Has a mal-attended Pictochat room ever downed a plane?

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Nintendo DS (2005)

I’m not going to start going at you about whatever the deal is with airline food, but if we’re ever gonna be allowed back on planes again without crowds of curtain-twitchers judging us and denouncing us as Satan, then we’ll have to think like travellers again. It’ll be back to sniffing out the best last minute deals, making that dicey decision about whether or not you really need to spend a tenner on travel insurance. And above all else, you need to make sure you have the right entertainment for the plane journeys themselves.

After all, what’s your alternative? Getting talked at by the old boy with a hard luck story next to you? Not a chance – once you get inside that dreaded tube and find your mind distractedly wandering to what could go wrong today, what hitherto undiscovered fault could occur that would make you feature on an episode of Air Crash Investigations, you’ve got to take your mind off it by turning to your entertainment.

But what to bring with you? A puzzle book? That’s what the missus does, but if I’m sat alongside a thot on the way to Ibiza with an arse thick enough to cushion me from the broken fuselage, then I can hardly start doing crosswords in front of her, can I? I haven’t suffered male ego death just yet.

To this day, a Nintendo DS (whether that’s Phat like her ass or Lite like my travel) is the ultimate companion for your plane stint. Its compatibility and library of games, its backlight and its battery life all serve it very well. Most crucially, its ability to play well with the casual crowd who won’t take your silly Nintendo off you and beat you to death with it makes your DS the ultimate machine for the “ultimate” mode of transport. Make no mistake, a DS is your only man for air travel.

You might try to counter this by saying, ah yes, but no, actually the Switch gets you Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 on the plane. Well there’s a few things here, John – firstly, you might decide you want to get some use out of that ridiculous kickstand on the back of the Switch, but I’m afraid you won’t be able to do that. The Joycons need wireless connection, and the hatched-faced stewardesses have already told you to switch all that nonsense off.

Result, you’ll start trying to play a bit a particularly vigourous game of ARMS (to even the score against the crying baby next to you) and you’ll end up making the cockpit dials and dashes start spinning like crazy, and next thing you know the plane’s as mangled as your spine in those chairs. You thought Joycon drift had a significant impact on manoeuvrability? Try flying a plane with no wings.

Add to that the relative lack of battery life in the Switch that you’ll need for the longer trips. I don’t want to hear about power banks or any of that either – they just sound like more devices that might threaten the plane, and I can’t handle that. Nor could I handle the possibility of losing my rag with a Super Mario Maker 2 level and having to be forcefully restrained, prior to my vicious arrest at the nearest landing spot, which happens to be five minutes up the road from Pedrinhas prison.

Finally, the Switch is still just a bit too valuable. If you’re going somewhere without a safety deposit box in the room and you’ve got a Switch to keep safe, you’re in trouble. Meanwhile. every household in western civilisation is seemingly given at least one DS as their right. If gurriers were to break into your hotel room and started mooching around for cash, they’d not even bother with your DS because even in whatever squalor they came from, they’ve probably got two DSes on the go for trading Pokémon with themselves. I know this because the exact situation happened to me – they burst in and took my money, but they left the DS, and I suppose slightly more importantly the passport, well alone.

So for in-flight entertainment, the Switch is out. And you should have been with me in the old days, trying to get airborne play out of an old Game Boy Advance. I’m the only man in history to have beaten the Tales of Phantasia port for GBA, and I completed that feat on a six-hour flight where, mercifully, I had the entire row to myself. I haven’t had a row to myself since then, thanks to Ryanair, but that’s what I mean when I say luxury.

OK, a confession: I’ve hardly ever bought an actual DS game at retail because it was just so easy to pirate and there were so many great games to lamp on there. I’ve picked up a few by now, but typically at bargain basement prices. For example, you can get one of my favourite little games, 42 All Time Classics, for quite literally two pound fifty. But when New Super Mario Bros still runs in the 30s or 40s, second-hand, who wouldn’t take a shortcut around retail? Honest, moral people who will go to heaven, that’s who. 

One fault, which I’d have to say is on some middle ground between minor and major, mijor I’ll call it, is the battery light. Not the battery life, because that’s pretty decent even on my knackered old DS Phat, but when you get that orange light then you just dunno where you stand. I’ve read that the heartbreaking switch to an orange light happens when 30% of the battery is left but I fancy it as far less than that. If you’re bate into a game and you find yourself stuck in some place without a charger, then you’d better be prepared for a sudden, depressing switch off. Like the power being cut, but a hundred times as victimising.

As for the games, there are bloody thousands of them. You could grab yourself Stop Smoking with Allen Carr, or My French Coach, or 100 Classic Books. But I suspect lesser cultured folks like you would be more of a fan of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, or Zelda. Well, like all great consoles, the DS has a “feel”, that’s difficult to explain, but there are games which have an enormous DS feel – Mario Kart DS, New Super Mario Bros, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum and Animal Crossing: Wild World all come to mind, all of them great games. The Zeldas weren’t great at all, ruined by their controls, and the Kirbys and Yoshis and Sonics weren’t much to write home about it.

It was tremendous on RPGs though, especially with a selection of Dragon Quest games, The World Ends With You, and even a European release for Chrono Trigger (I’d say it was about time, but literally every other media outlet already made that gag ten years ago). For me though, the DS was most significant for introducing one of my favourite series of all to the West – with four mainline games and two spin-offs, the Ace Attorney series had its greatest success on the Developer’s System (or is that Dual Screen?). And if cross-examining parrots and debating about stepladders is too serious for you, then you can have bundles of anime adventures in Rune Factory instead.

When I mention the DS, of course, I could be talking about any one of the range: the DS Phat, DS Lite, DSi, DSi Lite… I don’t think it ever got as bad as the 3DS selection but couldn’t they have given it a rest? Actually, why would they? Only the PS2 moved more units than the DS range. And the DS certainly couldn’t play DVDs or any other media beyond a seemingly infinite number of Professor Layton games.

It reminds me a bit of when people talk about certain motors being a “driver’s car” – perhaps that’s the automotive equivalent of the classic gaming casual vs hardcore debate? Is the DS, with its pure focus on gameplay (and I suppose, the wonderfully dainty Pictochat), a “gamer’s console”? As opposed to the Playstation Passat, which is for the humdrum, the practical, the people who don’t know a thing about what’s under the bonnet and don’t want to know…? It’s a debate, but I didn’t say it was an interesting one. But it might give you something to think about on the plane when the battery dries up.

18 August 2020

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