The Fan Network finally delivers on some of the promise of one of the least-used features of the DS: download play. It is possible with download play to create context-sensitive DS games and services that can be given away freely (or sold) to any DS owner within range, and to add Internet-based bonus content to events. I hope that, based on this example, more downloadable DS services become available and expand the functionality and enjoyment both of the DS and the events to which people bring their systems.
There are two Fan Network kiosks, each with a demo DS Lite unit and a (presumably) friendly attendant. These kiosks were selling the Mariners special edition DS Lite unit for $195. I was tempted to buy one of these until I remembered that I don't have $195, I already have a DS, I'm not that much of a baseball fan, and I don't care for the appearance of the Mariners one. I began downloading the software as soon as I approached the kiosk, going through the name entry and registration steps while waiting in line. It is possible to purchase the service at this kiosk using cash or a credit card. If you use cash, you're given an entry code; if you use a credit card, you enter the information directly into the Fan Network program on your DS. This is the preferable option, because you need to enter credit card information to order food, and thus getting it done at the outset eliminates an extra step.
DS systems at the kiosk at section 186 have great difficulty maintaining a connection to the download points, which are actually above the kiosk, blocked by a canopy. Because of this, I had to go through registration three or four times before I actually got a good enough connection to send my data through. After waiting 20+ minutes for the kid in front of me to think of a password, and another ten minutes of my own trying and failing to get through, the game had long since started when my wife and I finally got to sit down in our seats.
It may have been possible to do all of this from your seat using a credit card, without dealing with the kiosk at all. As long as you're in range to download the software, it seems that you can set up the Fan Network. I would strongly recommend trying this before dealing with the kiosk.
Gallery: Nintendo Fan Network
It goes without saying that the experience improved somewhat when I got to my seat-- doing something being preferable to not doing something. The midday sun made it extraordinarily difficult to see my screen, which is a major problem for something designed for baseball games. A DS Lite would ameliorate this problem slightly, but not enough for comfortable viewing. It was no problem to put the DS down for a bit while the sun set; I simply occupied myself with the baseball game happening.
Gallery: Nintendo Fan Network: Food Service
Using the Fan Network's Video option, you can watch a Fox Sports Network feed of the game on the top screen of the DS. I immediately felt like I had entered the future when I tried this; however, it became clear that this was not the useful feature it seemed to be. Instead of providing an 'instant replay' option, the video is a live feed about five seconds behind the actual game. It's also tiny-- I could see the action better from my seat, which was basically outside the Earth's atmosphere. Unfortunately, the video is also overcompressed and blurry-- it is impossible to read any of the text that appears on screen, all of which renders as jagged blocks. This was the option that I thought would be the most useful going in. The technical issues involved with streaming video to the DS, however, made it the least useful of all the Nintendo Fan Network features. You can see the Fan Network's video feed in action courtesy of reader Trevor Verhelst.
Gallery: Nintendo Fan Network: Video
Checking player statistics is perfectly implemented, and quite useful for new baseball fans or non-fans who have yet to dive headfirst into the statistical obsession that is modern sports fandom. A device designed simply to perform this function would probably help ease anyone into baseball. I came to a troubling revelation later: it's basically a Pokédex for humans. Chilling.
Gallery: Nintendo Fan Network: Stats
Like the stats, it is simple to check games in progress. You select from a list of games, and you get scores and minimal stats about the game. The interface and the display both work well in a no-frills way.
Gallery: Nintendo Fan Network: Games
The annoyances that plague the service, such as the extra fees, the useless video, and the imperative to ignore the baseball in favor of competitive DS gaming, may hamper enjoyment of this particular service to the point of not being worth your $5, but they don't dampen the promise of downloadable, networked applications for DS owners. We are not condemning the Fan Network at all-- it is a bold experiment in useful, entertaining location-based content-- but this first try is more interesting as a harbinger of future offerings than as a standalone product.