Collected every medal in Mario 3D Land? Sick of getting smashed by blue shells?
If you’re looking for more experiences on your Nintendo 3DS now that you’re finishing up the major holiday releases, I have bad news for you: There aren’t many of them. As 3DS approaches its first anniversary, there are still only a few dozen games on store shelves. What’s strange, though, is that even with such a small library of games, the ones that are there have tended to sneak out with very little fanfare. I’ve seen a lot of 3DS games show up at the local GameStop before I ever saw a press release or any other indication that they were coming out.
Here are five under-the-radar 3DS releases that I’ve played recently. Some were surprisingly good. Others, you can tell why nobody wanted to make a big deal about them. Either way, consider yourself armed with more information than I had.
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes
If you’re looking for a Professor Layton-style game to play while the first 3DS game in that series is still being readied, you could do far worse than James Noir. (See later in this piece for how much worse.)
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes, created by Ubisoft Montreal, would seem to owe its existence not only to its gameplay inspiration Layton but also to L.A. Noire. You’re a contestant on a Hollywood game show in the 1960s who quickly ends up being hunted by a serial killer. The gameplay revolves entirely around watching the story play out, then solving a wide variety of logic puzzles.
It’s got a weird visual style, oddly appealing in its old-school ugliness to anyone who played CD-ROM adventure games in the early 1990s; all of the characters are represented by cut-out color photographs of actors that flip back and forth between a few poses and mouth positions without worrying if the lips are syncing to the dialogue. The script reads like it was written in English by someone for whom English is not their first language; all the grammar makes sense but it’s all just slightly off-kilter, non-native. I was confused for a while until I realized that the script constantly uses the word “good” in place of “correct;” e.g., “Choose the good answer.”
The quality of the puzzles make or break a game like this, and the hundred or so brainteasers here basically hit the mark. There’s not as wide a variety of them as in Layton; many are just harder and harder iterations of puzzles you’ve already played. A lot of them are standard puzzles taken from a few different books, like Hashiwokakero.
Verdict: Not as good as the games it steals from, but good enough for genre devotees.
Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection
The special appeal of this set of 7 virtual pinball machines is that it contains FunHouse, one of the most fascinating pinball designs ever. That’s the one where you shoot the ball into the mouth of the talkative, slightly creepy marionette that runs the carnival’s after-hours peep show. This machine fascinated me as a child.
The 3DS’ dual screens are used to display the pinball machine upside-down, with the table on the upper 3-D screen and the score display on the bottom. If you’re a total purist, you simply have to flip the 3DS over at any time and the game will flip the images over, creating a more true-to-life orientation of the two screens with the table on the bottom. (And since the 3DS screen sits at an angle, it even has the vague shape of a pinball table when you do this.) But I found I preferred holding the R4 3DS at a natural angle rather than contorting my fingers to have the pinball table set the right way.
Pin-Bot, Gorgar, Black Knight, Space Shuttle, Taxi and Whirlwind fill out the collection. You can play them all on their own, playing not only for high scores but also achievements — “activate multi-ball” or “score at least 7,200,000 points” in the case of FunHouse. Once you get the five basic achievements for each table, more difficult ones unlock. This is vastly preferable to just trying to set higher and higher scores.
There’s also a challenge mode that has you play each table in succession, setting a minimum score requirement before moving on to the next one. After you’ve played all seven, your scores are totaled into one megascore for the challenge mode leaderboard. Even better, you can still set individual table achievements when playing this mode.
Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove 3D
Fans of music games may be starved for content on 3DS, but there’s no reason to buy this one. Unless, of course, you like scrolling through endless pages of uninteresting story until you get to the next two-minute snippet of catatonia-inducing gameplay.
This had some promise at the concept level: A girl named Gabrielle is turned into an apparition and to get back to normal she has to collect “screams” from terrified youngsters. To do this she has to dance to up-tempo versions of classical music alongside an array of adorable Draculas and Wolfmans and such.
Such potential! Alas, the gameplay is far too simple — there are only a few times you have to tap during each song, and the musical tapping is frequently interrupted by utterly rhythmless moments in which you have to rub smoke off the screen or make your cat bounce around to collect screams.
Verdict: If you like games in which you don’t really do anything and nothing really interesting happens, go for it. If not, wait for Rhythm Thief, etc.
Gaijin Games’ entire series of ridiculously difficult WiiWare games is collected on this single handy cartridge, sporting 3-D graphics. If you haven’t played the Bit.Trip games yet, you’re missing out on a creative love letter to the Atari 2600, with graphics all built out of giant colorful pixels and twisted takes on classic gameplay.
The series plays like a history of early videogames — Bit.Trip Beat is a single-player musical version of Pong in which you have to use a paddle to beat back an onslaught of pixels that fly towards you in a rhythmic fashion. By the fourth game in the series, Bit.Trip Runner, it’s more like a fast-paced version of Pitfall as your character hoofs it through a series of demonic levels, collecting gold bricks and narrowly avoiding danger at breakneck speed.
The series is well known for its extreme difficulty, which is still very much the case with this 3DS collection. Prepare to get angry. Prepare to maybe pull some of your hair out. But all’s fair in Bit.Trip land; you always feel like you could have done better when you screw up.
Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights
James Noir’s Hollywood Crimes may have openly swiped the gameplay structure of Professor Layton, but Konami’s Doctor Lautrec just goes ahead and steals the hero. Wearing the exact same hat as Layton but disguised with a mustache, the Doctor is an original character like Rickey Rouse or Monald Muck.
You’d think, as I thought, that they’d also have the good sense to swipe the gameplay. But no. Doctor Lautrec is one of the most schizophrenic game designs I’ve ever seen: First you wander around a semi-realistic map of Paris, exploring turn-of-the-century architecture and learning random facts about the city’s history. Then you descend into highly unrealistic catacombs below the city, where you have to engage in bad stealth missions, avoiding guards and collecting treasure.
When you do mercifully get to solve a logic puzzle, you find that they’re all just repetitions of a few cheapo puzzle ideas, like guessing the next element in a series of designs or playing an ersatz version of Minesweeper. Then there’s a not-fully-explained game in which you have to use treasures that you find to attack other treasures, all of which have some kind of poltergeist living in them. Apparently there’s some strategy to this, but staring at a largely unexplained screen full of random icons and numbers just made me more confused.