Version tested: DS
Once upon a time, reviewing handheld versions of popular video and PC games was a bit like inviting your old friends round only to discover they all secretly hate you and are recent burns victims. These days, though, the DS is big business to games publishers, so surely they're trying a bit harder. We tracked down five recent examples of "and on DS" to find out.
The Simpsons Game
Games that make fun of games can't really afford to be bad themselves. That was the problem The Simpsons Game had on telly consoles, and the same's true on the DS. Except this time the game bits are worse. (So, off to a bad start.)
Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa have worked out that they are in a game and now have special powers. So Bart can use his Bart-man cape to hover, and Lisa can use statues of Buddha to move heavy objects around the screen. Much the same as the others, then, except this one's a 2D rather than 3D platformer, and some of the mechanics have been tweaked: Lisa's telekinesis relies on touch-screen input, for example.
The humour's still there, too - and a surprising amount of the script makes the transition, accompanied by cut-scenes reworked to suit the DS' less amazing graphics hardware.
What hasn't changed is the big-brother versions' dull, plodding combat, exacerbated here by stodgy controls and enemies whose attacks and movement patterns make them maddeningly potent, and who also respawn. Great. Nor does the DS game have an answer to its sibling's problem of repetitive, straightforward puzzles that barely qualify to be labelled as such.
One of the better new bits is the Nintendogs-inspired Pet Homer, who sits on the couch while you feed him endless pizza, burgers and snacks, paddling his chest with a defibrillator whenever his heart gives out. This makes you laugh to begin with, but it's rather more throwaway than the developer seems to accept, and being able to unlock new things to do with Pet Homer (essentially two-second sight gags) isn't enough to send you out of your way to round up the game's countless pick-ups, all of which are tiring rather than challenging to collect.
Ultimately it leaves you in the same dilemma as the other versions: if you want a laugh, the show's a much better bet, and if you want to play a decent platformer you might as well dust off NEW Super Mario Bros. You wouldn't slap your Gran if she gave it to you for Christmas, to be fair, but ropey controls and level design will have you reaching for something else come Boxing Day.
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
We never reviewed the last Lego Star Wars game on DS, but the consensus is that it was so broken it wouldn't even help if you got out and pushed. The Complete Saga is in much better shape, and while it's obviously less pretty and exciting than its counterparts on the front-room consoles, it does a surprisingly effective job of building a similar 3D game without falling foul of the DS' relative constraints.
In many ways, it's just as complete a Complete Saga as the others. It's got 160 unlockable characters, dozens of 2D platform levels with 3D graphics encompassing the events of all six films, surprisingly unrubbish top-down vehicle levels, as much of John Williams' iconic soundtrack as Traveller's Tales could fit on the game-card, and controls that do a fair enough job of replicating the console versions' analogue originals.
It was never going to look as shiny and reflective, and animations are rudimentary by comparison, but most of the important bits are handled cleanly: lightsabers cleave droids handsomely in twain, Lego bricks tumble apart and reconstitute themselves into new shapes with the same click-clacking fluency that won our hearts in the first Lego Star Wars game, and sand people always march single file to hide their numbers.
The d-pad isn't a perfect substitute for the analogue stick, of course, and those of you used to the responsiveness of the console versions will take a little while to adapt. Shorn of some of its graphical loveliness and with slightly dumpier controls, collecting studs (the in-game currency) feels more laboured, too, and other elements like the new Force power touch-screen interface are missed opportunities - the latter is soon ditched in favour of simply holding the A button. A bigger shame is the deterioration of some of the game's best bits, the cut-scenes, which are forced to use awkwardly animated sprites instead of polygons, and lose a lot of their comic impact as a result.
Even so, this is a very impressive recreation of the proper console's Complete Saga. Now if they'd just give it out to everyone who picked up the last DS version, it'd be apology accepted, Captain Needa.