Pros: Nice bit of kit, good sound and a larger screen.
Cons: The photo and sound functionality little more than a gimmick.
It's not too often I get suckered by good marketing, but the recent spate of Brain Train adverts on UK TV made me realise that the Nintendo DSi system isn't just for hard core gamers. Following a chat with my elderly and fairly socially isolated parents, where I realised their limited topic of conversation topic was being repeated on average around 5 times each, I decided it was time to get them a DSi, in the hope it might just help stave off the day they go completely senile.
The DSi is the latest in a long range of upgraded Nintendo portable game products. I remember the rather gay friendly named Game Boy of aeons ago, and was tempted to buy one, although I concluded I wouldn't have the time to devote to it. The Nintendo DSi is the first Nintendo product that doesn't have a slot for Game Boy games, so if you have a heap of historic games you still like to play, then the DSi isn't for you.
The Nintendo DSi is a rather sleek gadget, almost wallet sized with a very tactile matt black casing. I was rather concerned that the game console would look rather well fingered after a couple of uses, but in fact, as long as you don't game and simultaneously eat jam sandwiches, then it doesn't mark too terribly.
Although the casing feels quite robust, and will probably remain safe if it is gently dropped, you can buy a number of cases for your Nintendo to keep it safe. I don't imagine my parents will be taking theirs down to the skate park to show off in front of their buddies, so I'm guessing that as long as they don't sit on it while easing themselves down into the sofa, then it will remain pretty safe.
The set up and use of the Nintendo DSI is pretty straightforward, and I didn't have to worry too much with the instruction booklet. The game opens up, with two small screens and one of them sensitive to touch (there are two styluses (plastic pointing sticks) provided with the set, one spare, and one that slots into the casing). The stylus is used to press onto the touch screen for precision, and to avoid damaging the surface of the screen. The screens are slightly larger than the one provided with the standard DS console, an important consideration when they are to be viewed by 80 year old eyes.
I'll have to convince my mother to use the stylus provided to control the games, rather than damage the touch screen through using a crochet hook or knitting needle.
In addition to the games option (with a slot in the back for the DS games), there is two little cameras (front view and back view), a sound section, and some download and chat options.
The camera is a rather fun gadget, as once you have taken your picture, you can distort or mirror image the result in a number of ways. I certainly had a fun 10 minutes turning photos of Ultimo (my cat) into a horror kitty. That said, I'm guessing that most users over the age of eight would soon tire of the novelty before too long. This feature is one of the main differences between the ordinary Nintendo and the DSi. You can save your photo to card for printing or downloading onto a pc, but the picture quality is poorer out of the DSi and no better quality than a cheap camera phone.
Wired for Sound
The sound option allows you to use your Nintendo DSi to play your favourite music. Again, I can't see my parents quite hangin' wid da kids on the back of the bus while Dean Martin blasts out of their Nintendo. Considering this is a small bit of kit, I am quite impressed with the quality of the sound on the Nintendo, although of course a specific sound system would do it better.
There is another fun element where you can record 10 seconds of sound and distort it in various ways. I quite liked giving my voice the deep timber it never achieves in real life, so I could sound like a movie voiceover man, but again, I can't picture the feature being used much after an initial play.
It's probably obvious, but before buying the console, I couldn't find anywhere to confirm that the DSi could play the standard DS games. Heh, I soon found out they can, so there are a choice of over 10000 titles to choose. Unfortunately, the games aren't cheap, but I bought a few to get my parents started. In terms of the games, I found the games specifically made for DS to be better. The brain train and Professor Layton Games seem to work well, and they take full advantage of the features of the DS, namely voice recognition and the touch screen.
I was rather impressed with the quality and clarity of the image on the DSi, although of course it depends on the game you choose to play.
The voice recognition is a particularly snazzy feature - you speak into the machine and it understands you. Of course, it occasionally misses, but I am impressed with the number of times it picks up the right answer. Just don't cough midway through!
I was less impressed with the standard Simcity game I bought converted for DS. This is a lot clumsier than the PC version I'm more used to, and of course the screen looks incredibly busy and you have to scroll a lot to see your city. I can work the Simcity game, but I suspect it's only because I know how it should be played. I can't see my parents getting on with the Sims as the DS version looks too complicated.
Interactive and Internet download
I haven't troubled to explore this functionality too deeply, as I can imagine it would be a step too far for my parents. However, I understand you can download more features for some of the games you buy, giving you new fresh elements, making the games fun to play for longer. You can also pay for and download new games over the internet, and send messages and photos between Nintendo system users.
I played around with the settings to make the screen setting a little darker, and turned off the sound (as game sounds generally irritate me anyway). That meant the battery life certainly lasts in excess of five hours between charging. It certainly lasted me during a long trip in the car to Glasgow last weekend with no difficulty. The initial Nintendo DSi pack provides a plug for you to recharge your batteries.
I'm not particularly a gadget kind of chap, but I really like the look of the Nintendo DSi and can certainly appreciate it easing the boredom of a long train journey, or in the back of a car. I liked the way the console was easy to set up to get started, and how easy it is to transfer the games (just click a new card into the slot). I also eased my way right into some of the games.
Thinking back 20 years, it has amazing functionality for such a small bit of kit, so I have to offer Nintendo a little admiration.
On the downside, I'm conscious I don't really have the time to spare playing with the Nintendo DSi, so I probably won't be replacing it once I finally hand over this version to my parents. I can't help reflect that computer games in general do seem a rather sterile and insular way to fill up time, although for my father who has some mobility issues, I guess he will enjoy it, and it will make a change to his spending his time on the newspaper crossword.
If I were to replace the Nintendo DSi, I'd certainly seriously consider buying the cheaper Nintendo DS light as apart from the screen size, much of the extra functionality (the camera and the sound functionality) seems to be little more than a gimmick and something I could certainly do without.
cr01 asserts his right to be associated as the author of this review -2009-