It seems as though everyone wants to get their feet wet in the e-book game these days. Prior to the release of it latest handheld system, the DSi XL, earlier this year, Nintendo announced that a title would be released in June called 100 Classic Books. 100 Classic Books, as the name suggests, does in fact contain an even hundred public domain titles.
While the cartridge will play on any of the DS line of systems, the XL has the largest screen which, at least on the surface, makes it the easiest on the eyes. I say "on the surface" because while the screen of the XL is larger than the DS Lite or the DSi, it has the same number of pixels which does result in a less sharp image.
The books included are the exact sort of items you would expect to find. There are multiple works from Dickens, Twain, and Shakespeare. There are also works by Verne, Shelley, and Swift just to name a few. It is a pretty good library and the exact sort of thing an English teacher would look over, nod, and seem satisfied that they make up a good beginning.
The menu system itself within 100 Classic Books is actually quite nice. There is a graphical representation of a bookshelf where one can see the spines of said hundred titles. That can make it a little cumbersome to actually find the one you want, but there are several different ways that they can be sorted – author, title, or genre – and if you don't know what you want to read, you can have the program suggest titles for you based on your answers to several questions. You can also search for books by specifying criteria such as era, genre, length, etc. It is a far better menu system than what is offered by Amazon's Kindle.
There are a lot of options for customization also included. Background music, menu colors, button settings, and font size can all be adjusted. The system will even store a temporary bookmark for the most recent title you've read (this is stored automatically if you close the book properly instead of just turning off 100 Classic Books) and three permanent bookmarks per book that have to be manually set. Upon finishing a book you can also include a review score (out of 10), and a one word description from a pre-set list of choices.
But, all is not well in Mudville, because while the menu system is superior to some e-readers and 100 Classic Books has a lot of customization options, the rest of the platform is severely lacking. The most obvious of the issues is that none of handheld entries in Nintendo's DS lineup truly provides a sharp enough look to the screen – it's always like you're reading something vaguely fuzzy. Additionally, even the small font size fails to put enough words on the screen to make you feel as though you're reading anything other than a children's title. Many readers will also probably feel slightly daunted when they realize that novels on the DS contain thousands of pages (A Tale of Two Cities has 2,812 pages with the small font and 4,374 with the large one).
Perhaps worse than that is the fact that the two DS screens present a slightly different font color, background color, and degree of sharpness to each letter. The screen can be oriented with either the touchscreen on the left or right (the DS is held vertically), but whichever "page" is the touchscreen is slightly fuzzier and slightly more dark. It is extremely disconcerting.
100 Classic Books is clearly an entry point for Nintendo into the market, and one assumes that there will be more down the line. There are in fact already titles that can be downloaded using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection (and 10 downloads are included with the purchase of this cartridge… 10 also being the total number available for download as of this writing), and they all do download very quickly. Downloaded titles can even be sent to another 100 Classic Books user permanently. These titles are, as with the ones included on the cartridge, classic ones, but the groundwork has been laid for newer ones (although the likelihood that one will be allowed to permanently transfer those titles seems low).
With the size of both a DS and a Kindle being relatively small, if I want to play games and read I would certainly bring both as opposed to just opting for the DS. At this point it isn't all that enjoyable to read anything on 100 Classic Books, and the fact that that you can't yet purchase newer titles and/or load e-books of your choice onto it make it far too limiting. Perversely, one has to wonder if this subpar entry into the e-reader market will make people realize that they truly do want a device which can both play games and read books, thereby pushing more folks into Apple's iPad camp.
100 Classic Books does not have an ESRB rating.