During the summer of my 13th year, my father took me to Japan as a bar mitzvah present. One night in Osaka, we met one of his Japanese business partners at a restaurant, where I was thrilled to learn two geisha awaited us. But my excitement quickly turned to disappointment: the geisha were hardly the sexpots I had envisioned; they were very old, at least 30, and their idea of a good time was getting everyone to play a variety of childish games involving twisted paper napkins.
I thought of this recently when I got hold of Nintendo’s new DSi handheld video-game player. My feeling of letdown was every bit as acute–perhaps because my anticipation had been unrealistically high. We’ve come to expect great things from Nintendo, which aims its handhelds at everyone, from young children to adults. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release in Japan of Nintendo’s Game Boy, which sold more than 118 million units worldwide, making it the best-selling gaming system in those days. By 2004, Game Boy had evolved into the DS , a handheld hinged like a makeup compact, with two LCD displays and wi-fi so players could compete wirelessly. The top-selling handheld, it trounces Sony’s PlayStation Portable. Rounding out Nintendo’s clever lineup is the adorable Wii, a console launched in 2006 that detects players’ movements in three dimensions. Those are tough acts to follow. Still, it surprised me that the DSi–the i refers to the personal pronoun–is a bit of a snooze in its ambitions and a mess in some of its execution. The device, which is a tad thinner than the DS and has slightly larger LCDs, comes with two motion-detecting cameras. One faces you, and the other points outward to snap images of your friends–thus giving your handheld more sensory inputs for better game play and amusing slide shows. There’s even software that lets you take a picture of yourself and modify it on the fly, messing with your features or grafting your face onto other objects in ways that folks have been doing with Photoshop on computers for many years. The DSi makes it easier to do this, in a down-and-dirty kind of way, and you can perform similarly geisha-like parlor tricks with audio recordings, speeding up or slowing down your voice and so on. The multimedia stuff bored me. It also failed to charm my 11-year-old. Nintendo claims it improved on the DS’s Internet browser, but the DSi didn’t have enough memory to load my Gmail page. As a game player, the DSi is compatible with Nintendo’s popular library of DS cartridges. A few DSi-specific games can be wirelessly downloaded from an online store, but they were mostly disappointing. For example, WarioWare: Snapped! has you move in response to onscreen cues, but the motion-detecting game required a very well-lit room and still behaved erratically. Nintendo will add more games over time, and motion detection could someday make the DSi as innovative and cool as the Wii. I just hope none of the games involve twisting paper napkins. See pictures of video gamers.
See the 50 best inventions of 2008.