Nintendo DS Lite

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I knew there was something special about the Nintendo DS when I first cradled one in my hands last holiday season: The allure of the handheld game platform with two screens (including a PDA-like touchscreen) plus built-in microphone and wireless connectivity wasn't Mario's mushroom-fueled mayhem; instead, it was a puppy. A golden labrador retriever, in fact, that I could call to aloud and pet with a stylus. With Nintendogs, the quirky videogame pioneer decided to attract people like myself who reside outside the hard core of the gaming world. Now, with the introduction of the DS Lite and the Touch Generations series of games, Nintendo has amplified its efforts to lure non-gamers.

It's hard to avoid noting that the DS Lite looks an awful lot like an Apple product, a miniaturized version of the new white-glossy MacBook. The two-piece codex design is now smaller and closes tightly. It has brighter screens that are easier to see at all angles, though turning up the brightness does cost you battery power. There's no question the DS Lite looks a lot less like a toy than the original DS.

What has captivated the attention of the gaming press has been the introduction of a new series of games geared towards older folks, dubbed Touch Generations. First came Brain Age, a surprisingly enjoyable math-and-reading game that a Japanese doctor designed to keep your mind limber — mental calisthenics. This week saw the arrival of two more un-Mario games — Brain Age follow-up Big Brain Academy, and Magnetica, a game in the Tetris puzzle family that closely resembles the popular title Zuma.

Brain Age has a hefty helping of sudoku puzzles, the numeric crosswords you may have heard of and might already be addicted to. The DS is a perfect platform for sudoku, because you can easily erase incorrect entries, keep track of your progress and play against the clock. Nintendo knows this, and on June 26 will launch Sudoku Gridmaster under the Touch Generations header.

Although the Touch Generations family also includes Nintendogs and other older titles (see them all at, it doesn't yet have the wide breadth of non-gamer titles currently available in Japan. Over there, you can get cartridges with travel guides, dictionaries and other language aids. MTV News' Stephen Totilo confirms that Nintendo is even launching an interactive cookbook, with the loosely translated name Talking DS Cooking Navigator. Kitchen ninja that I am, I was chagrined to hear from the company that it had no (announced) plan for a U.S. version.

Nintendo has discussed the fact that its Wii game console, due this fall, was also designed with non-gamers in mind, and the overall direction is encouraging. And with a gesture that couldn't be more blatant, Nintendo is even offering coupons on its website bundling Brain Age free with the DS Lite — for Father's Day.