system Index D-F
Diddy Kong Racing DS
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/4/29
Rating: Everyone


screenshotLooking suspiciously like the original Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64, 1997), this DS edition brings back the same Mario Kart-style racing action with a few original DS touches thrown in for good measure. You can race in cars, hovercrafts, and planes, and there's an assortment of bright, colorful locales. I particularly like the cheerfully festive snow and ice tracks. As you win races and complete challenges, you collect balloons that gradually open up more and more areas.

The action is pure arcade fun as you speed boost, launch missiles, and use magnets to overtake your opponents. Diddy Kong's controls are intuitive enough, but I did find it awkward to use the L button to deploy special items while steering. The DS stylus is used periodically, including rubbing the screen to "rev up" your vehicle. Magic carpet rides serve as bonus stages and add some variety.

As you automatically fly around a course, the stylus is used to pan the camera 360 degrees while popping as many balloons as you can. At first I didn't know what the hell was going on in these stages, but once I got the hang of it, I thought they were a lot of fun. You can even "drag" coins into a pouch at the bottom of the screen.

Diddy Kong Racing is just as fun as the original game, but this DS version does come up short in some regards. The graphics are surprisingly mediocre, with a lot of ugly textures and some serious clipping problems. The water looks like a pixelated pattern of blue and white squares, and the "fog" in certain stages (unintended or not) can make it hard to tell where the track is heading.

Technical issues bring down the fun factor of an otherwise charming, addictive game. In terms of audio, Nintendo has managed to put together a collection of catchy, cheerful tunes that you can't help but like. Diddy Kong Racing could have been better, but its simple brand of racing fun has universal appeal. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 8 players 

If you like this game, try: Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)
Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)
Crash Team Racing (Playstation)
Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)
Racing Aces (Sega CD)

Dig Dug: Digging Strike
Grade: F
Publisher: Namco (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/8/8
Rating: Everyone


screenshotDid you know that Mr. Driller is actually the son of the little man in Dig Dug? What's that? You don't give a [expletive]? That's how I felt paging through the endless lame text preceding this game's story mode. Digging Strike tries to expand upon the world of Dig Dug, but just needlessly complicates matters.

You know, I can remember way back to the days when Dig Dug was a fun game. The original was a legitimate classic, letting you tunnel through dirt while "pumping up" bad guys and dropping rocks on their heads. Expert players could employ all sorts of risky strategies, and there was unlimited replay value. The lukewarm NES sequel, Dig Dug II, took an entirely different approach. Set on an island, the idea was to drill around and cause huge sections of land to collapse into the sea.

This DS version unwisely attempts to combine the styles of both games, with the island displayed on the top screen and the underground areas on the bottom. Breaking up the island involves sinking strategically-placed spikes underground. The problem is, clearing out the dirt underneath the spikes is a tedious chore! The game attempts to incorporate all sorts of power-ups, but these can't elevate the tepid gameplay. In addition to rocks, you can unleash water, lava, and rolling mines.

These new elements might have been interesting if the game had stuck with the original Dig Dug style. Certain power-ups trigger mini-games that are mildly amusing but inconsequential. I found myself searching in vain for some kind of "classic" Dig Dug mode, but it was nowhere to be found. In the end, Digging Strike did little more than bore the hell out of me. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dig Dug II (NES)
Mr. Do! (Atari 2600)
Dig Dug (Atari 5200)
Boulderdash (NES)
Dig Dug (Intellivision)

Dora the Explorer: Dora Saves the Mermaids
Grade: NA
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/11/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotDora the Explorer is an extremely popular Nickelodeon cartoon character, and this game takes her on an adventure through a series of tropical environments. Like its counterpart (Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue) this game is perfect for kids who want to play video games but aren't yet old enough to read.

Dora Saves the Mermaids serves up a nice selection of mini-games complemented by bright visuals and pleasant steel drum music. On her journey Dora will dance the Conga, remove trash from a beach, call to animals, and blow away sand to locate a magic crown. Although most games are controlled with the stylus, occasionally you're prompted to speak or blow into the microphone. I advised my wife that if she heard me shouting "swipe!" or "squeak squeak" from the other room, I had not totally lost my mind (normally this type of behavior would be cause for concern).

Each game concludes with a quick "positive reinforcement" screen, which leads straight into the next game. My 3-year-old niece Brooke took to this game right away, but did get briefly stuck on one part where you need to drag garbage into a bag. Like a similar sequence in Go Diego Go, the game doesn't register stylus movements as well as it could. That's too bad, because otherwise this is a very well constructed, albeit short game for young kids that requires little or no supervision from the adults. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dora Saves the Mermaids (Playstation 2)
Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue (Nintendo DS)
Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue (Wii)
Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue (Playstation 2)
Noddy: A Day In Toyland (Game Boy Advance)

Dragon's Lair
Grade: B-
Publisher: Digital Leisure (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/1/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe original Dragon's Lair arcade game (1983) made a huge impression on me as a kid, so over the years I've collected just about every home version I could find. Based on the recent releases of a Blu Ray edition and this portable version, the franchise is still alive and kicking. Dragon's Lair was the original animated Laserdisc game, and I'll be the first to admit that its creative visuals and amusing animations were the main attraction. Its gameplay is limited to pressing a button or moving the joystick at specific moments, and it's not everyone's cup of tea (understandably so).

Despite the small screen size, Dragon's Lair looks sharp on the DS. You can't quite savor every tiny detail, but the colorful animation is still a joy to behold. When you fire up the game you're treated to the excellent intro from the original arcade game. It really gets you psyched up! The top screen displays all of the animation and the bottom screen tracks your score and lives. If you enable the handy "move guide", the bottom screen also prompts you with the correct moves.

In terms of pure gameplay, this may be the most accessible version I've played. Clear audio cues indicate a correct or bad move, and you're not penalized for bad timing. Since there's no loading, the scenes are presented in a rapid-fire fashion. Occasionally the brisk pacing can be a detriment, as you'll suddenly experience death before you even realize what the heck's going on.

You can select between the arcade mode and a "home mode" which contains scenes not found in the original game. Easy and hard difficulties are available, and high scores with initials are automatically saved. The DS may not be the ideal platform for Dragon's Lair, but it's a much better fit than I had anticipated. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 25,994
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Dragon's Lair Trilogy (Wii)
Dragon's Lair (Playstation 3)
Dragon's Lair Trilogy (Nintendo Switch)
Ray Crisis (Playstation)
Space Ace (CD) (Jaguar)

Dream Pinball
Grade: B
Publisher: Southpeak Games (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/4/5
Rating: Everyone


screenshotWhen it comes to bringing realistic pinball action to the tiny DS screens, Dream Pinball does about as good a job as you can do. With six different full-sized tables, this little cartridge packs a heck of a lot of replay value! Each plays just like real pinball in terms of scoring, difficulty, ball physics, and table layouts. I love the intriguing themes which include dinosaurs, knights, monsters, science fiction, automotive, and aquatic life. Each has roughly 50 targets to shoot for, so there's plenty to keep you busy.

In terms of gameplay, Dream Pinball lives up to its name. The shoulder buttons function perfectly as flipper controls, and pressing the directional pad to nudge the machine is convenient. The tight camera angles provide an optimal view at all times, allowing you to really get "into a zone". When a multi-ball mode kicks in (always a blast) the camera remains low so you can focus on keeping the balls in play with the lower flippers.

Each board has several flippers, but they are sometimes hard to locate. Several of the tables sport similar layouts, but high quality music and crisp sound effects give them all a distinctive flavor. The degree of detail in each table is limited by the DS resolution, and to be honest, there were times when I wished I were playing this on the Wii.

The table art (shown on the top screen) is pretty sparse and the voice effects sound a little cheesy. That woman keeps asking me "ready for ball change?" but I don't know what that means. And what's the deal with those crazy sounds in the Aquatic table? Are fish really supposed to scream? A challenge mode is included, but it's more fun just to compete for the high score (which are saved). I like to play Dream Pinball each night before going to bed, and I'd advise you to do the same. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Pinball Jam (Lynx)
Dream Pinball (Wii)
Midnight Magic (Atari 2600)
Pinball (NES)
Galactic Pinball (Virtual Boy)

Elite Beat Agents
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/26
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, crude humor, lyrics, suggestive themes)

screenshotThis may be the most insane video game I've ever played, and I absolutely love it. Elite Beat Agents is a quirky musical game that substitutes a dance pad with a touch pad. Its visual style is unlike anything I've seen before, with semi-animated comic-book style cells that leap off the screen with crisp lines and brilliant colors.

Each selectable stage begins with an ordinary premise that takes a series of increasingly bizarre twists and turns. For example, a weather lady promises a sunny weekend to her son, but when the clouds roll in, she enlists the help of fighter pilots and forest animals to alter the weather conditions in ways that make absolutely no sense. You really need to see this stuff to understand just how wonderfully absurd it is.

Elite's gameplay consists of tapping shrinking circles on the touch screen in time to the beats of songs. I've never played anything like this before, but I like it a lot. Once you get into a groove, it really does feel like an interactive music video. There are plenty of familiar pop tunes like "Jumpin' Jack Flash", "YMCA", and "Material Girl", but even the more obscure songs sound great. There's even that dance song from Napoleon Dynamite, although the circles in that one seem oddly out-of-sync with the music.

Also annoying is the big wheel you sometimes need to spin by moving the stylus in a circular pattern. Still, Elite Beat Agents offers something fresh and innovative, and I give Nintendo a lot of credit for taking a chance on this. Although best played in short spurts, the game's scoring system gives it some replay value. Clever and strikingly uninhibited, Elite Beat Agents is wacky fun you can only experience on the Nintendo DS. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Yoshi's Touch and Go (Nintendo DS)
Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 (Playstation 2)
Michael Jackson: The Experience (Playstation Vita)
In The Groove (Playstation 2)
Mansion of Hidden Souls (Sega CD)

Feel The Magic
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2006/2/10
Rating: Teen (crude humor, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotWith 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.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (Genesis)
Big Bang Mini (Nintendo DS)
Palm Springs Open (Philips CD-i)
Yoshi's Touch and Go (Nintendo DS)
Thunderground (Atari 2600)


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