Monday, April 17, 2006

Casual Games On The Go

If you’re a casual gamer and want to play some great games on the go then look no further than the Nintendo DS. Out of all the consoles the DS is shaping up as the ideal casual gamer machine.

But if you don’t have one yet then wait until the DS Lite is released in the next few months. It comes in 3 colors, including iPod white, and has been physically redesigned so that it looks less like a toy and more like a “grown up” accessory. You won’t feel embarrassed pulling one of these out of your briefcase or handbag. It’s also slightly smaller and lighter plus it has an awesome screen that is so amazingly vibrant when compared to the original DS. Oh, and it uses a touch screen so it’s second nature to anyone who uses a mouse - so don’t worry about having to learn to use a joypad.

But the hardware is secondary, what makes this a great machine is the games. And for the casual gamer you’ll find a huge collection of stuff with lots of appeal.

First up is the granddaddy of puzzle games, Tetris. The DS has built in wi-fi, which means you can play against people in the same room, or if you have net access, against people from around the world. In fact a lot of the games have some form of wi-fi multiplayer functionality that really enhances the gameplay.

Next up is Nintendogs, the virtual puppy simulator that inspired the casual game Puppy Luv. It’s a simple concept - you look after a virtual puppy teaching it to do tricks and taking it for walks. Because it uses a touch screen you can pat the puppy on screen with your finger or stylus. The DS also has a built in microphone so you can also give your puppy commands by voice.

For fans of match-3 games you can choose Zoo Keeper or Pokemon Trozei. And because the DS uses a touch screen these games are right at home on the machine - just drag and swap your jewels using the stylus.

If you’re a Zuma, Luxor, Tumblebugs, et al, fan then the upcoming Magnetica will keep you happy. This is an update on the classic 1998 Puzz Loop game that inspired the current batch of match-3 looping ball games.

And if you want something a little different, then check out Animal Crossing. A whimsical game in which you spend your time growing fruit, catching insects, buying furniture and running errands in a small town populated by animals.

Then of course there’s Brain Age. Full of tons of mind-bending puzzles to test your intelligence it also features Sudoku. The idea is that by doing quick reading and mathematic exercises everyday you’ll stimulate your brain and reduce your “brain age”.

I’ve only touched on a number of games on offer and there are many more that are so different to what we’re used to seeing. A few examples are Phoenix Wright in which you play a lawyer, Trauma Center where you play a doctor performing surgery, Electroplankton where you stimulate plankton to make music, and Rub Rabbits where you try and find true love.

Like casual games, all of these titles are great for people with limited time who don’t want to delve into a 20 hour game experience. You can play for ten minutes a day and still feel like you’ve achieved something. And the best part is if the phone rings, or the bus arrives, or the baby cries - you can just close the case and the machine goes to sleep - ready to keep playing when you return. Incredibly convenient!

But what I’m really interested in is whether there will be much of an exchange between the Nintendo DS and the casual games market. There are so many interesting things being done in both spaces that could easily transfer between the two. Here’s hoping.

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