Developer: Sixteen Tons Entertainment
Release Date: May 8, 2009
Of all the DS games that I checked out this week, Emergency! Disaster Rescue Squad was easily the best of the bunch, and while it's not going to be a game that impresses most, it's certainly more unique than I expected it to be. After the success of titles like Trauma Center on the DS, developers have been wanting to tap into the pseudo-real drama aspect of gaming, and we've seen a lot of adventure, text-heavy games like Phoenix Wright, Hotel Dusk and so on do a great job of tackling that aspect. Until Emergency!, though, we haven't seen many good representations of the strategy genre on the DS.
Emergency! isn't really a strategy title in the sense that it's an RTS game, but at the same time, there are certain ideas that carry over, like the use of specialized units that you control on a somewhat changing field of play, with specific roles to help you complete the various objectives on any given map. Instead of orcs and warriors, though, you're given police, firemen and other emergency workers, and while that's not exactly common as far as gaming goes, it actually comes together quite well.
When the game starts, you can select a story mode that presents a series of missions set within larger levels. There are about four or five missions per stage, and you simply from the ones you've unlocked and begin each stage. The bottom screen controls most of the action, and it's a stylus-heavy game, while the top screen displays information about completed and outstanding objectives. There's an option for tutorial tips to pop up, but they don't interrupt gameplay; instead, it allows you to tap the box in the right corner of the screen if you're feeling a little lost about what to do next. The controls and setup aren't particularly hard to get past, and most of the challenge comes from figuring out in what order to do things and how to make use of the units at your disposal in the most efficient way possible.
Emergency! is all about efficiency, and it plays a big role in the overall score you get for each stage. Depending on your score, you'll be awarded a certain number of points and a medal to go along with it. There are even local leaderboards available, so multiple players on one system can compete against each other to perform the better rescue effort. It's something that would be more interesting to have online, but I still appreciate the arcade-like feel of it all.
The setups for each level are pretty neat, and they're thankfully varied enough to keep things interesting. For instance, one of the early stages will have you dealing with a simple fire outbreak and a couple of victims who are fairly close to the burning buildings. You're given control of a fire truck, a couple of firemen, an EMT, and two other EMTs equipped with a stretcher. The idea here is that you want to take care of the fire first, making it safe for your EMT to go in and apply first aid to the victims. Once that's been performed, then your other EMT units can go in with the stretcher and haul the victims to the ambulance, which will then cart them off to the hospital. With the available units, you can use the fire truck to begin dousing the main building that's on fire, while you use your two other firemen units to hook up to nearby hydrants. You can then have them join in and put out the main fire or use them to water down the nearby buildings and keep them from catching fire too.
The controls and directions all require the touch-screen, so when you tap on the unit, you'll bring up a small menu that's represented by various symbols. Click on the symbol you want — in the firemen's case, that would be a fire hydrant symbol — and once you do this, the things on the field with which you can interact are highlighted. Simply click on a hydrant, and that firemen unit will walk over to it and hook up. Press that unit again to start the stream of water, and they'll continue to work until you redirect them to something else. It's a pretty easy setup to get a hang of, and it works well with the DS touch-screen controls.
To demonstrate the variety, another stage involves the robbery of a convenience store and a nearby park where the criminals have fled. You're given a number of police to control, and they're all set up so that they stand in front of a particular suspect or witness, and it's up to you to question these guys and see if their stories check out. Before you attempt to make an arrest, you need to be sure that you're going after the right person, so you'll need to do a little fact-checking. Click on an officer, click the question button, and then press on the civilian in front of you to hear his or her supposed alibi. There are usually clues in their stories that lead you to the next person to question, which will then corroborate or contradict what the original person said. If the person confirms the alibi, then the suspect will now have a check mark over his head to signify that he's not one of the culprits. However, if the alibi doesn't check out, then you'll see a red mark above that person, and you can arrest him. It's pretty fun and certainly different from the previous task. You'll come across other scenarios that make use of the emergency works available to you in unique ways, and it's definitely worth it to check out all of the stages to see what awaits you.
I don't have too many gripes about Emergency!, other than the soundtrack being petty bland, but one thing that did bother me was that everyone moved so slowly. It's kind of funny to see a big burning building, with severely injured people lying on the ground in front of it, but the firemen and other emergency workers just walk around instead of running or jogging to the next objective. It almost feels like the developers were trying to add some arbitrary length to the game rather than go for a little more realism, and the plodding pace leads to some instances when you'll be waiting for characters to finish their movements, which definitely makes for some boring downtime.
Aside from that issue, though, I can't find much to complain about when it comes to Emergency! Disaster Rescue Squad. It's a pretty unique budget title on the DS system, and it's unfortunate that it will probably be overlooked in favor of titles with more name recognition, but it's definitely worth picking up. There's nothing else on the DS quite like it, and I think it'll be a pleasant surprise to anyone who's willing to give it a shot.