If you’ve grown tired of Mario Party (and I wouldn’t blame you if you have), then Mario Party DS isn’t going to appeal to you. It doesn’t fix any of the problems that have plagued the series since Mario Party 3. Turns still drag on for too long, and too many mini-games are still based on pure luck. But the DS is the perfect platform for this series to be on. The portability and single-card multiplayer redeem everything else that hasn’t changed. I love being able to hang out at a coffee shop and play Mario Party the way it was meant to be played: at a table with loads of food and drinks! The only downside is that you can’t save and quit. You’ll have to play a board game all the way through in one sitting. There are some nice additions for two players, though, like the ability to play a regular board with just the two of you and nothing but duel mini-games. The selection of games isn’t the strongest I’ve seen, however, combining button and stylus games (and microphone games that can, fortunately, be turned off), but if you’re needing another good multiplayer option, this does the trick.
All I wanted out of Rock Band 3 was a slightly harder LEGO Rock Band without the LEGO’s. While Rock Band 3 features a better style and a better song selection, the gameplay has suffered tremendously. What I loved about LEGO Rock Band was that you could choose whether you wanted to balance all of the instruments for a high score or just play one for fun. In Rock Band 3, you are forced to balance all of the tracks. This takes a lot of fun out of the experience, because you can’t get lost in the music, tapping out a beat. Instead, it feels like frantic, disjointed button mashing, and it forces you to play dumb tracks like vocals and bass. You can always go into practice mode to play one instrument, but even though you won’t fail the song, it still wants you to play every instrument. So the neglected tracks fade off into oblivion. Besides, who wants to play practice mode? It’s such a shame, because Rock Band 3 is a better game in nearly every way, except that it’s no longer fun.
Super Scribblenauts is what the first Scribblenauts game should have been, and yet it’s still not very good. I love the technology behind this series, but being able to summon any object ends up being a pointless gimmick. Most of the objects don’t do anything when added to the playing field, and most of the game’s levels restrict what you need to use to a certain category, anyway. Too many puzzles revolve around things like filling a garden with plants or adding items to a birthday party. It’s just a vocabulary test! Where’s the creativity in that? The best parts of the game are the bonus levels, because the goal is to reach the star by any means necessary. But after a while, even these start to feel like there’s only one solution. The game says prevent the tiger from eating the ostrich, but using a muzzle or gluing the tiger’s tail to the wall or putting the tiger in a cage don’t work. I have to give the tiger food, because that’s what the game wants me to do. The only leeway I have is what kind of food to give him. And that’s not what Scribblenauts promised.
Henry Hatsworth was supposed to be one of those genre-mixing, convention-breaking games, but the platform/puzzle concept is simply not used to any great, creative lengths. The majority of the action takes place on the top screen, which is a pretty basic platformer with some unexciting combat and a multitude of bottomless pits that are too easy to fall into. The bottom screen is essentially a game of Planet Puzzle League where you match like-colored blocks together. I expected these gameplay types to really play off of and affect each other, but all that happens is the monsters killed in the platformer become blocks in the puzzle that must be cleared out before they reach the top. So you’re constantly pausing the platforming action to play a puzzle game for a few minutes, then it’s back to business as usual. Yes, you can also trigger power-ups in the puzzle, but more often than not, it feels like busywork. There are better platformers on the DS, and there are better puzzle games on the DS. Why would you waste time playing something that is a mediocre combination of the two?
It’s pretty hard to ruin Tetris. You’d have to seriously screw up the fundamentals of the game to warrant a bad rating, and no one is that dumb. But while Tetris Party Deluxe does keep the main game intact for purists, it also introduces some really fun, clever, new modes. One mode in particular has a little guy in the playing field trying to reach the top, and you have to create steps for him out of the Tetris blocks. Man, what a great idea! Other highlights include the puzzle mode where you fill in shadows of objects and the co-op mode where two players play on one double-sized field. It’s co-op Tetris, guys! How cool is that? They just hit so many right notes with this game. Except that single-card download play only supports co-op and battle, forcing you to have several copies if you want the full multiplayer experience. I realize Nintendo already released a similar package with Tetris DS years ago, but that game has since been discontinued. So if you missed out on Nintendo’s version, rest assured that this one is a lot of fun, too.
Shoot ‘em ups tend to be difficult to the point where they’re barely any fun, but Nanostray 2 doesn’t feel like it’s taking cheap shots to rob you of your quarters (or patience or whatever it is these games want). Yes, it’s still pretty difficult, even on Easy, but the majority of times I died were my own fault for getting sloppy. How could I ever be mad at you, Nanostray? A great inclusion to the game are two little orbs that hover around your ship and shoot in directions you set before starting the level. I love being able to switch between having them shoot forwards, backwards, and side-to-side. It adds a greater degree of strategy over your typical, straightforward space shooter. While the adventure mode is quite long and will take several retries to make it through without losing all your continues, the extra challenges are what really hooked me. Whether it was trying to survive as long as possible or earn a certain amount of points, Nanostray 2 proved to be a very capable shooter on the DS.