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The Best of DSiWare – Part 6: Games beginning with ‘E’…

As expected there's not a huge number of games stating with the letter 'E' for DSiWare. Luckily, what little there is makes for a particularly eclectic selection including two cracking hidden gems, one of which is among the best games I've found so far!

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

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

Escapee Go!

Now this is more like it! When I start a project like this, it's games like Escapee Go! that I'm hoping to find.

This slightly isometric, but mostly top down maze game has you in the role of 'Clare', a young girl who starts her adventure locked in a cell in some kind of institution with no recollection of how she got there or even who she is. As the title suggests, you have but a single goal: Escape!

Played over 17 levels, each combining fairly standard maze mechanics with those you would find in a more stealth focused effort, this brilliantly tense but nevertheless fast paced game will have you hooked from the very beginning.

Developer Gevo have layered a couple of complexities over the 'escape the labyrinth while avoiding bad guys' gameplay that really bring the game up to the next level.

Firstly, there is a mcguffin in each level that must be found to open the exit. In the first stage it's good old fashioned key-cards, in level two it's a crowbar, in three a lever must be flipped, and so it goes on. Finding whatever item is required, while avoiding the enemies who are searching for you, ensures that each level is more than just a mad dash to the finish line.

Secondly, there are power-ups, or 'abilities' to use the proper name. These grant temporary superpowers to Clare to aid her escape. Early on these are pretty simple; heightened senses to know where unseen assailants lie in wait, or an extra burst of speed. But later they become more advanced, with a personal favourite being a teleport ability that zaps you away from harm, but lands you in an entirely random part of the map. That's risk vs reward in a nut-shell right there.

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The core elements of Escapee Go! are strong as it is, but these additions bring remarkable depth.

It has very tidy visuals too. There are clever representations of line-of-sight and both you and your and enemies statuses. The character graphics are simple but very neatly done, with tiny sprites cleverly conveying menace or vulnerability as required. Finally, the icing on this very well made cake: A brilliant soundtrack that conveys every bit of tension required for the game's taught but frantic atmosphere.

Escapee Go! is by far the shiniest hidden gem I've found on DSiWare so far. It's a simple idea delivered incredibly well and a perfect example of how playing games you've never heard can be far more rewarding than playing Zelda for the four-hundredth time.

Earth Saver (Go Series)

I'm a little bit confused as to where the G.G. Series ends and the Go series begins. There's more than a little cross-over with the two but, in this case, Earth Saver appears only in the 'Go' half of that imaginary venn-diagram and lacks the single-screen design standard you see with G.G. Series. So I'm allowing it a place in the rarefied air of hidden gems because of this, and because it's a cracker of a game.

In a clear missed opportunity for a belated 'Armageddon' movie tie-in, Earth Saver is a puzzle game that sees you setting off explosives on an asteroid, as it hurtles towards Earth, in a bid to break it into pieces small enough to burn up in the atmosphere. Fail and you'll bring about a Cretaceous-Tertiary style extinction level event – and make Liv Tyler cry. Or was it Alicia Silverstone? It doesn't matter, that film is terrible.

This game, on the other hand, is brilliant fun. You run around asteroids, restricted to their square fault-lines, and set explosives in places judiciously chosen (you hope) to cause the pieces at the bottom of the screen to break away.

The lower DS screen has a depiction of the Earth and, if you are successful, you'll see the small pieces of asteroid glow red and disintegrate before impact.

However, if you miscalculate, any large chunks will remain in tact and leave a huge crater in the Earth's surface. Do this one too many times and it's game over – for all life on Earth – but more importantly for you.

The visuals lean towards the more serviceable end of the spectrum but are not without charm, and there's only one tune throughout but, luckily, it's an absolute belter!

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Gameplay is freshened up with additional elements as you progress but, as with many DSiWare games, you'll reach the end of Earth saver rather quickly. The upside of this is that it ensures the tweaks to the core mechanics keep things fresh throughout.

I've mentioned before that standing out as a puzzle game on this platform is very difficult, but with energy and fun to spare, Earth Saver absolutely shows it's not impossible.


Well Known & Worthwhile

ElectroPlankton

4 years after the original launch as a physical DS game, ElectroPlankton, a minimalist music-making game from Nintendo, arrived on DSiWare, with each of it's 10 different 'instruments' released as an individual download.

Each of these is not much more than a musical toy. Some simple interaction, different for each one, will start the little creatures specific to each title emitting their signature sound. Master what sort of interaction generates which sound and you can start to compose simple tunes.

The genius of ElectroPlankton is what it does in the background beyond the player's inputs. I have a dark abyssal void where others have musical ability, and if you share this utter lack of talent then you'll know that sitting at a piano hammering random keys will not make a piece of music, no matter how hard you try.

Yet, the equivalent haphazard interaction in ElectroPankton will perform something that not only resembles an actual piece of music, but a quite pleasant one at that. There's magic in this toy that makes you always feel in control, even when you don't know exactly how you're doing what your doing.

All told, each of these musical playthings is little more than a brief diversion of very little consequence. But there's something about the minimalism and classiness of the presentation that makes you want to come back more often than you otherwise might.


Honourable Mentions

Energy Chain (G.G. Series)

Not for the first time a game is dragged up from the ignominy of the 'Also Rans' more due to it's idea than its execution.

Energy Chain is a pretty unique puzzle game where you have to join any two of four electricity emitting pylons on a grid, by connecting them with blocks of a single colour.

Despite the blocks, the matching, and the grid, this is far from a 'match 3' game or a Tetris clone. Yes, the blocks are a little Tetris-like, and, yes, the combination of colours that make them up could come from Dr Mario or Columns. However, in play, the only other similar game that comes to mind is Rampart. Only here instead of building walls you're building a path for electricity to travel along.

As has been the case with quite a few of the games in the 'G.G. Series', Energy Chain doesn't really do enough with its central concept. But there is enough on show here to make an addictive puzzler, even if chasing your own high score is the only longevity on offer.

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Earthworm Jim

Not the best way to play this 16 bit classic, but far from the worst either, with the main issue caused by the much smaller screen.

Very little has been done by way of scaling the game. Instead the action is somewhat 'zoomed in' to what would have been the bottom left corner on the Mega Drive/SNES version.

But such is the quality of that irreverent original that it shines through despite these limitations. If you've never played Earthworm Jim then this probably isn't the place to start, but if you're a long time fan it's worth a look – if only to see what's been done to squeeze this onto the DSi.


Also Rans

Escape Trick Trilogy

Remember escape room games? Yeah, me neither. I've collected these three 'Escape Trick' games, Convenience Store, Rock City Prison, and Ninja Castle together as there's little besides the location to differentiate them. They don't offer anything new to the genre, nor do they do much wrong. So, if for some reason you're still into escape room games, these are serviceable, unspectacular examples.

Exciting River (G.G. Series)

A decent idea; using alternate buttons to paddle a little canoe around a course, is let down by very little in the way of challenge or evolution on that concept. That's not to say there's not some fun to be had with this game, but basically I'm saying that 'Mildly Diverting River' would have been a more appropriate name.

Thank you 'E', for bringing Escapee Go! into my life, but onward, ever onward, to 'F', where I have no idea what to expect.

I look forward to finding out with you next time!

In the mean time you can find links to the previous entries in my profile – Thanks for reading!

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