Nintendo made Gameboy fans wait 12 years for a significant hardware upgrade between the original black & white Gameboy release in 1989 until the Gameboy Advance release in 2001 (not to mention 9 years just to get a color version of the GB in 1998). However, they were quick to release the Gameboy Advance successor, the Nintendo DS, a mere 3 short years after the GBA. The Gameboy Advance was still pumping out A-list software titles in 2004, the same year of the DS release, and the GBA was an unquestionable success. So why rush another handheld to market so soon? Maybe Nintendo had this high tech hardware ready to go and didn’t want to sit on it until its primary competitor in the handheld market, Sony, released the PlayStation Portable. That is just a guess on my part and the answer may have nothing to do with competition and solely with technological advances in the 21st century coming much faster than they were at the end of the 20th.
Aesthetically, the DS more closely mirrored the Gameboy Advance SP, with its clamshell design. However, the notable differences were many. Instead of just one screen like the GBA SP, the DS utilized both sides of the clamshell design to incorporate screens. Additionally, the lower screen had touchscreen capabilities, allowing the player to manipulate certain aspects of gameplay utilizing a stylus, similar to the PDAs such as Palm Pilots & Blackberries, which were popular in the early to mid 2000s. Depending on the game, the upper screen could be used as a map, a tutorial, an item screen or just an extension of the gameplay screen. Yet another difference between the DS and the GBA was the DS’s ability to connect to other DS systems wirelessly. Two players no longer needed to be tethered together via link cable in order to play Pokémon! Nintendo also offered their own Wi-fi service available for the DS, which has since gone defunct.
DS games were smaller in size than the already small rectangular cartridges that the GBA used. The games were SD card-like in appearance, not unlike a memory card that you would have inserted into your digital camera at the time. Thankfully, the DS was backward compatible with the still popular GBA, a strategy that worked very well for the GBA just a few years prior when they made their handheld backward compatible with original GB and GB Color games. Besides backward compatibility, another similarity between the DS and the GBA was the fact that the system saw several iterations over the years. After the original DS, Nintendo made a streamlined version with a better backlighting called the DS Lite. This is the version I own. Finally there was the DSi which came in two sizes. The DSi is essentially a pimped out version of the DS, with every bell and whistle imaginable at the time, except backward compatibility with GBA games, which was sacrificed for internal memory and camera. Nintendo did this sort of thing with all their handhelds over the years, which makes collecting the different variations grueling & tedious, especially if you wanted to collect all the different colors that the systems came in. Thankfully, I am not one of those people. I do have the original model of the Gameboy as well as one color of the GB Pocket and GB Color but I only have one model of the various Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS systems and for now, I am perfectly fine with that.
I picked up my Nintendo DS Lite sometime after release in 2006 as I held off on buying the first model of the DS for two years just like I held off on buying the first model of the GBA, which served me well. Being familiar with Palm Pilots and other PDAs that used stylus pens, I got accustomed to touchscreen gameplay pretty quickly. I felt the DS Lite was comfortable to hold and the button to D-pad spacing worked just fine with a screen separating them unlike the GBA SP. Nintendo may have dropped the Gameboy moniker when releasing the Nintendo DS but at least they didn’t drop the ball in terms of creating another fun, innovative handheld system.
Currently in my collection: white DS Lite in box with manual, inserts, Pictochat manual and AC adapter