphasized the pure fun that Nintendo has to offer, now over wireless play. Would it be internet-ready? This much was not specified, but is optimistically assumed.
Finally, more titles seem to be trickling down the pipeline. Yoshi's Touch and Go is only the fourth much-needed game to make extensive use of the DS' innovations. Only twenty titles between now and September are due, but these include the anticipated Need for Speed Underground 2, Pac Pix, Pac n' Roll, Bomberman DS, Nanostray, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and Castlevania DS. If I could trade that for my current good but could-be-better library of Super Mario 64 DS, Asphalt: Urban GT, Ridge Racer DS, Zookeeper, Feel the Magic XY/XX and Wario Ware: Touched!, I would... well, except for Wario Ware, which is an excellent title and by far my favorite of the bunch.
Should Nintendo have launched the machine earlier this year, with a stronger lineup of games and lessening the wait for Nintendo's big online announcement? Perhaps. Missing the holiday rush, which undoubtedly was the main reason for why so many units were sold upon launch, might have proven this to be a bad move. But I can't help but thinking about how much happier DS owners might have been had they had the promise of more titles and a more robust long-term plan.
If Animal Crossing Wi-Fi and Mario Kart DS are any indication of how Nintendo plans to support this company's first serious foray into heavy online gaming, then perhaps DS owners and prospective new customers can envision the roses that will come up in the future. The Mario Kart franchise was expected to go online with Nintendo's own Gamecube, and when it didn't, sour faces abound. Those will turn into sweet smiles if online is indeed confirmed. Animal Crossing, a game that was for all intents and purposes a single-player version of a massively-multiplayer piece of entertainment, is tailor-made for online play.
Unfortunately, the Big N has had a small history of disappointing the faithful. Including a broadband adapter accesory in the Gamecube's lineup, only to have it used for a paltry two games online, is the biggest offense. For Gameboy Advance owners, when was the last time you had anything new for your e-Reader? Do you think you'll be using that Wireless Adapter much at all? And when many people expected Nintendo to announce - and LAUNCH - an online service in March, isn't it a bit disappointing to hear Iwata say that the infrastructure is "almost" ready to go? With Nintendo, sometimes you can never tell.
Will Metroid Prime: Hunters support online, as well? Will this title be what brings in the slew of First Person Shooters that control how they should - with analog "mouselook" emulation? Will Animal Crossing and Mario Kart live up to their expectations? When will Nintendo's online infrastructure finally come to fruition? If the answer to these questions is "no," "no," "no" and "not for a long time," then when November comes around the Nintendo DS will have come full-circle back to its opening state: disappointing.
Let's hope for roses.
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