In 2002, a year after the GameCube launched, Hiroshi Yamauchi stepped down as chairman of Nintendo, giving Satoru Iwata the new position. Before Yamauchi left, however, he made a suggestion that the company’s next handheld device have two screens instead of one.
It was tough to figure out how a device with two screens would work without being too complex, but in 2003, Shigeru Miyamoto came up with the idea of making one of the screens a touch display.
The Nintendo DS (Dual-Screen) launched in 2004 and had a top screen for primary display and a bottom screen for touch controls, which could be activated with the pen-like stylus that came with the system. This mechanic was used in creative ways throughout many games.
Other features included a built-in microphone that could pick up your vocal activity, Wi-Fi capability that allowed you to play with friends without the use of link cables (a Nintendo first), backwards compatibility with GBA games, and Pictochat, which allowed you to message your fellow DS-owning friends not only with texts but with images which could be drawn using your stylus.
Taking cues from cell phones, the system was Nintendo’s first to use a charger instead of Double-A batteries, and it could open and close, which, if you did while playing a game, would activate Sleep Mode, which pauses the game while saving power. However, this feature does not work for GBA games or the real-time life simulator Animal Crossing: Wild World.
The system was capable of graphics on par with the Nintendo 64, leading to ports of Super Mario 64 and Diddy Kong Racing.
The style of control made the DS easy to use, and it appealed to a much wider demographic of non-traditional gamers. This helped make the DS the second best selling video game console behind the PlayStation 2.
Nintendo DS games included New Super Mario Bros., which was a traditional Mario platformer the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Super Mario World on the Super NES. It may have been the most challenging Mario platformer Nintendo ever made, but it was extremely popular, and it inspired a series of new Mario platformers that have appeared on most of Nintendo’s follow-up systems (New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario Bros. Wii for Wii, New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U).
My favorite DS game of all time was the wacky rhythm game Elite Beat Agents, which required timed button mashing just like most rhythm games, but the concept of a group of dancing agents being sent to cheer up people in distress with music was so entertainingly bizarre and executed in the best possible way. The fact that the songs in the game were real licensed hits from people like The Rolling Stones, Queen and Destiny’s Child only added to the game’s appeal.
Pet simulator Nintendogs allowed you to care for a puppy in a way that made it feel like they were actually on the other side of the screen, bringing the Tamagotchi formula to a whole new level. Being able to pet them using the stylus was a clever move, and the game was popular.
Games like Brain Age, which were not traditional Nintendo games but still fun nonetheless, allowed you to test your mental skills with a series of puzzles. This game bridged the age gap like no other. Senior citizens enjoyed this game! That was Nintendo’s plan: make games everyone could enjoy.
Other great DS games include Electroplankton, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, the Professor Layton series, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl versions, The World Ends with You, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and Rhythm Heaven, as well as some incredible games in the Mario Kart, Castlevania, Wario Ware, Animal Crossing, and Mario & Luigi series.
Several versions of the DS came out, including a smaller version (DS Lite), one with more web features (DSi) and a version with a bigger screen and longer battery life (DSi XL).
The follow-up to the DS, the Nintendo 3DS (2011) was similar in design but featured a circular pad for smoother control in first and third-person games, plus internet access, a built-in camera, more online features, backwards compatibility with DS games, and, of course, 3D. The optional 3D screen projection did not require the use of glasses, which was amazing, but most people turned off the feature. The 3D craze started by Avatar in the early 2010s was just a phase, after all, which may explain the success of the Nintendo 2DS that came later.
Still, the games were great. My favorite 3DS games include Super Mario 3D Land, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Pokémon X and Y, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, and 3D updates of some N64 classics: Star Fox 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and its sequel Majora’s Mask.