Column: "Natestalgia!" -- Doing a Double-Take for the Nintendo DS

Unfortunately, the title will be the only "two," "double," or "dual"-related pun

I love games. Video games, board games, card games, miniature games, pen-and-paper games--the nature of gaming itself is simply a chance to have fun within a set of rules. It's safe to say that of these, video games are the nearest and dearest to my heart--after all, writing about them makes up the bulk of what I do here with CRN.


But if there's one thing about the video game community that I can honestly say that I hate, it's its insular nature. Oh, don't get me wrong--Magic nerds, 40K players and really any other kind of nerd can be just as xenophobic and terrified of new people getting into their hobby, but no other group is as incessantly whiny and vocal about it as video game people.


Which, of course, is why I'm so incredibly happy that the Nintendo DS turned out the way it did. Not only did it satisfy traditional, truly hardcore gamers with some of the best, most smartly-designed video games to come out in years, it presented a fresh face--something special for people new to gaming, that would get people who otherwise wouldn't to play video games.


That's the important phrase right there: people who otherwise wouldn't play games. My parents were both gamers to varying degrees--my mom was able to 101% Donkey Kong Country in under an hour and beat Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and my dad looked forward to new PS1 fighting games as much as I did. Hell, he bought me Guilty Gear for a Christmas present because he wanted to play it (I asked for Metal Gear Solid)--but not everybody's parents are like that.




Just take a quick glance on Google, and you'll see there are countless stories of parents playing the DS, of finding something they'd enjoy and sticking with it. An array of excellently-designed puzzle games, "app" type games that focus on teaching you languages or helping you cook, or even different experiences like Brain Age helped round out the DS library and make it more appealing to non-gamers... sucking them in before hooking them on the good stuff, really. My Fanart Friday slave friend Sarah wasn't much of a gamer before she met me, but now I can say she spends more time playing video games than I do--and I'm a freakin' games journalist--and it's all because of the Nintendo DS.


When the DS was first announced, I'll be honest--I thought it was going to be an insane Virtual Boy-level flop. I was much more interested in the PSP, Sony's upcoming miniature PS2. Even at launch, the DS seemed underwhelming--while I've talked about my hilarious experiences with Feel the Love XX/XY, it's safe to say that the DS launch just didn't put much faith into gamers.




After that, though... it was like one crazy knockout punch after another.

Trauma Center. Advance Wars DS. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrows. Animal Crossing: Wild World. Mario Kart DS. Izuna: Legend of The Unemployed Ninja. New Super Mario Bros. Elite Beat Agents. Etrian Odyssey. Contra 4. Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies. Pokemon Black and White. As time went on, there became fewer and fewer reasons not to own a DS, to not join in on this strange style of gaming that welcomed newcomers, but truly challenged experienced players. Above all, every single one of these games was built from the ground-up for the DS, making sure that you always got an experience that you wouldn't be able to get anywhere else.




Of course, with every must-own classic came five or six random shovelware titles, movie tie-ins, and horrendous ports of full console titles. That's the way with any video game system, especially with Nintendo platforms (hello, GameCube and Wii), but the DS stood out for how many solid exclusives it had, from first- and third-party developers alike. I think what really impressed me the most was that it had the first Sonic the Hedgehog game in a long time that was actually good--and it was a BioWare RPG, so it had all his annoying friends along for the ride and it was still good!




A quick look at my games cases (yep, plural) reveals exactly what the draw of the Nintendo DS was to me: long-lasting games with unique, interesting mechanics and lasting challenge.




And that's not even a third of them! I'm bad about buying games, but plunking down $30 for a DS game that's going to last me ten times as long as a console game is criminally good.




The DS also had a handful of excellent remakes, mainly the "classic Square RPG" department. After the PS1 version of Chrono Trigger with its ridiculously long load times, it was nice to get an updated version of Chrono Trigger with all the added stuff like anime FMVs and extra content that didn't make you wait for five minutes after you switched time periods. We also got the first-ever US release of Final Fantasy III, as well as a beautiful remake of Final Fantasy IV. Even Dragon Quest came back to the US in a big way thanks to the DS remakes, with the menu-driven gameplay of all these classic RPGs being a natural fit for the DS. In the meantime, I'll keep holding out hope for a 3DS redo of FFV and VI.


Finally, even with its amazing library, the DS itself was a nice little piece of hardware. My old silver DS Phat tumbled down a concrete stairwell and got off with a few scratches and a corner cracked off--the system itself still worked fine. Its folding design made it immediately portable--no need for a case, since the screen already protected itself--and even the gargantuan DSi XL (my preferred model because of my giant gorilla hands) comfortably fits in a pocket, ready to draw whenever you need to settle an argument with Mario Kart (just a note: this is a bad idea).




I go through phases with my DS. I fall in and out of playing both Advance Wars games, Contra 4's ruthless list of Challenges, random replays of Elite Beat Agents, long stretches of SNK vs. Capcom: Cardfighters Clash DS and even longer stretches of just grinding in Jump Ultimate Stars to unlock everything. I haven't touched my PS2 in months, my Dreamcast in years, but I keep coming back to the DS. I've always been a big proponent of gameplay over graphics, and the DS pretty much exemplifies that belief.




What about you? Do you own a DS? Chances are, you do, or you at least have at one point--it's the second-highest selling video game system of all time after the PlayStation 2. What are some of your favorite titles? Do you organize your game cases so you know which one to grab for, say, a DMV wait or saving the first spot for a movie's midnight showing? Tell us all about your favorite (and least favorite!) DS experiences!

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