Version tested: DS
As the 3DS experiences something of a fallow period, it's easy to forget that its planet-conquering predecessor, the Nintendo DS, went through some lean times in its early days. With the industry seemingly banking on Sony's PSP winning the battle for handheld supremacy, publishers were understandably cautious about this strange dual-screened portable, and after the initial wave of support during the DS launch window new releases were thin on the ground.
The likes of Nintendogs and Brain Training - and a sleek redesign - obviously changed all that. But many had to rely on a thriving import scene to fill the gaps between big releases. It could be argued that, had the DS not been region-free, it wouldn't have found such favour with core gamers.
If importing remained a niche, it was slowly widening, with Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and Slitherlink (among others) becoming breakout hits. They were even recognised by those unfamiliar with Play-Asia and the sadly missed Lik-Sang.
Of course, the opportunity to get certain games early was a big part of the appeal. Would the Ace Attorney titles have been in such demand without the fervent support of the savvier gamer? A handful of games seemed to make the leap purely thanks to their import popularity; it took Nintendo of Europe a couple of years to bring over Atlus' Etrian Odyssey, and it sold poorly, but the very existence of a European version says much about the cachet generated by word-of-mouth buzz. Ditto for Jam with the Band, a very belated localisation of the superb Daigasso! Band Brothers DX.
Yet with the DS now on the wane and the 3DS being region-locked, importing will now be restricted to the ultra-dedicated and the rich. It's a good job Nintendo didn't get the idea sooner – a world without Ouendan and Hudson's Puzzle Series would be too horrifying to comprehend for some. Many would have missed out on Trauma Center: Under The Knife 2, Etrian Odyssey II and III, Contra 4, Jump Ultimate Stars, Chousouju Mecha MG and Loopop Cube: Lup Salad, to mention but a few. Extend that to the previous generation and Drill Dozer, Wario Ware Twisted!, Rhythm Tengoku and the Bit Generations games would all have been off-limits. If the handheld import scene is moribund, it's not dead just yet. The idiosyncrasies of the region-lock system still allow 3DS owners to play DS games from any territory. So if you're looking for something to tide you over until Ocarina of Time 3D – or you're a DS owner who hasn't bought into Nintendo's glasses-free revolution just yet – then the following trio might just be worth those customs charges...
As that great philosopher Alan Partridge once noted, "zombies by their very nature are inconsistent," which naturally makes them bad subjects for a real-time strategy game. It certainly makes them entertaining subjects for an RTS, and managing a horde of blue-faced brain-gobblers is your task in this endearingly ramshackle game from roguelike kings Chun Soft.
You guide your troupe of flesh-eating freaks exclusively using the touchscreen, with the aim of destroying all humans within an area, collecting a special item, or defeating a single powerful foe. Taps select individual zombies, while dragging the stylus across several makes them all move at once. Pressing and holding attracts them like the smell of human flesh, while three brisk taps send them scattering – useful for avoiding the attacks of the larger 'boss' characters. You can also select them by the colour of their t-shirts (evidently cardigans are out in undead fashion circles), while the d-pad simply moves the camera around.
It's an elegant control scheme for an inelegant mob; your charges are like Pikmin, only far more disobedient. Nintendo's carrot-shaped critters might have occasionally meandered towards blobs of delicious nectar, but in the main, they'd do as they were told. Organising this lot is like trying to keep control of a primary school class on a field trip to a Skittles factory. Zombies get easily bored of chasing quicker prey, instead preferring to wrap their decaying gums around traffic cones, or mindlessly thump parked vehicles.