Choosing a Nintendo DS

Nintendo DS Family

Nintendo

The Nintendo DS is a popular and versatile handheld gaming machine. Several models are available, broadening its versatility to meet the needs of different gamers. But with so many incarnations of the Nintendo DS, how do you know which one is right for you, or for a gift recipient? Each Nintendo DS has its own charms, but if you're looking for particular hardware features, this guide might help narrow things down.

Nintendo DS Models

The original-style Nintendo DS went on sale in 2004. It was discontinued with the release of the Nintendo DS Lite and the Nintendo DSi, but it still plays all Nintendo DS games. It's also backward-compatible with the Game Boy Advance library.

The original Nintendo DS is affectionately referred to as the "DS Phat" by fans.

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 the Lite boasts a lighter, smaller body, and a brighter screen. The Nintendo DS Lite was discontinued in spring 2011, but you can still find it for sale from third parties.

The Nintendo DSi, released in 2009, plays the vast majority of the Nintendo DS library, 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.

Games that require accessories that plug into the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot are not playable on the Nintendo DSi.

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 preloaded with software like "Brain Age Express" and "Flipnote Studio."

Best for Retro Gaming: Nintendo DS Lite

The Nintendo DS Lite is backward-compatible with the Game Boy Advance's extensive library. Combine that 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 for Indie Gaming: Nintendo DSi

The Nintendo DSi Shop offers dozens of downloadable titles from small and independent game studios. Though downloadable games aren't often as big or flashy as what's available on retail shelves (they also don't come with the premium price tag of retail store games), they can be more daring and unafraid to push the gaming experience envelope. When a unique idea from an indie studio meets with critical acclaim, large studios often adopt those ideas to their big-budget titles.

The Nintendo DSi's downloadable games are often quick and fun romps that nearly everyone can enjoy.

Best for Homebrew: Nintendo DS Lite

Nintendo DS homebrew can help pad out your indie experience with great games by budding, though generally 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 community and for the accessibility and affordability of the required Slot-1 and Slot-2 cards.​

Best for Creativity: Nintendo DSi

The Nintendo DSi is a little workhorse when it comes to multimedia content creation. With its cameras, photo editing software, the availability of Flipnote Studio, and its music editing app, the Nintendo DSi provides some great tools for creative types. The system's Wi-Fi connectivity and SD card slot also make it easy to upload and share masterpieces.​

Best for Family Gaming: Nintendo DSi XL

Nintendo has worked hard to prove that video games can be 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 with a very wide viewing angle. It's perfect for the kind of over-the-shoulder spectator gaming that can happen on long car trips, for example.​

The Nintendo DSi XL's wide viewing angle makes it great for those players who want to watch while they wait for their turns.

Best for Value: 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 counts for a lot. Moreover, the Nintendo DS Lite is beautifully compact, durable, and, yes, light.