The history of the gaming industry can be divided in many before and after segments. For visuals, there is before 3-D and after 3-D; for shooters, there is before Goldeneye and after Goldeneye; for home consoles, there is before the NES and after the NES; for tridimensional combat, there is before Ocarina of Time and after Ocarina of Time. And, for the shift that most significantly rocked the core of the gaming world for the past ten years or so - the big casual invasion - there was the before and after the Nintendo DS.
Almost invariably, it is the Nintendo Wii that gets all the bad rep or the praise for tumbling down the rock walls surrounding the gaming world, and allowing everybody to join in the fun. But the true hero, or culprit, of the story was the Nintendo DS. The simple interface, intuitive controls and irresistable charm of Nintendogs, Brain Trainning, Big Brain Academy opened up the floodgates and the rest of the story we all know, a tale where Wii Party and Cooking Mama coexist with games like Bioshock and Call of Duty.
If before the Nintendo DS, the company already had a firm grip on the handheld market, during the system's life that grip only tightened. For the first time ever, the Big N had real competition, and for the most part of the battle the Nintendo DS cruised in sales and received software support by third-parties as if there was no rival. It was humble David beating mighty Goliath, but instead of a stone to the forehead it was games and blue ocean strategy.
But limiting the astounding success of the Nintendo DS simply to "games" is not looking at the big picture. The most adequate expression would be "games that could not be done anywhere else". Historically, portable games had been humble versions of games that were successful on the more powerful home systems. It was a trend that started changing with the GBA, but that was made more solid by the Nintendo DS. It is interesting to have a portable version of a home console, but it is even more appealing to have games that take advantage of the portable nature of the system instead of being limited by it.
On other systems petting a virtual dog would not be so satisfying; solving puzzles coined by a top-hat-wearing professor would not be so interactive; combining what is going on inside the belly of a beast and outside would not be so fast and seamless; battling different foes with two unique characters at the same time would not be possible; and navigating on your GPS while speeding away from the cops would not be so easy and natural.
The two screens, the stylus and the touch controls ended up being as significant to gameplay as the analog stick. After the analog controls, it became hard to imagine a good 3-D game without them; after the features introduced by the Nintendo DS, they have turned into almost mandatory items on the company's handheld line. The possibilities revealed by them were endless, and as good companies continue to dazzle us with their games, we have the boring task of just sitting and wondering what they will be able to do with better hardware and 3-D visuals.
With the Nintendo DS we saw: Mario go back to his roots; pair up with Luigi for another two adventures and drive is kart through the greatest tracks yes; Link sail the seas once more and become a train engineer. Kirby turned into a ball; Samus discovered there are other badass bounty hunters in the Universe besides her, just not as badass as she is; the Pokémon Universe went bigger and more competitive with the internet; we died, lost our
identity and saved pople from death to get closer to the truth; the Sun godess was reborn.
We went back in time at least twice: once with an average guy who goes on to save the word and with his mechanics genious female friend, and once with a professor and his apprentice. We played a deadly game, we made illegal deals, saved princesses, destroyed planets, conquered kingdoms, rescued friends, killed enemies, won tourneys and visited some weird locations.
Before the Nintendo DS, being a successful portable system was relatively simple, after the Nintendo DS that task became a lot harder. Before the Nintendo DS portable devices were simple versions of their home counterparts, after the Nintendo DS they have to be systems on their own. The Nintendo DS wasn't 1989, but it sure changed the world.