The DSi Shop was never as glamourous as the eShop. Belonging exclusively to a physical iteration of the DS was just the start of its problems, with its layout and speed remaining an issue throughout its life. But, flying in the face of all this drama is the fact that good games remain! I’m not here to just tell you what the ‘Top X DSiWare Games That’ll Rock Your Butt’ are (someone else took care of that), but instead I thought I’d share some of the more obscure titles. They are still top notch, and I’d put them against your Shantae‘s any day of the week, but maybe you just never heard of them. Maybe some dope DS game came out earlier that week and you never thought to punish yourself by loading up the DSi Shop.
Let’s kick this thing off.
Maestro! Green Groove by Pastagames, $4.99/500 Points
Now this is a treat for rhythm-action fans. Developed by the folks at Pastagames (Arkedo Series – Pixel, Pix’N Love Rush), Maestro is a musical platformer, comparable to HarmoKnight. It does everything right as far as my preferences for the genre, a highlight being Maestro employs one mechanic throughout its entirety. As opposed to something like Rhythm Heaven which is several mini games all using different mechanics, Maestro delivers a single mechanic that grows as you play. As Presto, that pink bird you see up there, players strum and tap the touch screen in tune to the music. The soundtrack is composed of interesting takes on classical music, which sits with me better than an all original arrangement that may have its fair share of clunkers. Presto is constantly in motion, with the player controlling his path by swiping the strings he runs on. Collectible fruit litters the path, but there’s also strings to strum in time with the music, as well as enemies to tap. It works wonderfully, and the difficulty ramps up quickly; Pastagames clearly doesn’t want you to butcher the works of Beethoven and get away with it. As lovely as Maestro‘s soundscapes are, its visuals are just as arresting.
Glow Artisan by Powerhead Games, $4.99/500 Points
When browsing a digital games store, there’s certainly no shortage of puzzle games. While you’re drowning in a sea of ‘match three’ puzzlers, grab hold of Glow Artisan and it will pull you back to shore with its rippling, tanned muscles.
Glow Artisan manages to take something as simple as color mixing, turn it into something complex, but still keep it fun as all hell. On the top screen, players are presented with a 5×5 grid of coloured squares. Using the touch screen, the player is asked to recreate that image. By sliding from left to right and top to bottom, the player creates a row of coloured boxes. You are able to choose the colour, and by overlapping one with another, create a new colour altogether. Where things get complex is when the erase tool is thrown into the mix. The collection of squares you’re attempting to duplicate will have empty spots on its grid, you achieve this by use of the erase tool. What’s tricky is that you must erase an entire row or column, so that particular empty spot on the grid takes some special planning. Where and when you place your row becomes a science, and the game’s difficulty ramps up immediately. It’s insanely complex, but there’s just nothing else like it. As hard as it is, the game pulls at your logical and creative sides so perfectly that you can’t help but fall into that ‘just one more try’ syndrome. If you think I’m crazy, know that Nintendo saw the quality in Glow Artisan as well, allowing Powerhead Games to participate in the ‘Developer Showcase’ portion of WarioWare DIY.
Trajectile by Q-Games, $4.99/500 Points
Of the Q-Games quadrilogy (a term only I bother to use, and also includes Digidrive, X-Scape, and Starship Defense), Trajectile is by far my favourite. I suppose it comes from this bizarre love of ricochets and banking shots, a feeling that developed with GoldenEye 007‘s Grenade Launcher. Think of it like Arkonoid, except you’re in compete control of where your shots are headed. Players aim a missile at a collection of blocks from a fixed position at the bottom of the screen. The blocks come in all sorts; some take one hit, some two, others explode, and so on. Your shots are limited, and the missiles too come in different varieties. As the player aims, the trajectory of the shot is displayed, but only so far. Your goal is to take out the enemy blocks in as few turns as possible.
The magic isn’t from those direct hits you know are coming, but rather the surprises that come afterward. As your missiles bounce about across the blocks, they lose speed. There’s no better feeling than watching a petering missile just make it to an enemy block, seizing your victory. Trajectile also works as an example of Q-Games’ flair for UI. While their goal is minimalism, they always manage to think of the tiniest details that would benefit the player, such as an always present reading of the handheld’s battery life.
Instead of the usual logo crawl that opens up a game, Pro Jumper! should display a ‘Slippery When Wet’ sign. Akin to Luigi, the star of Pro Jumper! is a far cry from the ‘stop on a dime’ controls one would expect from folks like Mario. A fan of hot springs, Chimaki arms himself with a towel to battle the enemies that lay between him and a soothing dip.
Pro Jumper! is beautiful and brutal, like some sort of bombshell boxer. The sprite work is terrific, a bizarre cartoon that you’re in control of. The beast beside that beauty is how difficult the game is. The slippery controls find a perfect match in a character who can only absorb two hits of damage before calling it quits. Arc System Works does strike a balance though, with the blame of Chimaki’s many deaths falling on your shoulders. It’s cute, tough, and brief, and I’m a huge fan.
Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology by Sabarasa and Jason Rohrer, $1.99/200 Points
Maybe it’s the Dad in me talking, or maybe it’s the husband, but this collection of Jason Rohrer games really speak to me. I won’t bore you with discussion of games as art, mostly because I can’t speak of it in the way it deserves. What I do know is that Rohrer’s message is loud and clear, and for $2 it’s neat to see someone express how I feel in a video game.
Passage is a game about life, and that when finding love, things get complicated. You may miss out on certain aspects, but there’s also something beautiful about love that others may never see.
Gravitation really gets to me. As Rohrer, players focus on what matters most to them; their child, or others goals in life. It’s a game of balance, or maybe it’s not; spending all your time with your child is possible, but so is jumping to the heavens and increasing your ‘score’. Focus on one and the other suffers. As a parent your life isn’t just about you anymore, but are your needs something to be ignored? Ugh, this friggin’ game.
I’m a bit of a turd in that I’ve never been able to play the third game, Between, as I haven’t been able to find a second willing party (it’s multiplayer only, offering up Download Play as a means to do so). So yes, I’m recommending Alt-Play on the basis of 2/3’s of its content. I’ll make a game to express my shame.
Mighty Milky Way by WayForward Technologies, $7.99/800 Points
Mighty Milky Way is a victim of timing. Released in May of 2011, it came out as the 3DS had ‘replaced’ the DS as far as mindshare goes, but also a month shy of the update that put the eShop on the 3DS (meaning you couldn’t buy Mighty Milky Way until after it had released, which has quite the calming effect on a game’s hype). However, four titles deep into WayForward’s Mighty series, and Milky Way remains my favourite (with Flip Champs right behind it). There’s just something about a puzzle game that is as calming as it is frantic. As I send Luna from self-created planet to self-created planet, I feel so relaxed as she floats on over, perhaps rotating around her destination before finally making her landing. Of course, things gets a little stressful when enemies and barbed wire mazes enter the mix. I find the combination appealing, an experience I certainly wish I could see more of. Toying with a force like gravity is very unique, as it never feels like I’ve ever truly mastered it. There’s always this tension that grows inside me as Luna makes her way to the planet I birthed on the touch screen. She’s counting on me, and I really wouldn’t want someone floating throughout the abyss of space on my account.
Ace Mathician by Goodbye Galaxy Games, $1.99/200 Points
Now here’s something; a puzzle platformer that isn’t just about pushing weights around to claim the use of ‘physics’. Crazy I know, but Ace Mathician is such a title. While it looks a little heady at first glance, things are kept rather simple. The single-screen playfield contains three optional stars, as well as a basket of fruit. By playing around with the options on the bottom screen, you can create a formula, which affects specific platforms on the top screen. When you’re working on the formula, the action on the top screen pauses, and shows you the possible results of your tinkering. While I practically despised math in High School, I’m a little older, and a little wiser now, and see the fun in creating the perfect result. In between your calculations, you control Ace the koala and have him leap around, collecting stars and fruit in the process. What’s on display is just so creative, and begs to be fleshed out even further. My love for the game brought me to Hugo Smits, the one man team behind it, and the two of us engaged in an interview! I’ll pester him for a sequel until the day I die.
Spotto! by Intelligent Systems/Nintendo, $1.99/200 Points
Does a Nintendo game really need lip service? In the case of Spotto!, I’d argue that it flew under many a radar. As strong as the company’s digital push has been on the 3DS eShop, Nintendo’s earlier efforts were less than remarkable. Not in terms of quality, but in promotion. For Spotto!, Nintendo tasked Intelligent Systems (Paper Mario, WarioWare) with the creation of a tiny little puzzle game. What they churned out deserves to be spoken of in the same tone as Intelligent Systems’ more acclaimed works, a game that tickles that trajectory bone I mentioned earlier. As Spotto the Bombirdier, players spin a little wheel on the DS’s touch screen, changing the arc of Spotto’s throw. The goal is to land a bomb inside the mouths of the awaiting spirits, all in hopes of saving Spotto’s dearest Chikkie Wowwow. The sessions are very bite sized, as your bombs are limited, which is perfect for a handheld. It’s goofy to the max, and won me over much in the same way Trajectile did.