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In case the contents of this blog don't make it obvious enough, I have something of an affinity for slightly "offbeat" titles, so if there's something out there that few others cover, there's a fair chance I'm at least somewhat up on it.
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Below are a handful of recaps and other links (oldest listed first by section), in case you're interested - asterisks mark promoted articles.
Yep, you read right – just a matter of days ago I finally joined the ever-expanding ranks of DS owners, several years after this announcement would have even remotely impressed anybody. For me, though, this is a very big thing – not so much because it’s a system I’ve been pining for since time immemorial (if I’d wanted one THAT badly, after all, it wouldn’t have taken me this long to get one), but instead due to the fact that this is the first “purely” portable system I’ve ever gone out and bought of my own free will. I do have a PSP, but that only half-counts as far as I’m concerned – you see, the reason I had first gone for Sony’s system is because (as of its first revision, anyway) it could be treated largely as a “non-portable” console, and its other features largely ignored if one so desired. Feel free to check out this old article no one read for further thoughts on this front (note: one guy did comment on it, but was apparently banned at some point afterwards – now my response to him sits there by itself, looking really, really stupid).
Anyway, in case it’s not obvious enough already, I’ve never been a portable gamer – I rarely find myself in situations where I’m free to play something but unable to access one of my regular ol’ “sit-down” consoles, and up until recently few portable-exclusive games really appealed to me all that much to begin with. In the end, though, as more and more alluring titles failed to make the jump to “traditional” platforms, I was unable to resist the temptation any longer – the PSP, as it turned out, was but my “gateway” console, and now, thanks to a good deal on offer by a shmup-forum mate, I’m a full-fledged DS crackhead. The “traditional console only” BulletMagnet is dead and gone, and his replacement has been putting some time into acquainting himself with this strange, groundbreaking manner of video gaming that everyone else has been part of for ages already – so, how are things getting along so far? If you’re interested in hearing the thoughts of a recently-deflowered “portable virgin” (the PSP was just a really heavy makeout session, it didn’t count), read on.
The Hardware – I suppose the first thing I ought to mention is that the model I bought was a black Lite – off the cuff, at least, a decent acquisition for my situation, since the camera and other doodads on the DSi hold no appeal for me (not to mention that there are no exclusive games for it yet, to justify the extra cost), and the original DS model really isn’t supported by Nintendo anymore. That said, when I first opened the box, held the thing in my hand, and (after a short struggle) managed to open it, I couldn’t help but marvel at how friggin’ tiny it was – and I’m not a guy used to playing games on especially big or fancy screens either (my tube of choice is a 13-inch Commodore 1084 low-res monitor). I wondered if my eyes would ever be able to make the adjustment, but either way it was too late to turn back now – it was time to flip on the power switch.
Right at the get-go, however, I encountered a somewhat deflating situation – in case you’re unaware, while the PSP uses a battery and charger similar to that of the DS, the former is not required to run the system (with one semi-exception, which I’ll mention later). If you’ve got an outlet around (which is pretty much the only situation I play in), you can take the battery out of the system, plug the AC adapter in, and you’re off to the races. Tenderfoot that I was, I hoped that the DS offered this same luxury – removing the battery with the aid of an eyeglass screwdriver, I plugged it in. The “power” light flashed on…and then immediately went out. I tried the “on” switch – nothing. A quick look around online confirmed that I would indeed need the battery to play, even while the system is plugged into the wall – now, the inconvenience of having to charge the battery from time to time, now rendered unavoidable, was actually the least of my worries. While the DS’s rechargeable battery is, in most respects, preferable to the standard AAs and AAAs that were required for most of Nontendo’s older portables, it is not nearly as easily replaced – perhaps I’m thinking too far into the future, but I worry about my system being forced into obsolescence once Nintendo stops supporting it, since it will be near-impossible to find a working battery for it, and no other option to power it exists. I doubt anyone else has even thought about this, but I still wonder if I ought to buy a few extra batteries now and keep them in storage, just in case…
From there, though, things improved – once I’d wended my way around the system, I found it to be pretty user-friendly even for a technologically-impaired type like myself. The screen was surprisingly easy to keep an eye on thanks to the brightness options (one above the lowest was enough for me…at the expense of slightly reduced battery life), and the “sleep” mode was nice to have available (and hard to activate by accident, unlike the PSP’s). Finally, the one time I ever do find myself having to use the PSP’s battery is to perform intermittent (and rather irritating) firmware updates – obviously, I’m glad to be rid of such things when it comes to the DS. I haven’t tried any sort of internet connectivity, downloading, etc. yet, but frankly don’t plan to (one old habit of mine that dies particularly hard), so those are sort of a moot point.
The Software – Here’s where the DS’s overall design truly began to grow on me. While I’m not nearly as critical of the UMD format as many other gamers (at least when it comes to using them for games, as opposed to movies), I must admit that having to deal with a cartridge, as opposed to a disc of some sort, is a breath of fresh air after so long. No need to constantly worry about scratching or smudging - just keep it from getting too dusty, and thanks to the simple, snap-shut plastic cases (seriously, Nintendo, it took you this long to ditch the flimsy cardboard boxes and easy-to-lose dust covers…if you even bothered to include the latter?) that shouldn’t be too big a deal. I also must note that getting the little plastic squares from Point A to Point B is mercifully hassle-free – extracting a DS cart from its case is far easier (for me, at least) than freeing a UMD from its prison, and both inserting and removing it from the system itself is as easy as a gentle push, no need to wait for anything to stop spinning. Say what you will about Nintendo, but they’ve always been pretty good at idiot-proofing their products, and this idiot thanks them for it. Finally, while this really has nothing to do with the topic at hand, I must say that my nostalgic demons were awakened with a vengeance to be able to play, for the first time in what feels like an eternity, a system where sprites are as close to a norm, as opposed to an exception, as they can be these days. I know that pretty pixel-work doesn’t guarantee a good game any more than any other such cosmetic feature, but I’m still overwhelmingly happy to see it again, notwithstanding.
The Interface - Like a lot of other people, I thought that the DS’s distinguishing feature, the touch screen, sounded horribly gimmicky at first blush – while there’s still grumbling at some games’ more vestigial implementations of this mechanic (see Nanostray), overall it’s caught on far better than I ever dreamed it would. So now I’ve actually dealt with the thing firsthand, and…well, I guess it kind of depends. For example, while I’ve had few problems completing most tasks on WarioWare: Touched, getting my shots to go where I want them to in Big Bang Mini still largely eludes me – my first guess is that I’m simply doing something wrong, but whatever the cause it’s not going away until I figure it out. Thankfully, more developers are now feeling less pressure to squeeze in touch screen controls where they’re not needed, and are content to allow the second screen to serve as a simple but handy map or the like, and leave things at that – while there are some neat things to be done via said screen, and I don’t mind developers experimenting with them, I also encourage them to not be afraid to stick with a more traditional interface if it works better. And yeah, I know that everyone has been telling them that for ages already, but one more drop in the bucket couldn’t hurt, right?
Speaking of which, those aforementioned ye olde butonnes and such – while it took me a bit to get accustomed to the smaller scale, after a little settling in I’ve had few issues when it comes to controlling things “the old-fashioned way.” So far I haven’t tried any fighting games or the like, which would require an especially responsive d-pad, but frankly I don’t plan to (on this system, anyways), so it’s more than likely that the system’s physical getup will suit my purposes just fine as it is – also, at least so far, the microphone doesn’t seem to require an unreasonable amount of effort to register, so that handful of situations should be no problem either. On a larger scale, I’ve heard myriad things about the overall controls for each DS model (i.e. the original “fat” version supposedly has a better d-pad, but the L button doesn’t respond as well, etc.) and haven’t found much of a consensus on any of it, so I’m just hoping that what I’ve got is a decent performer, all things considered.
The Games – Ah, the one true reason I finally surrendered to my latent urges and snagged the system in the first place – granted, the PSP has some nice stuff, but especially as support for it began to drop off, all those DS exclusives started to look mighty appealing. My fellow forumite included a trio of games with my purchase, but it just so happened that while I was waiting for the package to come in the mail, Gamestop was holding one of their “buy 2 used games, get another free” events (interestingly enough, the same situation came to pass right after I bought my PSP – apparently GS is my equivalent of the hot dog seller who follows Homer Simpson around). Off I went, spending stupidly, eventually snapping up about 20-25 games in all – a decent starting library, I think, though there are still plenty of unacquired titles I’ve got an eye on. I won’t make you sit through a rundown of every last title, but here are a few thoughts on a handful of the more notable selections I’ve played –
The Castlevanias – Yeah, I enjoyed the GBA “Metroid-vanias” (not to mention Symphony on the PSP) for the most part, so I snapped up all three of the most recent iterations, and by now have finished Dawn of Sorrow. Arguably the best-looking games on the system that I’ve played so far, despite a disappointing amount of recycling…even those old sprites still hold up pretty well, though. Each one looks to offer something a little different to keep things interesting, hopefully all three can keep me going the full way through.
Phoneix Wright and Trauma Center – For some reason I feel inclined to lump these two series together, even though they’re not all that much alike when you get right down to it. Maybe it’s because those two series have sort of come to represent (to me, at least) the sorts of games you’d only likely see on a system like the DS – seriously, a lawyer opera and surgical simulation? Anyways, so far I rather like both – I’ve already snapped up Under the Knife 2 and will be keeping an eye out for at least the second and third Phoenix games, though I’m not sure how many of the spinoffs I’ll have an appetite for. I’ve also picked up a handful of other “detective” type games to complement them, though again, I’m unsure as to how many more I’ll bother with, especially considering how many of the buggers have appeared out of nowhere in such a short time.
The Nintendo Constants – While I’ve yet to gather up the nerve to try Super Princess Peach (and – prepare for blasphemy – was not a big enough fan of Yoshi’s Island the first time around to do it again), so far New Super Mario Bros. is fun – it seems mostly content to keep things simple, which I won’t take issue with. I’m not particularly interested in Metroid Prime: Hunters, but was pleasantly surprised by the Pinball offshoot, especially considering that I wasn’t fond of Pinball of the Dead despite the rave reviews it got. But seriously, why hasn’t there been a traditional 2-D Metroid on the system yet? Zelda: Phantom Hourglass isn’t doing much for me so far, unfortunately – this is one case where I’m struggling with some of the motion controls, and can’t see myself grinning and bearing it for a game this lengthy (then there are those rumors of a particularly frustrating recurring dungeon I keep hearing about). Not in a huge hurry when it comes to Kirby, but maybe someday…
The Letdowns – So far there have been relatively few DS titles that I’ve been willing to try that have outright disappointed me, but I must take particular issue with the state of the “action-RPG” genre on the system – while the verdict is still out on Lunar Knights, I’ve already given up completely on From the Abyss and Children of Mana (the latter hit me especially hard, since I’m such a fan of Secret of Mana, and this one looked promisingly faithful from a distance). Seriously, is anyone ever going to bother trying any harder than basing one of these games around a one-button 3-hit combo? I was also quite disenchanted, unfortunately, with Wario: Master of Disguise – while I could deal with having to press “up” to jump (silly as it is for a platformer), changing outfits with the touch screen (or trying to) while enemies beat the snot out of you turned me off pretty quick. Hopefully relatively few follow-ups of this nature are in my future with the system…
The Verdict – So at the end of the day, the afterglow of my first true portable experience isn’t too bad at all – while a handful of my fears about making such a leap have proven well-founded, there’s more than enough fun to be had to make them fade pretty quickly into the background. As I said in the article I linked earlier, these days many of my favorite types of games of ages past are all but totally relegated to portable formats, and in the end I had little choice but to follow them. I still love my “traditional” systems above all others, as the sort of gaming experience they can deliver (even if they actually follow through on this promise less and less frequently as time goes on) suits my personal tastes the best, but a fling off to the side hasn’t made me feel as guilty as I might have thought. A little guilty, yes, but not too much.
Well, that’s about all that this portable-virgin-no-more can think to offer up about his blossoming experience – hopefully it wasn’t too graphic for you. As always, if you feel that there’s some aspect or other that I’ve overlooked, feel free to bring it up – I’m quite eager to explore this new frontier a ways further. In any case, thanks much for reading.