Dear Dave

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Nintendo - not so stupid after all

Dear Dave,

I picked up a secondhand Nintendo DSi the other day. We had two DSs already but Marie has suddenly taken quite an interest in Mario and the investment was worth it in order to ensure peace on our next long train journey. Four hundred miles of my three children taking it in turns to whine, 'Is it my turn yet?' doesn't sound like fun. Now they can all play Mario Party together wirelessly and I can have a nap. Fantastic.

Before I told the kids about the DSi, I got them to decide how much they'd be willing to pay towards a hypothetical one from their Christmas cash reserves. I was quite surprised how enthusiastic they were about the whole idea. After a little negotiating, I even managed to turn a small profit...

I had a little secret play on it before handing it over (for research purposes, of course). After the Wii, I'm a little suspicious of Nintendo's hardware output. The pointing and motion controls of a wiimote seem to be harder for small children to get to grips with than the sticks and buttons of a normal control pad. Even for adults, the experience can often be fiddly and intrusive. Only a handful of games wouldn't work just as well (if not better) on the GameCube. Half of that handful have involved me buying extra gizmos and attachments. All in all, the Wii has been hype over substance.

The DS is different, though. The combination of touch screen and normal buttons make it in many ways a superior games machine than either the PlayStation Portable or iPod Touch. This fact has just been rather obscured by a deluge of low-budget brain training software, cartoon tie-ins and pony simulators.

The DSi plays DS games and has some interesting but inessential extra features - internet browsing over wi-fi, game downloads, MP3 playback, two cameras and some photo manipulation software. These are fun but the machine doesn't do much which I haven't got two gadgets capable of doing already. It wouldn't have been worth upgrading from a DS but seeing as we needed an extra one...

I couldn't help noticing a couple of design flaws, however. The lack of a slot for Game Boy Advance games is something of a loss, for instance. That said, the biggest problem is that although the thing is compatible with WPA wi-fi encryption, the DS games it plays are not - they still only work with WEP. This sounds technical and dull and it is. You can't really imagine exactly how technical, dull and frustrating it actually is unless you have a Pokémon-mad nine-year-old who wants to trade virtual creatures with strangers in Puerto Rico but can't do so without you re-configuring your entire home network in a security-compromising fashion... Gah.

I also discovered that however low you set the console's volume, it still makes a lound whirr-click noise when a photo is taken. I shook my head at this, envisioning the irritation and embarrassment this is liable to cause me everywhere we go. There are plenty of places that I'd prefer we didn't draw attention to ourselves. Four hundred miles of whirr-click could easily surround us with irate fellow passenger. Not only that but they're all going to be aware that my kids are taking photos of them, merging their faces together and then defacing them with technicolour beards. This could severely hamper my napping.

The morning after the children got their hands on the DSi, however, I began to understand some of Nintendo's reasoning a little better. As I wandered the house, I heard the kids giggling close by. They were clearly up to something but I almost didn't investigate. It was early, I didn't have my glasses on and I wasn't sure I wanted to know what they were waving around in my general direction.

Since the DSi can post photos directly to Facebook and I was only wearing a towel, I was quite glad of a whirr-click noise to let me know what was going on...

Yours in a woman's world,


No comments: