I didn’t know how Gabe was going to introduce his bit, but we were indeed able to scam our way into this event. It was accompanied by a rich torrent of media that you have probably been availing yourself of at news sites. The event itself is local, I mean, it’s literally about ten minutes from my apartment, so their investment getting us there really is low to nonexistant. I drove my own car. I wonder if, upon reading what I have to say, they’ll feel like they got their money’s worth.
My relationship with the DS thus far has been complex. It hasn’t helped matters that - outside of general assurances that the device would spur innovation, and a few tech demos which gestured vaguely at potentially tedious new modes of play - there hasn’t been enough substance to really hang an opinion on. I’m not opposed in some visceral way to two screens, nor do I find microphones despicable, nor does the prospect of wireless play alter my humours. If I saw any of those features on the sidewalk, I wouldn’t cross the street. Any potentially productive dialogue on the DS is typically obfuscated by the PSP, and the prick-waving these two systems inevitably inspire. That is a subject somewhat beyond the charter of this post. Suffice it to say, the devices seem to be envisioned for different market segments altogether.
You might know that after using the hardware at E3, I came away convinced that the system had potential, but that this potential was not made manifest by the software in attendance, and that there was some philosophy behind it that wasn’t coherent to me. Since then, the hardware has been altered to include housing for the (supposedly critical) stylus, in addition to a more general purpose “sexiness” pass that has to my eye improved the aesthetic appeal. These are things you knew already from images available online. There are two things you might not already know, however: the first being that although the hardware is compatible with Gameboy Advance titles, it can’t link up to other systems via the cable, nor is it compatible with the new wireless adapter - so the multiplayer features of your current games don’t appear to be intact. Here’s the second thing: we had a chance to see an odd little carrying strap today that doubles as a kind of stylus. When Robert Nintendo (I’m spacing on his name) tried to demo it for us, it wasn’t working properly - but that’s not the strap’s fault. Essentially, it has loop you can cinch around your thumb, with a tiny plastic nubbin on one side that acts as a focus point for the touch screen. The case they were trying to make for it was in Super Mario DS, where it could be used in lieu of the d-pad as a kind of analog controller. It may sound odd, but there will be control scenarios where you might take a liking to it. For me, the motion recalls using a fingerpick.
Now that I have had a chance to play a handful of the titles, I’ve come to another odd impasse: I am now a firm believer in the philosophy of the device, and subscribe to the notion that new modes of interaction and inbuilt wireless networking will, like twisting an ominous jewelled monkey in a forbidden temple, reveal a heretofore obscured cavern of glittering treasure.
That is Proposition One.
Proposition Two is that we won’t see much of that treasure at launch.
The treasure is there, though, or will be - of this I’m quite certain. Where E3 was primarily a series of extremely early tech demos, inscrutable cave art, just something to show on the screen, what I’m looking at today is much farther along and points to some really, really interesting implementations. I’m only too happy to discuss my favorites:
Metroid Prime: Hunters, a subset of which will be bundled with the system at launch, is one of the coolest things they have to show at the event. This, the game that was essentially Exhibit A whenever I tried to dash someone’s hopes for the system. There are now many ways to configure your input, which as you’ll recall was a huge sticking point - now, the action itself resides in the top screen, and in the control scheme I use the left shoulder button fires and the d-pad controls movement. That makes the touch screen a fairly intuitive form of analog control. Gabe and I set up a couple wireless games and enjoyed it a great deal more than we expected to.
My own GBA bag is full of RPGs and Tactical games, the genres that leap most readily to mind when I think of raw data density beyond the capacity of a single screen. Outside of The Urbz, which has survived the transition to the DS quite well indeed, there isn’t anything approaching the traditional RPG experiences anywhere on the US launch list. They’re coming, be certain of that - take note of Japan’s list, also released today. Some of that stuff is shit hot, but instead of invigorating me it really just throws the launch selection into greater relief.
The final analysis: I am overjoyed that Nintendo isn’t completely nuts, which was my fear initially. This is a pretty cool little machine. But the opening salvo is a little soft in the genres I prize most, and there’s no stand-out title that forces my hand on the system. Believe me, I wish that there were. I always feel like an asshole when I go to these things and don’t put out.