If you haven’t noticed, I love video games. I love them if they’re good, bad, stupid, artsy, exploitative, gory, perverse, disgusting, half-assed, glitchy, popular, unpopular, or just damn pointless. If the game’s fun, I’ll play it. But you know what games I really love? (Pause, allowing time to guess/build tension). Games that don’t look or sound like much but end up being awesome. There’s just a certain kind of satisfaction I get when I accidentally find the next obscure hit. These are the games you pick up for whatever reason without really knowing anything about them: They looked good, they looked stupid, you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, you lost a bet, you blacked out again because they just don’t make enough booze to drown the sorrow, etc.
This is a good start.
Whatever the case may be, you now have this odd, unfamiliar game sitting in your collection or on your bathroom floor next to some vomit. It doesn’t rank very high on your “Games to Play” list, but it piques your interest solely on the fact that it exists. After vainly scrubbing the shame off from the night before, you lethargically pop the game in, only to be overwhelmed by its greatness. These unexpected surprises, or hidden gems, make playing and collecting video games such a great and worthwhile hobby, and the DS especially had a ton of hidden gems.
Recently, I’d made a post showcasing some DS games that weren’t exactly terrible, but they didn’t really meet my expectations. This post is the exact opposite. This post focuses on the unexpectedly good DS games: The games for which I had low expectations but ultimately got blown away by how freaking fun they were. The Bizarro Top Ten DS Game Disappointments, if you will.
I regret every second I spent making this pic.
The rules are simple: I had to have owned the game, I had to have had low expectations, and I had to have loved the game. The following are my Top Ten DS Game Hidden Gems.
10.) Zoo Keeper
The gameplay for Zoo Keeper isn’t anything revolutionary. If you’ve ever played Bejeweled, then you’ve played Zoo Keeper. Or have you!? Granted, the “Match-3-Whatsits” formula is pretty dated, but ZK keeps it fresh by adding what every good game needs: terrible, incoherent Engrish. Seriously, your boss in the game is completely nuts or completely brilliant; I couldn’t tell because I was always too busy laughing. Whatever he was, he was at least amazing, and I actually looked forward to losing because his ridiculous rants would be what greeted me at the Game Over screen.
This isn’t Engrish, but it’s still great.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember what he says, but I remember it never making sense. For example, the one I can recall off the top of my head is him telling me to “Go jump out in the sun all day!” I have no idea what that could possibly do, but I did it anyway. He’s the boss.
Just like one.
I suppose this game is really only awesome because it’s so damn charming, though Bejeweled-type games are always fun enough. I love its blocky art style, and I loved the description of the animals in the instruction manual. It’d actually tell you about their personality like it was a dating-game profile. I think the elephant’s said something around the lines of “Loves poetry and keeps to himself.” It was completely unnecessary, but outstanding nonetheless. The game’s music was unnecessary, too, but that shit could have been cut out as far as I’m concerned. My sister-in-law used to play ZK with the volume at full blast because I hated the music so much. It’s seriously only 2 notes playing the whole time with someone farting on a keyboard every so often or something. No shit. It’s awful. Thank God for the volume switch because without it this game wouldn’t be on this list.
9.) Puzzle Expedition
Puzzle Expedition was a surprisingly deep and addictive game, especially coming from Mumbo Jumbo. Mumbo Jumbo is known for its mediocre casual games, and it was this stigma that kept me away from PE for so long. When I finally found the game cheap, I picked it up and let it collect dust on my shelf for awhile. But when I finally decided to give the game a proper go, I was hooked.
I ain’t got time for PB & Crack! I got some more Puzzle Expedition to play!
I love puzzle games that get me thinking, and PE keep me on my toes. Essentially, you have a character on both screens that help each other out by pressing buttons or switches on their screen to manipulate some doodad on the other’s screen. Most of the puzzles revolve around this mechanic and a whole lot of pushing and climbing. Although the sprites are small, the game isn’t too straining on the eyes. It’s deceptively difficult, making finding solutions that much more satisfying, and a it’s blast to play.
This game’s story is as stupid as it is pointlessly long and hilarious. It’s been a looooong time since I played Trioncube, but I’ll never forget feeling like the game would never end. This wasn’t that terrible since the premise and story were so entertaining. I remember there being a kidnapped princess (how could one forget!) and her father asking some blond guy to save her, which meant you had to journey into space with your giant-penguin rocket because she was kidnapped by none other than Hell Metal, the Gothic kidnapper guy!
Whoever gets this reference is METAL AS HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
With his giant-penguin rocket, the blond guy can begin his intergalactic chase after Hell Metal. But how can one pursue without fuel for one’s giant-penguin rocket? Trioncube has you covered. In order for the guy to get fuel for his giant-penguin rocket, you must play a weird Tetris clone! I say it’s weird because I thought it was fun despite being a bit derivative, but it was still weird and had a giant-penguin rocket. For instance, the blocks vaguely resembled the ones from Tetris, but they’d have a space missing or they’d be missing a square or something like that. In any case, the game differentiated itself from its source material by having you create squares to gain points instead of clearing lines and having a giant-penguin rocket. Ultimately, it turned out to be fun. Combined with its strange story, giant-penguin rocket, and child-like aesthetics, Trioncube is a pleasure to experience.
7.) Puchi Puchi Virus
I’m going to be honest here: I felt dirty/ridiculous buying this game. It’s impossible to be taken seriously as an adult when you ask the chick at the register for a game called Puchi Puchi Virus. If memory serves, I’m pretty sure she eyed me like I had just asked her to give me a venereal disease. But, being the good sport she was, she sold me the game and gave me the clap anyway.
There’s nothing like a standing ovation for a great game.PPV is a difficult game to describe. It’s a puzzle game that puts you in a doctor’s shoes who, along with his hot, blonde nurse and giant chicken, has been tasked to rid the world of a virus that’s turning people into anthropomorphic animals with terrible puns for names. I apologize that that last sentence exists. Anyway, the play field is a petri dish filled with virii (Tangent at bottom of post) of multiple colors. The object of the game is to do whatever task is given to you for that level, such as get so many points in X amount of time or get an X Chain, before the virii overwhelm the patient. To kill virii, you must poke 3 like-colored virii with your stylus to create a transparent triangle. The bigger, the better. Poke one of the virii that you used to create the triangle and every virus in the transparent area will be destroyed. The game gets really addicting once you figure out how to chain, which I didn’t, but I pulled some off occasionally and loved it every time. The game is incredibly fast-paced and challenging. It’s also very colorful, bright, and lighthearted. Any puzzle fan should definitely check it out. Did I mention one of the nurses was a giant chicken? And it has nothing to do with the virus. She’s always been a chicken. Ah, video games.
6.) Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ
I kept pushing Little Red Ridding Hood’s Zombie BBQ aside for a couple of reasons: a. I’m so freaking sick of zombies, especially in video games, and b. the ridiculously long title just looked like a desperate attempt to grab someone’s attention. Well, it worked, and I finally popped the game in; and it was awesome.
With a zombie Santa, was there any doubt?
The plot is zombies take over fairytale land and Little Red Ridding Hood and Momotaro must fix it. That alone is pretty intriguing, but the execution was spectacular. I loved seeing zombie versions of Grandma and Pinocchio and the Three Little Pigs. It was so funny and awesome at the same time. The gameplay wasn’t too shabby either. Your character constantly walked up towards the top of the screen, and you poked and held down your stylus to shoot your machine gun at zombies or poked a spot to do a dodge roll. It all worked out very well.
My only real complaint is that the levels were too long. It always sucks when a game wears out its welcome. Other than that, LRRHZBBQ (might as well type out the title, sheesh!) is a great romp. Multiple weapons, power ups, and bombs make for some zombie-slaying fun.
5.) Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night
Holy shit, Barnyard Blast: Swine of the Night is so good, especially if you’re an old-school gamer. The game is full of gaming in-jokes and references, and it’s so self-aware you’d swear it was sitting next to you laughing as you played it. Also, it’s a freaking Castlevania parody/homage. How great is that? Very, that’s how great.
As soon as you start the game, hilarity ensues. The plot is stupid as hell, and it was set up to be. You’re the gun-slinging, whip-wielding pig on the cover named Robert Belmart, an obvious play on the Belmont Clan from Castlevania, whose son was kidnapped for tee-peeing the dark castle of an Evil Lord.
I say the same thing when I can’t find my kids. My wife is never amused.
Belmart must go to the rescue, but not before some deliciously funny dialogue with his wife, which includes a Zelda reference and a line that turns a lame joke into something epic. Basically, Belmart says he’s going out to meet his destiny and that he may not return. His wife asks him to get bread on his way home. Belmart responds: “The time for bread has passed. Perhaps forever.” I don’t know why, but that cracked me up. Add in a bunch of other gaming references and allusions, my favorite being from Sunset Riders, and you got yourself a game worthy of nerdgasms.
For you young ‘uns out there, this is THE phrase from Sunset Riders.
There’s a lot of other things to love about this game, such as the gameplay. The controls could be tighter, but I never felt like I didn’t have control over my pig. Other than that, there are no complaints from me. I mean, it plays like an old-school, linear Castlevania. Hell, even the difficulty’s there; BB is hard as shit. Thankfully, the game is only 6 stages long. Still, I remember times when I wanted to chuck my DS because the game would be a little unfair with its enemy placement and cheap deaths.
But I always got lazy and stabbed it instead.
Also, you have an infinite supply of bullets but a finite amount of whip smacks. I don’t know if this was intentional, but I’d like to think that they’re poking fun at older games’ video-game logic. BB isn’t for everyone, but I’d say give it a try if you’re not a pussy, and you like to laugh.
4.) Aliens: Infestation
I know what you’re thinking: Licensed game? Pass! But that’s exactly my point! Aliens: Infestation is a damn good game, especially because it breaks the First Commandment of Video Games: “Thou Shalt Not Play Licensed Games post-N64 Era.”
Other Commandments include “Fuck Year-Old Sports Games” and “Boo! Game Stop for some reason.”
What really grabbed my attention about Aliens: Infestation was the fact that WayForward developed it. If you don’t know who they are, please go to the nearest gas-station bathroom and slit your wrists because they are that important! Anyway, WayForward is one of my favorite developers. They develop games using strictly 2D hand-drawn sprites, and they are good at what they do. Aliens: Infestation benefits greatly from their expertise. The character models look amazing and true to their source material, and the animation is top notch. The atmosphere, environment, and music combine to create a foreboding sense of isolation and tension, really giving the Metroid franchise a run for its money.
Though Metroid still wins the “Misogyny” category.
The one downside is that the game’s criminally short. I’m pretty sure I beat it in under 3 hours. But that doesn’t make it a bad game. I actually replayed it right after I beat it, just ’cause. There were no incentives in replaying; I just thought the game was fun. Also, the ending could have been better, but that’s invalid, considering Holy Light of Demons’s “Requiem” plays during the credits.
Go play this game immediately. It’s totally worth the 2-3 bathroom sessions it’ll take to clear it.
3.) Monster Tale
DreamRift, the developer behind the sublime Henry Hatsworth, really did a great job with Monster Tale, and I’d like to give them some kudos for sticking to their guns and keeping the protagonist as a little girl. The Border House Blog wrote an interesting article, referring to and adding to another article, about how we (the gaming industry and its core demographic) need more strong, un-sexualized (emphasis added), female leads in video games along with other forms of diversity such as homosexual leads. In the article, Peter Ong, Monster Tale‘s director, talks about how he fought to keep the lead a female. Though some of his reasoning was largely sexist (women are more nurturing and whatnot), he stated that he wanted to do something different because adding a little boy with a monster companion was predictable and tired.
But kick ass all the same.
I’m glad Ong was so adamant about keeping Ellie, the protagonist of Monster Tale, a female in order to be different, but I honestly think the game would have stuck out anyway. The game is just so damn charming with its lighthearted plot and amazing 2D graphics. But its most salient feature would have to be how it mashes-up two genres to make a whole new, cohesive experience.
The top screen is dedicated to the Metroidvania-game world where all the action takes place, and the bottom screen is reserved for raising your monster, Chomp, in a Tomagotchi-like fashion. And all this is done in real time. With a press of a button, Chomp can leap to the top screen to crush Ellie’s enemies, see them driven before her, and listen to the lamentation of their women!
Chomp! What is best in life?
Though Ellie is a complete bad-ass, Chomp is an essential part to the team. He can hit switches on the bottom screen and do moves that just kick ass. The best part: any move he masters can be taken to another form. And he has many forms, each with its own stats and abilities (active and support). The monster-building mechanic is unexpectedly deep and delightfully rewarding. I know what you’re thinking: A Metroidvania game where you have to watch two screens and manage a monster? That sounds like too much work. It does sound like too much, but it’s really not, mostly because the game is easy.
MT‘s easy difficulty is its biggest weakness. The game holds your hand the entire time, eliminating a lot of what makes a Metroidvania game so fun. All points of interest are marked on the map, making the game feel much more linear than any other game of its ilk. I never really had to think too hard to get where I was going, and I don’t remember any enemies or bosses giving me too much trouble.
Despite this, I loved MT a lot. Pick it up and give it a run through. Just know that you play as a little girl. If that bothers you, play some Motorhead on your iPod. Everything is 10x manlier with Lemmy barking in the background.
2.) Ivy the Kiwi?
Ivy the Kiwi? wins just for having its title be a question. In a world where titles seldom have any punctuation, Ivy the Kiwi? blazes a new path! Or not. I don’t think too many people played the game. It’s a shame because I’m so freaking gay for this game you wouldn’t even believe it!
That’s just not gay enough.
Ivy, the protagonist and proposed kiwi, was designed by Yuji Naka, one of the co-creators of Sonic the Hedgehog (remember when he was a big deal?). I’m not a Sonic fan (I was raised during the 16-bit wars. Also, his games are terrible), but it’s something special to see the man who helped to create Mario’s biggest rival back in the game. Thankfully, this time Naka decided to make a game that was fun and unique.
Taking a page from Sonic, Ivy the Kiwi? is fast-paced. Ivy continues to move forward briskly, and it’s your job to use your stylus to create vines to block, guide, and slingshot her to safety. Along the way, there are rats, crows, spikes, and water droplets to impede your progress as well as a timer to add a little extra pressure. Also, there are feathers to pick up, 10 for each level. Collecting all the feathers is extremely challenging and unlocks more levels and the true ending. The ending itself isn’t too substantial; in fact, I guessed correctly what Ivy really was as soon as I read the title. That’s right; I was smarter than a plot made for children, and I’ve never been more proud!
Multiplication table? I already got that shit down, stupid ass!
The fun in Ivy the Kiwi? comes from getting good at the game, which is something I don’t see too much in games nowadays. Starting ITK is awkward, to say the least. You have to “click-and-drag” using the stylus to create vines to help Ivy along the way. But, because she’s perpetually moving, it can be hard and intimidating. After awhile, you start to get good at it. Eventually, you’ll replay a level and completely kick its ass with skills you’ve learned while playing more advanced levels. The best part is that you had these skill from the get-go. Every tool you utilize to better yourself in ITK has been with you since the beginning, and you’ve unlocked them yourself. Ivy never gets better through leveling up or from finding in-game enhancements. The player is the one who gets better and faster. And since the game is played much more kinesthetically than most games, that sense of accomplishment is just that much more rewarding.
I’m good at a Vidja Gaymez!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ivy the Kiwi? wouldn’t be so rewarding if it weren’t so frustrating. The game can be a cakewalk but, if you’re a completionist like me, gathering those feathers can make it way more difficult. Moreover, fuck rocks. Guiding Ivy and manipulating a boulder simultaneously is one of the most cuss-worthy things you will ever do in your life. Boulders are needed to bust open walls that block your way, and getting one over to a wall while making a bird that won’t stop dodge a bunch of crap can give you an aneurism.
Frustration aside, Ivy the Kiwi? is one of my favorite games in the past decade and deserves more attention. Do yourself a favor a get this game. From its storybook aesthetic to its wonderfully childlike soundtrack, Ivy the Kiwi? is a game that everybody should experience.
I don’t know what Shawnimals is, but I don’t need to know to play Ninjatown because Ninjatown is awesome! It’s a tower-defense game that doesn’t use towers. Instead, it uses ninjas, which are much more threatening than towers, though these ninjas are adorable.
Like most things French, it doesn’t stand a chance.
There really isn’t much Ninjatown has that isn’t offered by other tower-defense experiences. You have your building phase, your attack phase, your waves, and then your building phase again. What Ninjatown does have is a great sense of humor (Business Ninjas!), a narrative (also funny), adorableness, and great sense of character. You don’t have to sit there and watch projectiles shoot out of a boring tower. Instead. you’re privileged with watching ninjas punching things in the face (and shooting projectiles, but when those projectiles are snowballs hurled by adorable ninjas, c’mon!).
There are other oddities that make Ninjatown well worth finding and playing, such as the ninja baby that’s so cute enemies have to slow down, and the ninja poo that smells so bad it actually drains enemies of their life. There’s just so much allure and appeal to Ninjatown that I genuinely can’t think of a reason to not like it. It’s challenging but never frustrating, it’s fun and funny, and the controls are just superb. If for some reason you’re deterred by the game’s appearance, quite being such a bastard and just try it. It most definitely is THE hidden gem of the DS library.
And that’s my Top Ten DS Hidden Gems. There are so many more games for the DS that didn’t make my list but are still great. If there are some games not on here that you think should be, just keep in mind I still have a couple more lists I’m going to post. They just may be on one of those lists. Until next time, thanks for your reading!
Tangent: I use the word “virii” for the plural of “virus” in this post because that’s what the game Puchi Puchi Virus uses; however, I’ve read many sources state that “virii” is not a word unless used in IT and programming because “virus” was a mass noun in Latin, which is where we derive plurals for words that end in “-us.” Being a mass noun, there isn’t a plural form; ergo, since pluralizing “virus” would in fact create a new English word, the new word must adhere to English conventions, e.g. to pluralize an English word that ends in “-s” you must add “-es.” Personally, I find both ways to pluralize “-us” words to be fine (colossi/colossuses, octopi/octopuses, syllabi/syllabuses, etc.), but my preference is adding “-es” to these words, excluding “colossus.” I’ve no valid reason to give “colossi” an exception; it’s just what I like. For more on “virii vs viruses,” go here.
Also, I was JK on the Other M/Misogyny joke. I loved that game, and I think people take that argument too far.