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Holiday Gaming Guide: What to Buy for the Discriminating Gamer – Part 5: Nintendo DS

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The Holiday season is fast approaching and we all need to start thinking about what to get as gifts for those we care about (or for ourselves as personal presents). For those of us who are gamers we know that this is shaping up to be a crowded marketplace for new games on all the major platforms. With all of these choices deciding what to buy someone can be a very daunting task. Being faced with these decisions as well, we decided to research all the upcoming and recently released games for all platforms and come up with a definitive list of must have games in each major genre (Action, First Person Shooter, Fighting, RPG, Sports and Other) for all the platforms. We will look at not just what games to buy, but why they should be bought! Please note all release dates are based on North American street dates.

So without further ado, let’s get to the Guide!

Part 1 – Xbox 360
Part 2 – PlayStation 3
Part 3 – Wii
Part 4 – PlayStation Portable

Part 5 – Nintendo DS

click to view larger imageWith all the talk of who is winning the next generation console war, no one really seems to notice that the Nintendo DS has sold over 40 million units, this is a monstrous amount of handhelds out in the world. When the DS was first announced it met with derision and was dismissed in the face of the PSP’s power and screen size, but software tells the tale and over the last couple of years a great library has built with many games taking advantage of the dual screen and touch innovations. The launch of the DS Lite further propelled the DS to the top of the handheld market and it looks like it is there to stay. This holiday season is a great one with amazing games sure to please anyone you know who has a DS, heck, the device is cheap enough that you could buy them or yourself a DS and a game!

ACTION

Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
click to view larger imageThis fully touch screen enabled original Zelda tale picks up where Wind Waker left off, with he anime style with Link sailing off into the sunset with Tetra. Tetra is captured as they search for a Ghost ship that sails the seas and Link with some new friends has to find her. It is a classic Zelda tale and that is what makes it great. The developers have utilized the DS to the fullest with this title by making it a fully touch activated game. All commands are performed by using the stylus on the touch screen. This does cause some minor platforming issues, but item, weapon and map management is incredibly fun with this system. The graphics, audio and game play are all top notch, this title is available right now.

Why Buy it? Well it is Zelda, that is generally reason enough as it has been sometime since a game from the series has not been great. In this case the name is backed up by a great storyline picking up where Wind Waker left off with great characters, situations and plot points. The graphics are a standout on the DS with the anime style; Link looking spot on compared to his previous versions, environments and other characters also look great. The real selling point of this title is the DS implementation of the game and it being solely touch based. It takes some getting used to, but once you start scribbling notes on the map, navigating with the stylus and managing items and attacking with the touch commands you will be hooked. This is a great entry in the Zelda universe and should not be missed.

Contra 4
It is Contra baby, that means there are tons of weapons, tons of enemies, everything is sprites and it is HARD. Looking at some of those points you would think it is a failure, but this 20th anniversary game is classic Contra and that is all good. The action is spread across both screens with thoughtful level design that ensures the hinge is never in the way of the action. While this title plays it safe and doesn’t really have any DS style innovations (aside from using both screens) it has solid action, a perfectly cheesy ‘story’ and all the spritey goodness you remember. Contra 4 is available right now.

Why Buy it? The best thing about this title is that it doesn’t try to be the new best thing, it channels all the mid 90s goodness that was Contra in the arcades. There are oodles of weapons, enemies come from all directions in waves, you have the pseudo 3-D hallways to transition levels and best of all (IMHO) the boss are made up of giant sprites! It is Contra the way it should be and it is a great title for any action gamer out there… oh yeah and it is a challenge and a half, so if you think you got it as a gamer, give this game a try.

SHOOTER

Brothers in Arms DS
click to view larger imageThere are relatively few shooters on the DS, luckily the recent Brothers in Arms game is a well thought out addition to the series and a great game on the DS. While it is a ‘port’ of the cell phone version of the game, Gameloft has managed to amp up the production values incredibly well and this feels like a console experience. You are a soldier in WWII scenarios in this game and most action is from an over the shoulder third person view (grenade throws are top down in a nice implementation). The game is in your face the whole way and the touch screen is used to great effect as a form of ‘mouselook’, this makes it very playable and a lot of fun. Brothers in Arms DS is available right now.

Why Buy it? Aside from first party shooters, most fail on the DS, this title is the exception. Gameloft pulled out all the stops and the production values here are top notch, this is one of the best looking and sounding titles on the system. There are a large number of scripted missions that will keep you playing for a while and a veteran difficulty level to test your skills against. This is a great shooter and will be appreciated by any DS shooter fan.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
This handheld take on the recent (and amazing) CoD 4: Modern Warfare is a solid game that really brings the feel of the franchise to the DS. You take the part of an SAS agent running, gunning, disarming, rescuing and just generally being a hero. The mouselook controls and touch integration are well implemented and while the graphics are a tad simple there is a lot going on and the frame rate is solid. Game play is the key and the developer wisely concentrated on that and delivered a great game, CoD 4: Modern Warfare for the DS is available right now.

Why Buy it? As mentioned there are not many good shooters for the DS, this title is one of those good ones. There are many touches onscreen that add to the feel of the game such as rain, explosions, debris and overhead traffic (helicopters and planes), these details really pull you into the game. Add to the mix the heart of the Call of Duty style of having scripted events, much more to do then just shoot and great touch screen action and you have a winner.

FIGHTING

Bleach: The Blade of Fate
click to view larger imageBleach is a widely popular Japanese anime that has recently been airing in North America, while all the characters have not been introduced to us in this continent, the game features the full cast that the Japanese know and love. It has your traditional minimal plot to justify the fighting action, but do we really care? What we care about is game play and this title has it in spades, four player matches, light, medium and heavy attacks, plus oodles of pleasing combos make this a deep game. To further add to the action Bleach: The Blade of Fate features a two plane fighting arena that you can hop between easily, items in the middle block your view and can be destroyed strategically. All of this together makes this the best DS fighter out there and it is available right now.

Why Buy it? Developer Treasure is known for their programming savvy, this title is no exception, the graphics and sound are some of the best the system has ever seen and the action is top notch. The large cast of characters and varied fighting modes are icing on the cake as the real star is the core arenas and how you use them. As you fight you can tap the L button to switch between the two planes, dodging attacks, blocking views and strategically hitting enemies. It is a great system and is very playable, the inclusion of a card collecting system that you can activate during battles to help your fighters adds even more depth to this already deep battler. If you like to brawl on your DS, Bleach: The Blade of Fate is the only way to go!

ROLE PLAYING GAME

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
click to view larger imageWhen this title was announced fans everywhere rejoiced. Final Fantasy XII’s world of Ivalice is one of the best loved in the famed series, but most were unsure how the title would play out on the DS. Square Enix took a chance and brought the universe to the handheld as a mission based real time strategy game. The story picks of where Final Fantasy XII left off with Vaan, Penelo, Balthier, and Fran embarking on a new somewhat stand alone adventure, somewhat new as they refer to previous events and travel to much of the same locations as the main game. This game features stunning graphics, amazing sound and of course a great story, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is available right now.

Why Buy it? Well it is Final Fantasy and it is set in Ivalice, those two points alone make it worth the price in my mind. Luckily there is a really great game engine powering events in this game, with the battles playing out in a very engaging manner thanks to the stylus driven controls. The story is a sweeping one with the standard twists and turns you expect from the series and Square Enix made sure the graphics and audio have that authentic Final Fantasy feel to them, particularly during the amazing cut scenes that take full advantage of the dual screen setup. This may not be a true Final Fantasy experience (play the PS2 original for that), but this is a great game that manages to take all we love from the original and puts it into a great RTS format.

Orcs and Elves
This game, developed by Id Software originally for the mobile platform, is now on the DS and while it is not the epic experience other RPG’s will give you, it is a fun and challenging game with a lot of depth. You play a generic hero with a talking wand who is dispatched to avenge the kidnapping of your king as you make your way through a dungeon built into a mountain. It is a turn based game based on a grid movement table presented in the first person, as you move a square at a time all the others in your vicinity move as well, all actions take a turn from movement to attacking. While this may sound awkward and slow in theory, in practice it is surprisingly fast paced with no waits between turns and it gives you the ability to plan your actions carefully. This could have been shoddy port from the mobile platform, instead it is a great full featured game that is a nice fit on the DS, Orcs and Elves is available right now.

Why Buy it? That is the question with this game, on paper this looks like a pretty standard game with no interesting facets, in practice the game is fun, interesting and great to look at. The first person view and 3-D environments with 2-D sprites brings back fond memories of the early id days when almost all games looked like this. There is a large amount of items, weapons and spells to wreak havoc with and the game is very nice about the quick save functions, automapping and on the go playing style. This is a unique style of RPG on the DS and it is one that is definitely worth checking out.

SPORTS

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08
click to view larger imageEA decided to take some time off after the disappointing Tiger Woods 05, which was a launch title for the DS. The time was well spent and this year’s version while not as great as the console versions, is a great game of golf for the platform. The action this time is on both screens and is fully 3-D, all commands are stylus driven and implemented very well, having a consistent experience on both screens really adds to the game and is a welcome change from most games. Tiger Woods 08 is available right now for the Nintendo DS.

Why Buy it? Although the 3-D engine doesn’t boast the best graphics the system has seen, the fact that 3-D is represented on both screens is rare amongst DS games and adds to the feel of the game immensely. The touch commands are well represented here and the entire game can be controlled incredibly well with this setup, in fact it is a really nice tactile way to play golf. The DS version features eight top quality courses and features all the quick play options you expect as well as create a golfer and customization options the console versions have. Add to the mix the local or online multiplayer options included and you have a great golf game anyone can enjoy.

OTHER

Planet Puzzle League
click to view larger imagePuzzle games are very common on the DS and at it’s heart this game is not new, it is an evolution of the Tetris Attack games from years ago, but the changes evolution has brought about are great. The standard view mode is the book view (hold the DS sideways with the touch screen on your proficient hands side) and the game is all about flipping tiled pairs in a bin left-to-right or right-to-left to form groups of three or more like colors. Doing this causes the tiles to disappear and make room for the tiles rising in from the bottom. Tiles stacked on top of disappearing ones would drop down into the gaps, which, in turn, could create additional groupings for big combo scores. It is a simple but addicting puzzle style and this game uses it in a number of different modes that will keep you going for a long time, included multiplayer modes ensure this game stays in your DS well after you tire of the single player modes. Planet Puzzle League is available right now.

Why Buy it? There are a lot of puzzle games available for the DS, this stands apart due to the incredible depth and lasting appeal the developer has built into the title. Endless mode is a simple Tetris-like mode where you play as the difficulty ramps up until you fail, Garbage Challenge has you removing dummy blocks by scoring combos right next to them and Time Attack. Lastly there is the tough Puzzle mode, where you have to shift tiles in a specifically laid-out pattern in a limited number of turns to remove them all. All this is great, but the Daily Play and Multiplayer is really the hook for this game, in Daily Play you have three challenges you can only play once per day (tracked by the DS’ calendar), the system then tracks your progress and ranks you. Multiplayer is local and online with many modes and fun ways to play, interestingly there is a birthday mode that has you playing people who share your birthday and a Novice mode to protect you as you are starting out. Once you win X number of matches Novice mode is locked out and you start playing with the big boys. Planet Puzzle League is a great game that any fan should have and it stands as one of the best puzzlers on the system.

Geometry Wars: Galaxies
Geometry Wars was and still is one of the best titles on Xbox LIVE, this entry in the series is not a port, but instead a huge step forward for the new series. The game boasts 60 levels where you control your ship (and its drone ship) through wave after wave of enemies, everything is made up of brightly colored geometric shapes and the explosions and effects will light up your screen like the 4th of July (or Canada Day if you are from the great white north). You can either use the D-pad to move and shoot with the face buttons (yuck) or use the surprisingly effective stylus based shooting (tap where you want to shoot), either way it is playable, but obviously stylus is better. Geometry Wars: Galaxies also features a robust local and online multiplayer suite that will keep you entertained for a long time, this game is available right now.

Why Buy it? Geometry Wars is an addictive and fun game, Galaxies is 60 times the fun with all the extra levels, different level variants (Black holes, waves and more) to be found and new enemies to encounter. The graphics, while not revolutionary, are bright and vibrant and really wow you when the action is at its heaviest. The icing on the cake for this game is the inclusion of DS download mode so you and a friend can blast the vile geoms together through the original Retro Evolved game and online multiplayer against DS owners around the world. All in all this is a great game alone, with a friend or online and is be a great addition to the DS library.

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.
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