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Joystiq hands-on: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (DS)

Zack Stern

The DS version of The Force Unleashed tries to cram all of the light-saber-rage from the consoles into a handheld package. You'll be disappointed if you directly compare the two. I recently tried a late version of the DS game, and I didn't think enough of the system's strengths and weaknesses affected the design. The DS game gives a 3D perspective of the action on the top screen with adequate visuals, but the chunky graphics steal some of the excitement. And since the camera can't be repositioned, you'll be regularly attacked by people just off-screen. Worse, player attacks are issued by tapping on icons, causing hunting-and-pecking through battles.

Since The Force Unleashed is about going nuts with explosive superpowers, that sense of excitement got lost by scaling everything down to fit the DS. A wireless, four-player, local battle mode might make it a fun game to play with friends, but I wasn't able to test that feature. I hope the final game will grow on me after its September 16 release. But the time I had with this portable edition left me cautious.

Gallery: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (DS) | 5 Photos

In my play, the DS didn't seem to have the 3D power to sustain the action. My concern wasn't just with the quality of the levels, but with the segmented fights. I ran to two or three enemies with the D-pad, tapped the lightsaber attack icon a few times, and just kept repeating. These small, uncoordinated groups never overwhelmed me. I only tried other powers to break up the monotony.

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And everything except shoulder-button blocks and running is driven through screen taps. Lefties will appreciate steering with the face buttons, but I often had to hunt for the on-screen icon to use lightning, throws, or even to jump.

Advanced attacks work by drawing lines between two Force powers. For example, to electrically charge and throw an enemy, you'd swipe between the Force lightning and throw icons. This mechanic seemed interesting in my play; otherwise, tapping one attack at a time felt like a gimmicky switch from hard buttons.

"Hardware limitations on the DS make The Force Unleashed feel untapped."

And the attacks -- especially the throws -- were unimpressive on the system. In the other versions of the game, I aimed each toss, bowling down groups with a flick of my Force. Since the camera controls are all automatic, and the perspective was often fixed in a corner, I just tossed objects ahead, and hoped they'd hit someone. Too often, enemies shot blasters from off-screen, so I couldn't even see if I was close.

Hardware limitations on the DS make The Force Unleashed feel untapped. While this portable edition looks just good enough compared to other DS titles, the problems come from the rationed destruction. I wanted to binge through Force-powered mayhem. But camera difficulties and limited enemies left me starved.

Check out our newly-unleashd Star Wars: The Force Unleashed hands-on impressions for Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and PlayStation 2/PSP.

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