Nintendo DS roundup

The DS Lite is an impressive bit of engineering and I love playing games on its glowing dual screens. My only complaint is that I have encountered few games that I would describe as captivating. Of course, I might have the same gripe about any platform. Anyway, here is a quick list of the games I have played to date, ordered from best to worst:

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Part manga and part lawyer/detective sim, the Phoenix Wright series is perfect for the Dual Screen. The dialog and story lines are driving forces in this game, displaying an exuberant, mostly humorous, creativity. The game engine itself is simplistic, yet expressive. I have to give it the top spot here because each game delivers such a large volume of entertaining, wonderfully translated content.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Following something of a 7th Guest format, this game gives you an incredible atmosphere as context for solving puzzles. These aren’t King’s Quest (if you’ll forgive another old school reference) adventure puzzles, but rather classical mind games – algebra problems, 3D visualization, pushing tiles around, dividing volumes of water using different-sized measuring cups, chess puzzles, matchstick problems, and so on. The stylus and touchscreen are a great vehicle for serving up these puzzles, though it’s the creative multimedia backdrop of Professor Layton that keeps you fighting through the more frustrating problems. The music, voice acting, extraordinary artwork, and video clips are all of such a high quality that you can’t help becoming immersed in this excellent DS game.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Sweeping the goofy and annoying characters into the gutter, this is a pretty solid execution of turn-based strategy. I enjoyed the Advance Wars franchise on the GBA, and was impressed with its showing on the DS. Dual Strike has a great interface, solid game balance, engaging scenarios, and intriguing “extras”. By extras I mean all the features that extend the standard turn-based combat experience, e.g. the generals, having different abilities and modifiers, that you select from a pool to helm your armies during each mission. This is definitely one of the play-worthy games for the DS.

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam

This game surprised me by providing a genuine, TH:PS experience. The tricks, gaps, secrets, etc are all there, and the DS apparently has the horsepower to let you flip, roll, and grind at high speed through fairly detailed levels. The “Downhill” aspect is decent, though I think I would have preferred something more like the original game.

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

Ahhhhh… turn-based strategy. I played the hell out of this game, not because it was particularly good, but because I’ve always been a junkie for this genre. The dual screen and stylus are used to provide a convenient, pleasant interface, but the game itself is nothing special. They just took the AoE RTS and made it turn-based; Age of Kings doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but provides that addictive RTS feel, one turn at a time.

Kirby: Canvas Curse

This is a slick-looking, innovative game that lost my interest in the first few minutes. The use of the stylus to draw rainbow bridges and control Kirby yields a rich interaction, but I wasn’t interested for some reason – partly because I’m not a big Kirby fan, and partly because I wasn’t interested in getting the OCD juices flowing in a game which was obviously chock full of things to collect and secrets to find.

Super Mario 64 DS

I gave Mario 64 a shot on the DS, trying to recapture the wonder the game elicited on the Nintendo 64. Unfortunately, you can never go back. The game appeared to execute well, and I noticed that some new content/features had been added; however I found that the DS was just too small for me comfortably navigate a complex 3D environment.

Magical Starsign

I keep thinking that the DS would make a great platform for a classical RPG, but even the inflated reviews of gaming sites have not produced a standout in the genre. Magical Starsign had some okay reviews (meaning scores in the 8s) so I decided to give it a shot. After a couple of hours, I realized I was dealing with awful characters, a miserable plot, and what seemed to be a decent combat system. The most enjoyment I got from this game was naming the brash, fire-element guy “douche”.

Trauma Center: Under the Knife

I quickly lost interest in this glorified game of Operation. Using the stylus to select various surgical implements, you then circle, rub, zigzag, etc over various parts of a surgery target. Sure, there’s a whole storyline and some sort of disease menace that has you playing whack-a-mole during surgery, but this game really didn’t do much for me.

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