VGB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide – Nintendo Edition Part 2

ZeldaPhantomHourglass.jpgThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (E) – So…. You don’t have Phantom Hourglass yet, huh? What on Earth are you waiting for!? I know, I know. Parents can be sticklers about letting you buy games on your own around the holidays, but seriously, this is Zelda we’re talking about here. If you can cheat and get it early, by all means buy it now because, well, this is Zelda for crying out loud and as always it frickin’ rocks! But if you’re forced to wait, make sure to put this game at the #1 spot on your DS wish list and continue to wait on pins and needles until Santa drops down your chimney with a shiny new copy to put in your stocking come December 25th.

OrcsAndElves.jpgOrcs & Elves (T) – id Software and Fountainhead Studios bring you back to RPG days of your with this amazing gem of a game, one of the best on the platform. Sure, it’s about eight hours or less on the easiest mode, but crank up the difficulty and get ready to spend a good chunk of time thinking tactically through the turn-based movement and combat. Graphics reminiscent of great DOS games, an often intentionally funny script and challenging trap and creature packed dungeons await the truly worthy. Definitely worth a sequel and give that O & E II is on cell phones already, we just might get lucky enough to see a DS version show up in short order.

etrian odyssey.JPGEtrian Odyssey (T) – Don’t let that box art fool you one bit into thinking this is yet another JRPG with the usual plot. Want to spend dozens (if not hundreds) of hours leveling up, defeating strong monsters while mapping out dungeons step by step? Well, Atlus has just the game for you in this pretty (and pretty challenging) RPG. Actually, if you too away the anime characters, changed a few plot elements around and added an alignment system, this could be mistaken for a new game in the long-lost Wizardry franchise. Based on the amount of content, level of challenge and touch screen mapping system’s implementation, this one’s a Game of the Year contender, hands down.

FFXIIRevenantWings.jpgFinal Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (E 10+) – PlayStation fans were probably already enraged when they heard that the follow-up/offshoot to Final Fantasy XII was heading to the DS rather than the PS2, PSP or PS3, and now they’ll probably be even more ticked off since the game turned out impressively well. Revenant Wings picks up one year after the events of FFXII, with Vaan, now a full-fledged sky pirate, on a brand new adventure across Ivalice alongside trusted pal Penelo. In the move to the DS, there have been some radical changes, such as the almost RTS feel to the combat and the sort of cutseyfied nature of the character designs, but even with these differences it’s rather surprising how closely the game captures the style and feel of the PS2 original. A definite no-brainer for any RPG lover.

puzzle quest DS.JPGPuzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (E 10+) – One of those games where everything clicks from concept to execution, Puzzle Quest has been winning over new fans with each console it hits. Released earlier this year, the DS version is sheer brilliance, utilizing the touch screen just as you’d think while providing endless hours of fun and challenge. The RPG elements are well thought out so that even non-fans of the genre will be hooked. Kudos to D3 however, for continuing to bring this out on just about everything that can play games. By not forcing you to buy a system for one game, they’re making a lot of people very happy indeed.

izuna legend of the unemployed ninja.JPGIzuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja (T) – If you’re tired of easy as pie games passing themselves off as “challenging,” Izuna will introduce you to a whole new world of pain. Actually, the gameplay is taken from the classic Mysterious Dungeon series, Rogue-like JPRG’s where turn-based movement and combat are the order of the day. In other words, newbies will be frustrated, old-school games more used to getting bumped off by a tough beastie (or group of them) will just smile, grit our teeth and hop back into the fray. Definitely for the hardcore guy or gal who appreciates the tough to beat gem.

RuneFactory.jpgRune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon (E) – Even if you’ve played other games in the Harvest Moon series, this more fantasy-based quest is a nice change of pace, although it uses plenty of familiar RPG clichés. You’re a guy with amnesia who’s put to work on a farm while trying to discover who you are. The farming is addictive, combat is well implemented against mostly cute monsters and overall, this game is just as much of a time eater as previous entries. Like other Natsume products, it might take a bit of looking to track this down, but it’s worth the effort.

CallOfDuty4.jpgCall of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (T) – Surprisingly, the DS version of COD 4 is nearly as thrilling and compelling as its console cousins and despite the lack of online play (c’mon, be amazed that they got the single player running so damn good!), it’s a must buy. Sure, it’s over in about a day or so, but if you’re looking for a remarkable technical achievement on the DS as well of a hell of a great single-player FPS with solid controls, you can’t pass this one up at all. If you happen to have three other friends with the game, there’s some simple deathmatch stuff to keep you busy, but if you’re like me, you’ll just lock yourself in your room and play this with a set of earbuds, as the sound production is tops as well.

Contra4.jpgContra 4 (T) – One of the biggest surprises of the year, this US-developed Contra actually pulls off an impossible feat: it’s a damn great ‘gamer’s game’ that’s not from Konami’s Japanese development studios. While there’s no touch screen gameplay (Contra laughs at your gimmicks), you get enemies on both screens and a cool grappling hook to reach (or avoid) them. Great 2D graphics, brutally hard stages with even tougher to take down bosses, amazing remixed tunes and a great chunk of bonus content make this an absolute must if you’re a fan of the series. Sure, it’s way too hard for kids and those with no patience will eat a hole in their DS by level four, but if any game will make you a better gamer, it’s this one.

TheSimpsonsGame.jpgThe Simpsons Game (T) – Just as funny as the console versions but with better control than the Wii version, this homage to all things Simpson makes for a solid few hours of platforming goodness and laugh out loud funny times. Granted, you’ll need to be fully versed in Simpsons lore to get the really good jokes, but even if you’re missing some of the more subtle or over the top yuks, the constant run/jump/collect stuff action should keep you busy enough for about six hours or so. If you’re not a fan of the show, a few of the more outrageous bits might have your eyeballs bulging – this isn’t a game for little kids, despite the cartoon graphics and familiar gameplay.

DrawnToLife.jpgDrawn to Life (E) – If you were a fan of Magic Pengel or Graffiti Kingdom on the PlayStation 2, this DS platformer should be right up your alley. Although the simple gameplay is a bit geared toward the younger set, the ability to draw your own character, weapons, et cetera and have the game animate them is pretty exciting. There are even side-scrolling arcade shooter sections that would probably make a great game on their own (but Majesco has that covered on the Wii next year… you’ll see). Anyway, this one is a ton of fun on the road… just watch what you decide to scribble on public transportation!

Naruto.jpgNaruto: Path of the Ninja (E 10+) – Created specifically for the US market, this RPG combines elements of previous Naruto games on the GBA and DS with solid results. Form a team of ninjas from familiar cast members and take on the enemies threatening Hidden Leaf Village. Great graphics and unique time-based combat that has you not only choosing who to use, but their attack stances as well. Fans will be in ninja heaven while newbies will be a bit thrown off at first before they get up to snuff. Pretty fun stuff once you get past the “but it’s an anime license” prejudice.

SonicRushAdventure.jpgSonic Rush Adventure (E) – TWO great Sonic games in a year and both are on handhelds! SRA is excellent right from the start and between the amazing sense of speed, the short but always fun levels and catchy tunes that’ll have you blasting them from the DS’ speakers in public, there’s a lot to love. Some of the cool stuff like the four different watercraft you’ll build, multiplayer races and completely optional side quests that extend the game’s lifespan (and lead to the real ending!) only add to the greatness. After playing this, you’ll wish Sonic Team was doing this sort of thing with all the Sonic games from now on.

GeometryWars.jpgGeometry Wars Galaxies (E) – While it’s missing the trippy warping grid found on the Xbox Live Arcade version, GW on the DS does an excellent job at bringing the super popular retro-futuristic shooter to the handheld. The speed has been scaled back a tiny bit, but given that you’ll cramp up your hands good while playing this for extended hours, this makes perfect sense. Tons of new content plus the XBLA original for good measure and as noted in the Wii version, a new stage if you happen to own both titles. If you love arcade shooting, you’d better buy this game, no questions asked.

MyWordCoach.jpgMy Word Coach/My Spanish Coach/My French Coach (E) – Ubisoft jumps into the educational games pool with a trio of great DS games that come recommended if you’re looking to make learning fun! My Word Coach’s 17,000 word vocabulary and easy to play (yet sometimes tricky) mini-games make it the perfect gift for anyone looking to improve their English language skills, while My Spanish Coach and My French Coach go a long way in starting you off on love affairs with both languages. Guaranteed to not only help you learn a new language, but make a couple of new foreign friends as well, as there’s no doubt that someone will look over your shoulder and offer a hint or three on some of the trickier games.

BrainAge2.jpgBrain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! (E) – Fed up with training with the same ol’ Brain Age exercises? Then it’s time to move on the next step of your gray matter training with Brain Age 2. A more challenging regimen of 15 new mathematical, grammar and memory mini-games and over 100 new Sudoku puzzles promise to give you a tougher mental workout than before. Just be prepared to put up with many of the same touch-screen and voice recognition inconsistencies and you’ll do fine.

FlashFocus.jpgFlash Focus: Vision Training in Minutes a Day (E) – Nintendo’s Touch Generations casual gamer-friendly DS line continues to broaden with Flash Focus, a surprisingly fun-filled collection of sports challenges and other activities designed to test and improve your eyesight and focus ability. Perfect for Brain Age fans looking to expand their mental training, and more appealing to all gamers with its more “game-like” feel.

Neves.jpgNEVES (E) – Super-simple looking plain vanilla graphics yet a total brain-cooker, NEVES takes the ancient tanagram into the 21st century with a great touch screen control setup and over 500 puzzles. In addition to three modes of single player action, you can play wirelessly with a friend via Download Play for some tricky timed action. Even after you’ve finally finished this one, you’ll go back to it over and over just to test your mental skills. Has some great jazzy tunes as background music, if you like that sort of ambiance.

CookingMama2.jpgCooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends (E) – Mama is back and this time she’s got company! Packed with more yummy recipes and tricky timed gameplay, this sequel to last year’s DS sleeper is a mix of familiar and all-new elements, making for a full course of fun and challenge! Over 80 new recipes, the ability to dress up your kitchen with new backgrounds and items and the big task of whipping up dishes for Mama’s growing list of friends without a single instruction are all great reasons why this game will be absolutely cookin’ in your DS for a goof long time!

MasterOfIllusion.jpgMaster of Illusion (E) – “How’d it DO that?” will be your new mantra as you play through this excellent, funny card trick tutor from Nintendo. You’ll think there’s a little Houdini hidden inside that handheld as the game constantly amazes with each new gag. There’s an included deck of marked cards that you’ll use to play the game and learn at the same time. A few days with this will have you whipping out that deck of cards at all sorts of gatherings to show off your new talents, so you may as well pick up a top hat and tails while you’re at it.

FlipperCritters.jpgFlipper Critters (E) – Budget pinball/plat former hybrid from Zen Studios that’s weird yet compelling fun once you wrap your head around the concept. The goofy plat has mascot types that transform into pinballs to bust down gates and unlock secrets as they try and help out their animal pals. Zen’s expertise at pinball games shines here despite some abstract elements and the game is a pretty decent challenge even for longtime pinball fans. Some fun mini-games are a nice diversion from the main game once you unlock them.

LunarKnights.jpgLunar Knights (E 10+) – Guess what? Kojima Productions can do a whole lot more than just make Metal Gear Solid games. The fact that Lunar Knights is one of the best DS games ever made up to now certainly hammers home that point. LK is actually the latest entry in the popular Boktai series, so anyone who knows and loves those games will do the same with this. Isometric action-RPG dungeon-crawling is pretty much the name of the game here (there are some shooter sequences too), though this game is far from conventional with its unique emphasis on using sunlight, moonlight and the weather to alter the surrounding environments and take out enemies. As expected from a Kojima game, the production values are also out of this world and the story is extremely engaging. All told, DS games don’t get much better than this.

QuickSpot.jpgQuickSpot (E 10+) – You know those “spot the difference” puzzles found in magazines, kids’ activity books and on the back of cereal boxes? QuickSpot is Namco Bandai’s videogame interpretation and evolution of the classic pen-and-paper picture puzzles, and it’s absolutely outstanding. Fantastic artwork, tons of pictures to solve and clever multiplayer modes also give the game a far longer lifespan than the traditional method, so don’t be surprised when it winds up staying in your DS longer than many of the “big-name” titles in your collection. Kids, parents and puzzle fans are sure to have a blast with QuickSpot.

RaceDriver.jpgRace Driver: Create & Race (E) – Hardcore racing enthusiasts on the lookout for a feature-packed racing sim for the DS will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven after they pop Create & Race into their handheld and rev it up for the first time. I don’t think I’ve seen a DS racer yet that looks as impressive, runs and controls as smooth, and has as exhilarating a sense of speed as this, nor has one been as jam-packed with content. Officially licensed tracks and cars abound, and a robust, simple-to-use track designer, coupled with the ability to share and play created courses online with up to four players, solidify this title’s spot as the DS’ racing game king.

NeedForSpeed.jpgNeed for Speed ProStreet – (E) Now here’s how to do a great DS racer! Slick graphics, an excellent sense of speed, a dozen licensed cars and some choice music tracks help set this one atop the pack. There’s a silly music-based mini-game in here that’s not so bad after you get used to it, but it’s the only odd thing about this winner. Multiplayer is cool as well – you can play online with four other drivers or with up to eight live players sharing a single card download. The game loses some features from last year’s NFS game, but in terms of overall impact, ProStreet is definitely the better game.

NamcoMuseumDS.jpgNamco Museum DS (E) – While this collection has a mere eight games to choose from, the amount of customizable options is staggering, offering up screen size selections, dip switches and tons of gameplay options that should please any player. While the seven classics are solid, it’s the revamped Pac-Man VS. that shines here if you happen to have three other friends with the game and a DS. The game is a complete hoot, a virtual Tag where one person is Pac-Man and the other ghosts. Get caught, and you swap out positions until the game is over. A game or two of this and you’ll be grinning from ear to ear and back for more.

KonamiClassics.jpgKonami Classics Series: Arcade Hits (E) – A nice selection of 15 hits from the 80’s, this great set will either make you feel really ancient or make you realize that there’s more to gaming that just a billion polygons all over the place and online this or that. Yup, Contra is here, as is Gradius, Roc ‘N Rope, Pooyan and the either annoying or classic (depending on your controller skills) Yie Ar Kung Fu among others. The amount of bonuses is pretty staggering and there are also gameplay options galore so you can tailor each title to your liking. Some great multiplayer modes and Wi-Fi play for your friends who haven’t yet bought this one make for a solid purchase.

NYTimesCrosswords.jpgThe New York Times Crossword Puzzles (E) – Quietly released in May by Majesco, this is one of those games that’s a great idea done to perfection. Even if you have no interest in crossword puzzles, this is such a fantastically addictive, well-produced game that it’ll turn you into a wordy egghead with a dictionary as a pet after a few minutes. Of course, fans of one of the world’s most challenging word puzzles will be in heaven as the game’s 1,000 grids will have you playing for good long time and going back again and again. One of the most engaging DS games, a must buy and a solid Game of the Year contender if you’re not interested in any of the fantasy-based hits or other genres on the handheld.

UltimateMK.jpgUltimate Mortal Kombat (M) – If you like your fighting games gory and hellishly difficult, Ultimate Mortal Kombat is the game for you. Midway has done a splendid job porting Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 down to the DS and updating the fondly remembered fighter with Wi-Fi online play and helpful use of the top screen to provide combo and fatality command lists so you never have to worry about forgetting the button combinations. Puzzle Kombat has even been packed in as a nice extra bonus to toy with when you aren’t mutilating opposing fighters. One word of caution, though. UMK is unrelentingly brutal, with AI that is downright cheap even on the lesser difficulty settings. So if you frustrate easy, you may want to pass, otherwise you’ll probably be asking for a new DS Lite next holiday season, if you know what I mean…

BleachBladeOfFate.jpgBleach: Blade of Fate (T) – At the other end of the spectrum from UMK, Bleach is a blazingly fast anime fighter that’s much more user friendly and awash of any type of graphic violence. While the Wii version didn’t turn out quite so hot, Blade of Fate brings the popular Bleach anime series to the portable gaming scene with tremendous visual flair, fluid, multi-plane gameplay and a TON of play modes, including a full story mode and four-player online battles. Bleach fan or not, this is one of the DS’ finest fighters.

MarioParty.jpgMario Party DS (E) – For as much as Nintendo has milked the Mario Party brand on consoles, it’s quite shocking that it took this long to get the series onto a handheld. But nevertheless, Mario Party has indeed made its debut DS appearance at long last, and love it or hate it, the familiar Mario Party formula works its magic once again. Over 70 mini-games have been crammed onto the cartridge, all utilizing the touch-screen, microphone and dual display hardware capabilities to their utmost potential. On top of that, multiplayer supports single-card download play, so you and up to three friends can have a ball all with a single copy, sweet!

Dementium.jpgDementium: The Ward (M) – As far as atmosphere and 3D graphics go, Dementium is a showpiece for just how incredible a DS game can look if pushed to the max. This survival horror FPS from Renegade Kid and Gamecock is a technical marvel, plain and simple. Thankfully, the gameplay is solid too thanks to the best touch-screen FPS controls ever and cool boss fights. As long as you don’t mind walking through some heavily recycled level designs, Dementium will scare the bejesus out of you from start to finish.

TouchDetective2.jpgTouch Detective 2 ½ (E) – Star sleuth Mackenzie and her fungal sidekick Funghi return with their charming cast of goofy pals for another round of crime solving in this improved follow-up to Atlus’ original DS point-and-click adventure. On the surface, Touch Detective 2 ½ may look like the same game as its predecessor, but believe me, it’s everything a sequel should be: better story, a more cohesive game structure, longer running time, more unlockable content and bonus missions, even wittier humor and memorable new characters, all wrapped up in that gorgeously distinctive Touch Detective art style. A niche title for sure, but super nonetheless.

LifeSigns.jpgLifeSigns: Surgical Unit (T) – At first glance, you’re probably thinking LifeSigns is some cheap knockoff of Trauma Center. But let me tell you what, if that thought came to mind you better think again, because this is very much its own game and every bit as compelling as Atlus’ hit medial drama. This surprising gem from Dreamcatcher is very much a simulation, with far more realistic surgical situations than the somewhat outlandish arcadey surgeries found in Trauma Center. What’s also really cool is the added depth of adventure-type elements, as you move around the hospital, talk to NPCs to advance the story, and actually interview and run tests on patients to diagnose their ailment before taking the scalpel to them. Anyone craving a game different from the norm should find LifeSigns a refreshing change of pace.

front mission DS.JPGFront Mission (E 10+) – The 1996 Super Famicom classic finally lands on US shores and for turn-based strategy fans, it’s sheer mech-building bliss. A cast of interesting friendly and enemy characters (all designed by Yoshitaka Amano) gives the game more emotional pull than the Advance Wars games, and in terms of combat, you’ll do your best at making sure your troops pull though each mission successfully. In addition to the original OCS campaign, there’s an all-new scenario that lets you play as the USN forces in a parallel storyline. There’s also a two-player battle mode here, but you’ll get the most enjoyment from the main game’s length (and well-written script). If you’ve played the other US-released Front Mission games, you’ll probably find that some elements come off a bit better in this first entry. For example, clean 2D visuals that don’t suffer from the polygon issues found in FM3 and the ability to take more units into battle. Overall, this is quite an excellent choice for SRPG fans and hopefully, we’ll see Front Mission: Gun Hazard, Front Mission Alternative or even Front Mission 2 ported to the DS or PSP at some point.

mazes of fate.JPGMazes of Fate (T) – OK, it came out last December and it’s for the late Game Boy Advance, but this game is a really great RPG that fans of games such as classics such as Dungeon Master or recent games like Orcs & Elves will find to be quite exciting despite some flaws here and there. A combination of pseudo 3D dungeons packed with monsters and a 2D overworld map, MOF’s appeal lies in uncovering more and more of its plot as you progress. Multiple paths based on your dialog choices can net you goodies or get you booted out of a town and some of the dungeons will require you to deal with enemies that can wipe you out in a hit or two if you’re unprepared. With a DS update in the works, definitely seek this one out if you’re a fan of PC-style role-playing.

– Guide co-written by Matt Litten and Greg Wilcox

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!