Buying a Nintendo DS. Or am I?
July 5, 2008 5:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about buying a Nintendo DS. The last games console like this that I purchased was one of the original Gameboys. Please educate me on what's what.

My questions are as follows:
  1. I've seen reference to the "DS" and the "DS Lite" on various websites. What's the difference? Which one should I buy? Given that it's only going to be used for playing Dr Kawashima's Brain Training.
  2. How long do the batteries, etc last, and can I buy spares?
  3. Is the Brain Training game really all that? As in, is it a fun, enjoyable way to do various different types of puzzles?
  4. I'm buying this as a present for 2 relatives, both of whom are over 50. Will they be able to work out what to do with it (specifically with the Brain Training game) quite easily?
The relatives in question spend literally hours playing Sudoku, doing crosswords, doing wordsearches, etc, already. One of them uses the computer, but complains she can't sit at it for too long. Is she liable to be OK with using the DS?
posted by Solomon to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There was the original DS, and this was replaced by the DS "lite" - a slimmer, lighter version that is otherwise pretty identical. I don't think you can still buy the original chunky DS (first hand, anyway)

Brain Training is fun - although as with most other similar "training" programmes (from Wii fit, to actual gym membership) you need to be dedicated enough to put some time into using it regularly. I haven't had a go on mine for months. It's very easy to pick up and use, doesn't really require any computer knowledge, and also has a bunch of sudoku puzzles in it.
The only things they may find annoying is getting it to correctly recognise the spoken word "blue" in one of the brain tests, and also sometimes it struggles to regognise particular numbers, depending on your handwriting and pen/stylus stroke order.
posted by Chunder at 6:00 AM on July 5, 2008

Like Chunder says, the DS Lite is a newer model of the DS. Here is a picture of the two side by side. The DS Lite is a bit smaller, looks nicer, has a nicer screen and should be able to pull a little more play-time from a battery. If really all you're going to do is play Brain Training then a used old DS will be cheaper than a used DS Lite. I think finding a new DS "Fat" might be tricky though.

As for the battery, I bought a DS Lite almost two years back and the battery is holding out just fine, but Nintendo sell replacement batteries if you need it. If you meant how long you can play before having to recharge, I think 10-12 hours is a common number cited, but it depends quite a bit on what you're playing, but Brain Training shouldn't be all that taxing.

Is the Brain Training game really all that?
I did enjoy playing it for quite a while, but just for a few minutes a day. It doesn't have a huge amount of variety though. But if you enjoy seeing how you are improving and competing against yourself and others then it's very nice. And if you want more variety I guess there's always Brain Training 2 (the two Brain Training games seem to be significantly better than most of the clones around on the DS).

I had no trouble explaining how to work the DS and Brain Training to 50+ people. I would need to get my DS out and check, but I'm pretty sure each game in Brain Training came with a nice explanation of how it works. I also think the DS should be okay for the computer user, but it depends a bit on why she can't sit at the computer for too long. If it's because she's sitting hunched over then the DS might be good because she could just sit in a comfy chair.
posted by bjrn at 6:13 AM on July 5, 2008

The lite improved quite a bit on the design of the original DS. Brighter screen, much better dpad and face buttons, smaller, lighter, better battery-life. Like Chunder said, the original DS is no longer available in stores firsthand.

I'm not sure you can buy spare batteries, but you won't need them. I usually got 10 -12 hours on one charge and it only took a few hours to charge.
posted by mealy-mouthed at 6:21 AM on July 5, 2008

1. Absolutely get a DS Lite. It might be possible to find an old DS on Ebay somewhere, but it's not really worth it. The screens have some serious brightness problems that limits the places you can play. The DS Lite fixed that problem easily.

2. I don't think you need to worry (and I don't think that's a simple thing to do) about spare batteries. It holds a pretty long charge.

3. Brain Training, Brain Age, Big Brain Academy, and similar games are specifically targeted at the senior citizen crowd*, so if any game is accessible to them, it would definitely be those. There's a whole line of games for the DS at least partially targeting this demographic now, including sudoku collections, brain-training games like these, vision-training games, and games designed to help maintain manual dexterity. (I make no claims to the effectiveness at any of these training games, but they should be easy to play even for people who've never played video games.) Depending on how apprehensive they are of using new technology, you may have to walk them through the beginning, not because they need guidance, but just because they need reassurance that they're not going to break anything.

4. I have Big Brain Academy, and I was kept amused by it for long enough to justify the money I would have spent on it (had it not been a free prize). If they enjoy the gift at all, they'll probably be fine until at least next year, when you can buy them another game.

*Yes, I know 50 is hardly senior-citizen territory, but if the games can be played by 65-year-olds, most 50-year-olds should have no trouble.
posted by ErWenn at 7:15 AM on July 5, 2008

Definitely buy a DS Lite. And a new one if the price doesn't bother you; they revised the screen halfway through the run and the newer ones are brighter. The battery is a fixed rechargeable: not really swappable, but it lasts long enough you don't need anything extra. It's quite easy to operate. You can make it a little easier if you set it up to launch the game immediately when turned on and bypass the little DS launcher screen of its own.
posted by Nelson at 7:15 AM on July 5, 2008

The original DS is larger, which is more comfortable to hold, especially if you have big hands. The buttons are also slightly different. The screens on both are the same size, but the screen on the DS Lite is much brighter and vibrant, and has varying degrees of brightness. Make sure to adjust it so that it's not overly bright, as it's a huge strain on the eyes. Whichever one you get, make sure to purchase an extra stylus---one that is more like a pen, as the stylus that comes with both the DS and the DS lite are very small.

The good thing about the Brain Training game is that it zooms into the board on one screen, which makes it easier to see. I've seen people enjoy it immediately, but I've rarely seen fascination with it last over two months.
posted by hooray at 7:30 AM on July 5, 2008

Brain Training (called Brain Age in the US) is great, but it's hardly the limit of good software for the DS that's appropriate for 50+ puzzle lovers. Here are some others, off the top of my head (not sure if these are all available in the UK, but you can look them up):

Professor Layton - brain-teasers and puzzles linked together in a cute story
Clubhouse Games ("42 All-Time Classics") - a bunch of board games and card games, very easy-to-use with instructions included
New York Times Crosswords - 1000 crossword puzzles from the New York Times
Animal Crossing: Wild World - A friendly Sims-esque "life simulator." I can't help but recommend this to everyone.

As far as the battery question goes: I've had my DS for almost three years now and I still get 8 hours of play (or so) out of a single charge. Nintendo does sell replacements, but (as others have noted) you won't need one.
posted by aparrish at 7:35 AM on July 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm impressed with your battery life. I get two or three hours of play out of mine, playing Animal Crossing. I hope it varies by game, otherwise I got a lemon!

I have a bunch of other games but honestly hardly ever take the AC chip out. I'd recommend WordJong if they like Boggle-type word games though.
posted by bink at 8:01 AM on July 5, 2008

My own battery-life experiences are in the many-many hours range, playing things like Mario Kart, Metroid, and the less-processor-intensive Phoenix Wright. It's in the category of "things I charge when they happen to run low," like my camera, rather than "things that have to be constantly refreshed," like a laptop.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:16 AM on July 5, 2008

In my experience, using the Wifi radically lowers the battery life. Great game recommendations from aparrish, too. There are also a couple DS Sudoku games, but I think the Sudoku built into Brain Training might be better.
posted by box at 9:48 AM on July 5, 2008

I would recommend Clubhouse Games and Crosswords DS. Picross and Meteos are very puzzle-like but a lot of fun. Zelda - Phantom Hourglass is great if you're into that sort of thing.

Another DS lite recommendation, don't bother with the original.
posted by purephase at 1:26 PM on July 5, 2008

Along the crossword/word search lines, My Word Coach is quite fun as well!
posted by Gable Oak at 1:44 PM on July 5, 2008

get a second hand ds lite for 700sek (£1=13sek, 1$=6.50sek)
posted by the schizophrenic mouse at 1:50 PM on July 5, 2008

I've gotten a lot more mileage out of Clubhouse Games than out of any of the brain training games on the DS. And I can't recommend a game more highly than Animal Crossing Wild World. It has a lot of variety and a lot of interaction.

The battery is definitely swappable, but Nintendo says the intent of the removable battery is replacement, not swapping back and forth.
posted by lhauser at 9:27 PM on July 5, 2008

it doesn't matter which DS you buy. but get them PICROSS. it is like CRACK for sudoku fiends.
posted by Frasermoo at 9:29 PM on July 5, 2008

(the sudoku on MR.KARAWATEVERHISNAMEIS brain training is very good too)
posted by Frasermoo at 9:33 PM on July 5, 2008

Picross games are also good if they like that particular puzzle. They're even better when played digitally because on paper, shading in all those squares to get a good view of the image when you're done is a pain in the neck. I got Mario Picross (which does have some Nintendo-themed images, but plenty of puzzles that aren't) for my girlfriend, and she's played it almost every night for 6-7 months.
posted by ErWenn at 10:56 AM on July 7, 2008

A lot of good answers here but figured I'd chime in anyway. Nintendo is kind of my 'thing' around here.

1. I've seen reference to the "DS" and the "DS Lite" on various websites. What's the difference? Which one should I buy? Given that it's only going to be used for playing Dr Kawashima's Brain Training.

I think the original DS is pretty much a thing of the past now, except for ebay maybe. The DS Lite is about the only thing you'll find in retail and trust me, you'll want it over the original DS any day.

2. How long do the batteries, etc last, and can I buy spares?

Depends on how much you use the DS. With a full three-hour charge the battery will last fifteen to nineteen hours on the lowest brightness setting and five to eight hours on the highest brightness setting (both are dependent on the type of game activity). It'll last for aaaages in standby mode. I once put it standby, forgot I'd done so and came back three days later to find it was still waiting for me to resume my game. So there you go.

You can't really buy spares, per se. The battery is hard wired in there like an iPod and you recharge them using an AC battery recharger that comes with the DS. You can get new ones from Nintendo when they die (after around 500 charges).

3. Is the Brain Training game really all that? As in, is it a fun, enjoyable way to do various different types of puzzles?

I enjoyed it, for a while. I rarely play it anymore. Once I got to a brain age of 21 (the best is 20), and my fiancee realised she had zero chance of beating me, the game lost some lustre. But it is fun while it lasts.

4. I'm buying this as a present for 2 relatives, both of whom are over 50. Will they be able to work out what to do with it (specifically with the Brain Training game) quite easily?

They should do, yeah. Nintendo designed these games to be accessable to casual and even non-gamers, so the chances are good they'll be able to do what needs to be done. The game basically involves you writing on the touch screen as you would do with a pen on a piece of paper, speaking your answers into the microphone and, well, using your brain. It doesn't get much easier to pick up.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:13 PM on July 7, 2008

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