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Nintendo DS

Review – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (NDS)

Are you a fan of Law and Order?  Are you a fan of books?  Do you love what the “Dating Sim Interface” has to offer for gaming?  Then Phoenix Wright is for you!


It doesn’t really have much in common with Law and Order after all.  You see, you’re a defense attorney, not a cop or a DA Prosecutor.  There also isn’t much in common with Dating Sims since this game offers little choice and is in fact very linear.  Still, it has lots in common with books!  Or at least the reading part.

Phoenix Wright is a unique game idea that isn’t quite executed as well as it could be.

For starters, the ability to finish cases early would be completely awesome.  Hell the option to finish them via multiple paths would be great as well.  Instead each case in this game is a round table of choice-less decisions and scripted events that actually gets a little old as the game goes on.  The whole evidence and objecting thing is fun until the <strike>final</strike> fourth chapter where it starts to become a huge farce.  Somewhat conveniently all of the cases work together into a mostly coherent story as well.

As much as I want to really love this game, I can’t say I’m truly satisfied with it’s “wander aimlessly until you trigger event Y” game play.  Also the cases tend to run a little long.  I found myself tired of the final case in the story on day 1.  All that reading on the small screen can get a little monotonous.

I didn’t even finish the final fifth bonus case.  For the unaware, this DS game is a remake of a GBA game.  They added a 5th case to the mix.  I hear the 5th case is as long as the other 4 combined.  That sounds like a job I’m not interested in.  At all.

Phoenix also lives in a strange world of Judiciary.  All clients are guilty until proven innocent.  And often even in the face of evidence that would get any normal man off the hook.  Also there doesn’t seem to be a jury.  The Judge makes all decisions.  If you can’t defend your client and points no matter how much you’ve proven, your client goes to jail and you loose.

Granted thee isn’t much else you can have for this style of game for “life” and “game over scenarios”.

Anyway, one addition annoying factor is that every witness, no matter who it is, is either lying to extremely forgetful of obvious useful facts.  When pressed they will always crack or remember the truth and in general change their story.  Apparently Perjury isn’t a crime in Phoenix’s bizzaro land.

As a final verdict (GET IT, VERDICT), I pronounce this game guilty of being overly long and full of generally annoying plot holes.  It may be worth playing for one or two cases to experience the concept but don’t stress yourself trying to find a copy and completing everything.  It also has zero replay value.

Review – Nintendo Game & Watch Collection (NDS)

Nintendo Game & Watch Collection Site Banner

I posted a photo of this game once I finally managed to acquire it to Flickr and it received the comment question “Is it worth it?”.  You see, Game & Watch isn’t your standard Nintendo DS game, it can only be acquired (in the US) through the Club Nintendo Points promotional system.  If you’re unfamiliar with how this works, most Nintendo titles on DS and Wii comes with little slips that include a code.  When you register the game on the Club Nintendo website, you get points.  I’m not positive but I think it’s something like 40 points per game.  In order to redeem the Game & Watch Collection, you need 800 points, or like 20 games.  There are other ways to get points such as followup surveys or Virtual console titles (worth less) but for the most part you’re looking at owning at around 20 games for a Nintendo console to get the points needed to get this one title.  To make matters slightly more complicated, there is a second Game & Watch Collection available as well as a bunch of other nifty Nintendo themed merchandise.

I’ve been saving for this cart for like 2-3 years now.  My personal opinion is that an actual playable game is “worth more” than some novelty cards.  The issue really here is that the game itself isn’t much more than a novelty on it’s own.  In the time it’d take you to play a round of Solitaire with the Mario Playing Cards, you’ll probably have maxed out the enjoyment that can be had from the Game & Watch Collection.  It’s pretty much as advertised, a DS version of the classic handheld versions of Oil Panic, Donkey Kong, and Green House.

I’ll touch on each of these games here however, in order of what I would consider to be best to worst.

Donkey Kong

Not quite the same Donkey Kong one might think of from the arcades but it’s more or less the same concept.  Climb up some sloped platforms while jumping over barrels to knock the big ape from the top of the building.  Keep in mind, this game follows the LCD Handheld age game mechanics.  That is, your movement is limited to maybe 20 static positions on the screen.  This makes the game more about timing than anything.  The screen “refreshes” ever half second or so, so all movement has to be timed around this sequence.  You can move your little man faster than the refresh but timing for jumping over barrels centers on this mechanic.

I rank it highest if only because it’s got the most engrossing gameplay without being overly demanding and based on luck (see Oil Panic).

Oil Panic

I commented previously in the Donkey Kong section about overly complex and based on luck.  The object of Oil Panic is to catch drops of oil as they fall from the ceiling in a bucket.  Your bucket can only hold 3 drips however so occasionally you have to dump the bucket out the window to a guy waiting below.  The catch is that the guy below moved back and forth from the left tot he right window.  This can be mildly irritating as the whole thing is timed to the LCD style switching of screens. Since the guy below can take 2-3 turns to get to one side or the other, this can lead to some mild frustration as drops fall and you have to wait for the guy to move to one side or the other.  So like i said, lucky timing.

Green House

I’m ranking this game the lowest for it’s generally overall simplicity and kind of lameness.  Basically, you have 4 plants to protect from bugs, one in each corner.  You move your guy around the screen spraying the bugs with bug spray as they approach your plants.  That’s pretty much the entire scope of the game and it’s about as exciting as described.

Overall these three games do do a decent representation of recreating the look and feel of the older LCD handhelds.  There are static color backdrops that would have been permanent overlays and the only moving graphics involve the black LCD bits that move from pre determined blocks on a timed interval.  It’s not a real time move.  This is one bit of disappointment with these titles.  It seems like it would have been simple to add a modern real time element and keep the same graphical feel, especially as a “bonus” feature.  Basically the original style game and an “updated” version.  I imagine part of the decision not to do this was that these are free(ish) and so they wanted to save costs.

My other major disappointment with this series is the game selection.  Possibly if I were more familiar with the Game and Watch games I’d understand better why they chose these three titles.  Maybe they were the first three, maybe they were the most popular back in the day.  Personally, I’d have preferred a selection based on more modern titles.  I’m pretty sure there are both Mario and Zelda games in the Game and Watch series.  Seeing these titles recreated on a modern system and being able to play what is part of two of Nintendo’s most popular flagship series of games would have been much more enjoyable all around.  At least they would have had more novelty for being Mario and Zelda.

Review – Kirby Super Star Ultra (NDS)

A few months ago, I put out a request to my friends online to recommend some DS games.  The key was, I felt that I was stuck in a rut and I wanted something different that I wouldn’t likely even consider normally.

After several good suggestions, I decided on Kirby Super Star Ultra.  I’ve played Kirby’s Dreamland and Kirby’s Adventure many years ago and I’m pretty sure they were alright.  I have this unnatural love for Kirby’s Pokemon clone Jigglypuff.  It was a platform game, something I generally enjoy a lot.  I ended up picking it up.  Ok, gambling on a title like this can end up being a bust but having a $25 gift card to cut the cost helped a lot.

Basically, going into this, I had very little idea of what it would be.  I knew Kirby was a big pink ball who eats things an that the back of the package was pushing some sort of “multi character buddy system”.

As it turns out, this game is a game of Mini Games.  Not really Mini games in the WarioWare sense but Mini games in the Super Mario Allstars sense.  That is, each game is effectively a shortish but full independent game of it’s own.  The initial offering is 6 games, only one of which i unlocked from the start.  As you complete other games, more games unlock.  These games are all rated on a star based difficulty ranging from something like one star to many stars.

For people who are unaware.  The basic premise of Kirby is that Kirby will eat anything and everything, including enemies.  If you eat certain enemies, you can also choose to gain their abilities.  For example, eating a knight will let you wield a sword.  Eating a guy with a jetpack will give you a jetpack and the ability to dash.  Kirby’s natural abilities are limited to eating and puffing himself up in order to fly.  This game also lets you eject any ability once you’ve absorbed and create a helper.  That same knight ability an become a knight who will battle along side you.

Since this game has several separate games I’ll discuss each one shortly in a bit of detail.  They all contain the same general play mechanics but each tends to have a gimmick of it’s own.

So I started off with Spring Breeze, the first available game.  Turns out this game is a remake of the original Kirby’s Dream land.  Actually I had my suspicions that this game was the Super Mario Allstars of Kirby and all of the included games were in fact older Kirby games.  Turns out I was half correct.  Further research revealed that this game is in fact a remake of a previous Super NES game, though it includes a decent amount of new content.

Back to Spring Breeze.  It’s a basic stage based platformer with bosses at the end of each stage.  It will also give you an instant feeling of “buyers remorse” upon completion.  Spring Breeze is ridiculously short and ridiculously easy.

Which brings up my first real complaint about this game as a whole.  It’s easy.  It’s extremely easy.  Now granted, I’ve played a ton of platform games and being really good at something as comparably unforgiving as Super Mario Brothers makes this a cakewalk by default but this game tends to be too easy for it’s own good.  One of the last games to be unlocked with like ten stars ended up being one of the easiest overall.

The point is, don’t pick this game up expecting a challenge unless you’re a pretty novice level gamer.  That doesn’t make it any less fun really, it’s just means difficulty level is not a selling point at all on this title.

Anyway, like I said, buyer’s remorse.  You just now get the feeling that you’ve spent 30 bucks on a game that contains 6 games you’ll complete in 15 minutes each.  Kind of a gyp.  This problem will be amplified when you play the second game (in order of difficulty level).

dss92_2 Gourmet Race is the second game.  It’s a 3 stage race against King Dedede to eat as much as you can.  It almost feels like it should be in the mini games section.  There is exactly one “trick” needed to win this game easily and there are no enemies.  I played this game

Thankfully, things pick up a bit by the third game, Dyna Blade.  This game is another stage based game only this time the game’s four stages are laid out in a world map fashion.  This time the stages are longer than in Spring Breeze and the difficulty is actually noticeably (slightly) higher.

Things heat up finally with The Great Cave Offensive. This came consists of a large continuous mazelike level consisting of several themed areas.  The object is to travel through the cave and collect all 60 treasures hidden within (15 in each area).  Some of the treasures are obvious and easy to find.  Others require you to traverse far corners and carry particular equipment and/or helpers in order to acquire them.  Still a few are obvious but require a bit of ingenuity in order to get past a particular trap.  Probably the most difficult to figure out is one that is guarded by a strong wind.

Each area also includes a boss.  The bosses are fun to fight as they provide some difficult and it’s really irritating that they don’t return when you revisit the maze in order to collect more treasure.  Fortunately for anyone who enjoys the bosses, all of them start repeating a lot from this point on in the overall Kirby Super Star Ultra experience.

The treasures also add a bit of fun, many of them reference other Nintendo games with items such as the Master Sword and Captain Falcon’s Helmet.

The next game is Revenge of the MetaKnight, another stage based platform game of course.  This one adds a critical element, time.  Each stage has a quickly diminishing time limit in which to complete the stage.  This time limit is part of the plot which gives it even more urgency.  You must quickly fight through the MetaKnight’s ship and bring it down before it can cause any mayhem. 

This time element makes this game rather fun and intense with one complaint. There is a lot of text based plot unfolding around you as you rush through the stages.  The enemy leaders go on about how Kirby is storming the various areas and crack some jokes here and there.  Unfortunately the urgency of what’s going on on screen means you’ll end up missing lot of this plot.

The sixth game to be unlocked is Milky Way Wishes. This is another world map style game in the spirit of Dyna Blade.  The difference is you can play any of the stages from the start and you’ll need to revisit them several times as well.  This game differs from your standard Kirby game.  Instead of eating enemies and gaining their powers, you must find “Deluxe Ability” power ups.  This allows you to use any power at any time.  This makes this game the easiest of all.  Most of the time in the other games, the problem is finding the enemy you want to be to make things easy.  With this, you have all of your powers available all of the time.

These are the 6 core games.  After these you unlock an additional 5 games, though these tend to be variations on previous games as opposed to wholly new ones.  For example, Revenge of the King is essentially a remake of Spring Breeze with increased difficulty and a few new part added.  The three games, Arena, Helper to Hero, and True Arena, are all variations on the theme of “Fight every boss in order without dying.”

The best of these final unlocked games, and possibly the best game on the cart is Meta Knightmare Ultra.  This game has5 stages however each stage consists of each of the previous game’s levels all lumped together.  For example Stage 1 is Spring breeze, Stage 2 is Dyna Blade, etc.

The difference is, instead of Kirby, you play as Meta Knight.  Meta Knight doesn’t absorb abilities from enemies like Kirby, instead killing enemies fills a power meter.  This Power meters alows you to use on of four abilities built in.  You can summon a helper knight, increase your movement speed, heal your HP, or unleash a super attack.

The issue is though that you generally will use the pattern “summon a new knight if it dies, heal as needed, otherwise save all energy to hit the bosses with 1-2 special attacks which will always kill them.”  The Special attack really is a bit overpowered.

Some of the stages are also a bit more difficult as Metaknight.  Particularly anything that requires you to say, fly around lava.  Metaknight’s flight ability is much more jerky than Kirby’s and it can make some areas quite tricky.

There are also a handful of completely forgettable mini games that can be played.

Another really fun aspect of this game is the campiness.  I’m not quite sure if it’s intentional or not either.  The descriptions for everything are kooky with lots of weird emphasis.  There is also a hilarious RPG style boss where you take turns with it making attacks and when defeated gives experience.  This experience does things like increases your puffiness and cuteness and the game points out that these stats don’t really mean anything.

Ultimately, this game is a hard one to wrap up.  Really any sort of recommendation depends on what you want from a game.  This is certainly a fun decent game but it’s likely not going to be something anyone who considers themselves “hardcore” will want to play.  It has no difficulty and there isn’t much of a learning curve.  It does make a decent distraction and would likely appeal to someone who likes games like Mario a lot.  On the other hand, the oddity surrounding the game and it’s random almost pointless jumble of plot lines may confuse and irritate more casual gamers.  There isn’t any sort of cohesion between the plots of the various games.  Still, it’s fun to play, which is really what counts in the end.

Review – Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (NDS)

If you’d have suggested to me twenty years ago I’d be a Castlevania fan I’d have laughed in your face.  I have zero interest in the whole Gothic Horror genre, I dislike the soul crushing difficulty of the NES games, and frankly, the whole Dracula thing is kind of derivative.

Then I played Symphony of the Night on the recommendation of pretty much everyone in  Ok, I purchased it at the Greatest Hits price then it sat on me game shelf until halfway through college.  Eventually I needed something to play so I picked it up.

Now I’ve purchased the latest Castlevania game on a pre-order that I placed the day they announced it (and it’s 20th Anniversary bundle).  Frustratingly I still have not gotten my bonus pack.  I’m planning on bitching to Gamestop corporate, for what it’s worth to try and get one.  You see, the store claims their shipment was damaged by UPS.  I came in the day the game was released to ensure I’d get my game and bonus, and here I am, weeks later, without.  I already hate Gamestop in general, this doesn’t help.

But this is not a complaint on Gamestop nor a praise on Symphony of the Night.  This is a review of Castlevania Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS.  I’ve played the three Game Boy Advance Castlevanias but I’ve not had the chance to play Dawn of Sorrow.

Because I like giving the punch line before the joke, I’ll tell you Portrait of Ruin is an excellent game.  You can go away now if you’d like unless you’d like to hear me rattle on about why.

The gimmick of Portrait of Ruin is coupling.  You get two different playable character in the main monde and two of the three bonus modes.  This isn’t your straight “pick a player” set up though, you get control of both characters at once.  If you prefer (I do) you can sent the other person away and tag team in and out at will.  If you’re especially skilled the second player can be controlled via the touch screen.  Good luck at that one however unless you’re some sort of three armed mutant.  Let’s see, Portrait of Ruin, N64 Controller, I see a trend.  Maybe there is something we don’t know about the Japanese.

Each pairing features a physical based character and a magic based character.  For the main game you play as Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin.  You may recognize the name John Morris from the Genesis Castlevania: Bloodlines.  This game is essentially a direct sequel to Bloodlines, but you don’t play as John, you play as Jonathan, John’s son.  There are however ties to Castlevania X (to which Symphony of the Night was a direct sequel to) through the Vampire Killer Whip.  You must fight to restore the Whip’s power late in the game and face the “Last Belmont to Wield the Whip”.  Confused yet?  I’m pretty sure there were a few references to the plot of the Dawn/Aria of Sorrow combo in there was well but I’m not certain.  Basically this whole timeline is actually a bit more coherent than it would appear to be.

Charlotte on the other hand has no real relation to anyone.  Truthfully the two characters just act as an arbitrary separation of magic and physical attacks.  It does help add a few interesting story bits.  My style of gameplay had me using Jonathan more than Charlotte however.  Mostly I used her for the combo “Dual Crush” super attacks.  I’ve heard other people report opposite styles of gameplay however.  The transition is well done between the two characters and the computer AI controlling Player two when on screen is decent enough.

My chief complain with this game are the bosses.  The game in general is fairly easy until you get to a boss.  Almost all of them have attacks that will wipe you right out before you even realize what’s happening.  This can be quite frustrating.  However the End Boss actually doesn’t have this problem.  In most Castlevania games I’ve actually had trouble defeating Dracula and his final form but this game was definitely the easiest Dracula ever.  You even face off against Dracula plus a partner enemy.  The irony is that the enemy Dracula teams up with is probably the hardest boss in the game when you fight him alone.

Oh right, in case you didn’t know, Dracula is at the end of pretty much every Castlevania game.  Often in current games he’s hidden behind one or two “bad endings”.  This game is no exception though considering that you’re map isn’t complete in the bad ending and there is a huge “mystery barrier” it should be pretty obvious to anyone that you’re not done if you think killing the Sisters is the end of the game.

Speaking of completing the game, after doing so you’ll unlock bonus modes.  You can play through with a “New Game +” feature using Jonathan and Charlotte, or play through as the Sisters.  Or, if you’ve unlocked the Vampire Killer, you can play as Richter and Maria.  Richter mode is especially fun.  His ability to crush enemies easily makes it extremely quick.  I spent roughly 15 hours my first play through getting 100% on everything (I’m still not quite done yet).  I’ve played MAYBE an hour on Richter mode and I’m already nearly halfway through.

There is also the touch screen heavy “Sisters Mode”.  This mode actually serves as a bit of a prologue sequence where you play through as the game’s two Sister characters.  However gameplay is drastically different and almost entirely touch screen based.  The only buttons you use are the control pad and the L button to switch characters.  The Magic based sister constantly attacks anywhere you touch on the screen, the physical based sister allows you to slash enemies with your stylus.  It’s pretty neat and is a good use of the touch screen.  It’s also different enough to give incentive to play through it and the prologue story is a nice bonus.

These bonus modes are great and really go to increase the replay value.  What also helps a bit with replay value are the Boss Rush and Multiplayer Modes.  Boss Rush isn’t anything new to the series though I find this game’s version of it more entertaining than previous games for some unknown reason.  The Multiplayer is essentially a two player version of the Boss Rush.  This can be good and bad depending on who you get matched with.  Nintendo’s WiFi Multiplayer has not been it’s strong suit so far.

The Multiplayer also includes a shop mode.  Essentially you can buy things from other players.  It’s neat because it can allow you to get quest drops early and more easily, but annoying in overall interface.  The WiFi takes forever to connect and you can only make one connection before having to reconnect.  The reconnect is especially annoying when selling.  It would be great if you could leave your shop open say, while charging the DS.  Wake up and become instantly rich.  I have noticed however that more than one person can connect to a shop at a time.  At least once I met another player, though the game allows zero interaction.

My other complaint is the bonus “Nest of Evil” zone.  It’s essentially the “Area of really hard enemies that have to be beat before leaving the area”.  Sort of like Circle of the Moon’s Coliseum only easier.  You can use teleport stones after every level and the enemies actually get really easy near the end.  Especially the final sets of bosses.  The pay off is a really cool throwback to previous games in the series Dual Crush, but it’s not overly strong.  In fact the strongest Dual Crush is 1000 Blades which is received fairly early in the game.

The biggest plus for this game is variety of areas.  The game of course features Dracula’s castle with it’s relatively standard design and areas.  However there are numerous portraits that you must enter which transport the player to several unique zones.  The neatest of which are the two “wheel” areas in which the environments slowly turn on their side then upside down as you traverse the area.  They don’t actually move, and you always go “down” but the map itself is circular and everything on top is upside down.  If that makes sense.  I will have to nitpick the areas though, late in the game you unlock a second set of paintings each of which is a flat out revamp of the previous 4 paintings.

Portrait of Ruin is an absolute blast to play.  It’s really sad that side scrolling games are slowly going by the wayside.  This and previous side scrolling Adventure style Castlevania games show that the genre has a lot to offer.  The only real competitor in style, Metroid moved to the third dimension a while back which was a huge loss for the genre.  Anyway, I highly recommend this game for anyone with a DS.

Review – Metroid Prime: Hunters (NDS)

Oh my dear Metroid, where did you go wrong?

Ok, technically I’m not a Metroid fan in any sense of the word. I’ve barely played Metroid on the NES. Metroid 2 was a decent distraction for a while but I’ve since sold my copy. Metroid 3 is an outstanding piece of gaming, but one game does not a series make. I’ve pretty much skipped anything recent on the portable scene other than half an emulated game of Fusion. I don’t have a GameCube.

Enter Metroid Prime: Hunters. I was leery of a FPS style Metroid game but people had good things to say about the Game Cube version. Still, I was also leery of a portable FPS game. How will I aim? Oh right, the DS has a touch pad! It can double as a mouse. Sort of. Barely. Kind of.

The controls on this game make my hands hurt every time I play. I’ve tried different positions, I’ve tried laying the DS on a table. Nothing works. I don’t like using the L button to fire but there wasn’t much other choice considering your right hand will be devoted solely to using the stylus to aim and look around. And to occasionally make an awkward jump. Jumping on this game is accomplished by hitting any of the other buttons on the non control pad side. Essentially, you push your stylus holding right fist into the DS and hope it registers correctly. Meanwhile you’ve often got to maneuver the controls while mashing the jump like this. Controls means moving the stylus to look and pushing forward on the joy pad while looking at a tiny portable game screen (in 3D!).

Needless to say, I do no like the controls on this game. They suck a lot. But the controls aren’t the only bad part of this title.

The level designs are horrid as well!

Imagine if you will, gripping your DS in the most awkward fashion trying to explore an immersive detailed 3D world. Now replace immersive with “repetitive” and “detailed” with “ugly shades of brown and gray”. Now you’re getting closer to the Metroid Prime experience. I’ve only managed to bring myself to complete the intro level but I must have done the same corridor to spiral jumping platforms to round corridor area to large inner chamber control room path a dozen times. I felt like I was running in circles.

But wait! There’s more!

Now, while exploring these repetitive brown and gray corridors and warding off hand cramps, you also get to fight hundreds of random spawning floating enemy things. Occasionally there’s a dog sort of creature or another bounty hunter “boss” to fight but mostly you’ll occasionally fight these little floaty glowing enemies that are killed by standing in place and shooting wildly until they are gone. They spawn out of thin air for a minute or two.

Also those bosses I mentioned. I’ve faced a couple of them. They seem to use the same attack pattern. Shoot a few times, roll about randomly anytime the player gets too close. This is a problem related to the multiplayer aspect of this game. All of the characters are designed to be balanced and equal and this all have more or less the exact same abilities.

Multiplayer is even worse. I will admit hat I’m not a superstar FPS player online. I like to screw around more while playing TFC than I do trying to capture the flag. However I am not horrible and can generally hold my own pretty well when needed. I’m not a huge fan of death match either. That doesn’t change that the multiplayer on this game sucks. The maps are horribly small and the graphics are even tinier on the little screen. While you’re fighting with the controls you’ll be crushed ten times over by the guy you’re against that has enough time to master everything. Even when you get the controls down, good luck finding your opponent in the tiny view screen.

What it comes down to is a crappy idea put forth with crappy implementation. I don’t know who decided to make Metroid 3D, I don’t know who though it would be a good idea to put an FPS on a portable system, I don’t know who thought these controls were good; when I meet them I will however be forced to punch them, assuming of course my hand hasn’t become a crippled mess from trying to play this game.