This week marks four years since the release of Nintendo’s DSi, an in-between kind of handheld console that kept most the functionality of the DS Lite while allowing Nintendo to experiment with two important features: integrated camera and a store full of digitally-delivered handheld games.
Unfortunately the cameras were very limited and the store had several problems. First of all Nintendo seemed reluctant to take other digital platforms’ pricing into account when pricing their own games, meaning that the DsiWare version of Cut The Rope was $5 in the US, and Cave Story was $10. Way too expensive considering the price of their iOS counterparts.
The service also quickly filled up with awful quasi-games and expensive apps, as well as small repurposed sections of already-released games. Combined with a shoddy shop interface, this made finding quality games pretty difficult. There was also weird localisation issues that saw many games given completely different titles across different regions. Several big games like Shantae: Risky’s Revenge didn’t even make it out to some regions, including Australia (which is why it isn’t in this list, I never got the chance to play it).
Despite all this, there were some definite winners amongst the DSiWare titles. And now that most of the games can be purchased through the much more streamlined store on the 3DS console, the question is: are any original DSiWare titles that aren’t ludicrously overpriced, aren’t just a smaller part of a larger retail game and are absolutely worth having on your 3DS even after all this time? The answer is obviously yes. Here’s my top eight:
8. SteamWorld Tower Defense
Publisher / Developer: Image & Form
First up is a steampunk tower defense design with a bit of a twist – the world is ruled by a robotic master race, and as robo-sheriff you have to organise the defences against a horde of blank-faced invading humans. The DS touchscreen is a pretty natural fit for the genre, and it’s very simple to line your roads with automated sharpshooter and machine-gun turrets ready to murder any human trying to shuffle his way into your goldmines and do weird human stuff to the cash money therein.
Said murdering gets you coins to upgrade your six or so different kinds of robots, and if you think better of your placement you can sell back placed robots for coins too. The maps are nice and varied and the whole thing is wrapped up in a pretty sweet thematic style. It’s a surprise we haven’t seen this design remade in some capacity, but it still looks and plays great on your 3DS or DSi.
7. Spotto! / Birds & Bombs
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Intelligent Systems
Sporting a completely different name depending on where you are in the world, Spotto! is a very simple ghost-busting game from the minds that bring us Fire Emblem and Paper Mario. You play as an adorable hand-drawn duck with an army helmet, tasked with cleansing old haunted mansions by throwing bombs into the mouths of ghosts and blowing them to bits. I know, I can’t believe nobody thought of it sooner either.
Control is simple. Rotate a wheel to set the bomb’s trajectory, and then launch. The tricky part comes when floating bookcases and other rubbish blocks your bath, necessitating a well-aimed rebound to get the bombs shoved down each and every ghostly gullet. The game plays kind of like a very Nintendo Angry Birds, with special bombs, varied enemies and the inherent challenge of the gameplay keeping things interesting throughout.
6. Link ‘n’ Launch
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Intelligent Systems
Another gem from the team at Intelligent Systems. This time you’re sorting out a collection of pipe pieces into a network to deliver fuel to boosters on the underside of a rocket. The rocket needs to get enough fuel to make it to the next planet, but you also have to make sure you don’t load up one side of the rocket too much more than the other or you’ll spin off-course.
While it doesn’t sound like the most riveting of scenarios, once you take into account powerups, a strict time limit and that distinctive Intelligent Systems charm and polish, you’ll find Link ‘n’ Launch is a pretty deep and rewarding little puzzle design.
5. Alpha Bounce
Publisher / Developer: Mad Monkey Studios
Once upon a time brick-breaking games were the genre du jour, like platformers were in the early 90s and first-person shooters were in the early 2000s. Nowadays a brick-breaker has to do something pretty different to garner attention, and so I present to you Alpha Bounce: the brick-breaking RPG.
There are literally thousands of stages to be played through here, as you search through outer space looking for junk as part of a cosmic prison sentence. Some of that junk takes the form of important upgrades to your paddle and abilities. The standard genre gameplay is peppered with upgrades, effects and tools which often stack on each other to create crazy and fast-paced play scenarios that will seriously test your stylus skills. There are three difficulties to play through each with its own story, so if you love to break bricks and mine space for loot and leisure, this game can keep you entertained a long time.
4. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again
Publisher / Developer: Nintendo
The third game in the Mario vs Donkey Kong series, Minis March Again continues the story of our favourite handyman and his bizarro-world girlfriend Pauline, who has been snatched by DK again for some flimsy reason. With a Lemmings-style indirect approach to control, you must manipulate the level so your cute little wind-up Mario, Toad, Peach and DK automatons make it through the exit in each stage. Every world is punctuated by a boss fight, which are pretty hilarious and never get old.
This was the first entry in the series to introduce a level editor, replete with the ability to place powerups, enemies and traps in order to challenge and frustrate your friends.
3. Soul of Darkness
Publisher / Developer: Gameloft
Gameloft’s primary development strategy – crafting mobile and handheld versions of famous and popular console games with only just enough original content to avoid being taken to court – has resulted in some very poor games as well as some very enjoyable ones. Soul of Darkness, the developer’s take on the Castlevania franchise, is one of Gameloft’s finest moments and a brilliant game for DS.
The game looks, sounds and plays exactly as you’d expect a 2D Castelvania game to. The story is rubbish, which is spot on as well, but the exploration and combat is augmented by multiple upgradeable weapons, magic spells and abilities. The locations are vibrant and varied, as are the enemies, and every facet of the presentation screams Castlevania (something that no recent game from the actual series can say for itself).
The only misstep is the clumsy (and entirely optional) camera integration that might have been cool when the DSi was a brand new piece of kit, but seems unnecessary and kind of stupid now.
2. Mighty Flip Champs!
Publisher / Developer: WayForward Technologies
WayForward are known primarily for four things: adoreable art, beautiful old-school level design, punishing time restraints and great licensed games. The first three are present and accounted for here in an original title that’s part puzzle and part flipbook.
You take control of Alta to work your way through at least two concurrent dimensions and reach your goal. The dimensions are stacked like a book, and the next page is always shown in a watery reflection on the bottom screen. At any given point you may have to ‘flip’ the next world into reality (the top screen) to access passages or climeable fences and get where you need to go. You have to be sure you don’t flip a solid wall onto yourself though, or Alta will be crushed between dimensions and you will lose.
The concept would later be distilled and refined for the excellent Mighty Switch Force, but even here there’s enough depth and variation to keep you going for quite a while. The puzzles give your brain a real workout, especially in later stages when you have to explore the entire screen to collect your friends before finishing.
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Skip Ltd
Known as PiCTOBiTS in the US, this entry into Nintendo’s Art Style series is pure fan service, and one of the best puzzle games available for the DS. As differently coloured pixels fall from the sky, your goal is to wait until they hit the ground, suck them up and reapply them on the touch screen so that they come in contact with same-coloured falling pixels. Creating large squares or rectangles of pixels removes them from the board and sends them to the top screen where they’re gradually assembled into a classic 8-bit Nintendo sprite. Allowing pixels to fall all the way clutters the board and increases your chance of failure.
That’s all awesome, but it’s not the game’s real selling point. As you gradually build each sprite, the music transforms from ambient bleeps and bloops into a full-on 8-bit remix of a classic Nintendo tune composed by none other than Japanese chiptune outfit YMCK. The real fun of the game comes in listening to each track and watching each sprite as you play, seeing how long it takes you to realise what they are. Here’s some footage of the first level so you can have a listen for yourself.
This is not an easy game, with the stages getting much faster and more complex as you go. Freeing extra pixels you don’t need ( for example when you already have all the pixels of that colour in the sprite) awards you coins which can be spent to unlock ‘dark world’ versions of each of the stages, featuring new sprites, new remixes and an insane difficulty spike. The coins can also be cashed in for linear versions of the music tracks that can be listened to even when the DS is shut, or they can be spent on the fly during a level to ‘POW’ some pixels out of the way.
Overall this is a full-featured, nostalgic, incredibly fun art game with old-school sensibilities and crazy good music. If you’re only going to have one DSiWare game on your 3DS, you should make it this.