Abbreviated reviews of games for the Nintendo DS, an innovative handheld with dual screens and touchscreen input.
When Nintendo first revealed information about the Nintendo DS in 2004, people weren't sure what to make of it.  Its marriage of standard gaming features to the touchscreen functionality of a personal digital assistant left skeptical gamers asking if Nintendo had learned any lessons from the failure of the Virtual Boy.  Almost nobody thought the ambitious but risky design of the Nintendo DS had a chance against the PSP.  Sony's system gave every indication of being a handheld gamer's dream, with a powerful processor, extensive multimedia features, and a high-resolution widescreen display.

There was only one thing Sony forgot to add to its winning formula... compelling games.  After an underwhelming start, the Nintendo DS snowballed into a success with a selection of imaginative software, the likes of which had never been experienced on a game system.  Along with the intense surgery simulations and brain-straining mental challenges came an assortment of comfortably familiar titles starring the industry's heaviest hitters.  Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Samus Aran, and (of course!) Mario joined forces to tilt the scales in favor of the DS, making it the most successful handheld since... well, the last one Nintendo released!

It wasn't love at first sight, but gamers the world over have grown to appreciate the Nintendo DS and the daring new ideas it has brought to the hobby.  These reviews will help DS owners get even more enjoyment out of their favorite handheld system, steering them away from the bombs and in the direction of the sure-fire hits. 


Intellivision Lives!

Like a rusty razor, it's the worst a man can get.  This is the digital equivalent of licking the stains out of a toilet bowl.

It's not terrible, but not nearly good enough to be worth the cash.  If you absolutely must have it, buy it used.

This game demands nothing more than competence from itself.  You could do better, but also a whole lot worse.

Now we're talking!  Here's a DS title that you should at least consider, especially if you're a fan of games in its genre.

This game stands confidently on the peak of excellence.  Regardless of your personal tastes, this is a must-have!


It's funny how different two games with the same foundation can be, isn't it?  The Nintendo DS version of Bangai-O shares a lot in common with its Dreamcast predecessor.  You're still in the cockpit of a microscopic mech, you're still fighting your way through mobs of tiny androids on your way to the end of each stage, and you've still got that crowd pleasin' death blossom attack that covers the screen in a thick coat of missiles.

However, it's the level design and tweaks to the weapon system that make all the difference.  The Dreamcast version of Bangai-O had expansive playfields, resulting in a lot of blind wandering and tedious exploration.  The Nintendo DS game shrinks the levels and displays a map on the top screen, sharpening the focus on combat and puzzle solving.

The Dreamcast version of Bangai-O also suffered from a limited number of weapons.  Your arsenal was limited to explosive missiles and reflective beams, along with the powerful EX versions of both.  Bangai-O on the Nintendo DS greatly expands those horizons, adding homing missiles, armor piercing shots, and melee weapons to the mix.  You can even combine the properties of some weapons to create incredibly effective hybrids!

Finally, there's a significant reduction of the game-halting, head-scratching dialog that was in the Dreamcast release.  The gameplay is no longer interrupted by bewildering conversations with tree-headed harpies and foppish green-faced villains.  Treasure wisely restricted all the dialog to the beginning of the first seventeen stages, and unlike the Dreamcast version, these conversations are funny for all the right reasons.

So there you have it... you've got one basic game design, and two entirely different results.  The Dreamcast version of Bangai-O has its fans, but even if you didn't enjoy it, you'll likely be more receptive to its leaner Nintendo DS cousin.



Oh Nintendo, what have you done?  You had such a good thing going with Brain Age, but then you had to boot Doctor Kawashima out the door and replace him with this... this THING.  The mustached, insult-dispensing blob is only the tip of the iceberg that sank Nintendo's promising Brain Age series.  Either the developers forgot what made the last game appeal to an adult audience, or a new, less than bright team of designers was assigned to make this.  Whatever's the case, I'll take this opportunity to remind them what made Brain Age work... and why this doesn't. 

Brain Age was instantly accessible to an older audience because the input was completely natural to them.  You're asked to add numbers, and you write the answers on the right hand side of the screen.  You're prompted for the color of a word, and you say it out loud.  It's just that simple.  However, nothing is that easy in Big Brain Academy.  All the answers appear as cryptic icons which must be tapped, which is not only harder to grasp for the senior crowd but just seems lazy on the part of the designers.

That brings me to my next point.  Brain Age had a lot of whimsical, yet straightforward challenges.  You'd count the number of people inside a house, read selections from famous novels, and drew lines from point A to point B, avoiding points C, D, and E along the way.  These games could be tough to finish quickly, but they were always easy to understand.  By contrast, half the challenge of Big Brain Academy is just figuring out what the hell to do.  The games don't make a bit of sense to experienced players, let alone the baby boomers who've never touched a video game in their lives.

Finally, there's the master of ceremonies.  Brain Age has Doctor Kawashima, a large, jolly man who goes to great lengths to make the player feel comfortable.  He makes idle chit-chat, he reminds you of past accomplishments, and (I can't stress this enough) he's never, ever judgemental.  What does Big Brain Academy give you?  A disgruntled glob of goop who ignores your successes while rubbing your nose in every mistake you make.  Look, Nintendo... Kawashima might be playing for the other team these days, but if you want to keep this series alive, you'll bring him back, along with the other minds behind Brain Age... the REAL Brain Age, and not this piece of crap.  Now turn around, walk away, and never look back at Big Brain Academy, lest you turn into an enormous pillar of suck.


Gamers have very specific expectations of the Bomberman series, which is probably why they're so hostile to spin-offs like this one.  They figure that if it doesn't have the top-down view and the frenzied multiplayer action of the Turbografx-16 and Super NES games, it just ain't Bomberman.  Luckily, Bomberman Touch DS offers both the classic gameplay fans demand as well as a brand new adventure set at an amusement park.  This quest is the polar opposite of a traditional Bomberman game; a relaxing theme park tour controlled with the stylus and peppered with mini-games.  Some of these challenges are brilliantly conceived and fun to play, like drawing fuses to link sparks with like-colored bombs.  Others are less inspired, like scratching the living daylights out of the touchscreen to run.  All are necessary to advance through the park, but you won't have to finish a single one to challenge your friends to classic Bomberman battles.  Oh, and here's the best part... Wi-Fi support ensures that you'll never run out of opponents!


Wow.  If you ever needed proof that Electronic Arts hates DS owners, gamers, and the world in general, whoop here it is!  The Nintendo DS is anything but a perfect vehicle for the striking visuals and the intense crash 'n bash action of Burnout, but this flaming wreck just seems like a hilarious parody of the system's shortcomings and the indifference of Western game designers.  Seriously, this has got to be intentionally awful.  Just look at those mind-bending physics!  The streets in Burnout Legends must be made of industrial-strength flypaper, because inertia simply doesn't exist here.  The player's boxy robo-car turns on the edge of a dime, transforming what should be a white-knuckle street battle into a trip to the playpen with a handful of broken Matchbox toys.

Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, along comes the eerily deserted streets of the Crash mode to prove you wrong.  This former fan favorite has never been more challenging, simply because there aren't any fenders on the road to bend!  Then there's the Atari-quality fonts, the generic MIDI rock soundtrack, the lemon-shaped medals... frankly, there isn't anything that Burnout Legends can't get wrong.  It's got shorter load times than its PSP cousin, but this only proves that good things come to those who wait... and very, very bad things come to those who won't.


Soma Cruz resisted the call of darkness in Aria of Sorrow, but that temptation haunts him once more in the DS-exclusive sequel.  It's up to you whether the young hero will drive a stake through the heart of Dracula's successor, or if Soma will become the victim of his own burning rage.  Either way, you're sure to love every spell-casting, sword-swinging, soul-stealing minute! 

Dawn of Sorrow follows closely in its predecessor's footsteps, but shakes up the familiar formula with massive characters and a new set of abilities and weapons for Soma.  Souls are cumulative this time around... the more you collect, the stronger your magic becomes.  This gives players the option to either settle for the most basic skills, or spend a few hours gathering souls to take their attacks to the next level.  If you're not interested in magic, you can also use the souls you've gathered to forge weapons, transforming your rusty old scrap metal into lightning-fast claws and scorching flame swords. 

The variety offered in Dawn of Sorrow makes it easy to forget that the game isn't much different from past Castlevania titles on the Game Boy Advance and Playstation.  You'll scour the castle for towering bosses, slay them in epic battles, then take the items left in their wake to unlock new, more exciting areas.  It's familiar territory for sure, but who could complain when it's still so much fun to revisit?


The last Castlevania game on the Nintendo DS introduced a handy item called the Doppleganger that let the player switch between two sets of equipment with a touch of a button.  Portrait of Ruin builds on this great idea by offering two entirely different characters.  Jonathan Morris, a hot-headed, whip-smacking vampire hunter, acts as the muscle of the team.  Charlotte Aulin provides the book smarts... any monster who's crossed her path can tell you that when she opens her weapon-filled book, it smarts!  The player not only has the option to switch between the two team members at will, but can use both as a pair, carving through monsters twice as quickly and solving otherwise impossible puzzles. 

This has never been done before in a Metrovania title, and frankly, any fresh ingredients in this decade-old recipe would be welcome at this point.  However, the team play mechanics can be a handful at times, especially during the unreasonably demanding boss fights which require the use of both heroes.  Past that, Portrait of Ruin doesn't stray too far from its predecessors, offering the same vast supply of weapons and magic, the same gothic graphics and sinister monsters, and the same... pretty much everything, really.  It's still a fine game, but with so many others just like it, it's best reserved for the most dedicated Castlevania fans.


Side-scrolling run 'n gun games have seen better days, especially on handheld systems.  Even Gunstar Super Heroes was kind of a disappointment, once you came down from the euphoric high of playing a sequel to the cult Genesis classic.  As for lesser entries in the genre like Lilo & Stitch, Metal Slug Advance, and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, well, they're best left forgotten entirely.  Fortunately, Konami and Wayforward have teamed up to restore the military action game to its former glory with Contra 4. 

The series that frustrated thousands of Generation X gamers to tears is back, and it's every bit as brutal as the original!  You'll have to fight off waves of soldiers and ravenous aliens with a rifle best suited to picking off ducks in a carnival game.  All you can do is cross your fingers and hope that you'll survive long enough to find the coveted spread shot in a power-up capsule.  However, unlike past Contra games, you'll want the other weapons, too... you've got enough room in your inventory for two of them, and any weapon in your possession can be doubled in strength by collecting it twice. 

These are just some of the improvements you'll find in this DS exclusive, which also includes an easy mode for less skilled gamers, and punishing challenges that reward the most persistent players with new characters and past Contra games.  The latter is especially handy as a barometer for how much better Contra 4 looks than its NES predecessors.  Metal gleams, cities hover near the edge of collapse, and screen-filling aliens seem like they were crafted by the hands of H.R. Giger himself, making the game so gorgeous that you'll hardly notice the froth dripping from your mouth after you've lost that challenge for the fifteenth time.


The patriarch of the Driller family digs a nice, deep hole for himself in this action title that attempts to build a bridge between Dig Dug and Namco's more recent Mr. Driller series.  As Taizo Hori, you'll struggle to prove your relevance in the 21st century by rescuing a cluster of islands from an army of abstract monsters.  Digging Strike cleverly splits the action between the two DS screens, with the surface of each island shown on the top and the underlying dirt displayed on the bottom.  It's a great idea for sure, but one that's weighed down with ideas that only complicate the gameplay rather than contributing to it.  Defeating the beasts that roam each island is a time-consuming process of finding, turning, and digging under strategically placed spikes, and if the monster isn't standing directly on the chunk of the island you've sunk into the ocean, you may have to repeat the round from the beginning!  Useless power-ups put the brakes on the already sluggish gameplay, making you wish you'd left Digging Strike buried in the clearance bin where it belongs.


It's tough to pin a rating on a game like this one, as it's designed for a very specific audience.  If you can't stand first-person dungeon crawlers like Wizardry, shudder at the thought of losing an hour of progress to an unstoppable monster, and can find better things to do with your time than spend every waking minute of it grinding for gold and experience points, then forget the grade and run for your life!

Anyone who hasn't made a beeline for the door will probably be eager to give this a chance.  In Etrian Odyssey, you build a diverse party of heroes, then drop them into a forest labyrinth that's over a hundred layers deep.  Progress is made at a glacial pace in this adventure... your warriors will kill hundreds of monsters in turn-based combat and return to the surface for supplies at least a dozen times before they reach the second strata, let alone the last!

Further complicating matters are F.O.E.s, extremely powerful monsters which patrol each leafy level.  They're marked on the map as glowing orange suns, a fitting choice for an icon when you consider that contact with one of these beasts is likely to burn you to a crisp.  If you manage to survive the onslaught, you'll receive bonus experience points.  If you fall in battle, all the progress you made since your last trip to the surface is washed away in a tidal wave of frustration, never to be seen again.

All role-playing games require dedication and patience, but Etrian Odyssey demands all that you can muster and more.  It's a good thing the developers sweetened the often agonizing experience with lush polygonal playfields and a vast selection of abilities for your heroes.  Each of their talents can be boosted with points, and some skills have a symbiotic relationship... increase their levels together and you'll unlock devastating new attacks and handy defensive spells.  The many possibilities that level building presents gives you the incentive to claw your way to the next strata, even after you've been ground under the heel of a merciless F.O.E. for the third time.  Or the fourth.  Or the fifth...


Your enjoyment of this Japanese exclusive is entirely dependent on how well you remember the originals... if you remember them at all!  If you recall bouncing off the walls with excitement when one of your friends snuck the latest Game+Watch into class, nothing should stop you from getting your hands on this release.  However, if these primitive precursors to the Nintendo DS are only a blip on your nostalgic radar, or have no effect on you at all, you're better off holding onto that C note.  For a hundred dollars, the Game and Watch Collection won't offer anyone but the most enduring Nintendo fans much bang for their buck. 

For those of you still interested, listen up!  Of the three games in this package, Greenhouse best captures that frantic, Chinese plates feel that made the Game+Watch series famous.  It takes speed, reflexes, and perfect balance to keep your prize-winning flowers from getting munched by an unending onslaught of bugs.  Donkey Kong is far from a perfect translation of the arcade hit, but it does cover the basics, letting you leap over barrels and pull the rug (or rather, the steel girders) from under the big ape's feet.  Last on the list is Oil Panic, a frustrating dud that fails to capture the excitement of Greenhouse. 

Here's hoping that Nintendo will bring this to the States with a larger selection of games... even the front line of Nintendo's army of fanboys would balk at the few titles available here.



How's this for an out of left field concept?  Game Center CX is a classic game collection full of video games you've never actually played.  As a young child growing up in the 1980's, it's up to you to complete the objectives presented in each game to advance the timeline and unlock new content.  As time marches on, the games improve, evolving from a humble shooter that borrows most of its ideas from Galaga to a hotly anticipated RPG with the gameplay of Dragon Warrior and the art direction of Final Fantasy. 


The best part about Game Center CX is how accurately it reflects 1980's gaming trends.  Every title seems like a plausible 8-bit release, right down to the streamlined gameplay and brief touches of slowdown, and a subscription to a Famitsu-like magazine is your only lifeline when your progress in each new release comes to a screeching halt.  There's even the occasional true-to-life heartbreak, like when the addictive and adorable Ninja Huggleman eventually transforms into the humorless Ninja Gaiden.  Er, Ninja Haguruman, I mean!


On the downside, your friend constantly squeals and moans as you're playing, bringing an unwelcome MST3K feel to each game and proving incredibly distracting while you're fighting to stay ahead of the pack in Rally King.  The constant interruptions by the fugly lead villain are no picnic, either.  Evidently he's some popular Japanese television personality, but to the average American he'll just look like the twisted offspring of Nintendo kingpin Shigeru Miyamoto, Gomer Pyle, and that floating head from Brain Age!


Bringing two genres together is always a risk, but Henry Hatsworth does it better than most games that have made the attempt.  That's especially impressive since the game was developed by Electronic Arts, a company that's better known for its sports simulations than its action or puzzle titles.  As the aging British explorer Henry Hatsworth, you must find the pieces of a stylish wardrobe that only you are refined enough to wear.  It's like the Excalibur legend crossed with an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Eye!  Anyway, you'll find these faaaabulous golden accessories scattered throughout a series of side-scrolling levels.  Enemies patrol each level, but they can be easily dispatched with a few swipes of your cane, or a blast from your blunderbuss.  Any enemy that's been knocked out on the top screen falls to the bottom, where he becomes a block in a puzzle game similar to the Nintendo DS classic Meteos.  The blocks steadily rise from the bottom screen to the top, threatening Hatsworth and forcing you to juggle between the two styles of gameplay.  Fortunately, the puzzle game isn't just a distraction... it can also be used to boost the strength of your weapons, award you with power-ups, and even hand you the keys to an unstoppable giant robot!

Electronic Arts is on the right track with this game, which is clearly influenced by the Japanese style of game design but with a uniquely western sense of humor.  There's a hilarious send-up of Asian cartoons whenever the giant robot makes its appearance, and the writing is sharp, strongly defining each character's identity while keeping the player chuckling between stages.  Unfortunately, the platforming lacks the inspiration of classics in the genre like Super Mario World, quickly becoming predictable and repetitive.  There are even scenes in each level where the screen stops scrolling and you're forced to kill dozens of enemies before you can proceed, needlessly stretching out stages which are already too long for their own good.  You'd think that the puzzle action would offer a welcome respite from the dull platforming, but being frequently forced to halt your progress in one screen to clear away debris in the other gets irritating quickly, regardless of the fringe benefits.  Ultimately, this is a solid foundation for what will likely be a much better sequel.  EA nailed the graphics and sound in Henry Hatsworth, but the game- actually, both games- aren't compelling enough to hold the player's attention for long stretches.


The Intellivision offered one of the most distinctive gaming experiences of the early 1980s, and a hard one for later consoles to reproduce.  The system's quirky 10-bit processor was too much for the original Playstation to handle, and even the game systems that came later were at a loss to deal with the Intellivision's button-packed numeric keypad.

It's fitting that the only system to do the Intellivision justice is the equally unconventional Nintendo DS.  Nintendo's offbeat handheld has just enough juice to smoothly emulate the games in the Intellivision library, and the touchscreen is a perfect substitute for the numeric keypad, right down to the thin plastic overlays included with each game.

There are just three nagging issues with Intellivision Lives!  The first, a lifeless front end, jumps out at you the moment you pop in the cartridge.  Granted, the interface in the GameCube and Xbox versions of this collection was the farthest thing from slick, but at least it showed a love for the system with its wealth of memorabilia and in-jokes from the design team.  However, the DS version of Intellivision Lives! is all business, sending you straight to the games with little opportunity for sightseeing.

The other issues with Intellivision Lives! lie in the selection of games, as well as the nature of the Intellivision library itself.  Most of the system's greatest hits are represented here, including Shark! Shark!, an aquatic climb to the top of the food chain, and Thunder Castle, a medieval action title released during the system's post-Mattel renaissance.  However, there are bothersome gaps, including Tron: Deadly Discs and all of the Data East arcade conversions.  The designers simply rebranded the adventure games to purge them of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons license... how hard would it have been to give Diner the same treatment?

The games that were included in this collection are entertaining... for the most part, anyway.  However, they also demonstrate reckless ambition on the part of the developers, lacking the simple, pick-up-and-play charm expected from 1980s video games.  The depth that was once a breath of fresh air in a market glutted with mindless shooters just comes off as awkward and frustrating today.  Chances are, you won't be able to figure out half the titles without consulting their instruction manuals, one of the collection's few frills.  If the steep learning curve doesn't deter you, or you've come to expect it from Intellivision games, this collection is worth picking up, especially for the price.


Although a good five to ten years younger than his fellow Nintendo mascots, few characters are as old-school as Kirby... and few games offer the gentle, nostalgic satisfaction of his series.  An old-fashioned Kirby game warms the heart like the best comfort food, and Kirby Squeak Squad continues that tradition with all the pastel playfields and astonishing variety players remember from their childhoods.  This is great news for anyone who was rubbed the wrong way by the touch-centric gameplay of Kirby Canvas Curse, but those who enjoyed it will be less thrilled by Squeak Squad's lack of challenge and originality.  The only key difference between this title and past entries in the Kirby series is the Squeak Squad, a gang of rascally rodents who try to sneak off with treasure chests hidden throughout each stage.  Retrieving the chests earns you bonus items which enhance the game, adding spice to an otherwise ordinary Kirby adventure.


Emulation usually provides the best possible reproduction of popular arcade games from the 1980's, but it's not always the right way to go.  Sometimes it's better to start from scratch with conversions designed specifically for the game system that will run them, which is the lesson learned from this release and its predecessor on the Game Boy Advance.  Yes, Konami Arcade Advanced had less than half the games available in its DS counterpart, but they were all better tailored to the system, featuring crisp graphics and (barely) hidden play modes that truly were advanced.  Konami's decision to use emulation for Konami Classics actually puts it a step behind its Game Boy Advance cousin... because the developers compressed the visuals to fit on the Nintendo DS screen, the sprites are distorted in nearly all of the games.  You can learn to live with it when the characters are as large as the ones in Track 'n Field or Yie Ar Kung Fu, but in shooters like Twinbee, Scramble, and Tutankham (Horror Maze?  Pfft... whatever, Konami!), all those tiny camoflagued bullets could spell your doom.  Konami Classics offers a lot of customization options and even the history behind your 80's favorites as restitution, but none of this matters much when the games themselves suffer.  Konami Classics is only worth picking up if you absolutely need the titles Konami missed in their first collection.


You've probably seen this under a dozen different names and with slight tweaks to the ball launching, string cutting formula, but this is the real deal.  Originally released in arcades as Puzz Loop, Magnetica improves on the original with touch-screen control that sharpens the player's accuracy.  There are also a wide variety of play styles, ranging from a demanding endurance challenge to the multi-stage puzzle and quest modes.  No matter what you choose, the basic objective remains the same... you'll defend a drain in the center of the playfield by flinging colored balls at an advancing string of orbs.  Sometimes there's just enough tension in Magnetica to make the game an exciting challenge, while other times it will seem like a fool's errand... in the later Quest stages, the menacing chain of spheres always seems to snake its way toward the drain no matter how hard you fight to keep the two seperated.  It may be frustrating, but Magnetica's addictive gameplay will keep pulling you back for more punishment!


I would proclaim that Metal Slug is back, but the only problem is that SNK never let it take a vacation.  This is the seventh game in the increasingly monotonous series and the first handheld Metal Slug that puts the emphasis on arcade action rather than platforming and exploration.  Enemy soldiers and their weapons of mass destruction swarm the screen, and it's up to you to clear a path to the boss using such armaments as the Charlie Ma-Sheen Gun, the Rocket Lawnchair, and the Iron Lizard (totally not kidding about the last one). 

Realizing that it's all been done before (at least six times), SNK tried to revitalize the formula with new features, including a few exclusive to the Nintendo DS.  Ralf and Clark from Ikari Warriors have been added to the cast, each with special attacks taken from The King of Fighters.  The touchscreen gives you a wider view of the playfield and helps you track down hidden hostages and secret paths.  There are even a few ideas lifted from last year's Contra 4, including dual weapon switching and a full-powered firearm in the Beginner mode. 

What Metal Slug 7 lacks is the fresh perspective and tight design that brought Contra back to life after four mediocre sequels.  Its levels lack that element of surprise that made the series so exciting on the Neo-Geo, and the constant slowdown and compressed graphics will leave newcomers wondering how Metal Slug earned its status as an arcade classic.  Metal Slug 7 could have benefited from more powerful hardware, but what it needed more than anything else was an injection of creativity.


All right, I admit it... I thought a Metroid pinball game was a really stupid idea.  You probably did too, didn't you?  However, Fuse Games was able to silence their critics with a pinball simulation that bridges the gap between Samus' long-running adventures and an even older game that people enjoyed years before the ENIAC blew its first vacuum tube.  It's amazing just how faithful Metroid Prime Pinball is to the other titles in the series... the graphics in particular are stunning, featuring computer rendered stages and characters that are a perfect match for the sleek polygonal visuals in the GameCube versions of Metroid Prime.

There's more good news for Metroid maniacs... although Samus usually assumes the form of a shimmering gold orb, the futuristic femme fatale is often given a chance to stand tall and fight back against the aliens swarming each stage.  The only thing that keeps Metroid Prime Pinball from feeling like a genuine Metroid experience is the game's length.  With practice, it will only take twenty minutes to collect all the artifacts and crush the final boss.


Whoa, here's a lawsuit just waiting to happen!  Mind Quiz is a unapologetic clone of everyone's favorite brainpower-building DS game, even using the term "Brain Age" as the final measurement of your mental abilities.  The complete shamelessness of Mind Quiz is one of its strengths... because it uses both handwriting and voice recognition, it feels more like a genuine sequel to Brain Age than Nintendo's unfortunate Big Brain Academy.  It's also more attractive than the game that inspired it, with backgrounds that are pleasing to the eye without interfering with the action in the foreground.  Now for the bad news... despite their similarities, the mini-games in Mind Quiz are never as captivating as the ones in Brain Age, and only two of them have any bearing on your final score.  The game is a hard sell when Brain Age costs exactly the same and is more fun to play.  However, if you need a break from the genuine article but don't want your noggin getting soggy, this is the best alternative to Brain Age you're going to find on the Nintendo DS.


It might take some effort to think of a television star less suited to the video game treatment than Mr. Bean, the dopey, borderline autistic Brit who's the closest thing the 1990s had to Charlie Chaplin.  How about Alton Brown?  Nah... that might actually be more fun than Cooking Mama.  All right, what about that loud, bearded jerk from the Kaboom ads?  No, the tiny speakers inside the DS would never survive it.  Wait, wait... how 'bout that grumpy old coot who's always complaining about battery sizes and navel lint on 60 Minutes?  There we go!

Yes, Andy Rooney would make a less compelling video game hero than Rowan Atkisson.  Just not by much.  The Mr. Bean game proves it by pasting the bug-eyed nimrod into a painfully linear side-scrolling action game so generic, it could have starred practically anyone from Ben Stein to Conan O'Brien without anyone being the wiser.  You push crates, collect keys, pry open treasure chests, and cower in fear from bees and other creatures that any self-respecting game character could dispatch in a split-second.  Oh no, I'm having flashbacks of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde on the NES!

Sure, the game engine is solidly designed, without any noticeable glitches or crippling flaws, but the game built around this engine is so devoid of inspiration and creativity that you'll wonder why the programmers even went to the trouble.  Sorry old bean, but you're better off sticking with television.


What happens when you take the classic game of Breakout and inject it with new ideas and an artsy flair?  In the case of Nervous Brickdown, you get a schizophrenic experience that's hard to appreciate despite its brave new approach to a well-worn genre.  This DS release by Eidos and newcomers Arkedo starts out pretty ordinary... you use a paddle on the bottom screen to break bricks perched on the top.  However, this brief set of stages only serve as an introduction to the rest of the game, which diverges wildly from its source material.  There's everything from an underwater rescue mission that divides your attention between the ball and a stream of falling flood victims, to a dangerous journey into deep space that's more than a little like the bullet hell shooters of the late 1990's.  This is where Nervous Brickdown's reckless ambition starts to take its toll on the player... half the scenarios are so full of unrelenting chaos that it's impossible to complete each objective while keeping the ball in play.  Other worlds have more reasonable expectations, but the lack of cohesion between them ultimately leaves the game feeling fragmented and aimless.


Oh, Pac-Pix... I wanted so very much to love you!  After all, there's no greater joy than scribbling away at the DS screen and watching an army of misshapen Pac-Mutants come to life.  Every affront to God and nature I create fills me with the kind of joy that mad scientists must experience when they pull the switch that sends electricity coursing through the veins of their stitched-together surrogate sons.  It seemed like a match made in heaven, Pac-Pix, but you had to force me to adapt to handwriting recognition that's every bit as twisted and wrong as my little Packensteins.  Nobody starts at the mouth when drawing Pac-Man, and I dare say that this thing you've made me sketch looks nothing like an arrow.  But that wasn't enough for you, was it?  You had to break my heart with sets of nearly impossible puzzles that have to be started from the very beginning once you run out of magic ink.  My apologies, dearest, but this is a love that can never be.  Give my fondest regards to your sister, Pac 'n Roll.


Now that the light gun's out of the picture, perhaps they should have called this Drawing A Blank.  Hey, you know somebody had to say it!  Anyway, this is the Nintendo DS conversion of the virtual carnival game which dared to be different from the violent light gun shooters of the mid 1990's.  In Point Blank, players have to pick off their own targets while avoiding the opponent's in a series of fast-paced and wacky missions.  It's the closest thing anyone had to Wario Ware back in the 1990's, and it holds up pretty well a decade later, even with a wimpy stylus filling in for Namco's unfailingly accurate GunCon controllers.  The only downer, ironically, is all the stuff Namco added to the mix.  Rather than including missions from the other two games in the series, the designers squeezed all the old ones into a corny parody of Brain Age which judges the player's speed and accuracy, then uses an unflattering term to describe their intellect.  The unnervingly cheerful head of a Japanese professor is a lot easier to live with once you've been told by the quack in Point Blank that you're barely fit to hold a pooper-scooper!


I love this game, although I'm almost embarrassed to admit it.  It would be easy to dismiss Quickspot as an electronic version of those puzzles buried in the the daily paper that challenge you to find the differences between two seemingly identical drawings.  However, that would be ignoring the brilliance of the game's design.  The hand-painted portraits in Quickspot are not only far more eye-catching than anything you'll find in the back of an issue of Parade, but they're bursting with subtle details that change every time you play.  The first time you attempt a puzzle, you might find a ribbon in the hair of a young girl sitting down in a field.  The next, you could notice a watch on her wrist, or a ladybug perched on a nearby blade of grass.  Without this spontaneity and a hectic multiplayer mode, the game would have lost its appeal in a hurry... but with these features, Quickspot becomes one of the year's most welcome suprises!


Whoo, Atari sure bet on the wrong horse with this one!  Instead of targeting an audience that actually remembers the games in this collection, they've turned Retro Atari Classics into an interactive gallery for the world's most notorious graffiti artists.  Maybe it was a clumsy attempt to bring Generation Y into the classic gaming scene; perhaps it was just a loose tie-in with Atari's other flop Marc Ecko's Getting Up.  The motivation isn't entirely clear, but what IS obvious is that Retro Atari Classics doesn't stack up to Atari Anniversary Advance for the Game Boy Advance.  Sure, RAC has twice the games and touchscreen support, but it also has features you won't want, like oversized characters and awkward gameplay that are anything but arcade perfect.  You might be able to shake some fun out of Missile Command and Warlords, but this collection will have painted itself in a corner well before you reach hits like Asteroids, Tempest, and Centipede.


Here's one of those games which you just know will sell poorly despite its sterling quality.  The developers at Mekensleep seemed to realize this too, including a pithy disclaimer at the beginning that warns the player that there will be no race cars, no orcs, and no gang violence, and that they should learn to accept it before they proceed.

What this game DOES offer is an enchanting adventure that borrows as much from Sony's recent sleeper hit Loco Roco as it does the early 1990s computer release Bubble Ghost.  As a tiny wind spirit (with a faint resemblance to that bald kid from Nickelodeon's Avatar), it's your job to guide a bubble filled with lost souls to a magical gateway that will let them rest in peace. 

Hungry lizards, pesky mosquitos, and sliding stone pillars all make this job difficult, but fortunately, you've come prepared with three different abilities, each based on a different animal.  Tiger lets you safely cut the bubble into pieces, letting it squeeze through tight tunnels, Hummingbird lets you draw bubbles around certain enemies, and Elephant lets you shrink the soul bubble to a convenient travel size.

As you make your way through the game, you'll find clever new uses for these three abilities.  You'll also find yourself entranced by Soul Bubbles' gameplay, which is the farthest thing from intense yet remains compelling thanks to a combination of storybook visuals, relaxing new-age music, and inventive level design.  Like Trauma Center and Yoshi's Touch and Go, Soul Bubbles offers that special brand of off-kilter excellence that has defined the Nintendo DS experience.


Yeah, I know what you're thinking... it's just boring old Tetris again, right?  Oh, maybe that's what I was thinking.  Well, I was wrong.  There's a lot more going on here than the usual block dropping we've all been doing for the past twenty years.  Some of the modes in Tetris DS are so far removed from the original formula that they could qualify as entirely new games!  Take the Tower, for instance.  You're confronted with an enormous stack of tetrads, and it's your mission to slide the jumbled pieces into neat rows with your stylus until you can reach the cage precariously perched on the top.  There's also Catch, which changes the dynamic of the game by putting you in control of a glowing core on the bottom screen.  You'll stick falling pieces to the core until it's covered in a cluster of blocks, then blow the whole mess to bits with the touch of a button!  Every game in the package is spiced up with scenes from famous Nintendo titles, making even total bores like Push (a seemingly eternal tug-of-war between you and an opponent) worth your time.


You'd expect nothing less than the best from Vicarious Visions, the creators of the mindblowing Game Boy Advance versions of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater... but who'd have thunk that even they could run circles around a Tony Hawk game on the next generation Xbox 360?  They've done just that with American Sk8teland on the Nintendo DS.  Here's a release on a system that's many times less powerful than the Xbox 360, which just happens to be many times more entertaining than its cutting-edge counterpart. 

How did Vicarious Visions do it?  First, they threw out the ugly, drab visuals and replaced them with a combination of cel-shaded environments and charming comic book artwork.  Then they streamlined the gameplay, throwing out idiotic moves like the caveman and simplifying the controls so that the remaining tricks could be easily accessed.  As a finishing touch, Vicarious Visions took full advantage of the DS hardware, going so far as to let players customize the game with their own artwork and voice.  The end result is so jaw-droppingly good, it makes even the mighty Xbox 360 look like a poseur! 


A warning to those of you expecting to slice through Trauma Center in a couple of hours... this knife cuts deeply.  In an effort to reproduce the intensity and demanding precision of real surgery, Atlus has put a time limit on each operation.  Fail to finish the procedure before time runs out- even if you're one step away from victory- and a more skilled surgeon will muscle in to finish the job.  As you progress through the game, the time limits grow shorter as the surgeries become more involved.  It won't be long before you're gasping for breath, scrambling for scalpels, medication, and forceps as you struggle to keep your latest patient from flatlining.  When the operation comes to a successful conclusion and the surgical gloves come off, you'll be completely exhausted... but just as satisfied with what you've accomplished.  That powerful sense of accomplishment that washes over you after each surgery is what makes Trauma Center worth the high blood pressure, and the constant harassment you'll receive from your bitchy blonde nurse.  Too bad there's no way to suture her mouth shut!



This is a tough game to rate... on one hand, you've got to give the developers credit for atoning for Midway's past sins with a port of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 that's as accurate as Mortal Kombat Advance was lousy.  Aside from some slightly squished graphics, it looks just like the arcade game, with all the rich colors and lightning-fast characters you remember from your youth.  The sound hits just as hard as the visuals, and the gameplay's actually better than previous ports thanks to a moves list on the bottom screen which takes the mystery out of performing attacks.  The fatalities are still a bitch to pull off, but hey, that's Mortal Kombat for you! 


So why is it so tough to choose a rating for a game of such high quality?  Well, because it's the only game on the cartridge, not counting Puzzle Kombat... and you probably won't after you've played a few rounds of this sluggish and distressingly derivative puzzler.  Also, there's the issue of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's difficulty level, which starts out reasonably enough but quickly snowballs into an exercise in futility.  You'll beat three computer adversaries, be thoroughly shamed by the fourth, and reset until you can find a more suitable opponent with the game's welcome Wi-Fi feature.  If you're looking for a fighting game on the DS without an anime license, this is as good as it gets until Capcom counters with a Marvel vs. Capcom collection.


Way to turn things around, Artoon!  The team responsible for duds like Blinx: The Time Sweeper and Pinobee is finally on the right track with this long-awaited sequel to Yoshi's Island on the Super NES.  Unlike the previous Yoshi game on the Nintendo DS, this is much more faithful to the original... the player is in full control of the plump pastel dinosaur as he gobbles enemies, flings eggs, and charges to the end of each stage with a baby in tow.  There are four kids to escort this time, including not only plain vanilla Mario, but three other Nintendo stars.  Peach sails through the skies with her umbrella, Wario uses a magnet to pull heavy objects, and then there's Donkey Kong.  Other reviewers have branded him as useless, but it's anyone's guess how they came to that conclusion.  The 8-pound gorilla has the most powerful attacks of the four, along with the ability to cling to vines and a voice that won't drive you nuts.  Anyone who's played the original Yoshi's Island will understand how important this is!  They'll also appreciate the game's whimsical artwork and clever (if sometimes sadistic!) level design.


tech specs


Twin ARM


96MHz and 33MHz




cards, max 256MB


16 channel stereo




256x192 (x2)




128 in 4 layers



best games

American Sk8teland
Bust-A-Move DS
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Game Center CX (Jpn)
Mario Kart DS
Trauma Center
Sonic Rush
Soul Bubbles
Ultimate Mortal Kombat

worst games

Big Brain Academy
Bubble Bobble Revolution
Burnout Legends
Card Fighter's Clash
Dig Dug: Digging Strike
Jackass: The Game
Retro Atari Classics
Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon