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Why the best selling handheld in Nintendo history almost didn't happen

It went on to sell over 150 million units worldwide, but it took Nintendo a while to fall in love with the DS.

In a recent interview with Retro Gamer Magazine (picked up by Japanese Nintendo), Satoru Okada, formerly general manager of Nintendo Research and Engineering, has revealed that hardly anyone at the company was smitten with the idea of the Nintendo DS when it was first pitched. 

Before the concept of a dual-screen handheld was first tabled, Okada's team were working on a successor to the Game Boy Advance -- a familiar name that had steered Nintendo towards success time and time again.

With development well underway, the team were forced to change direction when then president, Satoru Iwata, received a call from his predecessor, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who pitched the idea of a dual-screen device.

"President Iwata then came to see me. He was obviously bothered and he said: 'l talked to Yamauchi-san over the phone and he thinks your console should have two screens. A bit like the multi-screen Game & Watch,'" recalls Okada. 

"Everybody is aware of this, but what people do not know is that at the time, everybody hated this idea, even Iwata himself. We thought it did not make any sense."

Despite the fact that no one took to the idea right away, Iwata agreed to test the the concept. 

Okada protested, highlighting the disadvantages of creating a device with two screens that were impossible to view simultaneously. He even pointed out that the design wouldn't necessarily offer any graphical improvements, but Iwata stood firm. 

"Unlike many people in the company, I was not afraid of Yamauchi-san. I had already fought with him over different issues and I also sometimes publicly opposed his ideas. But Iwata turned me down," he continues.

"So, I tried to put my team at ease and I told them ‘I have some experience working with double screens, we will give it our best shot and we’ll see, don’t worry.' It became project Nitro, and released in 2004 under the name Nintendo DS."

As we now know, it was the right call, and the Nintendo DS went on to become the best selling handheld in Nintendo history, with over 154 million units sold worldwide.

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