Force-feedback technology--also known as rumble--has been prominent in console gaming for almost a decade now, making its debut on the N64 and PlayStation consoles. It's not something normally associated with portable gaming, even though there have been a few Game Boy cartridges that had integrated rumbling. Nintendo has produced the first approved rumble accessory for a portable system with its Nintendo DS Rumble Pak. Originally packaged with Metroid Prime Pinball, the Rumble Pak is now available separately for $10.
The Nintendo DS Rumble Pak is a device the size and shape of a GBA cartridge that will fit in either the original DS or the DS Lite, though it will protrude from the latter like any GBA cartridge. Currently, there are four games that support the device: Magnetica, Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and the aforementioned Metroid Prime Pinball. There are two upcoming titles that have been confirmed to have Rumble Pak compatibility; Mario Hoops 3-on-3 and Star Fox DS. While some of Nintendo's top titles are represented, there are some notable omissions that would have been or could be perfect, such as Mario Kart DS and the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. With Nintendo's sketchy support for the device, it's highly doubtful that any third-party companies will develop games that take advantage of the rumble feature.
Vibration is not a feeling people associate with pinball--we hope--which makes us question the decision to include the Pak with a pinball video game. The Rumble Pak doesn't overextend itself in Metroid Prime Pinball, mainly because it engages only when Samus hits a bumper or is attacked by an enemy. In Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, the Rumble Pak is put to the most use, shaking when the titular characters are attacked by an enemy, which happens often in this role-playing game. The title we got the most hands-on time with was Metroid Prime Hunters, the first-person shooter/action game in the vein of the GameCube Metroid Prime series. The Rumble Pak has basically one function in the game--to indicate when Samus is hit by an enemy--though there are a few cut scenes that use the effect to enhance the story. Not to say it isn't useful--since the game is in the first-person perspective, it's a little difficult to see when an enemy's attacking you from behind, and the game's sometimes fuzzy graphics make it tough to discern when a projectile is being fired your way. We just wished that the Rumble Pak would be a bit more proactive. For instance, when we charged our first power-beam shot, we hoped the Rumble Pak would make the DS shake the way Samus's arm cannon shook. The reason Nintendo may have avoided this type of prolonged effect is that while the Rumble Pak works perfectly in quick spurts, more drawn out rumbling actually causes the device to emit a sort of high-pitched tone. It's not overly loud--in fact, if you're wearing headphones you won't hear a sound--but it's just audible enough to annoy someone sitting next to you on an airplane.
A DS Lite version of the Rumble Pak that sits flush to the device when inserted has already been released in Japan, but there's no confirmed date of a U.S. release. Hopefully, Nintendo will make a few tweaks before it heads stateside, but as it is stands, it's a nice little novelty accessory that may go unnoticed among the ranks of DS owners.