Publisher: Sega (2004)
Rating: Teen (crude humor, mild violence, suggestive themes)
With so many derivative games out there, it's refreshing to play something as quirky and inventive as Feel The Magic. This game does a beautiful job of demonstrating the system's capabilities, taking full advantage of dual screens and using the touch screen interface in a number of imaginative ways. The odd premise has you playing a guy attempting to win over the heart of an attractive female (hence the bikini-clad chick on the cover). Feel The Magic's graphics have a very stylish appearance that uses cell shading and renders people in black silhouettes. Combined with some playful electronic music, the distinctive visuals set the stage nicely for the many bizarre predicaments you'll participate in. You'll brush scorpions off a woman's back, pop open the parachutes of skydivers, brush away landmines for kids riding down a street in shopping carts, and rub a guy's stomach to make him regurgitate goldfish. One stage even makes use of the system's microphone to let you literally blow out candles. You never know what Feel the Magic will throw at you next, but it's never boring. Unfortunately, some of these mini-games are more weird than fun. I love "bowling" at people on the bus stop or turning away charging bulls, but nudging people out of sandpit or scrubbing dirt off a person is just tedious. In the end, Feel The Magic may be more of a novelty than anything else, but its unconventional gameplay and interesting controls are tailor-made for the DS. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive (2007)
A spin-off of Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go! is an animated Nickelodeon show aimed at preschoolers. This game takes our young Spanish hero on an Africa Safari. Like its "sister" game (Dora Saves the Mermaids), Go Diego Go offers a series of mini-games that make fine use of the DS voice and touch capabilities. While reviewing the game late one night and not trying to disturb the wife, I was surprised when it prompted me to say "Jamba!" into the microphone. I spoke it gently, only to have the game respond with "Louder!" All I could do at that point was laugh. Go Diego Go is whimsical fun that lets you bang on drums, blow balloons in the air, snap pictures of animals, and drag sticks out of an elephant's path. There are some easy side-scrolling stages where you move around rocks and jump over logs by tapping the screen. The scenery looks fairly plain, but the exotic drum music is appealing. One thing I really like about this game is how there's no text to read - all the instructions are conveyed by a clear voice. My nephew Jordan (age 5) found the game to be fairly easy, although I noticed he got stuck on the same spot I did! Sometimes you're asked to drag branches to the pile, but it doesn't always register, instead responding with "Try again!" Otherwise it's pretty smooth sailing, and kids will learn some Spanish words and animal facts over the course of the game (Did you know that elephants can swim?). The game isn't very long (under an hour), but with its auto-save, it's ideal for small gamers with short attention spans. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear Dust Strikers
Publisher: Majesco (2006)
I've always been a fan of the Guilty Gear 2D fighting franchise, but this oddball DS edition simply doesn't work. Guilty Gear Dust Strikers (GGDS) tries to leverage the dual-screen of the DS by incorporating platforms to extend the playfield vertically. It's possible to face up to three opponents at a time, which can be controlled by the CPU or friends connected via wi-fi. The problem is, much of Guilty Gears' allure lies in its artistic backgrounds and imaginative fighting animations. On the small screen the backgrounds look dull and flat, and the moves are hard to discern. The controls had to be tweaked to allow for easy movement between the platforms, but this comes is at the expense of attack options. Cheap power-ups (like food that fully restores health) appear constantly, making luck the single biggest factor for victory. I couldn't believe how easily I plowed through the single player mode, despite not really knowing what I was doing half the time. In several matches I seemed to get my ass handed to me, only to be declared the victor. High scores aren't retained, which hurts the replay value. In what could be construed as an apology
for the main game, Dust Strikers also includes a collection of light-hearted mini-games starring Guilty Gear characters. There's a wack-a-mole game starring Faust, a food-catching game, and a bizarre one where you clean
a yo-yo! These stylus-controlled games are cute, but they drag on for so long that your amusement gradually turns to hate. I was curious to see how Guilty Gear would translate to the DS, and now that I know, I can only hope and pray it never happens again! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Publisher: DSI Games (2006)
Looking for a good Christmas game for your DS? Good luck with that! On television, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a timeless classic that will delight kids and adults for generations to come. On the DS, you'll be bored in ten minutes. Assuming the role of the Grinch, you sneak around expansive houses while avoiding clueless people wandering in predictable patterns. The top screen keeps a tab on your progress as you snatch up gifts, Christmas trees, wreathes, and other decorations. Once you gather the minimum number of items, you can climb up the chimney and move onto the next house. Unlike most stealth games where you need to remain out of eyesight, the Grinch can walk right in front of people without anybody noticing. Only by touching
someone will you find yourself in trouble. Some of these encounters trigger mini-games you can play to "escape" detection. These easy, stylus-driven games usually involve tapping on wandering people (to send them back to their rooms) or avoiding a crowd of sleepwalkers. The Grinch would be okay if it had some variety, but every house looks exactly the same except for a new layout. By the fourth one, you'll practically be begging
for some generic platform jumping! The colorful graphics aren't bad, and I like how the Grinch slinks around in a sneaky manner. The jazzy background music is catchy, but doesn't have much of a holiday ring to it. Treats are promised to those who conquer the advanced levels, but getting there will be a chore. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Incredible Hulk, The
Publisher: Sega (2008)
This side-scrolling platform game is a real throw-back, placing our rampaging green hero in stages beset with blocky designs, timed flame vents, moving conveyer belts, mandatory hits, and robotic enemy soldiers that fire their weapons in predictable bursts. Welcome to 1988 folks! The Incredible Hulk has a lot of design flaws and some of the most unsophisticated stage layouts I've seen in decades, yet it's still a decent action game. Why? Because its gameplay is 100% 2D - despite its unimpressive 3D polygon graphics. The Hulk conveys a real sense of mass as he stomps around and lays waste to his surroundings. His furious attacks shatter large objects, and even unbreakable walls suffer visible collateral damage. Nearly as satisfying is the way Hulk sends enemies flying across the screen with a flick of his wrist. The action begins in Antarctica before moving to Brazil, but there's precious little in the way of eye candy. Many stages overstay their welcome, but the difficulty is reasonable and your progress saves automatically. Simple and fast, the action often takes on a Sonic the Hedgehog vibe (for better or worse), especially when Hulk launches into a high-speed "rage", or pounces on the heads of enemies (which is often safer than punching). The worst part of the game is the fact that it's necessary
to obtain health packs in order to offset the numerous mandatory hits
you'll absorb. When it comes to bad design, that's Video Game 101 stuff. When Hulk is defeated, enemy soldiers celebrate by dancing around, and this makes Hulk angry. Very
angry. As you progress, new "skins" are unlocked, but does anyone really want to play the game with the Hulk dressed like a professor?
And who was the genius who thought the tedious swimming stages
were such a good idea? The Incredible Hulk won't win any awards for good design, but its gratuitous violence and old-school 2D charm prove a potent combination. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Virtual Play (2009)
The Intellivison was a terrific console hampered by stiff, uncomfortable controllers (those two-foot long cords didn't help matters). Over the years Intellivision game compilations have appeared for most platforms, but they always faltered due to one simple reason: the lack of a keypad. Yes, most Intellivision titles require a 12-key pad that's really
awkward to emulate on a standard controller. With the Nintendo DS and its handy touch screen however, that problem is effectively solved. In fact, you could argue that Intellivision games are better suited to the DS than the original system!
Intellivision Lives gives you the benefit of clean, crisp graphics, comfortable controls, and in some cases the ability to save your high scores! You get over 60 titles including classics like B-17 Bomber, Tower of Doom, Astrosmash, World Championship Baseball, Frog Bog, Shark Shark, and Sea Battle. There are a few notable omissions like Lock N Chase and the Tron games. Most games can be played solo, but a multiplayer mode is available via Wi-Fi. As a bonus you get a few unreleased titles like Brickout and Deep Pockets. I was very impressed by Intellivision Lives, but extended play revealed a few minor flaws. Abbreviated instructions are included via the menu screens, but they tend to be insufficient and often fail to explain the keypad functions. I wish they had scanned in the original manuals as they did in the Atari Greatest Hit compilations. Certain games save high scores, but others inexplicably do not (notably Shark Shark). I like how the lower screen emulates the keypad, but you can't use your thumb to "feel around" as you could with an actual keypad. Newcomers should be forewarned that most Intellivision games lack the pick-up-and-play quality of Atari 2600 games and require a certain degree of patience to enjoy. Intellivision Lives for the DS is definitely the best Intellivision compilation I've come across, and longtime fans should be pleased. And if you've always wanted to learn what this system was all about, this is an inexpensive way to find out. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Kirby's Canvas Curse
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
If you enjoyed Yoshi's Touch And Go but found it too short or simplistic, Kirby's Canvas Curse is for you. Kirby is a pink ghost who has appeared in many Nintendo games over the years, and for this outing he assumes the form of a pink circle with a face. Controlled entirely with the stylus, you guide Kirby through a series of maze-like stages, collecting items while attempting to locate the magic exit door. Kirby is in constant motion, but you can direct him around dangers by drawing rainbow-colored "bridges". You can also subdue his enemies by tapping on them. Tapping on Kirby himself causes him to dash, and drawing a wall in front of him makes him reverse direction. Of course it wouldn't be a real Kirby game if he couldn't assume the powers of other creatures he encounters. Canvas Curse's modest 2D graphics and whimsical music might not win you over, but its imaginative stages just might. The game seems awfully simple at first, but each subsequent stages introduces a new wrinkle to keep the action fresh and challenging. The boss stages are totally unique, and the "jump for distance" bonus stages are a blast. So what's not to like? Well, unlike Yoshi's Touch and Go, Kirby's Canvas has a real puzzle vibe that taxes the cranium a bit more than I would prefer. More advanced stages take place underwater or in total blackness, and these border on tedious. Still, for DS fans looking for something substantial, Canvas Curse delivers the quality gameplay we've come to expect from Nintendo. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Kage 2, The
Publisher: Square Enix (2008)
Rating: Everyone (10+)
As a fan of the original Legend of Kage
(NES, 1986), I was pretty psyched about this long-awaited sequel. Legend of Kage 2 (LoK2) makes an outstanding first impression with vivid anime graphics that rank among the best I've seen on the DS. Like the original game, the characters are 2D sprites, but they are obviously larger and more detailed. Kage's flowing red and yellow robe looks magnificent, and the violet trees against the deep blue sky is a sight to behold. LoK2 conveys an old school flare as you slice and dice generic ninja that pour out of the woodwork. The controls let you slash, jump, throw shuriken, and activate magical ninjutsu powers. You can cycle through these powers using the shoulder buttons. The DS is well suited to Kage's high-jumping style of play, since both screens together provide a tall vertical view, letting you see who's lurking in the trees above! As you collect colored orbs, you can arrange them on special screen to create various combinations of ninjutsu magic (power-ups). Each stage culminates with an interesting boss encounter, including a brainiac magician who grows three stories tall! The bosses aren't terribly hard to beat, and in my book that's a good
thing. LoK2 is overflowing with old-school goodness, but it's not terribly fun. First of all, the back-story is way
overdone, with lengthy cut scenes and never-ending dialogue. Real
old school games didn't need
a story! The stages contain a lot of repeating areas, sometimes giving you the impression that you're moving in circles. The concept of climbing walls is beaten to death, and the jumping controls feel stiff and remarkably non-intuitive. Finally, the sheer number of mindless enemies you slash through will dull your senses and turn your brain into mush. More is not always better, and too much of anything is just boring. Apparently the Kage 2 developers didn't get the memo. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, The
Publisher: Nintendo (2007)
Zelda's maiden voyage on the Nintendo DS makes fine use of the system's capabilities while staying true to the spirit of the franchise. Phantom Hourglass combines the overhead gameplay of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES, 1992) with the cel-shaded visual style of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
(GameCube, 2003). Much of the action takes place in the open ocean, as our hero Link motors from one island to the next in his quest to locate a mysterious ghostship where Zelda is held prisoner. While on land you lead Link around with the stylus, and it works surprisingly well. Tapping on items makes Link pick them up, and tapping on enemies makes Link lash out at them with his sword. Although generally intuitive, there are occasional frustrations, like when you accidentally attack
a bomb instead of picking it up (ouch). Phantom Hourglass also gives you the ability to scribble notes directly on your map screen, which comes in handy when you need to triangulate a treasure location. The stylus makes the boomerang a joy to use. Since you draw
its flight path, it's easy to nail several targets on one round-trip! Unfortunately, the game sometimes prompted me to yell or blow into the microphone, prompting my wife to yell "What?!" from the next room. "I'm playing a game!" "You're what?!
to travel to a new island you first plot your course on the map screen, and then sit back and enjoy the ride. This is a treat, because you can slide the stylus to look around your boat, and tap on the screen to fire cannons at pirates and sea monsters. It's amazing how your destination gradually looms into view as you approach. The islands are small enough that you can easily explore every inch, but the caves all start looking the same after a while, and the enemies repeat a lot. Some dungeons incorporate some Metal Gear-style stealth action (complete with vision cones) - for better or worse. Phantom's dialogue manages to be genuinely funny, and despite the small screen, characters like Captain Linebeck convey some hilarious expressions and mannerisms. One side effect of using the stylus is your hand tends to cramp up after a while, so I could only enjoy Phantom Hourglass in small doses (you can save at any time). Even so, this is an engaging little adventure that fits the DS like a glove. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, The
Publisher: Nintendo (2009)
For the first hour or so, Spirit Tracks feels laborious. Your interaction is very limited as you walk through a scripted sequence of events to set up the characters and plot. A certain amount of exposition is to be expected, but the game goes a little overboard with all of the small talk. As with most Zelda titles however, once Spirit Tracks hits its stride, it's compelling. The game's premise revolves around magical railroad tracks which allow you to explore the "world" via a choo-choo train. Driving a train might sound
boring, but there's more to it than you might think. You'll need to adjust your speed to avoid collisions with other trains. You'll blow the horn to scare animals off the track. You can even fire a cannon to blow away obstacles. I actually prefer this over the sea exploration in Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS, 2007). The dungeons themselves are classic Zelda creations, outfitted with thoughtful puzzles that usually involve using a new item in number of imaginative ways. The controls are responsive, but the stylus can be inexact when navigating delicate terrain like thin ice. Zelda herself assumes the form of a ghostly guide for most of the game, and she has the power to possess the bodies of enemies (including wandering guards). This adds a new twist, but having to toggle between Zelda and Link can get a little tedious. But the biggest annoyance is how the game requires you to constantly blow into the microphone. Between playing your "spirit flute" and attacking with your cyclone weapon, you may be feeling a little lightheaded. The game also prompts you to take "notes" on a map with the stylus, even though it could just as easily mark it for you. Navigating the "lost forest" area is frustrating until you talk to a specific character who divulges its secret. Spirit Tracks offers a number of mini-games and collectibles, but frankly I didn't find any of them worthwhile. Still, the game has a nice sense of progression, and the snow areas are especially fun. You can save your progress at any time, and you'll want to do so on a regular basis. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks relies a little too heavily on gimmicks, but after you invest some time in it, you'll be on board. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.