Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! is a puzzle game where, instead of playing as Mario, you’re stuck playing small Mario toys. The Minis are completely different from Mario; they’re simple wind-up toys and have none of the maneuverability of the famous plumber. Because of this, you must guide the Minis throughout the whole game, building bridges and stairs with your stylus to lead them to the end of each level while taking the utmost care to make sure no ills befall them. It’s easy at first, but as you advance in each world, the difficulty shoots up dramatically. This difficulty increase comes out of nowhere, causing you to retry levels numerous times, since losing just one Mini is an instant game over. Part of the problem is that the timer has so little time on it. You’ll quickly begin to panic as time ticks down while you’re solving a level. If you can look past the difficulty, then there’s no doubt you’ll find a good game, but that’s only if the extreme difficulty doesn’t make you hate the game in every way before you get there.
If Metroid was populated with cute bunny creatures, you’d have Cave Story. It’s a retro shooter/adventure game with beautiful music, interesting weapons, and a huge world that’s easy to get lost in. Many times, I felt like I was stumbling onto the right path by pure accident. So if you’re a fan of exploring sans the hand-holding, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here, although the order you have to complete objectives in can be a little obtuse. Cave Story is also relentless on the boss battles, but save points are frequent enough to cut down on frustration and keep the game playable in small bursts. Granted, it’s difficult to recommend buying Cave Story on DSiWare when the PC version is free, and the upgraded 3DS version is already out. The game doesn’t even take advantage of the second screen, since your inventory and map only show up when you’re in pause mode. Still, for an even $10, it’s nice having a downloadable, portable copy that retains the NES-like audio/visual qualities of the original. You’ll really feel like you’ve discovered an old Nintendo game with Cave Story.
Cosmo Fighters looked like it would be a lot of fun, like it would fill the void Super Smash Bros. created by not being on the DS (or the void Jump Ultimate Stars created by being an import-only). Having next to no competition, then, Cosmo Fighters is a passable multiplayer brawler, but it’s still not very good. Fights take place on a 3D plane, giving the game an old-school beat ‘em up vibe that, unfortunately, makes it hard to line up hits. The controls are also poorly thought-out. Why do I need to push X to pick up items when every other game in the universe would have gone with Y? What annoys me the most about the game, however, is that players’ health regenerates over time. There are already health packs falling from the sky. Regenerating health was unnecessary and causes fights to drag on for far too long. If you are the unlucky one to die first, though, there’s nothing for you to do except watch the rest of the match pan out. With zero customization, no alternate game modes, and only one level available in download play, Cosmo Fighters is sorely lacking.
When talking about Globulos, someone’s bound to bring up that the game can be played online for free, but I like the tactile stylus controls and portability of this DSiWare version. Globulos is a slower-paced strategy game where you and your opponent take a moment to set a path for your little, gooey balls (that sounds gross), then unleash them at the same time and watch them bounce into each other (yep, still sounds gross). It can be a little unexciting at first, especially if you chose the wrong mode to play. There are quite a few mini-games to pick from with the standouts being soccer, a game where you’re knocking the other team’s king into a hole, and another game where the closest ball to the “monster” after each turn gets zapped. Those three modes alone are a lot of fun and make up for the others that are either complete stinkers or minimal variants. The AI tends to be stupid, though, so the real value of Globulos comes from the multiplayer. Download play may be slow to set up, but I’m happy that it’s there at all, because this is a great, easy-going game to play with friend.
If years of dot-munching drove Ms. Pac-Man to insanity, and she was locked away in an asylum that she had to escape from, the result may be something like Escapee GO!, only replace power pellets with key cards and ghosts with doctors and Nazis. While you’re at it, replace the fun with frustration and boredom. You play as Claire, who walks like she’s taking a stroll in the park and runs only moderately faster. Running stamina is limited, and the field of view is extremely narrow. There are various power-ups that can help you see farther and run faster, but they don’t save the game. The maps are too confined and offer very little in the way of hiding places. Once you are spotted, it’s a matter of stamina lasting long enough to outrun enemies, and you’ll likely run into another one as soon as you escape. I was constantly running smack into guards before I realized a threat was anywhere near. The multiplayer for Escapee GO! could potentially be decent, but good luck rounding up enough friends with DSi’s that you can convince to buy this stinker.
Call me crazy, but all I’ve ever really wanted out of a portable pinball game is a recreation of Space Cadet. I had hoped that Pinball Pulse would make a suitable replacement, but unfortunately it does not. For 500 Nintendo points you get one generic table. There aren’t many obstacles on the table which makes it too easy, and the Greek theme is dull and uninspired. It’s also a very dark game; I had to crank up the brightness all the way just to see what was going on while playing indoors. Even the controls aren’t very good. Table bumping is handled by tapping the touch screen, which is awkward and difficult to pull off. Had they allowed for customization, using the shoulder buttons for the flippers and the face buttons for bumping would have worked perfectly. About the only good thing I can say about the game is that the ball physics are solid. Then again, it’s pretty hard to find a pinball game that doesn’t have good physics any more. Maybe if Pinball Pulse had been 200 points or had come with more tables it would be okay. But 500 points for one weak table is simply unacceptable.