Probably the most popular DS game all year in the GR offices, GTA's first DS outing had just what the system needed: some M-rated, Rockstar mayhem. Set in a version of Liberty City that’s nearly identical to GTA IV’s, Chinatown Wars takes you through a recognizable tour of the city's underworld, as blood and bullets fly. It has all the beloved features of GTA's past, but also hides a new trick up its sleeve: drug dealing.
Yes, Rockstar introduced drug dealing on one of the most family friendly handhelds there is. Admittedly, that didn't really equal sales, but it was a brash and interesting choice by a company known for such moves. Not only are the drugs a great way to earn more money in the game (even though they can be pretty risky if you’re caught), but it's an economics lesson as well. You need to carefully study supply and demand, and always be prepared for shifts in the market. It’s so distracting, one can easily lose sight of their in-game goals while chasing the drug market.
Another sorely unappreciated game, Henry Hatworth took some real chances on its bizarre gameplay and presentation, which is surprising, as EA was billing it as one of its more family friendly titles of the year. But this game and its very British hero took a very clever genre mash-up and ran with it, artfully combining puzzles and platforming into one seamless whole.
As Henry tracks down the items needed to become the perfect gentleman, he must traverse dangerous lands in classic adventurer form on the top screen. But at any time, you can switch to the bottom screen, where a puzzle game that's pretty similar to Tetris Attack/Puzzle League series slowly moves along. The balance between the two comes into play as they interact: you can gain power-ups and healing items for Henry by clearing blocks, for example. Also, enemies defeated by Henry in the top screen become blocks with faces in the bottom screen, which will eventually rise back up and attack you if you don’t clear them quickly. Not at all schizophrenic, both parts of the game interact well while being separate experiences. A must for fans of either genre.
DSiWare sucked this year, big time. In its first year of existence, it introduced some very sloppy third-party games, and even Nintendo itself didn’t do a great job supporting it. The service sported such great "games" as Mario Clock, Animal Crossing Clock, and Mario Calculator, plus a few old DS titles that were separated into multiple parts and sold piecemeal. If not for the appearance of Flipnote Studio, this year would've been a near-total loss.
This inspired and FREE release is more a tool than a game. Taking advantage of all the DSi's abilities – touchscreen, mic, camera – the game enables you to create simple animation with ease. And after your masterpiece is complete, you can even upload your cartoons online, a rare web-savvy move by Nintendo. Even if it wasn't free, this should be a day-one download for any new DSi owner.
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