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A new Nintendo DS on the way? Don't hold your breath

An industry analyst claims that a redesigned Nintendo DS is coming.

Nintendo DS Lite

Yesterday, GameSpot reported that Pacific Crest Securities analyst Evan Wilson says Nintendo is gearing up to release a redesigned DS. Apparently, Wilson's "contacts" have told him that a new DS is complete. This redesigned DS, Wilson says, is slimmer than the current DS Lite, includes onboard memory, and features a larger screen. More interestingly, this new DS doesn't have a slot for Game Boy Advance games.

Call me a skeptic, because I'm pretty darn skeptical about this theory. Wilson seems to be straddling the line between "short-term prediction an industry analyst pulled out of thin air" and "long-term prediction that, two or three years from now, will obviously come true."

The Nintendo DS has already seen one hugely successful redesign in the DS Lite. It's thinner, lighter, and much brighter than the original DS and has been selling by the truckload. Last year, I saw times when the DS Lite was as scarce and sought-after as the Nintendo Wii. A generation before the DS, Nintendo redesigned the Game Boy Advance into the slimmer and lighter Game Boy Advance SP.

Unfortunately, Nintendo didn't stop there and instead went on to release the Game Boy Micro, a Game Boy Advance with a much smaller body and brighter screen. Gamers met this second redesign with a collective "Meh." The GBA SP already did what they wanted it to do; it was small, bright, and played all their GBA games. There wasn't a reason to get the Micro. Plenty of gamers are still quite pleased with their DS Lites, and I don't think they're going to find much of a reason to replace it, even if it has a larger screen and some onboard memory.

Wilson's claim that the redesigned DS won't support GBA games makes me even more skeptical; the GBA has a massive library of inexpensive, fun games that still see a lot of play. If Nintendo simply dropped that support, it would be as foolish as if Sony dropped support for Playstation 2 games in its Playstation 3. Oh, wait.

In fairness, Nintendo dropped support for the original Game Boy games with the Nintendo DS, so there is at least some precedent for it. I just seriously doubt it would happen. The Game Boy library was huge, but seriously aging. The earliest Game Boy titles are 18 years old now. If you have the original Tetris, it can probably vote in the 2008 election. More importantly, unlike the Game Boy/GBA compatibility, the DS' backwards compatibility enhances game play for DS games. If you plug in certain GBA games while you play DS titles like Advance Wars Dual Strike or Mega Man Star Force, you can unlock bonus content in those games. Cutting out GBA compatibility removes that possibility and makes obsolete many gamers' sizable GBA libraries. The supposed redesign's onboard memory would open the possibility for downloadable Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games, but I don't see why Nintendo would waste such a massive new feature on a simple product redesign. That sort of upgrade would be more warranted in Nintendo's next handheld game player to justify outright replacing the DS with a new system. Onboard memory would either be wasted on the DS' current system design, or require a fairly substantial reworking of its interface.

Don't get me wrong, I definitely think that Nintendo is hard at work on a new handheld player. I just don't think that we're going to see a redesigned DS any time soon. In two years, maybe we'll see the Nintendo DS Advance or some other handheld with more power and features. And yes, it might drop Game Boy Advance support at that point but retain DS support. But it probably won't be a DS redesign any more than the DS is a Game Boy Advance redesign or the Game Boy Advance is a Game Boy redesign. It will probably be a new system.

Of course, I might be wrong and Nintendo might unveil the DS Micro for a summer release. But I seriously doubt it.