- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

DS Lite from Nintendo, stand-alone unit, $129.99. In a world where folks seem content to play Doom or watch television shows on a cell phone, Nintendo has managed to improve upon its hand-held, touch-screen gaming marvel. The DS Lite has a new compact design but is still loaded with all of its big brother’s magic.

At two-thirds the size of the original DS and 20 percent lighter, the aptly named DS Lite delivers a potent technological punch for the small-handed player.

Owners still get a dual-screen unit with wireless capabilities, but its backlit, 3-inch color LCD screens can be adjusted to four levels to extend battery power (up to 19 hours at the Level 1 setting) and adapt to environmental conditions.

Also, the all-important but slightly larger stylus pen (yes, larger, a deviation from the Lite’s mission) has its own side storage slot, and an added removable cover protects the large Game Boy Advance cartridge slot when not in use.

However, as a guy with paws the size of a grizzly bear’s, I found it an even more cramped experience to manipulate tiny buttons and use the directional pad to control game action, and I welcomed any chance simply to touch the screen.

No matter what this oversized dude thinks, youngsters will quickly fall in love with a system that is made for them, especially when they can get reacquainted with certain Italian plumbers.

Yes, the 20-year-old pop-culture icons return to their side-scrolling roots in New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, $39.99), just in time to give parents a family-friendly reason to buy junior a DS Lite.

The dramatic kidnapping of Princess Peach by Bowser and Bowser Jr. sets the stage for Mario the hero to enter eight worlds in the Mushroom Kingdom, combining two-dimensional action within three-dimensional visuals.

The wireless multiplayer features give the franchise new life, as two players can assume the roles of Mario and Luigi and battle for stars or play a ton of minigames that give up to four players an arcade’s worth of satisfaction.

Monster Hunter Freedom, from Capcom for PSP, rated T, $39.99. All I wanted to do was kill some “Jurassic Park” or “Dinotopia”-like behemoths on Sony’s hand-held multimedia machine and not have to think about it.

I figured a title like Monster Hunter, based on Capcom’s popular PS2 games, would give me the best chance, but man was I wrong. Instead of simply becoming an anonymous warrior loaded with weapons while out on a hunt for dragons, I entered a gorgeous world where barbarian and legendary beasts reside together and the kill became the least of my worries.

To realize that a tiny UMD disc could hold this much intricate adventure turned me into a giddy 10-year-old bedazzled by the magic coming from the 4-inch-wide screen.

The first couple of minutes of the introductory animated sequence revealed this to be one of the best-looking games I have seen on the PSP. Add the personalization of the hunter, down to his speech inflection and hair color and his complex inventory system, and I was hooked on this miniature role-playing epic.

My long-haired warrior lives in a village where he farms and trades items, talks to the elders and sets out on more than 100 quests that could involve everything from simply collecting some herbs to stealing a dragon’s egg. Even nearby friends can join in through the wireless PSP connection for some testosterone-fueled group hunts.

Also for the PSP, NYKO has put out the Play on TV Tuner ($79.99) to give desperate owners of Sony’s hand-held machine the ability to watch UMD disc-based games and movies on a television screen.

The key word here is desperate, as the system’s output will not dazzle any high-definition or even medium-definition fans and is really aimed at the family on a road trip who might want to use the PSP with a hotel television.

The unit looks like a miniature range hood that covers the PSP screen and uses CCD high-quality sensors, lens and 10-foot cord plugged into a monitor’s RCA jacks to convert the PSP image to the larger screen. Owners use the PSP charger cord to power the device, which also will recharge the connected hand-held.

Ultimately, the steep cost may lead to the product’s demise as it offers barely adequate game graphics and woeful movie reproduction that will not justify the $80 expenditure.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]s.com).

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