Hands-On Preview: System Flaw (DSi)

While the Nintendo DSi’s anticipated release has come and gone, it seems little has been done to take advantage of its features. With expanded audio features and two cameras, one would think we would be seeing more in regard to innovative games that take advantage of said features. Thankfully, Visual Impact Productions has teamed up with publisher Storm City Games in an attempt to fill this void with its upcoming Nintendo DSi release System Flaw. System Flaw will be the very first Nintendo DSi-only title to be released on a cart to retail and I even believe I overhead it being said that Nintendo had to create a brand new packaging label (“Only Plays On Nintendo DSi”) specifically for this game.

Ryan Harbinson, product specialist of Storm City Games, was on hand at the recent VGXPO event in Philadelphia and, as luck would have it, he brought a playable copy of System Flaw to the event. It’s not every day you get to see a Nintendo DSi unit suspended from the top of tent with a wire, but, then again, System Flaw is anything but ordinary.

System Flaw’s premise draws heavily from the philosophies of the Nintendo Wii, in which it directly involves the player in the game. The meat of the game pits players in a 360-degree arena where they must fend off dangerous alien-looking creatures before they latch onto the player and drain their health. While this sounds extremely ordinary for a video game, the big hook in System Flaw is in its use of the Nintendo DSi’s external camera. With what is billed as “360-degree optical flow/motion detection technology,” the playfield is reality – what you see is your environment piped through the DSi’s camera and the 360-degree gameplay is achieved by having the player physically spin to view more of the environment through the camera.

Meanwhile, the top screen is a HUD that displays the player’s stats as well as a radar that reveals where threats are approaching the player. This means if you see a blip at the bottom of the radar, you will have to spin your body 180 degrees to see the incoming creature. Once a creature is in sight, players will have to maneuver their DSi unit to put the enemy in the crosshairs and push one of the system’s shoulder buttons to fire at the enemy. What results an undeniably fast-paced and fun experience that most anyone that doesn’t mind physically getting into their games should enjoy.

Right on the cart, players will have 100 mission-based levels that start out with tutorial-focused levels before breaking into more intense fights, but players can also launch a survival mode where they engage in a standoff in an attempt to survive as long as they possibly can. Players will be fending off 10 different creature types with various movement abilities and strength. If a creature latches on to the player, they will have to shake the DSi in order to loosen the grip and stop their health from draining. Defeated monsters will occasionally drop power-ups for the player, however, giving them bonuses such as extra juice to their laser and allowing them to fire two laser simultaneously.

In my experience with the game, System Flaw’s functions operated as naturally as the concept appears on paper. You can literally just tell people to move the camera around and press the trigger to shoot and they will understand how to play the game, making it accessible and understandable to anyone (and admittedly, it can be entertaining to watch people play the game as well). While the environments of VGXPO weren’t exactly the most eye-catching, you can see in promotional screens for the title that players can find themselves in some interesting battles depending on their location. However – and I know I’m not the only that did this – I couldn’t help but smile whenever someone was in front of the camera and I couldn’t resist the urge to fire a laser at their face (the crotch was also a popular location at the show) for no reason. I found the surrealism of people living their everyday life in the background while I fought for my life amusing, but I suppose that is part of the game’s approach – through this unique device, only you can see these threats to humanity and everyone else is oblivious to the menace.

Storm City Games seems to be putting a lot of stock in the release of System Flaw, and for good reason. While in System Flaw, you can’t move forward or backward to create distance between yourself and approaching enemies, Harbinson indicated it was one of a few items the team would consider if a sequel was made possible. Seeing as the team is looking forward with possible ideas gives me the impression the studio is confident in what it has created and the title is openly billed as the publisher’s featured game. Even though System Flaw is being heavily promoted, the publisher does have a number of other Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS, including a Nintendo DS port of the classic PC adventure Myst and Hands On! Tangrams, a game I was also able to try at the event.

There’s no doubt System Flaw is one of the most unique and innovative games we’ve seen lately on the format and I look forward to being able to unleash this game out in the wild. The title proved to be original and was definitely a hit among the crowds of VGXPO. In my short time with the title, I came away impressed and, honestly, the only negative thing I can think of about the title is in its portability – I can’t imagine a child would be able to bust this out and spin circles while riding in a car on a long trip. However, with the term handheld mostly replacing what we used to know as portables, it’s possible that no home will be safe from the System Flaw. We’ll find out when Storm City Games releases the title, which has a currently-scheduled release date of Oct. 27.