gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Rising Star Games for Nintendo DS triple-review

Ecolis, Dungeon Maker, XG Blast - Nintendo DS - box art

Reviews by Johnus Maximus

Are you looking for some games to keep your DS alive during the morning commute? If so, check out this triple play review in which I give you the low down on three titles that are available right now from publishers Rising Star Games.

The first review is for Dungeon Maker, which is the tale of a boy and his blob, where you have to build a dungeon and fight against the monsters who then inhabit it in turn-based combat.

The second review is for Ecolis – Save the Forest, a real time strategy game for kids with an environmental message to convey, which is endorsed by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The third and final review is for XG Blast!, a colourful and hectic top-down shooter that sees you trying to survive constant waves of enemies on levels that get progressively harder.

Follow the jump for the review of each of the games…

Dungeon Maker

Dungeon Maker - Nintendo DS - shovelOne day whilst going about his daily business, a young lad named Owen discovers a magical talking shovel, which in itself is a fantastical thing, but his day gets even stranger when he also finds out that it is his destiny is to become a famous dungeon maker and as with most Japanese games and anime, the fate of the universe rests on his actions.

The fat, moustachioed, mayor of the town decides to capitalise on this and gets Owen to construct a dungeon that will attract various monsters, tourists and most importantly – money! So with the help of a local furniture seller, you have to proceed into a dark cave entrance and put on your best effort at being Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen, only instead of MDF and pastel paints, you get to build slimy grottos and dirty dojos.

Dungeon Maker - Nintendo DS - screenshotThe gameplay in Dungeon Maker takes place in three distinct chunks, the dungeon exploration and design is done with a top down view, you guide Owen around using the d-pad and using the main buttons you dig tunnels, construct dungeon rooms and also access the menu that allows you to equip new weapons and armours, use items and cast magic spells. The top screen on the DS shows the dungeon map, with the location of Owen and all the rooms he has made so far.

The second gameplay element is the turn based combat, in which Owen has to kill the various monsters that come into the dungeon each and every day. The monsters range from the standard goblins, ghosts, slimes and warriors to the somewhat ridiculous carrot men, potato bombs and pepper wizards! The combat plays just like most turn based rpg’s, so you select whether to attack, defend, use magic or use items and as you proceed to kill more enemies you come across new weapons and trinkets with which to improve yourself.

The third aspect of gameplay occurs outside the dungeon when you’ve finished building and fighting. At the end of each day you leave the dungeon and head back to your town where there is a friendly weapon shop girl, a slightly strange and food obsessed magic store guy, the furniture sellers, the mayor and a small girl that sells vegetables. You finish the day by returning home to rest, whilst there you can also create recipes using food you find in the dungeon, rather than levelling up during combat, the different recipes allow you to grow your character in different ways.

Dungeon Maker - Nintendo DS - screenshotWith two additional characters to join you on your quest, and more than ten dungeon floors, this game will have you playing for quite a long time, and despite how simplistic it is, it’s actually a lot of fun. You can even continue playing an additional ten dungeon floors even when the main storyline has finished, so there’s a lot packed into the game.

The only criticism I can level at it is that it doesn’t utilise the touch screen at all and the music can get just a little bit too repetitive. Otherwise it’s a good fun game and worth a look.

Dungeon Maker scores four magical talking stars out of five.
four stars

Ecolis – Save the Forest

Ecolis - Nintendo DS - screenshotEcolis is a rather simple real time strategy game which aims to teach kids the importance of not polluting our environment whilst at the same time battling with Pokemon-esque woodland creatures, although the premise is fun the clunky controls really hamper this game from being much fun.

The game is set in a fictional forest called The Mana Woods, where the usual peace and harmony its inhabitants live in has been shattered by the arrival of a mechanised menace. The rulers of the nearby Kingdom have sent a massive army of robots to chop down trees, dam rivers and generally clear a patch for the expansion of the Kingdom.

Ecolis - Nintendo DS - screenshotIn the process of this urban upheaval The Mana Woods are becoming polluted and a dangerous place to live in. The hero of the game Dorian, who looks like a cross between a giant pumpkin and the Honey Monster, is summoned by his aging mentor to sort things out. Facing such a large problem Dorian is instructed on how to get help from three types of woodland creature – the squirrel-like Ecolis, the flying-squirrel Ecomon and the beaver-like Ecoby.

There are a few basic tutorials available at first which will show you how to move Dorian about, control the camera, how to summon the Ecolis and use their special moves. You start off with a small number of Ecolis, but with each level you play you get the opportunity to gain more by planting special trees around the level.

Ecolis - Nintendo DS - screenshotThere are two types of levels you play, the mainstay of which involves dispatching various small robots and buildings by attacking them with your little critters, but also there are some puzzle elements that need you to utilise their individual specialities to get Dorian past blocked paths or secure particular objectives. After two or three of these levels you’ll then get the chance to face off against large boss monsters, which are usually animals which have turned bad by the corrupting influence of the pollution.

I really found it hard to get along with this game and have actually written this review without completing the game as I just found myself getting irritated. Firstly, moving Dorian around the level is really slow, and getting the Ecolis to go where you want becomes harder as the game goes on – they keep getting stuck on corners or plotting paths that make no sense at all!

Considering the game is aimed at children I think the learning curve is pretty harsh, I had to replay one of the early levels way too many times just to get a decent enough force to complete. The sense of humour in the game is quite quirky, this might be a translation thing but it worked okay for me. Taking all this into context I’ve given Ecolis a score of two and a half bio-degradeable stars out of five.
Two and a half stars

XG Blast!

We’ve come a long way since the days of Space Invaders and Asteroids, with video games trying to immerse themselves into a more mature and story-driven art form. But some people still enjoy the simplistic premise of blowing stuff up and trying to beat a high score, which is exactly what XG Blast! embodies.

XG Blast! - Nintendo DS - screenshotImmediate comparisons can be drawn to the hugely successful Geometry Wars series of games, you have to move around a fixed playing arena destroying the various waves of space craft that will come and attack you. Each type of craft has a unique behavioural pattern and as the levels advance the screen gets progressively more occupied by enemies.

Various powerups litter the environment and will allow you to change the type of projectile you fire, some have a wider spread, some have homing capability. The power-ups stack, so picking up the same weapon for a second or third time will make the weapon more destructive. You also have the immense power of the XG Blast at your disposal, which acts as smart bomb getting rid of many enemies at once, great for when you’re cornered.

Controlling your craft is simple, but not very effective on the Nintendo DS – you use the directional pad to move your craft and to shoot you can either press the four main buttons or use the stylus on the touch screen. This presents a problem, as the firing buttons don’t easily lend themselves to diagonal shooting as much as the d-pad does for movement, so for more precision you are really best using the touch screen.

XG Blast! - Nintendo DS - screenshotThis also presents a problem as you have your hand and the stylus blocking the view of what’s happening on screen, which can be infuriating and leave you begging for a dual analogue stick control system.

Defeat several waves of enemies and you can then plot your course to the next part of the galaxy under attack, after a few levels you then get to a boss fight. These large, fast ships fly all over the screen spewing deadly laser fire for you to dodge. Every time you complete a level it is unlocked in the Survival Mode, which is an extra mode letting you try to stay alive in a level for as long as possible whilst building up a high score.

Don’t look for deep and meaningfuls in this game, because you won’t find them. Instead relish the intense and frantic shmup fun for as long as your fingers and wrists will allow you to. XG Blast! scores three motherships out of five.
Three stars

Saturday, March 21st, 2009, Computer Gaming.