Get these Nintendo 3DS games before you can't: DSiWare, Pt. 1
Remember DSiWare? It's going to be a lot easier to forget these games ever existed soon.
Nintendo announced that, as of the end of March 2023, they will be shutting down the digital storefronts of their last generation handheld and home console, the 3DS and Wii U. And without plans to make the games on those shops available elsewhere. This means a massive chunk of video game history will be closed off to the rest of us; before that can happen, let’s figure out what you should seek out and add to your system memory on those platforms, via a series of posts on the subject.
As of the end of March in 2023, you will no longer be able to make new purchases on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. That’s a shame for a number of reasons, from both a short- and long-term view, but in the months to go, you’ve still got time to grab what you want to from the store. This time around, let’s focus on the DSiWare releases.
DSiWare was the handheld cousin of Nintendo’s WiiWare service, when downloadable titles on consoles and handhelds were still relatively recent affairs, and the desire to brand them existed. Nintendo had the -Ware appendage, Microsoft had Xbox Live Arcade, Sony had Playstation Minis. It was a different time. You couldn’t get DSiWare games on a standard Nintendo DS or DS Lite system: you needed the mid-generation DSi for those. That iteration of the DS system dropped the Game Boy Advance backwards compatability, but added in a digital storefront. And while Nintendo did a pretty poor job of marketing the games it released on the service, be they their own developed and published titles or third-party ones, there were still some real gems on that shop.
And as short-lived as the whole endeavor was, it has lived on through the Nintendo 3DS eShop, and will continue to do so until Q1 of 2023 is at its end. There is only one real flaw with the DSiWare games being available on the 3DS, but it’s one worth noting as you consider what to grab while you still can: unlike the rest of the digital games available on the 3DS, DSiWare titles cannot run off of a micro SD card, which means you need to use the 3DS’ limited internal storage for them. You can store DSiWare titles on your micro SD just fine, but you’ll need to swap around which ones are installed and which ones are stored in order to actually play them and that’s especially worth mentioning given that, at some point, you presumably will not be able to access the games you’ve previously purchased.
With that, let’s get to it. This one is going to be pretty Nintendo-heavy, as they were, unsurprisingly, one of the more significant supporters of their own shop that anchored their new DS variant.
A Kappa’s Trail
This game, developed by Brownie Brown when they were still known as that, was one of my “Just Missed” picks for the Nintendo top 101. Which is to say, it’s one of the better DSiWare titles available:
A Kappa’s Trail is a deceptively difficult and involved platformer, where you use the stylus to draw a path for a Kappa to reach the exit of the stage. A simple enough premise, but the path is full of enemies that you cannot directly attack, you have limited health, the floor is constantly falling away or the lights are turning off or boulders are falling from the ceiling or the floor is vanishing in some kind of fall-to-your-death memory game, and also, a giant demon hand falls from the sky and perfectly follows the path you drew for your Kappa, and if it reaches him, you fail and have to start the stage over.
So! You are attempting to draw a path to safety and continue to update that path to navigate around enemies, around obstacles, and to make sure you don’t accidentally double back into the hand chasing you. You need to collect coins so you can purchase health items, upgrades, and so on, but attempting to collect coins also makes the stages significantly more difficult. However, without the upgrades coins can buy you, the stages become significantly more difficult! This game is as tough as it is cute, and let me tell you: it is cute.
You could do a lot worse for $5: this is one to absolutely make space in your 3DS’ storage for.
Bird & Beans
Sometimes, developers would put out “full” games on the DSiWare service, charging $8 or whatever — and sometimes, the shop would be used as a place to play around with a concept for a couple of bucks. Birds & Beans, which you can buy for $2, is an example of the latter. It’s actually a remake of the secret minigames, Pyoro and Pyoro 2, from the first WarioWare title on the Game Boy Advance, featuring a larger, less cramped playing area. In this Nintendo SPD title, you are a bird named Pyoro, walking around on the bottom of the screen, and you are trying to eat vegetables with your exceptionally and unnervingly long tongue as they fall from the sky before they can hit the ground. If they do hit the ground, said ground disappears, limiting where you can move Pyoro from then on.
(That video shows Bird & Beans gameplay until 3:15 in, then switches to an unrelated game.)
Like a number of arcade classics, Bird & Beans seems simple until it very much isn’t. You get more points the higher up a falling vegetable is when you grab it with Pyoro’s tongue, but it takes much longer to extend his tongue that far, and when it’s raining veggies, that’s going to be a problem. You have to balance survival with scoring, and it takes practice and skill to get to the point where that’s a breeze to do.
Hudson Soft loved putting Bomberman variants on every downloadable game service around, and each had their own little quirks and differences that would make it so you didn’t have to feel bad about wanting more than one. Bomberman Blitz is a scaled-down Bomberman affair in some ways — it’s just the arena multiplayer, not a game with a campaign —but it’s still got plenty to offer even now, when the online multiplayer component is no longer in service.
Blitz features 10 different stages to choose from, and lets you play against up to seven computer opponents on various difficulty levels. This particular Bomberman sticks out because it utilizes both screens of the DSi: you have to be paying attention to both the top and bottom in order to successfully defend against and eliminate the opposition. And while online multiplayer might not work any longer, you can connect locally with seven other 3DS owners in the same room to battle it out. It’s probably more likely you’ve got one other person to play this mode with, but still. Portable Bomberman for $5!
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!
Another “Just Missed” entry from the Nintendo 101:
You could argue that this is the best original game that Nintendo Software Technology has ever developed. The American wing of Nintendo’s development arm is responsible for games like Ridge Racer 64, Pokémon Puzzle League, and Metroid Prime Hunters, so it’s not due to a failure to make anything else of note. It’s just that this miniaturized version of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games they’re also known for developing is that good. While plotting out the original versions of these rankings, I had assumed this would end up toward the back of the top 100, but alas, it ended up relegated to this kind of honorable mention duty instead. It turns out that Nintendo has developed and published a few other pretty good games over the years, who knew.
What makes this game stand out among the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games is that you don’t directly control the titular minis. You instead have to analyze the stage they’re in — which are designed like even more elaborate Donkey Kong ‘94 (number 60) levels — and then set them loose, considering environmental puzzles and obstacles as well as timing. You can manipulate the environment around the minis to make them turn, or climb, or fall, or what have you, but you do not control the minis themselves other than tapping them with the DS’ stylus to make them start their march. This means you need to solve puzzles before they’re even fully revealed, and account for the puzzles that only reveal themselves as the minis are in motion, too. It’s layered, enjoyable gameplay.
This one will cost you $8, and it’s not just a better use of your money because it’s cheaper than its cousins, either.
Are you familiar with the Game Boy game, X? Released in 1992 for Nintendo’s first handheld, it was developed by Argonaut Games and Nintendo R&D1, and designed by Dylan Cuthbert. Even if you don’t know of X, you surely can see where this is going given the names involved. Cuthbert programmed the Argonauts-developed Star Fox on the SNES, tapping into 3D technology that was impressive for the time on a home console. Star Fox, however, was not the first 3D game Cuthbert would program for Nintendo: that would be X, which is what convinced Nintendo that Argonauts might be able to create Star Fox in the first place.
Anyway, decades later, Cuthbert’s Q-Games partnered up with Nintendo SPD to produce a sequel, X-Scape. Rather than combat in space, this time, you control a tank, but still from a first-person perspective, and now the 3D effect is throwback-oriented instead of innovative. Which is not to say that it relies solely on nostalgia for vector graphics to keep you playing: X-Scape has plenty going on for it that expands on the original gameplay style of X, thanks in large part due to significantly powerful hardware and a focus on utilizing both screens: the top to see where your tank is and what it’s up against, and the bottom for controlling the thing.
There are two mission types. One has the tank in a tunnel, attempting to escape it before the door closes and before you blow up on the obstacles in the way. The second is more open, with the tank driving where you want it to, defeating enemies and completing objectives. X-Scape could have been a full retail release, given how much there is here, but it was also a perfect example of what a digital space was good for: Cuthbert and Co. had room to experiment and create such a niche game in the first place without having to worry about shelf placement and cartridge costs, and it’s hard to argue with the end result.
Art Style: Boxlife
Boxlife, in its R&D mode, is a series of puzzles that see you trying to fold connected squares into as many boxes as possible before time runs out. To do this, you will need to identify where you have to cut these connected squares, in order to end up with a completed box. You’re scored on how long it takes you to figure out each puzzle — there are 10 per rank — as well as how many actual boxes you complete. (You can “Pass” on a puzzle if it’s giving you too much trouble and you just want to get moving, but you obviously lose out on potential points by doing so.)
Cut, fold, and reattach. These are your actions, and you use the stylus to complete the motions as well as choose between them. Once you’ve assembled a box, it’s carried away, and you’re left to make more boxes until you can’t.
After enough time and high-scoring in the game’s R&D mode, you’ll be promoted, i.e. unlock the Factory mode, which sees you trying to make money by making more boxes, except each action you take is costing you paper, and paper costs money, so you need to try to chain together completed boxes in order to boost your income for each stage. Also, now there are bombs. It doesn’t have to make sense to be fun, you know.
Boxlife centers everything around this idea of tedium and the workplace, with better scores (read: more dollars) adding new little trinkets and decorations to your little home, which is viewable on the top screen from the game’s main menu. Those scores are delivered on what look like line graphs you’d see in a boring work presentation, the difficulty levels are named things like “Part-timer” and “Specialist.” It’s a neat puzzler on its own, but the set dressing was also a lovely and humorous touch to give it a little something extra.
Art Style: PiCTOBiTS
The absolute best of all of the Art Style games, PiCTOBiTS actually made the Nintendo top 101, and did so comfortably, coming in at number 49:
Pictobits is a stylus-based puzzle game with falling blocks. It’s not a match three game, in part because you actually need to match a minimum of four blocks of the same color together, but also because of how the game actually plays. On the system’s bottom screen, you have falling blocks, but not singular blocks. Instead, they are individual blocks meant to represent pixels, built into larger shapes. Your job is to pick up blocks of the same color from your supply at the bottom of the screen, and move them to the appropriate place so that the falling shapes will crash into them, in a way that will clear lines. You can store up to eight individual blocks up at a time to be distributed wherever you wish, you can put the minimum number of blocks in the way of falling shapes to clear them or go all out and get rid of as much of a single color as you want, but if there is a blockage at the top of the screen keeping new shapes from coming down, you will fail the level.
The colors have more meaning than just allowing you to remove certain falling objects or parts of them from the stage. You are using the cleared blocks to create a pixelated picture in your top screen. All of the pixelated images are from NES games, so the first stage has a Mario from the original Super Mario Bros.; a later level has a dirt bike and rider from Excitebike; Link from The Legend of Zelda makes an appearance, etc. While you play these levels, modified versions of songs from these games play in the background, too: simple, at first, just hinting at the game they and the image you are building with your play is from, but as you fill in more of the image, the songs start to sound more like the ones you remember.
Fantastic match-puzzle gameplay with reasons to go back for more, and stuffed with what is oftentimes the best version of whichever classic chiptune theme happens to be playing. I mean:
I go back to this game pretty regularly to go through all of its levels once more and hear its music again, and I suspect you would, too, if you gave it a shot.
Mighty Flip Champs/Mighty Milky Way
You might be familiar with Wayforward’s two Mighty Switch Force games, but that series actually got its start, and released its first two entries, on the DSiWare shop. They are puzzle platformers, where you are flipping the screen in order to progress, and it might actually be easier just to show you how it works:
If there is nowhere for Alta, the protagonist of Mighty Flip Champs, to land, she’ll just keep falling until she does. If she hits an enemy or trap upon flipping, you’ll lose. It’s a great premise and wonderful use of the dual-screen technology, and while you can pick up an updated version on the Playstation Network for your PS3 or PSP while those shops still sort of exist, the side-by-side screens isn’t quite the same. Give me a Switch release where you have to use a Flip Grip or undock your system and lean it up against a stack of books or something, give me that verticality.
Mighty Milky Way switches things up quite a bit, but leaves enough traces of its predecessor to still be a Mighty game, only set in space and relying on gravitational pull to get around.
Each of these games is $8, and if you’re prioritizing either space or dollars, I’d go with Mighty Milky Way. Especially since it’s not available on any other platform.
G.G Score Attacker
Not the greatest shoot-em-up you’ll ever play, no, but neither the DSi nor 3DS are loaded with them, and G.G. Score Attacker does manage to scratch the itch if you’ve got it. It also has a nifty gimmick, where you collect energy from defeated foes, and then that energy is stored and used to power either special attacks that can wipe out entire waves or damage more powerful enemies, or as a shield to save you from damage, whether that damage be from incoming bullets or crashing with another ship.
That shield also scores points for you, so it’s not just a last-second defense against impending doom. But you don’t also want to just use that, because to do so effectively means leaving yourself in danger pretty often, and utilizing the large cannon shot instead will often net you larger energy rewards. So there’s plenty to think about here and consider as you fire and evade, and as the name of the game implies, it’s all about that high score. Which, sure, is just you competing against yourself, but sometimes that’s all you need, especially for $2.
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