When I first saw the Nintendo DS, I saw a machine that had two screens. Some of the most creative people working on the system, however, have looked at the Nintendo DS and seen one screen.
They have seen one tall screen that can present a beautiful living-room-window vertical portal to the virtual world.
I'd forgotten how beautiful DS games that use the system's two screens as one could look. I'd forgotten until last week when I saw that Thor DS — yes, a DS tie-in to the upcoming movie about Marvel's hammering hero — uses both screens as one.
It all flooded back to me. This was how I'd hoped DS games would look. This is how they rarely look anymore.
Up top you see Thor DS (2011), alongside two from Yoshi: Touch & Go (2005), three games that show their game world across both DS screens.
Here is one from Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (2005).
This is Nintendo and Brownie Brown's role-playing game Magical Starsign (2006).
This is another Thor image, a shot that would really benefit from separating the images to compensate for the gap between screens on the actual DS.
Those are some of the great-looking vertical games. Note the years on them. In recent years, the more common look of DS games, has been the two-screens/two-different-things style seen here in Pokemon Black (2011).
The screens here don't do justice to how good the Thor game looks. In motion, on a DSiXL, it's spectacular. The game is a side-scrolling brawler from WayForward. It's pretty much a game about Thor beating up dudes. It is a loose tie-in to the movie, mixing Smash-Brothers-inspired one-button melee combat with fancy elemental and hammer moves that let Thor leap to the top screen and strike down to enemies below. The brawling looks great spread across two screens. Imagine Thor running across a plateau on the top screen, then dropping down to the lower screen, falling alongside a stormcloud's rain to slam the enemies below.
The lead developer of Thor told me last week that it's tough to do on the DS. The screens can't always display the same quality of graphics. I'm glad that his team tried. The 3DS doesn't even have same-sized screens and without that symmetry, I fear, the motivation to do a single skyscaper view will be further diminished.
I admired Thor DS last week and realized what a wonderful phase of tall-screen games we'd had a few years ago. DS games seldom exhibit this unified vertical screen aesthetic, this demonstration of widescreen turned on its ear. It's too bad because I think it's a great look. Look for Thor DS on May 3. It is an unexpected throwback to a brief, beautiful video game era.