The Nintendo DS - the DS stands for dual system - looks like a PDA on steroids. It features two 3-inch screens (the lower one a touch-sensitive pad), better graphic resolution, stereo sound, a rechargeable battery and Pictochat software that allows players to send text messages and their own drawings through the ether.
In stores this week, it retails for $149.99 and comes with a demo version of the latest installment of the popular sci-fi franchise ``Metroid.''
Nintendo has high hopes for the DS and expects to move 1 million units by the end of the year. By launching it now, of course, Nintendo expects gamers will be stalking Santa for a stocking stuffer - and the company gets a jump on its nearest competitor, Sony, which plans to launch its PSP - PlayStation Portable - in the spring.
The new portable's huge advantage: The Nintendo DS is ``backward compatible'' with the Game Boy Advance system, giving it a library of more than 500 games. Gamers will enjoy that.
The DS cartridges themselves are half the size of the Advance cartridges and come in hard casing, the better for storage.
The first wave of DS games, including ``Madden NFL 2005,'' ``The Urbz: Sims in the City'' and ``Asphalt Urban GT,'' seem skewed to older players.
In ``The Urbz,'' players use the lower screen to manage their possessions, and check missions and personal achievements. In ``Asphalt Urban GT,'' players can map their route on the lower screen as they race through cities across the world.
While a game may share itstitle with a Game Boy Advance version, it can play differently.
Activision's ``Spider-Man 2,'' based on the big-screen blockbuster, is an average side-scroller on the Game Boy system.
The DS version features enhanced graphics and far better control.