The Nintendo DS is unique among handheld video game systems. With built-in Wi-Fi and two screens (one of them touch sensitive), the challenge now is for game makers to take advantage of these features.
Here’s a look at 11 new DS games, from best to worst:
'Super Mario 64 DS' / 3 1/2 out of 4 stars
So far, Nintendo’s “Super Mario 64 DS” probably ranks as the top game available for the system. Why? Well, it has everything you could possibly need for hours of fun.
“64” contains all my favorite Nintendo characters in a 3-D game that’s loaded with options. You can play a full adventure as Yoshi (intermittently morphed into some other cast members) and help save Mario, Luigi and Wario from the hands of Bowser by collecting 150 Power Stars hidden on the castle grounds.
Or you can choose from a bunch of fun mini-games that take full advantage of the touch-screen technology — my favorite being where you try to keep three bouncing Marios in the air by touching each one, while letting them fall just enough to “kill” some pesky flying enemies. You can also battle up to three friends in multiplayer mode.
At $30, you get a lot of bang for your buck with this E-rated game.
'Madden NFL 2005' / 3 1/2 stars
Electronic Arts’ “Madden NFL 2005” is the reason Nintendo DS was made. Well, not exactly, but it’s a great example of the system’s potential. “Madden” has long been known for its true-to-life football emulation, but unlike past versions there’s no more screen-shifting in between drives to pick your plays — like a playbook smorgasbord, you can choose how to score or defend your end zone by selecting plays on the bottom screen.
It’s great to have a portable sports game that actually looks like a sports game. And with 3-D graphics and multiple game modes, it’s like playing the PlayStation 2 or Xbox version in the palm of your hand.
For $40, this E-rated title is a little pricier than most DS games, but it’s well worth it for any football fan.
'Asphalt Urban GT' / 3 stars
Mobile game maker Gameloft has brought the racer “Asphalt Urban GT” to the DS.
Take a ride in the driver’s seat as you hit the streets on multiple tracks around the world. If you have the skills to win the races, you can collect prize money and use it to upgrade old cars or buy new ones.
The graphics are great, and the game takes advantage of the dual screens by providing you a map of each track.
This $20, E-rated game is a must-have for racing fans and car lovers.
'Mr. Driller: Drill Spirits' / 3 stars
What would you get if you combined the charm of Japanese animation with the simplicity of blockbusting gameplay? The answer can be found in Namco’s addictive “Drill Spirits.” You drill into the depths of foreign lands while managing to save time and getting deeper into the Earth by matching colored blocks. Doing that without getting squished by falling blocks or running out of air will unlock other fun characters. It can be played with the stylus and touch screen, but I found it easier to use the standard buttons.
Even though the it doesn’t really take advantage of the system’s improved graphics, this $30, E-rated game is fun and provides hours of intense entertainment.
'Ridge Racer DS' / 3 stars
Yes, there’s already another car racing game for the DS. But Namco’s “Ridge Racer DS” is a great game nonetheless.
Using the new wireless technology, players can challenge up to five other real gamers at one time on a total of 20 tracks. Using the touch screen, players can steer the car. The feature seems a bit impractical, however, as it’s just as easy to use the control pad. This E-rated game costs $30.
'Spider-Man 2' / 3 stars
Activision’s “Spider-Man 2” may be a simple take-off of the blockbuster movie, but I was glad to be slinging my web as New York City’s most famous crimefighter.
Spidey battles many of his classic villains as well as numerous street thugs.
“Spider-Man 2” is by far the most action-packed and “violent” game out for DS, but what’s a little animated violence when you’re trying to clean up the streets? This E-rated movie tie-in costs $40.
'Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005' / 2 1/2 stars
If you like golf and have a DS, you probably don’t need any coaxing to buy Electronic Arts’ “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005.”
You can create your own player and develop skills or choose from a list of the world’s top pros like Tiger himself, Vijay Singh and Jack Nicklaus.
The main difference between the DS version and those available for the regular consoles is the smaller screens. You can use the touch screen to control their swing and position. With the multiplayer option, gamers can challenge fellow golf-loving friends to a few rounds.
At $40, this E-rated game is fine for those who enjoy computerized golf — I’m holding out for a DS version of miniature golf.
'Feel the Magic: XY/XX' / 2 stars
Sega’s “Feel the Magic: XY/XX” takes full advantage of what the DS has to offer.
In “Magic” you complete mini-games that challenge players to use not only the system’s touch screen, but players can use their voice and breath to control actions. The better you do, the more you impress the opposite sex.
Tasks range from riding a unicycle across a thin platform high above the city, to simply spray-painting hearts on a brick wall (in a set length of time, of course). The T-rated “Magic” costs $30.
'Ping Pals' / 2 stars
Know a few friends who have a DS? If you do, THQ’s “Ping Pals” may be for you. Otherwise, there’s really no point. Using the system’s wireless connection, you zap doodles or scribbled notes to friends in an environment that’s way cooler than the DS’ included PictoChat program.
With “Ping Pals,” you can create an avatar and start chatting away. Play games, use secret words and earn cash to buy new clothes and accessories to further customize your character.
For $30, you can have a little fun, so long as you have other DS friends using the same E-rated title.
'Sprung' / 2 stars
If want to test out your pickup lines before approaching a potential love interest, then Ubisoft’s “Sprung” may provide a cyber-guide for flirting do’s and don’ts.
Choose either a male or female player, then go with your instincts and select dialogue as you interact with computerized players — or real ones in multiplayer.
There are numerous scenarios. In one, you play Brett, a twentysomething male on a ski trip with his friends who has just been challenged to getting phone numbers at a local bar. Think you know what to say? If you’re right, you can collect numbers from many women in the bar and complete the mission, while getting bragging rights around your friends.
This T-rated game is $30. For that price, you may just decide to take your chances with actual humans.
'Urbz: Sims in the City' / 1 1/2 stars
Remember Tamagotchis? Well, Electronic Arts’ “Urbz: Sims in the City” is essentially the same thing, with better graphics.
Living in the city, where action is never-ending, gives the Sims a new angle — with new jobs and new hangouts. If you can successfully manage your character’s many life functions and mundane daily tasks, then play this game.
Success at these tasks will give you access to more and more places in bustling Miniopolis and increase your popularity and reputation around the city.
But $40 is a little steep for an E-rated game where you’re responsible for the daily chores of another “human being.”