Grand Theft Auto is no stranger to the handheld market. They’ve conquered the Sony PSP with Liberty City Stories as the all time best seller on that system. So, it’s no surprise to me that Chinatown Wars would succeed on the Nintendo DS, because although they are making their first appearance on this system their “back to the basics” fundamentals won us over. For those who loved the early GTA, the 3D top-down overview is back, and it’s awesome!
You begin as Huang Lee, a spoiled rich kid from Hong Kong, where your mission is simple. Your father was murdered by unknown thugs, and you are asked to deliver a sword, Yu Jian, to Liberty City (yes the same), to your Uncle Wu “Kenny” Lee. But if RockStar made missions that simple they would yet to be the juggernaut of game developing they are today. As your flight lands, you are greeted by ambushers who kidnap you, and the bullet that grazed your temple leaves you a bloody mess. So here you are; bleeding and left for dead trying to escape from a car that was driven off a pier. Oh yeah, and No Yu Jian! Welcome to Liberty city!
Control your Huang. Let’s get the control mechanics out on the table. If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto 2 (Taxi drivers must die soundtrack version), you’ll pick up the button configuration instantly. For you slackers, you’ll find the controls easy to remember. “B” is used for acceleration/walking/running, “Y” is to go in reverse, and jump while on foot. “X” allows you to enter a vehicle, I use the word “enter” loosely as most of the time you’ll be stealing them. And “A” shoots/punches your enemy and using the right bumper targets them. Left bumper reset your view behind Huang.
Several means to make green. You know, being the son of a rich Triad boss (before your father was murdered) should give you access to money. Not the case here, but Rockstar has made many attempts that allow you to do so, as money is the force that drives you. I’ve found myself taking up the occupation of drug trafficking as it was the most fun buying low and selling high.. get it?! Throughout the map, there will be rival gangs driving minivans marked with a red dot on your radar. These vehicles can be hijacked and returned to your safehouse. Once you arrive, you’ll be able to slash open the dashboard revealing smuggled drugs which you can then add to your inventory.
Plenty of hi jinks to hijack. In past GTA’s, you were easily able to carjack any vehicle by pressing the triangle button (PS2). Thanks to the DS touchscreen, Chinatown Wars has made carjacking fun. When you first attempt to enter a vehicle to “joy ride” you will notice a bar along the bottom indicating the alarm system that will go off. Within that allotted time, you will have to break open the panel using a screwdriver; insert the flathead into the ignition then unscrew the screws by swirling the touchscreen. The game is very well thought out, as you will steal many cars throughout the game and your experience will need a different method each time.
Lottery tickets, Tattoo parlors, stinky Taxi cabs… In addition to making money while selling drugs, the mini-games included make for great fun. For example, you can walk into local bodega’s (grocery stores) and pick up several increments of scratch cards and using your stylus scratch-off the ticket. I found the addiction just as powerful so be careful you gamblers! Another DS enriched mini-game, puts you behind the needle. No, not that needle, a tattoo artists’ needle. During this mini-game, you’ll be given a template on a tattooee’s body which you then trace inking them along the way. Stay in the lines, or you’ll lose your approval rating. And like previous Taxi mini-games, you can pick up willing pedestrians for joy rides err, cab fares to their final destination. Don’t get into too many fender benders as you’ll tip will decrease with each hit.
New tools for the Triads. You’ll quickly notice that your main device in CTW is your PDA. From here you’ll be able to receive emails, check your contacts and navigate using your built-in GPS. Huang will also receive special offers from online weapons retailer Ammunation where you can purchase items and have them delivered to your safehouse.
Two screens one vision. The seamless view of GTA: Chinatown Wars on the Nintendo DS is fantastic. The Top Screen is where the live gameplay is displayed, while the bottom screen entertains us with cutsceens, inventory, GPS etc. Having the ability to turn on some visual settings on the Top Screen did allow for smoother gameplay as I found myself looking at the bottom screen for directions. But on the other side, this route provided the shortest “legal” route and not the fastest route. I’m big in driving into oncoming traffic “Near Miss”!
Cleverness means cleanliness. The cutscenes are filled with several stages of innuendo’s, there’s no hiding that. But Rockstar’s sense of humor shows with comical mission names and store awnings. Store Wars, is by far my favorite. In it you had to stop rival a gang The Spanish Lords from firebombing a store under Uncle Kenny’s protection. You have to quickly block the road by placing 4 cars (2 on each side) into position on the street. One of the more clever store names I found was “Cut The Corner”, a building I found myself zipping by and thanks to the building architect who literally, cut the corner, I avoided clipping the stairs.
Noticeable features worth noticing. The Nintendo DS is such a clever handheld for GTA: Chinatown Wars that one aspect really made the game for me. Whistle why you… play. As I was whistling my favorite Donna Summer song, I stumbled upon something so creative it needed it’s own section. Whistling into the DS mic, fetches a Taxi. Another cool feature I discovered was opening the DS while I had GTA: Chinatwon wars in idle mode. The hysterics alone, had me opening and closing the DS. I won’t ruin it for you, so give it a try. Changing weather even shows pedestrians popping out umbrellas when it starts to rain. No “Rain Drops keep falling on my head” here! Lastly, the Police Evasion system has been upgraded. You can bump Police cars into oncoming cars or dividers. By doing so, you will lower your “wanted” level. Much better than GTA IV’s evasion system, where you would have to be outside the Police radar.
3D aerial view, an enhanced GTA 1 and GTA 2 view
Story using Liberty city environment
Music / soundtrack
DS innovative controls (ie. whistle into mic, scratch-off’s on lower screen and carjacking with stylus)
Police evasion system
We weren’t sure what to expect from a GTA game porting to the soft side of Nintendo’s fluffy clouds. But everything RockStar touches becomes infected, and within that virus come great titles. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown wars is the first 10/10 we’ve given on any review. We’re proud to say it’s among the best game we’ve ever played, due to it’s creativeness and originality gameplay.