The GBA slot has undergone some slight changes. In place of an empty cartridge slot, Nintendo includes a plastic cover that looks like a half-size GBA game. While it seems like it'll often be lost (think battery covers), it looks pretty sleek and serves to obscure one of the few design flaws of the DS Lite: GBA games stick out of the cartridge slot by about a centimetre, whereas the original DS fit the cartridges perfectly. But it doesn't impede gameplay in the slightest, and it's not the ugliest-looking setup. And considering that the DS is backwards compatible with hundreds of GBA games, it's a small price to pay.
A bigger problem with the DS Lite is that its high-gloss finish is a magnet for fingerprints. Imported navy blue DS Lites we've seen have been constantly smudged, so Nintendo's failure to include even a rudimentary cleaning cloth or carrying case is notable. Although this doesn't really apply to the white DS Lite, it will be true of the black version. Hopefully some protection options will soon be available. On the plus side, the clamshell design means the DS Lite travels well, limiting the scratches and marks to the exterior while the two screens remain fully protected.
Introduced about a year after the system launched, Wi-Fi compatibility on the DS is surprisingly solid for a free service hosted by a company known for its aversion to online gaming. Whether on the original DS or the DS Lite, the Wi-Fi setup is simple, as the system can spot most wireless connections. If there are none nearby, you can create one from a broadband-connected PC by attaching the Nintendo USB Wi-Fi Connector to it. Without an external online network such as Xbox Live, finding friends is unwieldy -- you have to enter 12-digit 'friend codes' for each game for which you wish to create a buddy list.
Playing against nonfriends is hit-or-miss -- you won't find a game to join as fast as you will on an online console such as the Xbox 360, but as long as you're on a popular game during a reasonable hour, you should be able to locate competition. Over the course of an early evening, we were able to find several opponents in Tetris DS. The microphone lends itself to voice chat, but as of right now, only Metroid Prime: Hunters employs between-match chatter. Local wireless is, of course, much more reliable, with the added benefit of allowing multiplayer via a single cartridge. GBA multiplayer games won't play head-to-head over the wireless connection, and the lack of a link cable port means you can't have a wired bond to older GBAs or Nintendo's GameCube unless Nintendo releases yet another adaptor that interfaces with the DS Lite's proprietary power port.
The games for the DS Lite are of decent graphical quality -- better than the PS1/N64 but nowhere near Xbox/PS2/GameCube standards. It also pales in comparison to PSP games. Where the DS Lite really earns its stripes is the innovative quality of its titles. Whereas PSP games feel much like their console cousins, the DS Lite's dual- and touch-screen setup allows for some truly unique gameplay, whether it's drawing your own Pac-Man in Namco's Pac Pix or performing surgery via stylus in Atlus's Trauma Center: Under the Knife. That said, not many of the other third-party software developers are up to the challenge of taking full advantage of the DS's capabilities. For every Nintendo-produced hit such as Nintendogs or Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, there are several barely updated GBA ports or slightly downgraded PSP ports -- neither of which make much use of the touch- and dual-screen technology.
The DS systems lack the video and audio playback and Web-surfing functions of the PSP, at least in Europe. Nintendo-supported solutions for both -- the Play-Yan media player and Opera Web browser respectively -- have or will soon appear in Japan, though the European release status of both products is currently unknown. We will update this review accordingly when and if the products arrive here.
The DS Lite has four brightness settings, up from two on the original DS. At the darkest setting, the DS Lite is just as bright as the original DS, at its max, it's almost as brilliant as the Game Boy Advance SP. Playing a GBA game on both systems, we noticed that the DS Lite's colours were slightly washed out in comparison. The DS Lite's backlighting makes the graphics stand out in DS games, though. The colourful Tetris DS, for example, is significantly enhanced by the brightness of the newer system.
We tested the DS Lite's battery against the original DS's. Playing the exact same game (Super Mario 64) at each system's brightest setting and maximum volume, the DS Lite lasted for roughly 5 hours, while the DS conked out after 6 hours, 45 minutes. Recharging the system back to full power took 3 hours. Like the original, the DS Lite goes into sleep mode when the system is closed.
Until the release of the Nintendo Wii, its new console, the company seems intent on focusing its creative juices on the DS rather than the near-dead GameCube. If you still haven't picked a portable gaming system, the DS Lite is definitely worth picking up if you like its growing list of quirky, original titles. If you've already purchased the original, the improvements aren't significant enough to warrant shelling out another £100 unless you're truly put off by the bulkiness of the original. If you're in the market for a portable system with more mature -- albeit less original -- titles and decent media playback capabilities, then the PSP may be worth picking up for £80 more.
Edited by John P. Falcone
Additional editing by Nick Hide