Monday, July 27, 2009

DS Games That Should Not Be Overlooked

This list is essentially some recommendations I have for the Nintendo DS. I wanted to compile a list of worthwhile titles that are original to the DS (so no ports or remakes like Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, Broken Sword, etc), and not obvious popular titles that everyone is already playing (like the Castlevania Trilogy, New Super Mario Bros., GTA: Chinatown Wars, etc).

Instead I focused on some great games that many people might overlook for various reasons. Perhaps because the game looks like it was intended more for children, or the game was not promoted well and fell under the radar, or simply because they weren't willing to take a chance on an unusual or different game. Whatever the case, here are five games you should be playing on the bus.

5. Ninjatown
As we all know, the best way to improve something is to add ninjas. And in that regard this game is a success. Falling into the genre of tower defense games, this title stands out for it's funny characters and addictive play. The game is simply a series of levels in which you must protect Ninjatown from swarms of enemies lead by the evil Mr. Demon. The invading hordes follow set paths and it's your job to construct ninjas huts along the path to engage the enemy. It starts simply enough, but the difficulty quickly escalates as new enemies emerge and you have more and more options for ninja huts and upgrades. It's all about managing your resources and time, while utilizing the strengths of your ninjas.

Someone glancing at the box art in a store might assume the game developed by Fisher Price and aimed at 4 year-olds, but there is enough challenge and fun here for any gamer. It's among the best of its genre, and a perfect game to play in short bursts. Plus, what's not to like about business ninjas putting the smack down with a cellphone?

4. Picross DS
The DS system has a lot to offer in the realm of puzzle games, but that's its strength and more suited to gaming on the go. It's the reason there are dozens of sudoku and crossword games, and all the first person shooters are crap. Before I move on, I have to say that the whole sudoku craze is pissing me off. I cannot understand their popularity. I am what you could affectionately call a "puzzle nerd" and I can't stand them. They're not fun or rewarding in the least.

Where was I? Oh yeah. If we group all the puzzle titles that originated as pen and paper puzzles, then Picross is the best by leaps and bounds. This puzzle (also known as Nanograms or Paint by Numbers) is all about using logic to figure out which blocks to fill in on a grid to ultimately create an image. What used to take forever with a pencil, is simpler and more fun on the DS with a touch screen. The game eases you into the rules and offers hundreds of grids to complete with various difficulties (from simple objects to portraits). It's addictive as hell, and I honestly think anyone, even someone who never does puzzles, could pick it up and enjoy.

3. Retro Game Challenge
The game's title is quite vague and one might think it's just another collection of old games, but it's actually much more ingenious. It's based on a Japanese television show called GameCenter CX which is about a guy being forced to play through old video games for our amusement. In RGC you must play through a series of original games and complete challenges in order to unlock more games. Each game is designed with retro graphics and sound, so you feel as if it could have originally been released for the NES.

The games are fun, and reminiscent of actual hits like Galaga, Ninja Gaiden, Dragon Quest, and Megaman, and they are also tough in the way NES games were. But you get access to each game's instruction manual for help, as well as a fictional gaming magazine that supplies you with hints and cheat codes. Basically the whole thing feels like a nostalgia experiment or an alternate universe of some sort. It's a unique title and gets extra points for being a way to relive our childhood. There are even some times when the games in the game don't work and you have to blow on the imaginary cartridges. Now that's bizarre and awesome.

2. Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Sorry to hit you with another puzzle title, but like I said, they just fit for the system. The game is half adventure and half puzzle collection and you play as the genius Professor Layton who travels to St. Mystere with his assistant, Luke, to find a golden apple and unravel the secrets of the strange town. Every location and nearly every conversation leads to a riddle or puzzle of some sort. The puzzles range in difficulty, but luckily there is a forgiving hint system and most you won't have to complete to progress the story.

What makes the game so great, besides the puzzles, is its style. The characters and world are like a fusion of Tin Tin, Studio Ghibli, and a less hideous Les Triplettes de Belleville. The story plays out with fully animated cut scenes and voice acting that are charming and entertaining. I just love the Japanese/European vibe, and the music fits perfectly as well.

As of right now there is only one Professor Layton game released in North America, with a sequel coming in August, yet Japan already has 3 titles with 3 more slated for the coming year, and a full length animated film in the works. Hopefully that gives you an idea of how popular this series is quickly becoming.

1. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
This game is so unbelievably weird, I just don't know how it came to be, or how it ended up being so fun. The game is all about a slime named Rocket (the mascot of the Dragon Quest series) fighting an evil platypus mob (the Plob) with a giant battle tank (the Schleiman Tank) to save his fellow slimes and restore order to Slimenia's capital city (Boingburg). The game is basically the epitome of quirkiness, and its weird characters, self-aware humour, game related puns, and overall absorbing presentation warms the cockles of my video game heart.

As Rocket you explore various levels defeating enemies, collecting any and all items, and rescuing other slimes who have been kidnapped. The game is deceptively simple, and while it seems too easy and cute at first, the game picks up quickly with the introduction of your battle tank and then the real fun begins. With your tank you must face off against enemy tanks - many with great names like Chrono Twigger and The Enforker - and destroy them by managing your cannons inside. It's your job to collect the ammo from around your tank and feed it into your two cannons to deflect incoming shots or damage the enemy tank. The ammo itself comes from a customizable "deck" of things you collect around the levels (anything from sticks to sickles). Later in the game you can begin fusing items and making more powerful ammo like bastard swords, goddess statues, explosives, shields, and much more. On top of that you can recruit a crew of other slimes, and even defeated enemies, to work in your tank during battles to help load the cannons, infiltrate the enemy tank, or protect your own tank from invaders. Throw in some more customizable features, tank upgrades and you got yourself some gaming crack.

This is easily one of my favourite games from previous years, and I've played through it three times. The game delivers an excellent experience all around; the characters are likable, the action is intense and rewarding, the story is funny and appealing, and the game play is inventive. If you ever had the urge to play a game where you could fire statues at an enemy tank, get inside, hit a cat in the face with a sword, then race to the heart of the tank and destroy it with a boomerang ... this is the game for you.


Cole D'Arc said...

Ive had DS for well over a year now but ive only got a handful of games and they are basically the ones you named, more or less. if i had more money to spend on games, ive always known the DS has a good library.
you know i don't about puzzle games but i gave that detective-type game a hard look in the store. the retro game challenge sounds awesome and i might very well get it. ninjatown, the way you described, sounds exactly like the two final fantasy crystal defenders games i have on wiiare and they're very fun and addictive.
i bought an issue of Anime Insider about a month ago cause it was their special video games issue and it said the DS by far has the most games based on animes and some of those have interested me as well.

Shane Patenaude said...

The DS has a rich library that continues to grow. One game that I've been watching closely that will be released in sept is Scribblenauts. It's a puzzle game that may well knock your f'in face off.
Basically in the game you have to collect a star in each stage by summoning things you type into the touch screen and everything interacts with one another, and there is a database of tens of thousands of words(everything but trademarked and crude words). Many people called it game of the show at E3 this year. My favorite example of messing around in the game was summoning God, then summoning a skateboard and a shotgun, giving God the shotgun, putting him on a skateboard, summoning Cthulhu and then watching them fight it out.

I'm goddamn drooling in anticipation.

Sam said...

I had to get one in anticipation that DQ IX will be released on it exclusively. I've been more than pleased with Order of Ecclesia, DQ IV , and Devil survivor in the meantime.

Get Devil Survivor, Patenaude. It rocks hard.

Shane Patenaude said...

I agree that Order of Ecclesia is fantastic, and that Dragon Quest IX will be huge. I think it's already causing Japan to implode with joy as we speak.

I've had a little time with Devil Survivor already, and I can back you up that it rocks hard.

RyHo said...

Ah, the sweet DS.

I've been wanting to play Retro Game Challenge for a while now, but alas it has fallen on the back burner. Some day...

I've been following Ninjatown for some time now. I'm not that into Tower Defense games, but I just like that it was developed by ex-EGM editor Shawn Smith.

On an semi-unreleated note, and mostly to Cole, EGM will return from the ashes! It's last issue was January 2009 but the original magazine founder is bringing it back!

Cole D'Arc said...

Shawn Smith? that's pretty cool. is the soundtrack full of Beastie Boys songs?
I'm not overly impressed with Devil Survivor - it takes elements from FF Tactics and Earthbound but isn't half as good as either. I got it cheap though so that's alright.
i'm really looking forward to the Might and Magic game that's coming out in October.
EGM returning?!? I swear i'll actually subscribe this time. Between 97 and 06 I had almost every issue.

Shane Patenaude said...

I was mostly only reading EGM when I was is university. Cole was my supplier. Luckily I've been listening to their podcasts weekly since sometime in 2007. When the magazine shut down, it was crushing to listen to all these great writers and journalists experiencing the end of an era. They could barely keep it together emotionally by the end of their last official show.

But if this return is true, I'm happy as hell. Viva La EGM!!!