Nintendo DS gets Modern Warfare: Handcramps

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 gets its handheld game on, but is it a shell of its big brother?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

DS 3D graphics: Looking nice. Activision

Did you think Modern Warfare 2 was all about 360 and PS3 headset smack-talking in front of a massive HD display and booming surround sound? No, there is another. With the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came the less-heralded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Mobilized, for the Nintendo DS.

Come on, admit you're curious. Want to know how it is?

First of all, this is obviously not a port of the MW2 game. It's not even close, and it doesn't try to be, either. Its name, Modern Warfare Mobilized, suggests it's a spinoff, and the storyline parallels different events and a different single-player campaign.

Now, the good news: this isn't a simple licensing rip-off. Under the hood of MW Mobilized is a real 3D FPS, which should be familiar to anyone who's played the previous Call of Duty: World at War DS game. Visually and aurally, this just might be the pinnacle of Nintendo DS 3D gaming. That's not a huge compliment, but levels involve interiors, courtyards, overhead helicopters launching air strikes, at a distinctly slower and more linear pace than the console game, but with a decent level of production polish provided your expectations remain severely curbed.

Enemies emerge two or three at a time, and their death cries and animations bring to mind Doom more than Call of Duty, but the storyline is cinematically told and decent fun with headphones. Unfortunately, however, FPS control for the DS is a jury-rigged nightmare. Using an all-too-familiar control scheme adopted by Metroid Prime Hunters and others, the D-pad controls basic movement and strafing, while the left shoulder button fires. Stylus movement on the lower screen replaces the right analog stick moves, and while it technically works, the setup leaves one's hands cramped and carpal-tunneled after just 10 minutes.

Air attacks look great. Activision

Multiplayer, both locally and even online over Wi-Fi, matches six players up in a few scenarios. We didn't play these modes as much because it was tough to find anyone playing, and local play requires each DS user to have a copy of Modern Warfare Mobilized. Needless to say, fellow colleagues hadn't even heard of the DS game, much less owned a copy. This problem doesn't occur when playing MW2 on Xbox Live, needless to say.

But having multiplayer at all--with maps and different game modes as well, no less--is a huge coup for the DS. Not releasing this game for the PSP is somewhat of a surprise--Modern Combat Mobilized is a DS exclusive--especially since the PSP crowd seem like a better fit for this type of game. Still, the DS' larger market share speaks for itself, and it's debatable whether the PSP, or any other handheld, is any better for FPS controls.

While the DS' chief advantage over the iPhone is its set of physical buttons, those buttons fail utterly for FPS titles. It's a shame, because the Nintendo DS's biggest limitation isn't its graphics, but its lack of analog. The PSP isn't much better with only one analog stick and a four-way D-pad. If anything, Modern Warfare Mobilized made us realize how much we're looking forward to truly next-gen handhelds that are better capable to tackle online shooters. Sony and Nintendo (and Apple), we await that day eagerly.

Modern Warfare: Mobilized is available now for $29.99.