Cast your mind back to the late 90's a glorious time of internet boom and an innocent time when I once bought 36 pints of beer form the student bar for 20 quid and stacked them in a box.
It was a time of simple pleasures and it was also when the gaming giant GTA first made it's appearance onto the scene. This was before the it was published by gaming controversy Colossus Rockstar or ranted about by Jack Thompson this was when Rockstar North was still DMA designs who up until this point were more known for lemmings.
GTA was the classic top down car stealing game with it's colourful graphics and comedy take on american culture. It was mad fun and cartoony violence not meant to be taken seriously.
In recent years this has changed to the point that the recent incarantion was fairly dark and gritty it had lost a lot of the fun that made the original game such a success. GTA4 largely passed the torch to gta clone Saints Row 2 for the same type of gameplay and in most respects has completely distanced itself from previous game styles and it seemed this was the path the series was going down, no more crazy fun but a gritty dark and depressing game where you have to take your cousin bowling every five minutes.
So then along comes GTA Chinatown Wars on the DS. Rather than a downgraded version of gta4 this is actually more akin to an upgraded version of the original top down game. So the top screen on the DS shows the top down view of the 3d world with colourful cell shaded graphics. The touch screen is your PDA and handles the map GPS inventory and a number of other tasks. Cut scenes are done in a pseudo comic style with static images and text underneath. The game then adds to the original formula with a selection of touch screen based elements.
Grenades molotovs and even some of the other things like the waterhose on the fire truck are controlled by the touch screen letting you touch and drag on the icon to indicate the arc you want the projectiles take or direction the hose sprays. The gps is handled by tapping the map or selecting some waypoints. It's also used for various tasks like when buying molotovs from the gas station you have to fill the bottles from the pump and put in the rags your skill determining how many you get out of the amount of petrol you buy. Tattooing is done by a sort of painting inside the lines sort of game and can be done for some small change. Scratch cards are done as you would expect. Often when stealing a stationary car you need to hot wire it or bypass it's immobiliser or just jam a screwdriver in the keyhole each has it's own mini game which is against the clock fail it and the car alarm goes off alerting any nearby cops.
Driving now has an auto straightening system to make up for the lack of a analogue stick this works pretty well once you are used to it you can nudge the car left and right and it will then align on it's own. Police have had a tweak so they are much more ubiquitous and the escape mechanic now is to make the cars ram into something so they are knocked out of the chase eliminating the pursuers.
The missions are pretty inventive less of the drudge that populates GTA4 more inventive and fun missions. There are a fair amount of drive here get this sorts but they often have a twist like you are driving an ambulance so need to keep the occupant alive by jump starting their heart on the touch screen, or you are in a leaking petrol truck that is being followed by a fire so you have to keep ahead of certain doom.
Like GTA4 there are lots of side missions or activities like taxi driver to perform for money and kicks, and things like rampage missions make a welcome return. They have also copied over the taxi mechanic of GTA4 so you don't have to drive places if you don't want. All new is the drug dealing mechanic, you can find drug dealers in the world that you can purchase various substances from (sometimes you have to do this for some of the missions or as payment to start someone's missions) its a simple market system some people buy certain drugs other sell some are cheaper than other etc. You can also go after the drug traffickers supplying the dealers who drive around in vans which you can hijack. It's yet another sub game you can play to make some money.
Ammo-nation now delivers via your PDA and the selection of toys is as fun as usual the top down combat is fun and fast paced with a lock on option to allow strafing and use of cover.
All in all it is a very fun game like the original with some modern tweaks making the most of the hardware it is running on with lots of fun little touch screen tweaks. It has the same pick up and play mechanic that GTA4 has lost and is a worthy addition to the series.