DS Lite brings Metroids, Sonic back into foreground | iLounge Backstage

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DS Lite brings Metroids, Sonic back into foreground

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Monday, April 3, 2006
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I alluded to this in an earlier entry, but until the Nintendo DS Lite arrived, there were a bunch of DS games sitting here that I couldn’t bring myself to play - something about the size and heft of the original DS kept me from playing them. That’s completely changed with the DS Lite - not only have I dipped into the old pile, but I’m also going out and picking up games I missed a while back. On my list for today: Metroid Prime Pinball, Metroid Prime Hunters, and Sonic Rush.

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My favorite of the bunch is Sonic Rush, the um… 75th Sonic the Hedgehog game. Well, okay, it’s not really the 75th, but there have been lots of them, and I mostly lost interest in the series after Sonic 2, except for two lapses - the Japanese Sonic CD, and Sonic Adventure for the Dreamcast. The rest of them I would sooner leave than take, but when Sega’s genius, it’s genius.

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Sonic Rush for the DS isn’t genius, but it’s so close that you might think so anyway. It’s a 2-D side-scroller, but tighter and more fun than I’d remembered the 2-D Sonics to be, aided visually by the use of a very well-animated polygonal Sonic. The best part’s the music, which is stellar not only by portable standards, but reminiscent of the most memorable tracks the Sonic series has ever had. It’s dancey, upbeat, and always interesting enough to make even the very familiar action gameplay seem fresh again. Add to that (finally) the true use of both DS screens for gameplay - you’re never quite sure which screen Sonic’s going to wind up on - and 3-D boss encounters, and you have a game that’s not just a good Sonic, but also a good show of what can make the DS special. For a bit on the two Metroids, click on Read More below.

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Then there’s Metroid. It’s one of the greatest game series of all time - so good that the 19-year-old NES version remains enjoyable even today, though most would prefer its Game Boy Advance remake Metroid: Zero Mission instead - and in recent years, the subject of much milking. The GameCube had Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2, the Game Boy Advance got Zero Mission and Fusion, and now the DS has Metroid Prime Pinball and Hunters. Another side-scrolling title, Metroid Dread, is supposedly either coming or cancelled for DS as well.

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I’m a pinball fan - like Tetris, that’s one of the genres I find especially worthwhile when I’m looking to pass some time with a portable game console, yet it’s hard to beat a few of the classics - Devil’s Crush (Genesis/ TurboGrafx) in particular. So it helps that Metroid Prime Pinball is a legitimately solid pinball game beneath its graphical varnish; too many of the licensed pinball titles I’ve tried just bored me, and like Devil’s Crush, this one has enough action to be worthwhile even if you’re not a Metroid fan. A Rumble Pak for the DS is included in the package, adding occasional physical jolts during the game if you want them.

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There are six Metroid-themed tables on the cartridge, two of them accessible from the start, the rest unlockable. Generally, the artwork’s very nice - the sort of hot sci-fi CG stuff you’re familiar with if you’ve seen the Metroid games or most recent movies - and the music’s pretty good, too. Typical ball-paddling action is broken up by minigames, frequent on-table alien appearances - Metroids, Space Pirates, et al. - and the fact that your ball is Samus Aran, complete with not-quite-powerful-enough bombs. Like all of Nintendo’s best games, there’s enough padding on the tables to let mediocre players last a while and learn enough in the process to become better for the next time; you wouldn’t know this was done by an outside developer (Fuze Games) unless you were told.

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Metroid Prime Hunters is a bit of a different story - a first-person shooter with strong platform adventuring overtones. The good news is that it’s a lot better than the demo that Nintendo gave away with Nintendo DS systems, and the pessimistic expectations many (including me) harbored since seeing it in early form. This is, meant in almost entirely a good way, a highly ambitious Nintendo 64 game. It looks and feels a lot more like Metroid Prime for the GameCube than anyone could possibly have expected from the DS after seeing Super Mario DS, and that’s a seriously good thing. You still get to turn into a ball and snake through tunnels, walk around corridors and in big rooms shooting things - lots of flying things, really - and of course, do a bit of platform-hopping. If you liked Metroid Prime - and I wouldn’t have guaranteed this about Mario DS versus Mario 64 - you’ll enjoy Metroid Prime Hunters.

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Now, having said that, it’s equally undeniable that Hunters leaves you wanting more. Like a better controller. Nintendo’s clearly done as much work as humanly possible to make this game playable on the DS’s 3-D controller-less hardware, and if you switch off of the default setting, you come pretty close to the GameCube experience. But it’s still not quite the same. It’s really hard to aim and shoot; Hunters really needed a lock-on or AI shooting mechanism, but doesn’t have it. Instead, Nintendo compensates by giving you enough energy to withstand the plenty of punishment you’ll take from enemies that are too hard to shoot precisely. The consequence is a game that doesn’t frustrate, but also doesn’t entirely satisfy, even when it’s doing a million times more from a gameplay standpoint than any other portable Metroid has attempted.

Fighting against other Hunters (single or multiplayer) and bosses feels just like you’re playing a full-sized 3-D console game, minus a bit of acuity and accuracy; textures are predictably rough, and polygons are fewer than one would hope, but more than one might have expected. Similarly, everything from different weapons to different visors is preserved here from Metroid Prime, simplified a bit for the small screen. Note the singular on screen; the bottom display is regrettably always used as a weapon and ball morph toggle - with rare breaks for movie clips - rather than as a second 3-D screen. If only all of the visor scanning stuff (specifically, the display) could have been offloaded onto the bottom screen…

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Hunters is impressive enough by DS standards to rate a solid B on my scale, Pinball a B+, and Sonic an A-. There’s some irony in those scores, given that they’re inverse to the effort required to make each of these games: Sonic is the most cookie-cutter of the bunch by Nintendo portable standards, followed by Pinball and most distantly Hunters, but because of the music, fun, and neat little visual tricks, it’s also the first one I’ve wanted to come back and play.

Given comments and questions from readers and friends on the fence about DS, I’ll say this again: the DS Lite absolutely rocks. Put aside its nice looks; it just feels better in your hands, looks much, much better because of the improved screens (mine has one stuck pixel - argh!) and is easier to carry around. It is getting easily 5 times the use of my old DS, probably more. If you are thinking of ordering one, just do it already. You’ll be glad you did.

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Comments

1

If only I could afford one.

Posted by Joshdude in Long Beach, CA on April 3, 2006 at 10:21 PM (PDT)

2

I bought a DS just so I could play Sonic Rush and I was rather disappointed. It’s not so much that it’s bad, it’s just.. pretty mediocre. Didn’t you find the level design horrific? Most stages have two or three sections where you pretty much have to die in order to learn how to move forward in the level. That was never a problem in the original Mega Drives nor the Sonic Adventures, of which I agree were by far the best Sonic games released.

Out of interest, now you’ve used a DS Lite for a while, what do you think of it compared to the standard DS in the sense of things you miss? Is the old DS more comfortable (or better by any other factor), or is it really worse in just about every way? I am considering an upgrade..

Posted by SuitCase on April 4, 2006 at 2:12 AM (PDT)

3

I have had a DS for awhile, and the games are pretty great.  But for Hunters, you need to use the stylus controls, or else you just can’t precisely hit, using those, after while you become very used to it and can aim pretty accurately.  Plus it isn’t going exactly after the GameCube experience because of the different controls that are default, which I think in many ways are better.

Posted by macattacks10 on April 4, 2006 at 12:43 PM (PDT)

4

I haven’t found Sonic’s level design horrific. I’ve actually really enjoyed the levels, despite the vague traces of difficulty - which incidentally are erased by the unlimited continues.

I think the new DS Lite is better in every conceivable way for my hands and preferences. Literally, I would never touch an old DS again after having this.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 5, 2006 at 10:54 PM (PDT)

5

Hunters was something of a letdown to me; perhaps I was just expecting too much considering its gestation period in finally bringing it to market. Enjoyable, but not the knockout game I was envisioning. But I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed Pinball, which I picked up on impulse when my reserved copy of Hunters became available. Really fun for those times of mindless gameplay. And when I’m unable to access Xbox Live.

My PSP is SO going to gather dust in the foreseeable future…

Posted by flatline response on April 6, 2006 at 3:42 PM (PDT)

6

Does this play on iPod video or iTunes?  If no, then why is this on ilounge (which is supposed to be dedicated to iPods, itunes, and their accessories)???

Posted by Jing on April 8, 2006 at 6:21 AM (PDT)

7

Jing: How many times do you have to post this comment? As we’ve mentioned roughly a thousand times in Backstage, and stated right at the top of backstage.ilounge.com for a year or so, Backstage is “a place to discuss portable phones, games and computers,” amongst other things the editors here find interesting.

The main iLounge site is for iPod & iTunes coverage. Backstage is our blog. No one’s making you read this.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 8, 2006 at 8:08 AM (PDT)

8

I’ve never noticed the “a place to discuss portable phones, games, and computer” info. Thx for that information, as now I understand.  I’ve never seen you mention it roughly a thousand times.  Also, I did not know backstage was your blog.  You are right, no one’s making me read it (hmmm not sure i ever said i was). I asked a question, you’ve answered it.  Next time I will try to read more carefully.  You’re still the best, Jeremy.  smile

Posted by Jing on April 9, 2006 at 7:48 AM (PDT)

9

Jing: Sorry if that came across as harsh. We’ve been doing Backstage for almost two years now - phones, games, competing media players, sunglasses, it’s all fair game back here,

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 9, 2006 at 9:23 AM (PDT)

10

As macattacks10 said, you really need to use the stylus for Prime: Hunters. It’s unfortunate that you seem stuck on getting it as close to the (in my opinion, poorly designed) Gamecube control style. Using the stylus to aim with the default control scheme, for me at least, brings the accuracy and playability of the game to near keyboard and mouse levels. I’m not sure how much time you had put into trying the default stylus scheme, but may I recommend giving it a second try? It seems unfortunate that the one FPS console game to ever have a control system nearing the quality of a mouse and keyboard without resorting to some makeshift lock on system gets the boot in favor of a WORSE than standard digital pad scheme. Then, of course, it’s criticized for not being accurate enough? Give the default scheme a better try, Jeremy! Even if you don’t prefer using the stylus, you should at least see how much control and accuracy using the stylus provides.

With that said, I can’t wait for the DS Lite. Here’s hoping it’s not too expensive once it reaches non-Japanese markets. smile

Posted by Saki on April 9, 2006 at 12:28 PM (PDT)

11

I find that the thumbstrap is the most effective way of cobtrolling Hunters

Posted by JP on April 9, 2006 at 4:03 PM (PDT)

12

I think its kind of unfair to judge Metroid Prime Hunters as being innacurate using the nonstandard controls. Its incredibly accurate using the stylus (I used to use the thumbstrap instead but I bought a replacement stylus and now I actually get headshots on the first try). Plus it seems like you skimmed over the online multiplayer!! The best part! If you look at it as two games, the single player game is just above average, but the multiplayer is the best!

Posted by Freako Suave on April 10, 2006 at 5:26 PM (PDT)

13

I really don’t find the stylus comfortable to use while trying to handle the rest of the controls - it’s just a bit too much. I did try that control scheme first, but didn’t like it.

Re: the thumbstrap, the DS Lite no longer comes with one, and honestly, I did not enjoy using it at all on the full-sized DS. But to each their own. grin

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on April 10, 2006 at 11:59 PM (PDT)

14

Any update on when the DS Lite will be released in North America?

Posted by Jon on May 3, 2006 at 4:35 PM (PDT)

15

im stuck on sonic rush level 4 2nd bit.cant springboard high enough to get to next bit.anyone help

Posted by paul on January 2, 2008 at 9:14 AM (PDT)

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