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A cat picture? On the Internet?
With the 3DS on the horizon, Nintendo’s greatest handheld yet, the DS, nears its twilight years in terms of triple-A releases. Personally, I’ll remember the DS as the platform where I first discovered Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, Level-5’s Professor Layton, and dozens of other amazing and popular titles. However, the DS also has a lot of great games that, for whatever reason, weren’t commercial successful in one territory or another, or that publishers simply deemed too risky to bring over in the first place.
Some of these games, I imagine, you haven’t even played (although I could be wrong — maybe you're on the cutting edge of import soccer RPGs, like me!). After the jump, my five favorites.
Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure
Developer: EA Tiburon | Publisher: EA
Henry Hatsworth was a charming puzzle-platformer born in the wrong era. Its fusion of platforming on the top screen with a block puzzle on the lower screen — and the interactivity between the two — won over critics and players. However, the number of paying customers in that latter category was just way too small.
With only five worlds, limited replay value, and relatively simple gameplay, Henry Hatsworth kind of felt like something you’d find for 10 bucks on a digital download service. However, it was a traditional retail game, with all the drawbacks that such a distribution model entails for a niche title: it was hard to find and too expensive, and its publisher, EA, understandably sent it out to die.
If Nintendo had introduced a digital download service for all DS systems from day one, Henry Hatsworth may have found its place as one of the system’s most-talked-about games. In the end, it was relegated to the bargain bin fairly quickly, where it’s now long forgotten and sells for next to nothing on eBay.
Maybe in the future, when Nintendo (inevitably?) offers full DS games to be downloaded to the 3DS, Henry Hatsworth may find the audience it deserves.
The World Ends With You
Developer: Square Enix/Jupiter | Publisher: Square Enix
It should've been a complete and utter mess. The World Ends With You merged simultaneous gameplay on both screens, trendy Japanese fashion, and an otherworldly dimension resting side by side with the living world that was not just full of monsters, but also the setting of a sick game designed to test humanity’s worth. Somehow, Square Enix stitched it all together to make one of the most unique games I’ve ever experienced.
The switch from stylus-slashing action on the bottom screen to button pressing on the top was more daunting than actually difficult, but it served as a barrier to many players who feared that they may suck at the game before even giving it a whirl. These fears were largely unfounded — competent AI took over control of the top screen if things started to get too confusing or frustrating.
Though the game enjoyed reasonable success in North America and Japan, it monumentally tanked in Europe. It might've done far better everywhere if the DS had the infrastructure to allow people who were enchanted by its art style and music, yet put off by its potentially confusing gameplay, to actually try the thing via a demo.
OK, so I’ve cheated a little here; this is actually two games, but they’re two fantastic titles from the same series. Set in a rundown hotel near LA in 1979, Hotel Dusk told the story of Kyle Hyde, an ex-cop who was looking for his long lost partner, Bradley. He worked as a salesman for a company called Red Crown, but as a business on the side, the company had its people find things that were hard to acquire. Such business brought Kyle to Hotel Dusk, where he uncovered a secret somehow tied to his and Bradley’s past.
Like CiNG’s previous DS adventure, Trace Memory (called Another Code in Europe and Japan), you maneuvered Kyle around the hotel via the top-down map on the DS’s touch screen. Unlike in Trace Memory, however, Hotel Dusk ditched pre-rendered scenery for 3D-rendered environments that responded in real time on the top screen. This allowed players to navigate the dilapidated hotel more easily and find all its secrets.
Another idiosyncracy — unlike most DS games, you played Hotel Dusk by holding the DS on its side, book-style. It worked well with the game’s aesthetic, even if it was (arguably) a gimmicky advertising ploy.
Hotel Dusk delivered an interesting mystery adventure, with a great cast of characters, snappy, authentic dialogue, and a pleasing, rotoscoped art style reminiscent of a-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ video. After disappointing initial sales Nintendo of America really didn’t support it after launch, and while they eventually re-released the game in their Touch! Generations line, the spark had long fizzled.
Interestingly enough, Nintendo of Europe threw a pretty big marketing campaign behind Hotel Dusk, with TV and magazine ads, and the game enjoyed reasonable success. NOE took on translation duties for the sequel, Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, and put an even bigger marketing drive behind it in a season dominated by releases like Halo, Call of Duty, and Professor Layton.
Continuing where Hotel Dusk left off, Last Window went through much of the same motions of the original: It set an enjoyable adventure in a building that’s like Hotel Dusk only a bit larger, with characters that felt like Hotel Dusk’s original cast but not quite as interesting. Dealing with themes of endings and departures, Last Window was a fitting swan song from CiNG to their loyal fans.
Unfortunately, considering how little life the DS has left, it’s looking more and more unlikely that Last Window will find its way to America, so fans of the original will have to import it from Europe to get one last Kyle Hyde fix.
Developer: Nude Maker/Platinum Games | Publisher: Sega
A sci-fi epic rolled up into the most hardcore of hardcore RPGs, Infinite Space is nothing like developer Platinum Games’ other titles, which are renown for their stylish gameplay, elegant controls, and tight structure. Spanning across two galaxies, Infinite Space took you through a system-hopping space-opera RPG whose scale puts games like Mass Effect to shame.
With hundreds of crew members to recruit and just as many parts with which to build your first spaceship, Infinite Space dropped you into the deep end, and for the first few hours of this incredibly long adventure, it did feel like you were trying to keep your head above water. A counter-intuitive and, quite frankly, ugly interface didn't help — it created a disconnect between the player and the main character in all aspects, from ship combat to exploring your own spacecraft.
Getting past these hurdles opened the door to a rewarding, long, and incredibly fun RPG that would keep you and your DS busy for many hours. While it’s very Japanese in its visual presentation, you don’t get many space operas that rival the size and scope of Infinite Space. In short, it's like Battlecruiser 3000AD, only good. Fans of JRPGs should’ve snapped this one up instantly, and though sales in Japan were decent, it failed to make a dent internationally.
Developer: Level-5 | Publisher: Nintendo Europe
Inazuma Eleven is the Holy Grail of untranslated DS games right now, just as Mother 3 was for the Game Boy Advance and Policenauts was for PSone (both of which, incidentally, have awesome fan translation patches now). Released to Japanese audiences in 2008 by developer Level-5, Inazuma Eleven is a soccer RPG.
Soccer? RPG? Seriously, it works. Using the stylus to control your team in a sort of middle ground between the strategy of a management sim and the direct control of something like FIFA, you played soccer with at least some of the traditional rules. However, it also combined the exaggerated special abilities and stats of an RPG to put a unique spin on both genres. Also, just like in other RPGs, you could explore the world and recruit other players.
While I’ve only played the Japanese version for a couple of hours, the vibe I got was the soccer-game version of the incredibly goofy anime, The Prince of Tennis. It looked like a bit of light-hearted fun, with hyperbolic strikes and saves and without the usual respect for the rules or realism that one would normally expect from a soccer game, coupled together with a unique battle mode in the form of matches against other teams.
Despite the pleas of English-speaking gamers in forums across the Internet, nobody has stepped up to localize the game. Level-5 happily developed two sequels and an upcoming Wii spinoff called Inazuma Eleven Strikers without any international releases planned.
When Inazuma Eleven’s fate seemed written in stone, news broke that the game would see a January 2011 European release (and presumably an official English translation) after all! In what seems to be a last hurrah — or a thank you for buying the quirky Japanese games that they’d taken a risk on (such as Hotel Dusk and Professor Layton) — Nintendo of Europe are rolling the dice on this unique DS franchise in the hope of carving out a new and profitable niche.
Do you think I’ve left a certain great-yet-unpopular, or untranslated DS game out? Let me know in the comments!