It’s no secret that Nintendo has immense competition within the home console market. The era of Nintendo dominance ended two decades ago when Sony’s PlayStation handily outsold the Nintendo 64. It wasn’t until the Wii that Nintendo outsold Sony and Microsoft again, and even that wasn’t a sign of the future as the Wii U is currently struggling. Already the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are on the fast track to completely outselling the Wii U despite a full year head start. While it’s undeniable how innovative the Wii U is as a console, it simply hasn’t made a massive mark on consumers despite the incredible hardware. An impressive lineup of upcoming games can easily change that, but it’s always painful to see the company decrease their sales expectations time and time again.
Yet despite the intense fighting for home console dominance, there is one entire section of the industry that Nintendo has reigned supreme since 1989: handheld consoles. Despite strong opponents like Sega’s Game Gear, Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP), and the rise of mobile gaming on tablets and phones, Nintendo’s handheld lineup has never failed. This is especially true for their handheld system of the seventh generation, the Nintendo DS. The Nintendo DS was an incredibly pioneering handheld system that currently sits comfortably as the number two best selling console of all-time. Tragically, it looks like the Nintendo DS and DSi systems are in the last stages of being completely phased out. Nintendo announced this week that Wi-Fi services, specifically online play and everything that goes with it, will be terminated for the Wii and DS systems. This is to accommodate upcoming online titles for the Wii U and it’s much more successful counterpart the 3DS. In light of this recent news, I’ve decided to focus on the Nintendo DS this week as the industry almost completely moves on from a record breaking system.
The Nintendo DS caught everyone’s attention the moment it was announced. When Nintendo was selling its Game Boy line of consoles, they remained relatively uncontested once the Game Gear faded out. Each system bearing the Game Boy moniker was insanely popular and played everywhere by millions. But when Sony decided they too wanted to take a stab at the handheld market, Nintendo didn’t want a bad case of deja vu. They saw how easily two Sony consoles were able to take over the home based market. To combat this new addition, Nintendo did something no one else could have imagined: They gave their handheld system two LCD screens that worked in tandem with one being a touch screen that could be controlled with a stylus. Plus there was an open slot for old Game Boy Advance titles giving it the added plus of backwards compatibility. People weren’t exactly sure what Nintendo trying to accomplish with this and some even initially decried the idea as a gimmick. Once the DS got released in 2004 though, any naysayers were instantly silenced.
When compared to the PSP, the Nintendo DS was graphically weaker. Sony had that undeniable edge against their competition. Yet the DS had more games that were more accessible and appealing to a wider audience, and the extra touch screen proved to be more innovative than distracting. It was something consumers had never experienced before and it caught on like wildfire. It also helped that one of the launch titles for the DS was a remake of Super Mario 64, one of the most popular games Nintendo has ever released. Super Mario 64 DS boasted new characters and better graphics, but was still the very same game at its core. It gave the DS a running start that the PSP never got despite their also strong launch list. Future titles that showcased the strength of the touchpad technology like WarioWare: Touched, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike kept the DS momentum going despite the improving PSP.
What really cemented the DS’s dominance though was its 2006 update called the DS Lite and Wi-Fi connectivity. The DS was already a comfortably enjoyable system that sold nearly 20 million units, but the DS Lite helped those numbers jump up by another 90 million. The DS Lite was bigger, thinner, brighter, and a lot more appealing. It made an already strong console that much stronger against rising competition. As for the Wi-Fi connectivity, that simply made the DS a must have system. Since handheld consoles can only be played by one person at a time, Wi-FI was used for people to play multiplayer. Multiplayer has long since been a big selling point for any Nintendo console and that really was no exception this time around. A big early hit was Mario Kart DS which allowed up to four people to race together when only one person had a game cartridge. It was everything people loved about home console multiplayer except mobile and it made road trips worldwide much more bearable.
Like many gamers out there, I owned both the PSP and the DS. While each console obviously had their strengths, my DS always remained my go-to system. The games were a lot of fun to play, I loved how comfortable it was to both use the touchpad and hold the system, and playing Mario Kart DS with friends became a regular thing. The DS was also a significantly cheaper system which was definitely a leading reason as to why I gravitated to that one more. As the DS kept getting better games, I kept playing more and more. Now I still own almost all of my original purchased DS games and about two PSP games. I’d say that’s a strong sign of what I played more.
The Nintendo DS was something else entirely. It brought handheld gaming to an entirely new age and it maintained Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld market. Players loved the games and the touchpad enough to keep the system evolving which the PSP was consistently left in the dust. All good fortune from the various DS systems has really carried over to the 3DS too as that one is currently destroying the PSP Vita. So while Nintendo may be struggling when it comes to their home consoles, they are definitely sitting pretty within the handheld market. It’s unfortunate that the groundbreaking DS is losing its last means of relevancy but it was to be expected. At least we can all take comfort that the DS became bigger than anyone could possibly imagine. A handheld console officially holding the title of second-best selling console of all time? Second only to the PlayStation 2? Now that’s saying a lot.