Easy Points: Two Screens and a Camera


Posted: April 6, 2009

Nintendo's dominance of video games over the last four years is usually mentioned in the same breath as the super popular Wii home console. Nothing against Nintendo's nunchuk-tastic home system, but it's the mega popular handheld DS platform that does most of the heavy lifting; not only in the halls of Nintendo, but for the entire video game industry itself. Make no mistake, those billions of recession proof dollars that leaves empty suits babbling and scratching their heads at how they can get their claws on some of them is concentrated in one company. And within that company it's further concentrated on one product.

The Nintendo DSi is the latest evolution of the gaming system that's already sold more than 100 million units. Adding new tweaks to an existing hit product, renaming and selling it at a higher price as something new works for movies, cars and of course Nintendo. The DSi is a lot like the DS Lite, which itself was a lot like the space-station-y DS, but it has two built in cameras. Oh sure, it's 1.3 percent thinner and lighter and the screen is umpteenth percentage bigger than the DS Lite, but seriously we all know the DSi is going to succeed (there's virtually no chance of it failing) because of the built-in camera functionality. Throw in improved wireless connectivity and the App Store-like DSi Shop and you can see why this system is likely to be invulnerable to the forces of fail.

Also, kiss those GBA games goodbye. DSi won't play them and really neither should you. Seriously, Game Boy Advanced games? You really want to stay stuck in an era when Pokemon and not protecting the environment were cool?

Being able to play with the camera and sound capabilities of the DSi, right out of the $170 box, will give you hours of entertainment if you don't want or can't afford any games. You can of course take pictures and then make use of all kinds of visual effects, distortions and filters. Seriously, this thing has facial recognition software so that it knows where your eyes, nose and mouth are within the frame which of course allows you to twist, stretch and alter your mug in ways you can only imagine. Messing with stencils, colors and various kaleidoscope effects push the fun even further, but you'll rocket to the ionosphere of fun once you evolve from taking picture of mere faces.

There's an SD card slot for storing all your pictures, games, video and songs. That's right the DSi can function as a multimedia player complete with AAC and M4A compatibility. If you're not sure what all that means just know you can now do things with the DSi that most other grown-ups have already been doing with their mobile phones and iPods. If you want to feel like you're ahead of the curve you can tell your snarky smartphone-sporting buddies that the DSi does lots of cool stuff when it's used as a music player. You can change the pitch and tone of entire songs and individual tracks. You can use different visualizations that "play" in sync with whatever tune you have playing. We saw a visualization that looked a lot like Excitebike where the riders would hit the jump ramps with every snap of the Coldplay drummer's snare. We'll see how it does with E-40.

The DSi shop could end up being a bigger deal than Nintendo's successful Wii Shop application. Biting directly out of Apple's playbook, you will be able to quickly and easily download minigames and other "little" applications directly to your DSi. We can only assume full size games and updates at full size prices will one day be a reality on the DSi since digital distribution is the wave of the present. We got a chance to partake of a strangely appealing game involving a long-tongued bird that eats flying turnips and one that features numbers and letters that need to be detonated if they don't add up correctly. Some of us could've used that in high school Algebra. Thanks Nintendo.

To bring it back to sports, let's just say the ideas must be brewing somewhere. Using the DSi camera I had the chance to play a minigame that had a real time video image of me waving my hands like an idiot to mimic the actions on screen. Come to find out the DSi was recording my movements the whole time and the darn thing played back a "highlight" reel of my round. It looked like a low budget Wang Chung video without the 80s charm or music. The point of that embarrassing anecdote is surely somebody out there will make a game using this concept where you're a hockey or soccer goalie. I'd even settle for a cheerleader game that makes use of the DSi camera. I wouldn't play it ... but I'd settle for them making it and somebody else playing it.