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Nintendo broadens horizons with new DS

From banging on bongo drums to sending silly faces and messages to a friend through its new handheld game device, Nintendo seems to have something for everyone this holiday season.

In a unique move, Nintendo announced a few weeks ago that it would forgo the traditional route of first releasing items in Japan and would first release the dual-screen Nintendo DS in North America on Nov. 21.

The Nintendo DS is the next generation of the popular handheld game console the Gameboy Advance SP. It is being touted by company officials as the next evolutionary step in portable gaming.

But before the Nintendo DS hits store shelves, the folks at Nintendo gave the Deseret Morning News a hands-on peek at their newest gizmo.

Although almost twice the size of the Gameboy Advance SP, the DS is fairly lightweight but won't easily fit in a pocket.

The clamshell device, which will retail at $149.99, opens to reveal two screens, the lower one being touch sensitive. (You can use the stylus that comes with it or your finger). Being skeptical at first that two screens would be a benefit to a handheld game console, I quickly realized how the setup prevented having to switch between game screens for, say, choosing plays in the new Madden NFL 2005. The play screen and the view of the field are on separate screens, allowing me to stay in the game without having to switch back and forth.

The DS comes with two card slots for both DS games and Gameboy Advance games. It is also equipped with a wireless card to allow multiplayer gaming within 30 to 100 feet. A rechargeable battery delivers six to 10 hours of game play on one four-hour charge.

Embedded in the system is Nintendo's new PictoChat software, which is a wireless chat application. With it, users can send text messages or handdrawn doodles to friends.

Die-hard Metroid fans will be pleased to know that "Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt" will be one of the first titles available. The game will allow multiplayer death matches via wireless connection. Other titles expected to be released for the DS include "Super Mario 64," "Yoshi's Touch & Go" and "Wario Ware Inc." There's a total of 120 games currently in development.

One drawback to the DS is that the screens are no bigger than the Gameboy Advance. With a wider body, I would have expected it to have a wider screens.

For those of you who like their games on the big screen, Nintendo has some bongo-banging fun with the new "Donkey Konga" for the Gamecube. Admittedly, you may look like a monkey when you play it as "Donkey Konga" uses a special set of bongo drums that connect to the console.

The beat-based game challenges you to bang along with a large list of popular rock, country and pop titles. Two-player modes allow you to compete with a friend or cooperate in pounding out a beat. A tiny microphone throws hand clapping into the mix as the game requires you to clap at times, which is fitting for songs like Queen's "We Will Rock You."

Although simple, I found "Donkey Konga" to be amazingly addictive, and it's a game that can be enjoyed by family members of all ages.

"Metroid Prime 2 Echoes," for more mature players, is also available for the Gamecube this holiday season. The game is rated T for teens and includes animated blood and violence. This is a sequel to "Metroid Prime," which is one of the top titles for the Gamecube. Samus Aran is back, and in this game she explores a strange alien world divided between light and darkness. In addition to a new arsenal of weapons, Nintendo officials said Samus will make more use of her ball mode to solve puzzles and explore new levels.

Other titles coming out for the Gamecube include "Mario Party 6," for those who want Mario to be the life of your party; "Mario Power Tennis," which is quite a racquet; and a new "Paper Mario" adventure.