There's a new handheld Nintendo DS on the market. The DSi XL is almost exactly like other handheld Nintendo DS machines. It plays DS games. It does a bit of Web surfing. But this one is bigger and heavier.
The DSi XL is a fine gaming system for kids and, well, women new to gaming. I'll tell you why in a minute. But let me say this first: It's getting harder to take the DS seriously, because of the following:
A) No DS game comes close to rivaling any great game for the PS 3 and Xbox 360. To wit: Lately, I've been playing two instant classics, "God of War III" and "Just Cause 2," on PS 3 and Xbox 360. I dare you to name a single DS game that's 20 percent as brilliant or addictive.
B) As you may know, though, the Nintendo DS is the best-selling game system in America. Why? Because kids and casual gamers play it.
But casual gamers now have a viable alternative. You can spend $200 on a DSi XL - or you can spend $200 on an Apple iTouch, which plays tons of casual games, plays music, video, Web video and surfs.
OK, so Apple games are even more horrible than most DS games. But if you're a casual player, what do you care? You're just trying to play a light little nothing now and then.
Top Ten New Games
Here are the Top 10 best-selling video games, according to retailer Game Crazy. Games are listed by title, company, gaming system, and rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Most games are priced $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP; $30 for DS and PS 2.
1. "God of War III" (Sony) for PS 3; rated "M" (blood, gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
2. "Pokemon SoulSilver" (Nintendo) for DS; rated "E" (cartoon violence)
3. "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" (EA) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3 and PC; rated "M" (blood, strong language, violence)
4. "Pokemon Heartgold" (Nintendo) for DS; rated "E" (cartoon violence)
5. "Just Cause 2" (Square Enix) for Xbox 360; also available for PS 3; rated "M" (blood, drug reference, language, sexual themes, violence)
6. "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" for PS 3
7. "Final Fantasy XIII" (Square Enix) for PS 3; also available for Xbox 360; rated "T" (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
8. "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" (Nintendo) for Wii; rated "E" (comic mischief)
9. "Just Cause 2" for PS 3
10. "Final Fantasy XIII" for Xbox 360
(Ratings: "E" for "Everyone"; "T" for "Teen"; "M" for "Mature 17+")
So, here comes the Nintendo DSi XL. The screen is 4.2 inches, larger than the DS Lite (3 inches) and the DSi (3.25 inches). It comes with two nice puzzle games, "Brain Age Express: Arts & Letters" and "Brain Age Express: Math."
Two built-in cameras let you take photos. But my mobile phone already does that, and my phone fits in my man-pants pockets. The DSi XL does not.
Plus, there's a WiFi Opera Web browser, although it is not possible to download video and music software, so you can't surf YouTube, Pandora or Slacker. I couldn't download books from Gutenberg, either.
You can download DS games, like "Scrabble" for "800 points," which means you use your credit card to buy points ($10 for 1,000 points at a time). Points remain a dumb turnoff that plagues both Nintendo and Xbox 360.
You can transfer songs onto an SD memory card, then listen on headphones. But I can do that on my Blackberry and iTouch much easier.
Do you see where I'm going?
Essentially, if you're not old enough for an iTouch or iPhone (or if you want to play Nintendo-specific games, like "Mario" titles), then DSi XL makes sense for you.
Personally, I play the DS's "Civilization Revolution" on every plane trip. But I prefer my regular DS, because it weighs less and is easier to hold.
By the way, Nintendo is reportedly releasing another DS within the next year or so: A 3-D DS that doesn't use glasses. It relies on optical illusions. We'll see if that DS is the real game-changer.
(Nintendo DSi XL by Nintendo retails for $190 - Plays fun for kids and casual gamers. Looks adequate. Easy to challenging, depending on the game. Most games rated "E." Four stars out of four.)
Doug Elfman is an award-winning entertainment columnist who lives in Las Vegas. He blogs at www.lvrj.com/columnists/Doug_Elfman.html.