With MadWorld, House of the Dead: Overkill, and now Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, Nintendo seem intent on shaking off that "kids and families" image that the Wii/DS console generation has initiated.
What you need to get out of your head right from the very start is expecting Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars to be nothing more than GTA IV-lite. Yes, a whole heap of features have been trimmed or cut out completely to fit on the dinky little DS. But in their place there’s a heck of a lot that’s been freshly included.
Praise must go the designers of the visual aspect of Chinatown Wars, with some of the best DS aesthetics yet witnessed. The slightly top down viewpoint offers enough to give you an excellent view on your immediate surroundings, and the slightly comic book visuals give this fresh version of Liberty City’s true flavour.
Equally, technically this is something to truly admire. The only missing area from GTA 4 is the final unlocked island, leaving us still with an incredibly huge area to explore and destroy.
Rockstar have been eager to cram in a multitude of touchscreen functionality, with all sorts to tinker with. While the true action is displayed on the top screen, the touchscreen will change as your situation allows it. Attempt to jack a car and you may have to rub your finger on screen in order to do a little unscrewing before you can head on your way. An excellent and innovative addition to the usual formula, though one that can cause true frustration when you find yourself arrested due to a slowness of finger movement.
Speaking of the cops, this time you don’t need to evade, but instead go on the attack. The same old star system - showing you just how desperate the rozzers are to stop you - remains, but things here are tweaked. Now there also appears police car icons just under the stars. If there’s just a pair, then that’s two cop cars you must ram off the road in order to get them off your tail. And it’s certainly a lot of fun being able to head out on the attack rather than simply accelerate away as swiftly as possible.
If there’s one flaw with this system, it’s weapon wise. Instead a simple nudge of a button to flick between weaponry, now you have to glance down to the touchscreen, tap the selected icon, make your choice, and only then will you be wielding what you need. Not the easiest thing to do in the middle of a hectic firefight.
When you do find yourself on foot, things have obviously been chopped right down. With free aim an absolute impossibility, it’s back to the auto targeting system that made such frequent appearances in earlier PS2 games. Flicking from target to target take only a nudge of a button, but it doesn’t consistently head towards the enemy you’re desperate to take out. Another very minor flaw, but one that can frustrate all the same.
The story, focusing on the spoiled Huang Lee and his obsession with tracking down his father’s killers, is typical GTA fare. There’s something slightly more comical this time around, and that does stick a little closer to the more colourful and less mature visuals. The story itself will take well over 12 hours to totally complete, so there’s a big chunk of game to tinker with here too.
The much talked about idea of "drug trafficking" in Chinatown Wars is a touch of a let down, as it’s little more than any other side missions in the series. It’s merely a case of driving to an icon, purchasing drugs from a menu, then heading to another area where you can sell on at a profit. Certainly not enough for the Daily Mail to get annoyed with.
GTA: Chinatown Wars is a true delight. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, and it’s been crammed into a DS cart in a fantastic and sometimes innovative manner.
It’s not a fully fledged GTA title - you’ll not find yourself exploring here - but if you’re after short bursts of absolute fun, then Chinatown Wars’ missions offer that in abundance.