Nintendo DS Reviews M-R

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 

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 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Majesco (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/2/10
Rating: Everyone (fantasy violence)

screenshotIn an era when nobody knows how to make a decent 2D shooter anymore, it heartens me to play a game like Nanostray. With little fanfare, Nanostray builds on the foundation laid down by classic shooters like Axelay (SNES 1992) and Thunder Force 3 (Genesis 1990). This game has it all, including selectable stages, devastating weapons, satisfying explosions, and a reasonable difficulty level.

The varied stages include a lot of old standards like a volcanic planet, an asteroid belt, and a submerged city. Enemies emerge in various shapes and formations, but unlike most modern shooters, the number of projectiles you need to dodge is never insurmountable. Incoming missiles are easy to see, and the small size of your ship makes it easy to maneuver. I love how you have an energy meter, so you can absorb a series of hits before biting the dust. Even the boss encounters are infrequent and reasonable in difficulty.

You can switch between weapons on the fly, including heat-seeking lasers, lightning bolts that latch onto enemies, and a powerful side-shot. Normal weapons are augmented by a "sub-weapon", but since its use is limited, you'll want to save that for the big guys. There's even a "smart bomb" button - how old-school is that? Destroying enemies releases floating "coins" to collect, including blue ones that replenish your energy. Clearing stages in the story mode unlocks stages in the challenge mode, extending Nanostray's replay value.

Even the music has a catchy, electronic flavor reminiscent of an old 16-bit title. If there's one thing to critique, it may be the touch screen functionality, which seems a bit contrived. It's used to switch between your four weapons types, but this functionality would have been better served with the shoulder buttons (to cycle through them).

Nanostray has received some tepid reviews, but those reviews are crap. One site whined about a weak multiplayer mode, repetitive design, and limited replay value! It's a shooter for Pete's sake!! For a game like this, you have to judge it for what it is. And if you enjoy shooting games with an old-school flair, Nanostray delivers the goods. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Nanostray 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Majesco (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/7/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI don't know whether to criticize this game for its lack of creativity, or praise it for paying homage to the old-school. Nanostray 2 plays like a classic Genesis shooter, except with crisp 3D backgrounds and swinging camera angles. Your main weapon is a three-way cannon that can be angled on the fly in three configurations (front, back, sides). Before each stage you select from six special weapons, but why would anyone choose the "mines" when they could have the "seeker" instead?

The uninspired stage design includes hollow space stations, tranquil water planets, and steamy volcanoes. Nanostray 2's shooting action is pretty much on target as you weave around obstacles and spray missiles at waves of enemy ships, many of which can be seen approaching from the background. Enemy missiles and collectable coins come in many colors, and sometimes it can be confusing to tell them apart.

If you cut your teeth on 16-bit shooters, expect a lot of familiar hazards like doors that clamp shut and flames that shoot out at regular intervals. Each stage features a pair of bosses, and while they're not spectacular, I really like that fact that they don't take forever to defeat. The brooding electronic soundtrack is appropriately futuristic but not memorable.

Nanostray 2's one original feature is its unconventional (and confusing) scoring system, which rewards you for killing enemies one at a time. The adventure mode lets you unlock the eight stages, and it's a lot of fun despite some lame intermissions. An arcade mode lets you play each stage for score, but the fact that you need to finish each stage in order to register a high score makes no sense at all. When the rubber hits the road, Nanostray 2 succeeds in bringing back old-school shooting action, but isn't distinctive enough to make a name for itself. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

New Super Mario Bros.
Grade: A+
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/6/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAppropriately named, this is the first "new" 2D Mario Bros. game since the SNES era. Nintendo handled this update perfectly, preserving the style and spirit of the original NES trilogy while incorporating enough new ideas to keep things fresh. Despite receiving a 3D makeover, the graphics don't look radically different from the old games. You'll traverse the standard pipes and blocks, but also walk across ropes, bounce on trampolines, navigate bending mushrooms, and contend with blocks that jump on their own.

Like the original Super Mario games, you end each level by jumping on a flagpole and entering a small castle (sometimes accompanied by a fireworks display). Despite his age, Mario is more agile than ever, able to run, slide, and stomp the ground to crumble blocks beneath his feet. All the standard Mario power-ups are in effect, but there are some interesting new additions. One new mushroom transforms Mario into a rampaging King Kong-size monster, and another shrinks him to the size of a flea. Both of these are hilarious and really shake up the action.

The appealing soundtrack offers slight variations on classic Mario tunes, and enhanced digitized sound effects give familiar foes extra bite (pun intended). Not only is New Super Mario Bros. just as fun as the old games, but you have the luxury of saving your place after every few stages. Some have accused this game of being somewhat short and easy, but don't believe it. The game is an ideal length, and there are hidden areas, mini-games, and two-players modes to boot. Well designed, true to the original, and universally fun, New Super Mario Bros. defies criticism. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
Grade: C-
Publisher: Tecmo (2008)
Reviewed: 2011/6/26
Rating: Teen (partial nudity, violence)

screenshotFrom the moment you fire it up, Ninja Gaiden seems like a first-class effort. You play it while holding your DS on its side - like a storybook. The opening cinematic conveys a tale that I must have heard over 100 times before (ancient evil returns, magic sword needed), but I love the artistic illustrations and epic musical score. Before starting you're prompted to "choose" a difficulty, but there's only one available (normal)! WTF? An "easy" option would have been nice.

Once you embark on your adventure you're treated to meticulously detailed, pre-rendered scenery with fixed camera angles. The lush foliage and traditional Japanese architecture are beautiful, and the natural sounds have an immersive quality. Unfortunately it's often hard to make out minute details on the screen or tell where you can go. Thank goodness for the left screen which displays a map of the entire level.

Gaiden's gameplay involves exploration, talking to villagers, and fighting gangs of thugs (or monsters). The series is known for its jump-and-slash style, and this portable edition is no different. But instead of button-mashing, you're rubbing the stylus vigorously on the screen. You'll run the stylus across an enemy to slash it sideways, or down for a vertical sword slash. Run the stylus up the screen to jump, and tap it to toss a throwing star. Is this technique any better than mashing buttons? Not really! The combat becomes tiresome as enemy clones continuously materialize from portals.

Prior to fighting a boss you'll first need to work your way through endless waves of henchmen, and dying at the hands of the actual boss forces you to repeat the entire ordeal. Making matters worse are the fixed camera angles which make it easy to lose sight of enemies who lurk in the fringes or blend into the scenery.

Some of the puzzles will drive you crazy, like the one where you need to wake up a sleeping old man. After trying every logical option, I finally read the FAQ which told me to blow on the microphone! Who wakes a person by blowing in their ear? Seems just a little gay! Ninja Gaiden has great production values but too many annoyances. None of these annoyances are deal-breakers on their own, but when they reach critical mass you'll find yourself looking for something else to play. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Grade: C
Publisher: Disney (2007)
Reviewed: 2018/7/21
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotWorld's End was not the best Pirates of the Caribbean movie (it was probably the worst) but this little platformer isn't too bad. I was surprised how the opening stage revisits scenes from Dead Man's Chest, the previous film in the series. World's End looks a lot like a run-of-the-mill PS1-era game with fuzzy, angular graphics. Still, there are some fun locations like exotic Singapore and the surreal Davy Jones Locker. In Shipwreck Cove you can jump across crocs like Pitfall (Atari 2600, 1982). Playable characters include Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, and Captain Jack Sparrow.

The forgiving platform-jumping compensates for some really awkward camera angles. It's easy to climb, leap from ladders, and grab ledges. You can even pole vault and grapple over dangerous pits. I just can't figure out why touching water results in instant death; you're a pirate for crying out loud! The combat is my least-favorite aspect of the game. There's a certain degree of technique but it's just not satisfying as you slash away at enemies that flash red. When you have the opportunity to run by enemies, do it! The Davy Jones Locker stage is the worst offender with its pesky, resurrecting ghouls.

Since this is a DS title there are the obligatory touchscreen mini-games, for better or worse. The lock-picking puzzles are kind of fun, especially as you desperately attempt to unlock a chest with enemies closing in. The touchscreen is also used for one-on-one duels, and while it feels contrived I eventually got the hang of it. The orchestrated music is lifted right from the film and text dialog between stages features digitized images of the actors. The gameplay of World's End is very much by-the-numbers, but I like how the game stays true to the spirit of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Point Blank DS
Grade: B+
Publisher: Bandai (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/9/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAppearing three times on the Playstation One, Point Blank was the premiere light gun series for many years. Presenting players with a randomized series of short mini-games, Point Black was best known for its head-to-head split-screen action. Thankfully this DS edition retains the same cartoonish graphics, whimsical style, and offbeat sense of humor.

I always thought the DS stylus would make a fine light gun substitute, and I was right. Just tap it on the screen and you effectively fire at that spot. While the controls are super accurate, that doesn't mean the game is easy. The arcade mode is madly addicting as you attempt to conquer four difficulty levels. You'll take aim at stuffed animals, cuckoo clocks, jumping skeletons, and ninjas that come out of the woodwork. You'll even sheer sheep and try to shoot a single fly buzzing around a room.

A few stages can be mentally taxing, like one where you need to shoot the clock displaying a specific time. The small size of the DS screen can be a hindrance when it comes to shooting matching shapes, because smaller objects can be hard to make out. Over 40 different mini-games are included, which sounds good but is actually far less than the 80+ games found in the PS1 editions. As a result, the games began to repeat sooner.

Point Blank's wacky soundtrack is appropriate enough, and its crisp digitized sound effects include shattering glass and rattling bones. There are actually five different modes of play, but each uses the same pool of games. High scores are saved automatically. Point Blank DS does a great job of retaining the charm of the original games, and it's a nice change of pace from all the platform and puzzle titles. As long as you resist using the infinite continues, Point Blank DS will charm and entertain. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Grade: C
Publisher: Level 5 (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/7/15

screenshotHaving heard that Professor Layton was a popular series of brain-teasing video games, I decided to test my wits with The Diabolical Box. The game's lead characters are the distinguished Professor Layton and a boy named Luke who assists him. On this train-bound adventure they must unravel the mystery of a box that kills anyone who dares open it. It sounds pretty dark but rest assured this is fine for kids.

The game is basically a collection of mind-bending puzzles, many of which have nothing to do with the storyline. Each one offers something new, and typically requires only a minute or two to solve. There are jigsaw pieces to arrange and mazes to navigate, but most puzzles are clever visual or thought-provoking logic problems. In some cases you're asked to determine what's wrong with a picture or locate a subtle clue.

Any fear that I would breeze through this game was quickly squelched when I got hung up on the very first puzzle! Some of the puzzles are ingenious, but a few of the wordier ones brought back painful memories of taking the SAT in high school ("A train has six passengers...") A few of the "find the clue" pictures have hard-to-see details, so I hope you have good eyesight! To propel the storyline you'll need to chat with each person you see and page through a lot of wordy dialog. It can get a little tedious.

Still, the game has a certain charm and its hand-illustrated graphic style is refreshing. Hints are available on a limited basis, and each puzzle concludes with a full explanation of the solution. You can save your progress at any time, and upon resuming you're presented with a helpful "our story so far" summary. The game is definitely educational and great for kids. Casual gamers will tire of the game before solving the mystery of the Diabolical Box, but those who persevere will be a lot smarter when all is said and done. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Resident Evil: Deadly Silence
Grade: C-
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/3/17

screenshotI've always been a rabid fan of the Resident Evil series, and Deadly Silence is basically a portable version of the 1996 Playstation original. While it remains a terrific game after all of these years, there's really no justification for porting it to a portable system like the DS.

Sure, the DS is capable of rendering graphics comparable to the PS1, but a lot of detail is lost on that small screen. The meticulously detailed rooms of the original seem watered down, and you'll be squinting to see small items. Let's face it, a survival horror classic like Resident Evil deserves to be played on a full-sized TV with the lights out.

In addition to the original version, you can also try the new "rebirth mode", which incorporates some touch screen functionality in the form of first-person knife sequences. It's fun to poke and slash creeps with the stylus, and it made me wonder how a light gun game might work on the DS. Another nice feature is the ability to view the house map at all times on the upper screen.

Like the original game, there are plenty of anxious moments that will make you jump, but the default green blood looks cheesy! Deadly Silence also includes multi-player cooperative and competitive modes, but I didn't test them out. I love Resident Evil, but it's hard to recommend this miniature version. At its core, this is a solid game, but not a good fit for the DS. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Retro Atari Classics
Grade: F
Publisher: Atari (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/2/20
Rating: Everyone (violence)

screenshotLeave it to the "new Atari" to screw up all the classic Atari games we grew up with. This company doesn't even deserve the Atari name! Retro Atari makes an absolute mockery of some of the greatest video games ever conceived. How? Well you can start with the ill-conceived control schemes, ugly graphics, and sloppy programming. You can't even save your high scores, which was the whole point of playing these games!

The stylus proves to be an awkward control mechanism for most of these titles, so you'll want to stick with the control pad (although you don't even have the option with Tempest). Missile Command is spread out over both screens, but it's confusing to "toggle" the cursor between them. Games like Centipede, Asteroids, and Warlords are playable, but they're marginal compared to the original versions. Sprint and Gravitar are practically unplayable due to their touchy controls.

I've played decent versions of Pong, Breakout, and Lunar Lander in my time, but these renditions are just slow and boring as hell. Perhaps the worst travesty is the "remixed graphics" option. Missile Command's new skyline looks fine, but Centipede's day-glow colors and pink hearts (in lieu of mushrooms) will have you reaching for a barf bag. Retro Atari is a total sham that does a great disservice to a lot of legendary games. If you see this one on the shelves, keep walking. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Retro Game Challenge
Grade: B
Publisher: XSeed (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/4/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis clever homage to 80's video gaming offers an intriguing collection of brand new 2D games that look as if they were pulled straight out of an old NES system! They include a Galaga-like vertical shooter (Cosmic Gate), a platformer (Ninja Robot Haggleman), an overhead racer (Rally King), and a vertical-scrolling shooter (Star Prince). There's even a full-scale RPG! The blocky graphics, limited sound effects, and melodic electronic music have a certain timeless, endearing quality. Even the font used to display the score looks distinctively familiar.

You might expect these games to be junk, but they're thoughtfully constructed and enjoyable to play. Heck, some may have even been legitimate hits back in the day. The games are played on the top screen, and the bottom screen shows two kids sitting in front of a TV, reacting to your performance ("Dude - you just missed it!"). I love how they toss out a lot of old-school trivia and cultural references, from blowing into cartridges to scouring game magazines for secret codes. The tone is dead-on, effectively transporting you back 25 years in time.

Retro Game Challenge has a wonderful premise but its rigid structure takes its toll on the fun. The overarching story of an evil game master is totally unnecessary. You begin with only one game, and subsequent titles only become available one at a time. To unlock a new game you must complete four specific feats, like employing a certain power-up, achieving a certain score, or finishing the game! This regimented style of play eliminates the thrill of discovery, and by the time the game is available in "free play" mode, you're pretty much sick of the thing!

Another "classic" element that's lacking is the challenge. Especially in free play mode, these games are really easy. Back in the day you were lucky to last for three minutes in a good shooter, much less finish the entire game! Retro Gaming Challenge should have ditched the storyline, made all the main games unlocked from the start, and ratcheted up the difficulty. It's a flawed package, but the fact that these new games exude so much old-school charm is worth celebrating. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Ridge Racer DS
Grade: D+
Publisher: Namco (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/1/15
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith its flashy graphics and simple arcade style, Nintendo probably assumed Ridge Racer would be a safe bet as one of the first DS titles. I've been a huge Ridge Racer fan since it first appeared as the original Playstation "pack-in game" (circa 1995). This DS edition is basically a scaled-down, "best-of" compilation, and it covers a lot of familiar territory.

The game incorporates the tight controls the series is known for, letting you execute precision power slides with a touch of a button. Don't expect much realism though. Crashing into guardrails doesn't slow you down one bit, and the collision detection between cars is erratic at best. To be honest, I much prefer playing Ridge Racer on the big screen.

The roads in this version look angular and the "bleeding" tail light effects look gratuitous. The scenery is not very impressive, and it's sometimes hard to see the road ahead. I also discovered that those tiny DS buttons will hurt your fingers if you have to hold them in for too long.

Yes, you also have the option of steering via the touch screen, but that won't make your life any easier! Ridge Racer DS does offer substantial replay value, with a deep single-player mode along with wireless play for up to six players. Still, I find it very hard to get excited about this. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 6 players 

Rubik's World
Grade: F
Publisher: Game Factory (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/1/7
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe Wii version of Rubik's World was a mixed bag, but packed enough interesting game variations to justify its existence. This portable version does not have that luxury. After playing all eight variations, would you believe I didn't find a single one appealing? Fit is a really mediocre brainteaser, and Calculate forces you to do math! C'mon now! That will cost you a letter grade every time!

Create and Compose let you tinker around with music and stack cubes, but what's the point? Switch and Roll reminded me of similar puzzle variations from the Wii game, but these scaled down versions are far less intuitive and a lot less fun. The manual describes the Color variation as "confusing", and I think that speaks for itself! That leaves us with the basic "solve the cube" game, but if I wanted to do that (and I really don't), I'd just pick up an actual Rubik's Cube. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of, Moby Games