Nintendo DS Reviews C

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Grade: A
Publisher: Konami (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/11/20
Rating: Teen (Blood and gore, fantasy violence)

screenshotYou really can't go wrong with a 2D Castlevania game, and Dawn of Sorrow is nicely suited to the DS. Instead of having to constantly switch to the map screen (as you do in every other Castlevania game), it's conveniently displayed on the upper screen at all times. Dawn of Sorrow even makes use of the touch tablet, letting you crack ice with the stylus, or draw patterns to open "magic seals". Yeah, it's a gimmick, but at least it's something.

Other than that, the gameplay is pure Castlevania. Playing the role of a vampire hunter, you collect items, activate abilities, and upgrade attributes while plowing through legions of undead minions and gigantic bosses. The snowy village scenery looks absolutely stunning, although the modern cars seem a bit out of place. The graphics are slightly upgraded from the Gameboy Advance, but I had to hold them up next to each other to see a difference.

There are a few eye-catching effects, including slashed zombies that cleanly split in half, and mirrors that reflect the walls you're looking through. Also included is a two-player mode that involves racing through custom-made castle rooms. Dawn of Sorrow is as enjoyable as any Castlevania game I've ever played, and it will probably clock more time on my DS than any other title. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Grade: D+
Publisher: Konami (2008)
Reviewed: 2010/11/23
Rating: Teen (blood, fantasy violence)

screenshotAlthough visually enticing, this is one of the more unsatisfying chapters in the endless Castlevania saga. This time around you get to play as a hot babe trying to track down some no-good bastard (I may be simplifying the plot a bit, but probably not). You'll explore picturesque locations including an ornate monastery and a quaint township with flowing fountains and beautiful architecture. When you enter one of the houses, the degree of detail is astounding. I don't know who took the time to incorporate so much exquisite detail in each room, but bravo for that guy!

Less interesting locations include a prison, forest, and boatyard. The boat stage uses angular polygons to simulate waves, and that just looks awful! The prison is another low-light as you struggle to avoid pesky spotlights to prevent all hell from breaking loose. Ecclesia's gameplay failed to endear itself to me. Guess who your first enemy is? It's none other than that sorry-ass, bone-tossing skeleton who appears in pretty much every Castlevania game! Has Konami even changed that sprite since 1988? C'mon man!

Other adversaries include pot-bellied zombies, screaming banshees, and giant floating heads. Some of the more annoying foes include flying horse heads that keep respawning, and floating tentacle monsters that lift you by the head. There are too many long hallways with the same creeps popping up over and over, giving you the worst case of deja-vu ever.

Collecting glyphs imbues you with new powers, but the one that lets you slingshot yourself around is just plain dumb. Yeah - I'm talking to you Magnes glyph. You are really dumb - for real! Fans will enjoy Order of Ecclesia's rich artwork and sweeping musical score, but the gameplay feels stale. I think I'm finally starting to get tired of these cookie-cutter Castlevania adventures. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Grade: C+
Publisher: Konami (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/10/21
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotI tend to enjoy these Castlevania games, but this one is overrated. At its core, Portrait of Ruin follows the standard Castlevania formula with expansive castles to explore, a wide range of demonic foes, and tons of special weapons and magic items. In an attempt to try something new, Portrait lets you control two characters at once using a "tag team" mechanic. You can switch between Jon and Charlotte at the touch of a button, or have them fight side by side.

This opens up possibilities for more elaborate puzzles and team-based attacks. I've seen this gimmick employed many times before (Knuckles Chaotix on the Sega 32X comes to mind), and it's usually not very effective. In this case it adds a layer of complexity at the expense of the fun factor. Non-intuitive controls make solving even simple puzzles with your team inordinately complex (the mine cart switch comes to mind).

Charlotte's primary weapon is a book - yes a book! Maybe in the next game she can attack monsters by hitting them with her purse! Otherwise, there's not much to fault with Portrait of Ruin. The graphics are rich and well defined, with a few unusual enemies like the guy who professes his love for Charlotte and explodes into roses upon his demise.

Typical of the mammoth bosses, you'll face an enormous knight with a hideous disembodied blue head. It's fun to upgrade your characters with new items you find, and I like the way portraits are used as gateways to new "worlds". Portrait of Ruin is not my favorite Castlevania title, but fans looking for something new may enjoy its novel approach. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Chrono Trigger
Grade: B
Publisher: Square Enix (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/3/12
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI usually don't have the time to properly review an RPG (Role Playing Game), but since Chrono Trigger for the SNES (1995) is widely considered the greatest RPG ever, I decided to give this portable edition a whirl. It's pretty impressive from the outset, with a "Back to the Future" time-travel storyline and unconventional characters including a frog warrior and robot. The ability to travel to the past and future provides for a diverse set of environments including a prehistoric world and a bleak "Beyond Thunderdome"-inspired future.

I'm not a big fan of intricate storylines but the game's innovative battle system definitely won me over. Played in real time, it brilliantly blurs the line between live action and turn-based combat. Attacks are imaginatively rendered on the screen, unlike the abstract "slashes" seen in many other RPGs. I also like how you can sometimes avoid unnecessary combat by sneaking around certain enemies.

The 2D scenery boasts impressive detail, and the characters express a wide variety of emotions via physical mannerisms. The lush musical score is brimming with memorable tunes, and the dialogue is thankfully restrained and sprinkled with humor.

Chrono Trigger held my attention for longer than most RPGs, but several issues tried my patience. First and foremost, not being able to save at any time is a major annoyance for a 2008 portable game. There was a long stretch in the early going where the game wouldn't let me save, and I had to go somewhere!

The ability to travel through time offers a lot of exploration possibilities, but I struggled to keep the story moving. Finally, I wish there was a log screen to bring you up to date in case you take a break from the game for a few weeks. Chrono Trigger is imaginative and innovative, but like any RPG, you'll really need a lot of time and dedication to fully enjoy it. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Civilization Revolution
Grade: C
Publisher: 2K Games (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/8/26
Rating: Everyone

screenshotProducing a turned-based, conquer-the-world strategy game for the Xbox 360 was tough enough, but squeezing the same game onto the DS is a monumental feat. 2K Games got the job done, but obviously some things were lost in the downsizing process. For the most part the game plays like its big cousin, but there are fewer options. You still create cities, develop technology, assemble armies, and engage in battles with neighboring countries.

Unlike most games of its kind, time passes quickly, allowing you to progress from the stone age to the space age in about two hours. Much of the progress is automated, but strategic decisions can determine if your country will be an economic superpower, a cultural hotbed, or a warmongering nation. Unfortunately, the small screen fails to convey the majesty of the grand buildings and mythical "wonders" you construct.

The map screen is populated with icons, and viewing the details as illustrations on a separate screen isn't very satisfying. Likewise, the scaled-down battles lack punch due to their repetitive canned animations. The user interface is intelligently designed, and you also have the option of dragging units around with the stylus. I much prefer the 360 version in terms of scope and eye candy, but if you're looking for a little game with a lot of substance, Civilization Revolution is still a good bet. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Commando: Steel Disaster
Grade: D
Publisher: Manasoft (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/11/8
Rating: Everyone (10+)

screenshotTalk about truth in advertising - this game really is a disaster, but it didn't have to be that way. Commando is a side-scrolling 2D shooter tainted by a preposterous degree of difficulty. If you ever wanted to play Metal Slug on your DS, this comes pretty close. Steel Disaster offers the exact same style of rapid-fire gameplay, complete with screaming soldiers, explosive weapons, and clunky mechanical bosses.

Commando exhibits old school charm with its cartoonish graphics, simple controls, and hard-as-nails gameplay. The game kicks off with a high-speed snowmobile shootout, followed by several stages on foot through snowy mountains. Sadly, few gamers will ever survive this first mission. There's just too much crossfire and not enough health packs. Who designed this game? Did anyone test it at all?

Allegedly there are missions that take place in other environments, and you can save your progress between each. I have nothing against hard games, but selectable missions or an "easy" option would have been nice. Hell, there's not even a score! It really breaks my heart, because at its core, Commando had the stuff needed to be a standout DS shooter. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Contra 4
Grade: A+
Publisher: Konami (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/1/9
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, fantasy violence, language)

screenshotContra 4 represents a triumphant return for the classic franchise, mainly because it remains so faithful to the original 2D, side-scrolling formula. As in the original Contra (NES, 1988), you play a soldier forging his way through hostile jungle, harbor, factory and laboratory environments. As you blast soldiers and aliens, you'll need to dodge large projectiles that are slow but tend to create nasty crossfire traps. Thanks to the dual screens of the DS, you'll need to contend with enemies on both the top and bottom screens, so keep an eye out!

Power-ups abound, including weapons that fire lasers, fireballs, and homing missiles. But just like old times, the "spray" weapon totally rules. Firing that thing from the bottom screen towards the top inflicts wide-spread devastation. With that kind of firepower, blasting through each stage should be a piece of cake, right? No, not when you have to negotiate perilous platforms at the same time.

The environments are reminiscent of the original Contra, but more detailed and expansive. Likewise, Contra 4's electronic soundtrack has a distinctive old-school quality. Humorous voice samples include "Let's party!" and "Lock and load!" Best of all, the classic controls have been retained, resulting in a simple yet madly challenging experience. Holding the shoulder button lets you fire in place, making it much easier to aim diagonally.

Another new wrinkle is your ability to toggle between two weapons. Since you don't lose your reserve weapon when you die, it's a good idea to tuck a powerful weapon away for later use against a boss. You'll always begin the game on stage one, but many continues are available and the replay value is high. As you revisit each perilous stage you gradually discover the best techniques, weapons, and routes to employ.

Although Contra 4 is brand new, its stages are inspired by the original game, including the pseudo-3D "run into the screen" levels. Your high score is saved automatically, and a bonus "museum" provides information and screenshots of past Contra titles. Konami has taken a winning formula and elevated it to new heights, and the result is a fantastic new addition to the DS library. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Cooking Mama
Grade: D+
Publisher: Majesco (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/26
Rating: Everyone

screenshotCooking Mama is a cute little cooking simulator, but is there really an audience for this? I'm sure many gamers have multiple hobbies, but how many would profess a passion for cooking? Playing games rarely puts me in the mood to chop onions or fry chicken. Cooking Mama's gameplay challenges you to concoct a series of delicious dishes including Salisbury Steak, Spring Rolls, Pork Cutlets, Potato Salad, and Octopus Dumplings (yummay!).

As you methodically prepare, slice, dice, mix, and fry your way through the recipe, each stage plays out like a timed mini-game. Controlled entirely with the stylus, Cooking Mama offers audio and visual cues to prod you along. Most games are intuitive enough, but you'll need to be quick. Some steps, like sautéing vegetables, are less obvious than they should be, which can lead to frustration. Chopping and slicing are moderately fun, but other tasks, like peeling potatoes, are as tedious as they are in real life. Completing a dish rewards you with a score and unlocks a new recipe.

I assumed my wife would like Cooking Mama, considering she enjoys cooking and has shown interest in other DS titles like Zookeeper. But while she was intrigued at first, Cooking Mama couldn't maintain her interest. She struggled to keep up with the fast-paced games, and often had a hard time figuring out what she was supposed to do.

She was also annoyed by some of the game's more arbitrary rules, like having to toss ingredients into a bowl in a particular order. Personally, I had no problem figuring out the games, but I found the subject matter boring and repetitive. I guess a few gamers out there might appreciate this one (young girls perhaps?), but this isn't my idea of a good time. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Crash Boom Bang!
Grade: F-
Publisher: Universal (2006)
Reviewed: 2017/12/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMost party games aren't exactly great so my expectations weren't high for this Crash Bandicoot spin-off. I would have been satisfied enough with a board and some simple mini-games. Crash Boom Bang couldn't even get that right. The board is displayed on the lower screen, offering multiple paths through a city to reach a finish line.

Unfortunately you can't make progress because you're constantly being transported to some deserted island. And when you finally escape you're placed back at the beginning of the board! Technically you might still be winning (the object is to collect the most fruit) but the lack of progress is maddening. It's like being on a carousel that never stops, becoming more nauseous each time around.

And then there's the minigames, many of which are reprehensible. When I realized they all required stylus control, I threw up a little in my mouth. Whether you're trying to roll a ball around or prodding horse's butt, the controls are clumsy and imprecise. One game requires you to blow up a big balloon by blowing on the system, and I couldn't figure out where to blow! The game encourages use of special items to gain advantage, but how in the heck is a spatula, tricycle, or pair of shorts supposed to help you win?

Just when I thought I couldn't hate this game any more, the CPU opponents decided to play a mini-game without me. That's right, and not only was I excluded from playing; I couldn't even watch! Instead the screen displayed this message: "Please wait - playing minigame". God forbid I disturb my DS while it's trying to play a game! Now I know why it's called Crash Boom Bang. That's the sound of a once-proud franchise being blown to smithereens. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Moby Games