Tag Archives: DS

Disappointed with Scribblenauts

ScribblenautsI love my DS, and there have been a couple of great games recently, but where’s the new Phoenix Wright, Ouendan, Cooking Mama, Trauma Center, or Hotel Dusk? The really original stuff that it enjoyed a couple of years back. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed recent good stuff like GTA: Chinatown Wars and Devil Survivor, but they didn’t particularly get my juices going.

Scribblenauts has been critical darling since its strong showing at E3 – this episode of Co-op was actually my first sighting of it – and when you watch it being played it’s easy to see why. Like the best ideas, it’s incredibly simple, and the way that it’s executed with charm and good humour is incredibly appealing. Its sense of humour is one area that I can’t fault it, with a laundry list of cool touches that raise a smile: try spawning in the Large Hadron Collider or Rickrolling the game, for example. Even Internet peculiarities from Keyboard Cat to NeoGAF are represented.

Unfortunately, it’s just overreaching. Is it the DS hardware or the developer’s means that are being stretched? I’m not sure. Either way, the game frustrates me too much to have that much fun with it, which is all the more disappointing when it can be as much fun as it is when it actually works. It’s just that it’s got the uncanny valley of the English language going on, where for every time it works, it suddenly reminds you that it’s a machine interpreting your words when your hunter won’t kill the bear, or when the beekeeper gets chased off by a bee, or when you can’t cushion that spike with, you know, a cushion… It takes away the urge to be creative, instead encouraging you to fall back on the boring but predictable staples, like a gun or a jetpack.

Yes, it’s ‘only’ a DS game, but when the game’s reason for existing annoys, it becomes harder to bounce back compared to the more minor faults, like the janky controls. It’s very, very clever, but it’s probably telling that I had more fun on the title screen sandbox, pitting God against zombies or Cthulhu against a tyrannosaurus or the familiar-looking cyborgs against an EMP device, where the questionable interactions become more forgivable and throwaway.

Even so, 5TH Cell has got itself on my radar, and I’d love to see what it can do on more capable hardware.

GTA: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown WarsThis might seem like a strange thing to say, but playing GTA: Chinatown Wars on the DS has allowed me to understand where people are coming from when they talk about how bad for kids the likes of Pokémon are. After all, it’s essentially drug dealing.

Let’s say you’re at a convention where Nintendo is unlocking Mew for players – you’ll have to excuse the outdated example since I haven’t properly played a Pokémon game since about 2002. Your Mew is near worthless in a trade there because everyone has them, but if you take it back to the school playground – this is 2002, remember; I don’t still hang around playgrounds with Pokémon to trade – it becomes invaluable.

In Chinatown Wars, you can, say, pick up some cheap weed where the Jamaican gangs are prevalent and sell it at a premium to college students. Or you might get an email from someone looking to offload some heroin cheaply, so you can take up the offer and stash it at your safehouse until someone finds themselves short of skag and will pay over the odds for some of your collection. Basic supply and demand, only here your deals will occasionally be raided by the cops. It’s also a nifty method of investment, tying up a chunk of your money in cheap drugs that you can sell for thousands in profit when demand goes up.

I’ll stop talking about that aspect of the game there for fear of scaring off the children – this site had already been blocked as pornography once by a major filtering company, incidentally – and just say that I love Chinatown Wars, and living out fantasies of making millions in a particular brand of Pocket Monster is just one reason why. The odd thing, considering the lengths I’ll go to to defend GTA IV against its detractors, is that I really don’t like the old GTA games. I bought the first when it came out out of some feeling of obligation – the playground rumours that it was imminently to be banned helped – and it was cool while the novelty was there, but I just didn’t find them that much fun. It wasn’t until I could get immersed in the city and Rockstar’s humour in GTA III that the series really became something important to me.

That’s why I’d been wary of this one, but you can’t ignore reviews like these forever and it’s been absolutely ages since I’ve played anything on the DS. In fact, the last two games that I bought, Apollo Justice and Chrono Trigger, haven’t been played at all. My hoarding mentality strikes again…

Pokémon for the less innocent aside, Chinatown Wars is a huge amount of fun. While it may lack the radio stations and the portable version of GTA IV’s Liberty City is more right-angled than you might remember, Rockstar Leeds has done a great job of cramming the experience into a DS cartridge. It looks remarkable considering the usual standard of 3D on the DS, the touch-screen minigames are yet to get annoying, and the slightly bizarre humour has made it intact. I mean, when was the last game on any system, let alone a DS game, that mentioned coked-out midgets and injecting heroin into your eyeball… in the same sentence? Genius.

This is Why Nintendo Fans Don’t Get Nice Things

I had to shake my head when I saw that MadWorld didn’t even manage to chart in the latest NPDs, although it wasn’t exactly an unexpected event given the underperformance of No More Heroes, which seems aimed at a similar – apparently non-existent – demographic. Sad, but like I said, not unexpected. You can make your game as violent and funny as you like, but some are just too artsy for their own good.

What should be worrying for fans of more traditional games on Nintendo platforms, however, is how Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars appears to have flopped massively, selling 89,000 units against analysts’ predictions of anywhere from 200,000 to several million. If a game with a score of 94 on Metacritic and, oh yeah, a title containing the little-known words Grand Theft Auto can sell that badly, it doesn’t bode well for more mature titles on the platform. As much as I love my Ouendan and Phoenix Wright, I’m only human and would like to deal some heroin on my lunch break when that itch needs scratching.

Some blame piracy, and anecdotally I know of a lot of people who downloaded it, but R4 carts can’t be that prevalent. The fact is that Nintendo hasn’t been what it used to be for a lot of fans, myself included, since the disappointment of the GameCube, and I know many for whom the great library on the DS is the only thing keeping Nintendo from being written off as a lost cause. If that dries up completely you can see why Nintendo domination is a scary thought for some.

I’m not one of those who’s ready to cut Nintendo adrift, because I still see flashes of brilliance in games like Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3 to make me forgive Wii Music or Wii Play, but if decent adult games aren’t going to do anything on the Nintendo platforms I think it’s time to admit that, as some have suspected since the GameCube, Nintendo machines are for Nintendo games. The Wii is a great secondary console to play that odd gem that won’t show up anywhere else, but I think most hardcore gamers will agree when I say that the lion’s share of modern gaming will be done on the HD options.

And if you own Nintendo’s consoles and haven’t bought MadWorld or Chinatown Wars, congratulations. You’ve forfeited the right to complain when all Nintendo gives you at E3 is crushing disappointment.

2008’s Honourable Mentions

Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.

  • Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
  • Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
  • Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
  • Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
  • Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.

I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].

Breen Treening

It’s probably not nice, strictly speaking, but I found myself laughing when I heard that Watchdog had dedicated part of their show to the story that Brain Training has trouble recognising northern accents. I could probably be slightly offensive and point out that if it tells you to say “yellow” and you say “yeller”, your brain age probably isn’t that high, but I won’t. Oops.

Sorry, that was a low blow. I love you all, really.

In reality, it raises quite an interesting point. I can remember importing Seaman for the Dreamcast, which was rather excellent except for the fact that I had to play it with a faux American accent in order for it to be able to understand what I was saying. While I’m sure that the subsequent eight years have brought great advancements in voice recognition technology, whichever way you spin things the DS is no Dreamcast. The fact that it can even recognise such a wide variety of moderate accents – my American copy can handle my English accent just fine – is quite impressive really.

But the point is that people expect things to just work, when in reality those with realistic expectations know that voice recognition is still hit and miss. The fact that “yellow” can be pronounced both “yellow” and “yeller” and still mean the same isn’t an easy thing to tell something that thinks in such black and white terms as a computer. There are phones that are significantly more powerful than the DS and yet I’ve yet to see one of those with a reliable voice-dialling feature. And has anyone managed to use one of those phone systems with voice recognition without having to repeat themselves oh, I don’t know, every time?

Just click the above link and watch the Watchdog segment. Not only does the woman have a strong accent, she apparently wants to stack the deck by standing in the middle of a bloody town centre and trying to use it. People are being “clearly discriminated against”? Yes, people who aren’t idiots are being discriminated against by having their licence fee money spent on this tripe. Here’s a free idea for you, Nintendo: Elocution Training. You’ll make millions.

GOTY Honourable Mentions

Naturally, this year had more great games than anyone could possibly whittle down to just ten. So, as I did last year, here are a few that I liked but didn’t quite make the list. All are worth a try.

  • Jeanne d’Arc (PSP) – Level-5’s strategy RPG arrived with almost no hype and, therefore unsurprisingly, didn’t exactly set the world alight. What was the last PSP game that did? Nonetheless, it’s as gorgeous as Dragon Quest VIII with even better production values – check out the fully animated and voiced anime scenes – and is portable, which for me makes an RPG infinitely more playable. It’s also not as hardcore as many SRPGs tend to be, so virgins to the genre shouldn’t be afraid of trying it out.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) – As the game in this list that came closest to making the top ten, I shouldn’t need to tell you what’s good about Phantom Hourglass. It’s Zelda. You’ve played it. This one just gets extra credit for mapping workable touch screen controls to a traditional game style. As with Twilight Princess, I found myself enjoying the unique controls rather than simply tolerating them.
  • Mass Effect (360) – Despite suffering from many of the issues of Knights of the Old Republic minus such an immediately appealing world (though this one is certainly far better than most sci-fi RPGs), Mass Effect is an enthralling game that will become a huge time sink if you let it. Both technically stunning (the facial animation) and disappointing (the frame rate), it’s still a lesson in how to do a sci-fi adventure. Let’s hope that it doesn’t mark Bioware’s descent into the same hole that swallowed Westwood and Bullfrog.
  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3) – I’m cheating somewhat here, given that I’ve played Sigma for little more than a couple of hours. This is really a chance to honour Ninja Gaiden in general, a game that I played to a meaningful extent for the first time this year and thought was absolutely fantastic. Sigma looks better and has more content, and is therefore just as easy to recommend. Play any version (the original and Black both work perfectly on a 360) in time for the sequel later in 2008.
  • Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (360/DS/PSP) – If Viva Piñata was 2006’s best game that nobody played, surely Puzzle Quest is 2007’s. Yes, at its heart it’s yet another Bejeweled clone, and yes, the AI can be frustratingly prescient, chaining massive combos using off-screen gems that no-one could know about without cheating. But even so, Bejeweled is an addictive and fun game without a well-developed RPG component. Since its appearance on XBLA there can be few people without access to this gem. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
  • Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3) – While it’s consistently overrated in certain camps, Resistance was a solid shooter with an excellent suite of multiplayer modes, and deserves mention for the extensive support post-release. Insomniac’s feature-laden patches have brought everything from balance tweaks to a screenshot function and Dual Shock 3 support, even while they’ve brought another game to market and have undoubtedly started work on the sequel. Other developers could learn from the example.
  • Super Stardust HD (PS3) – In the flood of twin-stick shooters that have followed Geometry Wars, this is arguably the best. While I felt it slightly overcomplicated, it gave the genre a modern sheen that Geometry Wars had lacked, coupling mightily impressive graphics with a superb soundtrack. With more content to come and the recent patch bringing more features to the table, this is an overlooked gem.