Version tested: DS
Hey. Hey! Hey! Put down that copy of GTA IV. There are other games out there, you know. Not that we'll notice for the next few months. In anticipation of the eventual government crackdown on 'murder simulators', however, we've composed another DS roundup of your typical average-to-bad games. Because somebody has to. Surprisingly this time, one of them is actually rather good. Fancy that. Even the lowly street sweeper comes across a dropped tenner once in a while.
Shiren the Wanderer
- Developer: Chunsoft
- Publisher: SEGA
The first death is the hardest, of course. Whether falling at the first hurdle or fluking a run-through to deadlier levels only to get chopped up by a high-level beast, the first time all your experience points and items are taken away and your character returned to the first town, you feel shocked. Hurt, even. That's when you either root for the receipt, or grit your teeth and take the pain for what can turn into a great little RPG.
Welcome to the roguelike, the RPG genre that strips away all that the Mass Effects of the modern world have become. In its place, turn-by-turn movement, random dungeons and one single life (reloading's a no-no) that the computer determines to take away in as quick and cruel a manner as possible.
The Mystery Dungeon series is a rare foray into handheld territory for the roguelike, particularly on this continent. This is only the second game in the Japanese series to make it to these shores, having already buttered us up with the previous Pokmon Blue/Red Rescue Team spin-off. But the nature of that licence led to a lot of mollycoddling. If you want an RPG experience that likes to slap you in the face, offer a kind hand, then slap it again, Chunsoft's port of its old SNES game should be right up your alley.
Of course, there's no genius in constant repression, and Shiren's concession is to allow you to keep items you've saved in the handful of warehouses en route after death. Any time you die, anything you've stored is yours to use again. As you move through levels, you upgrade weapons and shields. Ultimately, despite many deaths, provided you keep everything safe, the sensible, patient player gets a little further each time.
The rest of the world doesn't entirely reset Groundhog Day-style, as you might expect, either. By fulfilling certain criteria or talking to certain people, you inch on some of the NPCs' own stories. Some may join you, or offer certain items on your next run-through. It's that and the random nature of the dungeons (which are also small and manageable), which ultimately keeps the eternal trudge through the low-levels entertaining.
It's got a lovely look to it, too. Mountainous forests, ridges and villages that get starker and more dangerous, the further you get. All punctuated by evocative sound effects and sparse music that provide a calming, atmosphere on the lonely adventure into the unknown.
As a port, it has its ups and downs. Apart from opening up the menu, the game can be played entirely by touch-screen. It doesn't add anything special, though, and you're far better playing with buttons. Disappointingly, no thought was given to updating the horribly fiddly item management. The top screen is committed to displaying a pretty useless picture of the world map when it could easily be put to far better use trying to keep things organised.
The other new DS feature on hand allows you to aid other fallen Wanderers' online. Send out a call for help and others can respond, or vice versa. If someone manages to reach you, you get to live another day. A rather clever idea, even if you do only get three chances to plea for aid.
In some ways, Shiren is anathema to what the modern RPG has become. While it may not have the immense depth of a roguelike like Zangband, it's still an experience that you can't just sleepwalk through. You could effectively argue that it reveals itself as a game of attrition that revels in its sadistic, repetitive nature, yet it's that approach that's precisely what's appealing about it. The stakes are far higher, making the rewards much sweeter.
It always gives you a fighting chance then waits patiently until you muck it up. Your average roguelike player's core weaknesses are impatience and false bravado. Not identifying cursed scrolls, not taking out that missile-wielding monster from afar with a lightning wand, not saving that healing herb... There's a sense that if only you'd planned two moves ahead you wouldn't be another death stat in the multitude. Which may not be the first thing on your mind when you've fallen into a monster-filled pit with a rusted shield and stepped on an immobilise trap, but there you go.
8 / 10
- Developer: Dimps
- Publisher: 505 Games
Despite the anime look of the box, I was a little surprised this wasn't a licensed tie-in, especially since it evokes memories of the similar-sounding Beyblade, a franchise that remarkably managed to bring the spinning top back into fashion. But, sadly, no. Draglade wasn't the hoop-and-stick or hopscotch game of the twenty-first century, filled with flaming power-ups and Alpha Zero subtitles I was expecting.
Proving, however, that some things never go out of fashion, it is instead another fighting game with your traditional histrionic anime story attached, and a set of bizarre terms to justify its premise. Draglade is about men who love to grap, the name given to those who fight with G-Con bracelets. It's these devices which convert matter into glades. Combatants aspire to fight in dedicated exams in order to become master grappers. Don't worry, it almost makes sense an hour or so in.
While Draglade's main selling point is its rhythm-based special moves, the feature isn't all that exciting in practice. Light and hard punches can be chained together in the form of high and low notes. By either purchasing pre-made ones or custom-building your own, you can knock people out to your preferred jingle. In reality this means tapping the Y button in time to the beat, something that's only as good as the tune you make. Really, it's more of a personal touch to your fighter than any tactical advantage.
Most of the strategy will be spent launching bullets instead. They're the name for the power-ups you spend most of the time collecting: elemental attack and defence moves that make up the crux of your tactics, thumbed on the touch-screen or fired with the A button. There's a large selection which, again, you can customise to your character to give some personality online or in single-player mode. They also provide an incentive for replay in your goal to collect the best ones and use them online.
The four different characters to choose from in singe-player mode each get their own story and goals to follow, each cribbing plot points from the other but being different enough to offer another play-through for those inclined. Nevertheless, a lot of tedium lies in the actual vanilla fighting stages and beyond. In the scrolling levels connecting cities and in dedicated quests, the mutant animals you confront take an age to kill, and the game doesn't let you go further until you've beaten them all. In addition, the towns you visit are your usual empty shells with a shop and a handful of citizens giving two-sentence opinions about the situation at hand.
For a special move-heavy beat-'em-up, though, once you get into a decent one-on-one fight it picks up. It may not have the depth of a grown-up beat-'em-up, or even other DS fighters out there, but to a hyperactive anime fan, its colourful energy won't offend your sensibilities too much.
- Developer: Torus
- Publisher: Majesco
Spend any amount of time at the zoo and you'll observe a well-versed hierarchy in terms of who gets the most attention. The monkeys, elephants, and penguins pull the crowds, ogled like Daniel Craig in a pair of Speedos. Meanwhile the poor tapirs and red pandas can only muster a crowd of zoologists and grim grandparents, forcing the kids round every enclosure in a determined effort to get their money's worth.
Sickness knows no boundaries, however, and Zoo Hospital allows no favourites when it comes to treating the many different birds and animals afflicted by wounds and illnesses. Your life is in their hands and you're employed to treat the concerns that can sometimes threaten the very money lining the pockets of the zoo's bosses - sorry, I mean threaten the very life of those adorable sheltered species.
As appointed vet, your task is to identify what's troubling the animal and then remedy it accordingly. The first process is done by selecting an examination tool from the list, then touching selected boxes on the animal's body until you find out what's wrong. Sometimes you have to check whether its readings match those of the average, but it's perfectly simple, unthinking pointing and clicking.
The actual treatment is a Trauma Centre-lite array of mini-games, mostly involving rubbing ointment or tapping at bugs on screen. Doing it quickly earns you a better rank, yet it contains none of the punishing difficulty of that hospital game, and you'll soon become adept. Both involve a nurse giving irritating instructions that you have to tap through, and can't turn off, even if you've heard them a hundred times.
And that's your lot. Being a zoo doctor has the potential for entertainment for those inclined, but what is perfectly enjoyable at first soon falls to repetition. There are only a few dozen maladies and symptoms reoccur far too often. The methods of searching for and treating them begin to overlap far sooner than you'd like. The ability to pick and choose or manage your workload is also non-existent. Once you treat one member, the game automatically forces you onto the next random one with no say in the matter. The only end in sight is the medals you get once the game decides you've performed well enough to earn them. In terms of extra content, the best you can hope for is a stale animation of your patient with a brief educational paragraph below.
Considering the Sisyphean nature of your never-ending task to heal the animals, it's a wonder this zoo wasn't closed down years ago. There's definitely something rum going on with the amount of bites, scratches and swallowed spoons this game throws at you. A more concerned person would start an inquiry. I'll just shut off my DS.
Dr. Reiner Knizia's Brain Benders
- Developer: Razorback
- Publisher: Eidos
I think it's time to stop with all these brain improving games. They're clearly not working. A look at Britain's daytime airwaves and post-pub city centres will tell you precisely that. We're not getting any smarter and encouraging us to count the red circles in a sea of green squares isn't going to help. It's time for Stephen Hawking and chums to jet off in that space rocket and start again.
For those of us left back on earth, Dr. Reiner Knizia makes a last-ditch effort to compete against Dr. Kawashima's polygonal might and make us think, but Knizia is hardly the most charismatic of hosts. At best, he looks like the distant cousin of Nintendo's US president Reggie Fils-Aime; at worst like he'd soothingly hush you and stroke your brow as he eased a knife through your ribs.
Brain Benders' underlying concept (because all these brain games need some kind of unique hook, of course) is a world tour of puzzles. Each of the selected countries has a different conundrum to solve, based tenuously on some landmark or cultural aspect of that place. Dress it up how you want, though, it's all the same bloody puzzles we've seen countless times before: Simon, peg solitaire, mazes and Minesweeper to name but a few cribbed from all corners of the rainy day at gran's gaming world. It appears Dr. Knizia's smartest move was to sit back and count his appearance fee while everybody else did the hard work for him.
Each of the puzzles has five levels of difficulty to progress though. As well as making things harder, later levels often throw in new elements to keep things interesting. Winning a stage will earn medals, which in turn earns coins that buy new levels and unlock stages.
To that effect, the goals are less abstract, making the game more entertaining in the short-term. Its derivative nature aside, it takes more a parlour game approach than Brain Training. Then again, considering you've probably come across all that it has to offer in the many years you've been on this planet - and in a way that doesn't have the sinister Dr. Knizia beaming chillingly at you through the DS - its appeal is somewhat diminished.
Hurry Up Hedgehog!
- Developer: Ivolgamus
- Publisher: Oxygen Games
Here you go then, readers. It's the Eurogamer roundup regular you've all been waiting for: the truly awful game we had to slip in here to illustrate karmic balance. For every 10/10 GTA IV, there's a Hurry Up Hedgehog, and I have to play it.
True to form, I knew nothing of Hurry Up Hedgehog's contents when I loaded it up. A glance should tell me all I need to know. The Euro-animation hedgehogs on the front of the box say 'kid's game'. A quick read of the back picks out the word "brainteasers". Ah, then. A mini-game puzzle collection, I surmise.
So before we go any further, perhaps it's best to quote verbatim from the in-game instructions. As they put it: "The basic rules are easy. First, a lane is selected in which a hedgehog will move forward. Then you have the option of moving a hedgehog from your own team sideways one place. Lastly, you move any hedgehog in the selected row forward by one space. As soon as you've made that forward move, it's the end of your turn. Get three hedgehogs home and you've won!"
Why print all that? Because that's not just the rules, it's the whole damn game. It's played out on a top-down 9x6 grid in which each player takes a turn to get to the end, choosing moves that force rivals into pitfall traps that pepper the board. It's based on a boardgame, naturally, but even its origins don't allow us to forgive its meagre offerings.
Up to six players can compete, wirelessly or with the same DS. The thought of six friends or family members huddled round a DS for game like this is inconceivable. This is hardly Settlers of Catan. Save your DS for Zelda: a piece of graph paper and some cardboard will see you right and feel a lot more practical and life-enhancing than wasting money on this. You won't get to see a badly-drawn hedgehog pelvic-thrusting when you cross the finish line if you do, but you can't have everything, can you?