With the release of the Wii U less than a week away all eyes are currently on Nintendo’s forthcoming console. Therefore I can almost forgive you if you missed the recent Nintendo Direct video outlining the stellar lineup for their 3DS handheld. Almost.
Boasting an amazing array of top-shelf titles, the 3DS finally seems to be well over its initial slump. With a price drop for the original model and the bigger, better 3DS XL helping to bolster sales numbers, Nintendo goes into Q4 with a solid install base looking forward to a continuing parade of great properties. The latest entries in the Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem and Luigi’s Mansion franchises are, sadly, still months away, but a number of other recognizable names are currently available for the all-important holiday gift giving season.
Last month the Suda 51-helmed Liberation Maiden rocketed into the 3DS eShop, the first of three titles to be released stateside cribbed from Japanese compilation Guild01 from acclaimed publisher Level-5. This anime-inspired shooter puts players in the role of Shoko Ozora, the mech-flying president of alien-occupied New Japan. Combining the fast-paced aerial combat of Kid Icarus Uprising with a genuinely bizarre plot you’d expect from the guy behind Killer 7 and Lollipop Chainsaw, Liberation Maiden finds you weaving, bobbing, strafing and shooting through a veritable 3D bullet hell. The game scores points for compelling visuals, talented voice actors and a cool core concept – your primary offensive weapon also serves as your mech’s shield, so the attack and defend mechanics overlap. Sadly, it loses some of its luster due to very repetitive gameplay that continually forces you to destroy three enemy Conduit Spikes so that you can… then destroy a larger Conduit Spike. The Circle Pad and touchscreen control scheme (used for moving and attacking respectively) could lead to some uncomfortable moments, but in that regard the game is mercifully short. At $8 American it’s neither a bargain nor an indispensable addition to your downloadable collection, but it is an interesting experience that’s hard to resist.
A newer addition to the eShop is the long awaited Pokédex 3D Pro. Though many expected it to drop alongside Pokémon Black 2/White 2 and Pokémon Dream Radar – I know I did – this fully featured encyclopedia of Pocket Monsters finally became available on November 8th. Featuring 640+ Pokémon from across all the franchise’s various regions, it’s an on-the-go resource that features full 3D models and iconic in-game sounds. Additional AR and quiz features make it a much more robust application than the original Pokédex 3D, but its $15 price tag will likely prove a barrier to adoption for all but the most hardcore fans of the series. That being said this puts it in roughly the same price range as similar dead tree resources, so it’s not a bad buy if you too are a member of a distinctly Pokémon-loving clan.
Also newly released for download is Freakyforms Deluxe, an updated version of the original Freakyforms: Your Creations, Alive! made available in Europe earlier this year. The title again allows
would-be mad scientists the artistically inclined to create unique Formees, the game’s playable characters, and tweak the environment itself to their liking with additional design options becoming available as the game world opens up. This time, however, the game adds even more – more content in the way of Formee options, multiplayer gameplay and even some classic RPG-style dungeons. Sadly, less-than perfect touchscreen controls sometimes sour a charming experience, and at $20 it also feels as if it’s overpriced.
Back in the world of standard cart-based retail, Activision has finally brought the Nintendo-exclusive title based on the Transformers Prime animated series to the 3DS, Wii and DS (with the Wii U release forthcoming). For me the 3DS title is the best of the bunch combining solid controls with visuals that often surpass that of its console counterpart (even though the 3D effect itself is a bit underwhelming). Fans of the source material will surely notice that the charm of the original property, the very voice of the show, is properly present within the game. Optimus, Bumblebee, Arcee and Bulkhead look and feel like themselves, even if you occasionally notice that each player character controls oddly similarly. Other than that the game’s only real negative is that it recycles. From enemies to mission structure to those pesky humans allies that always seem to be getting into trouble, Transformers Prime: The Game plays it conservatively, but in the end the simple joys of shifting form, skillfully alternating your melee and distance attacks and simply losing yourself in the fiction wins out.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star is surely Nintendo’s big portable first-party title for the holiday season. Those familiar the original N64 title or its GameCube and Wii follow-ups will feel at home in the flattened out game world, but those fond of other recent 3DS Mario title will be delighted by the depth this system provides to the quirky landscapes. Mario runs, jumps and climbs across these shoebox diorama worlds, and combat is handled via an enhanced turn-based system. Mario and his enemies alternate dealing damage, but you as the player can supplement this cardboard carnage by well-timed button presses. The titular stickers, which are collected at every turn, determine your attack type, and tapping the attack button at the right time slowly peels the current sticker from the screen area – as opposed to tearing is off Band-Aid-style. The obligatory coins collected can be used to buy even more stickers and gambled before combat to earn additional weapon sticker slots for that round. These same stickers can be used to solve level puzzles by further flattening the game’s perspective and skillfully applying them, and special items (“Things”) within the world can be sticker-ized into veritable super weapons. The problem with Sticker Star – other than the cookie-cutter plot – is that it operates purely on its own brand of logic, which, sadly, it doesn’t always accurately communicate. In-game ally Kersti the Sticker Fairy is always on hand to dispense advice, but even she’s often unhelpful. Sometimes you have the right sticker but put it in the wrong place, and sometimes you just don’t have it at all. This and the sometimes odd ways you have to navigate this 2D/3D world can prove frustrating, but the sheer strength of its gorgeous visual design and humorous writing will eventually win most players over.
Like Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is available both via traditional retail and as an eShop downloadable, and also that game’s not without its shortcomings. However if there’s a single must-buy in this season’s crop of 3DS titles, surely it’s Layton! His transition to the 3DS wasn’t exactly seamless; the shifts from animated cut scene to 3D rendered character model to the actual in-level design don’t always seem to gel, and the laborious horse-riding mini-game is easy a series low point, but the puzzle-solving gameplay never suffers. Navigating the streets of Monte d’Or – not to mention flashing back to the university days of a young Professor – in search of clues about the nature of the antagonistic Masked Gentleman is practically flawless as you click and zoom to find new puzzles, enjoying the sights, sounds, wit and wisdom of yet another chapter in this acclaimed series. With plentiful puzzles (many of which don’t even penalize you for wrong guesses) a trunk full of bonus material that’ll have you arranging fruit, guiding wayward robots and training a circus rabbit, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is exactly the kind of game that’ll see you through many a boring family gathering or painfully long holiday commute.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America