Dual-Screen As The Hottest New Toy In Town
- 15 mei 2004 NL
Alright. So I gave the DS tech demonstrations a try. All of them. And looking at my previous post and the opinion of ‘Dr. Suna’ I guess it’s time for some hyperbole. Because Nintendo’s Dual-Screen is really totally completely incredibly amazing.
It’s what I’ve been waiting for writing about games for all these years: hardware that gives developers tools to develop new ways of playing. Hardware that will change the way journalists and game players see the videogame phenomenon. Most importantly, though, it’s also just a fun machine that’s more accessible to non game players than any videogame hardware ever before.
I think Dr. Suna couldn’t be more wrong when he says DS will probably end up as the Dreamcast of handheld gaming. I feel that’s the hardcore gamer in him speaking. My main point is: don’t underestimate the touch-screen. It removes an entire layer of abstraction from the gameplay experience. Because people can just touch what they want to do.
It’s important to note that Nintendo is in no way forcing game developers to use the touch-screen. There will be some great uses of that, but what Nintendo is really doing is giving game creators a whole bunch of new options — if they want to, they can use the touch-screen, the wireless networking, the dual screens and the built-in microphone. However, the DS also allows them to just make a nice 3D game controlled with the regular face buttons.
Either way, Nintendo can and will market the DS as a new and extremely fun machine — maybe Suna shouldn’t think of it as a videogame device but as the hottest new toy in town.
On wednesday I visited a roundtable interview with Shigeru Miyamoto and other Nintendo producers. There, the ‘Zelda’ and ‘Mario’ creator specifically asked the attended press for an extra effort. “It’s hard to understand how fun the DS is to play”, he said. “You won’t fully get it until you experience it yourself. Because of this I hope you’ll try extra hard to get this accross to your readers.”
So, that’s what I’m going to do describing some of the tech demonstrations and early games.
- ‘Carving’ is probably the best demo of the bunch and also the hardest to find a good game application for. It start with you picking a material and carving it into shape with the stylus. This just feels brilliant — the demo gives instant feedback with sparkles flying and great sound effects. The best part is afterwards you get to look at your 3D object from all angles. Maybe someone could use a feature like this to have players design their own character. Come to think of it, an extended version where you have more ways to carve and where you can combine objects could be the most accessible 3D modelling tool yet.
- ‘Mario’s Face’ is similar to the start screen of ‘Super Mario 64′, except you obviously use the stylus to stretch Mario’s face. And this time you can also stretch Wario’s face. Another new option is switching between regular and cartoon shaded rendering. Cel-shading doesn’t look that nice though — DS produces graphics similar to those seen on N64, but without the anti-aliasing. Cel-shading suffers most of the resulting pixelated effect.
- I didn’t like ‘Super Mario 64×4′ that much because it lacks analog control. Maybe Nintendo should add a PSP-like analog stick because controlling a 3D Mario with the D-pad just ain’t the same. The four player wireless competitive aspect of this is fun, though.
- ‘PictoChat’ is a pretty neat application of both the touch-screen and the wireless networking. It allows up to 16 players — four at the show — to type messages or draw a small picture and send it to the others. It’s possible to alter somebody else’s drawing and send it again. Apparently the chat function in the new wireless GBA ‘Pokémon’ is the single most popular part of the game in Japan, so PictoChat is sure to be quite popular — a sort of modern age walkie talkie. I do hope, however, that Nintendo will build this thing into the hardware itself instead of offering it as full-price software. I also hope tons of games will include similar communication features.
- ‘Submarine Demo’ is another touch-screen only demo, where the top screen shows a submarine in a 3D environment and the bottom screen has a couple of sliders to set the speed, height and direction of the submarine. This screen also shows a small map. There’s an obstacle course players have to complete by adjusting these sliders. It’s an interesting style of indirect control that’s fun to master.
- I’m actually not fond of ‘Metroid Prime: Hunters’ so far, though I definitely think it has potential. The graphics are striking — though not as detailed, they look a lot like the GameCube versions, thanks in no small part to the small size of the screen. However, for this demo the designers at NST have opted to use the stylus for both looking around and shooting, while the D-pad lets players strafe and walk. Because the L-button targets enemies this is somewhat playable, but there’s still problems like shooting a missile when you just want to change the view. So what I’m suggesting is the creators change the targeting of enemies to the stylus and shooting to the L-button. With that setup the game could be as amazing as its console counterparts.
- Hopefully we won’t see a lot of games like the ‘Sonic E3 Demo’, where you make Sonic run by rhythmically sliding the stylus from one side of the bottom screen to the other, and back. It’s too simpe and as much fun as ‘Track & Field’. Which is not a lot, if you ask me.
- ‘Bomberman DS’ is almost as bad, or maybe even worse. It’s classic Bomberman, which is good with the wireless gameplay and all, but the touch-screen functionality seems tacked-on — you have to rub your character now and then because he gets dizzy. Or something.
- ‘Pac Pix’, then, is proof that not every third party developer will use the extra functions in stupid ways like you would expect after all the licensed crap and unimaginative sequels they’ve conditioned players with. In this demo you get to draw a Pac-Man, which will go on to eat the ghosts in its line of sight — players can redirect the yellow mascot by drawing a line.
- Hopefully Namco will create a bundle of Pac-Man minigames like this, also including ‘Pac ’n Roll’, another fun demo in which Pac-Man rolls through an isometric game world. Players control him by turning a magnified 3D Pac-Man with the stylus, on the bottom screen.
- In closing ‘Wario Ware DS’ is really the only demo on display that could be released as a game today. It’s the Dual-Screen version of the brilliant GBA pomo game, with all mini-games so far being controlled with the stylus. Some of them are truly fantastic, though as Miyamoto said you’d have to play them to fully catch my drift — what about dragging coins into a wallet, catching fish in a net or cutting flying vegetables with quick stylus-stabs?