Thoughts on the Nintendo DS

Posted by Tejus Parikh on September 18, 2006

One of the largest flaws with console gaming is the difficulty of getting a good experience in a FPS type game. One of my favorite PC games is System Shock II. SSII is an RPG with an FPS interface. Having an interface that can move the view port on the monitor as well as you can move your head is imperitive when trying to locate the source of the creepy sound that means impending doom. (Those monkeys still freak me out.)

This just isn’t something you can get with a console. One of the best FPS for consoles was Golden Eye for the N64. What made this game work for the console was that most of the in game missions allowed you to shoot the baddies from distances and locations where they couldn’t see you. The only time quick manuevers were required was when you were really bad at the game. Granted, this wasn’t as true in multi-player, but auto-aim took care of the greater problem.

I picked up Metroid Prime Hunters expecting a similar auto-aim type interface hack. The original metroid prime for the Game Cube basically cycled you through the available targets. This being the first real DS game that I’ve played, I was amazed with the graphics from the start. I hadn’t realized how far hand-held consoles had progressed. I was also pretty impressed with the 3D feel. Granted, this shouldn’t have been so surprising, but I haven’t really been paying attention to the handheld market.

But despite how much I liked the graphics, I absolutely hated the game. It was horrible and nearly impossible to get around. Aiming was counter intuitive, jumping was a pain. The button controls didn’t make any sense. I was about the count this as $35 down the toilet when I decided to read the instruction manual. In there, it mentioned that you could use the stylus to aim Samus.

At first, I went through some strange contortions to get the device and the stylus in my two hands comfortably. I still haven’t managed to find a position that doesn’t require curling up on couch for extended playablilty. But nonetheless, I persevered. And then, like sun clearing the morning fog, it hit me. In my hand, I had the first sensible control interface for an FPS on a console. I could move around and look at things freely and independently. Plus it was completely intuitive. I just had to move the stylus towards the thing I wanted to shoot at.

Instead of being a waste of $35, Metroid Prime Hunters has been an extremely fun game to play. This isn’t to say the stylus approach is perfect. The double-tap to jump thing flakes out on occasion (normally over a pit of death), but it’s a lot better than having to hit a button escape to look around. I like the fact that Nintendo is trying to push the boundries of what can be done with a gaming console. It’s the first time since the light-gun that a company has tried something new with the genera.

However, all of this is moot unless the games themselves are fun. So far I’m 50% through this one and still enjoying it. That’s the best test of all.

Tejus Parikh

Tejus is an software developer, now working at large companies. Find out when I write new posts on twitter, via RSS or subscribe to the newsletter: