Pocket Gamer's Top 10 Games of the Year 2011 - Nintendo DS Edition
The DS should be dead. Its spiffy successor, the 3DS, came out in March, which should have sounded the death knell for this decrepit, ageing handheld. But, against all odds, the plucky portable from 2005 is still going.
Between ghostly adventure stories and sci-fi blasters, we had no trouble finding ten must-play games from the last 12 months. Even Nintendo has stuck around for its dual-screen eulogy, with new Pokemon and Kirby games.
Plus, DSiWare has given us a couple of gems. This downloadable backstreet boutique has been thoroughly ignored and neglected for much of its life, but between WayForward and Zelda, there's reason to top-up your wallet just once more.
So, don't write off the DS as dead quite yet. While the 3DS is getting all the attention, there's still lots to love in this dual-screen gizmo.
If sci-fi blaster Metroid can take inspiration from James Cameron's seminal chick versus monster movie, then it's only fair that the same can be done in reverse.
As such, Aliens: Infestation, from Shantae developer WayForward, is heavily based on the adventures of Samus, only with a slight twist in the favour of horror. And with four-man crews instead of lone gunners.
Although don't expect to count on your teammates forever. If they get munched by an alien, they'll be killed off for good, and you won't be able to refresh your numbers until you stumble upon a stranded serviceman. Keeping your friends alive is very important.
Pokemon Black and Pokemon White
By Game Freak
Pokemon Black and White might not go all the way back to the drawing board - you're still a young hero on a monster-hunting quest, and offered a choice of water, grass, or fire critter to get started with - but it's certainly the most fresh edition in the franchise for a while.
Take, for example, the complete Pokedex clean out. Unless you hook up an older game, you'll see neither a Pikachu nor a Pidgey in your trek through this urban sprawl - these monsters are all new.
A seasonal cycle adds a new flavour, too, with creatures that only appear in the spring or winter.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
If page-turning stories are your thing, you could do worse than follow the canon of Phoenix Wright creator Shu Takumi. If you take my advice, you'd be playing one of the most outlandish, original, and just plain nuts adventures of the year: Ghost Trick.
You play as a recently murdered stiff, whose spirit enters the mysterious Ghost world. In this paranormal parallel universe, Sissel can pause time, leap back before a person's death, and fiddle with fate to save their life.
Cue crazy puzzles, careful timing, and Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, as your spirit leaps from object to object to dramatically change the past. All this plays out while you're figuring out exactly how you ended up dead in the first cutscene. It's barmy, but essential.
Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call
Spectre's Call has one big puzzle to solve: how did Professor Layton get saddled with the squeaky-voiced, prepubescent nuisance Luke as a riddle-solving assistant?
Set years before breakout hit The Curious Village, this prequel will fill you in on the grisly details. Although you'll have to solve some brainteasers first, natch.
As ever, this game is filled to bursting with tricky puzzles, which ask you to put bugs in pens, line up matchsticks, and wrestle with algebra. If you're not sick of solving puzzles yet, this fourth collection of head-scratchers will serve you well.
Plants vs Zombies
As is the case with Angry Birds and Tetris, there isn't an app store or a handheld around that doesn't have its own copy of Plants vs Zombies. The DS is obviously no exception, and the comical tower defence game came to Nintendo's handheld in 2011.
It's all about planting the perfect garden of floral soldiers to stand up against an onslaught of resurrected creeps. Pea shooters gun down the undead, while corn cobs lay waste to crowds of walkers.
It's smart and sharp, and dangerously addictive. A perfect bite-size game amid this sea of chunky RPGs and endless adventures.
Okami, a painterly RPG featuring a celestial wolf god, was always destined for a more hands-on device.
You see, wolfy Amaterasu uses a Celestial Brush to paint bridges, gusts of wind, and walls of fire. It was okay on PS2, but it makes much more sense with a stylus on DS.
So, in the follow-up Okamiden - featuring the wolf's offspring Chibiterasu - doodling heavenly scribbles takes place on the touchscreen. You'll use these gestures throughout this enormous adventure to help townsfolk, pair up with partners, and defeat baddies.
Kirby Mass Attack
By HAL Laboratory
Kirby looks like a cute puffball of fun when he's alone. But, split him up into ten and send the flock of warbling pink blobs your way - as so often happens in Mass Attack - and suddenly Nintendo's most harmless hero seems a little less cute.
You control the action exclusively on the touchscreen, using your stylus to fling individual Kirbys (Kirbies?) at enemies or tap an unsuspecting baddy to have a swarm of pink death machines descend on them.
It's frantic and fun, and endlessly imaginative - plus, just a tiny bit terrifying.
Mighty Milky Way
WayForward's celestial platformer is certainly innovative. You play as Luna, a space-hopping chick who can leap between asteroids and planets with a jump. She's got to step from rock to rock to reach the portal.
Here's the twist: if you bonk into a planet, any enemies wandering around its circumference get bounced into orbit. If two enemies come into contact, they'll cancel each other out, in a sparkly supernova.
This means you'll need to have a sharp mind as well as quick reactions to get through this spacey platformer. As a swan song for DSiWare, Mighty Milky Way allowed the beleaguered download store to go out on a high.
On the top screen, Monster Tale is a retrograde platformer with hints of Metroid and Megaman. Blue-haired hero Ellie bounds about castles and caves, smashing up enemies with her arsenal of weapons, while her faithful sidekick Chomp hangs around in back.
But, on the bottom screen, Chomp comes into his own. Here, the game transforms into a mini pet-raising game where you can train the ickle red beast to learn new powers, unleash attacks, and level-up into various forms.
It's a clever dynamic, and a smart interplay of two very different types of game. But, we wouldn't expect anything less from the lead developer of puzzler-meets-platformer Henry Hatsworth, would we?
There are worse ways to celebrate Zelda's 25th birthday than to get some friends around, grab a free game from the DSiWare catalogue, and get into some co-op Four Swords action. It might be the most odd Zelda offshoot since the full motion video Philips CDi games, but it's rather excellent.
You and a bunch of friends control four rainbow-coloured Links, as they work together to solve puzzles, beat on enemies, and collect rupees. You're all in it together, so no fighting amongst yourselves, you hear? Once the adventure is over, a few bonus levels appear that hark back to Zelda games from the past.
Playing a Link's Awakening-style stage or a Link to the Past-themed level is probably the best way to remember Zelda's 2D history.