Sunday, March 25, 2007


Nintendo DS: The Launch Titles That Time Forgot

It was hard to justify owning a Nintendo DS for just about the first year of its life. I mean hard. The killer app was a retooling of a first-generation Nintendo 64 game. Developers were still trying to figure out what they were going to do with this two-headed freak of nature. The first-party games included Yoshi Touch 'N' Go and Pokemon Dash.

I mean it was really, really, really hard to justify owning a Nintendo DS.

But even though it was a pretty shaky start, it was also a wonderful period of exploration and experimentation. With so little precedent, developers were free to take a few chances and make some messy, novel, and not-half-bad games.

Here's a list of a few of my favorite games from the system's "launch window". No one much thinks about them anymore, even though they were pretty all right. Maybe not great, maybe not worth the original retail price, but decent, and maybe worth tracking down if they're on clearance.

Feel the Magic: XY/XX

Once you got Super Mario 64 DS -- and chances are you did, whether you liked it or not -- the next must-have DS game at launch was Feel the Magic: XY/XX. It was a zany little adventure game where you try to win the heart of the girl of your dreams by showing off in a wide variety of death-defying mini-games. Really, it was impossible to dislike this game. It had a catchy a cappella soundtrack, an adorable stylized visual presentation, a crazy sense of humor, plenty of original uses for the touchscreen and microphone, and a wide variety of unlockable outfits that you could use to dress up (or undress, tee hee!) the girl of your dreams.

Unlike the Wario Ware games, however, there's really no scoring system to encourage you to improve your performance on replay. But this isn't a game that you play to conquer -- this is a sweet, silly love story that's fun to watch time and time again. If you don't feel a tug on your heartstrings when you get to the last level, see a psychiatrist -- you're probably suffering from emotional imbalance.

There was a sequel called The Rub Rabbits, but with its much steeper learning curve, I find myself with much less reason to replay it.


Whenever there's a discussion about the most underappreciated games on the DS, Sprung is the first game that comes to mind. Not that it's a masterpiece or anything, but it just plain never got a fair shake.

On the one hand, there were all of the people who scoffed at the very idea of a dating sim. "no thnx, i have a real girlfreind, lol" On the other hand, there were the people who were interested in a dating sim and found that... there's not any actual dating simulation going on here. It's a little hard to find an audience when you're jerking around people's expectations like that.

Instead, Sprung is more or less an interactive teen movie. There's two different stories that feature the same characters, but a completely different sequence of events. For the guys, there's Brett's story, an airhead comedy about a guy who keeps getting in and out of love triangles and hanging around with his pals. For the girls, there's Becky's story, a tale of love, heartbreak, revenge, redemption, and maybe the man of her dreams.

You spend a lot of the game navigating through conversation trees, but there are a couple special items you need to find and a few traditional adventure game styled puzzles to solve. It can't compare with Phoenix Wright, but it's far from being the piece of crap that so many people dismiss it as.

The Urbz: Sims in the City

The Sims: Bustin' Out on the Game Boy Advance was a pretty cool spinoff of the Sims series. Instead of indirectly guiding a household through day-to-day life, you took direct control of a single character in a life sim RPG with a bizarre, play-at-your-own-pace storyline to follow.

The Urbz builds on the success of the original and fixes a few annoyances. Now you're free to move into any of several available homes throughout the city whenever you like, and you have access to fire prevention and theft prevention from the utilities menu -- no more getting your toilet stolen while you're waiting for burglar alarms to go on sale! The "job" minigames are a lot more fun this time around, including spoofs on Excitebike and Space Channel 5. And just like in Bustin' Out, you can take on the game's missions in whatever order and at whatever pace you like.

Decent game; too bad it's basically a port of the GBA version.

Zoo Keeper

A decent Bejeweled clone. The screen fills with puzzle pieces, and you can swap two adjacent pieces to try and line up three or more of the same piece. Matched pieces disappear, more pieces rain down from above. It's got some fancy add-ons, but there's really not much to say about them. It's as fun and addictive as popping bubble wrap. The only real problem is that it was hard to justify buying it at the launch price of forty dollars.


And finally, Pac-Pix. Although it was almost universally dismissed as an overblown DS tech demo, there's something lovable about this little game where you draw things that come to life. You draw a Pac-Man, which comes to life on the screen and starts moving around on his own. You guide him by drawing walls in his path and try to get him to gobble up all of the ghosts on the screen. In later levels, you'll need to draw arrows and bombs as the levels become more and more complicated.

The early levels are a breeze, but by the time you reach the game's twelfth chapter, you'll be tearing your hair out over the puzzles. The final boss in particular is an absolute nightmare -- I don't think I'll ever have the patience to finish it. Still, replaying the earlier levels is a delight, and it's modestly fun to use the game's "sketchbook" to try and see what other drawings you can bring to life with this thing.


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