When most gamers think about the numerous genres present on the Nintendo DS, “first-person shooter” probably doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Puzzlers, role-playing games, platformers, tactics games, action games, and plenty of casual fare can be found in abundance, but the shooters on that particular handheld are few and far between. Despite the challenges the touch screen and limited graphical capabilities present to developers of that genre, shooters like Metroid Prime: Hunters and Dementium: The Ward have proven that it can be done. C.O.R.E., a first-person shooter developed by NoWay Studio, goes the opposite way, making me wonder why anyone would ever want to play a shooter this headache-inducing on the DS.
Instead of wasting any time with some sort of plot, C.O.R.E. immediately drops you into an underground facility and assigns vague directions to help you find your next objective. Your health bar and ammunition are viewed on either side of the bottom screen, with your actions taking place on the top. There is no map of any kind, and the generic, repetitive level design can make it easy to get turned around or lost. Some sort of area indicator on the pause screen may have helped combat this problem, but instead you are left to wander aimlessly, hoping that you are going in the right direction. With much of the game being fairly linear in terms of explorable areas, it’s not terribly difficult to find your next objective, but you really won’t know if you’re going the right way until you get there.
While first-person shooters can often get away with having a paper-thin storyline and being linear gameplay experiences, C.O.R.E. makes the most basic part of the game—shooting enemies—more of a chore than anything else. Moving is done by using the D-pad (or, if you’re a lefty like me, face buttons), while aiming is done by using the stylus on the bottom screen, which corresponds to where your weapon is pointed on the top screen. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible to use any kind of finesse while approaching a new area, meaning that if you enter a room with multiple enemies, you will find yourself shooting one while taking fire from the other two. Since your health doesn’t regenerate and health packs and healing stations, you may find yourself doing the same part of the game over and over again until you manage to squeak by a section with enough health to heal yourself or get to a save point. Adding to the problem is the fact that tapping twice on the touch screen makes you jump, but this only works about half of the time—and of that percentage, most of those occurrences will probably happen accidentally and at an inopportune moment. More precise controls would have gone a long way toward improving C.O.R.E., instead of making it intolerable.
The DS isn’t known for its amazing graphical capabilities, but that shouldn’t excuse developers from attempting to make an aesthetically pleasing game. Plenty of titles on the system have been visually impressive, but C.O.R.E. is not one of them. Environments are poorly designed, with functional and non-functional doors looking exactly the same, and often the dark floor and walls will make it almost impossible to tell where you are going, or if you are even moving. The unappealing graphics just make the entire package seem even more forgettable.
Probably the most positive thing I can say about C.O.R.E. is the fact that it offers four-player multiplayer with only one game card, which is good, because convincing your friends to buy this game would be a mean thing to do. Even with the multiplayer option, there are far better four-player games on the DS, and your buddies will likely wonder why you are forcing them to play this mess. Load times are lengthy during both multiplayer and single-player sessions, which makes no sense given how archaic the game is. Even being able to play with friends without purchasing additional copies of C.O.R.E. is not enough to make the game worthwhile, because you will still have to buy one, and that’s one too many.
Making a first-person shooter on the DS is definitely a challenge given the system’s control scheme, but as stated above, it has been done well before, which makes me wonder how C.O.R.E. could have failed so badly. It’s not broken, but every aspect is terribly designed. The controls are imprecise and aggravating, the graphics are headache-inducingly bad, the level design is awful, and the whole package is uninspired. Even if you love first-person shooters, C.O.R.E. has nothing to offer.