- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

Here’s a look at the DSi, the latest device for the Nintendo fan in the family:

DSi (from Nintendo, standalone unit, $169.99) — The home of the magical Wii has upgraded its popular hand-held console to give youngsters a more personal mobile gaming experience.

Leading the evolution is a pair of cameras that have been added to the slimmer, longer DS frame. One is wedged between screens, the other is on the outside clamshell case. I’m sure Nintendo has something cooked up for the specific camera configuration down the road, but for right now, it’s easy to take a photo and switch between cameras to capture a moment.

That moment can reside in either the 256-megabyte onboard memory or can be saved to an SD card (not included) at an antique 640 x 480 resolution.

The image can be manipulated though a decent selection of effects, including distortion, mirror, emoter (change a facial expression), color (applied to specific areas of an image) and mischief (add silly art elements to an image).

My young tester tweaked one of his photo creations for about 20 minutes, then asked, “Now can I e-mail it to a friend?” Good question, next-generation multitasker. The answer? Well, kind of. The easiest way is to stand within about 30 feet of a pal who also owns a DSi and use the wireless connection to exchange photos.

The second personalizer is the DSi microphone that can record 18 audio clips in 10-second nuggets. Another set of tools transforms the clips to change pitch or speed and add filters such as a parakeet or trumpet.

While on audio, the DSi can play music from the SD card. Unfortunately, only AAC files are supported, not the way more familiar MP3 format.

Of course, the DSi also plays all DS games, now on a bigger, 3.5-inch screen and still comes with PictoChat but now allows users to buy games and applications from the online DSi Shop using a point system — 100 points equals $1.

The only deal breaker for a current DS/DS Lite owner to buy new is the tragic loss of the Game Boy Advance slot to play those museum-quality cartridges. That means the Guitar Hero peripheral, currently supporting two games, no longer works because it used that slot.

So will the DSi replace Apple’s iPod, iTouch or Sony’s PlayStation Portable in the near future? I would argue it can’t compete in that arena, yet, and has already fallen far behind.

This device looks to maintain its younger demographic and bridge the gap for the gamer to get a taste of sharing his mobile, multimedia individualism until he gets that first multifunctional cell phone. And, it buys Nintendo time to come up with an even stronger system to compete in the future.

My pre-tween testers certainly glommed onto the cameras’ functionality very quickly to prove the point of its fun, social merits.

For parents with a DS-less child, I might consider the DSi for a graduation or holiday gift. The price tag is still steep. For parents of current DS and DS Lite owners, I would wait for the release of a couple killer proprietary games — not just downloads — before jumping aboard Nintendo’s latest hand-held bandwagon.

The process to download games and applications via a Wi-Fi connection is painless and speedy for those with a spry wireless router connection. Nintendo also gives the new DSi owner 1,000 points to spend at its DSi shop.

Here’s a look at a few of the DSiWare titles available:

WarioWare Snapped (500 points) — Mario’s evil doppel-ganger offers a new set of inspired minigames for the DSi owner. All the wacky fun uses the camera’s functionality to deliver 20 games. The most difficult aspect is getting in a room with the proper lighting and enough of a different background to allow the software to detect the player’s head and hands.

Align the appendages within frames, get the OK and let the silliness begin. Swat flies, smooch a cartoon character, play peek-a boo, slap at Mario coins and eat a sub sandwich. Sounds silly, but the game captures the visuals and replays the efforts to guarantee laughs for the crowd that has gathered to watch this. One level even allows a pair of friends to share the screen and play.

It’s a great idea, more a way to show off to pals than a full-blown gaming experience and it’s worth the $5 just to see what the future holds for the DSi. Unfortunately, the game does not save the inspired lunacy to look at later.

Art Style: AQUIA (500 points) — Take a deep breath to conquer this challenging, casual puzzler. A player helps his scuba diver reach the ocean floor simply by matching three blocks horizontally or vertically along a massive column. Fail to clear blocks allowing the diver to descend in timed and free-dive modes and he runs out of oxygen as darkness slowly creeps across the screen. Succeed and unlock serene aquariums to calm the nerves.

This is not an easy game if you spend too much time strategizing. My plan was just to react by twisting the blocks blindly and rapidly moving up and down the column to find random matches. It worked amazingly well.

Opera browser (free) — Scour the World Wide Web using the DSi and a Wi-Fi access point in a pretty impressive presentation. The touch screen offers easy access to links on pages, favorite sites and even checking e-mail. Just grab a stylus and click along the information highway. As always, parents should monitor their child’s surfing habits.

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