Although Nintendo isn’t currently going with the “save the best till last” approach, what with Mario Kart 7 and Super Mario 3D Land hitting the system earlier than usual, it’s interesting to see that some of the best DS games are still only seeing the light of day this year.
There is a clutch of games in particular that have caught my eye, each of which stretches the DS to near breaking point. This becomes apparent as if you (like me) play them on the 3DS — its extra horse power makes them run a little smoother, to my eye at least.
Perhaps the best thing about these games being at the end of the DS console cycle is that you can often find them at bargain prices. Attentions and marketing budgets have now shifted to the 3DS and PS Vita titles, leaving fresh DS games as something of a hidden treasure. This also makes them the perfect gift for the discerning gamer who would appreciate something unusual in his Christmas stocking this year.
Solatorobo ($26.99 on Amazon)
Solatorobo joins a merry band of games that see off the DS in style. The love and attention spent on both the graphics engine and story is are awe inspiring, but it is the playability of Solatorobo that really makes it stick.
It has taken me too long to put fingers to keyboard and write this, not least because Solatorobo is a game that needs to be shared. I don’t mean that in the usual videogame way, as this is a single-player adventure. Rather, it is a memorable experience, like that of a good book or film, that once finished leaves you wanting to go out and buy it for friends, families and passers-by on the street.
As you make your way round the island world there is a coherence to every location, cut scene and interior that creates the most convincing world I’ve explored on the DS. Even the likes of Zelda Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass found it necessary to compromise their aesthetic at times, but Solatorobo refuses to stoop to these tricks of handheld adventures. It joins Okamiden in delivering a true console adventure on a handheld.
Walk behind a building and you are silhouetted out so that you remain visible without obscuring the view. Walk under a bridge and the architecture becomes semi-transparent so you can be seen through it. Make your way up some stairs and the camera pans round to reveal an impressive 3D cityscape. Large foreground objects add a sense of depth as does the varying sounds of the city depending on how close you are to them. It’s a graphical engine that squeezes every last drop out of the DS, and has obviously been lovingly optimized in the tradition of (now long forgotten) 16-bit games where graphical horsepower was at a premium.
What’s more, take these games to the 3DS and you get a performance boost from the increased power of the new system. Playing them there, and taking advantage of the 3DS Circle pad (which works really well with these DS games) made me more hopeful than ever for the life of the 3DS format. If its games improve as much as they have during the life of the DS, then we are in for some very special experiences over the next few years, and perhaps one of them will be Solatorobo 2. (Read my complete Solatorobo review).
Ghost Trick ($13.99 on Amazon)
Forget what you know about Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick is fresh, logical and engrossing. The only comparison that does justice to its story, visuals, and puzzles is Portal.
If you’ve played the role-playing game The World Ends with You, you’ll have a good idea of what it looks like — and if not, just check out the screen shots. What you can’t see from the still images, though, is just how good it looks in motion. Each character and object movement looks like it has been motion-captured. The result is a little like Another World on the Amiga — a smooth, stylized rendering of the world that carries with it a strange sense of emotion.
Unlike Ace Attorney, game play in Ghost Trick largely occurs after a crime has been committed. Oh and after you are dead yourself too. The “trick” is that you can turn back time and manipulate the environment to cause a chain reaction of events that averts the murder, manslaughter or accidental death – and you come across all variations on this theme.
It’s a simple premise controlled entirely by the touchscreen. What results is a rolling cycle of murders, mysteries and story all interspersed neatly with each other.
It’s the story that to my mind is most interesting here. I won’t rehearse what other Ghost Trick reviews have said better and more comprehensively, but the characters and story had me glued to my DS for many hours. And not being the sort of person with the time to invest in these sorts of games that is saying a lot.
Ghost Trick arrives towards the end of the DS’s life, and with the 3DS hot on its heels. By squeezing every last ounce of graphics and interaction out of Nintendo’s handheld it is quite simply the pinnacle of what I have seen to date on the device. The fact that it is this game, rather than any of the 3DS launch titles, that my 3DS has been put to work on these last few weeks is perhaps the highest praise I can give. (Read my complete Ghost Trick review).
Okamiden ($18.53 on Amazon)
Okamiden is a perfectly formed adorable adventure that feels more like Zelda than both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. While on the original DS it’s technically impressive, well written and beautiful to look at, put it in a 3DS and it turns into something rather magical.
Okamiden isn’t what I was expecting, although if I had played Okami (Wii) I suspect I would have known what was coming. The classic dog based calligraphic console game has pretty much been recreated on the DS.
There is something thrilling about squeezing that big console adventure down into a device that you can take anywhere with you. But even with Nintendo’s insider knowledge of their handheld, they still had to cut corners and add repetition to achieve this trick.
Okamiden is different because it doesn’t feel like smoke and mirrors. Rather than simplifying the camera angle and rendering as in Zelda, it stays far closer to the original Okami — and to my money is actually a much truer implementation of Zelda than the halfway house that Nintendo have delivered.
From the lukewarm reception I’d read about Okamiden I wasn’t expecting it to be as groundbreaking as it felt. I know it is very similar to the original Wii and PS2 game, but for me this is no bad thing. If you’re suffering from Okami-fatigue then this DS version probably isn’t for you, but for the rest of us it’s a perfectly formed tiny adventure of epic proportions. (Read my complete Okamiden review).