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Earlier this month, Nintendo launched the third iteration of its DS handheld gaming system, the DSi, in Europe, Australia and North America. And though I have been rather critical of the device since its unveiling in October of last year, I once again proved myself to be the consummate early adopter.
At this stage in the game, the system itself has been thoroughly reviewed by every outlet known to man. Its relative merits have been fully debated. Its very form has been summarily inspected and quite literally dissected . So rather than bore you with more of the same, I have instead elected to provide a guided tour through the steps each new DSi owner should take to fully experience his shiny new piece of tech. Got your system unboxed? Battery fully charged? Okay; let’s do this.
Just as every ride rightly deserves to be pimped, every handheld deserves a little accessorizing. Despite the fact that the DSi has a genuinely solid feel with a sturdy matte casing (similar to that of the latter generation two-tone DS Lites), the system is far from indestructible. To that end, your first supplementary purchases should be utilitarian in nature. A nice case is the best place to start. But if you, like me, find the current crop of domestic options a little underwhelming, don’t hesitate to take a look at the dizzying array of products available on the import market. Japan had a significant head start with regard to the original product launch, so that region offers a much wider variety of cases and sleeves. Other oft-overlooked protective accessories include the super useful wrist strap (to help reduce the chance of drop damage) and screen covers (to prevent scratching).
From the earliest days of the product reveal, Nintendo has touted the system’s twin cameras. Despite some misinformation floating around at the time of my original post, both cameras are 0.3 megapixel in resolution. That produces a mere 640×480 pixel capture image, which is pale by today’s standards. Still, while this certainly won’t replace your current digital for capturing those vacation highlights, it’s more than adequate for having a little good-natured fun. So snap a pic of yourself with the kiddies, and use the preloaded software to warp the image in any number of ridiculous ways. Sure, it’s not exactly a system seller in and of itself, but it’s undeniably amusing.
Give it a listen:
An obvious improvement of the DSi over its predecessors is the system’s speakers. They provide full, crisp sound, which works well with its new multimedia options. AAC audio support includes common extensions like .mp4 and .m4a (accessed via SD card), and, if you’d care to listen on the go, the DSi will even continue music playback when closed providing you’ve got headphones plugged into the external jack. And while the system also isn’t apt to replace your iPod, it does boast some interesting specialty options. While the pitch and speed controls are fun and the ability to layer samples on top of songs is an interesting diversion, it’s the quartet of accessible sound filters that show the most promise. You can use the "Echo" filter to give songs a spacey, dubby effect, the "Radio" filter to add a lo-fi feel and even remove the primary vocal track with "Instrumental." Sadly, the "8-Bit Game" option often does little more than muddy up sophisticated compositions, so your chiptune fantasies will likely have to take root elsewhere.
This same application also allows DSi users to record their own sounds using the system’s on-board microphone. These can likewise be manipulated via a series of filters with self-explanatory monikers like "Parakeet," "Electric Fan," "Low Harmony" and "Trumpet." This channel only has space for 18 voice recordings of no longer than 10 seconds each, so you do face rather limited storage. Of course, as this isn’t exactly the DSi’s most compelling feature I can’t imagine anyone is too broken up by these constraints.
Configure Your Wireless Access:
Now that we’ve played a bit with some of the handheld’s supplementary features, let’s take this sucker online and check out some downloadables! Once your native wireless network has been fed your DSi’s MAC address and, likewise, your DSi knows your encryption key – this is GeekDad, so let’s just assume we’re all using our own encrypted networks – you’re only a system update away from getting your shop on.
Link Your Account:
Of course, before you proceed to the DSi Shop, you’ll be given the opportunity to link your new system to your existing Club Nintendo account. This will instantly register any games downloaded through the service so that you can accrue "coins" for these purchases and any follow-up surveys that may become available through the Club Nintendo site. Coins can be redeemed for exclusive reward items like game cases, card sets and various other Nintendo-related goodies.
Claim Your Free Points:
DSi games are purchased using a point system, just like Wiiware and Virtual Console titles, but Nintendo has seen fit to reward those who access the DSi shop before October 5, 2009 with 1000 free points. Claim those bad boys and proceed at long last to the virtual storefront of the DSi Shop.
Snag the Browser:
Rather than suffer buyer’s remorse, I elected to save my free Nintendo Points for a rainy day. (But I certainly won’t judge you for spending yours on any of the currently available titles.) With that in mind, my only real suggestion for a day-one acquisition from the DSi Shop is the free Opera Browser. Though certainly not your most robust mobile viewing option, the browser loads quickly, controls smoothly via the touch screen and features a pair of different viewing options to suit varying tastes. Those whose opinions were soured by Opera’s previous DS outing will be pleased by not only the price (the original DS/DS Lite Browser cart and RAM expansion retailed for $29.99), but the improved functionality as well. Sure, YouTube’s still a no-go, but after a few minutes of adjustment you’ll be tweeting with the best of them!
Play a Game Already!:
Bells and whistles aside, the DSi is foremost a gaming device, and this is where it shines. The extra screen real estate, as scant as it might seem at first, serves you well, particularly in games like Peggle Dual Shot or GTA: Chinatown Wars where the top screen features an abundance of concurrent sprites. Likewise, the d-pad and face/shoulder buttons feel substantial, springy and well-placed. So now, after goofing off with ancillary features for a half-hour or so, slap in your favorite title and really take the DSi for a test drive.
Buy a New Flash Cart:
This final item is certainly optional and even a little morally ambiguous, so take it with a grain of salt. The DSi hardware has been specifically engineered to render previous SLOT-1 devices inoperable. This was done so by Nintendo to curb the rampant DS piracy that has continued to spread throughout the first two cycles of the platform. Unfortunately, while such cartridges are nigh synonymous with game piracy, they also enable savvy users to explore a wealth of (mostly) legal homebrew applications. Everything from classic pick-a-path geek lit to a 2D version of Portal to music sequencing and performance software is available from the robust DS homebrew community. So whether you’re a homebrew coder or simply a gamer with more sinister machinations, you’ll likely need to replace your old DS flash cart.
While most of the hardware upgrades inherent in the DSi seem incremental at best – and the loss of the GBA slot alone seems blasphemous to many hardcore fans – the system is not without its charms. Those thinking of trading in their older models, particularly DS Lites, might want to carefully weigh the options before abandoning their old faithfuls, but gamers who skipped that iteration and who have no real affinity for GBA titles should strongly consider picking one up.
At present, the differences in this handheld an its most recent ancestor are relatively minor, but this gap will doubtlessly widen throughout the device’s lifespan. As more DSi-exclusive content becomes available, the loss of a GBA slot (and its related accessories, like the Guitar Hero fretboard) will seem far less dire. But for now the DSi remains a sexy new piece of tech with unlimited possibilities.