Let’s get this straight out of the way. In a conventional battle of the year’s big two handheld consoles, the Nintendo DS would be mincemeat for the Sony PSP. It doesn’t look as good. It doesn’t feel as good. In terms of graphics and audio performance it’s at least half a generation behind. It won’t – for the moment at least – play movies or MP3 tracks. In direct comparison, it proves that two screens aren’t necessarily better than one. If you just want a simple answer to the question “which one is best?” you can consider it answered. Go ahead and order the PSP.
Go on. It’s the right decision. It’s just that you’re kind of missing the point. You see, the DS isn’t about having the best graphics or the fastest processor, it’s just about having fun. Even the hardcore Mario fanatics can’t pretend that the DS is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but Nintendo hasn’t lost the magic, it’s just taken a weird new direction.
Admittedly, Nintendo hasn’t made the DS the easiest machine to love. After the slick, streamlined, pocket-sized GBA SP, the DS is a return to the cludgy old days of the first-generation GBA. It feels at least 10 per cent bigger than it ought to, and while the plastic construction feels solid enough, it’s still a little cheap and toy-like. The direction pad, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons are all within easy enough reach, but that doesn’t stop you wishing for something more slimline.
And while the two 3in, 256 x 192 resolution screens are a step-up from the GBA SP (not to mention a vast improvement on the original GBA) the PSP and most PDAs have better quality displays. On the positive side, onboard audio is better than you might expect from the twin stereo speakers, and very clear through the headphone socket at the base of the unit. Nintendo might be stretching things with talk of surround sound, but the audio capabilities are easily up there with the old Nintendo 64.
In fact, that’s a bit of a theme with the DS as a whole. If the GBA was basically the Super NES in mobile form, then this is a portable N64 with a twist. A few hours spent with Super Mario 64 DS will tell you that the ARM9 and ARM7 CPUs are perfectly capable of doing anything you would have seen from the N64’s custom hardware, and there are times when the bundled demo version of Metroid Prime: Hunters has you suspecting that it might have the potential to surpass it.