Reflection is customary at the end of the year. Where were we? What happened? What games did we love? And as we stared down at our copies of Club Penguin and Personal Trainer: Cooking, our thoughts turned to: What were the DS games that actually tried this year? Despite the sea of shovelware trash, 2008 had so many advancements in terms of graphics, sound, cutscenes, and other things we take for granted on consoles that we simply had to celebrate the 10 most impressive efforts of the year.
P.S. - If you're looking for GR’s DS game of the year, we can't truly say, but we only gave one DS game a 10 this year, if that means anything to you.
Of all the advances to celebrate in DS games this year, Professor Layton achieved them all way back in February. Whether it was a surprising amount of spoken dialogue, inventive touch screen use or downloading new content via Wi-Fi, Prof. Layton proved the system was a media powerhouse even with a cartridge handicap. While it may not have gotten all the consumer love here it did in Japan, this pile of brain bending whimsy raised the bar in many ways.
Above: Layton's Euro/Japan animation mash-up in action
Cutscenes were the biggest feat. While some elite titles we mention later have beautiful CG vignettes, Layton's hand-drawn style was pleasingly unique, more reminiscent of Little Nemo comics than Naruto.
These exquisitely animated moments reminded us of a Miyazaki film, no small praise, and wanting to see the next one made us slog through even the most headache inducing question from the weird, though wonderfully realized, residents of St. Mystere.
Though Activision sold an ungodly amount of frankly crappy Guitar Hero: On Tour add-ons, we couldn't give the award to something that actually caused us physical pain. While it approximated playing a standard guitar controller as best as could be expected, any game that warns you playing it will destroy your hand is worthy of nothing. That's why we choose to recognize Taito's DS Paddle, for use on their rereleases of Space Invaders and Arkanoid, and not just because we feel no pain using it.
We heartily endorse both the PSP and DS versions of Space Invaders Extreme anyway, and we look forward to its XBLA release, but when you plug this import-only - though relatively inexpensive - dial into the GBA port, you will really be playing SIE, or its sister title Arkanoid, the way it was meant to be played. After first using the d-pad and then turning the paddle, we noticed a whole new level of subtlety in movement and control that Space Invaders was designed to handle 30(!) years ago.
The best add-on makes a great game better, not twists one's hand into painful contortions.
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