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Game People Calling: Nintendo's Best Kept Secret

Game People | 20 Jun 2010 13:00
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Amidst the furor of the 3DS it seems a little moot to start singing the praises of the DSi. But I want to call us all back to take a look at what has become a significant and exciting platform.

Like many of Nintendo's great ideas, it started with something of a whimper- a lesson they seem to have learned, judging by the 3DS's impressive third party support from launch. There were very few DSiware games that mattered for quite some time. And those that did exist were simply packaged-up segments from cartridge games.

But since launch, and since many of us moved elsewhere for our download gaming, they have been chipping away at creating something truly great. I'm not talking about infrastructure or social features - Nintendo doesn't really do that stuff. They are good at games, and recently this is what has been making DSiware so special.

Green shoots were seen when more of the Art Style games started to appear. These follow up the excellent Bit Generations releases that emerged in Japan at the end of the GameBoy Advance's life. Not only are they some of the most unusual gaming experiences around today, but they have a unique stripped-down aesthetic that gives them a really unusual feel.

These DSiware Art Style games - AQUITE, PiCTOBiTS, INTERSECT and CODE to name the better examples - each walk their own path. Sure, they can seem painfully simple at first but given a little more time they have the ability to stretch these simple beginnings to super challenging excellence.

PiCTOBiTS, for example, is a wonderfully simple fusion of pixel art, Tetris and drawing. While you harvest the pixels that stream down the screen, you are at the same time filling in pixels on a retro image on the top screen. It feels like some of the modes on Tetris DS but, as is true for all these Art Style games, a stripped-down and turbo-charged version.

While Nintendo led-off with these more quirky offerings, more recently this has been fleshed out with some fuller experiences. Starship Defense stands out amongst these, and is quite possibly the best tower defense game I've played on any platform. In common with the Art Style games it too pares down the visuals - everything is laid out as if it has been drawn on graph paper.

Into this is injected a healthy dose of Star Wars. The orchestral score backing every round and Star Destroyer defense ships are taken straight from the Lucas playbook. Even the enemy craft look like TIE Fighters and gun placements seem to have been borrowed straight from an At-At Walker - compete with a perfect ack-ack sample.

The game itself matches the visuals with well balanced play that progresses at a steady pace. In fact, there is more on offer here than in a lot of full-priced DS games. It feels like the team had a more scope to do things their way than if this had been destined to sit on shop shelves.

Pinball Pulse: The Ancients Beckon is another surprising DSiware game, not least because of the lack of full-priced realistic pinball experiences on the DS. Pinball Pulse is not only a return to the real pursuit of pinball - rather than the recent minigames-infested versions - but also offers a board that has had a considerable amount of design effort applied to it.

If you have played either of the Williams' Adams Family or Star Trek Next Generation tables you have a rough idea of what's on offer here. Pulse features the loops from Star Trek and the ever popular auto-flip from Adam's Family. It has obviously been put together by a team who understands what makes for a good pinball experience.

This, of course, is completely possible to deliver via a cartridge, but like so many of the other DSiware games it seems that the lower costs of the download format allows developers scope to go places with gameplay that happily stray from the DS's casual audience.

Finally, there's the excellent Flipnote Studio on DSiware. This isn't technically a game, but again shows how the format allows developers to deliver niche experiences. Flipnote enables you to create flick-book style animations. It's a simple idea executed with the sort of common-sense usable interface we've seen more recently in WarioWare D.I.Y.

You can use a light box to trace previous frames, copy and paste and even add sound effects. Finished creations can be uploaded to the Flipnote Hatena website. Seeing the amount of creativity on offer there is as much a testament to the accessibility on offer here. And on top of all that - it's free.

These are a few highlights of an ever increasing volume of games on DSiware. And with Nintendo leading the way, as well as a quick publication process, the number of new offerings each month seems to just grow and grow.
In fact, such is the expansion of these games it's a struggle to keep up. How about you, are there any great DSiware games you've come across that nobody is talking about or is this all still under the radar for you?

Game People is a rag tag bunch of artisans creating awesomely bizarre reviews from across the pond.

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