The Pocket Gamer Report: Why the DSi XL Could Be a Bridge Too Far

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Unless you’ve been slumbering under a rock for the past few months you’re likely aware that Nintendo has launched another piece of hardware this week. While this is usually an event preceded by rampant drooling and girlish excitement, there’s a curiously subdued tone to this new release: even the normally ebullient Nintendo fan boys seem unable to muster the customary levels of enthusiasm.

But then, the DSi XL isn’t really anything of a revolution. It’s essentially a DSi which has ignored all dieting advice and committed itself to a “Super Size” meal ethic. And yet with this largely unassuming piece of technology Nintendo may be able to expand its already considerable handheld empire to hitherto uncharted realms.

For those of you that have yet to cradle this portable behemoth in your hands, allow us to describe the experience. Initially, it feels like you’ve mistakenly auditioned for a modern-day reboot of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The dimensions of the DSi XL are uncommonly chunky and it definitely takes some getting used to.

However, after a while it all begins to make sense; the original DS designs were prone to inflicting excruciating hand cramp on anyone with mitts larger than those of a pre-teen, but this expanded device removes that issue. The larger screen – which is striking, despite maintaining the original console’s fairly weedy 256 by 192 pixel resolution – makes games look better than ever.

Indeed, if pure portability isn’t high on your agenda this is certainly the best way to experience the DSi: you’ll struggle to cram it into your pocket, but it’s unlikely to take up too much room in a backpack or briefcase.

Notice we said briefcase there, because the DSi XL is likely to end up in a lot of those, if Nintendo’s Japanese marketing strategy is any indication of its goals. A logical continuation of the Dame Judi Dench/Patrick Stewart-starring adverts which aired in the UK, the XL is apparently aimed at older gamers who crave a larger screen due to their failing eyesight and a less conspicuous-looking stylus (the one bundled with the XL could quite easily pass for a standard writing pen).

It’s this approach that has arguably saved the new machine from the knives of the industry nay-sayers who so gleefully carved up Sony’s recent hardware launch, the PSPgo. The general opinion seemed to be that Sony was barking up the wrong tree, but with the XL Nintendo would appear to be following up on the profitable work that began with Brain Training all those months ago – it has succeeded in capturing the elusive “grey market” and as a result has tapped into revenue streams which rival firms didn’t even know existed.

However, the so-called “casual” sector is notoriously fickle, and we’d be willing to bet that many of the aging gamers who received DS consoles from their children for Christmas have swiftly consigned them to the cupboard, never to be charged again. There is a very real danger that Nintendo is greedily taking a second bite of an apple that is no longer ripe.

Looking at the facts, the console has done respectable business in its native Japan – where it was launched as the DSi LL – but there’s one vital difference between east and west. Gaming in Japan doesn’t suffer from the same stigma that seems to plague it here. Despite Nintendo’s protests, there’s still a very real resistance to videogames amongst the western oldies that is only now starting to thaw.

While the DSi XL is unquestionably a lovely machine and certainly deserves to do well, it could be argued that it falls between a rock and a hard place: Dedicated gamers will begrudge shelling out more cash with the standard DSi still so fresh in their memories, and the older market may fail to grasp the notion of upgrading tech they already own, or – worse still – may have given up on gaming altogether.

Bigger is better, but will that translate into success for Nintendo’s latest creation?

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

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