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I Will Always Love You, DSiWare

by Neal Ronaghan - January 8, 2021, 11:31 am EST
Total comments: 6

Alternately: here’s some of the best games we’re losing on DSiWare.

Excitement rushed over me as I swung by the GameStop near my college to pick up my Nintendo DSi preorder on April 5, 2009. I was happy to finally try out that Rhythm Heaven game everyone imported on Game Boy Advance, which had no DSi features; Nintendo just thought why not drop a niche game on the same day of their niche hardware launch. No line existed outside the store when I got it at an undisclosed town in northern New Jersey. I don’t recall the clerk mentioning anything about any kind of pre-order scarcity. I actually think I only just pre-ordered like three days before.

Anyway, I was excited to move on from my, uh, launch day Nintendo DS and try out the new hotness. It was a revelation moving on from that weird old janky clamshell to the sleek look of the DSi. That revision breathed new life into a handheld I already adored, truly cementing the DS an all-timer. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to hop in my time machine and put back on the hat I wore from 2009 to 2011. That’s the hat of your friendly neighborhood DSiWare zealot.

Now DSiWare was weird, limited in a lot of the same ways WiiWare was. Nintendo had wild file size restrictions and it was almost nearly impossible for developers to really show off their games. You might know of the industry-standard practice of “review code,” where developers and publishers can send a download code, oftentimes before launch, to reviewers or influencers so they can cover the game in advance. That didn’t exist on DSiWare. As someone writing for Nintendo World Report in that era, most of the DSiWare review opportunities revolved around everyone from Nintendo to indies sending reviewers $10 or $20 DSiWare gift cards. It was a wild time.

But I carry a torch for all those games, even the bad ones. It was a special little service that contained some of my favorite dark horse gems and a whole lot of delightful creativity. With that in mind, it’s a damn shame that the inevitable is happening: DSiWare games are being delisted. Especially after the Wii Shop Channel died a few years ago, this was all going to end eventually, but we might be nearing the endgame of the DSi Shop. So, let’s rattle off some memories and mourn the potential loss of some games.

Please Nintendo: Save X-Scape

Before Star Fox, there was X, an impressive Game Boy game that never made it out of Japan. 18 years after the original came X-Scape, a 2010 DSiWare game that dropped players into space tank to complete a variety of missions, all from a vector-graphic-y first-person perspective. It’s dazzling that Q-Games (founded by Star Fox developer Dylan Cuthbert and is more recently known for the PixelJunk series) managed to make this game work with the limitations of DSiWare. It is number one with a bullet for “DSiWare games that have to be preserved” because it’s a fascinating game (and it has a Kazumi Totaka soundtrack!).

While You’re There Nintendo, Save the Art Style Games

Right behind X-Scape on that list is the Art Style series, which has origins on the Game Boy Advance but only really came to America on the DSi. The standout launch game on DSiWare was Art Style: Aquia (apparently I reviewed it in 2009; I have absolutely no memory of writing this review), which is a chill, atmospheric match-three puzzle game. More Art Style games followed, including the NES-retro puzzle delight of Pictobits (or Picopict in Europe), the box-cutting cube puzzle game Boxlife, the LCD-display numbers game Base 10 (or Code in Europe), the ball-bouncing and serene puzzler Zengage (or Nemrem in Europe), and the maybe proto-Captain Toad puzzle platformer Precipice (or Kubos in Europe). All were made by Skip Ltd., who may or may not be defunct but I think about them often and miss them every day.

In addition to all the Skip games is maybe my favorite of all the Art Style games: Digidrive (or Intersect in Europe). That’s from X-Scape (and PixelJunk) developers Q-Games and it’s an incredible game where you direct traffic and it’s insane and I love it and after I’m done writing this, I’m going to pray that I can play it on my 3DS still.

Other Nintendo-Published Games

The Art Style name faded away, but the spirit of those smaller download titles stayed alive throughout the rest of DSiWare’s life. I really liked Trajectile and Starship Patrol, both from DSiWare superstar Q-Games. Trajectile is a clever take on Breakout where you launch missiles to bounce around walls and blow stuff up. Starship Patrol is a beautiful simplistic strategy game with a killer art style.

I’m not as well versed with the other four games I’m lumping into this group, but Aura-Aura Climber is a cute NST-developed game where you control a little star that connects to different points on the screen using the touch screen. It sort of functions like a platformer, but what sets it apart is the fun cartoony vibe and clever design. Link ‘n’ Launch is an Intelligent Systems joint where you link together numbers to launch rockets. Flametail is a part of the super underrated WiiWare game Maboshi’s Arcade broken out for portable use. A Kappa’s Trail is a Brownie Brown-developed (they’re now known as 1UP Studio) where you guide a kappa around using the touch screen. If you can’t tell, a lot of these involves the DS touch screen.

All of these games are generally on the shorter side, but they represent a part of Nintendo I miss. All the original Nintendo-published DSiWare games allowed developers like Q-Games, Intelligent Systems, NST, and Skip to experiment and make clever games based on simple ideas. Not every single one was dynamite, but all of them were interesting.

If You Thought Super Mario 3D All-Stars Was The First Time...

In 2011, Nintendo celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda series with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition. It was a free download, available between September 2011 and February 2012. Outside of an approximate two-week window post-A Link Between Worlds, it has never been available again. See: all this Mario and Fire Emblem stuff in 2020 wasn’t the first time Nintendo had something available for a limited time. And 2020 was assuredly not the last time they will do this either. Speaking of which, 2021 is the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda series. Let’s get real excited for being able to buy Ocarina of Time on Switch during a two-week period in June!

I Am the Ultimate Photo Dojo Champion

More than 10 years ago, I got invited to a Nintendo press event for Photo Dojo. It was a tournament where the winning player would be flown to Redmond to visit Nintendo of America’s new headquarters. I won the New York tournament, flew out to Seattle, and then beat the other press winners before beating Bill Trinen and taking the title of Ultimate Photo Dojo Champion for all of eternity (if this game goes off the DSi Shop, no one can take my title). I was even on an episode of the legendarily brilliant B-movie fever-dream marketing show Nintendo Week.

With all that in mind, I’m biased. I will always love this game, but honestly, I still played the snot out of it when it came out. It’s a really goofy 2D fighter where you take various photos and record sounds to make your own fighter using the DSi’s camera and microphone. Optimally, you play against a friend who did the same and then you each share a side of the DS and laugh until you cry while your dumb catchphrase triggered by your hadouken triggers some inside joke. I think I made a fighter out of my cat? I even recorded his purr, if memory serves. Anyway, Photo Dojo is bizarre and I adore it.

Intelligent Systems Made A Dragon Quest Game

In that period of time when Fire Emblem and Advance Wars were trying to find their future (note: Advance Wars is still looking), Intelligent Systems worked with Square Enix on a Dragon Quest strategy game...that was exclusive to DSiWare. That 2009 game, called Dragon Quest Wars, is not an expansive and complicated turn-based strategy game, but what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in charm and accessibility. You play on a grid, controlling classic monsters to try to outsmart your opponents. While this part of it is unplayable these days, it had a really great online multiplayer mode back in the day. It’s a shame this game is locked to DSiWare because it’s really cute.

A Capcom Game With Jimmy Fallon?

Remember Dark Void? Me neither, but I do remember Dark Void Zero. Capcom was in the process of making a big AAA Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game and thought it’d be funny to make a jokey retro platformer that was pitched as the secret predecessor to it. Honestly? It was a real good bit, down to the back story that Jimmy Fallon somehow won a contest to play it when he was a kid. You even had to blow into the DSi microphone to blow the dust off the cartridge at the start (note: do not do that to your old games!).

The game itself is a surprisingly enjoyable retro platformer. And thankfully, it won’t be lost to the world post-DSiWare as it is available on Steam and iOS.

Arkanoid RPG from the Dead Cells Developers

AlphaBounce was this incredibly smart game that took the gameplay of Breakout/Arkanoid and turned it into an RPG. It was long, clever, and awesome. I wonder what happened to the developer....MotionTwin? Wait wait wait wait wait. How did I go this long without realizing the people who made this super rad DSiWare game a decade ago also made Dead Cells. What the hell. That makes more sense than I thought it would. Anyway, you’re days late in being able to play this because it was available using Flash on their website for a while. Trust me: it ruled.

The First SteamWorld Game

I never played SteamWorld Tower Defense, so I can’t speak to its quality. Knowing developer Image & Form, I’m sure it’s solid, but back when this game came out, no one had any idea who the hell Image & Form was. Thankfully, that changed and SteamWorld Dig, Heist, Dig 2, and Quest all came out and were rad.

Nintendo’s Bite-Sized Applications

I’m not going to say that having an app on my DSi for Brain Age’s Sudoku component changed my life, but I can’t say firmly that it didn’t. That goes for a lot of the other bite-sized snippets of existing Nintendo games, which included more Brain Age, some Master of Illusion, a little Clubhouse Games, several Electroplankton, tastes of Game & Watch, and even some WarioWare mini-games. Throw in some of the borderline full-fledged sequels like Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again, and you have yourself a good supporting lineup on DSiWare.

The End of Nintendo Pinball

Pinball Pulse: The Ancients Beckon was the last of Nintendo’s modern line of pinball games. It was definitely a step back from the wondrous Metroid Prime Pinball, and it’s unfortunate that this wound up being the last game that Nintendo worked on with Fuse Games. Sadly, this game killed Fuse Games, but they came back as Silverball Studios...only to struggle to bring back their pinball games. Can we get someone to work with them on like, Metroid Prime 4 Pinball or Mario Kart Pinball or Star Fox Ball or something?

Go! Go! Kokopolo!

This is where I eat shit and realize that the sequel to Go! Go! Kokopolo that I thought didn’t come out actually came out in 2017 on 3DS. The first game on DSiWare, however, is beautiful. The spritework is excellent and the gameplay, which blends some Pac-Man-y arcade concepts with 2D platformers, is really fun. Unfortunately it seems this developer has the unfortunate habit of releasing games really late into a console’s life, as this hit DSiWare months after the 3DS launched and as previously stated, the 3DS sequel came out around the launch of the Switch. They announced a third game, set for Switch release, that I anticipate will come out two weeks after Nintendo’s next console launches.

Mixed Messages

Naturally, Vicarious Visions showed up on DSiWare. They brought DLC to Wii, made Skylanders work on 3DS, and the founders went on to make Mario Kart Live at Velan Studios. Their DSiWare game Mixed Messages isn’t mind-blowingly innovative but it’s something that I got a lot of joy out of. Essentially, this is just a game of telephone as up to 21 players can pass a DSi around, alternating writing a sentence and drawing an image based on that sentence.

WayForward

I’ll make this one quick, not because WayForward did bad work on DSiWare. Quite the opposite, actually. More because WayForward actually got their games off of this doomed service. Mighty Flip Champs and Shantae: Risky’s Revenge both were great on DSiWare. However, WayForward folks: please save Mighty Milky Way.

You Should Probably Know About Jason Rohrer

Jason Rohrer had a few games on DSiWare, including Primrose and Alt-Play (the latter is an anthology collection of his games), but they’re not going to be lost to time because most of Rohrer’s games are public domain.

No Thank You, WarioWare Snapped

Imagine if WarioWare was very bad. Congrats - you just pictured WarioWare Snapped!

Talkback

swillerJanuary 08, 2021

DSiWare was awesome and was never covered by the media and podcasters. AlphaBounce is a great call! Developed by the Dead Cell guys!  8) Another lost gem is PicDun. A dungeon crawler meets picross.

swillerJanuary 08, 2021

Quote from: swiller

DSiWare was awesome and was never covered by the media and podcasters. AlphaBounce is a great call! Developed by the Dead Cell guys!?  8) Another lost gem is PicDun from the Go series. A dungeon crawler meets picross. Used the stylus well and quite lengthy.

LemonadeJanuary 08, 2021

I feel like I missed out on DSiWare. I bought my DSi not long after it came out. I downloaded Kubos and Picopict with the free shop points they gave you. I was very unimpressed with these two games. Besides Flipnote Studio and Zelda Four Swords, both of which were free, I never downloaded anything else.

At some point Casey and Perry talked about Bird and Bombs on TNP, so I bought it on 3DS. It was ok.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorJanuary 09, 2021

No love for Number Battle?

Starship Defense also gets a high five from me.  Great Tower Defense game.

Discord.RSSJanuary 09, 2021

Good write-up for those of us who never got to try any of these!

pokepal148Spencer Johnson, Contributing WriterJanuary 09, 2021

Alphabounce is still sadly delisted which makes me sad.

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