It would be easy to dismiss “Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” (and considering recent sales figures, most of you have), considering that the Nintendo DS isn’t exactly a system known for power or Mature video games.
But dismissing this handheld entry in the popular crime series would be a very, very big mistake.
“Chinatown Wars” takes everything great about the GTA series, gives it a top-down perspective (which long-time fans will recognize as the original viewpoint for the series), adds some touch-screen functionality and drug dealing, and imbues the graphics with a nice, cel-shaded sort of style.
And the end result is amazing.
Everything you love about the series is here, as well as some improvements that should make their way into the game’s console big brothers. An example of this is “trip skip,” which allows the player to fast forward through those boring “drive to this location” sections of missions after you’ve done them once. So, for example, say you’re playing a mission in which you have to drive to the airport and have to blow up a vehicle there, but die after the explosion. The game won’t force you to make the long drive out the the airport again. You just start there. It’s a simple change, but one that you might consider invaluable. It’s actually a wonder that it took the folks at Rockstar so long to implement such a thing.
The main story isn’t as long as that of GTA IV, but there’s still plenty to keep you entertained afterward in the form of side-quests, Rampage missions, multiplayer, drug dealing, and the overall ability to goof off.
The actual plot of the game also isn’t quite up to par with Nico Bellic’s epic tale in GTA IV, but that’s not to say it’s bad. It still has interesting characters and a good story that drives the gameplay further.
Chinatown Wars is a great achievement technically. It never feels like you’re playing in a watered down version of Liberty City.
And while the game has touch screen “mini-games,” they’re integrated so well into the gameplay that they’re never a pain or a hassle, as is the trap that most DS games fall into. From hotwiring cars to assembling weapons to scratching off lottery tickets, everything manages to feel natural in the game world.
You can even whistle into the DS microphone to hail a taxi if you so choose.
Chinatown Wars is a stunning gameplay achievement. It not only manages to be one of the best portable games ever created (certainly one of the best games on the DS), but also one of the best games in the GTA series.
It’s an absolute shame that it’s not selling very well thus far. If you have any interest at all in GTA or just want a more mature game for your DS, I implore you to check out Chinatown Wars.