Nintendo DS games

[Review] Hidden Mysteries: Titanic – Secrets of the Fateful Voyage (Nintendo DS)

As mentioned in last week’s post, this Spring I got onto a real Titanic kick. This inspired me to find some Titanic-themed games, including looking at my own collection of games. I happened to find Hidden Mysteries: Titanic – Secrets of the Fateful Voyage for the Nintendo DS some time back and decided it was time to dust it off and give it a go.

I have played a game from the Hidden Mysteries series before – Hidden Mysteries: Buckingham Palace was a decent hidden object standard for the PC, and I seem to remember there not being that much wrong with it. How far removed this game is… Hidden Object: Titanic was originally released on the PC, and ported onto the Nintendo DS. Let me tell you, this port ain’t good.

The game tells the story of Margaret Ashley and her adventure traveling on the Titanic to America. Ashley is a newlywed who boards the ship with her husband, Robert, an egomaniac who is newly wealthy and has some serious concerns around image. Margaret’s mom, Mrs. Brown, was against the union from the start, and is hell-bent on stopping her daughter from leaving England, going so far as to stop her at the boarding gate! After some convincing, Margaret manages to go aboard with her mother satisfied she will see her daughter again. But, not before Margaret and Robert soon discover someone pick-pocketed one of their tickets. Because Robert is no gentleman and needs to board immediately to have a bath and a highball (seriously!), Margaret is left to search the ship for the culprit and ends up shaking down the ship’s ragamuffin, George, a young boy suspected of the theft. She also encounters Mr. Tavalouris, the Titanic’s Shipwright who created a secret hidey hole within the ship where he is living. His sanctum’s entrance just happens to conveniently portal into Margaret’s stateroom (how convenient). Thanks to meeting Tavalouris and George, and having to put up with her selfish husband, Margaret is put on mission after aimless mission, fixing plumbing, running errands and trying to now please all the men on this ship. The story follows the real story line of the Titanic (hits an iceberg, not enough lifeboats…), but seriously veers off-course somewhere around the point Margaret finds a sarcophagus in the cargo hold that is supposedly cursed. Yeah, it’s all random, dumb and unnecessary.

Margaret meets and talks with a handful of people in the game; dialogue choices are given that are supposed to impact the outcome of the story. This impact might have been what happens in the PC version of the game, because I can tell you, it didn’t matter what dialogue you chose, there was little to no consequence when I played the DS version. One example happened when Margaret and her mother were talking before boarding the ship. Margaret had a choice to tell her mother she never wanted to see her again, or tell her she would return to England for Christmas. I played through this part twice (because the game crashed on me…), both times choosing opposing dialogue. The outcome for both was, “I’ll see you at Christmas.” At this point I am concluding the DS version is a very lazy port from PC.

Other port problems persisted with Hidden Mysteries: Titanic, such as vague or confusing puzzle instructions, and often you were left wandering around trying to figure out what you had to do next. The menu system provided a “hint” button that was broken, and not that this was necessarily the game’s fault, but walkthroughs for this game online are scant. There are PC walkthroughs, but following them can be a bit confusing as the DS version is missing several puzzles from the PC version.

Probably the best part about this game was how it looked. The graphics are pretty decent overall, but unfortunately this is counteracted with a crappy menu system, boring story-telling and shoddy game mechanics.

Maybe the PC version of Hidden Mysteries: Titanic is better?

1.5/5

Hidden Mysteries: Titanic – Secrets of the Fateful Voyage (DS)
Gunnar Games
2009

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[Review] Polarium (Nintendo DS)

One of the best suited gaming genres for the Nintendo DS is simple casual time-wasting games. Y’know:  what I like to call “Doctor’s Office Waiting Room Time-Waster Games“. And with all the crap games out there that were released for the Nintendo DS (and there are a lot of them…), it’s welcoming to come across a puzzle game that is challenging, engrossing and competitive, yet enjoyable enough to get its claws into me for the last week. Polarium for the DS is that kind of casual game.

In Polarium your are given a play area where large blocks of black and white tiles fall vertically. Your task is to eliminate tiles from the play area by changing their shade to their polar opposite, thereby creating rows of one uniform shade. Using the DS stylus, you draw a path through as many tiles as you can in one stroke of the stylus. Tiles disappear from the play area once there is at least one horizontal row in one uniform shade. It’s important to attempt to eliminate as many rows of one shade as possible, as more blocks of tiles are falling from above and piling up. It’s also important to be strategic in what tiles you select to flip over as you can easily flip over the wrong tiles, wasting precious time. Depending on what mode you are playing in, allowing the tile blocks to pile up could mean game over, so you must think and act quickly.

Polarium provides a Tutorial that instructs on the basic moves. What is particularly helpful for the newcomer is a Puzzle Mode that tasks you with changing the polarity of the black and white tiles in one single stroke of the stylus (not easy!). There is also a Custom Mode, where you can create your own blocks of tiles and share them with other friends wirelessly, as well as a Versus Mode where you can wirelessly compete against a friend on their DS. Practice Mode is the no-pressure continuous play mode where blocks of tiles pile up and there is no game over; the mode I recommend you play for pure enjoyment of this game. If you are a glutton for punishment, however, go for the Challenge Mode – it is insanely difficult and unforgiving. Those blocks fall relentlessly from the top and there really is no time to ponder the universe; you have to go quickly. I have to say though, that in an effort to gauge my learning progress, I would go between the Practice Mode and Challenge Mode. Unfortunately, after over 3 hours of play, I still couldn’t get past 81 cleared rows on Challenge Mode. But, this was fine with me, as I still gained plenty of enjoyment playing Polarium in Practice Mode. The game was becoming obsessive, as I was finding it weirdly satisfying trying to eliminate as many opposing tiles as possible and seeing the play area completely clear itself of tiles! This is a clean freak’s dream embodied in a game! Combine it with a toe-tapping electronica soundtrack, and you have yourself a great casual game that guarantees hours of distraction.

Finding a copy of Polarium out in the wild was rare…I think I bought my copy at a game swap for $10, and it was the first time I had seen it sold anywhere. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth the scratch. I highly recommend it.

4/5

Polarium (Nintendo DS)
Nintendo / Mitchell
2005

 

[Review] Puzzle de Harvest Moon (Nintendo DS)

Last year, my husband returned from the Spring Waterloo Game Swap with a gift for me. A friend (@CanadianRetro?) gave him a Nintendo DS game cartridge without a manual or case…He said to me, “Here…a French Harvest Moon game for you…” Um, thanks…?  I stored the game away until this weekend. I was cleaning up my living room and discovered the cartridge in a catch-all basket under my side table yesterday along with three other DS games. Oops! I should do something with this, I thought.

Full disclosure on two counts: I have never played a Harvest Moon game before now, and it’s been a LONG time since I have delved into anything French (20 years). Now, to address the former concern: in my mind, I equated Harvest Moon to Farmville; a time-management-type farming simulator game where you have to adjust your personal life to log in, farm and harvest crops by making sure you water them on time or else risk your virtual livelihood. I have never liked having my life dictated to by a video game…that is unless I am getting paid to do so. So you can guess how long I lasted with a game like Farmville (one week, tops)…Harvest Moon, I hear, is fun, but I assume similar. So, it has taken me a long time to be excited enough to go in and try any Harvest Moon. Addressing the latter concern around French, I haven’t read or spoken French in ages, and being surrounded by Anglophones doesn’t help, but I figure if there are subtitles in English, at least I should be fine. In any case, when I found the game yesterday, the hubs said I should take my DS out of cobwebs and see if there is an English option within.

Well, people, it turns out, this game is in English. The developers calling the game Puzzle de Harvest Moon was simply to make it sound exotic, I guess? Because, this game isn’t great and I suspect it needed a little sophistication to help get people to play it beyond adding Harvest Moon to the title.

Puzzle de Harvest Moon is a strategy game, the objective of which is to compete against opponents to harvest as many crops as possible to gain the most points. The first thing I did when I fired up the game was try out the in-game tutorial so I knew what I was up against. It seemed relatively easy…You are given a plot of land you share with three other “players” (the Nintendo DS’s A.I. if playing Single Player). You play over the course of “four seasons” (or 4 to 8 minutes, depending on preference). Each player is given seeds, watering cans and fertilizer to use to tend to their crops; these tools are provided at random. Each crop is colour-coded to denote which player owns which crop. As you farm using the tools provided, your crops will tell you what they need (water, fertilizer) with tiny graphic indicators. Animals are also provided to use to distract and prevent other players from tending their crops. For example, chickens can be used to eat up freshly sowed seeds, but, these animals can also be used against you in the same way. Your crops grow and eventually become ready to be harvested. One can harvest crops one of two ways: Baskets are provided to harvest your crops, but these are given at random, it seems. The other option is to use the stylus to reap crops by scribbling on the crop of choice, which then dissolves the crop from the plot. For every crop you harvest, you are awarded points. What do you do if you have run out of your own crops? Well, now there is a solution for that! Go on and steal harvest the crops of your neighbours, not for them, but for you! I don’t remember that gameplay tactic in the Farmville manual…

When it came to the actual gameplay outside the tutorial, this is where things were confusing and inconsistent. I chose a character (one of 12), that I think are original to the Harvest Moon franchise, but whose strengths or background seemed to have no benefit to the outcome of the game. The first time I played, I planted my crops, watered, and fertilized them as I was supposed to. My crops were ready to be harvested, but I got no baskets to use. I tried the other trick of using my stylus to scribble the crop away, and that didn’t work for some reason. The game then ramped up, and all the other players were able to plant and harvest to their heart’s content. I was only given two seeds to plant the whole round, so I lost miserably. Giving the game the benefit of the doubt, I studied the tutorial one more time…was I missing something?

I played as Elli…and as you can see from the points, I am killing it.
I am also not trying very hard…

I tried playing again several times to get the rhythm right. After over 20 rounds, here is what I discovered: I didn’t actually have to do much crop tending at all! I concluded all that labour watering, fertilizing and tending to my crops was for losers! Seriously, I could win the game by a large point margin simply by sitting back and letting the opponents do all the heavy lifting labouring over the plot. Then, like shooting fish in a barrel, I could swoop down with my stylus and scribble away everyone’s fully grown crops to win the game! That’s right, I became a parasitic gamer! The competition in Puzzle de Harvest Moon became less about tending crops, and more about how quickly you could scribble on crops to harvest them. There wasn’t much point to this that I could see – I could scribble the DS’s computer under the table!

I was on fire today…I also just scribbled the entire time

So, does that make this game fun? Um, not to me. People, I think there are Nintendo games that are less confusing, more consistent, and much more fun than Puzzle de Harvest Moon. Oui, oui mes amis.

2/5

Puzzle de Harvest Moon (Nintendo DS)
Natsume
2007

[Brief Review] Shovel Knight (Nintendo 3DS / Xbox One)

Shovel Knight, it’s not you, it’s me.

I thought I would join in and play the Cartridge Club’s game of the month for August, instead of going my own way. I had no idea what I was getting into, but was soon introduced to a lil dude dressed in an iron suit that uses a shovel instead of a sword. He’s cute, and blue, and he won me over. It started out a typical platformer, that was easy enough to play. Looks can be deceiving, however…

Shovel Knight is similar to Mario games, in that you lead Shovel Knight through mazes, up ladders and push through obstacles to proceed to the end boss. You are given a map to maneuvre to the next stage, and as you finish a stage or defeat a boss, another area of the map unlocks. Along the way, Shovel Knight uses his shovel to dig tunnels and find needed treasure.

The game looked good, and was totally playable…up to a point. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, but while playing on 3DS, I could not get Shovel Knight to jump right…or he kept dying…or I couldn’t fire his flare wand right. I tried really hard to push through, and wanted to succeed. I even started the game again on the XBox One to find out if maybe the 3DS’s controls were messing me up. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter; as much as I enjoyed what I did play of Shovel Knight, I just could not progress in the game. 4.5 hours later, and I was still on level 2. …And I chose to walk away satisfied in knowing I played Shovel Knight as well as I could. Nothing is wrong with this game, except that it was too difficult for me. Kudos to those who played it all the way through.

Shovel Knight (3DS/Xbox One)
Yacht Club Games
2014

[Review] Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)

I was so looking forward to playing this one! After I completed Unsolved Crimes for the Nintendo DS, I went searching for other DS games like it, and the game, Crime Scene, kept popping up. (I can hear readers scream “Phoenix Wright”….don’t worry, folks, I have it in my library…) Crime Scene is a rare title and difficult to find in my area…but after six months of searching, I finally found it at my local EB Games. Crime Scene wasn’t cheap ($19.99, new for a game from 2010). I was anxious to play it over my vacation, and started playing it immediately…And darn it, if I have anything good to say about it. It blows.

As it often goes with these Cop Shop type games, you play as Matt Simmons, the newest and eager forensic investigator of the Crossburg Police Department. Using your instincts, know-how and latest forensic equipment, you investigate the 5 murders plaguing Crossburg by interviewing suspects, analysing evidence and reporting back to your Superintendent, Alexandra Malone. Your skills are tested every step of the investigation. You better study hard and have a steady stylus hand in Crime Scene, or Malone will send your ass packing quickly.

No doubt, the game looks great! The imagery is crisp. But, don’t be fooled by its appearance, as its mechanics are broken. The “charm” to Crime Scene is the part where one collects evidence using a number of different given tools – latex gloves, cotton swabs, an X-acto knife, tweezers, fingerprint powder and tape, and luminol & black light. The police department is counting on Simmons knowing how to use these items to solve the crime, so the game equips players with an integrity meter that gauges how well you as Simmons are doing. The game provides you with confusing instructions on how to use each of these tools while in play that one must figure out while the clock ticks down fast. When time’s up, your integrity can take a nasty hit. The tools are used by dragging them with the stylus and holding down the L or R bumper. Sometimes they don’t work properly at all and the game penalizes you severely. In one situation you are to take a blood sample as evidence by dipping a cotton swab in solution, then rubbing it on a blood stain. I couldn’t figure out why my swab kept breaking mid-sample, causing me to have to re-take the sample. Every time I “broke” a swab, my integrity meter would decrease. In another scenario, I had to cut evidence out of fabric using an X-acto knife, and I’ll be damned if I could get the knife to cut anything.

The actual analysis of evidence is treated in a series of mini-games, which at first blush seem fun enough. In one game, you use a pipette to draw a sample of blood to place on a microscope slide. Once the slide is prepared, you use a laser to zap red blood cells. Reading this back, it sounds like it’s lame…and really, it is especially if you were asked to repeat these mini-games several times within the case. And like I said, if you don’t get the tool mechanics just right, you lose the game, so make sure you save often so you can re-start the game at a save point (that is… if you plan on playing this). I, for one, was sent packing many times. It never got easier.

Many of you will NOT remember when I reviewed the CSI: Dark Motives game for the DS…mainly because it was the second or third game I reviewed for this blog over three years ago and no one was paying any mind back then. At that time, I said you were better off eating a Mr. Big chocolate bar than play that game, mainly because the game was confusing, unforgiving and had broken mechanics; your only consolation was to eat a Mr. Big. Same goes for Crime Scene, only this time I’ll take a Coffee Crisp, please, because, if I gotta replay that damn crime scene one more time, I might as well gnaw on something that tastes like delicious coffee wafer dipped in awesome chocolate, thanks.

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2/5

Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Nobilis / South Peak
2010

[Review] Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)

Anyone like Sudoku? If you are not familiar with this challenging grided number-placement puzzle, get going! Along with crossword puzzles and search-a-word, it is my favourite pencil-to-paper puzzle game. I started enjoying them about 15 years ago when we’d occasionally get a free newspaper delivered to our house. Now, I have a couple of Sudoku games on my tablet and phone. It’s fun and challenging enough to give the mind a little exercise. So when I discovered a Sudoku puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, Sudoku Ball – Detective, I was all over it! And imagine: Sudoku tied into a story-based murder mystery! What a great concept! I’d buy that!

…and I did. And the game is…ehhh…

Edward G. Bannister, a retired Scotland Yard detective, is investigating the sudden death of his close friend. The story is all too familiar: you play as Edward as he interviews suspects, picks locks and lifts fingerprints to search for clues…except instead of you doing any of this, you play Sudoku Ball, a variant of Sudoku where the Sudoku grid is bent in a 3D sphere shape. Once you complete a puzzle, you get a clue which is used to carry the story. The puzzles in the game vary in level of difficulty and from timed to untimed. In the timed components, if the clock runs out, there is no real penalty, as you are able to restart the puzzle after rewatching a short clip.

I have encountered some terrible DS games in the past, and although Sudoku Ball – Detective is not the worst I’ve played on the system, it is on this side of mediocre. I wanted so much more for it than I got especially since I like Sudoku, and there are FREE Sudoku games in the mobile environment that look and play better than this. To be fair, Sudoku Ball – Detective is from 2009, so time hasn’t been kind. The graphic rendering of the characters looked ghastly, and the Sudoku puzzles are pixelated and blocky. One thing I hand it to this game and the DS for that matter – it has very decent handwriting recognition whereby you fill in a Sudoku square by hand-writing in the number with your stylus. The DS then replaces your handwritten number for a typed equivalent. It was quite intuitive – it even got my lazy lefty chicken-scratch pretty well! But alas, this is where the good ends. The tale wasn’t all that engaging and after awhile, I quit paying attention and just played Sudoku. If you wanted to, you could bypass the story and play the 90 standalone Sudoku puzzles, but again, why would you want to? Those puzzles just look terrible on the DS.

If you come across a copy of Sudoku Ball – Detective, feel confident in passing it by. There are so many free methods of playing Sudoku that are so much better than this.

1/5

Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Playlogic
2009

Enjoying a Game Swap as an Unfocused Gamer

Last weekend, I went to the Barrie Game Exchange, in Barrie, Ontario, a venue where vendors (who are gamers themselves) sell off pieces of their retro gaming collections to other gamers. Haggling for the best price is on the table, and there are possibilities of swapping out games for other games of equal or lesser value.

I am very new to this whole swap meet experience. It being my third, it might sound unusual of me to say this, but I have not caught the game collector fever like some other people I know, and don’t really have a desire to seek out hard copy retro games from a bygone era (SNES, Sega, Atari, etc). My focus is predominantly casual adventure PC games for the most part, and not necessarily in physical form. At any rate, most boxed PC games are no longer for sale in physical format; but are available online via sites like Steam, GOG and Big Fish Games. I think nothing of thinning out my stack of games if I have played a game and don’t like it or I get tired of it. That said, I do have a stock of games that I haven’t played, including boxed PC and Nintendo DS games, but I wouldn’t say I am out to collect every game in that format.

My intention of going to a game swap was initially to keep my husband company, as cramming into a room full of strangers for an afternoon (some of which can be smelly and sweaty…) is not really my idea of a good time. But, having weathered three of these now, I can say I have found ways to survive enjoy my time while attending. The last couple of swaps have been fun, especially meeting up with other members of the Cartridge Club (of which I am a member) who have turned into friends over the past couple of years. Now, I am actually looking forward to the next swap meet.

My very first swap meet was the Barrie Game Exchange last July 2015. I was only planning to keep my husband company, but before we headed up to Barrie, he said that I should compile a list of games to look for while at the show. This would engage me in the whole swap experience. This was difficult; I was honestly blanking out on what games to look for. Along with the challenge of not collecting games, odd boxed PC games was the first thing that came to mind, and my husband said that likely no one would be selling those (Yeah, yeah, boxed PC games are dodo birds, ok, yes got the memo…). So what do I do then? I got some random games together on my list, but didn’t really find anything that time.

Kirby
It was the second gaming swap meet: the Waterloo Game Swap last September 2015, when I got my act together. Beforehand, my husband had me play some SNES and NES games in emulation to pique my interest in searching for some games in that platform. Specifically, I started getting an interest in Kirby and decided to focus on that character’s games. I went into the Waterloo Game Swap, armed with a small list of games. I didn’t leave with much, but at least that gave me games to look out for.

My list for last Sunday. I write notes on paper, then take pics of them with my phone. I do this a lot. 😉

Last Saturday, in preparation for the Barrie Game Exchange, I armed myself again with a list of the Kirby games I had (because it is A LOT shorter than what I don’t have!) and what I didn’t. Along with it, I compiled a list of desired crime and adventure Nintendo DS games. Since my experience playing Unsolved Crimes on the system, I have been chomping at the bit to find some more rare titles like it. Again, not to collect per se, but to play.

We had VIP tickets to the game exchange, which allowed the first 65 people access to the tables a half an hour ahead of the rest of the crowd. This was great, to be able to scope out the tables before the deluge. It also allows you to test out your haggling skills before the pressure of crowds  upsets your smooth haggling flow. My skills were rusty going in, to be honest. And, unfortunately for me, some vendors were not open to haggling at all. “Nope, that’s a fair price.” No, I can’t go any lower.” They wouldn’t even knock $2 off. A couple of tables didn’t have their prices at the ready and were actually checking prices online. I hate that. Come on, folks, this is not eBay, and I am standing right in front of you. That being the case, I moved on to other tables that would more reasonably accept my patronage.

A challenge I faced was knowing what was a good deal. I don’t have much of a gauge where that is concerned. Prices for games have fluctuated wildly over the years, and no two games are created equal. To that end, one game’s price at the Exchange could be $20 at one table, and $8 at another. It was wild! I would ask my husband about prices, but we weren’t always together. That said, most things I bought were going by my gut. Am I willing to pay $10 for this, $15 for that?

I had some good fortune on the Nintendo DS front. My first purchase of the day was Kirby’s Mass Attack for the DS, sold to me by a couple of dudes from my hometown of Sudbury who are also running a gaming swap in Sudbury in October, and invited us to come up. Among other DS purchases, I got the Legendary Starfy (never heard of it before), Kirby’s Canvas Curse which looks cool, Pokemon Ranger and a crime game called COP: the Recruit. The priciest game of the day was a rare DS game called Electroplankton, a game I had never seen before ($30, fetching $60 on Amazon).

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The last half an hour of the show is often a good time to get a deal on some games. I had my eye on a Mario Picross game for the GameBoy for most of the show, and decided last minute to purchase it. The very last thing I bought was Alone in the Dark for the GameBoy Color for $3 (any good?).

There was also a vendor at the Exchange selling super cool gaming mugs. I picked up one depicting a Pac-Man eating coffee beans for $10. Awesome!

20160326_100443_20160326102314271

Overall, I am quite satisfied with my finds. I think for the next time I will pay attention to the going rate of some of these games, so I can go in better armed.

It also appears that this year will be quite active in terms of these game swaps – coming up:

Waterloo Game Swap in May 29, 2016, (Waterloo, Ontario)

Durham Video Game Convention June 5, 2016 (Oshawa, Ontario)

Barrie Game Exchange in August (Barrie, ON)

Northern Game Expo in October (Sudbury, Ontario)