Back when Nintendo launched the DSi in April 2009, they simultaneously launched their DSiWare service: basically small, cheap downloadable games that you keep on the system's on-board memory, ready to be launched a played at a moment's notice. Think iPhone apps. Since then, over 200 games have been released on the service.
Many are the existing DS owners who skipped the DSi hardware revision, understandably waiting for a more substantial upgrade to invest in. That substantial upgrade is the 3DS, and it has finally arrived. So now that you have one, you can go back and enjoy all of those DSiWare titles that looked intriguing, but not enough to buy a DS 1.5, right? You can enjoy 3D gaming, and fill out any lull in the release schedule with a cool DSiWare game. Right?
Well, not really. For some reason, Nintendo hasn't managed to get its e-Store ready for the launch of the 3DS, which means you will have to wait until May before you can enjoy anything that is not a retail release.
Still, we here at Negative World feel that DSiWare has been neglected so much by the gaming press, gamers, and Nintendo themselves, that it is worth getting the word out early on the titles you should not miss out on. Read this quick overview of the best, most interesting titles on the service, to ensure that your first DSiWare purchases keep you coming back for more, instead of leaving a sour taste in your mouth.
Even if you weren't planning to buy any DSiWare title, this article may make you reconsider: many of the choices listed here are developed by seasoned, talented Nintendo developers, and compare favorably to many full retail releases. It would be a mistake to ignore them. And so, without further adieu...
Developer: Q-Games Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 800 points
This retro tank shooter scratched for me an itch that went unscratched for far too long due to the absence of a decent new Star Fox game these past few years. With the remake of Star Fox 64 for 3DS looming over the horizon, is X-Scape still worth playing? Absolutely! Not only do you get an original title for a fraction of the cost, but the free-roaming levels with multiple objectives make for a very different experience than Star Fox's mostly on-rails ones. The simple monochrome graphics and the lack of textures should make for a boring look, yet Q-Games had a number of great ideas to inject some surprising diversity: no two planets look the same. And the variety extends to the gameplay as well, as the game will have you shooting, looking for intel, racing, flying and strafing around your enemies.
A Kappa's Trail
Developer: Brownie Brown Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 500 pts
This cute yet tense puzzle platformer has you guide a little kappa to his destination entirely with the stylus. You trace his path, he follows. Sounds simple, but add to this a relentless disembodied hand that chases him, boulders that threaten his life unless you can break them by tapping them, rooms that gradually darken unless you can charge a light by tapping it, etc., and you will soon realize just how challenging this game can get. But explore every nook and cranny of a level and you will be rewarded with coins, coins that allow you to purchase tons of extra content including music and artwork. The developer really went the extra mile on this game to make it packed with secrets and content.
Already in that brief description you may have noticed you do a lot of tapping. The game has surprisingly varied obstacles that are solved unfortunately always the same way. Also, in this game, you use the stylus for everything, including moving the camera (which does not automatically follow the character) and yet you constantly have to multitask, which can get maddening. Still, good price for a slightly flawed game that could almost qualify as a full retail release.
Trajectile (Reflect Missile in the UK/EU)
Developer: Q-Games Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 500 points
Trajectile is a puzzle game in the vein of Breakout. You control the trajectory of a missile from the bottom screen with your stylus, dragging left or right to line it up, and then releasing your stylus from the screen to shoot. The goal is to hit targets on the top screen by reflecting your missile off of obstacles and walls. There are three variants of missile type, and power-ups to collect along the way. Every stage has a set goal, or "par" score, for the number of missiles to complete the stage. You can earn a medal by finishing the stage in fewer than par. You can also play for a high score. The game is easy to get into, and packed with a ton of content; there are over 200 stages in the game. The music is moody and relaxing, and the visuals are pleasing to the eye.
Aura-Aura Climber is a marvelous little gem that gives anything on the App Store a run for its money! $2 is the paltry asking price for this polished, inventive action game, and it is most definitely worth every penny. Imagine climbing up a tower of obstacles using Yoshi's tongue. That's pretty much it. But it doesn't cover how elegantly the simple mechanics are expanded upon over the course of the experience. NST has turned out a fantastic arcade game for the modern age. You'll love it the first time through, and Score Attack will keep you coming back.
Nintendo very well might be gouging us at the 3DS launch with content-shy $40 titles, so spend a couple of Susan B's on Aura-Aura Climber and remember why you love them. And why you love video games.
Developer: Prope Publisher: XSEED Games Cost: 500 pts
In this platformer by Sonic the Hedgehog's self-proclaimed father, Yuji Naka, you have indirect control of a cute flightless little bird that is constantly running forward (usually to her demise). Touch a point on the screen, and you create and fix the extremity of a vine. Drag the stylus around, and you control the other extremity of that vine. At first you will probably draw vines that simply block the bird's path or create platforms for her to safely run on, but soon enough you will realize that as long as your stylus doesn't leave the screen, you are in complete control. New possibilities are opened for you as you push the little bird around: she is as fast as you are with the stylus. Videos of advanced players going through this game are a sight to see. Definitely check this game out if you are looking for a different kind of platformer. Plus, the only way you will find out what that question mark is doing in that title is by reaching the end of the game...
Developer: Q-Games Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 500 points
Digidrive looks extremely simple, but looks are deceptive. It would take too long to attempt to explain it here, so check out our full review for an explanation of the nuances of this game. Allow yourself to stick with it, and you will be rewarded with a fun but complex gambling game. Digidrive is the kind of game that makes you nervous: it is all about the thrill of reaching crazy amounts of points while risking big. Think "risking a game over screen while holding out for a Tetris" and crank that thrill to eleven. Do well, and you will unlock new difficult levels along with presentation options. It is extremely challenging and fun - if your heart can deal with it. Truly one of the freshest and best games on DSiWare.
Art Style: Precipice (Kubos in the UK/EU)
Developer: Skip Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 500 points
Art Style: Precipice (or Art Style: Kubos, overseas) is yet another little slice of downloadable (DSi) heaven from the lovely lads at Skip. Stop me if you've heard this one before: There are blocks... falling... from the sky! But wait! You don't control the blocks. Instead, you control a little stick figure man who has to climb the perilous stack before he falls into oblivion, painting as many squares as he can along the way. The elevator pitch is Tetris meets Q-Bert, but Precipice (Kubos) really does feel like a fresh concept for the puzzle world. And the aesthetics and extras are up to par with the other Art Style games. Very minimalist, very cool.
Precipice has a Ten Floors score attack mode and an endless Tower mode which tasks you to climb as far up as you can. Certainly not the most content-rich title on the DSiWare service, but probably one of the more replayable. My only issue with the game is that the scoring system in Ten Floors mode is too dependent on luck to be truly rigorous. The first couple of seconds pretty much determine your fate. That quibble aside, Precipice is a very novel game that is well worth downloading onto your 3DS.
What can we say about this game when its reputation probably precedes it? Cave Story has made a name for itself amongst old-school gamers over the years thanks to its clever weapon-leveling system, its cohesive level design, its fantastic pixel art, its huge bosses, its high difficulty and, well, its heart. It is almost unbelievable that it was the labor of love of one guy. You can play this game for free on PC, true, but having a portable version is well worth the price of admission here. Then again, perhaps you will want to wait for the 3DS remake that has been announced, but it would be a shame to miss out on the pixel art in favor of polygons.
Art Style: PiCTOBiTS (PiCOPiCT in the UK/EU)
Developer: Skip Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 500 points
PiCTOBiTS may not have the most impressive or original game design among the many, many puzzle games available on DSiWare, but it certainly offers a lot of bang for your buck if you are a sucker for chunky pixels and chiptuny music. The game offers a ton of fan service for the NES nostalgic: not only do you uncover sprites for classic Nintendo games if you do well at the game, but you also get coins that will allow you to unlock fantastic remixes of legendary themes. Headphones and a fondness for the old days are a must to get the most out of this title.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!
Developer: Nintendo Software Technology Publisher: Nintendo Cost: 800 points
MvsDK:MMA is an all too rare example of Nintendo going the extra mile to include modern features in its games: despite being a downloadable game, it is packed with content; a level editor is included; levels can be shared online; and user-created levels can be downloaded and rated… without friend codes!
Truly features that mean it could last you a looong time, if the game is any good. Great news: it is! Entirely touchscreen-based, it is challenging without being frustrating. You will rarely get the little toy Marios to the exit on your first try, or at least not with the highest possible score, but your mistakes quickly become obvious and only leave you wanting to give each puzzle another go.
And that's it for our article, thanks for reading... what? Are there obvious games missing? We know! Look forward to part 2 of this feature around the time of the launch of the 3DS's e-Store!
We mention "points" in this article, as currently gamers have to buy batches of points that they use to buy the games. The conversion system is simple in North America: $1 = 100 pts (that goes for the US as well as Canada). However, in the United Kingdom for instance, £14 = 2000 pts. Nintendo has announced that the 3DS's e-Store would drop the points system: you will still need to buy "batches" of dollars to be used on the store, but no more Nintendo points. We believe we can expect Nintendo to convert the prices in accordance with the current rates, so depending on where you are, convert accordingly.
Thanks go to anon_mastermind for the Trajectile entry, Simbabbad for the Digidrive entry, and anandxxx for the Aura-Aura Climber and Precipice entries.