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First look at Nintendo's DSi, coming to the U.S. in April

March 9, 2009 |  7:13 pm
Nintendo DSi game console
The Nintendo DSi hand-held game console. Credit: Nintendo.

Nintendo is gearing up to launch its latest game console April 5 in the U.S. -- the DSi, an upgrade to its popular Dual Screen hand-held console. The Japanese game company is counting on the DSi to juice its momentum this year as sales of its flagship Wii console begin to slow. (Nintendo in January projected it would sell 26.5 million Wiis in the fiscal year starting April 1, down from 27.5 million this year.)

Introduced in November in Japan, the DSi is Nintendo's answer to the other "i" device--Apple's iPhone, which has been adopted by developers and consumers alike as a hand-held gaming device. Unlike DS games that sell for $20 to $35 each, most iPhone games sell for less than $15, with some given away free as promotions.

Rather than compete by adding a phone to its device, Nintendo is building a platform for players to download low-cost games to the DSi. The company won't yet divulge a price range for the downloadable content, but titles in Japan have been selling for as little as 200 yen, or around $2.

We had a chance to fiddle with the new device this morning. Key features include ...

  • Price: DSi costs $169.99, a $40 premium over the current DS Lite.
  • Screen: DSi has a slightly larger screen at 3.25 inches, versus 3 inches.
  • Games: DSi cannot play GameBoy Advance games, while DS Lite can.
  • Memory: While the DS Lite has no internal memory, the DSi has 256 megabytes, plus a slot for an SD card.
  • Cameras: DSi has two cameras. They're low resolution (0.3 megapixels), but they allow developers to  make games that recognize users' gestures. Users also can take photos and add special effects using preloaded software.
  • Parental controls: Parents can determine whether the DSi can play games that have been rated Mature or Teen. This applies only to new DS games that have been encoded with the ratings.
  • Music: The DSi plays back songs stored on SD cards. It also lets players play with the songs by modulating, changing the tempo or stripping vocals for an ad hoc karaoke party.

Nintendo says it will release the slate of downloadable games when the DSi launches next month. The titles will be made by Nintendo, but the company said that outside developers also would be able to sell games via its online store in the near future. But unlike Apple, which lets just about any independent developer sell applications for the iPhone, Nintendo plans to keep a tight lid on the process. File that under Parental Controls.

-- Alex Pham