Hardware Classics: Nintendo DS Lite

This is how you redesign a console

Let's be brutally honest here — the original DS design was ugly. Quite what Nintendo's designers were thinking when they came up with it we'll never know, but the dumpy, two-tone casing hardly got pulses racing, even back in 2004. It felt like a system that was rushed out of the door purely to meet a deadline, and ended up looking decidedly unattractive next to Sony's lush PlayStation Portable. However, it mattered little — the system was a smash hit right from the get-go, selling like hotcakes thanks to its ground-breaking touch-based interface and dual-screen gameplay. Any other company might have allowed this commercial success to make it complacent, but that's not Nintendo's style. The DS Lite appeared on the market less than two years after the original system's release, and has since sold almost 90 million units worldwide — making it one of the most successful consoles of all time.

Initially released in white, the DS Lite clearly owes a lot of inspiration to Apple's line of products. Compared to the original DS model, the difference is like night and day — it's no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most beautiful pieces of hardware Nintendo has ever created, and one of the most attractive handhelds ever made. Every element of the machine's physical form is perfect, from the sleek, pocket-sized dimensions to the glossy exterior and matte-finished interior. Despite the fact that it's such a common machine, the DS Lite is proof that sometimes familiarity doesn't breed contempt; the longer you spend with it, the more gorgeous it becomes.

Like the original system, the DS Lite is compatible with Game Boy Advance software thanks to a cartridge slot on the bottom, which is protected by a plastic blanking plate when not in use. The successor to this machine — the DSi — would sadly remove this functionality. The stylus docks at the side rather than the top (as was the case with the original model) and the D-pad is — like the one on the Wii Remote — spongier and sits higher in the casing — the example seen on the previous model was quite flat, and therefore hard to use for prolonged periods. Finally, those twin screens are much brighter than before, producing a crisp and colourful image.

Picking up a DS Lite these days is easier than falling off a log — second hand units are everywhere, and can be obtained cheaply. DS software is abundant and reasonably-priced, although some of the more notable titles are starting to increase in value. Although the DS was saddled with a tremendous number of poor-quality games, it's also home to what is arguably one of the strongest selection of RPGs since the days of the SNES. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Chrono Trigger, Mario & Luigi: Bower's Inside Story, Pokémon Black and White 2, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation...the list seems to go on forever. These classic titles are joined by a multitude of other must-have releases, such as New Super Mario Bros., Mario Kart DS, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Elite Beat Agents and many, many more. This is unquestionably one of the strongest hardware platforms to emerge from Nintendo's Kyoto laboratories, and it's possible that in the next few years you'll see its status grow dramatically, as people look back on its amazing catalogue of software.