Nintendo DS mini-reviews

I’ve bought a number of DS games over the last few months and decided to share my thoughts on them here. The games are New Super Mario Bros., Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain?, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and Tetris DS.

Here’s a photo mosiac of the game cases:

All the these games are well worth your time. Here are some quick thoughts:

  • New Super Mario Bros. doesn’t really offer much new compared to the other 2D Mario games, but is enjoyable none-the-less.
  • Brain Training stands out as something different and definitely has much broader appeal compared to the other titles.
  • Metroid Prime Hunters is far better than the brief demo that came with first generation Nintendo DS units, but still has control issues and feels limited at times.
  • Tetris DS is fairly bland offline, but really shines when playing online against human competitors.

More detailed thoughts on each game after the jump.

New Super Mario Bros.

New Super Mario Bros. feels like an odd mix between Super Mario Bros. and Yoshi’s Island, with a few new signature moves lifted from Mario 64. It sticks quite closely to the Super Mario Bros. formula, but feels a little slower and a bit more dynamic (like Yoshi’s Island). It allows for a bit of choice and exploration, but doesn’t feel as big or as open Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World. I’d have preferred a successor to Super Mario Bros. 3, but this successor to Super Mario Bros. serves just as well.

New special items turn Mario into Mega Mario, Mini Mario, or Shell Mario. Mega Mario is only really emphasized on one level (the first one!). Mini Mario is more useful because there are special areas and levels that only he can access. Shell Mario is fairly useless from what I can see. I was fairly dissapointed that this game lacked any type of flying (either using a yellow cape, raccoon suit, or winged hat).

The most glaring problem with New Super Mario Bros. is that (until you finish the game) you can only save the game after completing a boss level. This can be frustrating because it means that you need to dedicate time to playing the game, rather than just playing to fill in dead time (which is a common reason to use a portable system). A workaround is to put the DS into sleep mode, but then you can’t lend the DS to another person to play something else.

In the end, I get the feeling that New Super Mario Bros. was intended for a general audience. In this regard it succeeds very well by keeping to simple (small) levels and simple gameplay mechanics (no flying). However, it really could have done with more liberal save game options for this audience. In the end, New Super Mario Bros. is an excellent, polished game that kept me entertained for hours. It really was hard to put down.

Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old is Your Brain?

This game is also known as “DS Training for Adults: Work your Brain” (translation) in Japan and “Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day” in the US. The basic premise is that different mental exercises can give your brain a workout and improve your “brain age”.

When playing Brain Training, you hold the DS sideways like a book and interact with it by either speaking out loud or writing on the touch screen. This immediately makes the game feel very different to a normal game experience. Adding to this feeling is the premise that the game is designed to only be played for 10 minutes a day, and that you should come back to it everyday (much like physical exercise). The exercises consist of reading, writing, arithmetic, and memory games.

Something that surprised my about Brain Training was that it introduces a social aspect to enjoying the game. The game card stores three profiles indexed by each player’s signature. When you complete a game, you can compare your score to other players and wonder why your girlfriend is so much better at math that you. As you progress in the game, you slowly build a progress graph which you can compare to other players.

Another interesting social element results from the “draw from memory” game. On some days, Dr. Kawashimi will ask you to draw objects from memory, and when you are done you can compare your drawing to other players’. It’s fun to see what other people have drawn to meet the criteria. I remember hearing laughter when Heidi was happily surprised that I drew the one true dragon when Dr. Kawashimi asked me to draw a dragon (how could I not?).

The inclusion of Sudoku was a major selling point for me as Heidi is a big Sudoku fan (and it helped me to justify the purchase). The Sudoku interface is very clean and there are more than enough puzzles (100) to last a while. The other major selling point was the price. At less than $50AU, it’s around $20AU less than other new titles.

This is an outstanding title and I highly recommend it to anyone with a Nintendo DS. Initially, most people I know who have played the game have had problems with the voice and handwriting recognition. This can be very disheartening as it results in uncharacteristically low scores. However, these problems are generally resolved after a few days, so stick with it!

Metroid Prime Hunters

This is much, much better than the demo “Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt” demo that came with my DS. The original demo felt like Retro Studios was testing the waters and included a number of different (equally awkward) control schemes. In Metroid Prime Hunters, they’ve settled on a single control scheme with the bottom screen used for mouse-like input and the top screen always displaying the game world.

Metroid Prime suffers from two main problems. The first is the control scheme. It’s fairly awkward and requires a fair amount of stamina. You need to use one hand to hold the DS, move Samus, and shoot. You use the other hand to look around and select items. One of the problems with this is the placement of the trigger buttons. It’s not comfortable to hold the DS and shoot at the same time. Another problems is the item selection; a number of times I’ve accidentally morphed into a ball when I was just trying to look around.

The second problem is the unsuitability of the graphics for the portable. Don’t get me wrong, the graphics are very good and really demonstrate what the DS is capable of. However, the DS is a portable unit and the contrast and colour variance is the game is not high enough for all environments in which you may want to play. Another problem is that the screens are fairly small and it is sometimes difficult to see what is going on. These can be seen as hardware limitations, but the graphics should be made to match the hardware. Graphics with hard edges and higher contrast would have been much more suitable.

After all is said and done, the game is excellent. The control scheme is similar to the standard FPS mouse/keyboard setup, and (in my mind) that puts it miles ahead of the other Metroid Prime games. The production quality is very high and the levels look great. I’ve found that the best way to play Metroid Prime Hunters is in a dark room with headphones on. The darkness helps the screens stand out more and the headphones help with the feeling of immersion. When playing like this, the controls can almost fade away and become a non-issue… that is, until your hands get tired.

Tetris DS

I was really disappointed that the main gameplay area only takes up around a third of the bottom screen. An obvious way to map Tetris onto the Nintendo DS would be to make use of the two screens to display a massive gameplay area (like in Puzzle Bobble DS). Instead, you have a ridiculous amount of Nintendo branding in the form of animations and graphics that you can’t focus on anyway when playing the game. After playing the various single player games, I felt incredibly jipped. Had I just paid $50AU for something that is 5/6 advertising and 1/6 game?

Then I went online and realised that is where it’s at. In standard multi-player, the top screen is now filled with other players frantically trying to keep their stack from reaching the top. In battle mode, you play 1-on-1 in a sort of tug-of-war game where you both play in the same game space, pushing the pieces towards the other player. I’m looking forward to local wireless multiplayer (with up to 10 other players!) using a single game cart. Now that’s worth $50AU! … I just have to find 10 other people…

7 thoughts on “Nintendo DS mini-reviews”

  1. Man, what’s with that non-yellow case for New Super Mario Bros? It’s just so bland and well… unyellow. On the plus side, it’s in english 🙂

    I like NSMB but every single time I’ve gotten shell mario, i’ve been hit before i could use it. Is the idea to run along then hit down so as to slide along and hit enemies?

    My other gripe with the game is that I made it to world 8 without having to do worlds 3 and 5 (or something like that). I never even collected a warp whistle or anything.

    Non-the-less, hours of fun! and the minigames rock!

  2. Haha. Yeah, I bought Brain Training in Sydney on the launch date. It as 11am, and I picked up the last copy at the JB-HIFI in the centre of town!

    Not sure if the black DS lite is coming to Australia (it’s only been announced for Europe I think).

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