The Nintendo DS is the most successful portable gaming machine on the planet. More than 100 million of them are out there. Should you get one, or wait for the Nintendo 3DS? [UPDATED for the pre-3DS shopping season.]
This is our best advice — updated regularly — about whether or not you should buy a DS, what games to get for it and what to watch out for.
[This post was last updated on February 9, 2011 and will be updated if events, news, games, prices or acts of nature cause our opinion to change.]
Should I buy a Nintendo DS now?
ANSWER UPDATED, 2/09/11
No. If you have no DS, you should wait until the 3DS is available and grab that. The unit will be available in Japan on February 26, and in the U.S. on March 27 (Europe gets it on March 25). Not only will the 3DS feature the latest-and-greatest in gameplay - an all-in-one 3D top screen - it will also allow you to transfer DSiWare games to it and from it. The inability to do so on the DSi is a big drawback of that system. The 3DS is also fully backward compatible with all existing, non-3D DS titles, and will feature a Virtual Console from which you'll be able to download Game Boy and Game Boy Color titles. Even as a tide-me-over you intend to trade in, there's just no good reason to get a DS now with the 3DS so close to launch.
If I'm going to buy a DS, which one should I buy?
ANSWER UPDATED, 2/9/11
Again, we recommend waiting for the 3DS. That said, the system is going to cost $250. The Japanese price tag is ¥25,000 or roughly $300USD. (The price gap is due to the strong yen and the weak dollar.) If waiting for the 3DS is a bridge too far but you can't live without a DS, go for either the $130 DS Lite or the original, six-year-old DS, despite its dated looks and tiny stylus. You can find a used one for less than $100. Do not buy the DSi or the DSiXL. For not much more than their retail price you should be able to get a 3DS in five or six months. And the 3DS will support most everything you want to play now.
Hold up... I have a DS... I just want to know if I should "upgrade" to a newer model?
ANSWER UPDATED, 2/09/11
No. If you have a DS, the only upgrade you should make is to the 3DS when it arrives by the end of March — or maybe a little later.
Are you saying I should get a 3DS when it launches? Is that the message here?
NEW QUESTION, ADDED 2/9/11
Wait a second here. We didn't say that. The 3DS is probably going to be a very cool system. We like what we've seen of it already, and we'll have a 3DS buyer's guide closer to when the machine launches in the U.S.
The only people who should buy a new gaming system when it launches are the hardcore gamers, the people who don't mind paying top price for a system that has just a few new games, most of which will probably not rank among the best in the machine's lifespan. Buying an Xbox one meant you got Halo, but nothing else that was great. Buying a PS2 on day one left you one year removed from getting Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 2, Ico and some other greats. So, patience people. The glasses-free 3D tech in the 3DS is amazing. We don't even know which games will be out on day one in America and we're sure that those who wait a few months won't suffer badly. Ask us again closer to 3DS U.S. launch in March, okay?
What are the best games on the DS?
There are tons of games available for the DS, probably more than there are for any other dedicated gaming machine. Everyone who buys a DS seems to start with New Super Mario Bros, a side-scrolling game that is, well, an original sequel to the classic Super Mario Bros. games. Mario Kart DS is really popular as well. It is one of the premiere games to use the DS' online features.
There are top-flight Zelda and Pokémon games on the system, a raft of excellent role-playing games, ranging from The World Ends With You to Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor. This is a system for hidden gems like Contact or relationship-threatening puzzle games like Puzzle Quest.
There's very little on the DS that there isn't a good version of… good crossword puzzle games, good music games involving male cheerleaders (seriously!), good Mario and Zelda games, good games for young girls, good games for old men. Even a lot of the downloadable games for the DSi are top-notch, particularly a lot of the offerings published by Nintendo. If you want more of an M-rated kind of thing, the best of the slim pickings of that style is Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.
We also recommend the block-chiseling puzzle game Picross 3D, the strategic, turn-based war game, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, and the role-playing game Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies.
Which ones are the worst?
The big two danger zones for DS buyers are sports and kids stuff. There are very few, if any, quality sports games on the machine. The system just doesn't seem to get a lot of polished attention from top sports development teams. The kids stuff is hit or miss (Beware games whose titles end with "Z"!) and your best way to judge quality there is to ask friends. Few of the kids games for the DS have been reviewed widely enough to take Metacritic's word for what's good. Ask a friend for a tip and beware what we call shovelware.
You should also take caution with any DS first-person shooters. They typically require the player to use the stylus on the system's lower screen to simulate mouse movement while forcing the player to use their other hand to both clasp the system — supporting the weight of the system — and press buttons to shoot. It can be tricky and is not an ergonomic award-winner for most folks.
Oh, and beware licensed games, based on movies, TV shows and whatnot. Often the DS version is the one that got the short shrift from the creators behind it. You can tell be the sometimes-terrible graphics these cheap licensed games get.
So if I buy a system, what are the first three games I should get?
1) Get a Mario game, either the pleasing if unoriginal New Super Mario Bros. or the clever, more strategic Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.
2) Treat yourself to a game that uses the DS' interface to do something original, such as Elite Beat Agents (the aforementioned cheerleading game) or Scribblenauts (write a noun and see it materialize as an in-game item; though look for an improved sequel came out in the fall).
3) For your third game, see if Puzzle Quest is your thing.
Are there going to be good DS releases after the 3DS comes out?
NEW QUESTION, ADDED 2/9/11
That's not guaranteed. Nintendo makes most of the best games for the DS and the only upcoming DS games the company has revealed are Pokémon Black and White which will be released in the U.S. a couple of weeks before the 3DS. After that, all the portable games Nintendo has been hyping are for 3DS. They — and other companies — might make DS games, but Nintendo's probably shifting most if not all handheld development to its 3D platform.
What are the big drawbacks of the system, the stuff they don't tell you?
This system could cramp your hands if you have big paws. The newer DSes have bigger styluses, but even those fake pens are still too small for people with big hands.
Check your enthusiasm for the downloadable games you could get for the DSi or DSi XL. Many of the games on that service are fantastic (for example, this one, this one and this one), but not a one of them can be transferred from one DS to the next. If you download a game to your DSi and then need to transfer that purchase to a new DS — let's say you lost or sold the old unit — you have to buy the game all over again.
Again, this lack of transfer will not be an issue for the 3DS; DSiWare purchases you have made on another DSi also will be transferrable to a 3DS. There will apparently be a restriction on the number of times a file may be transferred and "not all software will be movable." Nonetheless, its support on the 3DS makes a DSi or DSiXL purchase all the more inadvisable.
Any hidden costs?
Not really. Stores sell a lot of tchochkes, but your clamshell DS doesn't need a protective shell. Its screens may scratch a little but they generally hold up pretty well. Your biggest risk will be losing the system's teensy game cartridges, but an Altoids case or Ziploc can take care of that. Systems come with a second stylus, so you can afford to lose the first one.
If you go for a DSi or XL and plan to save a lot of music or games to the system, you'll want to buy an SD Card. A 2GB or 4GB card will run you $10-$30.
What about the 3DS though? Is the 3D just a gimmick that I don't really need?
ANSWER UPDATED, 2/09/11
See our above answers. Futhermore, we played the 3DS at E3 in June, 2010 and we were impressed, as we've conveyed in both video of the 3DS and written impressions of 3DS games. We liked it again when we tried it in January. In addition to the 3D capabilities, the 3DS is more powerful, packed with more features (motion-sensing, an analog control), and already has strong support from both Nintendo's game-makers and third-parties, who have collectively announced a lot of 3DS games. Its top screen displays 3D graphics without the user needing to wear 3D glasses (the effect can be modulated by a slider or even shut off).
Nintendo revealed on Sept. 29 that the 3DS would be available Feb. 26 in Japan, for ¥25,000 (roughly USD$300). The system will be out in the U.S. on March 27 and cost $250. Two colors will be available for the 3DS when it launches in Japan: "Aqua Blue" and "Cosmos Black." Release games in America are TBD, though Nintendogs + Cats is likely, and maybe a Pilotwings game, in addition to Super Street Fighter IV, Pro Evolution Soccer and a handful of others.
Essential Facts For The Nintendo DS
System launched in 2004
The Nintendo DS is a two-screened portable system sold by Nintendo. The machine's standout features are its dual screens, the lower of which is touch sensitive and often intended to be operated by a stylus that can be sheathed within the base of the unit. The DS also includes a directional pad, buttons and a microphone, all of which can be used as controls for the system's many games. The newer DSi models include a player-facing and an outward-facing camera, both of which can be used in some games but are primarily used with photo-taking applications.
All DS systems include both short-range wireless communication and WiFi online access, but games have to be programmed specifically to use either feature. Games that include WiFi support are sold in boxes that include a circular blue Nintendo Wi-Fi connection logo.
Each DS system contains its own internal, rechargable battery. Battery life varies based on the model of DS and how a player uses the system, but any DS will likely hold up for a full day — or long flight — before it needs a recharge.
Nintendo has targeted the DS at a wide demographic, releasing games and non-gaming software targeted at everyone from little girls to the elderly, with products as disparate as the puppy-raising Nintendogs and the mental-exercise program Brain Age.
Currently available models: DS ($80), DS Lite ($130), DSi ($170), DSiXL ($190)
Price of new games: $30-$40
Discount line of games: None
Need more shopping advice? Take a look at Kotaku's other video game hardware buyer's guides.