This past week Nintendo has been slowly handing out the Nintendo DS and the six launch titles to various members of the press. In this article we'll review and score the whole lineup. But first, the DS hardware unit itself and the METROID PRIME demo itself are worthy of some mention on their own merits.
The Nintendo DS itself isn't nearly as sexy as the PSP, but it doesn't look bad either. It's comfortably in the hands, although perhaps a little heavy especially if you're using the touch screen with one hand. Even then, I had few problems standing while playing with it. The stylus is stored in the back and the DS comes with an extra one as well.
More important than the stylus is the wristband and accompanying thumb strap. I usually don't like attaching a wrist strap to things, but it's needed. This is because the thumb strap is essentially the analog control for the hardware. This works by being a small piece of hard plastic you tighten to your thumb and then move across the touch screen. It works surprisingly well for MARIO 64 and particularly in METROID PRIME.
Otherwise the DS features an easy touch interface to set a nickname for the handheld, clock and date, as well as set up other preferences such as which screen you play GBA games on. All in all, I'm impressed with the design of the DS, though part of me would like it to be a bit smaller.
On to the METROID PRIME demo that ships with the DS. First Hunt was a game that I thought had a lot of potential at E3 but some control issues. Those have been fixed. The game uses either the D-Pad or X, Y, A, and B buttons as forward, back, strafe-left and strafe-right, and then the thumb pad on the touch screen is sued to look around. It essentially gives you the feel of a mouse and keyboard. The only issue is you only have a button to fire and then the other controls (switching weapons and morph ball) are put on the touch screen.
These controls worked fairly well through most of the demo, but I thought the boss character was pretty difficult to get a good beat on. Nintendo has been calling this a first-person shooter rather than the first-person adventure genre that the GameCube METROID PRIME series carries. It'll be interesting to see how the final game ends up, but this could be one of the best wireless multiplayer games on the handheld.
Now onto the real reviews.
SUPER MARIO 64 DS
While the game is mostly the same, there are 30 new stars and new levels in the game. Wario, Yoshi and Luigi each have their own special moves. Yoshi can swallow enemies and turn them into eggs, Luigi has his high jump, and Wario can break some big blocks. It makes for gameplay where some old objectives now require a different character (for instance Mario gets the flying cap, Luigi gets invisible, and Wario is metal).
To round out the experience is a large list of minigames that is unlocked throughout the adventure by catching rabbits that carry the keys to the level. The minigames are easily one of the high-lights of the game. Some of the games range from things like a Missile Command style game where you have to pull back on a slingshot to take out incoming bomb-ombs. Others include games where you have to keep several Marios afloat while trying to kill several Shy Guys.
My only complaint with the game right now is that even with the thumb pad the control isn't perfect. The other slight problem is that while the game offers 4-player multiplayer involving chasing after stars on small map. But there isn't really much to it and you'll never want to play it again after one go through the four maps once.
The game looks good and sounds great as well. Mario seems to have aged fairly gracefully, sure the textures don't look the best anymore, but it's still not an eyesore by any means. Given the new DS, it'll be interesting to see how the visuals shape up, but it's a good start and one of the better looking games on the platform.
This is the classic game in the lineup that is a great update to one of the best games ever made.
FEEL THE MAGIC XY/XX
In one of the most bizarre games I've ever played, Sonic team has taken some elements of WARIOWARE and combined it with the style and quirkiness of a game like SPACE CHANNEL 5. In the game you are trying to win the heart of a woman by joining a crew of bunny-rabbit-ear-wearing Jackass style performers.
Some of the mini-games are pretty straightforward but all have their own unique charm and many will cause you to laugh out loud. Each game has five stages that are progressively harder in the story mode. Some of the coolest uses of the DS hardware include the game that requires you to blow into the microphone to blow out candles, and another that requires you to shout into it.
The game starts with a disclaimer of "Don't recreate any situations seen in this game." It's probably a good warning considering one stunt includes rolling across a street in a ball, avoiding traffic and trying to knock out a bunch of people waiting on the other side waiting for a bus. Another includes clearing out the street of obstacles just in time for some downhill shopping cart racing.
This is one of the quirkiest and most fun games I've played in a while. The immediate comparisons to WARIOWARE are inevitable, but it has its own style and substance worthy of being one of your first DS purchases this holiday season.
MADDEN NFL 2005
MADDEN hits the Nintendo DS and this is easily the best handheld version of the game available. Besides using the two touch screens for fun applications like selecting plays and calling audibles, it is also used as a radar screen during the actual play to show you where all of your players and the opposing players are on the field.
Many may make the comparison of this edition of MADDEN to the current console games. In reality, it can't compare to the realism, digital control, the unrealistic tackles and all of the other elements that have become a staple of the actual gameplay are muted at best here. This will remind you of the N64 game a lot, particularly in the graphics department. Sure it doesn't look hot, but we're really used to the PS2/Xbox generation graphics and generally EA has a nice step-up in the second edition of its game on any platform.
I don't really have any problems with this version of the game. It doesn't excel, but it's the best portable football game you'll find on the market, even with its only average graphics and sound, and generations old gameplay. I had fun playing it, and being able to hook up wirelessly with a friend or a stranger on an airplane almost seals the deal as play against others is what it's all about in MADDEN.
THE URBZ: SIMS IN THE CITY
That said, it's still a pretty fun game to play on the road and the use of the touch screen allows you to access menus on the fly. This adds the element of not having to pull up the start menu a lot and really gives the game a nice flow and gives you the ability to run around while still accessing the menus.
Even then, early on the game can become monotonous with lots of mundane tasks, but by getting beads that can be traded in for the ability to have to do certain things less in the game like eat or sleep. It seems like there are many moments where you are on the verge of getting something done only to have to go take a nap.
Even then, for a handheld like the DS this is the perfect little obsessive compulsive game to keep you occupied for five minutes while you wait for a table, or as a game your girlfriend can swipe from you and figure out that touching is good. Either way, you win.
ASPHALT URBAN GT
I'm not too sure what to think about ASPHALT. I don't really have strong feelings either way. This is a great looking racing game that really pushes these early capabilities of the DS and does it while running at 60 frames per second.
The problem is that the gameplay is just uninspired. I spent the whole time playing this thinking more about jumping back into MARIO 64, FEEL THE MAGIC, MADDEN and the URBZ (this after I had completed SPIDER-MAN 2). The gameplay is just uninspired and it doesn't seem like its polished enough to qualify as a great arcade racer. Instead it's just average and I'm just frustrated by how it seems that certain things always spin you out even if they shouldn't. It wasn't fun to fight with the controls.
The touch screen isn't really used either, and the menu system sort of makes use of it, but not very well and you're just as well off using the d-pad. I won't penalize a game for not using the dual-screen but the use in the menus is really weak and doesn't work as well as it should. The multiplayer component requires one copy for each player otherwise it might be possible to recommend one copy for you and your buddies to play against each other on.
This game is average at best, and really is the least desirable of the DS launch lineup unless you have to have a racer. Even then, RIDGE RACER DS is just around the corner (even with the funky control scheme). Unless you're buying everything or specifically a racing game, this is probably the last DS title that should be on your list.
I really enjoyed SPIDER-MAN 2. It's one
Spidey can do all of the great moves like webslinging through the level, zipping up to the walls, and plenty of special moves accessible from the touch screen. The fighting system almost relies on the special moves as they make the game much easier.
There are a few boss battles that rely on using the touch screen. For instance you might have to touch the objects that Doc Ock is throwing at you in order to deflect them. This adds a small change of pace, but there isn't a lot of touch-screen utilization.
Even then, SPIDER-MAN 2 more than accomplishes being a good side-scroller to start things off on the DS. If 2D is your thing, check it out.