Category Archives: DS Reviews

Pokemon Pearl & Diamond Review

pearlPokémon Diamond & Pearl (Available exclusively on Nintendo DS)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: April 22nd, 2007

The 4th generation of Pokémon games are my personal black sheep. They contain the only Pokémon games in the main series that I had never completed in the Pearl/Diamond/Platinum and HeartGold/SoulSilver versions. For one reason or another, I wasn’t in the mood for Pokémon gaming back then. I did buy Pearl when it came out and before I restarted a file, I had 10 hours invested into it so it’s not like I never gave it a chance. I’ve been watching a tremendous amount of ‘Let’s Play’ videos and documentaries on the history of the series lately and it’s gotten me in the mood for some more Pokémon. I thought there was no better excuse to go back and finally complete the last main entry in my favorite video game franchise, and so I did. Here’s my verdict.

The Great:

My god has Pokémon changed over the years…. and for the most part, the better. But there’s one complaint that always comes up when I talk about recent entries and that’s the difficulty level. Pokémon Pearl was the most challenging Pokémon game I’ve played since the original Red and Blue. Like any RPG out there, you can make it as easy as you want by grinding indefinitely, and if you choose that route, you’ll likely think I’m crazy, but I chose the complete opposite. I went from point A to B from start to finish without any grinding whatsoever. Once I had captured my team, I used repels during most of the adventure to accelerate things even more. And sure, that would make any game harder than it is, but you got to understand that I’m no beginner when it comes to Pokémon so I already have an advantage that most wouldn’t.

What truly makes the game challenging is the following factors. Leveling up takes a lot of time. Even defeating Pokémon five levels above yours doesn’t gain you that much experience. Another extremely important aspect of Pearl & Diamond is the fact that you’re going to face diverse teams. While most trainers will sport the series tradition of only having one type, most will surprise you by having two or more types in their party. And I’m talking about gym leaders and Elite 4 members here, you can’t just start with a water type and spawn Surf and expect an easy victory. Finally, Elite 4 members challenge you with five Pokémon each while the champion has six. Not only that, but these pocket monsters will be five to ten levels higher than your top Pokémon on your team. This forced me to finally cave in and evolve my Pikachu just before the final fight with the champion. Ash would be disappointed in me.

02The Good:

+ The very best batch of starters I’ve seen. While Infernape is kick ass, Fire/Fighting is not uncommon. After-all, Blaziken from Ruby & Sapphire sported that very same dual type, but then it gets pretty interesting. Not only is Empoleon’s design bad ass, but he might also be the only water/steel mixture in the entire game. Finally, you have Torterra who seems to have a freaking forest on his back with spikes thrown in for good measure. Being Grass/Ground doesn’t hurt either. We haven’t seen such unique starters before, or since.

+ I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the over-abundance of HM moves in Pearl/Diamond. For me it added to the challenge and made things more interesting. It also forces you to take mental notes of areas you’ll have to come back and visit later on.

+ Super visuals and audio presentation for the time. This game looks pretty nice on a DSi and the songs are some of the best I’ve heard in the series so far.

+ Post game content is excellent. Battle Tower is back from Pokémon Crystal, and there’s also tons of legendaries to catch after you’ve dealt with the Elite 4 including the odd, but fan favorite Regigigas.

+ All your Pokémon can be transferred all the way to Pokémon X & Y if you’d like too.

01The So-So:

+/- While you may no longer use the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi Connection to battle in the 4th and 5th gen games, this is where Pokémon finally made its online debut. It was a bit underwhelming to say the least with bare-bone features and connection issues all over the place. Still, this was a huge step for the franchise back in the day and one that has made Pokémon a stand out in the e-sport industry thanks to Pokémon X & Y.

03The Bad:

– Probably the worst storyline in the franchise after X & Y. It’s practically non-existent, and when you do get a truly epic moment in your final standoff with Team Galactic, it’s ruined when you face the leader of the gang, a truly evil guy, and realize you only have four Pokémon to worry about during the battle.

– For some reason, it takes forever for the health bar to lower during battles. Surfing on water is also extremely slow. I heard that these were all fixed with the Platinum version, but they’re indeed annoying.

04The Lowdown:

Never underestimate Pokémon is the feeling I’ve come back with after having completed Pearl for the first time. This is a series I’ve cherished since Red & Blue and every single entry in the series has been rock solid. While I’m not sure where it would rank in my personal favorites, it’s still a game I’d recommend any day to any portable gamer. Like the franchise itself, Pokémon Pearl might not be perfect, but it’s damn enjoyable. Fun from start to finish, you can’t go wrong with Pearl/Diamond. If like me, you’ve never experienced the DS classics, you might want to reconsider.

Final Score: 9.0/10

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation Review

Dragon Quest VIDragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation (Available exclusively on Nintendo DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: ArtePiazza
Release Date: February 14th, 2011

The Dragon Quest series is one of the most cherished RPG franchise out there. Sadly, most of us missed out on all these great games during the SNES era. Thankfully, Nintendo and Square-Enix partnered up during the Nintendo DS days and brought us all the DQs from the Super Famicom. Dragon Quest VI absolutely requires at least one play-through if you’re a fan of Japanese role-playing games. It’s one of the best in the series and shines brightly on the little dual screened system.

The Great:

The introduction of a dual world adds a nice twist to the storyline. Similar to A Link to the Past, there’s an “opposite” place here called the ‘Dream World,’ which you need to visit to solve puzzles and whatnot.  This also means the gigantic overworld is now twice the size. The biggest impact this dual world system has, is on the game’s plot. Most of the characters you find in the Dream world have actually passed away a long time ago. The sad part is that they don’t even realize this fact until much later on. Sometimes you’ll meet a family who’s son has died a long time ago, and then meet that kid somewhere else. Eventually he’ll find out his sad fate and he’ll have to move on. There are tons of events like this in the game that makes Realms of Revelation such a memorable game.

DQVI2The Good:

+ Fair challenge. You’ll die a lot but the punishment is not terrible. Sure you lose a bit of money, but all of your levels and experience are kept, and now you have some general knowledge of what not to do next time you challenge the dungeon’s boss.

+ Awesome combat system. Classic Dragon Quest, simple but you need to take your time and strategize a few things during battles. Who should you kill first and what moves you need to use are all simple things to consider, but are necessary to conquer DQ VI.

+ Extremely exciting boss battles! They will kick your ass!

+ The vocation system rocks! It’s the best class-based system I’ve ever experienced in a JRPG. Every class has different perks and disadvantages, and the ideal thing to do is to master a good variety of classes so you can take on the advanced one and create a juggernaut. This actually makes grinding super fun as you learn different skills and take on different jobs.

+ Music and visuals are fantastic. Super NES graphics on steroids!

DQVI3The Bad:

– No main villain for most of the story. I find that an antagonist really adds an epic feel to the plot. You pretty much beat the final boss after the twelve hour mark then you don’t see him again until the final encounter, forty hours after you’ve started you’re adventure.

– Random battle encounter rate is on the high side.

DQVI1The Lowdown:

Dragon Quest VI comes highly recommended and is one of the best Nintendo DS games around. It remains one my favorite RPGs of all time and I wish Square-Enix would get their shit together and release the DQ VII 3DS port overseas. None the less, Realms of Revelation shouldn’t be missed! Buy it now!

Final Score: 9.2/10

Giana Sisters DS Review

Giana SistersGiana Sisters DS (Available exclusively on Nintendo DS)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Destineer
Developer: Spellbound Interactive
Release Date: February 22nd, 2011

In 1987 a game called The Great Giana Sisters was released on the Commodore 64 in the UK. It’s mostly famous for being an obvious rip-off of the original Super Mario Bros. Giana Sisters DS is nothing like it’s predecessor. It’s a 100% original adventure released exclusively for the Nintendo DS. It also happens to be one of the very best games available on the dual-screened classic.

The Great:

Giana Sisters DS is simply magical. Everything about it is a love letter to retro platformer fans. The music is fantastic, simply listening to the intro make me want to play the game again. Every time you collect a diamond jewel, the sound emitted makes it feel special. It’s little touches like these that make the game so special.  The level design is equally awesome; you actually want to complete everything just to see what comes next. It’s a title that went under the radar, mainly because it had a very limited release through a select number of websites, but should absolutely be experienced by everyone.

Giana Sisters2The Good:

+ Controls are spot on whether you play it on the original DS, or with the joystick featured on the 3DS.

+ Perfect length. To get everything and complete every achievement, you need to invest at least seven hours.

+ Budget price. Originally released for the low price of only $14.99.

+ Classic Commodore 64 original is included as an unlockable bonus if you collect every red jewel.  How cool is that?

+ Speaking of red jewels, they’re a blast to gather. Some of them are cleverly hidden and will take all you’ve got to find. It doesn’t matter though, since the levels are such a joy to replay.

+ Power-ups that make great use of the touch screen.

Giana Sisters1The Bad:

– Drags a bit at the beginning. The fun really kicks in after the first world.

– Boss battles are repetitive, you fight the same out of shape dragon during the entire game.

Giana Sisters3The Lowdown:

Giana Sisters DS is the best platformer on the Nintendo DS. I cannot recommend it enough. Just make sure to stick with it and I promise you won’t regret it. The later levels are pure brilliance. A 3DS sequel would be a dream come true.

Final Score: 9.0/10

Metal Slug 7 Review

Metal Slug 7Metal Slug 7 (Available exclusively on the Nintendo DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players 1
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: SNK Playmore
Release Date: November 18th, 2008

Parent Talk: The ESRB rates Metal Slug 7 T for teen because of blood and violence, and I think that about sums it up. This is a 2D sprite-based run and gun shooter in the vein of Contra. Enemies die in unique ways, from being blown up, stabbed, or just shot to death. Each death features a nice splattering of blood, so younger children should be kept away.

Plays Like: Have you played any other run and gun shooter before? If so you know what to expect. You move from left to right shooting everything that moves, and even a few things that don’t, all while dodging billions of incoming bullets.

Review Basis: Finished the game on Normal a while back, but upon revisiting the game for this review, Easy was the way to go. That’s right, I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Metal Slug is one of the best franchises in SNK’s robust library of titles. Originally released 17 (!) years ago in 1996 for the Neo Geo AES/MVS, it was an instant arcade hit. Pretty much anyone that grew up playing Contra immediately feel in love with Metal Slug. It was the extreme difficulty, the ridiculous humor, and the absolutely stunning audio visual presentation that put it on top of the run and gun shooters of the time. Fast forward to 2008 when SNK Playmore released Metal Slug 7 for the DS, and unsurprisingly the series hasn’t changed one iota. If it weren’t for the exclusion of one core feature, this could have easily been one of the best entries in the series, alas that’s not the case.

Metal Slug 7_3The Great:

For better or worse this is Metal Slug. It’s crazy hard, features insane humor, and has some of the most spot-on gameplay you will ever experience. Weapons are varied and fun to use, old and new Slugs (vehicles of mass destruction) are a blast…no pun intended, and the story is just nuts. This is actually a prequel to Metal Slug 4, but unless you’re hardcore you won’t know why, or even care so there’s little point in going into details. The classic graphics are extremely detailed and look wonderful on the DS’ screens. There are some truly amazing animations if you can spare a second to look at them that is.

As you make your way through each level, you can swap between your standard gun, and two upgrades, as well as lob grenades at incoming enemies. Hostages still need to be rescued, and it’s a must because of the awesome power-ups they award. Everything comes together just as you expect, except this time the insane action is on the DS.

Metal Slug 7_1The Good:

+ Bottom screen displays a map, and while that may not sound overly useful with a simple concept game like this, the fact is it can be helpful in locating where hostages are and for letting you know how much further you need to traverse to reach the stage’s exit. Outside that, the bottom screen isn’t used at all.

+ Sticking with what works. SNK could have easily slapped on some touch controls or something else, but they stuck to their guns and delivered a balls to the wall action game that uses buttons and the d-pad. Good on you SNK!

+ Six playable characters. Yeah I know, that’s a pro? Yes it is! Each character has their own personality and it shows by the way they use their weapons, pause to relax when they defeat a boss, etc. If that doesn’t do it for you, well six is better than one or two right?

+ Very portable friendly. The entire game can be completed in under an hour. It’s designed this way though, as it’s meant to be played over and over again. So even if you only have ten minutes and you have to repeat that first stage a few times, believe me, it’s well worth it in the long run.

Metal Slug 7_2The Bad:

– No multiplayer whatsoever. This is ultimately what destroys the entire package. How SNK could have overlooked this is beyond me. While I never expected a WiFi mode, which would have been awesome in its own right, at least a local multiplayer mode would have been sufficient. Instead we’re given nothing at all, and that’s not what Metal Slug, or even SNK, is about. These guys make awesome arcade games, games that are meant to be played with other people. Playing a run and gun shooter alone feels like having only one Twix in a Twix bar, complete lunacy!

Metal Slug 7_4The Lowdown:

Metal Slug 7 features so many awesome elements, from the excellent production values, to the fantastic gameplay, but is ultimately kept down by the lack of a multiplayer mode. Going back and playing this game in 2013 still makes me scratch my head. How is it that 1996’s Metal Slug for the AES/MVS holds up better than a game released in 2008? The answer is because even though this game is more advanced, not being able to experience the madness with a buddy is just criminal. As such, you’re much better off picking up Metal Slug XX which is available on the PSP via the PSN, and on Xbox Live, although be warned now that while they do feature multiplayer, they haven’t been optimized for those platforms at all. Graphics appear muddied, the game is played in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and virtually nothing new has been added to the overall package. OK so maybe this is the way to go after all.

Final Score: 7.5/10

Aliens: Infestation Review

Aliens Infestation Aliens: Infestation (Available exclusively on Nintendo DS)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Release Date: October 11th, 2011

Parent Talk: Aliens: Infestation is rated T for teen because of blood, mild language, partial nudity, and violence. Keep in mind this is a 2D action game, harkening back to the days of the SEGA Genesis and Super NES, so even though there is blood and gore, it’s entirely 2D sprite-based. That said, I still wouldn’t let my children play this because seeing an alien rip through someone’s chest cavity isn’t exactly pleasant, 2D sprite-based graphics or not.

Plays Like: One of the best aspects of Aliens is that it plays like a cross between a run and gun shooter like Contra, and an action platformer like Super Metroid, but also has traces of Clock Tower on the Super Famicom thrown in for good measure. That means there’s a lot of action, it’s extremely creepy at times, and you’re completely free to explore. Add all of these things together and you have yourself one of the best, and most under-looked and under-appreciated games in the DS’ massive library.

Review Basis: Finished the game in exactly four hours and 23 minutes. I’ve got skills baby!

I never would have played Aliens: Infestation if Steven didn’t buy it for me for my birthday. It’s the honest truth. While I enjoyed his video review of the game, it just seemed like it would end up being one of those “yeah I’ll play that…eventually” games, and it would never actually happen. So last week when the game arrived I gave it a whirl and didn’t really tell him anything about my experience. I wanted to save my thoughts for this very review. So here it is, my honest opinion on a game virtually no one has even heard of, much less actually played.

Aliens Infestation1The Great:

The feeling of isolation the game instils in the player is phenomenal. I actually jumped in this game, more than once I might add. The only other time that’s ever happened with a sprite-based game is with Clock Tower on the Super Famicom. So right there, that tells you something. You take on the role of one of four soldiers, trying to make their way through various mission objectives. I don’t want to give it away, but you do switch locations as the game progresses from the starting area spacecraft to…well…it’s a surprise. Regardless of where you happen to be though, you’re always alone. Sure you have three buddies with you, but they’re not on-screen. They’re there in case you die, and yes, you will indeed die. This sort of acts like three continues if you will. Save spots are few and far between, again making you feel as though you’re completely isolated on this mysterious ship (or wherever else you may be).

Once you find it, the motion detector will be your eyes and ears. Before entering a room, you’ll find yourself glancing at the motion detector to see if there’s something there. It’s the only way to survive. Even with the scanner, aliens don’t just hide in the open, no they come at you from the ceiling, from behind the background, from all over the place. It’s extremely pulse-pounding, which isn’t something you associate with 2D games. It’s just incredible how many times I found myself getting nervous before entering a new area where the map was no longer available.

Aliens Infestation4The Good:

+ The safe spots not only allow you to change characters, refill ammo, and save, but also allow you to strategize your next move. At any point you can move the bottom screen’s map in order to look around and try and figure out where to go next. Think Super Metroid, because this game has tons of hidden power-ups and other goodies lying just out of sight.

+ Weapons may not be too diverse, but they handle perfectly and some guns are much better suited to certain enemies than others. That said, you can only swap out weapons at the safe spot (storage locker). This adds a certain level of realism to the game, and is one of the key factor leading you to always be alert, just in case you’re equipped with the wrong weapon.

+ Always a challenge. Even though you can back-track and use newly acquired items in order to find weapon upgrades, the aliens also get stronger the further you progress, ensuring the game’s always there to kick your ass.

+ Even though you will surely die during your play-through, you can seek out new marines that will join your party to replace fallen members. That’s right folks, if your teammates die, they stay dead.

+ Boss battles are another highlight, and often appear impossible to surpass. Take the first boss as an example. You’re up against a Queen and several hatchlings. If you focus on the hatchlings alone the mama is going to take you down within a few hits. The trick is to lob a grenade, stunning her, and taking out a few of her eggs. Then switch to the grenade launcher and blast her in the head a few times. Repeat as needed. These battles force you to use your brain and not just your itchy trigger finger.

+ Audio visuals are top notch, yes even for it being 2D. First let’s talk about the sound samples, they’ve been taken right out of the Aliens movie, which is a really nice touch. Dialogue, while not spoken, also pays tribute to the movie. The music is kept to a minimum to highlight the creature and sound design, which elicits fear and dread in the player at almost every turn. The graphics are exactly as you’d imagine them, dark, gritty, and brutal.

Aliens Infestation2The Bad:

– The only negative thing to say about the game is that it is extremely short, even for players new to the genre. Veterans will easily finish it in under five hours, and there’s very little incentive to go back afterwards since there aren’t that many hidden secrets. There’s a short knife mini-game that’s nothing special, and hardly adds replay.

Aliens Infestation5The Lowdown:

Aliens: Infestation is an incredible game, that should be published on the 3DS’ eShop ASAP. It’s a game no one even gave a glance at upon release, and deserves to be played! Sure it’s a short game, even by 16-bit era standards, but it’s one of those games that you’ll revisit at least once a year just to experience the thrill again. You can buy a brand new copy on eBay right now for $7, so there’s really no excuse for not picking this up and giving it a chance. Steven said this was one of the DS’ hidden gems, I say this is one of the best games ever released on the system. Nuff said!

Final Score: 9.3/10

Pokémon Black & White 2 Review

Pokemon Black and White 2Pokémon Black & White 2 (Available exclusively on Nintendo 3DS)
ESRB Rating: E
Number of Players: 1 to 2
Genre: RPG
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: October 7th, 2012

Plays Like: Every Pokémon game previously released.

Review Basis: Completed the game.

Pokémon is my cup of tea, and I’m always very critical with each new release because I see how much potential this franchise has. While Black and White 2 prove yet another excellent addition to this classic RPG series, there are quite a few mind puzzling shortcomings that should be fixed by now. Still, as the first direct sequel, Black and White 2 is fantastic. It’s a great place to start if you’ve never tried Pokémon before, and another must-buy for series veterans.

Pokemon Black and White 2_1

The Great:

Finally no more third pillar game!  Every Pokémon game before had one. The originals had Yellow, Gold and Silver got Crystal, Ruby/Sapphire had Emerald, even Pearl and Diamond got there very own Platinum version. Heck, the first two Pokémon games even got full-on remakes.  That means that Pokémon fans got to replay the same games way too often.  The gaming world was shocked when Black and White 2 were revealed.  Everybody was expecting Nintendo to come out with Pokémon Grey, which would have been the next logical step given the series’ history.  Instead, what gamers got were a (mostly) brand new game set two years after the events of Black and White. All this just one year after the release of Black/White. With Pokemon Y and X set for this October, this will mark the third straight year where Pokéfans everywhere are treated to a brand new entry to their favorite series.

Pokemon Black and White 2_3

The Good:

+ The absolute best storyline yet in a Pokémon game. Although it is still not even close to what other RPG’s are offering, given this is aimed towards kids, it’s definitely a big step in the right direction. There are actual characters that you will care for here, and villains that perform truly evil deeds.  Even their looks and designs play the part this time around.

+ Given that you’re spending most of your time in areas you’ve previously visited, I was surprised by how everything felt fresh. Never a dull moment here.

+ The movie making mini-game is actually a clever and challenging way to offer different Pokémon battles. Trying to complete every last scenario will keep you occupied for hours and hours.

+ Finally a challenge mode! The downside here is that you have to complete the game to unlock it. The mode itself actually makes the single player game quite difficult, even for die-hard fans.

+ Quite a lengthy adventure. It will take you around 30 hours or so to complete the main quest depending on your experience. That would not even count for half of what the game has to offer. There’s so many more dungeons to explore, and quests to complete after you’ve defeated the elite 4 its sick. Add the gotta catch ’em all factor and you could very well be playing this till X and Y come out.

+ The community aspect has always been this series’ bread and butter. Battling and trading makes this one of the best e-sports out there. Sadly, Nintendo doesn’t seem to realize that, or just doesn’t want to invest the time or money to take it to the next level.

Pokemon Black and White 2_4

The So-So:

+/- I’m a bit tired of the formula. Why would a gym leader (or an elite 4 member none the less) carry less then six Pokémon? You’re gonna go in that fight with six Pokémon, and he’s supposed to win using only two or three? Also, why would they carry only one type, leaving their entire team weak to the same Pokémon? This has been the status quo since the series debuted, changing this would help make the franchise feel “new” again.

Pokemon Black and White 2_5

The Bad:

– No new starters. How hard would it have been to create three new Pokémon (nine, if you count the evolved forms) for this game? Bad enough that there’s no new Pokémon at all, some new starters would have been perfect.

– This is the big one. The online infrastructure is horrible, terrible, and complete crap. There is no way to meet people online, talk with them and ask them if they want to battle, or if they have a certain Pokémon you’d like to trade for. Everything mentioned has to be done using other means. Whether it’s by calling friends, going online or posting in forums, that’s the only way to meet people and play. Even then, it’s incredibly tedious to try and set up a match by using online forums. There is absolutely no reason why Nintendo doesn’t simply create servers where you can meet up, register new players to your friend’s list, be informed when they pop up online, etc. You should always be one click away from a battle invitation. Even worse, the options you have now are too simplistic. All you can do is either battle with registered friends, which again means that you have to make the arrangements on your own via other devices (phone, internet) to then set up a battle or a trade. You can battle random people, but by doing that, you have to play on preset rules that makes raising Pokémon to level 100 pointless. This could be a tremendous e-sport (it already kind of is). Nintendo needs to wake up and invest the money to do so. This is the next level of Pokémon gaming.

The Ugly:

What really grinds my gears here is that the big boys, the ones that actually could influence Nintendo (or Gamefreak… whoever you want to call) and make a difference don’t even mention the online aspects of the game in their reviews at all! I’m a pro-IGN guy, I really am. I visit their site everyday and enjoy their content tremendously, but let’s be honest here, the chances of Nintendo reading this review are slim. The industry listens to sites like IGN or Gamespot because they have a huge amount of readers. I like Audrey, but sometimes her fanboyism gets in the way. If only one of them would point this out, then there would be hope for change, alas…

Pokemon Black and White 2_2

The Lowdown:

Black and White 2 is an excellent portable adventure. One that should absolutely not be missed. That being said, I’m expecting huge changes to the online infrastructure with Pokemon Y and X.  I’m very doubtful that the potential of this series will be realized then, but if it is, Pokémon will become an unstoppable franchise. Buy this if you haven’t already.

Final Score: 8.5/10