Chinatown Wars compromises very little, making it not only a great DS game, but a great GTA game.
Cons: Touch-screen mini-games feel forced; Writing isn't quite as good as the series' standards; Multiplayer is local and multi-cart only; Occasional framerate issues
Note: This review will not touch on multiplayer because frankly I didn't know anybody with this game to play with. The game is rare enough that you might not find someone either, so be warned.
This game must have been an interesting one to propose: given a successful series based around large cities and open-world mechanics (ie: needing powerful systems)-one that is very mature in nature-Rockstar decided to create an original entry for the weak DS system and its generally less mature audience. And to top it all off they weren't going to compromise any significant advances the series had made in its transition from 2D to 3D environments. Whoever granted the developers at Rockstar Leeds the ability to make this game must have been crazy.
They are also crazy lucky as this game is fantastic. The whole city is seamlessly traversable with minimal slowdown. You can still steal cars, shoot people, drive taxis and perform other odd jobs, and piss off the cops (just from a top-down view now). This last activity is even better in this game because if you take out the number of cops corresponding with your wanted star level (without killing them), you will drop a star. This more aggressive standpoint makes chases more exciting as you try and outmaneuver your pursuers into walls.
Actually, Chinatown Wars has a few great additions that not only help it keep up with its console cousins, but advance the series as well. For instance, you have a PDA which lets you keep track of your e-mail (used to receive missions and other important data), view the map and place waypoints, and order weapons online. The best new feature, however, is the surprisingly robust drug trading system where you travel between various drug dealers buying and selling drugs. Different dealers have different prices and preferences, and your e-mail will notify you of deals. Occasionally these deals are a bust and you must fight you way out, adding a level of fun unpredictability to the proceedings. Ultimately the whole thing is one of the most fun side activities the series has to offer-astounding for a portable iteration.
The game already has more content than most DS games without even touching the story. But that's pretty lengthy and awesome as well. Featuring just under 60 varied and fun missions, the story mode follows Huang Lee as he tries to help the Triad regain its hold on the city and find the person who killed his father and stole a valuable sword. The story is fairly interesting, although it doesn't quiet have the strong level of writing that the series normally has, losing an additional punch from the lack of true cutscenes and voice acting.
The story mode, for all of its variety and fun scenarios, also features the most frequent use of the game's worst quality: touch-screen mini-games. At many, many points throughout the game you will be required to stop what you are doing and use the touch screen to hotwire a car, break a lock, arm a bomb, and many other activities. Although these mini-games are not bad, and are pretty quick, switching so frequently between the control pad and the stylus gets awkward and takes you out of the experience.
That said, the use of the DS' hardware is generally great. As mentioned before, the game is generally smooth and features the entire city (minus indoors) sans loading screens. The 3D graphics pop, standing out among the crowd, and the developers should be proud of what they've accomplished. The sound system made the transition less unscathed, lacking the great licensed music and voice acting of other GTA games. The music that's here is pretty nice, but ultimately fails to hold one's attention.
Still, some concession had to be made, and luckily in the case of GTA Chinatown Wars, there were very few. This game is not just a great DS game, but a great GTA game, and belongs in everyone's collection. You really can't get much closer to the console experience on-the-go.