The Nintendo DS is the most popular and versatile handheld gaming machine available on the market. Its versatility, however, is a double-edged sword: With so many incarnations of the Nintendo DS up for grabs, how do you know which one is right for you (or a gift recipient)?
Every iteration of the Nintendo DS is great for its own reasons, but if you're craving any particulars out of your hardware, this guide might help narrow things down.
The original style Nintendo DS--affectionately called the "DS Phat" by its fans--went on sale in 2004. It's since been discontinued in favor of the Nintendo DS Lite and the Nintendo DSi, but it still plays all Nintendo DS games perfectly. It's also backwards compatible with the Game Boy Advance library.
The Nintendo DS Lite, released in 2006, is Nintendo's most iconic version of the handheld, and the most successful. Its functions are identical to the original style Nintendo DS, but boasts a lighter, smaller body and a brighter screen. The Nintendo DS Lite was discontinued in Spring of 2011, but is still very easy to find, new and used, at most retailers.
The Nintendo DSi, released in 2009, plays the vast majority of the Nintendo DS library (barring games that require accessories that plug into the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot), but some new hardware features differentiate the DSi from the Nintendo DS Lite. The DSi has two cameras along with built-in photo and music editing software. It also has an SD card slot, and can play ACC-format music files. Also, the Nintendo DSi can access the Nintendo DSi Shop, which has lots of downloadable games for sale.
The Nintendo DSi XL, released in 2010, is an upgrade to the Nintendo DSi that features larger, brighter screens with a wider viewing angle. The DSi XL also comes pre-loaded with software like Brain Age Express and Flipnote Studio.
Best Nintendo DS for Retro Gaming: The Nintendo DS Lite
The Nintendo DS Lite is backwards compatible with the Game Boy Advance's extensive library. Combine that along with the hundreds of titles available for the Nintendo DS itself, and you've got pure gaming goodness that will last you for ages.
Best Nintendo DS for Indie Gaming: The Nintendo DSi
The Nintendo DSi Shop offers dozens of downloadable titles by small and independent game studios. Though downloadable games aren't often as deep as what's available on retail shelves (the tradeoff is a lower price tag), they're a little more daring and are unafraid to try new things. And when a unique idea from an indie studio meets critical acclaim, large studios are more inclined to offer up big-budget titles that deviate from the norm.
The Nintendo DSi's downloadable games also trend towards quick, enjoyable romps that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Best Nintendo DS for Homebrew: The Nintendo DS Lite
Nintendo DS Homebrew can help pad out your indie experience with great games by budding (though admittedly unlicensed) developers. You can even get your hands on some useful free apps. There is a homebrew scene for the Nintendo DSi, but the Nintendo DS Lite is by far the go-to machine for homebrew thanks to its burgeoning community and the accessibility and affordability of the hardware needed for DS homebrew (Slot-1 and Slot-2 cards).
Best Nintendo DS for the Creative Soul: The Nintendo DSi
The Nintendo DSi is a little workhorse as far as multimedia is concerned. With its cameras, photo editing software, the availability of Flipnote Studio, and its music editing program, the Nintendo DSi has some great distractions for creative types. The system's Wi-Fi connectivity and SD card slot also makes it easy to upload and share masterpieces.
Best Nintendo DS for Family Gaming: The Nintendo DSi XL
Nintendo has worked hard to prove that video games are for families, and its efforts have paid off. The Nintendo DS has a wide selection of family-oriented games that are playable on any version of the handheld, but the Nintendo DSi XL has big, bright screens that offer a very wide viewing angle. It's perfect for the kind of over-the-shoulder backseat gaming that tends to take place on long car trips.
Read a review of the Nintendo DSi XL's benefits and features.
The Best Nintendo DS for Performance and Value: The Nintendo DS Lite
Millions of Nintendo DS Lite owners can't be wrong. Though it lacks cameras, big screens, and access to the Nintendo DSi Shop, the Nintendo DS Lite lets players dive right into a huge, varied library of licensed and homebrew games--and that's what really counts, in the end. Moreover, the Nintendo DS Lite is beautifully compact, durable, and light. And finally, at $99.99 USD, the price is right.