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Is the DS Losing its Relevance?

Pocket Gamer | 12 Sep 2009 13:00
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You seriously do not want to mess with a group of people so obsessed with 'catching them all,' that they're willing to sacrifice much of their prime dating years. So it's with no small measure of trepidation that we venture the question of whether the DS is losing its relevance.

Initial sales figures of the DSi seem to indicate that it's doing just fine, with the latest iteration of Nintendo's pocket money magnet clocking up more than enough to keep its global mindshare in the black. But how long before the dual screen bubble bursts?

Given that the DS's chief strength over the PSP is that it has, first and foremost, always been a gaming machine, it's odd to see Sony and Apple streamlining their handheld offerings while Nintendo gets busy adding cameras, clocks and calendars to the DS.

It's a decidedly un-Nintendo move. But then, Nintendo is becoming increasingly hard to pigeonhole; as are its customers, many of which seem quite receptive to the idea of Dictionary 6 in 1 with Camera Function, Mario Calculator or an Animal Crossing Clock.

But as the DSi approaches its first birthday, does its odd collection of non-gaming accoutrements make it less relevant as a games machine, or are these a necessary part of Nintendo moving with the times?

Consider the camera. Is this not exactly the sort of fragmentation that left the PSP's reputation in tatters before the PSPgo came along to refocus Sony's handheld ambitions? How many games are going to support the DSi's snapper, and how many of those games are going to be worth buying?

There's something to be said for the likes of Flipnote Studio, a proposition so cuddly and inclusive it might as well wear dungarees and a comedic moustache, but after the grandfathers and girlfriends have had their fill of that, what happens next?

Flipnote Studio does deliver on Nintendo's curious vision for its handheld, but that synergy of off-kilter hardware and software confirms yet another layer of abstraction between Nintendo and gamers.

So what else does the DSi have to keep it relevant? How about DSiWare? At this stage, its clear that Nintendo's competitors are keen to shift towards the non-plastic model, and all indications suggest that customers are too. Why, then, does Nintendo pinch its nose and screw up its face as soon as anybody mentions digital downloads?

DSiWare hasn't exactly been a top priority for Nintendo over the last ten months, and with time marching inexorably onwards there are swathes of gamers out there still waiting for the portable Virtual Console they've been hoping for. Where the hell is Super Mario World?

It's highly unlikely at this stage that the DS as a platform is going to be bettered in terms of sales before the next generation of handheld hardware turns up. The DS is one of the great success stories of gaming's history, defying expectations, silencing dissenting voices and providing a catalyst for change in the handheld games industry.

Like the DSi, the DS Phat was guilty of baffling gamers and then letting them starve before suddenly exploding into action. Underestimating Nintendo is historically a very dangerous game to get into.

But...

The DSi is currently pushing a camera that many gamers don't seem to want, while drip feeding a digital download service that everyone is clamoring for. Instead of paving the way for the future and pioneering trends that it's responsible for starting, Nintendo's left hand is sticking to its boxed retail guns, while the right flirts with as yet unproven gaming interfaces.

Has the DS's unlikely success made Nintendo arrogant? Will the DSi's mixed messages characterize the DS platform's twilight years with senility rather than wisdom? Is the DS losing its relevance?

Pocket Gamer is Europe's leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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