Four years after the launch of Nintendo's DS, it's hard to remember that, at the time, its success felt anything but inevitable. While tech sites and gadget mags were drooling all over Sony's PSP (us included), the DS has us mystified. What was the point of the dual screens? Why the touch-screen and not a more conventional analogue control? Was it really wise to launch a system so behind the PSP in 3D horsepower? Yet now it seems clear that Nintendo made all the right choices, eventually matching its innovative hardware with equally innovative software that would draw in whole new audiences to video gaming. I can't really blame ourselves or anyone else for underestimating the DS. Back in 2005, without the software to show off Nintendo's new direction, it was impossible to see what was to come. Nintendo was thinking out of the box, and we were still stuck inside it.
I'm reminded of this now while looking at the brand-new DSi. My immediate verdict is that Nintendo's third-generation DSi is too expensive, too gimmicky and too limited an upgrade over the deeply lovable DS Lite to be worth buying, yet my gut feeling is that I might be making the same mistake I did with the DS. To explain why, let's look at the new model in more detail.
The first surprise is that, physically, the DSi doesn't stray too far from the DS Lite. It's a few millimetres wider and longer and very slightly thinner. Open it up, and the screens are a quarter-inch larger. The volume control has been moved from a slider on the front to a rocket on the left-hand-side and the power slider on the right-side has now become a button to the left of the bottom screen beneath the D-Pad. The L and R shoulder buttons are slightly smaller. The gloss finish of the DS Lite has been swapped for a matt surface, and the speaker grilles on either side of the top screen have been replaced by two tiny apertures. The DS logo on the lid has disappeared. Nintendo has talked about the DSi as an evolution of the DS Lite, and you can see that everywhere you look and everywhere you touch.
The major changes are three additions and one subtraction. The first you'll notice is the arrival of a lens pointing out of the top lid, indicating the presence of one of the DSi's two VGA cameras. You'll find the other when you open up the clamshell, neatly tucked away in the hinge. On the right hand side, meanwhile, you'll now find an SD memory card slot that's also SDHC compliant. Finally, the GBA slot has made its way to the knacker's yard; clearly Nintendo is now confident that compatibility with its last-generation of hardware is no longer an issue worth bothering with, and hammered the last nail in the coffin of the classic Game Boy line.