DS Round-Up 2

Diner Dash

I reviewed the WiiWare version of Diner Dash last year and was quite disappointed with the crappy X-Box-style joypad interface used as well as the lame polygon graphics, both of which were a major step down from the mouse and cartoony 2D graphics of the PC/Mac original. This DS cart version thankfully sticks with the original controls and style of this modern classic and the pen-driven interface improves upon the mouse controls as you’d expect.

If you’ve never played Diner Dash it’s a kind of puzzle game built around waiting tables which is a lot more fun than it sounds. Players take on the role of an overworked businesswoman who leaves corporate life to run her own cafe. You need to seat patrons, take their orders, get their food, collect the money and clean the tables for the next bunch. As the game progresses you’ll have the addition of larger tables, the ability to serve drinks and appetisers to build a bigger tip and improve the facilities to bring in more clientele with the money you earn.

There’s three save slots, which is nice for a multi-player household and two player competition using a single cart and local wireless – always welcome.

I think it’s the best version of the game going, so if you’re a fan or looking for something new to play on your DS, definitely give it a look.

Metroid Prime Pinball

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of pinball, whether the real metal-and-glass deal, virtual facsimiles of same or original video pins that wouldn’t exist in real life due to their sub-tables and action sequences. Metroid Prime Pinball is an excellent example of the latter, based upon the popular series of first-person action games from the Gamecube; later reborn on the Wii. Whilst I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Metroid Prime games (yeah, I know, put the torches away) this is an outstanding collection of video pins.

If you have any familiarity with the Prime games you’ll see familiar locales and enemies and vicariously re-live the game by bouncing Samus Aran all over the place in her “ball” mode. It’s a clever idea made even better through the use of quality graphics and excellent ball physics.

There’s plenty of extra goodies which puts this game head-and-shoulders above classics like the “Crush” games from the old TG-16: artifacts to collect, bonus walljump rounds and, better still, more tables to unlock. You start out with a couple of tables, but put in some quality time and you’ll find more planets to explore and boss fights to boot. I’ve put in a few hours and now have four tables to play and it feels like there could be more lurking in there. It definitely provides further incentive to play and shows the level of care the team put into delivering the best possible experience for the dedicated pinball fan.

If you like pinball at all, definitely track this down. I think it’s the best original video pin going on any platform.

Monster Rancher DS

Monster Rancher is unfairly viewed as a Pokemon rip-off. Whilst it’s true that both franchises revolve around training cute monsters and pitting them in combat against each other, I think the stand-out features are the distinct and interesting monster line-up and a novel monster creation and breeding system.

In the original CD-based game, you put music CDs into your Playstation and the data on the number and length of music tracks was used to create a new monster. In the DS version you have three “magical” methods of creating new monsters from thin air: draw a picture using the stylus, speak into the microphone or write letters into boxes to spell out a word. Popping in different CDs was fun in the original game, but the variety here gives more voice to player creativity and fully exploits the DS interfaces.

If you’ve played the games on the Playstation and liked them as much as I did, then you’ll enjoy this as well because it has similar content with a more accessible pen-based interface. As in other Monster Rancher games, players take their newly-created monster back to their ranch, train it to raise its stats and send it to fight in tournaments to earn money. The money is used to improve the ranch, buy special items and pay for special training missions in town.

Your goal is to advance your monster through the ranks and win the highest-ranked tournament. This isn’t an easy task and you’ll likely go through many monsters trying to find the right combination of stats and skills. You can freeze monsters near the end of their career and then combine them with others to make new ones. Exploring different monster types is key to success and it’s possible to have several on the go, though you can only have one defrosted at a time.

In addition to the single-player game, which will occupy many hours of the dedicated fan’s time there’s a couple multiplayer options as well. You can play against friends or random strangers in head-to-head matches via local wireless play (two carts are required) or over Wi-Fi. I haven’t tried either option, but the match types available do count against your monster’s record, which is pretty cool.

As with the original the amount of control you have over your monster is limited to moving it closer or further away from its opponent and choosing the attack type to launch based upon distance. You can create two “decks” with up to three abilities each consisting of short-range, medium and long-range attacks and switch between them during a match; choosing which attack to execute and when. You can also let your monster fight on its own, though inexperienced or flighty monsters will sometimes not make the best choices.

There are loads of statistics recorded and many many monsters to discover so there’s a lot of replay value to be found. This game was only released in North America (this is actually a localised version of Monster Rancher 2 for DS from Japan) so you’ll probably need to go to Ebay to get your copy as Koei-Tecmo seems to have abandoned plans to release it in Europe. The DS is the ideal platform for this game and all fans of the original should check it out.

DS Round-Up 1

Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 & 2

I’ve long complained about companies not doing enough to leverage their old IP and after the unmitigated disaster that was Retro Atari Classics, I had pretty much given up on Atari ever making good. I was very pleased to be proven wrong by the release of these two gems at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 (the latter has yet to have a European release as of this writing).

Included are an almost complete catalogue of early Atari arcade games (those that precede the split of Atari by parent Warner Bros. into separate arcade and home games divisions – the latter being what the current incarnation of Atari owns the rights to) and the non-licensed Atari 2600 catalogue. As a consequence you’ll find some redundancies with both arcade and home versions of many games included for the sake of completeness. Ignoring those (which many arcade purists will), you still have an impressive collection of 8-bit arcade and console classics including a homebrew sequel to Haunted House, all the “Quest” titles, Yars Revenge, Adventure, Dodge ‘Em, Circus Atari, Star Raiders and many others.

For any fan of retro games the question of the quality of emulation is foremost and that can safely be put to rest. Unlike the sometimes dodgy rendering of Retro Atari Classics, these are spot-on and look fantastic on the larger screens of my Japanese DSi LL. Code Mystics should be applauded for their work here. For vertical games like Centipede you have an option to play with the DS rotated or in modified wide formats either in one screen or both. 4:3 games can be displayed in either top or bottom screen; often depending on the control scheme. Analogue controls are well-rendered using the touchscreen, but the digital controls are also well-tuned – I certainly have no complaints about using the d-pad for Tempest.

Changing game settings is easily done via the touch screen and you’ll be happy to know all your arcade scores are saved for future bragging rights. For those who want to play against a friend you have a single-cart local wireless multiplayer option – again a massive improvement over the dual-cart MP of the previous compilation.

If the presentation of the games themselves wasn’t impressive enough you have a wonderful collection of extras as well. The included manuals for the 2600 games are legible scans of the actual manuals including the cover art. Arcade games have their own galleries including images of the cabinet artwork, control panels, retail flyers and bonus items like merit badges for Asteroids. In addition each volume has specific extras: a trivia game and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle version of Battlezone can be found on Volume 1, whilst Volume 2 has a functioning Atari 400 basic program and a series of video interviews – wow!

Taken together these collections really do justice to the Atari 8-bit legacy and are a must for the DS-owning retro enthusiast. Simply outstanding.

Intellivision Lives!

Intellivision Lives! is a real labour of love. I really have to hand it to these ex-Mattel Electronics employees for taking ownership of the old IP and keeping it alive via these releases. I never owned an Intellivision myself, but I had a chance to play a friend’s when I was a kid and I remember the control pad being awful, but the games being pretty impressive – especially the speech-enabled ones like B-17 Bomber. This is essentially the same as the Intellivision Lives! compilation for the PS2 and Gamecube (the latter only being released in North America), though it sadly lacks the Imagic games from Intellivision Rocks! on the PC. There are a few extras in the form of the D&D games (retitled to avoid copyright infringement) and a couple of unreleased titles that are seen here for the first time.

The touchscreen controls work very well for these games, nicely replacing the numeric keypad of the original controllers; even if some control nuance is lost by moving from a 16-direction control disc to an 8-way d-pad. It’s definitely better than trying to remember gamepad button press/stick combinations for the console versions! Scores are saved where appropriate and there are manuals available so you’re covered in terms of the general presentation and ability to play the games on the go.

What lets the side down in comparison to the aforementioned Atari collections is the quality of the presentation and the general documentation. It’s just not as polished as the Atari Greatest Hits compilations, which is immediately apparent by the sparse appearance and lack of a menu jingle (I know, I’m petty). There aren’t any extras, beyond the unreleased games, and the box art is shown only in reduced form in the top screen in the game selection menu. There were some nice extras in the Gamecube release that should have made it here like the history of Intellivision and the Blue Sky Rangers.

Like the console version the games are arranged in seemingly arbitrary genres (Space, Arcade, Multiplayer?) and there’s an excessive amount of sub-screens and menus which you need to puzzle through on your own. You’d think that even a manual of only a few pages would document something as simple as how to quit a game, but that’s not the case and it has to be one of the more obtuse methods I’ve seen. Press Start to pause, then repeatedly tap the displayed Intellivision control disc to toggle through options including high scores and instructions; then tap the top of the lower screen to engage. If you do quit a game you’re back in your chosen genre; exiting back to the genre selection menu requires a press of “B.” I really don’t understand the failure to properly utilise the touchscreen for navigation or make navigation of menus more obvious.

Faults aside this is the best way to play these games short of owning an actual Intellivision; with the added advantage of not having to track down the carts. I would love to see a second collection with the Activision/Imagic games on it, but I’m still quite happy to have this core Intellivision library on my DS.

Konami Arcade Classics

Konami has done an arcade classics compilation every generation since the first Playstation and this is the best one yet – even if there are a couple of curious omissions from previous releases.

This is essentially Konami’s version of Namco’s excellent Museum series on Playstation (sadly not repeated on the DS). Konami, out-museum’s the Museum here: you get flyers, artwork and full game soundtracks – all much better quality than the Namco Museum series managed. It truly is a labour of love and exceeds expectations.

This compilation is a pretty good overview of Konami games from the early-mid 1980s covering many of their classics like Contra, Scramble, Time Pilot, Gradius and Green Beret. With 15 games in total this is possibly their most extensive collection yet and marks the first time some of these games have ever seen an official release on a home console. Absent are two titles from the collection released on the GBA: Frogger and Gyruss. I cannot understand why these were left off and I was especially disappointed not to have Frogger included, though it’s apparently an unlockable in Frogger Helmet Chaos.

Owners of import DS units should be aware that the North American version of this game will automatically detect if you’re playing it on a Japanese DS/DSi and change all the menus and in-game text to Japanese. Since there is only one language choice in the Japanese DS, you’d better brush up on your Japanese reading skills or have a good memory for menu options!

Personal disappointment due to missing favourites aside this quality arcade compilation features stellar emulation and single-cart local wireless multiplayer. Definitely not one to be missed by retro arcade fans!