So here we are, ladies and gents. Come Sunday, the 3DS will be officially launched in North America, and the DS will begin it's slow march out to pasture ( though not without a few new games along the way). It's kind of hard to believe that way back before it launched, the handheld was met with derision amid proclamations that the PSP would dethrone Nintendo's vice-like grip on the market. And then about a year after launch, those same critics were served heaping plates of crow and asked to eat up. Also, the crows were alive.
But as it is with all game platforms, the DS's best years are in the past. For all of the Petz titles that graced it over the years, there were also plenty of kick-ass games that don't have the letter "z" anywhere in the title. I thought I'd go ahead and look back at some of the games that came to define the DS for me over the years.
Feel the Magic: XY/XXSome of you might not remember this, but there was an age when Sega's Sonic Team was not a monument to failure. And in that age, at the beginning of the DS's life, they brought forth an insane little game called Feel the Magic: XY/XX, a quirky little game in which the player attempts to win the heart of his dream girl with the help of the Rub Rabbits; a group that could best be described as the the crew of Jackass, except they wear rabbit ears for some reason. And when you finally do get to date the girl, activities include lovely walks punctuated by surprise scorpion attacks. As a game, it's little more than a mini-game collection that experiments with the various DS functions, but its unique art style and zany atmosphere really set it apart from the reset of the DS launch line-up.
Osu! Tatakae! OuendanThere aren't any scorpion attacks, but they certainly wouldn't be out of place in Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. Though the game was never released outside of Japan, it became such a hit on the import market that Nintendo and iNiS worked together on Elite Beat Agents; an Ouendan for the western market with its own brand of crazy. But the charm of the original Ouendan is that it doesn't need an English translation; at least, not unless you really want to know every last word. The colorful cutscenes are expressive enough that it's not hard to understand what's going on, even when what's going on is a team of medicinal supermen punching the shit out of an illness plaguing a concert violinist. And this sense of ludicrous style serves to back up the rhythm-based gameplay, which is based on a simple yet ingenious use of the DS's touch screen. What results is an intensely challenging, rewarding and stylish rhythm game that's easy for almost anyone to pick up.
Also, the final stage will leave mere mortals winded and broken. Witness a master of the stylus at work:
I'll never get tired of linking that video.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215The DS has seen a vast array of adventure games over its lifespan. The Ace Attorney series, 999, even a port of Myst (though I'm pretty sure that there are toasters capable of running Myst at this point). But my favorite example in the genre on the handheld is Hotel Dusk, which features some of the best writing in the genre in years, a rotoscope-based art style seemingly inspired by the " Take On Me" music video, and puzzles that make intelligent use of the hardware. In short, everything is several steps up from Trace Memory, the developer Cing's previous effort that, while not bad, felt like more of a warm-up to what they accomplished in Hotel Dusk. The first time I played through Hotel Dusk, the story left me genuinely surprised at how mature and, in video game terms, how real the characters all felt, even with the plot's at times soap opera-like twists.
The World Ends With YouTo anyone that believes Square Enix doesn't work on anything new original anymore, take note: The World Ends With You is among the most original games on the DS for several reasons. There's the combat mechanics that have the player controlling characters on both screens using both the stylus and buttons simultaneously. There's its protagonist, Neku, a boy seemingly carved from the standard emo teen cloth only to rise up to become a more-than-likeable protagonist. There's the bizarre alternate universe storyline that unlocks after the game is completed that serves as a means for the game to parody itself. And under the slick sheen of Tetsuya Nomura character designs, the catch soundtrack, and the eccentric villains, there's a touching story with interesting themes and rewarding character arcs. It is a game unlike anything Square Enix has released before and a performance that would be hard to top.
Trauma Center: Under the KnifeThe game that provided players with all of the intensity of an operating room with none of the blood splatter, Trauma Center: Under the Knife puts players in the role of a surgeon. But not just any surgeon. A surgeon with super concentration powers, which in game terms pretty much means bullet time. And holy hell, is that power necessary. The game's difficulty is an intense climb, and the disease GUILT only makes things even more difficult. And on top of the tense puzzle surgery elements, there's a medical drama narrative filled with intrigue. It's pretty awesome. I've never managed to beat the game myself, but once again, witness another master of the stylus, this time with the hands of a surgeon:
Final Fantasy IIIOf course, in addition to all of this original fair, the DS has also become the home of a number of remakes, from fairly simple ports to full-blown reimaginings. And while other, more recognized games have gotten such treatments, the one that I was most enthused for was Final Fantasy III; the lone title in the series that, at that point, had never seen an official U.S. release. While its plot may be simple (a group of young adventurers journey to defeat the living embodiment of darkness), it has plenty of that old school Final Fantasy charm to go along with its more modern features. It accomplished what a remake should; receive updates where it matters while leaving enough of what once was still in tact. Not everything about the game feels modernized; getting destroyed by the final boss only to be forced to traverse the entire endgame dungeon again because of the lack of save points can be a downer. But there's still no obstacle that a well equipped team can't face.
Despite all of the shovelware and the absurd number of notebook titles on the DSiWare shop, the DS had an incredible run. These were just some of the titles that will always define the handheld's era for me. What games do you think about when you look back on the DS's life?