Nintendo DS Lite

The newest incarnation of the Nintendo DS, the DS Lite is a true work of wonder standing in a league of it's own. With a wide variety of games, backwards engineering capability for Game Boy Advance (GBA) games all in a small, light (under 8 ounces) handheld package the DS delivers, hard.

The DS features two screens, the main playing screen and a second screen that is touch sensitive and utilizes a stylus to help gameplay. Other games use the lower screen for maps, inventories or other helpful in-game menus. As well several games take advantage of the dual screens to increase graphics size, for example in-game movies are often simulcast on both screens, which makes for a great viewing experience unlike any other system and thus doubles the decently sized 3 inch 260,000 color LCDs.

The buttons are simple to use; the standard Nintendo X, Y, A, B are easy to reach while playing, as are the top trigger buttons. In games where you use both the directional pad (Dpad) and touch screen, it's still an easy balance between controlling both and having smooth gameplay.

Some games don't employ the touch screen at all, like Mega Man ZX where all the action (and awesome cut scenes) are viewed on the top, while the bottom is used for enemy analysis, and your items screen. There is a very delicate balance of viewing all the screens in most of the games I've played, and none have been confusing, annoying or distracting.

Certain games have game action that crosses over from one screen to the other; it is then that the dual screens can become troublesome. Oftentimes as the game passes through the DS's casing between the screens you can get caught and have problems. This is not extremely common although it is frustrating. When playing GBA games you have the option of choosing on which screen the game is played.

Stylus controlling is easy. The machine is very responsive to the touches of your stylus, and the system came with two, although the second one should not be needed as the stylus fits snugly in the DS console. At first look, the idea of using a stylus was none too exciting, but the more I played with it the more I warmed to it. Nintendo continues to push the envelope in fun, new gaming and no other portable system uses such innovative and cool technology.

Nintendo has been actively going after people who like to play videogames but are not interested in shelling out several hundred dollars. To that end, they have brought out a wide variety of games for the DS, from classic Nintendo titles (Mega Man, Zelda, Super Mario) to newer titles like the widely popular Brain Age where you can play SuDoku and other games to exercise your brain in addition to your Nintendo thumb. Thus bringing gaming opportunities to everyone.

The DS is accessible to everyone, hardcore gamers will love its power, innovations and stylish exterior (available in Onyx, Coral Pink or Polar White), casual gamers will love the power and the ease of gameplay. With the Nintendo DS Lite, there is something for everyone.

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The Good:
The DS is small and light, easily fitting into your pockets, for perfect portability. The screens are clear and bright (brighter by nearly five times that of the first DS). And while you can still play either GBA or DS games on this system, The GBA games extend beyond the casing.

As far as control and actual game play are concerned, the button layout is comfortable and easy, even when using the touch screen. My first experience with the touch screen was Mario Hoops 3 on 3; the tutorials and gaming make it so easy for it all to work together, that after a few games, it was as if I'd been handling the touch screen, d-pad and x-y-a-b buttons at the same time for years.

The Bad:
While it looks great, the glossy cover (especially the Onyx version) is prone to some serious smudging, though that is easily cleaned. Also, Nintendo GBA games stick out of the system, should you choose to play them. The sound quality without headphones is not particularly great but is certainly passable. Also, while this is more of a game gripe than a system gripe, the DS games do not come with any sort of protective casing so you will probably need to buy a case to hold them, so keep that in mind.

The Nitty Gritty:
When it comes right down to it, the Nintendo DS Lite does not disappoint. Not only does it feature a growing list of fun, original games you won't play on any other system (see: Mario, Meteroid, Zelda) but the device separates itself from all others with technological features such as the dual-screen, touch screen, and in some cases, microphone-enabled game play. On a full charge the battery can last nearly 19 hours, and recharges in under 4 hours.

Throw in that it's backward compatible with almost all GBA titles, and that all of these additions come without increasing the price for, nor subtracting any features from, the original DS, which by the way, is generally $100 less than the Sony PSP, and it's obvious that the DS Lite is not to be missed.

If you are looking for inexpensive, original, and entertaining gaming, grab the Nintendo DS Lite.

The Nintendo DS Lite is available everywhere for $129 in Onyx, Polar White and Coral Pink.

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Sony Portable Playstation (PSP)

The Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) is a marvel of portable gaming technology. The little black machine that can. With a sleek black facade and a large 4.3-inch with 16:9 high-resolution widescreen capability the PSP is built to dominate the gaming world.

The graphics quality is simply stunning, with brilliant color (16.77 million colors) and detail (including brightness control.) Game developers are catching on to the capabilities of the PSP and starting to come out with stunningly amazing looking games, (for examples of this look at Madden 07, Tekken Dark Resurrection and the upcoming release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories) that take advantage of this powerful machine. The images are sharp and clear, by far the best graphics ever in a hand-held console, and compares highly favorably with that of its big brother the PS2.

The controls are excellent, being similar to the controller for the PS2. Even if you have not used a PS2 before, the buttons are pretty intuitive, with directional arrows, an analog stick, and the standard Playstation control buttons (Cross, Square, Triangle and Circle), in addition there are Left and Right shoulder buttons. Everything is ergonomically placed; the whole system fits nicely between your hands and still allows for that huge screen. The power button on the side of the PSP allows you to suspend the game you are playing with a simple flick, flick it again and you are right back to where you were, losing nothing, letting you pick up and play and put it back down no problem, anytime, anywhere.

The PSP uses the UMD or Universal Media Disc, a high-capacity optical disc similar in size to a mini-disc. Do not let the size fool you though, these discs pack a big punch, coming in at little more than 2 1/4 inches in diameter the UMDs are capable of storing up to 1.8GB of data. The UMDs are versatile as well, capable of being utilized for music, movies or other digital entertainment in addition to the games themselves. Essentially making the PSP a portable entertainment system as opposed to just a gaming platform.

One of the greatest features of the PSP that only further enhances its position as an entertainment device is wireless capability. Using a built-in 802.11b wireless LAN, users can play against fellow PSP owners in wireless head-to-head battles over the Internet or through local networks if you are in the same room. The wireless ability though is not limited to just gaming, by going to the PSP's man menu, users can quickly access the internet through the included browser allowing you to use the internet anywhere you can access a wireless signal.

Also built into the frame is a USB 2.0 port allowing for the PSP to connect to the PS2, the upcoming PS3 and to other USB devices which will be released in the US in the upcoming months including a camera and a GPS (Global Positioning Signal) option.

Utilizing the Sony Memory Stick Duo for external memory-cards the size of a piece of gum are available in size from 32MB to 4GB-users can store music, pictures, video and game data all on one memory piece and access them easily through the PSP home screen. Navigating the PSP is a breeze for anyone, gaming savvy or not.

Feeling your thumbs getting worn out from hours of hiking the ball, sweeping leg kicks and gunning down drug cartels, fear not, the PSP easily converts to playing movies, music or providing a place to show everyone those pictures of you doing a keg stand. The PSP platform can store and show your digital images (even allowing you to customize the background), play a whole variety of music files (MP3, MP4, WAV or ATRAC3plu) and play full-length movies (available on UMD or from your Memory Stick Duo. An optional headphone control can be used in conjunction with the video playback function allowing you to fully control the movie.

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The Good:
As the PSP approaches its first birthday, the future is looking rosy. The quality and glut of the games being developed is increasing, as more developers are realizing the capabilities of this little machine. There are a multitude of games currently and more coming every week; developers are creating games solely for the PSP and its unique abilities. Rockstar Games, developer of the Grand Theft Auto franchise have created GTA: Vice City Stories (available 10/31) that will only be available on the PSP and will instantly become one of the best games the PSP has ever had, with graphics equal to the PS2 and gameplay exclusive to the handheld.

The Bad:
The biggest drawback to the PSP is the casing itself. The sleek black finish is great to look at but as soon as you start playing fingerprints and smudges get all over it marring the appearance and the same goes for the screen. An easy remedy is keeping a shammy cloth always available, but even still the dust, dirt and fingerprints all take something away from the gameplay. As well, occasionally games will freeze up (oftentimes when coming back from being suspended) and if you have not saved recently, you are up a creek. That said; that's a problem with all systems and electronics so it should not be a major concern and it happens rarely enough that it should not be too bothersome. Finally, the price can be somewhat prohibitive, being significantly more than that of the Nintendo DS but pick one up, play for a little while and you will realize that its totally worth the cost. Compared to Nintendo's DS the PSP's graphics are light-years ahead and are cleaner, clearer and less polygonal.

The Nitty Gritty:
With powerful graphics, easy, comfortable controls, high-quality games and all in all a great-looking casing the PSP is ready out-of-the-box to provide gamers with the best hand-held gaming solutions. Whether you are waiting for a train, sitting in between classes, waiting to get your haircut or just hanging around, the PSP is always ready to play and wants to be in your hands. You want it too.

The PSP is available for approx. $200 at stores everywhere.