DSiWare and WiiWare are often maligned, but the disturbingly well-kept secret is that they actually have quite a few good games. It's just that most gamers are unaware of their existence, and the media (and Nintendo, to be fair) does little to educate consumers.
Case in point: Aura-Aura Climber. You might have been wondering what Nintendo Software Technology (NST), Nintendo's oft-forgotten American first-party studio, has been up to since the cancellation of Project HAMMER and the desecration of the Metroid franchise (but it was just Prime, so whatever). Well, they seem to have been keeping somewhat busy on the DS, with products ranging from Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis (and its improved DSiWare sequel) to the fantastic line of DSiWare clock and calculator apps that gamers across the nation just can't seem to get enough of. I feel like NST is often thought of as the "C-Team" at Nintendo, a team of DigiPen rookies to farm out low-priority projects and ports to (I mean, couldn't Tose have handled the Clocks and Calculators?). It's kind of sad, since I actually like a lot of NST's games. They don't bat 1.000, but they've given us some fun titles (although most of them are updates of classic franchises), such as Wave Race: Blue Storm, 1080 Avalanche, Ridge Racer 64, Pokemon Puzzle League (and Nintendo Puzzle Collection), and Bionic Commando: Elite Forces. I wasn't a big fan of Metroid Prime Hunters or Ridge Racer DS, and I'm not even sure that NST has a stable staff and identifiable personality, but I've always wondered what they could do if they were let off of their leash.
As far as I'm concerned, Aura-Aura Climber on DSiWare shows that NST actually does merit notice. It is more than worth its paltry 200-Point asking price.
I decided to pick the game up, basically on the strength of the in-store screenshots and that trusty Nintendo logo. (Hilariously enough, the Nintendo Channel doesn't even have a video of this first-party product.) Aura-Aura Climber is sort of a cross between a platformer and Clu Clu Land, which, I suppose, makes it a cousin of DK: King of Swing (also awesome). How to describe... You know those glowing red balls in Yoshi's Story that you lick to grab? It's sort of like that mechanic, extrapolated into vertical obstacle courses, with all the requisite depth and niceties and power-ups.
Aura-Aura Climber can pretty much be played with the D-Pad and one button (although an additional button comes into play as you progress), which, in an intuitive display of context-sensitivity, serves to both cast a grappling arm while airborne and leap from a resting spot. (Both maneuvers are directionally influenced by the D-Pad.) This game is not really based around continuous momentum like a Bionic Commando or King of Swing. Rather, Aura-Aura must grab sticky balls (oh, behave) with his grapple arm to draw himself to them. Once he's perched, you can evaluate his situation before propelling him off in search of the next ball. Rinse and repeat until you reach the top of the stage.
In classic Nintendo style, the game builds upon this simple premise by sprinkling clever little twists and new elements throughout the course of the game. Aura-Aura Climber is very bright and happy and cheerful, but also fairly tight and rigorous, from a scoring perspective (which enhances its replayabilty). In fact, it kind of reminds me of Yoshi's Touch and Go (again, awesome) with its arcadey flavor. The main Score Attack mode consists of an increasingly challenging, consistently engaging ten levels. Completing Score Attack opens up a Marathon of the levels. In addition, Aura-Aura Climber also has an Endless Mode (something which I feel any good arcade-style title should feature (either that or random level generation)). The Endless Mode doesn't seem completely random, but I haven't hit the top yet, so ...yeah. Perhaps it IS Endless. Aura-Aura Climber even features an Achievement-type system of unlockable medals to earn (some are awarded for in-game tasks, some hidden in the large, sprawling levels). All of these features add up to a ton of replay value for your two bones. And the core gameplay is so polished and snappy and addictive that you will be happy to have reasons to revisit the game.
Aura-Aura Climber has fast become one of my favorite DSiWare games. It is easily the best value on the service, and has earned a permanent spot in my mini-fridge. A modest, minimalist masterpiece. Highly recommended.
You got moxie, NST. Let's see where you go from here.
Agreed! This is one of the best DSiWare games, and it's only 200 points. Thanks to your recommendation in another thread I picked this up, and I have been enjoying it here and there ever since. It is the perfect game to whip out for a 5-10 minute high score attack. The difficulty curve is just right, too. Currently I'm going for the medals, S-ranking in all courses and there's always endless mode to keep me busy. FWIW, I'd probably give this game a 10/10. Not much more you can expect from a game like this.
Yeah, the difficulty curve is like a straight line, constantly sloping upward (although I almost wonder if the difficulty of the last couple of stages interferes with the freeform nature of the gameplay). And I agree that it should be digested in small, concentrated doses.
I toyed with giving it a higher score (and still might), but I was thinking about Jargon's thread about price affecting a review score. I kind of lean towards not considering price in the review. By that measure, I consider a 9/10 game for $2 an absolute must-buy.
But now you've got me thinking. I probably will bump it up. This game is an astoundingly solid little package. Honestly, I'm not sure what numerical value will best communicate that.
Yeah, a video is a good idea. I really suck at embedding.
I didn't get too detailed about the gameplay, because I try to focus on the impression the game gives me, without spoiling too much of the sense of discovery or dryly listing the mechanics. But I guess I should've given a bit more detail, for those who haven't played the games I referenced.
There is no touch-screen usage during gameplay (thankfully, since it was a sore spot in Spotto (review upcoming!)). Aura-Aura can pretty much be played with the D-pad and one button (although an additional button comes into play as you progress). Basically, your character has a grappling arm, but the game is not really based around continuous momentum like a Bionic Commando or King of Swing. Your grapple arm (which is aimed with the D-Pad) attaches to sticky balls and then draws you to them. Once you're perching on one of the balls, you can press the same button to jump off (again, with directional control) to grab the next ball. Rinse and repeat until you climb to the top of the stage.