It's easy to look upon the DSi LL with questioning eyes, but it would be wrong to claim that a fourth version of the same Nintendo handheld device is unprecedented. As illustrated by last week's Nintendo handheld retrospective, the humble Game Boy went through much the same thing.
Remember the Game Boy Pocket? Game Boy Advance? Game Boy Advance SP? Game Boy Micro? It may have taken 16 years to go through a similar number of revisions, but the DS exists in a faster-moving world than its predecessors: the Game Boy/Color line, pre-Advance, has sold nearly 119 million units; expect Nintendo to tell us very soon that the DS family has already beaten that in around half the time.
Those numbers also provide the clue to this particular DS revision, because Nintendo's impetus to release another handheld so soon after the last one is not to be found in the growing competitiveness of Apple's iPhone or Sony's PSP; it's in the fact that far more people are buying Nintendo consoles in the late 2000s than were in the early nineties, and more specifically it's in who a lot of those people are.
It's easy to look upon the DSi LL with questioning eyes, then, but the object of your attention also answers your questions before you've realised, or even opened the lid for the first time: it's simply easy to look upon the DSi LL. Because it's freaking massive. It's not meant to coax you into replacing the DSi you bought this year, or even the DS Lite you bought prior to that. It's a DSi for clumsy people with poor eyesight and bad hearing. It's a DSi for your gran.
Now, I'm nobody's gran, but I do have shonky eyesight and I am sufficiently clumsy that I'm currently unable to lift my left arm above shoulder height, because I fell over in the street and crippled myself on a recycling bin. So I am at least half-qualified to give the DSi LL the once over. For a further example of the above, the first thing I noticed was that in addition to a regular stylus, it also comes with a whopper stylus - the first not to fit inside a DS for storage - which resembles a fountain pen, with a hole at the top for attaching a strap.
Whereas, of course, the first thing everybody else noticed was that the DSi LL really does mean "DSi XL" in English. It's huge! The console may only be physically larger by around two centimetres breadth, 1.5cm height and a couple of millimetres thickness, but given that the DSi was only 7.5cm across, it's startlingly noticeable, and even more so when you look at the screens, which are bigger on the diagonal by nearly an inch. Your gran will be fine. Big stylus, big screens - big noise, too. During scientific tests (I shouted "Hammertime!" into the sound recorder then played it back), the DSi LL made quite a racket compared to the DSi.
That said, your gran may wonder whether the buttons could have been larger. The power button has grown a little, but the d-pad, face buttons and start/select are the same, tiny microswitched affairs from last year. Perhaps this saves Nintendo's manufacturing department money; I have no idea, but it seems to be at odds with the rest of the DSi LL's intentions.
Switch the console on, and it's business as usual. The screens may be bigger, but the resolution is the same, and a bit of exploring suggests the only major software change is the bundling of a few DSiWare products: the excellent Flipnote Studio, which is free anyway, the DSi Browser, a couple of the "A Little Bit of..." Brain Training excerpts, and a Japanese dictionary program. Trawling the system menus reveals all the same icons, and the continuing lack of an English-language option on the Japanese models, so import-savvy grans beware (and be especially aware that "Format System Memory" is positioned right next to "System Update").
Games, then, are functionally identical, but for the greater ease with which you can stab at icons and discern details. Things get a little blocky in certain games due to the unchanged screen resolution, but your gran can barely see anyway. That was the point. She's also unlikely to notice the reportedly increased battery life over the DSi (something I've not had the DSi LL long enough to verify), since she'll probably have it plugged in all the time anyway, for which she will appreciate the DSi LL's compatibility with the DSi power adapter - a first for Nintendo handhelds. Will she mind that it weighs 100 grams more than the DSi? I don't know. She may feel I'm labouring the point at this stage.
But it does feel like the right point to make. Nintendo has said the European price is "expected to be higher than that of the Nintendo DSi" (it's about 30 quid more expensive than the DSi in Japan), but that's between them and your gran really. The DSi LL isn't for you, and it would be weird to criticise it as such. Are you a regular gamer who wants a bigger, heavier DSi? Because if you are, your reasons are likely to be personal and to approximate those I've described. For me, it's a novelty, but I don't feel like a complete idiot for buying one.
Even taking all this into account, however, the DSi LL isn't quite unprecedented. Earlier I mentioned the Game Boy Micro. It was a tiny Game Boy brought to life because Nintendo thought that, somewhere out there, there were people who wanted to play Game Boy games and were being put off by the size and style of the GBA SP. It tanked, and Nintendo president Satoru Iwata eventually said the company "failed to explain to consumers its unique value and they concluded that Micro is not worth the price they have to invest".
In some respects, then, the Game Boy Micro and the DSi LL are alike. Nintendo consoles have traditionally been designed to appeal to as broad a customer base as possible. In the Micro and the LL, however, Nintendo's designers primarily sought to satisfy somebody other than you.
There is another difference, of course. "Because a number of people, distributors, software developers and publishers were all saying that Micro could sell, we somewhat believed that we would just need to take the ordinary marketing approach, say, by saying that we will launch the new Game Boy model," Iwata noted about the Micro. "The fact of the matter is, however, those who were impressed with Micro were the ones who have physically touched and felt Micro in their hands."
The DSi LL - built to appeal to a group of people who want a Nintendo DS but find it too small - makes its case to people at first sight.
The Nintendo DSi LL is due out in Europe as the DSi XL in the first quarter of 2010.