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Nintendo 3DS

Review – Mario Kart DS (NDS)

Mario Kart DS
Nintendo DS – Nintendo
1 to 8 players (4 max on WiFi)

You’d think it would be easier to review games that you like than to review games you don’t like. Trust me, it’s not. When you review a game you don’t like, you point out all its glaring flaws. You poke a few jokes at its expense, you tell everyone to avoid it, simple. The process for reviewing a good game is similar except you have to be careful to not come off like some sort of deluded fan boy. Also you have to accept that you’re likely just reiterating what others have said, even if you’ve never heard them say it.

With that said, Mario Kart DS, is THE game to own for the Nintendo DS at the moment. It takes advantage of the best features of the DS and uses them to its fullest. On the other hand, some of these features seem like cheating. Primarily, the map. A popular feature for DS games it to show an in game map on the second screen. In the past you had to buy a strategy guide, now the important part of the guide is built in. Still, a lot of racing games show a map of some sort, Mario Kart’s is just a bit more elaborate.

That’s pretty much the only bad thing I can think of with this title. I suppose the controls aren’t perfect (Stick works 100% better than a D-pad for this series) but it’s not horribly bad.

That gives us two pseudo negative remarks against it, and those are really stretching it. On with the good! One thing I really like is the reuse of old tracks. There is an entire cup series based on old tracks. Half the tracks in the game are reused. It’s really pretty neat seeing those old SNES tracks re-imagined in “real” 3D.

There is also a new battle mode in this game (note, I have not played Double Dash, it’s possible this feature is in DD). In addition to the classic “Destroy the opponent’s balloons” there is a sort of king of the hill battle royal mission where you collect stars. Getting hit causes you to loose stars and periodically the person with the least stars is dropped.

The best feature is of course, WiFi multiplayer. No more are we hampered by multiplaying within line of site. Mario Kart DS lets you play against anyone with a DS and an internet connection. The lag seems to be more or less non existent as well, though it can take a few minutes to find opponents. The implementation of the multiplayer is decent but could use a little work. Something that let you manually join and pick opponents would be nicer when it comes to playing against friends. The game does let you trade “friend codes” though and gives priority to friends also searching for games.

The only thing you can do on WiFi though is race. Playing battle mode would have been a really nice feature as I prefer it when playing Kart Multiplayer.

The game also includes a rather interesting mission mode. This is essentially a Mario Kart version of the license tests from Gran Turismo, without of course the gruelingly impossible times to beat. These challenges range from “drive through the numbered gates” to “collect XX coins” to “defeat Y number of Pokeys/Cheep Cheeps/Moles”. There are at least 6 “worlds” or sets of 8 missions with a boss battle at the end of each world. I had originally written his part of the game off as really lame but recently I’ve found that it’s a lot of fun and easy to play through.

And that’s what this game is. A lot of fun. It’s got appear for almost anyone who plays games for being “cutesy but not too so characters” and racing and well balanced fun. There is one thing Nintendo will always do well, and that’s make games. Mario in any form is a classic everyone can always enjoy and Mario Kart DS is no exception.

Review – New Super Mario Brothers (NDS)

Nintendo DS – 1 to 2 Players

What do you get when you combine an 8-bit mindset with modern technology? You get New Super Mario Brothers of course! Just about the only thing missing is the inability to move left.I’m not real sure what the idea behind the “New” in the title is though. There isn’t all that much new to this title. It’s not a remake of the NES’ Super Mario Brothers either. They could have just as easily called it say, Adventures of the Super Mario Brothers and it would have been just as relevant. It’s likely the new plays off the idea that this is the first 2D Super Mario Brothers game since Super Mario World hence what is old is new again.

Story 6/10
There’s a basic format to the story in pretty much every Mario game. Travel across several worlds, usually eight, then rescue the Princess from Bowser. It’s extremely formulaic. Still, many good games are formulaic. Mega Man, Sonic, Metal Gear. It works if there’s enough extra to make it seem different. Such si not really the cane here. It’s the same exact plot as Mario 1 in a new wrapper.Additionally, it’s not a particularly strong plot. Nintendo’s other flagship series, Zelda, tends to keep the same formulaic approach while providing a much deeper story experience. Metal Gear is another series that does this, basic concepts, new shinny experience. Even some more recent Mario games have some sort of worthwhile story going that varies the theme a bit. This story is pulled right from Mario 1, 3, and World, and others.

Graphics 8/10

The DS comes off as a portable N64, except the NDS seems to feature superior 3D graphics. That’s possibly due to the small size of the screen though. It’s hard to make out ugliness when it’s half a millimeter in size. New Super Mario Brothers, while being a 2D game, features these nice 3D graphics. Despite the 3D, many enemies still come off as just the same as their 2D counterparts. Often things get distorted during such transitions. Then again, we’ve had 3D Mario for years now.As a result, everything moves fluidly and we get lots of nice scaling effects such as those apparent with the Mega Mushroom. The engine actually seems to be a take off of the Mario 64 Engine, though I don’t have anything to suggest it actually is.

Sound 6/10
I’m probably not the best judge of sound quality on any DS title since I often play with the sound turned all the way down. Still, what I have heard is a bit mixed. Many of the sound effects are ported straight from SMB1 which is a really nice touch. On the other hand, these same old sound effects just don’t mix too well with the modern style graphics.The music in mostly underwhelming as well. I couldn’t hum one tune from the game if I had to which tells me none of it was particularly catchy or memorable.

Control/Gameplay 8/10

The game play itself only marginally feels like old school Mario. The basics are there but it completely lacks the speed. With the original Super Mario Brothers, you can easily run full speed through almost every level. New SMB requires a lot more strategy and stopping. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just one more step towards why this doesn’t feel like “New” Super Mario Brothers.Still, everything handles very solidly, even when you’re gargantuan Mega Mario. Pretty much the main exception is the Turtle Shell power up, which spins out of control so fast the power up is completely useless for regular play.

Balance 5/10

Most often the case is that a game is too difficult. This one is almost too easy. With the exception of a handful of tricky spots, there’s not much to keep this game challenging. Most levels rely on a single gimmick of some sort, once you figure out the way to thwart each gimmick, there’s not much to keep you from breezing through the level.It’s not helped that most of the gimmicks are recycled from previous Mario games, primarily Mario 3. The solution is likely something you’re already familiar with if you’ve played through previous 2D Mario games.

Replayability 7/10

This is a category solely dependant on how obsessive you are with collecting every item in a game. Specifically, the gold coins. Each level has 3 hidden gold coins that can be spent on the world map to unlock new levels and bonus mushroom houses. You can play through the game pretty quickly, but chances are you’ll miss a ton of the hidden coins and likely two entire worlds. The worlds are more likely to bring you back than the gold coins but not having every coin means you’re also going to miss out on some levels too.As you complete the game, your save files gains one of three gold stars. One star for completing the game, one star for playing every level, one star for spending all the coins. It will take you a fair amount of time to find every coin, but only a couple are truly well hidden to the point of being difficult to find.

Originality 3/10

This game is more or less selling itself on the merit of being a remake/remix of old school Super Mario Brothers game play. As such, pretty much every level comes off as being a direct rip off of some old concept. There’s very little here that’s truly new, especially in level gimmicks.So what is new. There are a couple of new Power ups. The Mega Mushroom makes you turn into “Really Big Mario” allowing you to crush pipes and walls and enemies alike. The Mega Mushroom is the most fun. The Mini Mushroom turns you into “Really Small Mario”, which lets you access tiny pipes and pass through other small tricky areas to discover secrets. The Micro Mushroom is the most useful. Then there is the Turtle Shell. Mario dons a shell that will protect him while ducking and allow him to speed along when running. The trick is that you can’t generally stop yourself while speeding along. This can make for some quick pitfalls. The Blue Shell is the most useless and lame. I believe it’s required for retrieving one of the game’s gold coins, so you’ll be force to use it at least once.Some of the bosses are nice though. Particularly the frantic Monty Mole tank battle and the Mega Manesque Super Lakitu (a boss that gave me serious Cloud Man vibes). Still, the mini boss battles against Bowser JR are very simple and repetitious and back to unoriginality, are almost straight rip offs of the old SMB3 Boom-Boom battles.

Addictiveness 10/10

This is a game you’re going to want to come back to. Even replaying the same levels trying to track down all the coins doesn’t get tiring. Most levels play fairly quickly, though they lack the full on sprintability of SMB1. Still, it’s a blast to play and it will keep you wanting to play more.

Appeal Factor 10/10

Who doesn’t love Mario? Probably the most memorable gaming icon ever created, with inly maybe Pac man rivaling Mario’s famous image. Even new gamers should be able to appreciate the simple addictiveness of smashing blocks and stomping Goombas.

Miscellaneous 7/10O

One of the best returning stars here is the Fire Flower. I don’t know about anyone else, but since the advent of Flying Mario in Mario 3 and Mario World, I never use Fire Balls. In this game you’ll rely on them religiously. In fact the complete lack of flying is really hard to get used to at first.There also Mini Games included to help with replay value but most, if not all of them are carried over directly from Super Mario 64 DS, and they were boring crap when included with that game too.

Final Scores:
Story: 6
Graphics: 8
Sound: 6
Control/Gameplay: 8
Balance: 5
Replayability: 7
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 10
Appeal Factor: 10
Miscellaneous: 7While I feel like I’ve been a bit hard on the game, it’s still a lot of fun to play. Nothing in it is particularly new or original, but side scrolling Mario Action is always fun, and this game serves it up considerably better then Princess Peach did. Unless you absolutely hate Super Mario Brothers games, which of course means you also have no soul, you should definitely give this game a go.

Final Score 7/10

Review – Super Princess Peach (NDS)

Nintendo – 1 Player

Princess Peach aka Princess Toadstool, makes the occasional player controlled appearance in games many Mario games. You can cruise around as her in Mario Kart, you can get her in your party during Mario RPG, you can even control her directly in Mario Brothers 2. Still, she’s always pretty much second fiddle to Mario. Actually it’s more like 4th or 5th fiddle to Mario, there is a whole slew of cast members that take more spotlight than Princess Peach.

Not anymore! As the title suggests, Super Princess Peach stars, Mario! Er, Peach! This time Mario gets to play damsel in distress as Peach tromps across the ever evolving mushroom kingdom to rescue him (and his brother Luigi) from the clutches of the evil Bowser.

As expected, this game has a very Mario Brothers feel to it. The ability to pick up enemies actually gives it a very Mario Brothers 2 feel, but there are more than enough elements to keep this game grounded with the rest of the mainstream series. Yes, Princess peach can pick up enemies just like she could in her last platform appearance. This time however she picked them up with the aid of her trusty talking umbrella.

The umbrella serves many purposes throughout the game. In addition to picking up enemies, you can smack them with the umbrella, absorb them to refill the Vibe Gage, float, ride rails across the sky, and turn it into a submarine. This is a very versatile piece of rain gear. Did I mention that it talks? It gives the occasional piece of helpful advice or explanation about some object. Between worlds you even get bits of story about the umbrella’s background as it dreams.

But princess peach isn’t just the story of one Umbrella’s dreams of finding his grandfather, its about a Princess saving her heroic plumber friend from the clutches of an evil fire breathing turtle.

In addition to her umbrella, Peach has several “vibes” at her disposal, 4 to be exact. There is the Happy Vibe which causes Peach to fly and make tornadoes, the Angry Vibe, which causes Peach to turn into a furious ball of flaming rage, there is the Sad Vibe which causes Peach to sprint along as tears pour from her eyes in classic Anime style, and finally there is the Calm Vibe which gradually restores Peach’s health.

These vibes are present all throughout the game world in the enemies too. In the intro, Bowser’s minions accidentally unleash the power of the vibe Wand on the world which causes anyone afflicted to have one of these random vibes. You’ll often encounter wobbly happy Koopa Troopas, Crying slow Goombas, and speedy angry Spineys. The Vibes are not limited to these combinations either. Generally speaking though only the angry enemies cause any extra trouble.

Disappointingly, these Vibes are lacking in their presence in the actual gameplay. Sure, you’ll use them quite a bit, but many times they are not a requirement to pass on to the next stage. It starts out ok, and gets better near the end of the game, but in between use of Vibes just seems kind of needless most of the time. When you DO need to use them, the presence of Vibe bar refilling jewels are plentiful. If not there are always plenty of easy enemies. Alternately, most of the “real puzzles” that don’t involve vibes can be completely avoided by using vibes. You may come across a really clever jumping style puzzle but most of the time you can easily just fly past it.

Unfortunately, easy is the word for this game. There is barely any truly inspired game play elements to this game, despite so many potential opportunities to use the Vibes in more interesting ways. However the healing vibes coupled with how easy it is to refill the vibe gage make this game a cakewalk. It doesn’t help that there doesn’t appear to be any sort of lives system or even any real penalty for falling in pits. Basically no matter how bad you are, you’ll eventually make it through this game. The extra levels add a bit of challenge fortunately. It’s too bad they appear after completing the game and don’t serve much other purpose than to allow the player to collect music notes and puzzle pieces.

Another frustrating point is the level design. Each level hides three captured Toads that must be rescued in order to finish the game. Many of the levels, especially later in the game, are very non linear, which means you’ll spend a lot of time ducking into pipes and going in circles trying to track down each of the Toads. Also the few decent puzzles that are present have solutions spelled out directly in helpful information boxes present throughout the world.

The game is pretty fun though, despite its flaws. Or at least it’s a nice holdover for those awaiting a decent Mario Platformer and can’t wait for the upcoming New Super Mario Bothers. There are also a few mini games and a ton of extras in the form of puzzle pieces and music notes to find hidden in the game’s levels. Not to mention that after completing the game you can replay it with several additional levels added to each world. Princess Peach is a so-so Mario Game and a decent overall game, but it may not be for those who don’t like their games to be too easy.

Review – Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (NDS)

Oh Pokémon, how conflicted you make us. On one hand, you’re a lot of fun. Your simple system of battling animals is easy to pick up somewhat difficult to master. On the other hand, you’re such a huge blatant marketing whore that we can’t help but hate you for it.

Pokémon is a franchise designed to sell… stuff. Lots of properties do this but only someone like say, Disney does it bigger than Pokémon. Ironically, both Disney and Pokémon use a mouse as their mascot, coincidence? Probably.

Anyway, Pokémon sells too. Kids eat up all of the toys, the card games, the peripherals, the games, the game systems. I am pretty sure this series didn’t pioneer the dual game version format but it certainly perfected it. This encourages people to own multiple copies of the same game for the sole purpose of being able to capture and control maybe a dozen additional virtual creatures. Well, it also encourages social activity among children so they can trade these creatures around. Unfortunately, no one wants to do an even trade for anything, they all want level 100 rare “Legendary” Pokémon for worthless normal types. That’s greed and a complete lack of how economies work that a million ten year olds will create for you.

And millions of ten year olds are out there to trade with. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl (D/P) is the first of the series to feature the ability to trade via the internet thanks to the Nintendo DS’s WiFi capabilities. See a neat or cute Pokémon used by an in game trainer that you’d like to add to your party. You can look for one on the WiFi network to trade for. Unfortunately you’ll likely not possess or be unwilling to give up the powerful Pokémon being requested. This is where the aforementioned balance issue comes into play here in force. Everyone is looking for Dialga, or Mewtwo, or level 100 Milotics. No one wants your Gyarados for their Murkrow. WiFi trading is not a good alternative to straight out hunting and catching things on your own.

This brings up a point I’d like to push about how broken the WiFi trade system is. It could really use a “Search for what’s wanted” sort of feature. Let’s say I have an extra Psyduck. Being able to see who out there wants a Psyduck then deciding if I want what they are offering would be much more useful than the current system. The current system being that I offer up my Psyduck for a specific Pokémon then hope some person comes along wanting to trade for my Psyduck using that specific Pokémon. Most of the time, I don’t care what I get for it just so long as it’s not something I already own.

WiFi isn’t just used for trading; it’s also used for battling. I think. Once again, the multiplayer options are a bit flawed and confusing in this game. There seems to be dozens of variations of two player battles going on in this game varying from fighting friends over the internet or fighting local players to team based battles. There’s supposed to be a way to fight other player’s champion teams as well though the teams become computer controlled. They all get initiated via different options and in world locations and what does what is not particularly clear due to conflicting in game terminology.

The key word here is friends. You can only battle people whose friend code you’ve entered. Anonymous random battles over WiFi would have been a totally awesome option in this game. Especially if there was some sort of server side algorithm for determining a balanced battle so you don’t have someone fielding a bunch of level 1 Pokémon against a party of level 100 legendaries. I suppose this would have made is possible that the other player had named his Pokémon “Penis” and some kid might get exposed to this but the simple act of not showing names would have fixed that. Besides, there’s no filters on the trading end of things and it’s not possible to rename traded Pokémon.

Anyway, enough about the broken WiFi capabilities of this game. Let’s get to the actual game play. If you’ve played any other game in this series, you’ve played this game. The only Pokémon game I have experience with is the original Blue, and I was amazed at how similar this game was to that game. There are a few new options and extras such as Pokémon breeding and shinny Pokémon and multiple hidden Legendary Pokémon that have been added over the years but the core is still the same.

You start out as a kid with his/her first Pokémon, you battle through 8 themed gyms and against an evil enemy “Team” while building an army of cute fighting critters, then you face the “Elite Four” and the current Champion.

The maps are 3D now but they are stuck in an overhead position and look essentially just like the old ones. The battles use the same cornered menu driven look. The newer games occasionally have 2vs2 battles but for the most part it’s 1vs1.

One of the main new features for the DS is the use of the lower touch screen as a Poketch (short for Pokémon Watch I believe). This takes up the entire screen and looks like an LCD wrist watch that your character would wear in game (it’s all grayscale except for the border watch part). It’s an extremely gimmicky way to present useful information on the fly while helping with the immersion feel of the game. They could have done the same thing with a pretty color interface but this simplified look helps give it some interesting charm. My only complaint is that once you get a lot of applications loaded into it, it takes forever to navigate. A “Previous app” button would have done wonders to help this. As it is designed there is only one “button” for switching applications.

The Applications range from a simple clock that keeps real world time, to a radar for finding hidden items, to mini maps that tell you where berries or markers are located. Some are extremely useful and required for finding everything. Others, like the customizable roulette reel are ultimately useless.

Now, I know I’ve been a little hard on this game, but the parts I’ve been hard on are a small and mostly unnecessary part of the game. The core game play is a lot of fun, especially if you like RPG style game play. Well, I should clarify that as “old school” RPG style game play. Modern RPGs tend to be a bit different than the simple turn based menu driven combat used in Pokémon. There is also the massive collecting aspect that can appear to a person’s obsessive need to well, collect things. The core game has 150 Pokémon in the “Sinnoh Dex”. After you complete he Sinnoh dex by seeing (not catching) all 150 Pokémon you unlock the “National Dex” which includes all Pokémon from every game in the series. We’re talking not quite 500 of the little critters.

This National Dex is of course empty until you fill it up by seeing or capturing all of the Pokémon. How do you do this if there’s only 150 core Pokémon in the game? After you unlock the National Dex additional Pokémon start showing up around the world. There will be daily swarms in certain areas, the master of the Pokémon mansion will import more exotic types into his garden, a whole new Battle Island will open with lots of Pokémon being used and to be caught from other regions. Also, you can trade Pokémon up into Diamond or Pearl from your previous GBA versions of the game. Unfortunately, this is a one way trip for your Pokémon and annoyingly, you have to do it 6 at a time to satisfy the Pal Park mini game requirements. The real challenge of this game actually comes AFTER you “complete” it.

Ultimately, Pokémon is an experience that a player is either going to love or hate. There’s not much of an “Its ok” or “I guess I like it a little” ground. It’s a concept that appeals to kids and obsessive collectors and not much else. Fortunately, it still does a pretty good job of it. Now if only I could import my Pokémon Blue army into my copy of Pokémon Diamond.

Review – Super Mario 64 DS (NDS)

There are re-releases of games, and then there are remakes of games. Super Mario 64 DS certainly falls into the remake category. It’s essentially the same game at the core but it adds so many new features that it feels more like a remake. I suppose really it would need more of a graphics overhaul to be a true remake.

I didn’t set out to own Mario 64 DS (Abbreviations from 2 systems? How does that work?). When I purchased my DS, Best Buy was running a promotion to get the game free. One might conclude that I didn’t really want this game, and they would be correct. However I’d have to say it’s probably the most enjoyable game I have for the system. And that’s saying a lot. I own 5 DS games and only Metroid Prime: Hunters was a disappointment.

At the core, this is the exact same game as Super Mario 64 DS. However there are many really nice additional features added to the mix. Most notable is the new characters, which changes the plot slightly. Instead of starting as Mario, you start off playing as Yoshi. Mario’s been locked up, along with Luigi and Wario. That’s two Mario based games in a row where Mario’s been captured (see also Princess Peach), it would seem our persnickety plumber is starting to slip a bit with age.

As Yoshi you’ll have to progress along collecting a few stars on your own before you can even think of rescuing anyone. Each new “floor” of the castle (divided by Bowser Keys), presents a new hero to be unlocked. Each hero adds new skills to the mix. This 4 way cast is analogous to the cast of Mario 2, whether intentional or not. Mario and Luigi have comparable differences that they shared in Mario 2, Luigi jumps higher an is more “floaty”. He can also run on water for a short period of time, a skill that is ultimately useless. Wario takes the place of Toad. Wario jumps lower and moves more “bricklike”, but he’s generally stronger. Yoshi replaces Princess Toadstool with his short range flight ability.

The old “cap System” is also gone, or at least revamped. Instead of special ability caps, you have character change caps. Only Yoshi lacks a cap of any sort. All of the power up blocks contain he same power flower, the effect they give is dependant on the character. Luigi becomes invisible, matching is floaty high jumping air based personality; Wario becomes metal, matching his strong stocky personality; Yoshi breathes fireballs; and Mario turns into a balloon (or flight cap on certain levels).

There are many obstacles that only certain characters can pass. For example, Mario may need his wall kick and only Wario can break the large dark blocks. This makes some previous tasks a lot easier, especially Luigi’s ability to helicopter high jump from the ducking position. The Shifting Sands land can be traversed easily by Luigi with this move where previously you’d have to make a lot of treacherous trips over quicksand.

There are also new stars. Thirty new stars to be exact. Each level now has 7 stars to find and there are a mess of new hidden stars. Some of the missions have even been altered slightly to accommodate the new cast.

Finally there are also a bunch of mini games to be unlocked. As you travel through the castle, you’ll encounter rabbits. Catching these rabbits yields a key that unlocks a new mini game. I personally did not find the mini games that fun. They all involve the touch screen and most are repeated several times only with new graphics sets. I’ve never cared for mini games since they tend to serve no ultimate purpose to the main quest.

Other than the boring Mini games, this is one spot on title. Despite being a remake, it offers plenty for gamers to enjoy. Super Mario 64 was a solid game to begin with, the new features don’t change that one bit.