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Tonight I want to take a look at an entry from the cult classic fighting series Guilty Gear. This particular entry is a seldom-talked about spin-off title and no, I’m not talking about that 3D game that was more of a beat’em up than it was a fighter. No. This is Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers for the Nintendo DS.

The Guilty Gear series is known for a robust fighting system and some of the smoothest mechanics in the genre. Is Dust Strikers (damn it Nintendo! Stop incorporating the system name into the game titles) a worthy entry in the series? Or should Dust Strikers merely collect dust on a shelf somewhere?

One thing that the Guilty Gear series is known for is the deep, complex and compelling (and confusing) story arc involving the war between humanity and human made monsters known as Gears. With Dust Strikers being a spin-off title however, the epic and multiple path stories have been taken out of the equation. They have been replaced with simple interactions between four characters, complete with witty exchanges. I like this idea. It’s not exactly cannon but this is meant to be a spin-off after all, so this gives new players a chance to have some fun without being left in the dark. Although playing other entries in the series does help with understanding some of the references. The one overly down note I can think of when it comes to the Story mode is that a lot of the bits of dialogue and encounters are repeated in the stories of different fighters.

(If this were a play, I'd go see it)

Musically the game is solid. It’s not quite as awesome as some of the other entries in the series, mainly because the soundtrack mainly contains the metal inspired goodness from said games. However, there are a few unique tracks featured here but they are mostly featured in the Mini-Games and Robo-Ky sections. These tracks are actually quite upbeat and cheery, which is unusual for Guilty Gear but this is a spin-off rather than a full-fledged part of the series cannon. Besides, these tracks are OK. Not great but certainly not bad either.

But there is one thing about the audio that flat out sucks and that is the fact that the voice acting has been removed. The entries in the main series would have the original Japanese voice acting to accompany the English text in the Story Mode. It adds a lot to the series’ unique and I think that some of its charm has been removed from this spin-off title without it. But at least the announcer’s voice is still present.

I can’t talk about the game’s graphics without mentioning one of the main aspects of the gameplay because in Dust Strikers, they happen to go hand and hand. You see the gameplay style is loosely based on the Super Smash Bros. lay out. Anywhere between 2-4 fighters will face each other at any given time. As they duke it out, they will be jumping between a series of platforms. How does this effect the graphics? It effects both the character and level designs. With the size of the DS screens and considering that there is so much happening on the screen, the levels have been condensed (and slightly blurred) when compared to the other entries in the series. To make up for this, each level now has an upper level, which is shown on the top screen.

The character designs have taken a hit as well. In the console entries of the series, the characters are highly detailed and well-animated anime characters. Those exact same character models are used here as well but in an effort to make several fit onto the DS screen at one time, the have been shrunken down considerably. So, instead of being highly polished anime characters, they are somewhat blurry little sprites. But they are still very well animated.

Now I shouldn’t be completely dissing the game’s level design work because even though they are condensed, the backgrounds of each level are still drawn very well. Whether it is a Gothic inspired church, a military facility, a theater or a rural European village, each of these backdrops are just great to look at and really do match the game’s atmosphere to a tie.

(Jam and Sol fight for their supper as May lays out Potemkin with her anchor)

One more thing I should note before moving onto a more descriptive look at the gameplay, is the artwork used for the endings of each fighter. Guilty Gear is a series known for its slick anime style, which includes some really nice artwork that is used to paint the scene for the endings of each fighter. Artwork is used in the same way in Dust Strikers but it’s a disappointment here because instead of it being the usual anime style, it looks like more of North American comic book style. Not that I dislike the North American comic book style (in fact I love it), it’s just that I don’t like these drawings. Some people may like these art pieces but I find them kind of ugly. But I will say that the three group shots used for the Arcade Mode endings are really cool looking.  On a side note, it would be nice if I could skip the credits. Just saying.   

Earlier, I said that the gameplay is similar to that of Super Smash Bros. when I should have said that it is somewhat similar. For instance, each fight can have 2-4 fighters. In the Story Mode, each fight (with the exception of the final boss) will have four participants and in Arcade Mode each fight could have two, three or four fighters. Another similarity is the fact that the battlefield will be littered with power-ups that can be used to attack the other fighters, protect you from taking damage or give you some extra help. To use these power-ups you must run into them then tap the icon on the right corner of the touch screen with your stylus. Of course there is also the whole thing with the platforms. This is where the similarities end.

Rather than using Smash Bros.’ victory method of knocking your opponent/s out of a ring, the goal is the same as any other fighting game, which is to KO the other fighters (besides, there is no ring). You might be thinking that having to take out three other fighters at the one time might be a tad too challenging but don’t worry; it’s easier than you would think. The multiple platforms, as well as the ability to move to the upper screen, gives you plenty of space to maneuver in. You can also choose to have up to three lives, which can give you an advantage. The game will also signify both the healthiest and weakest fighter during the match with a crown and skull respectively. This allows you to carefully think about which fighter to attack. Of course the power-ups also come in handy.

(Johnny proves that he is not only a master pirate but also a master swordsman)

Like I said earlier, besides the excellent anime art style, the Guilty Gear series is known for a having a deep and complex fighting system with smooth controls, crazy special moves/insane combos and superb instant kills or death blows if you will. However, the fighting system in Dust Strikers has been dumbed-down to the point where the instant kills, the more complex combos and even some of the special moves have been removed. The developers likely went with the decision to make the game more casual friendly with this being on a handheld with a strong casual audience. Instead what we have are specials and combos that can be pulled off simply by pressing a couple of buttons (or one button and the D-Pad in some cases). So instead of the rich fighting experience fans of the series are used to, Dust Strikers is more or less a button masher. It is pretty good for a button masher and it does move along at a reasonably fast pace but the controls do feel a bit stiff, that and the game is also just a tad on the easy side, which means that it can get boring/frustrating after a while.

Dust Strikers does have a couple of multiplayer options in the Versus and Challenge Modes, which can be played by up to four players. However, each player needs their own copy of the game in order for it to work. So yeah. Good luck trying to find someone else who has a copy, let alone have it on them.

The game also has a couple of special features. One such feature is the Robo-Ky Factory. Robo-Ky is a special fighter in the game, who (if you haven’t already guessed) is a robot. This feature allows you to alter Robo-Ky’s moveset by giving him different attacks that you have unlocked throughout your play though of the game. Considering that I am a fan of wrestling games and I happen to find this idea slightly similar to that of various Create-A-Wrestler Modes. Unfortunately, the Robo-Ky Factory is nowhere near as cool as any of those modes because well, the only thing you can customize are the moves and quite frankly, the move selection sucks. But I do like the way in which the scientist shown in the factory’s menu screen is animated. Another thing that sucks is the fact that you can not play as him in Story Mode.

The other special feature is a selection of seven mini-games, which range from fun to weird to stupid to just plain awful. One mini-game is the May’s Dolphin Show mini-game. The objective of this game is to use the stylus to move hoops across the screen and place them in spots where dolphins will go through them. The more dolphins that go through the hoops before time expires, the more points you get. Here’s a hint: you get bonus points if the hoop is on fire.  It’s a bit of a challenge but it isn’t too bad.

In the sword-mini, players use the stylus to slash falling haystacks. It sounds simple but you can only make three mistakes, which leaves very little room for error. There will be more haystacks on screen as you advance through each level and they will also fall at a faster rate. Again, challenging but not too bad.

(Training dolphins and slashing haystacks. That's what I did today)

The pool mini-game is simply a game of pool against the computer (Venom). The player holds down the stylus on the cue ball and let’s go when he/she feels they have enough power to make the desired shot. The one who sinks the most balls wins. This game can take awhile and is pretty boring to be honest. Here’s a hint: Sink the balls that are glowing. Sinking one that isn’t glowing is a point for the enemy.

The Faust mini-game is pretty much a stranger version of whack-a-mole. Every time Faust pops up on screen, tap him with your stylus. This game is actually pretty easy but is a fun test of reflexes.

(Pool has never been so boring and whack-a-mole has never been so strange)

Jam’s mini-game ventures into some weird territory. You use the stylus to guide Jam (now in chibi form) across the screen with the purpose of using a try to catch objects being dropped by the chief who is on the top screen. It may not seem weird at first glance since it is a basic stacking mini-game but when you see that she is stacking meat, boxes and (for some reason) cats, you begin to get weirded out a little bit. But it’s all in good fun.

Ino’s mini-game has the player catching notes and putting them onto a piece of sheet music. This game is not only bland but it’s overly hard. The notes fall at such a speed that it is too hard to catch and place them without missing any. Three misses equals game over by the way.  

(I'm not sure how I could possibly even begin to describe either of these images)

The last mini-game has the player cleaning a yo-yo. Yup. It’s about as exciting as it sounds. To get the yo-yo clean, you scratch, tap and flip away dirt, dust and rust. The more dirt you remove before the time runs out, the higher your score. An incredibly short time limit makes an already lame mini-game even worse.

(Cleaning a Yo-Yo. Yes. it is as boring as it sounds)

Overall, Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers is an OK game and those who are looking for a decent fighter for the DS should check it out. But lame mini-games, an overly easy fighting system and a gameplay style that just doesn’t feel right, prevents Dust Strikers from being anything special.                    

Final Score: 6/10