Further thoughts on the DS

This is my third (1, 2) post on my experiences with the Nintendo DS Lite. Since my initial purchase I’ve replaced the machine once due to dead pixels and also swapped a game (Metroid Prime Hunters) due to its uncomfortable control layout and weight of the DS Lite.

Like my GBA, I bought a DS late and with full intention of getting a flash card solution for it. If you’re not aware, a flash-card is basically a big, fat empty cartridge that you can load games onto via your pc. The GBA ones were pretty straightforward. The DS ones took quite a while to come about and are a little more complex. The one I got in July comprises of three parts and totals 2 gigabyte (yes, that’s 2000 megabytes – not bits) of storage. I’m pretty jazzed about that – that’s an insane amount of storage space for a handheld console whose games tend to weigh in at 32 and 64 megabytes.

Of course, you can do other, more noble things with these devices, such as treat them like a PDA, run homebrew applications (including emulators), play MP3s or watch video on them. Me? I’m all about the games.

So, to get the games I’ve been grabbing releases from good ol’ usenet and have all the releases (about 540 or so right now).

One thing that becomes apparent when you see the entire release list of games for the DS is just how much shit is out there. Sure, there’s the games that reek of innovaton but, by god, there’s so much shitty soduku, karting, or just lame licenced bollocks out there that I see very little in terms of what makes the DS a more ‘worthy’ platform for adulation than any other market leader. Like the PS2, PS1, SNES, GBA – the leading machines suffer from their own success and have a large amount of derivative and unimaginative copycat or licenced crap out there. The DS is absolutely no exception to this. I’m in the (un)eviable position to be able to play every DS game out there and, to be honest, I’m going to just ignore 95% of the stuff. If you want to see what I see then check out sites like gbatemp.net who have release information and feedback on game releases for the DS.

I’ve already commented on games like Tetris, Brain Training and Metroid Prime Hunters in my other posts. Here’s a short list of what I *have* been enjoying on the DS

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan

This is, without question, the DS’s killer-app. Demonstrating superb use of both screens and stunning execution of gameplay via the touch-screen. The tactile nature of the gameplay allows anyone to enjoy a stronger sense of connection with this game.

It’s one of the only games I can think of in recent memory that put a massive smile on my face!

The game is simply designed but brilliantly executed – a rhythm action game where you tap or slide on the touch-screen as numbered symbols appear. Doing so results in percusive cymbal sound effect and a sense of making music.

The game also succeeds due to the wonderfully playful nature of its visuals and contrived narrative. The stern trio of characters are, it would seem, the local neighbourhood’s answer to every dilema – spurring each story’s central character to success by means of cheerleeding. Once again, the enonmic yet vibrant style of iconic japanese manga art conveys each story in clear, whimsical fashion that easily surpasses the language barrier. In fact, it’s probably more charming if you don’t understand Japanese.

Crucially, the music tracks are the real stars of the game. Wonderfully uplifting j-pop goodness that sound good through the DS’s speaks and absolutely brilliant through some headphones. The up-beat melodies fit with the cheerful yet striking visuals and compel you to continually retry challenges as much to enjoy the full tune as to know you’ve made progress in the game.

I’ve worked my way through two difficulty stages of the game and know there’s at least another 3 – including a female cheerleading mode which is the game’s hardest setting and looks insanely challenging.

Unless you are totally hopeless at rhythm games it is utterly impossible not to enjoy this game!

Oekaki Puzzle Battle From Yuusha-Oh GaoGaiGar

This game is a shitty bit of mecha-licensed nonsense that I don’t understand at all. Crucially, however, it’s a collection of nonogram puzzles (as seen in the Picross games on the GB and SFC) and I love nonograms.

Each grid has numerical clues along its rows and columns and, by using logic and deduction, you can determine which squares on the grid to colour in or not. The result ends up being some lo-res image of some object such as a lamp, keys or glasses. There’s four ranges of puzzles starting at easy (10×10 grids) to super-hard (40×40). Like sudoku, the stylus makes great sense in completing traditional paper and pen games in a more up-to-date fashion.

The music is dire and repetitive and the graphics are functional at best. I look forward to more nonogram games for the DS – but I fear I won’t see them.

Pheonix Wright – Ace Attorney

Ah, take me back to the old school! Pheonix Wright is an alarmingly limited game that features some very bleepy-bloppy (but rather catchy) music and a decent array of character art and nicely drawn backdrops.

The level of interaction in the game consists primarily of click the ‘next’ arrow to allow on-screen text to flow from one paragraph to the next. You’ll be doing that for roughly 90% of the game. You might also get to make decisions as to what to say or where to go. These decisions are made by pressing on one of between two and five on-screen buttons. Every now and again you will get to use an item from your inventory but, generally speaking, this game has very little for the player to do.

The scenario, however, is quite novel. You are a defense attorney and you play a series of episodes that play out like an episode of Perry Mason or Columbo. A seemingly water-tight story is presented showing your client committing a crime (typically murder) and being caught. The game then leads you through the episode by gathering evidence (talking to people or double-tapping areas around the crime scene to find clues or topics to ask people). When you’ve gathered so much evidence the game moves to the court-room scenes where the same characters give testimonies and you get to interrupt them and conduct cross-examinations and, hopefully, find contradictions in each case that show your client to be NOT GUILTY and even find the real culprit. Each episode features a fairly outlandish crime and some incredibly cliched character stylings. This isn’t to the detriment of the game and makes the cross examinations far more enjoyable as the characters’personalities really come across well.

Where the game succeeds is not in it’s limited interaction but in the quality of it’s writing. To be honest, like all point and click adventure games, you can’t really go too far wrong. You may get stuck for a while and not make further progress but it’s unlikely you’ll ever fail. The difficulty tends to come in at various points in the courtroom where you know you must present some evidence to undo a witnesses tesitmony but you’ll find it hard to determine which piece of evidence you have will do the trick as, even when you select correctly, the connection between testimony and evidence may seem very chancey. The writing covers this very well and and is the game’s compelling factor to make you keep playing. You want to see characters crack or uncover twists or just enjoy being called ‘Pal’ by Detective Gumshoe when you see him.

The writing keeps you guessing and keeps you interested but I find the gameplay to be fairly flat and very limited. The charm of the narrative and the tension of the court trials are the high points without question.

Well written games are nothing new and although this is an enjoyable game it is nothing that hasn’t been done before decades ago by companies like LucasArts or Infocom. These ‘Interactive Books’ have been a staple diet of many a japanese gamer’s life and most of their PC games (including the wildly popular Princess Maker series) follow this format. Capcom have been smart enough to create a new kind of hero and find a setting that suits western audiences as much as (if not more than) their eastern counterparts and the result is Pheonix Wright.

Good call Capcom. Good timing too.

So, those are the ones at the top of my list. Disappointments so far include New Super Mario Bros whose classic Mario control mechanism of holding down the run button most of the time just kills my hand in about 5 minutes flat. The forced use of the touchscreen to select stored powerups is also something that rubs me the wrong way. Starfox Command is fairly underwhelming too. The Mario 64 remake is an absolute travesty of control and shows just how uncomfortable and unsuited to 3D gaming a stiff digital pad can be.

I’ve enjoyed Yoshi’s Touch and Go more than I expected after an initially luke-warm reception to it. In fact there’s a number of games that catch my eye but they do so only as brief diversions from what I feel is ‘proper’ gaming with a full spectrum of gameplay options and achievements. This is what I fear that novelty or gimmicky control will present to gamers – diversions and pleasant distractions but ultimately shallow and limited gameplay.

It’s nice to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Know what I mean?

2 Responses

  1. Dr Kong September 5, 2006 / 6:56 pm

    Glad you enjoyed Ouendan, Koff. Its a great depression treatment.

    I understand what you mean with the “It’s nice to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. Know what I mean?” but, for a handheld system, isn’t that how games should be designed? If I want to play something really deep, I’ll play my PS2/GC. My DS is perfect for those quick second goes like when taking the train to college or in between breaks. On the other hand, Castlevania is supposedly quite “meaty” and a theres a few RPG’s like Contact and FFIII which should satitsfy my thirst for a deep adventure.

    The PSP however is basically, a portable PS2. This can be fine if thats all you want and it has a fare share of decent games but as something you want to take outside for inevitable ques/traveling it just doesn’t work and that is its biggest flaw. Plus I get scared of it getting scratched/dirty.

    So, yeah look out for Contact. It actually makes innovative use of the touchscreen.

  2. Alastor September 7, 2006 / 1:34 pm

    Castlevania is awesome and what i would say is the best game on the DS.

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