Nintendo DS Reviews N-P

Nanostray
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 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Moby Games