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Nintendo DS

The Basics

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: Currently available

Price: $149.99

Media: Proprietary 1-gigabit cartridges; also plays all Game Boy Advance Games

Online: Wireless functionality allows one DS to connect with 15 others over Wi-Fi hotspots

Nintendo’s recently released handheld might not be able to push out the nearly PlayStation 2–quality visuals of Sony’s PSP, but it offers unique functionality that puts it in a bizarre, innovative class of its own. Its dual vertically aligned screens baffle upon first viewing, but developers are already experimenting with creative, functional uses beyond simply displaying maps and subscreens. Likewise with the touch-panel input—we’re already seeing games that bend the rules of interactivity and control. The Nintendo DS assuredly feels new and different, but it remains to be seen whether gamers will warm up to its distinctive personality….

Castlevania

Konami • Fall 2005

The Basics: If you’re sick of Dracula always coming back from the dead in Castlevania games, you’re in luck—this upcoming Nintendo DS chapter in Konami’s long-running adventure series won’t disturb the Count’s turbulent slumber with another cop-out revival story line. A direct sequel to 2003’s phenomenal (and also refreshingly Dracula-free) Game Boy Advance Castlevania offering, Aria of Sorrow, this game picks up in the far-off year 2036—precisely 12 months after pretty-boy hero Soma Cruz successfully escaped his fate at the hands of Dracula’s followers. “There are those who were unhappy that Soma did not fulfill his destiny to become the reincarnation of Dracula,” explains Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi. “Among them is Celia Fortner, the founder of a cult that believes their God to be perfectly good; therefore the existence of perfect evil is needed.... She will do everything in her power to kill Soma.” Rather than wait around for a mob of crazed religious zealots to off him, Soma proactively ventures into the cult’s headquarters to face his would-be assassins. Unsurprisingly, he finds his way to a familiar castle....

The core Castlevania gameplay hasn’t changed much since Aria of Sorrow, which in turn borrowed heavily from Igarashi’s watershed PS1 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Soma still runs, jumps, and attacks from a traditional side-scrolling perspective, and rather than explore linear levels, you lead him through a labyrinthine map of interlocking areas, picking up items and ferreting out secrets. As in Symphony, the main character fights with a vast arsenal of different weapons—swords, spears, hammers, etc.—instead of the whip of old-school ’Vania hero Simon Belmont. Also, expect the return of Aria’s lauded Enemy Soul system: Instead of picking up old standbys like holy water and the axe, you bust out cool special attacks by equipping orbs randomly dropped by enemies. Every foe has one, but collecting them all requires serious dedication. “I have made several enhancements to Aria’s gameplay systems,” claims Igarashi. “There are many new unique weapons to wield, and we’ve increased the number of Enemy Souls you can obtain.”

The DS Difference: You needn’t have a degree in advanced vampirology to figure out how the DS’ second screen will function here. “The upper screen will display the player’s current status, along with their position on the overall map,” says Igarashi. In a game where you’re trying to remember precisely where you saw that previously unreachable platform, having a constant view of the castle layout will be a serious boon.

Igarashi’s plans for the touch panel aren’t quite as predictable: “Since it’s a pure action game, I did not want to mix the use of buttons at the same time as the stylus.” So, even though the main gameplay happens on the DS’ lower touch-panel screen, you’ll only have to finger your screen when using the new Magic Seal system (see sidebar on page 83).

Visually, Castlevania opts for a traditional 2D style, quelling gamers’ fears that they might have another blurry, blocky Castlevania 64 (Nintendo 64) to muddle through. “DS is a great portable for expressing 2D gameplay,” Igarashi explains. “I’ve noted that the DS has better graphical capabilities than, say, the PS1, and it’s up to us to push the limits of this new hardware.” The team also plans to make full use of the system’s vastly superior-to-GBA music capabilities. Noted series composer Michiru Yamane (the tunesmith behind the haunting Symphony of the Night score) will supervise the music production and pen a few key tracks herself.

Fans of Igarashi’s previous Game Boy Advance Castlevania titles would probably only lodge one complaint—the games are over too quickly. Eight or nine hours of feverish exploration and undead beatdowns, and you’ve probably scoped every nook and cranny of Drac’s spacious abode. The potential for wireless multiplayer action would graft some serious replayability onto this DS chapter. “I don’t want to have two Somas running around together,” says Igarashi. “But I’m hoping to find space for a versus mode if time allows.” And even if there isn’t room for that feature in this game, Igarashi promises to utilize the DS’ wireless functionality for Enemy Soul trading and the exchange of customized maps.

Nanostray

Majesco • Spring 2005

The Basics: Veterans of the 2001 Game Boy Advance launch might remember Iridion 3D, a traditional space shooter that wowed players with impressive streaming-video graphics. The same development team now brings its hardcore shooter action to the Nintendo DS’ dual-screen format. Nanostray offers similarly classic stick-and-move bullet-ballet gameplay, filling the screen with blazing special weapons and legions of enemy ships.

The DS Difference: Nanostray uses all of the DS’ specialized functions: The second screen displays your score, shows enemy radar position, and allows you to select your weapons by merely touching virtual buttons. Plus, you can wirelessly link up with a friend and tackle the game in two-player mode.

Animal Crossing

Nintendo • Spring 2005

The Basics: Mundane tasks like pulling weeds, rearranging furniture, and running errands magically become engaging when you’re doing them in a videogame. This DS sequel to the breakout GameCube hit threatens to gobble up untold hours of your free time—it’s tough to find the perfect curtains to match your snazzy throw rug.

The DS Difference: If you want to visit your friends’ towns in the GC Animal Crossing, you have to lug your memory card over to their console, but in this DS version you’ll be able to wirelessly connect and commune with fellow beasts on a wireless network.

Mario Kart DS

Nintendo • Summer 2005

The Basics: Mario and his cronies take to the track for another round of automotive mayhem, complete with all the powersliding and shell tossing you’ve come to expect from this genre-defining franchise.

The DS Difference: Predictably, the second screen doesn’t do terribly much other than display a map of the current track. It’s the promise of wireless multiplayer competition that truly sets this game apart from its karting forerunners. If someone can finagle a method of using wireless routers to get true Internet races going, we’re so there.

Super Princess Peach

Nintendo • Summer 2005

The Basics: Perpetually ditzy Peach finally catches wind of the women’s liberation movement, setting off to rescue Mario in her own side-scrolling action-adventure. Whether or not grown men will be able to stomach a game in which a sassy talking parasol constitutes your main line of defense remains to be seen.

The DS Difference: Oddly enough, the top screen displays nothing but a large, animated image of the Princess that reacts to in-game events as they occur—cute, but hardly functional. All the gameplay takes place on the lower screen, where you’ll be able to hop and bop with your trusty stylus.

Pokemon Dash

Nintendo • March 2005

The Basics: Billionaire electric rodent Pikachu scampers around a track, hoping to emerge victorious against his equally lovable Pokémon pals. Occasional parachuting stages (oddly reminiscent of Pilotwings for Super Nintendo) break up the sweaty rat races.

The DS Difference: The main racing gameplay uses the DS’ touch panel fairly well—you guide your chosen critter around the track with the stylus. Some tight turns keep the contests from being a total cakewalk, but the whole escapade feels a bit like a minigame that should have been tacked onto the upcoming proper DS Pokémon games, Diamond and Pearl. Still, expect some serious offtrack betting on recess-time playgrounds across the nation....

Yoshi’s Touch & Go

Nintendo • March 2005

The Basics: Helpless baby Mario and his reptilian steed Yoshi reprise their roles from the Super NES classic Yoshi’s Island in this newfangled touch-screen platformer. In some stages, you guide the famous tyke through perilous skies, while others have Yoshi protecting Mario from the threat of kidnapping by chucking eggs at encroaching baddies.

The DS Difference: Touch & Go breaks from the “let’s-just-use-it-as-a-map-screen” trend by effectively using both displays for gameplay. One troubling prospect, though: The main touch-panel action here—drawing clouds for Yoshi to gallop across—feels an awful lot like a slower-paced variant of the central Touch! Kirby mechanics.

Touch! Kirby: the Magic Paintbrush

Nintendo • Summer 2005

The Basics: Amorphous yet lovable hero Kirby embarks on yet another platforming adventure. This time, he’s trapped inside a painting, and it’s your job to safely guide him through the picturesque (albeit enemy-infested) landscapes with the titular magic paintbrush (i.e., the DS stylus).

The DS Difference: While most of the DS installments of classic Nintendo franchises only dabble in DS’ unique functionality, Kirby fully immerses itself in a creative new form of touch-panel control. It’s up to you to draw platforms for Kirby to walk on, tap him to dash forward, and guide him to destroy enemies.

Atari Classics

Atari • March 2005

The Basics: This isn’t just another catch-all collection of antiquated arcade hits—Atari has instead hired famed New York City graffiti artists to reimagine the visuals for 10 of its best-known oldies: Pong, Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Tempest, Warlords, Space Duel, Gravitar, Lunar Lander, and Sprint. Arcade purists might scoff at these newly hip remakes, but the kids will likely call them “dope.”

The DS Difference: These old-timey hits should work wonderfully on DS: Some of these titles were made for touch-panel control. Tempest, Centipede, and Breakout benefit from the lightning-fast response time of the stylus—it’s a good approximation of the trackball and paddle controllers from the original arcade cabinets. Add in four-player wireless multiplayer and you’ve got a handheld renaissance.

Frogger

Nintendo • February 2005

The Basics: Having long since graduated from merely crossing traffic-laden roads, Konami’s famous frog sets out on another one-square-at-a-time hopping adventure, similar to his million-selling escapades on PS1. Simple, pick-up-and-play control, attractive 3D graphics, and hidden extras should make this another amphibious hit.

The DS Difference: Frogger takes the easy way out with its use of the second screen—you’ll find nothing but pertinent score, time, and health info there—but at least it takes advantage of the DS’ wireless multiplayer capabilities for some four-player frog face-offs.

Warioware Touched!

Konami • Summer 2005

The Basics: The revolutionary microgame concept pioneered by 2003’s original GBA WarioWare comes to the DS, where success relies entirely on your scribbling, rubbing, and blowing skills. Once again, you’ve only got three seconds to figure out what bizarre, goofy action each task requires, as you rifle through over 100 all-new rapid-fire minigames.

The DS Difference: Touched! has you fondling and blowing on your portable like a crazy person, but Sega’s Feel the Magic actually beat it to the punch, offering many minigames remarkably like the ones here. Still, the wackiness factor should be reason enough to pick it up.

Aria Reprised

Julius Belmont: Descendant of the Belmont clan, Julius helped to seal Dracula away in the year 1999.

Genya Arikado: This debonair businessman (who’s secretly Alucard, the star of Symphony of the Night) aids Soma’s quest.

Yoko Belnades: A flirtatious nun (and descendant of Castlevania III heroine Sypha Belnades), she works with Arikado to protect Soma.

Hammer: In the year 2036, it’s totally normal for a brash Army officer to sell supplies to femme-y teens.

Mina Hakuba: Soma’s previously kidnapped childhood friend is also targeted for death by the cult. Sucks to be her....

All of the surviving characters from Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA) return in this direct follow-up. Here’s a quick recap of whom you’ll be interacting with….

Magic Touch

Producer Koji Igarashi explains how you’ll wield the DS’ stylus in Castlevania:

“This time, killing bosses requires more than just steady attacks: Once you drain the enemy’s hit points to zero, the Magic Seal entry screen pops up. You then use the stylus to draw a certain shape on the screen and “seal” the enemy. If the shape is drawn incorrectly, the enemy regains some of its energy and the fight continues.”

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Electronic Gaming Monthly.





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