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.