Hand-helds at dawn as Nintendo starts games war

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The Independent Tech

War has been declared, but although it is a conflict that deploys the latest hi-tech equipment, it will not be fought with conventional weapons.

War has been declared, but although it is a conflict that deploys the latest hi-tech equipment, it will not be fought with conventional weapons.

The battle is for consumers' thumbs and the opening salvo is the launch today of the Dual Screen (DS), a new video console from the games giant Nintendo. The clamshell hand-held device opens up to reveal two screens. The game takes place on one screen and can be controlled by buttons or by touching the second screen. A microphone allows shouting to speed up the action on some games.

The DS can also send and receive messages and pictures, making it more like a mobile phone than the simple hand-held games consoles of the past.

Playing computer games may seem like a pastime for uninspired schoolboys and students but the games industry in Britain is worth more than £2bn a year and is the third biggest gaming market in the world. While Sony and Microsoft dominate the games console market with the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox respectively, Nintendo has always been the most successful when it comes to hand-held gaming devices with its Game Boy, launched in 1989, and its highly popular Mario character. Since then it has sold more than 150 million Game Boys.

The DS is Nintendo's attempt to stay ahead in the gaming-on-the-go market but the nation's thumbs may not be so easily won. Nintendo's arch rival Sony - the most successful games company in the world - is due to launch its own pocket-sized gaming device, the PlayStation Portable (PSP) later this year.

The Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, believes the DS will overcome the opposition. "We needed to create a new proposal for our customers to set a new course for the industry, and the launch of the DS is our answer to such a challenge. I know that Nintendo DS will become a great champion for many in our industry, not just Nintendo."

But Sony is confident about the success of its product. Ken Kutaragi, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, said: "As well as games, the PSP will have a huge potential for delivering other forms of entertainment anywhere, anytime. This is the 'Walkman' of the 21st century."

The PSP is a large, sleek, single-screened hand-held device that does more than simply play computer games. It comes equipped with technology to play movies, and to download music, justifying its claim to be the "next Walkman".

The readers of the young men's magazine Stuff, say the battle has already been won. The PSP has been voted Stuff's gadget of the year before it has even been released.

Adam Vaughn, managing editor, said: "Both the PSP and the DS are really impressive, and importantly for us they both have really good games. What lets the DS down is its hardware - our readership is made up of men in their twenties and thirties and to them the DS is Noddy Toy Town stuff. However, there's definitely room for both to exist - both are aimed at different markets."


Nintendo DS

Price £99 console, games £20 to £30

Released Today

Innovations Two screens, one controlled by touch. Wireless communication with other DS units within a 10-metre radius, allowing up to 15 players to compete

Target age 16 to 24

Games 15 titles including Zoo Keeper and Super Mario 64, with 130 more in production

Battery life About 10 hours between charges

Gamer quote "I can't wait to play Metroid Prime on multiplayer. I've had my DS on order for months"


Price Probably £130 to £200, games £40 to £45

Released April/May

Innovations Technology to play movies, eventually available on tiny discs, and download music. Wireless communication

Target age 24 to 35

Games Grand Theft Auto, Wipeout Pure and Fifa 2005 are among those created for PSP

More than 100 games publishers and developers have backed the PSP

Battery life With so many capabilities the PSP's battery life is 6 to 8 hours

Gamer quote "It looks amazing but I think it's trying to do too much. MP3 player? Video playback? I don't need that on a games console"