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DS Games To Watch in 2005

Part Two: The Ones We Know Things About and the Wow-Them-With-Names Brigade. In other words, virtually every other DS game of any note...

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Previously on DS Games To Watch in 2005...

And now the continuation...

The Ones We Know Things About

Besides the games we've played, titles destined to appear on the Nintendo DS generally fall into a pair of categories. On the one hand you've got the games that we've heard mentioned and maybe seen a few screenshots for (Advance Wars DS, Mario Kart DS, etc), which seem to be there largely to convince us that there's a lot of familiar-but-rejigged entertainment left in the development canon. And on the other you've got the real meat - the games that we've actually seen and heard real details about, and know roughly what to expect from. Hence: The Ones We Know Things About. Over to you, Soma Cruz...

Castlevania DS (Konami, screenshots)
European release date: autumn

"Thanks Tom. Yes, as you may have heard in the last week or so, I, Soma Cruz, will be returning to a Nintendo handheld this autumn to reprise my role in Castlevania. My latest opus will be a direct sequel to GBA favourite Aria of Sorrow, and will see my heroic 2D adventuring unfold on the touch-screen, where I'll not only have to do the usual tricks and vanquish an array of increasingly nasty vampiric types and sympathisers, but will also have to trace "Magic Seal" symbols at the end of punishing boss fights in order to truly dispense with the evil once and for all. A map of my exploits will be immortalised in increasing detail on the top screen as I make progress, and you'll also be able to swap souls with other DS versions of me using wireless networking. Tom?"

Bomberman DS (Hudson)
European release date: TBC

Thanks Soma. To get back on track, Bomberman DS is one of the few games in this section of DS Games To Watch that we've actually seen first-hand. The other entries are largely based on previously available press info. Bomberman, however, we encountered at E3 last year, and so unless it's changed greatly we can tell you a few things about how it plays. It probably has changed knowing our luck. Bastards. Let's start again.

Going on what we've played of it ourselves, Bomberman DS is largely similar to the originals - the idea is to blow up the AI or your human adversaries by running around a top-down maze-like area planting bombs and blowing holes in rock and trying to cause natty chain reactions. (And for some reason the top screen is used to show what's going on on the bottom screen, but in 3D.) There'll be power-ups, naturally - and this is where half of the DS functionality we've seen comes into play, as you try and (bizarrely) pump up a balloon on the pre-game screen to earn as many as possible by rubbing the touch-screen vigorously. The other half comes about when your little Bomberman is beset by ghosts, who have to be rubbed off with the stylus. Obviously this presents something of a problem as you're forced to alternate between D-pad and stylus, which as we've seen already doesn't work particularly well, but we can see ways round this - mapping the bomb function to a stylus tap, so you have D-pad under the thumb of your left hand and stylus in the right, or, to cater for lefties, switching the movement functions to the face buttons as various games have done, or making clever use of the shoulder buttons, or what-have-you. The point is there are options.

From what we've heard since E3, the game will support up to eight players wirelessly and some maps will span both screens so things don't get too crowded, which will be interesting to see in practice and certainly adds something to the "USP" column on the product page. We also understand that at least one power-up is voice-activated, which we're keen to try out for ourselves - something that we'll hopefully get to do at Nintendo's European press event later this month.

Pac 'N' Roll and Pac-Pix (Namco)
European release date: TBC

It seems sensible to group both of these (a couple more we tested first-hand at E3 last May) together, if only because Namco hasn't actually made it clear whether the latter will actually be a standalone game (it doesn't seem like an obvious candidate for it) or bundled with the former.

Pac 'N' Roll is another game that reminds us of Monkey Ball, Marble Madness, etc. The bottom screen is given over to a picture of Pac-Man himself, standing there looking like one of those chicken-suited weirdos braving the cold outside a supermarket to offer you fantastic deals on breaded poultry, albeit leg and armless, and the idea is to roll your stylus over his body like a PC track-ball to move the little fellow around on the top-screen, where he's seen to navigate 3D mazes. Obviously this sort of thing has worked in the past, and controlling it with a stylus is intuitive. We can see this one working extremely well. We have done, in fact.

Pac-Pix, meanwhile, qualifies for a similar level of "ooh!"-age, and was one of the first DS titles, tech demos or whatever you want to call the E3 showcases, that made us realise we were probably going to have to buy one of these things one day. Out of lust. The way it works is incredibly simple - you draw a Pac-Man shape on the touch-screen, and then draw lines to deflect it off in other directions to try and munch ghosties. Between them, Pac 'N' Roll and Pac-Pix ought to amount to a real showcase of the DS's talents, and definitely account for one of the top ten spots on our Games To Watch...

Puppy Times/Nintendogs (Nintendo, screenshots)
European release date: TBC

Tamagotchis. Either you remember them fondly, or you fear the word more than any other. Generally speaking we fall into the latter category (at least one of us was at school when they became popular, see), but despite the obvious parallels between Nintendogs (apparently now known as Puppy Times in the States) and that most lovable/deplorable of handheld electronic tinker-toys, we're still quite keen to see how this works. Presumably because we can envisage ourselves finding it much easier to pour out interest and affection into a polygonal interpretation of a young puppy than we can a tiny little stick-man dot matrix dog or cat or whatever the hell Tamagotchis were actually meant to be. Blasted things.

So yes. Nintendogs (which is an infinitely better name than Puppy Times, for the benefit of anybody reading this from the comfort of a name-changing directorate at Nintendo US's Redmond headquarters) involves rearing three young pups, and treats the stylus as a hand with which to stroke, slap, tickle, play fetch, and generally fool around with your handsome young pup. It's a concept that doesn't need a great deal more explaining. Suffice to say that if you're not reading this paragraph with a look of pained disinterest, you might want to keep Nintendogs in view. And if you are starting to think we're a bunch of sentimental idiots, go off and spawn-camp something you boring heartless tosser. Eh?

Harvest Moon DS (Marvelous Interactive/Natsume)
European release date: TBC (spot the pattern)

Boring heartless tossers might want to skip this one too, actually. Sorry. We do like you really. We just say things we don't mean sometimes. Smooch.

Harvest Moon on the DS looks and sounds a lot like you'd expect Harvest Moon to look and sound. In the demo versions we've read reports of, you direct your little fellow using the D-pad, and he and the village he calls home appear on the top screen. You can wander around and talk to people, and generally do characteristically Harvest Moon related tasks.

The bottom screen, however, is where things get a bit more touchy-feely. Usually it's given over to the inventory/pause style screen, but you can also use it to get up close and personal with your farm animals, using the stylus to stroke cows to make them happy (moooo!), fleece sheep with scissors (which sounds strangely awesome to our Moon-loving minds), milk cows and groom horses. If what we're getting here is a traditional Harvest Moon (i.e. a farming game with relationship-building elements that see you forming a family and a circle of friends with whom you share various social occasions and mini-games) coupled with a more hands-on approach to farming, then we'll take that. But given that what we've heard about is reportedly only a fraction of what's actually in development, we're even happier. We look forward to this one with great interest, and hope that the Cube and GBA versions' limited successes on these shores don't preclude somebody from picking up the DS version and releasing it for us to enjoy.

Balloon Trip/Yoshi's Touch and Go (Nintendo, screenshots)
European release date: TBC

The game that grew from the Balloon Trip E3 demo, in a sense Yoshi's Touch and Go is a platformer that you watch someone else play. It starts off as Baby Mario descends from the sky into Yoshi's grasp, and then sees our dinosauric hero working his way through side-scrolling platform stages in a similar manner - in terms both of graphical and level design style - to previous Ninty platformers.

Except you're in charge of drawing platforms, making Yoshi swallow enemies and spit eggs, and circling enemies to get them out of the way. It's ingenious really. The first part of the level sees you cushioning Baby Mario's descent from the stork in the sky by drawing cloud platforms, and the rest of the levels seem to revolve around drawing a path for Yoshi to tread, encouraging him to jump onto them, and taking control of his other moves, even though you don't directly control his movement. We want to see and take control of this in action before we get too excited, but going on what we've heard it's got serious potential, and sounds like a neat twist on expected platform endeavours. Better yet, apparently it's not too far off completion.

Pokémon Dash (Nintendo, screenshots)
European release date: TBC - quite possibly ready for launch, since it's out in Japan

Pokémon fans hoping for another RPG-style collect-a-thon may be disappointed to learn that Pokémon Dash is not that game, but with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl set to appear somewhere down the line, hopefully not for long. In the mean time, Pokémon Dash represents something else - a peculiar sounding racing endeavour that, upon its launch in Japan, rose to fairly high in the charts.

If Pokémon racing sounds odd, that's because it is, but bear with us. The idea is to make your chosen Pokémon (of 12, apparently) race between checkpoints on a top-down map on the bottom screen, using the top screen to help judge the layout and where to go. The problem is that some surfaces are faster to run on (cobbles, for instance), and there are other skills to master, like using balloons to soar through the air. And when you've unlocked everything it has to offer, you can plug in GBA versions of LeafGreen or FireRed and import some of your other Pokémon, which instead of becoming available to race with rather bizarrely become race tracks instead. We haven't played this yet, sadly, but assuming our wrists don't give way to the constant thrashing left, right, up and down to keep the speed up, it could well be something to keep an eye on. And since it's finished and out in Japan, don't be too surprised if it's lurking alongside the DS on launch day in Europe.

Zoo Keeper (Ignition Entertainment, screenshots)
European release date: launch - estimated March

A UK-developed DS game! Hurrah! It's out in Japan already, and will launch with the console in Europe according to developublisher Ignition. It's a puzzle game, in case you've not read about it previously, in which you're faced with a grid of animal icons and tasked with creating lines of three or more by switching adjacent icons. Do so and the line in question will disappear. Simple, really, and there's not much more to say - other than it will feature a two-player head-to-head mode (showing the other player's grid on the top screen, interestingly) on just one game card, and that it's yet another puzzler that we reckon we'll lose hours and hours to even though it might just as easily work on the Game Boy Advance. Or a watch.

Retro Atari Classics (Atari/Taniko, screenshots)
European release date: TBC

Every console needs a retro game compilation, right? Say hello to Retro Atari Classics, which consists of Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Gravitar, Lunar Lander, Missile Command, Pong, Sprint, Tempest and Warlords, all of which are presented much as you'd expect them to be. Except they all make use of both screens in some way. Some stretch the game itself over two screens, some use touch controls, and some just feature odd looking graffiti artwork in addition to the traditional game view. We won't go into too much detail, because the chances are that if you are interested you already know each game inside out. In which case, keep your eyes open for this, as it should be ready around the time the DS launches in this country - and Kristan will presumably take a teary-eyed look at it when the time eventually comes.

Polarium (Nintendo)
European release date: TBC

Another simple puzzle game that's already out in Japan and on its way to the US sometime this year, Polarium involves switching black squares to white squares by drawing a line over them with your stylus. And apparently it's better to do this by drawing in a single stroke. Create a horizontal line Tetris-style and it will disappear. Got that? Right. Apparently that's the game in a nutshell. Extracted from said nutshell, it reportedly reveals hidden depths - you're always up against the clock, and if you're wasting time drawing short lines and not converting many squares, it'll naturally take longer, and only vanishing the odd bit here and there swallows up time too, since disappearing lines don't make their way out instantly. Another one that we're keen to play because it sounds like it could keep us going for ages, and its obvious simplicity could be a real boon.

Meteos (Bandai/Q Entertainment)
European release date: TBC

Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez!) worked on this, so obviously we're going to give it a paragraph. Rather like Polarium and Zoo Keeper, it's a very simple concept that speaks to us very loudly, and we're going to be hard-pressed to stop ourselves importing it now we've read up on it a bit... The basic idea is to collect meteor pieces together and send them back into space. Which, in practice, involves arranging blocks into lines of three or more once they've fallen to earth so they can blast off and get the hell out of the way. However, since you can only move blocks vertically, it's not going to be a particularly easy task - when you do though, they blast off and can haul whatever's lurking above them up into orbit at the same time, up to a point. If there's too much to haul, the rocket propelling the meteor pieces out of the way might come crashing back down. Fortunately you'll have had a bit of time while it was airborne to fiddle with the layout below, and that may be of use in sending things upward again.

Do we really need to explain why this sounds like an intoxicating puzzle concept? Perhaps we do. Oh well, we'll try and do it in just a few words, since we've written far, far too many already: It's simple and Tetris-like. And that's always a good sign.

Rayman DS (Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal, screenshots)
European release date: should be around for launch

Forgive us for not having too much to say about this one, but frankly we don't know all that much. All we can tell you is that it appears to be a 3D platforming-style affair set over 45 levels (uh-oh, says the reader, they're listing how many levels there are; they know nothing!), and you can track Rayman's health and stats on the bottom screen as he runs, jumps and so forth. We're including this one on merit - on the basis that Rayman has generally been pretty good, underrated in fact, over the last few years, and we expect this will prove to be rather enjoyable.

Animal Crossing DS (Nintendo, screenshots)
European release date: TBC - let's hope it's a bit nippier than the Cube version, eh?

Ah, Animal Crossing DS. Imagine how this is going to work. A traditional 3D view on the top screen? A texture editor to draw your own designs using the stylus? An on-screen keyboard that you can manipulate with the stylus for chatting with the locals? Wireless multiplayer so you can chat with other players? The ability to show them round your house, and share things with them wirelessly? All the usual collecting, decorating, jobsworth-ing and general townsfolking? Well, yes, actually. That's basically what Animal Crossing DS appears to be. And we have a feeling, knowing you lot, that that will be more than enough to satisfy. And we have another feeling that, knowing Nintendo, it won't stop there by any stretch...

Band Brothers / Jam With The Band (Nintendo)
European release date: TBC

One of the more popular Japanese launch titles, originally omitted from this feature on account of, to be completely honest, a mixture of forgetfulness and fatigue (ah, the magic of the Internet), Band Brothers is a rhythm-action game of sorts that sees you take control of a single instrument in a band and tap out notes using the D-pad, face buttons and, as the difficulty ramps up, the shoulder buttons. Obviously the music isn't quite up to the standard of home console audio, probably more comparable to MIDI quality judging by the reports we've read, but the game has still won plaudits for its addictive, can't-quite-stop-playing-it qualities and an ingenious wireless multiplayer mode that gives between two and eight players each their own instrument, and doesn't so much allow players to Jam With The Band, as Nintendo of America has put it, as it does to jam as a band. On one cartridge even. All of which sounds like exactly the sort of thing we could get into - and the promise of a music editor to create your own pieces, using the touch-screen to help compose, sounds like something to encourage replay value and swapsies around the water cooler. There's no US release date just yet, but NoA is planning to release it there, and we'd be surprised if it didn't cross the pond once it's taken its Stateside bow later this year.

Another (Nintendo/Cing)
European release date: TBC

Another one that slipped through the cracks (we would say "The other one", but this works neatly - or at least it did until we hauled out the parentheses) when we originally went to bat on the DS Games To Watch, Another is an adventure game made by Glass Rose developer Cing that has you journeying to meet your wayward father - with play split between top-down exploration on the touch-screen and close-ups of vital areas above the hinge on the top screen. Directing your character with either D-pad or stylus, you explore and investigate items and places, and complete the odd mini-game to uncover clues and other keys to making progress. Having often muttered that we'd like to see the adventure genre reborn on a handheld with the versatility of the DS, Another looks like it could be heading in that direction and, as a number of you have pointed out, deserves to be written about on that basis.

The Wow-Them-With-Names Brigade

And so we find ourselves nearing the end of what's turned into quite a vast list. It's a testament to the potential of the DS that we can easily find so many games to get ourselves excited about really, and we fully expect to have a well stocked and much loved DS games stack vying for shelf space by the time we come to write next year's previews in January 2006. Whether that lot will deliver on their accumulated potential is something we look forward to finding out over the next 12 months, but all the while we'll also be hoping for more details on some of these - the big-name games that we know relatively little about, but desperately want to be good. In the meantime, remind yourself what's around the corner, and realise that 2005 is going to be a very, very expensive year for gaming...

Advance Wars DS (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems, screenshots)
European release date: TBC

Intelligent Systems' GBA Advance Wars games were works of art - turn-based battling that just about anybody could get on with, thanks to a gentle and logical introduction, sensible unit balancing, cutesy visuals and characters, and hugely engaging missions. Advance Wars DS promises to offer more of the same, with new missions and CO characters, and a new battle system that puts ground forces on the touch-screen at the bottom and air forces in the sky on the top screen above. Wireless multiplayer will obviously feature, as will a new Survival mode that involves completing missions with preset requirements (presumably along the lines of "don't use X" or "only use Y"). We don't know too much else about it, but it's hard to imagine this being anything other than a wonderful way to spend hours and hours with your eyes gleefully glued to the DS's dual screens.

Mario Kart DS (Nintendo, screenshots)
European release date: TBC

Ditto. The screenshots and movies we've seen have the racing antics on the top screen and a list of character, their respective race positions, and a top-down map displayed on the bottom screen. Interestingly, in certain cases you can see a more detailed, close-up top-down map - in one case, presumably a Ghost Valley track, the ghosts are very clear on the screen too, giving you some idea of where to go to dodge them. Obviously wireless multiplayer is on the cards, and graphically it's closer to Mario Kart 64 than anything else, which suits us just fine. Oh, and one of the tracks we've seen mapped out on the touch-screen is very clearly the first Mario Circuit from the SNES Super Mario Kart.

The Legend of Zelda DS (Nintendo)
European release date: TBC

According to Japanese interviews conducted with Nintendo producer Eiji Aonuma (currently at work on the Cube Zelda, too), the DS's Zelda offering will work along the same lines as the Four Swords games for GBA and Cube, which is to say that a collaborative, four-player approach is on the cards. And, as anybody who has played the GBA or Cube versions of Four Swords will be able to attest, that's good news to a degree. We'd probably like a full length, proper single-player Zelda a little bit more, to be honest, but we can hardly argue with this - particularly as the wireless multiplayer options should make it all the more workable compared to the Cube's connectivity needs. Given how startlingly ingenious the Four Swords puzzle and boss designs, not to mention general mechanics and post-level voting bits, have come across so far, the only person set to lose out here is Johnny No Mates. And if there's nothing else that appeals to him on this page to compensate, then perhaps he deserves to be alone...

NEW Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo)
European release date: TBC

Rather like Zelda Four Swords on the Cube, this seems to be one of those Nintendo games that will play on your graphical expectations, pulling out dazzling effects like gargantuan goombas and polygonal characters despite the 2D side-scrolling approach. Other than that though, sadly, your guess is as good as ours. It was one of the first announcements, but it looks to be one of the last to get reasonable clarification from the Big N. Naturally we'll address that just as soon as we can...

Final Fantasy III (Nintendo/Square-Enix)
European release date: TBC

Although we're told it will be really quite different in terms of control, this should be a fairly straight port of the classic Famicom game, the last of the original FFs to evade a modern-day update by our reckoning. The original was renowned for being one of the biggest and most ambitious feats of role-playing attempted on the NES, and never saw Western translation as far as we can remember (admittedly we're straining here), so it should be of some interest on that level alone.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (Nintendo/Square-Enix)
European release date: TBC

Another case of your guess being just as valid as ours, sadly. But presumably the fact that it shares its title with last year's multiplayer Cube effort is no coincidence. The Cube version was a multiplayer connectivity affair, which saw one character holding a "bucket" to form a protective bubble around the others, and manoeuvring it so that they could engage enemies without incurring damage in the scorched world outside the bubble. However, other than the assumption that this will mimic that to some degree, we know very little about it. Except, of course, that we reckon that, like the Four Swords-inspired Zelda DS, it will do a lot better on the DS than it did before.

Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer (Konami)
European release date: TBC

A fitting place to end, really, since it's getting pretty late now and we're going to go off and play PES4 in a few minutes to recharge the old brain... If you're after real details of the DS version of Winning Eleven/PES, though, you're going to have to fly over to Japan and kidnap some developers, because for the moment all we know is that it's on the way. And even that's based on a Nintendo website game development list rather than any sort of official announcement, which probably puts this paragraph in the category of "speculation" rather than anything else. Bah. Still, given the power of the DS relative to past handhelds, we expect this will be rather good, and we can see a lot of ways for it to make use of the dual screen aspect - perhaps with real-time player data, easy subs and formation screen access and the likes on the touch-screen - and the prospect of wireless multiplayer PES on a handheld is really quite dreamy.

Which is just as well, because post-PES4 we're going to bed. Good ni-Zzzzzz.

Assuming we can rouse ourselves in time, tune in again later this week for our rundown of PSP Games To Watch in 2005, as we near the end of our rundown of games to get excited about over the next 12 months.

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