Short-Term Memory Week — Blowing on the DS, Re-Visited

Nervous Brickdown(It's Short-Term Memory Week, a celebration of earlier Multiplayer posts with full-sized updates. Today: remember... April 9th?)

It was only four and a half months ago that I first huffed and puffed about Nintendo DS game designers asking players to use the DS microphone for breath-based gameplay.

I was tired of blowing off fingerprint dust in "Phoenix Wright" and making a fool of myself, wheezing along with "Wario: Master of Disguise." What has happened since?

Well, I have two bits of bad news for the many people who agreed with me. First, I have proof that developers keep inserting Huff-n-Puff controls. Second, I'm not as against them as I used to be.

In my April 9th post, entitled "Not A Breath Of Fresh Air," I wrote:

I like innovation. I welcomed the DS' novelties from the day the machine was released. Two screens to play games on instead of one? Great. Advances in touch-screen gaming? Splendid. A built-in microphone for voice controls? Sounds good. Using that same mic for mini-games powered by heavy breathing? Today, I cast my vote, and cast it breathily, with a forcefully exhaled "no."

And wouldn't you know, I got some back-up? Here's Matthew Green of Press The Buttons:

...let the word go forth from this time and place that I've had enough hyperventilating in the name of opening a locked door or getting a speed boost.

I made it my mission, from that blog post forward, to look developers squarely in the eye, and, in between asking them questions that matter, grill them on their willingness to compromise their game with breath controls.

Pity the Electronic Arts "Sims 2: Castaway" developer who had been expecting me to cheer a feature in the DS version that requires the player to blow into the microphone to start a kindling fire. I scoffed.

Ache for the Ubisoft pitchman who had done such a good job demo-ing the vocabulary-building "My Word Coach" on DS but then showed me a mode that didn't just involve the"Tetris"-like descent of word-ballons but allowed me to huff, puff and blow those words back up to the top screen. I objected.

I hear "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" has blowing controls, but, frankly, I'm afraid to investigate.

And then I played "Nervous Brickdown," an artsy "Breakout" clone for the DS. To play this game, you hold the DS with one hand, and use the stylus with your other to move the game's paddle (which is sometimes a submarine or a chalk sketch -- remember, "artsy"). As you would expect with a "Breakout" clone, you're using that paddle to ricochet a bouncing ball into an upper screen's worth of bricks (or ghosts, or platforms holding people, or pieces of red clay -- "artsy"!).

I thought the game was fun, an enjoyably spiced serving of some classic gaming comfort food. But I'm not good at the game. I'm out of position with the paddle a lot. I frequently lose. I needed help. It came to me in the strangest of ways. See, I do well enough to unlock extras, and even more thankfully, one of those extras is Huff-n-Puff controls. Indeed.

The game's developers seem to have realized that those who are not good at their game deserve a helping hand, and that, the best way to add that proverbial hand is to make that hand the player's lungs. The game lets the player breath into the mic to keep the game-ball aloft. From now on, when I have the paddle out of position on levels where this feature is unlocked, I just exhale myself out of trouble. I kind of love it.

Have I been converted? I don't know. Let's see what "Zelda" does.

Still, can we please get a few more DS games that use the mic for -- I don't know -- speaking?