In December 2004, my friend showed up at my apartment door with a box. “I brought you a present!” he said clearly excitedly. “Open it!”
‘This is the season’, I thought, unpacking. I turned the box over. “A… Nintendo… DS? Is this, like… some sort of Game Boy?”
As I made my way through layers of cardboard and plastic to open my new toy, he took a matching unit from his own shopping bag, opened it and began to explain. I’d never owned a portable console – in fact, I’d hardly ever owned a regular console; I was a lifelong PC gamer – and although I tried to greet the gift in good spirits, I had no idea why the heck he’d given it to me.
He could see I wasn’t quite on board. “Trust me,” he said. “To be big before the train.” I lived in Boston, he lived in Manhattan; we spent a lot of time on trains. “You’ll love it.”
I hate to brag to him, but he was right. My relationship with the Nintendo DS has lasted more than a dozen years longer than my relationship with it, and I am sorry to mourn its passing.
This week, as we now know, marks the end of an era: After 16 years and nearly a dozen models in all, the Nintendo DS family of handheld gaming systems is no more. Nintendo has sold over 200 million cumulative units of the dual-screen devices over the years, but times are changing.
I wasn’t the only one who greeted the launch of the Nintendo DS with more bewilderment than joy. The DS was a pretty weird little device when it launched, occupying a niche I didn’t know I wanted to fill.
On-the-go video games weren’t a new idea in 2004. In many ways, the DS was just the next iteration of Nintendo’s incredibly popular Game Boy line of portable consoles, first launched in 1989. The DS wasn’t even the first to fold. : The last major product in the Game Boy line, the 2003 Game Boy Advance SP, had a rechargeable internal battery and easily folds into a clamshell, convenient to drop back into your pocket or purse at any time.
However, the DS was optimized for the early 21st century. It had Wi-Fi support from the get-go, ready for a world of multiplayer games to come. And the “dual” in “dual screen” was the real selling point. Back in 2004, the idea of a working, affordable touchscreen device in your pocket was a cool new concept — one that early DS games, sadly, mostly used for gimmicks, if they used it at all.
I didn’t use my launch model “phat” DS that much at first. I was finishing my last semester of high school and I lived close enough to campus that walking was honestly faster than waiting at the T at least half the time. I still preferred books about the frequent, long bus or train rides from Boston to New York — mainly because, again, a lot of it was reading in high school. Plus, play Super Mario 64– only game i had before – while driving on transit gave me motion sickness.
The months passed. I finished my degree and left Boston to move with my boyfriend to the basement of a brownstone in Brooklyn. I needed to make a quick buck while looking for a full time job. So when I walked past a GameStop with a “help wanted” sign in the window a few weeks after landing in the Big Apple, I went in.