Nintendo DS

You can tell a lot about the DS by simply picking it up. Slightly bigger than you might expect, it's thicker and heavier too. And compared to previous Nintendo handhelds in the Game Boy family, it hasn't got that toy-like feel either. There's almost a business-like whiff about it, especially if you get one in the original grey colour scheme, although funkier blue and pink versions are now available.

Open it up, however, and the atmosphere changes as you see the twin screens, which give the DS (Dual Screen) its name. Both are the same size (roughly 6 cm x 4.5 cm), but the bottom one has the added value of being touch-sensitive.

Other clear pointers to the fact the DS is a game machine are the direction pad (d-pad) and the four dinky action buttons. Pick it up and your forefingers will find themselves hugging the two shoulder buttons too. And if you look closely there's even a tiny microphone built into the bottom left-hand side. Interesting stuff!

Of course, it's when you switch the DS on that it really comes to life, thanks in part to its sparkly signature starting chime and the brightness of the two backlit screens. Its next trick is to get you to tap the bottom screen, which you can do with a finger or by sliding the dedicated plastic stylus out from its neat holder in the DS' back. Actually, if truth be told, you don't always need to use the stylus with the touchscreen. In many instances, you can just use the d-pad and the right hand action (or 'A') button. Whichever way you choose, this gets you to the main menu screen, where you can fire up your game (either DS or GBA, it accepts both kinds of cartridges) or fiddle around with various settings such as time, date and username.

The DS is not the most powerful handheld in terms of raw power – the PSP is much more high-tech in that respect, as are some mobile phones. Rather it's the flexibility provided by the dual screens and the touchscreen that makes the DS a unique beast for games. The DS' 3D graphics performance is adequate for most types of games, and this, combined with the freedom to use the touchscreen to carry out other in-game tasks (or to provide an alternative view on the action), provides a fantastic opportunity for games developers to come up with great new ideas.

Equally exciting is the DS' built-in wireless capacity. This means you can play multiplayer games against any other DSs within range, or even against other DS players anywhere in the world if you're near a wi-fi hotspot that's connected to the internet.

So as a piece of gaming hardware, the DS is hard to beat. It's also cheap, so why doesn't everyone own one?

The answer is all about the business of making games, and how innovative game makers will be. We can expect plenty of cool stuff from Nintendo, with new, innovative games such as Nintendogs, Animal Crossing: Wild World and Electroplankton promised. Equally, there will be plenty of touchy-feely versions of classics such as Mario Kart and Legend of Zelda.

But the issue for most players will be what other companies choose to do. Will they make innovative games like Nintendo, which fully exploit all of the DS' features? Or will they opt for lazy versions of the games they're already making for all the other consoles on the market?

Unless you're a huge Nintendo fan, that's the big question mark. But there's no doubt that Nintendo has created an inspiring console worthy of the extra development effort.

Nintendo DS

With dual screens, touchscreen functionality, and wireless networking, Nintendo DS is a great piece of hardware – but it might be too innovative to gain widespread support from games makers.