The Best Games You’ve Never Heard of: Dark Spirits

Dark Spirits

Now, it’s safe to say that Nintendo’s Go Series doesn’t have a vast army of rabid fans (forgive me, lone crazy dude who loves them, but we’re hardly talking Call of Duty’s lofty levels of fame right here). This initiative brought a selection of odd little games to the DSi store, across all genres, at a budget price.

As grandma always said, buy cheap, buy twice. Or, you get what you pay for. Whichever. Grandma was a canny ol’ bird, always passing off these well-known cliches as her own work. There’s not much fun to be had in the home, after all. Anywho, she was wrong, because sometimes a remarkable little gem comes along for a great price.

One such instance would be Dark Spirits. It’s a retrotastic scrolling shooter/Castlevania hybrid. Can you argue with that kind of concept? You cannot.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a standard-issue old style blaster. You cruise from left to right, propelling bullet-flavored steely fury at anything and every-darn-thing that crosses your path. The occasional boss lumbers into view, hoping to rearrange your ship into a tiny, shattered heap of twisted metal, blood and bitter tears. You eradicate them too.

But what Dark Spirits does is deftly add a whole bucketful of creepy demon-ness to proceedings. And a unique power-up system. But mostly the macabre weirdery.

Dark Spirits

You take the role of an identikit vampire dude. Flow-y black cape, equally flow-y grey hair, you know the score. As he proceeds through the stage, he’s beset by all kinds of freaky flesh-things. These buggers wouldn’t look out of place in Castlevania. To combat them, you engage the number of odd magical orbs that are orbiting your body. Which is where it gets a little complex.

Enemies will drop pick-ups of different colours, which you must ‘catch’ with one of your own orbs. This will give you a certain kind of shot (weaker rapid fire, more powerful but slow shots and so forth), but only affects the orb that collected it. The same type of pick-up again will level up that particular orb, but it’ll reset any different ones it touches and change them to its own type.

It’s a very novel system, and one sure to elicit howls of rage and/or despair when you slip and reset an orb you’d been working on building up for three levels. It happens.

It happens to me, at any rate.

So, sure, Dark Spirits can be a pain. Nevertheless, it struck a real chord with me for its bold, brash and bizarre presentation, its macabre atmosphere, that compulsive-yet-punishing gameplay and the wonderfully electro soundtrack.

The Best Games You’ve Never Heard Of: QuickPick Farmer

QuickPick

There are some genres perfectly suited for the touchtastic talents of the DS. When it’s implemented properly, and not just shoehorned in for gimmickry’s sake, great things can happen.

I didn’t know that ‘crazy arcade sheep-wrangling sim’ was a genre, but it’s a perfect example of this. feast your eyes, ears and assorted bodily orifices on QuickPick Farmer.

This obscure little offering from Dancing Dots hit DSiWare in 2010. As the title suggests, it’s a game of quick stylus-sorting, in which sheep must be sheared and their wool dispatched in trucks as fast as possible. Which doesn’t sound all that exciting, but there’s more.

The sheep shuffle about on the bottom screen, stupidly and hairily as sheep are wont to do. Above them are the sheds, each of which only admit certain ‘varieties.’ From within the crowd of black sheep, white sheep, grey sheep and subtly-differently-spotted sheep, you must grab the appropriate ones and drag and drop them to their destination. Mistakes will cause time penalities, so you must be both fast and accurate.

Yep, just an average day with QuickPick Farmer.
Yep, just an average day with QuickPick Farmer.

There’s a further complication, in the form of an emaciated and really dumb-looking wolf. He is slowly but surely approaching the herd from the top screen, along a ‘path’ of bushes and such. If he reaches them, it’s an instant game over, but you’re able to defend yourself.

When each shearing-batch is completed, you use the stylus to fire the wool ball catapult fashion into the waiting trucks. Timed correctly, you can instead opt to blast the wolf with it, which will knock it back along the path it’s following and buy you time. In this way, you have several different elements to manage, and a strict time limit for each. It’s all oddly strategic and hectic.

That’s the beauty of QuickPick Farmer. As simplistic as the concept is, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. It’s a brief experience, with only a series of main levels and a survival mode, but it’s rather compulsive. It also has that cheeky humorous spirit running throughout, which is great to see.