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The Best of DSiWare – Part 12: Games beginning with ‘M’

And so we come to the (alphabetical) half-way mark. With the Zelda franchise putting in an appearance last time out, it shouldn't be too surprising which of Nintendo's gaming goliaths show's their face for the letter 'M'.

Quick recap: To facilitate this exercise I played every game made available on the DSiWare service and, once I weeded out the shovelware, I have divided the remainder into four categories:

Hidden Gems: Games you've probably never heard of that are utterly brilliant

Well Known & Wonderful: Still gems, still potentially brilliant, but perhaps not quite so 'hidden'

Honourable Mentions: Those games that are good, but lack the real spark required to fit into one of the top two categories

Also Rans: Not bad enough to be completely ignored, but probably not quite good enough to warrant higher status

There are, additionally, two caveats:

Firstly, I don't enjoy RPGs. Like, at all. So you won't see any of those at any point.

And secondly it's very hard to define 'Hidden Gem' on DSiWare, as the service itself was never hugely popular, so please excuse a potential few miss-categorisations along the way!


Hidden Gems

Metal Torrent

What we have here is a bona-fide hardcore vertical shooter exclusive developed by Arika for the DSiWare service. Featuring just eight stages, a tiny hitbox, a screen full of enemy fire to weave through, a special weapon to slow down bullets, and the tried and tested three lives and you're out system… this is about as brutal and 'pure' as bullet hell games get.

But. Should this is all be a bit much, you can play on the game's easy mode.

In this mode your special weapon recharges almost faster than you can use it, the spread of bullets you fire covers the entire screen, getting hit doesn't kill you, and you will finish the game on your first try. Guaranteed.

However, the game is unashamedly built around high-score chasing, and even featured online leaderboards when such a thing was still available. With this in mind the super-easy mode is somewhat forgivable, as getting to the end isn't really the point. The boss designs though, are less forgivable.

There are four in the game and no matter if you're playing on 'Easy' or 'Maniac' mode it is pretty much the same boss each time. The backgrounds, too, lack variety, although there is a lot of style in what we are given.

Even if the 'Easy' mode doesn't really serve as a gateway to the what feels like the game's true form in Maniac mode; for shooter and bullet-hell fans this is an absolute must play that will challenge even the most seasoned veterans of Cave and Capcom, and although the game is very short, it will take many hours of play and practice to get to the end.

Mighty Flip Champs!

I was tempted to put this, and the next game, into the 'Well Known…' bracket as the developer, Wayforward, has carved quite a name for themselves thanks to the often brilliant Shantae series. The two 'Mighty' games on DSiWare have also appeared on a few other platforms but, in the end, I don't think either of these great puzzle games has had the attention they deserve, so here they are in 'Hidden Gem' territory.

Mighty Flip Champs is a puzzle platform game that makes great use of the dual screens. A fairly simple ladders and hazards style platforming level is drawn out on the top screen. On the touchscreen below, with a wibbly-wobbly effect applied, is another level of similar design. The goal, which (in true idiosyncratic Wayforward style) is to get to and rescue 'Fishman', cannot be reached using just the one level, so you must get our protagonist, Alta, to a good spot in the top screen layout so that the layout on the lower screen can be 'flipped', replacing the existing layout and allowing you to continue.

At first this is quite simple. There will be a gap between Alta and Fishman for example, and flipping up the layout on the lower screen will provide a platform on which to cross it. Later in the game things get much more complicated. There can be up to 8 screens in play, and the feats of memory and lateral thinking required are pretty intense.

Fortunately, Mighty Flip Champs eases you into the experience. The cartoon art and joyful presentation are definitely not indicative of the challenge ahead, but it does gently evolve into the more complex puzzles smoothly over the course of several levels.

When it comes to games developed by Wayforward, the presence of either Matt or Mark Bozon on the production team is key to knowing if it's going to be among their best stuff. Mighty Flip Champs! was directed by Matt, and designed by them both – and this pedigree is clear when playing the game.

It's tight level design, great concept, vibrant presentation, and excellent difficulty curve make it among the very best games I've played on the platform. It has challenge and replay value to spare and will be a game I'll waste no time coming back to once I have completed this blog series.

Mighty Milky Way

Just above, in the Mighty Flip Champs! write up, I mention that the best games from Wayforward are usually easily identified by having either (or both) of the Bozon brothers involved in the development. Mighty Milky Way, however, has neither name appearing anywhere on it's credits. Which means, in just a few short paragraphs, I have rendered my own point completely moot.

In this game our female protagonist (a definite running theme in Wayforward's output) is an alien called Luna who has the ability to create and destroy planets. Each level starts with Luna skipping around the circumference of a small planet that is drawn in simple 2D on the touchscreen. Tap the planet once and Luna will launch into space, should she land back on the same planet a second tap will destroy it, as our heroine sails safely into the cosmos once more. While free-falling through space (during which time you are influenced by the gravity of various bodies) you can tap anywhere to create a new planet to land on or guide you. But to do this you must first have collected enough 'Planet Candies'.

Yes. Sweets that create planets.

There are a couple of times in the game where it goes full nutzo and collecting confectionary to create planets is just one example. Another would be that Luna, who I will reiterate is an alien, obviously doesn't speak English. She does, however, appear to be quite fluent in French. And there's the chief antagonist who, unlike the cute pink blobs who sometimes hinder your path on the surface of planets, is a giant green robot tyrannosaurus rex that shoots lasers from its eyes.

Wayforward really cornered the market in this happy-go-lucky style of slightly bonkers game design, and I for one lap it up at every opportunity. Mighty Milky Way's gravity puzzles might be a very different to the level flipping of the previous game in the 'Mighty' series, and the development team has not a single person in common, but the atmosphere of joy and fun permeates both, and means that this comes with no less of a recommendation than Flip Champs! did just above.


Well Known & Wonderful

Mario vs Donkey Kong: Mini's March Again

Among the reasons I've been accused of being a hipster, a contrarian, and various less polite variations on that theme over the years is that I have no qualms in proclaiming, as I'm about to do, that I don't like Mario platform games.

Being from the UK, and just that bit older than many people who enjoy classic games, platformers – in the guise adopted by Mario et al – weren't really a part of my introduction to videogames. In the arcades and on the ZX Spectrum games tended towards the more immediate such as R-Type, Jet-Pac, and OutRun, or the more cerebral such as Rebelstar, Knight Lore, and Rampart. I always found platform games somewhere in the middle, offering neither the directness of action packed arcade games of the more deliberate nature of exploration, puzzle, or strategy games.

All of which is a lot of background to talk about a Mario game that isn't a platformer. This is major plus for me as I get Nintendo's usual first party quality, with none of the faux inertia and mawkish delivery that plagues their mainstream efforts.

In case you've not played and of the Mario vs Donkey Kong games before, they generally involve an amount of puzzle platforming in which you direct robotic 'Mini Mario's' to an exit as you chase down DK.

Unique to this particular version, the gameplay has a lot in common with Lemmings. This largely manifests in the Mini's wandering about the stage freely, leaving you to manipulate elements of the stage on the touchscreen to guide them to the exit. This is a well worn path, but there's no doubt that it's delivered here with style. There are extra goals to achieve in every level, the addition of a tight window to get all your Mini's through the exit, and the not insubstantial addition of a level creation mode which, despite losing a chunk of it's appeal to closed servers, is still a lot of fun to tinker with.

As you would expect of Nintendo, then, this is a class product that, despite being fairly derivative and having fallen slightly victim to the march of technology, remains just a simple and entertaining puzzle game of very high quality.

Mr Driller: Drill till You Drop

There's a little personal irony in selecting this game in the 'Well Known…' bracket as, until a few days ago when I played this, I had never tried any game in this 20+ year old franchise.

And what I fool I've been. This gloriously colourful and instantly playable series is an absolute joy.

If (like me a little while ago) you've never played the game, it works almost like a reverse Tetris. You start with a 'well' full of blocks and have a character (4 are available to choose from in this version) who stands on top of them and drills down with the goal being to reach a depth specified at the start of the level.

There are obviously complications on this simple format. Firstly you can drill in all four main directions. Secondly, blocks falling from above will crush you. Thirdly, you have to collect air capsules as you go. And, finally, the blocks here link by colour. This means you can sometimes clear very large areas, that spread in all directions, by drilling a single spot on a large mass of, say, green.

This all comes together into a wonderfully addictive package, with great music, sound effects, and visual design combining with the easy to play, yet hard to master mechanics.

Whether you're an old hand or recent convert like myself, Drill till you Drop is a fantastic action puzzler that has made me an instant evangelist of the brand.


Also Rans

Magnetic Joe

A mobile port that starts promisingly but quickly asks you to be quite accurate with mechanics that are not fit for purpose.Guiding a ball through a maze using magnetic force is exactly the kind of simple game I can usually get behind – but the inaccuracy of control offered here makes the whole thing unforgivably frustrating.

'N' is, obviously, up next but I have a sneaky suspicion we'll be in for a double bill again.

Until then, thanks for reading, I'll put a link to previous entries in the first comment below.

I'd love your thoughts and feedback in the comments.

See you next time.

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