Alisha's Top Five DS Games
1. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
By now, everyone probably knows that I'm a Castlevania junkie. It's even in my bio as a warning, because anything like objectivity is a challenge for me regarding this series. The next version could be nothing but a string of wall-whipping minigames, and I'd probably rally for the cause. And while I thought Dawn of Sorrow was also a feast of asskickery, to me, Portrait of Ruin was more fun, though I was actually a little hesitant about it at first. The dual-character notion of Portrait of Ruin didn't sound terribly exciting to me until I got my hands on it; then, of course, I realized I was desperately stupid to doubt Koji Igarashi in any way, because of course I ended up loving Jonathan and Charlotte. The best part is that all the awesome little staples are there, and the portrait gimmick is fantastic. It's a great installment in the series ... and any game that utilizes cream pies as weapons wins my love.
I think so many games suffer because people don't pay enough attention to the translation, or to tiny background details, or characterization, or music (never a problem with these) and it's kept games from being considered art. If every game sported the care that is put into each Castlevania, I don't think that the idea of games as art would even be up for debate.
2. Clubhouse Games
Sometimes you just want something you can pick up and play for a little while and then put down again, no harm, no foul. Clubhouse is perfect for that. The collected games are all well-designed and there's enough variety that I can always find something to play. When I take my DS somewhere, invariably, this is the game I select. The multiplayer is great as well, and chatting in Clubhouse is one of the reasons I miss being able to attend Game Night.
Overall, I think Clubhouse Games is just about the pinnacle of the handheld experience, or rather, my handheld experience, except for one thing: Ludo. I so hate Ludo.
3. Final Fantasy III
And then sometimes you need a game that you can't just pick up and put down, but one that requires a little dedication and a lot of sweat. When I picked this up, I'd just stopped playing Final Fantasy XI, and it was nice to get back to the roots of the series. Like Castlevania, I've always felt Final Fantasy demonstrated a quality not found in many game franchises. They've got it all, great dialogue, stories that are always interesting, even though they are sometimes outrageous, and always-incredible gameplay. What makes this particular Final Fantasy installment special is the fact that it was so lovingly redone. In remaking this game for the DS, the Square Enix team breathed new life into one of the franchise's oldest titles, and they squeezed a level of performance out of the system that some found surprising.
Despite my gushing, there are flaws with Final Fantasy III, but those flaws are also part of what made it such a fantastic choice for a full-on remake. Not only was it fascinating to see the nameless warriors of light fleshed out a little, but it also offers a chance for those latecomers to see where so many elements began -- not just elements in the FF series, but in RPGs as a whole. In that context, even the grinding and lack of real utilization of the DS's unique features don't seem so bad, because, hey, you're grinding through history. Final Fantasy III may not be the best game on the DS, but it's still one of my favorites, for these reasons and more than I could possibly list.
4. Kirby Canvas Curse
This may seem like an unusual choice (or it may not; it's hard to judge your own tastes), but I put it here for a very specific reason -- it's one of the games that made me love handhelds. I was never much for handhelds, but we got a PSP and I toyed with that, though beyond Lumines, nothing grabbed me. Still, I credit the PSP with loosening me up for the DS. One day, Kirby Canvas Curse was pressed into my hands, and I was immediately charmed -- and I chalk that up to the DS. If it had been any other game, I might not have fallen so immediately in love with the DS. Sure, Mario Kart DS would have been great as well, but after several iterations, I expect greatness from that series and so might not have been impressed. Kirby Canvas Curse showed me how the stylus was going to change gaming, and I knew I was holding something special. The charm hasn't worn off, either; I still often find myself picking this game up when there's nothing else I feel like playing, and the magic is still there, every time. In fact, uh, if you need me ....
5. Hotel Dusk: Room 215
I thought a lot about putting Dawn of Sorrow in this slot, but I figured no one wanted to read another gushing paragraph extolling the virtues of everything Castlevania, and the very excellent Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is equally deserving of praise. From the moment I saw Hotel Dusk, I knew I would have to have it, and I prayed that it would be good. The game's unique art style caught my attention first, because it looked like something out of a graphic novel. But the game promised a compelling story, and that's what kept me interested and ultimately led to me picking up the title. I'm happy to report that I was in no way disappointed.
Obviously, I enjoy the act of writing, but what I really love is fiction -- the art of storytelling. It's an art that is often sadly lacking in games. Don't get me wrong; I don't necessarily think every game needs a story. A thinly-constructed "story" would probably ruin Clubhouse Games, for instance. But when the action in a game is heavily reliant on plot, I want that plot to make sense. Hotel Dusk is a story first and a game second, and both parts are well-crafted ... but it's the story that impressed me. I'm hesitant to get into any details for obvious reasons, but while I love Phoenix Wright as much as the next DS Fanboy blogger, the stories in a somewhat silly game like that just can't compare to the depth of character development in something like Hotel Dusk.
Honorable mentions: Nintendogs, Mario Kart DS
Both Nintendogs and MK DS are fantastic, but aren't among my favorites for a few very specific reasons: one a matter of taste, and the other a matter of comfort. Regarding the latter: I don't how how others are when they play racing games, but I get very tense, and that includes in my hands. As much as I love MK DS, after a few races, my hands just start to cramp. I have pretty small hands, and it's something I have to watch in a lot of games. As much as Mario Kart is in general, I prefer it in console form ... but that doesn't mean I don't like to throw down every now and then in Delfino Square. I will probably lose, but hey, it's about the journey. Right? Yeah? Let me pretend here.
As for Nintendogs ... that game is amazingly well made, beautiful, pure fun to play, and the biggest electronic guilt trip ever. If I don't play Animal Crossing every day, the worst that happens is I get scolded and I have to spend a little more time on my digital chores. With Nintendogs, I actively felt bad if I didn't play, and visions of starving puppies haunted me throughout the day. Eventually, I just gave in and traded my copy off -- and that's something I almost never do with my DS games. Once it was gone, however, I felt a huge sense of relief. Maybe I'm just an oversensitive marshmallow, but I didn't want to feel bad over pixels.
Cute pixels ... but still pixels.
Game I wanted to love, but just couldn't: Touch Detective
Oh, Touch Detective. For months, I slavered over your screenshots and gobbled up scraps of details. I counted down the days until you arrived on the shelf, sleek and fresh and new. I raced home, game clutched in my sweaty little hand, and immediately leaped headfirst into gameplay ... only to be, well, not impressed. I'm sure this is my fault; Touch Detective looked so amazing and I built it up in my head. My expectations were insane. No game could have lived up to that, and Touch Detective just didn't. It was funny, and as with so many of the titles Atlus brings us, the localization was fabulous ... but there just wasn't much for me beyond the humor.
Though knowing me, they'll hook me with the sequel and I'll try again. In the end, I'm a sucker.