The Player

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & DS Lite & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's disarmingly small and simple. It looks like a glossy stack of index cards shellacked with the iPod-white that is defining this era's electronics. It sits, boxy and tidy, decorated with nothing more than a white-on-white Nintendo DS logo. Perhaps it is a bit cold -- an unmelting ice cube or a portable storm trooper instead of a game machine. But it is pure. It is simple. And when the machine flips open along its horizontal spine, the two glossy black video screens are revealed, isolated in the DS Lite's blankness like windows into infinity.

I peered through them into the world of Cat Land -- my virtual community in Animal Crossing: Wild World. Now that it's summer, the fireflies are out. Lit by the Lite's intensely lighted screens, they pierced tiny, bobbing golden holes in the evening's haze. Overhead the moon glowed in a night sky so bright that I could read by it. I caught a firefly and donated it to the town's museum.

Then I went bug hunting in Metroid Prime: Hunters. No aliens can hide on screens this clear. The 3D worlds were shaggy with individual pixels, each one popping off the screen with an almost violent intensity. Even when the head-to-head shooting reached its most frenetic pace, I was able to track my foes flawlessly at the tip of the machine's stylus. With videogames, video is half the battle.

In Mario Kart DS, cars whirled around me on the racetrack and snowflakes flew in my face. But something felt wrong. My right thumb, gripping the accelerator button, was cramping. Instead of settling into the broad, comfortable dashboard of the original DS, my hands were fighting for space on the Lite's sparse landscape. Teetering on the edges of the machine, they steered and accelerated while clutching the wafer-thin Lite, which, despite its name, doesn't actually weigh much less than the original DS.

Sitting on my desk, the Lite displayed the music game Elektroplankton so vividly that the fruity colors reflected onto the ceiling. But the sound leaked through the Lite's 12 speaker-pinholes with none of the richness the game had on the original. Everything was dull and undistinguished. Instead of releasing a symphony of electronically shaded and blended music, the machine beeped and bopped like a cell phone. In New Super Mario Bros., Mario jumped with less sproing in his step. When he dislodged coins, they flipped through the air with a dull chime. Like a few of the better parts of the original DS, the sounds' contours have been trimmed away by the Lite's design.

THE GOOD: The DS Lite's clean, elegant form makes it one of the most beautiful videogame systems ever produced. And the two screens have been given a light boost that, while not making games any more playable, certainly shows them off with an increase in clarity.

THE BAD: Smaller is not always better when it comes to handheld devices, especially when they are designed to appeal to grown-ups. Adult hands may find the DS Lite small and cramping. The speakers tighten the sound to a trickle.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Lite adds a layer of glamour to the Nintendo DS while stripping away some of its presence.