The Nintendo DSi has done a lot for smaller developers and unusual games in its nine months of existence, with lots of developers coming out of the woodwork to create some pretty interesting products that no portable system has seen before. (To be clear, yes, some of these ideas have also shown up on the iPhone, but that's a very different beast, in part because of its somewhat more open basis.) The problem is that, while most of these works are interesting, many of them do not hold up well at all. Such is the case with the first DSi-specific retail game — and its first full-on augmented reality game — System Flaw, in spite of some significant positive design traits.
The basic premise of System Flaw has little aliens called The Flaw, and they're everywhere. They're invisible to anything except the special code put into your DSi's rear camera, and fortunately, the camera can double as a laser beam to take them out. That's about it. Just hunt down The Flaw and complete occasional objectives presented to you, and that's pretty much the entirety of the game.
Actual gameplay is pretty simple; you spin and tilt the DSi system to aim, and you pull either trigger to fire. You're not presented with any special controls otherwise, and aside from different creature behaviors, the only modifier is the introduction of power-ups. When shot, the power-ups have various benefits, including recovering the shield gauge. The game is best enjoyed in an office chair as you spin around like a buffoon. Try to play on the subway, on the other hand, won't work so well. (Does the game really have to admonish players to not talk about the invisible aliens?)
The real issue is that this is all there is to System Flaw. There's a survival mode, and there are various missions, and that's it. No serious play variants are ever introduced, leaving the game caught in the worst of the 1980s arcades while using a decidedly more modern tool. If you play for five minutes, you've pretty much played the entire game, and at a rather costly $30 at that. There's the occasional new alien or variant power-up, but they just don't make things different in a meaningful fashion.
At least the DSi's enhanced computing chops get shown off a little. The game music is just a little better-sounding than typical DS games, in spite of being completely and utterly unmemorable, while graphics manage to do a good job of layering on each other. The aliens don't massively interact with the camera-seen environment (no nomming on your cell phone or anything), but they almost look like they'd fit in. The art style is consistent, if not precisely amazing, but the menus scream "generic sci-fi" a little too loudly.
The good news is that System Flaw works, and it does some pretty sweet things with the DSi. The bad news is that it feels like it should have been part of a mini-game compilation or at least developed a lot more thoroughly before release. As the DSi's first unique retail release, it should have been a lot stronger than the playable, temporarily fun piece of speedy development work that it is. If it had been DSiware for around $5, I'd strongly recommend it as a quick bit of fun. As it is, though, it's difficult to recommend.
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