If you go to your local video game store and look over the Nintendo DS section, there are a lot of genres you can expect to find. Role-playing games, puzzle games, simulations, and inane shovelware are abundant on the handheld, but you really need to look if you want to fight a decent shooter. Elite Forces: Unit 77 attempts to fill this void in DS genres, and in some ways, it almost succeeds. However, lackluster visuals and some control issues keep Elite Forces from excelling, making the game just another average DS title.
Elite Forces: Unit 77 is an overhead shooter in which you control four members of, well, an elite unit that combats terrorism. Sometimes the four will be together, sometimes they will be split up, and you can switch from character to character with the simple touch of a stylus. They are all armed with standard guns, but each character also has a special ability that makes him or her unique. One can use a sniper rifle, another can see and disarm mines, and the fourth can throw grenades. Knowing which character to use in certain situations is necessary to advance; after all, you certainly can’t blindly run through a mine-filled field, or complete a level under sniper fire.
The characters and their abilities are fairly interesting, and keep the game from ever getting too boring. Unfortunately, the actual control scheme when it comes to shooting leaves a lot to be desired. Elite Forces is a very stylus-heavy game, and both moving and shooting are controlled by use of the touch screen. Since enemies are only a few pixels in size, this makes it way too easy to walk towards them when you’re attempting to shoot them down. I usually found frantic tapping in the general direction of the terrorists was the way to go, but it doesn’t feel at all accurate; the same can be said of using most of the special weapons, with the exception of the sniper rifle, which is a lot more precise.
While the teamwork aspect of the game is used fairly well for the most part, there are times when having someone follow you around can be a pain—mostly when another squad member follows you into a dangerous situation when he should just stay put. For example, if I’m trying to disarm a mine with one character, another might stand still and behave—or he might pick that moment to get closer to me, setting off the mine and hurting both of us. Most of the time, though, your partners are fairly helpful, shooting down enemies along with you and covering you while you heal.
The level design is pretty good, especially for a DS shooter, with variety of environments and situations. Unfortunately, the entire game lacks a polished feeling, with a generic and uninteresting opening scene, and a soundtrack that’s not at all memorable. Another big problem is the fact that there is only one save point in each level, which can be frustrating. Since it’s a handheld game, there’s no real reason that you shouldn’t be able to save whenever you want. It can be infuriating to have to redo most of a level after you wander into a cluster of snipers, or a giant boss wipes out your team because he keeps moving out of the way every time you throw a grenade. Often, when I saw that Game Over screen, I just wanted to turn off my DS rather than do it over again.
Elite Forces: Unit 77 can be somewhat entertaining. I started playing it on the plane ride to E3 and it did keep me occupied for a while. However, accidentally walking into enemies as they’re shooting at you grows very tiring, and nothing about the game’s characters or plot stuck with me other than the fact that each member has a special ability. It’s a solid effort at a genre most developers wouldn’t attempt on Nintendo’s handheld system, but still doesn’t stand out as a shining example of what a DS shooter should be.