Color me stunned, but I have to admit that “Call of Duty: Black Ops” for the Nintendo DS is a pretty solid shooter. It eschews much of the over-the-top flamboyance of the larger consoles and focuses instead on mission-based action. The most noticeable effect of such streamlining is the emergency of a genuinely good and fun combat game. Isn’t it amazing what happens when you focus on making the core gameplay fun instead of concentrating on graphics, or sound, and special effects? All shock, no awe.

 

“Black Ops” initially shifts perspective between two military teams on the beach in Cuba during the infamous Bay of Pigs. Each team has its own mission and your goals are clearly spelled out as you shift between them. What I enjoyed the most about this is that despite the lack of cohesion between the overall missions here and in the rest of the game, your goals are clearly defined and the challenges are varied. You’ll face down wave after wave of enemies across numerous battlefields during the Cold War era. You’ll find dozens of weapons to customize your preferred load out. Heck, you’ll even throw more than your fair share of grenades, man gun turrets, and more.

 

It is a lot of fun overall.

Once you strip away all of the thunder and vapid presentation of “Black Ops” on the 360, PS3, Wii, and PC, you have a decent yet unremarkable shooter. But because the presentation is so caustic and assaulting in nature, it renders the point of playing the game moot because it becomes less about enjoying yourself and more about surviving an endurance test. The beauty of the DS version is that regardless of the fact that the story isn’t very well told or connected with other parts, you don’t care. The fun of playing through a solid shooter on the handheld is what matters and developer n-Space stepped up and did a remarkable job.

The trick to enjoying the game is aiming. Mainly because if you’re not aiming at the guys shooting you, well, you’ve played war games before. The enemy AI has remarkable clairvoyance clarity of vision because if you hear gunfire, then it’s likely you’re about to be hit by it. Granted, there’s only so much intelligence that can fit onto a DS cart. Justifiably, the bulk of the strategic thinking went into your teammates who actually manage to pull their weight. Gone are the days of hapless teammates getting stuck on a box in a far off corner leaving you to fend for yourself. These guys will fight with you side by side, and their effectiveness is such that solo missions feel tougher than they probably are.

While most missions have you running through a confined area, sometimes the routine changes. There are missions where you have to face waves of incoming foes throughout the game, but every so often you can point where your teammates will stand. You can choose to help them out or defend your own corner of the map. Events like this don’t happen as often as I’d have liked, which is a shame because they keep you on your toes and force you to think strategically about careful placement.

 

The controls are pretty solid. You have the choice of whether or not to use the stylus for your aiming. I found it to be just fine even during the frenetic combat. Icons for sight aiming, grenades, weapon selection, and doing a 180 pivot are all right on the screen, but are small enough that at no point do things get crowded.

Another aspect of the game that’s remarkable is how clear everything is. Sure, the color brown gets used more than it probably should have (any Quake veteran is sensitive to this) but otherwise it all looks great. The vehicles and character animations are solid, the guns bear a good resemblance to their real life counterparts, and it is virtually impossible to get lost in a level. All told, kudos go to the team behind. There may be a lot of action on screen at any given moment, but I never saw a hiccup or frame rate jump anywhere. Some enemies may have experienced a temporal shift (i.e. there one second and gone the next) but otherwise the game flowed smoothly from beginning to end.

In addition to the standard single player mode, the game also features a robust multiplayer mode, an arcade mode, and zombies of course. Players can play online or locally via co-op with up to six people, and the multiplayer features numerous unlockable weapons and perks. Each session requires you to redo your load out which is an acceptable limitation considering the hardware involved. The zombie mode boils down to a last man standing scenario, which is fun for a while but then grows tedious unless you have friends in the same room with you.

On the whole, Call of Duty: Black Ops for the DS is a genuinely solid little shooter. It may not add up to a whole lot story wise, but the gameplay is fun in both the single player and multiplayer modes. It’s a game you can pick up, have a lot of fun with for short periods, then come back to later. You’ll find yourself thinking about strategies in the interim between play periods which is my way of giving it a ringing endorsement. When you can’t stop thinking about a game despite needing to get work done, then it’s a keeper.

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