Handheld Gamer: DSi XL

In a quiet week for handheld gaming, nothing coming out after the release of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the PSP, it was once again up to the handheld kings at Nintendo,defenders of their title all the way from the Game Boy days, to drop the bombshell upon the unsuspecting pubic.

Around this time was the first hints of the DSi which then came out in April. This time around, it feels a bit like Déjà vu because it is a DSi, which was also announced in the fall but not quite the one that’s on the market right now.

The first L stands for ‘large’ and in a strange, almost bragging, motion the second L stands for ‘extra large’. Nintendo recently announced that they ar calling it the DSi XL in the West which, as cool as it sounds, does not have the curious nature LL brings.

The screen is a pretty wide 4.2 inches, 1 inch over the previous DSi screen’s 3.2inches and comes in weighing at 314g to the DSi’s 214g. The biggest surprise coming from this is that the height, weight and length extensions have not affected the battery length at all, extending by two hours on both lowest and highest brightest settings. Not as good as the DS Lite of course, but that is to be expected in terms of size and features.

But how do they all compare to one another? A rather interesting video comparison of the three market handhelds from a Japanese morning news show is below.

To the surprise of no one, this announcement confused the gaming public. Nintendo had already basically relaunched the DSi with new colours of Metallic Blue, Light Blue and Red and the system itself only came out in April of this year and along with that, you can still easily buy a DS Lite bundled with Cooking Guide, Professor Layton, Mario Kart or Nintendogs. Why would Nintendo need ANOTHER upgrade?

What was also interesting was that this came out during the week Nintendo announced a drop in profits in the last six months due to low Wii sales which should not be a surprise at all to many people as most people who have a Wii already have one and those who do not are more likely to go to their friends then actually buy one themselves.

On the other hand, the DS has been the most stable system Nintendo has, not losing money but in fact gaining more as the system back catalogue grows bigger. It was estimated that, in Japan alone, 9 out of 10 citizens have one and also to date, Nintendo has produced over 100 million DSs in many varieties. In Japan, the Christmas rush will be one where more DSs are sold and more games are placed onto the market. Nintendo has already made a killing from not just the newest Dragon Quest game but from Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, remakes of the two next generation Pokemon games. Nintendo can aim for the hardcore with these games and Tomodachi Collection, the DS Mii collection game, making more then both of those games combined and being aimed for the casual market. It might make more sense on Nintendo’s half to give more backing to the Wii rather then give more to a system that had been your cash cow for the last couple of years.

The DSi LL (or XL)’s intention is to target a market that may or may not already have a DS or a DSi. Nintendo say this market is the elderly and those with sight problems.

When you create a system that’s more accessible to people who don’t usually play games, you open up a market that can access more of the games that are world renowned to casual audiences. You give them access to the Brain Training series, Suduko and almost everything else related to it. You could make a case that the camera and the bigger screen might not be nessesary for this.

The other side of the argument is a simple and justified one. The DSi has just come out, the new colours have just come out. The hardware does not have anything that separates it from the present DS Lite. What made the Wii such a rocket buster in terms of sales was the fact that Wii Sports was included with it. When you got another remote, you could get Wii Play with it, when the balance board came out, you could get Wii Fit. and when Wii MotionPlus came out, you could get it with Grand Slam Tennis, Virtua Tennis or Wii Sports Resort.

The DSi, when you received it, has…free games downloaded. On the newer ones, you get the internet browser and the highly successful and enjoyable Flipnote Studio and with the DSi LL, you’re getting three downloaded DSi Ware software and this is before you tap into your 1000 free DSi points. Having said that, it does not showcase the software as well as the Wii did with the hardware and extra peripherals that it came out with. It’s fine getting smaller downloadable games for your DSi and messing around with them, but it pales in comparison to showcasing the software. What seemed like the biggest ball dropping for Nintendo was not coming out with the DSi specialised games from launch instead of the next couple of months. The exception to this is Wario Ware Snapped and whilst this is highly enjoyable, it’s much, much too short and also shows on occasion that the camera can be a right annoyance to position right to make it work.

For example…the first games to come out to integrate with the DSi?

Monster Hunter

The Japanese trailer of the game

and

System Flaw

Which, judging from this video, screams ‘Quick Buck’.

Notice that

1. They’re not developed by Nintendo in house, like Wii Sports, Wii Fit etc

2. They aren’t produced by any big name developers like Konami, Capcom and Square Enix (who produce many of the best 3rd party DS titles)

3. They aren’t trying to stand out when using the camera.

The worst thing is that no one at Nintendo or anyone else has announced anything to remedy this potential problem. No new Mario game, no Zelda (rumours of the newest title, Zelda: Spirit Tracks having DSi exclusive features not withstanding) and no extended Wario Ware. Apart from the indie game makers and the smaller versions of already big titles (A Little Bit of…, Mario and Donkey Kong), there is nothing that may entice people to get their hands on a brand new DSi system apart from the appeal of it.

Time will tell if this will work in keeping their dominance over the handheld market as Sony still need to kickstart the rejuvination of the PSP, at this point the only handheld to properly rival Nintendo, after the lackluster start to the life of the PSP Go. But if Nintendo are to keep their dominance going into the next hardware cycle with a sequel to the DS, they have to make sure to make the customer’s money worth the purchase. Right now, they’re lucky that all the PSP Go could give was Gran Turismo on launch day. If Sony got their act together, Nintendo would not be in the position they are in now.