You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting much lately. Ok, it’s far more likely that you haven’t noticed – but that’s fine, I’m still out here on the boat regardless of whether or not I’m writing about it.
The truth of the matter is that things have been pretty quiet – perhaps a little too quiet. I’m back in False Creek, and due either to the pending court case between a False Creek squatter and the City of Vancouver (re: whether or not the ‘Anchoring Permit’ laws are actually legal), or perhaps in preparation for some sort of massive pre-Olympic housecleaning effort, I haven’t actually spoken with the Vancouver police in a few months. I renewed my permit prior to heading off to Burning Man, but it has since expired – I believe that I can renew again on the 28th of this month. I fully intend to do so, if only to make certain that when I next head out on a sailing expedition it’s at a time that is convenient to me.
So what have I been doing with my time? Frankly, not much – at least not much particularly exciting. I’ve been working a lot, going out to parties and events, having friends over to the boat for sunset beers and basically just enjoying the tail end of the summer weather. I’ve been staying in a lot on weeknights, and… playing my Nintendo DS a lot.
My DS and I have an on-again, off-again relationship – every few months I’ll pick it up, play for a week or so without stopping, and then put it down again and forget about it for another few months. I have a lot of respect for Nintendo, in the same way I respect Apple – the hardware is very well designed and built, nothing about them feels ‘cheap’. That being said paying $40 for a game, especially when you don’t have the option to try the game first to see if you like it, is a bit steep, so I’ve purchased an R4 cartridge and a memory card and download ROMs from the Pirate Bay but I totally pay for the games anyway.
I’m not sure whether I gravitate to the DS because of the form factor and mental (and literal) ease of picking it up and putting it down again, or whether it’s more based on the lack of a large television and gaming console. Perhaps it stems from the lack of a large library of games for my Macbook – regardless, it’s a big part of my entertainment right now and something that I’m continuing to enjoy.
Let’s be clear about this – I’m no gamer. I had a Nintendo Entertainment System growing up, and I think I remember having had an SNES – but I didn’t get a GameCube until 2002 or so, and then it was to drunkenly play ‘Mario Party’ with friends. I’ve never owned a Playstation. The last game I played seriously on the PC was ‘Quake’. I don’t really even like games that much, especially shooters.
But because this is my blog and I’ll damned well write about whatever I feel like, here are my reviews of the five games I’ve enjoyed most on the Nintendo DS. Be forewarned: my gaming target demographic is apparently “twelve-year-old Japanese girl”.
#5: Picross DS
Ok, imagine something like ‘sudoku meets minesweeper’, and you’ve basically got Picross. Logic puzzles, nothing too fancy but very well executed, the controls and interface are great. The rewards upon finishing a level are satisfying (“ohhhh, I drew a tiger!”) in much the same way as the bouncing cards in Windows ‘Solitaire’.
At one point, when my mother was visiting, I tried to get her to play, especially since she’s a big fan of the ‘sudoku’ puzzles in the Halifax Tribune-Post. She tried but couldn’t quite grasp the concept of it – which probably says more about my teaching ability than it does about her. If my mom had a DS, I would buy her a copy of Picross.
Have I beaten this game yet? No, but I don’t think that’s the point, as evidenced by the prominent ‘Daily Picross’ menu item. I pull this one out when I’m on a bus or in the waiting room at the dentist’s, the sorts of times when I’d be in the mood to do a crossword puzzle if I’d had the forethought to bring along a newspaper or a pen.
#4: Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Unlike every other Final Fantasy game (at least, as far as I’ve seen), this isn’t a turn-based RPG but rather a three-quarter overhead view combat strategy game much like the original Warcraft. The battle system is reasonably simple, along the lines of rock/paper/scissors – ground dudes are good against ranged dudes, ranged dudes pwn air dudes, air dudes stomp on ground dudes – but enough new weapons and such are added each new level that there’s a constant flow of new tricks to employ against the bad guys.
The graphics in this game – particularly the phenomenal rendered dual-screen video cutscenes – are nothing short of amazing. I’ve used the intro animation several times as a demo for scoffing ‘consoles or nothing’ friends, and each time got a “whoah, I didn’t know if could do that” in response.
Storyline? I remember there being one, but I’m fuzzy on the details – it was sufficient to tie together the epic battles, anyway. I basically played this game six months ago for a few weeks straight, getting to the absolute final battle but never quite managing to win it. I put it down in frustration, and may or may not pick it up again. I did however find a lot of enjoyment while I played.
Let me get this straight – you’ve got a game involving cute ninjas defending their town? Sold. Oh, and it’s critically acclaimed? Great!
But wait… it’s a tower defense!? SOLD!
Having lost dozens of productive hours to the Desktop Tower Defense flash game, I was overjoyed to get a new, polished, cute, fun tower defense game for the DS. The premise is simple: waves of enemies roll down a preset path, and you must construct tower defenses to destroy them as they march past, before they reach the goal – ie. the other side of the screen.
I’m still playing it, and am currently on what I assume to be the final level – the ‘wee ninjas’ have followed Mister Demon up to the top of Mount Feroshi, where he plans to do something nefarious using the wee ninjas’ magical ninja cookie recipe. Or something like that.
I’ve also just learned that Desktop Tower Defense has been released for the DS. I will have to track that down.
#2: Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
This was the first game on the DS that I actually found excellent. Just the right mix of cute, fun and creative; entertaining without being particularly frustrating, and paced perfectly to keep the storyline interesting.
I loved this game. A lot. At first I actually felt guilty about how much I enjoyed it, what with the lack of violence and masculine themes, but once I relaxed and accepted the fact that – for some reason – I enjoy a healthy dose of cute in my gaming experience, I couldn’t put it down.
Basically, you play a slime mold from the original Dragon Quest, helping to rescue all the captured citizens from your town, by navigating through long top-viewed 2D levels, mapping them as you go. Boss fights are fought in a quirky and fun tank-battle mode, where you select your copilots and assistants from the roster of slimes you’ve rescued.
Strangely enough, this is the first game that I’d played to completion – ie, right up until the credits rolled – since the original DOOM on my 486. To further credit this game, a day after I beat it I turned around and began playing it over again from the start, taking it to completion a second time. I have never done this with any other game.
#1: The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
What can you say? I’ve played every Zelda since the very first, and while I’ve loved each and every one of them, I cannot honestly say that I’ve ever managed to complete any of them. The first Zelda, it was because I never owned it and could only play a copy rented from the general store two or three kilometers from my house; even saving my paper-route money, I could only rent it for two days in a week, and by the time I had saved enough to rent it again some other kid would have either played my character and advanced me several levels, or deleted my saved game. D’oh.
This Zelda adventure takes place in a world of many small islands, and you voyage between the islands using a steamboat equipped with guns and a grappling hook. Dungeon exploration is very much ‘classic Zelda’, and the puzzles are creative and challenging.
This was the second game for DS that I ever played to completion, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Further to my enjoyment, I noticed the other day that there is a new Zelda for DS being released on December 7th, 2009; “The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks”. I’m not sure yet how I feel about Link being portrayed in a world where major transportation is done via locomotive, but we’ll see, I guess.
Honourable Mention: New Super Mario Brothers
…ok, I’ll be honest, I’ve had this game for a while now but never played it past the first level. In fact, aside from the original Super Mario Bros on the NES, I’ve never taken a Mario game to completion. The closest was Super Mario Brothers 2 on the SNES, followed closely by Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube. Just the other day, I picked up NSMB again and gave it a shot.
Well, I have no idea what I was thinking. I mean, I played the first level of NSMB a few times, mostly just to feel it out and convince myself that it wasn’t just a re-release of the original SMB, which it most certainly is not. I never really felt drawn to it though, and I never even gave it a full chance – by that I mean I never actually played a full game, using each of my ‘men’ and playing until I saw a ‘Game Over’ screen.
Go figure, Nintendo has crafted a very, very well designed game with an excellent balance between challenges and flow. Playing NSMB, you might almost suspect they’d done this before.
Anyhow. I need to get off my ass and head out on another adventure, but inertia can be a very difficult thing to overcome sometimes. I’ve got to finish a few “small” boat projects before the big rains of winter start, but once those are complete perhaps I’ll head over to Bowen for a while, or maybe up into Howe Sound. More to come.