Nintendo DS Reviews M

Madden NFL 09
Grade: D-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/1/19
Rating: Everyone


screenshotWell, the good news is you really can play Madden on-the-go with this handy portable version. The bad news is, it's the worst Madden you've played in a long time. Instead of bringing back the beloved sprites of Madden's 16-bit heyday, EA opted for the sloppy, stuttering 3D graphics of the early polygon days. Oh well, decision-making has never been EA's forte.

Madden 09 employs a low-to-the-ground camera angle which makes passing a matter of luck while effectively negating your ability to play defense. The game tries to help you out by color-coding the receiver icons (green = open, red=covered) but these fluctuate so quickly that they only serve to confuse matters.

Technically the game is deficient, with collision detection so atrocious that it's not unusual to see one player pass completely through another. The top screen shows the X's and O's as the play unfolds, but since you can only look at one screen at a time, it's pointless. I like the old-school kicking meter, but why in the hell does its speed fluctuate so much - even with the same kicker?

The action is bogged down by a lot of unnecessary pauses - usually while waiting for the referees to place the ball. The commentary is sparse, but at least you get to hear from Madden himself. Too bad he tosses out the same three platitudes over and over ("oh, that one will leave a mark").

In terms of audio effects, the ref's whistle sounds pitiful, and that high-pitched play-selection beep is grating. The instant replay system is perfectly awful thanks to an unusable touch screen interface. As usual, EA didn't bother to include a pre-game, half time, or post-game show.

One new feature that had potential was the "rec room" mini-game collection, which includes a touch-screen version of paper football. If only the controls weren't so abysmal. Madden NFL 09 is so lackluster that you have to wonder if EA ever took it seriously at all. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Mario Hoops 3 On 3
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/12/3


screenshotEven after finishing Mario Hoops, I have mixed feelings about it. 3 On 3 is an arcade-style basketball game in the tradition of NBA Jam, only with your favorite Nintendo characters like Mario, Peach, Wario, Bowser, and Donkey Kong. On defense you'll block shots, swipe at the ball, and use power-ups to jar the ball loose. On offense you'll collect coins, perform jump shots and electrifying slam-dunks. I love how the number of points scored is based on the number of coins you collect while dribbling around.

The game is controlled via the stylus, directional pad, and left shoulder button. The scheme feels contrived at first, as if Nintendo was trying to force the DS interface onto a game best played with buttons. But while the stylus seems clumsy at times, it's not an impediment once you get a feel for it. Despite how you feel about the controls, 3 On 3 is fun and addicting. The graphics have that familiar Nintendo charm and the soundtrack rocks.

The courts are set in imaginative locations like Bowser's castle, Luigi's haunted mansion, a rocking pirate ship, an ice rink, and a raft floating down a river. Advanced stages incorporate obstacles like fireballs and walking bombs, but instead of adding strategy, they mainly just cause chaos and confusion. The camera moves around constantly, and it's easy to lose track of the ball - or even your character.

The game is definitely on the easy side, and I breezed through all four tournaments without losing a single game. Fortunately, that opened up a "hard" mode. Mario Hoops might have been better suited to the GameCube, but I suspect Nintendo thought it might be too similar to Mario Strikers. I enjoyed this game enough, but it's not the slam-dunk I was hoping for. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1-4 players 

Mario Kart DS
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/1/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotClinical tests have proven that nine out of ten gamers can't resist the simple yet entrancing gameplay of Mario Kart. Incidentally, one out of ten gamers is a friggin' moron, because Mario Kart kicks ass! At its core, the long-running series has always represented racing in its purest form, appealing to gamers of all ages. The races are far from predictable thanks to hazard-laden courses and random items that add drama and intrigue.

In some ways, Mario Kart DS is a "greatest hits" of sorts, incorporating tracks and musical numbers from classic Mario Kart games released for the SNES, Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and Gameboy Advance! Highlights include exotic beach resorts, dark haunted castles, dusty desert roads, and bright winter wonderlands. It goes without saying that the controls are dead-on, and have only been slightly tweaked since the original Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992).

Some innovative new weapons have been incorporated however, including a flying squid that sprays ink across your "windshield", temporarily obstructing your view. But you're probably wondering: Does Mario Kart DS take advantage of the system's unique capabilities? Yes. The touch screen isn't really used, but the overhead map on the lower screen comes in handy for locating nearby opponents and approaching projectiles.

But what truly pushes Mario Kart DS over the top is its easy-to-use WFC (Wi-Fi Connection) capability, which allows you to race other gamers from all over the world. Yes, you heard it right; the Video Game Critic has stepped into the 90's and gone online!

It was surprisingly easy. Since I already have a wireless router, I just had to enter my WEP encryption key, and the next thing you know I was being matched up with gamers in Japan! There's no registration, and it's all free! I also tried the local wireless mode with a buddy, and it was equally seamless and fun. What's not to like about this game? Mario Kart DS is positively terrific, and a perfectly good reason to run out and purchase a DS. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 

Mega Man ZX
Grade: F
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2014/5/27
Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)

screenshotIf you've never heard of ZX, that's quite alright, because this Mega Man spin-off is crap. As an attempt to bring Mega Man's celebrated 2D platform shooting to the DS, this is a miserable failure. The action is bogged down by a convoluted storyline with endless dialogue. After paging through 100 word bubbles, you start to lose interest.

When the shooting and jumping finally begins, the game gains a little traction. You can fire rapidly, charge your shot, and jump up walls. The graphics make use of rotation and scaling effects, which are on full display with the opening snake boss. You have the ability to toggle between human and Mega Man forms. As a human you can crawl, swim, and walk the streets without being attacked by robots.

ZX gives you freedom of movement, but it proves to be a detriment. You'll waste a lot of time wandering aimlessly between sections of town connected in confusing ways. Once I completed a mission and was told to go to C4 to be recognized for my achievement. How the [expletive] do I get there?! Nearby doors are marked B2 and A1, and that so-called "map" is incomprehensible! And why do I have to navigate menus to pull up the map, when the bottom screen isn't even showing anything else!

The best part about ZX is its anime intro and the panoramic views of the pastel-colored, futuristic scenery. Unfortunately the missions tend to use the same areas over and over and the backtracking is excessive. Enemy robots constantly regenerate, forcing you to fight the same battles again and again. I wanted to like Mega Man ZX because I'm a fan of the series (and the instruction manual is gorgeous) but Mega Man fans would be wise to avoid this wild goose chase. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Metal Slug 7
Grade: A-
Publisher: SNK Playmore (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/3/12
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)


screenshotIt's not quite as slugalicious on the small screen, but Metal Slug kicks ass on any platform. If you've played other Metal Slug titles, this seventh chapter offers some very familiar one-man-army action. You'll blast your way through scores of enemy troops and hulking mechanical behemoths in caves, jungles, and junkyards. The simple controls are basically limited to jump, shoot, and grenade.

It's possible to switch between two weapons via the shoulder buttons, but it's hard to remember that in the midst of Metal Slug 7's unbridled mayhem. The screaming soldiers, splattering blood, and earth-shaking explosions are a virtual assault on your senses. It's a lot of fun though, and a handy "beginner" skill level keeps the frustration to a minimum. High scores are saved for each difficulty level, and that's pretty sweet. I only wish the current high score was displayed as you play, so you knew what to shoot for.

The stage locations are surprisingly unimaginative, but the robotic bosses are pretty sophisticated, often breaking into separate attacking parts. The gameplay is solid, but SNK Playmore was pretty clueless about tailoring the game to the DS platform. The bottom screen displays a scrollable map of the stage, but it's useless. Metal Slug 7 may be an example of a franchise running in place, but with this much non-stop action and breathtaking destruction, who's complaining? © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Meteos
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/11/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMeteos is yet another variant on Tetris, but it has an "explosive" quality lacking from most puzzle games. As various colored blocks rain down, you rearrange the columns formed by "dragging" blocks up or down with the stylus. Once you line up three or more of the same color, they "launch", pushing any blocks above them towards the top of the screen. Any blocks that clear the top are instantly destroyed, and those that don't clear it slowly drift back down.

Being able to launch blocks in motion is one of the game's novel features, and I also like how you can sometimes launch blocks by accident! It's all quite innovative, and the flashy launch effects provide instant gratification.

Unfortunately, Meteos is a one-trick pony that gets old after a while. There are several play modes and colorful "stages", but the gameplay didn't reel me in like Zookeeper did. There's a variety of tunes, but the only one I really enjoyed was the steel drum music of the water planet. I don't see what the big deal is about this, but a lot of people swear by Meteos, so puzzle freaks should check it out. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Metroid Prime Hunters
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/5/5


screenshotI'm getting a little tired of seeing other video game publications fawn over Metroid Prime Hunters. Some have even reduced themselves to using the hackneyed term "killer app" (I think I'm going to be ill). The truth of the matter is, Hunters is a standard first-person shooter (FPS) with PS1 quality graphics.

So what's all the fuss about? It's all about the fact that no one thought a decent FPS was possible on the DS. Hunter's unconventional controls use the stylus to aim, the directional pad to move, and the shoulder buttons to fire. It's quite intuitive once you get the hang of it, and even jumping platforms is surprisingly easy.

But let's not get carried away here - the overall experience still pales compared to most big-screen FPS's, including the GameCube's Metroid Prime titles. Although the stylus acts as a mouse, it doesn't provide nearly the same degree of precision. The small screen makes it hard to see targets, and holding the DS in place will cramp your hands during extended play.

The much-ballyhooed multiplayer mode makes it easy to participate in worldwide death matches, but you'll need a lot of practice to avoid getting your ass kicked. The single-player mode features atmospheric music and crisp sound effects, but you can only save at the end of each stage, making this ill-suited for gaming "on the go".

Don't make the same mistake I made, shutting the game off in the middle of a stage thinking it saved automatically at each checkpoint. If you're looking for a portable FPS, Metroid Prime Hunters certainly gets the job done - with style. It plays well and has that distinct Nintendo polish, but it's hardly the revolutionary title some make it out to be. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Metroid Prime Pinball
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/17
Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)

screenshotThis brilliantly conceived pinball game effectively stretches the playing field over both DS screens - very cool. Its multiple "tables" depict muddy swamps, snowy ridges, and ominous space stations inspired by the Metroid series. And I love how Metroid Prime Pinball incorporates neat features not possible in a real pinball game, like rainstorms and force fields.

This game also comes with an extra surprise - a rumble pack! Yes, this free attachment, shaped like a Gameboy Advance cartridge, plugs right into the bottom of your DS. The vibration feedback is subtle but really does contribute to the overall experience.

Metroid Pinball is very easy to play, since all you really need to do is press the comfortable shoulder buttons to engage the flippers. But like any good pinball game, there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. Learning the ins and outs of the various modes takes time, and casual gamers may find the game confusing at first. The ball itself is surprisingly large and easy to follow. The environments don't provide many immediate targets, but as alien creatures are unleashed onto the table, you'll have plenty of things to aim for.

Occasionally the frantic pinball action is interrupted by mini-games including wall-jumping and rapid-fire shooting stages. While these are intended to add variety, they tend to disrupt the flow of the game and frankly aren't all that fun. Another issue lies with the awkward tilt control which forces you to touch the screen in order to jostle the playing field. When you're in the midst of some intense pinball action, the last thing you want is your fingers getting in the way of the screen.

The audio is first rate, with an ominous soundtrack and crystal-clear sound effects including metroids that squish like grapefruit. Metroid Prime Pinball is addictive and fun, and since high scores are saved, you always have something to shoot for. I'd be curious to see if Nintendo can apply this excellent pinball engine to other franchises as well. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 8 players 

My Word Coach
Grade: C-
Publisher: Ubisoft (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/9/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf anyone needs a word coach, it's the Video Game Critic. Do you realize how hard it is to write thousands of reviews without repeating the same words and phrases? My Word Coach adopts the same formula as Brain Age (Nintendo 2006), offering a daily routine of vocabulary exercises.

Most of these games require you to spell out words or select a correct definition as fast as possible. The simpler games are most fun, like "fill in the missing letter" and "select the correct definition". There's even an enjoyable Tetris variation.

A few of the games do royally suck however, in part because they employ a completely unnecessary "drag and drop" control scheme. Towing the letters in the alphabet soup game is bad enough, but having to blow on the soup to reveal letters is just obnoxious.

The letter writing recognition could be better as well. I print my letters the way I learned in first grade, yet My Word Coach interprets my "A" as a "Q", "O" as "D", and worst of all, "M" as "J"! I had to adjust my writing style to play this, but it wasn't that big a deal.

Word Coach does toss out some really good terms like callow, vermin, tisane, and cavalry. About half the games are fun enough to play daily, but the other half are just a chore. My Word Coach has a lot of potential, but if it expects people to stick with the program, it needs to be more fun. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Moby Games