The DSi officially went on sale today in the USA and came out in Britain this last Friday. I picked one up straight away just to get my hands on the first wave of DSiWare titles.
DSiWare, for those not in the know, is Nintendo’s latest digital ditribution service that lets you download exclusive games straight to your DSi through a WiFi internet connection. Most of the games are designed to be bite size distractions from your biiger bodied cartridge games and are priced appropriately between two and five pounds each.
Why am I mentioning all of this? Because Skip has six Art Style games ready for DSiWare and some of them are available right now. America got Art Style Aquite today while Europe got Aquite plus Art Style Code on Friday. Four more – Picopict, Somnium, Hacolife and Nalaku – are already available in Japan and are expected to hit the rest of the world later in the year.
To encourage people to try DSiWare, Nintendo is rewarding all new DSi owners with 1000 free Nintendo Points as soon as they log on to the DSiWare Shop. That’s just enough to buy both new Art Style games (they’re 500 points each) and that’s exactly what I did this Friday. Here’s what I thought of the new Skip games… Which are both puzzlers, of course. 😉
ART STYLE: CODE
Though the screenshots make this look like one of the most boring games ever made, it’s actually a rather intense block-sliding puzzler. Holding the DSi like a book, numbers drift in from left to right and it’s your job to clear them from the screen by linking horizontal or vertical lines of digits that total exactly 10. Can’t make 10? Then you can swap two adjacent digits by sliding them. Beware though that doing so will flip the digit horizontally or vertically, sometimes resulting in an unusable character or another number entirely. Flip a 2 for example and it will become a 5. This happens because the numbers are represented in the same way they would be on an LCD calculator, which I thought was rather clever. Occasionally you’ll see a red number appear. These numbers cannot be moved but if you clear a row or column using one then you’ll eliminate all on-screen digits of the same value.
And aside from the usual mode variations of Challenge, Puzzle and Endless, that’s about all there is to Code. Personally speaking I think it’s a clever little puzzle game with a suitably interesting visual style. I do find it very difficult to play though. Maths has never been my strongest point, so where I would normally breeze through a game where you have to match shapes or colours, I tend to work a little slower here as I stop to work out the totals. That said, I can feel myself getting better as I play, which leads me to think that Code might actually be more suited to the Brain Training series than Art Style.
ART STYLE: AQUITE
This one is really difficult to explain, so please excuse my feeble attempt to do so. Here goes… See the little diver on the right side of the screen? Well it’s your job to help him dive all the way down to the bottom and you do this by matching rows or columns of three like-coloured squares in the pipe to his left. You control a little two-tone block that can be pushed into the pipe at any height. Imagine if you did so from the right… Your two colours would squeeze into the pipe, pushing all the adjacent blocks to the left and squeezing out the two leftmost blocks to create another two-tone rectangle. That way, whenever you push colours into the pipe you’re thinking not just about how to make three-of-a-kind going in but which colours you’ll squeeze out and how you can use them on the other side. Oh and while you’re doing this, the water pressure constantly increases, leading to an encroaching blackness from the top that gradually reduces your playing field and imposes a time limit of sorts. This forces you to play much more tactically, using your moves efficiently to maximise their usefulness going into the pipe and coming out of it.
Does that make sense? I hope because I don’t want to re-write all of that. If not, please watch this video here to get a better idea. So, yeah, I’m sure the description makes Aquite sound like another intense puzzler. And to some extent it is, but it also has a very relaxing presentation. The underwater vibe is really well done… Each level features a different type of sea creature swimming around rather serenely and all of your movements create some nice musical sound effects.
I really like Aquite, perhaps a little more than Code. It’s a great little puzzler that, again, uses some brilliantly original ideas. (Is anyone else amazed by the way these developers keep finding original ways to make match three puzzlers?)
Overall, I’m very pleased with this first wave of mini Art Style games. They suit the handheld tremendously well, in that they make good use of the twin screens and unique controls of the DS but also in that they’re tiny little games with a lot more entertainment value than you’d expect from a title of that size. In that regard, they feel much closer to their Bit Generations ancestors than the WiiWare games did (even though two of them were actually Bit Generations ports, weirdly). Oh and the greatest news is that the best is apparantly yet to come. Folks who own the Japanese DSi are telling me that the other four DSi Art Style games are even better than Code and Aquite… I can’t wait to see if they’re right.
Well, that was an unusually long post wasn’t it? I guess I’m just excited to have two new Skip games on the same day* and very excited about the potential of DSiWare as a medium for delvering original and experimental videogames. What do you guys think? If you’ve played the new Art Style games or any of the other DSiWare stuff then please post your impressions in the comments area below. I’d love to know what you think. Did they live up to your expectations? Do you like them as much are Bit Generations/Wii Art Style? Do you think they compare well to what Route24 has been doing on iPhone? There’s a lot to discuss…
*I’m actually doubly excited this week as my other favourite developer Team17 has just relased two new games in the space of a week (I’ve got loads to play now) and has announced that they’re to become a 100% indeoendent, digitally distributed, publisher/developer. So, as you can imagine, my head has been whirring away, pondering what the future will bring. It’s a good time to be me. 🙂