Hands On: StreetPass Plaza's Downloadable Content

Play Coin guzzlers

A few days ago, Nintendo launched a surprise update to the 3DS's StreetPass Plaza in Europe and Japan. Previously home to Puzzle Swap and StreetPass Quest alone, users can now purchase a further four games to play with any Miis that they encounter when out and about. As with the other Plaza games, you can use the Mii of anybody that you StreetPass in the new titles, whether they own the extra content or not. Interestingly, none of these new games have been developed in-house at Nintendo – they're all built by third party outfits that you might well recognise from previous collaborations, which goes some way to explaining the need for users to pay up.

At £4.49 / €4.99 each, the four games are a tough sell on first glance. Those who have the StreetPass bug, however, will know how addictive the original games in the Plaza are and how long they can last – these are games that go on and on, unlikely to be completely quickly due to their restricted nature. They're reliant on meeting or walking by other 3DS owners, and the paltry 10 Play Coins available each day don't speed things up much. It's worth noting that, if you buy all four newcomers at once, you can snatch them up for a buy-three-get-one-free bundle price of £13.49 / €14.99 – the offer pops up when you begin to purchase your first game.

Given that the first games were built into the system and have been expanded several times for the grand total of nothing, some might feel uncomfortable to see new games offered up as pay-for downloadable content. But we've already talked about that monetisation decision elsewhere – let's take a look at what's available, how they stack up against the original StreetPass games and whether they're worth your eShop credit.

Starship troopers

StreetPass Squad is an arcade-style shoot 'em up by Good-Feel, the developer of the wonderfully woolly Kirby's Epic Yarn. As Squad Leader of the Mii Force, an intergalactic law enforcement team, it's up to you to recruit new members and take on the might of the Gold Bone Gang, a crew of notorious space pirates intent on stealing up anything of value throughout the universe. If you're running a bit short on collected Miis, you can hire up to 10 troops with Play Coins; old allies cost three Play Coins a pop, while mercenaries are two Coins each.

Your Mii drives the spaceship, and any others that you meet or hire provide your firepower by bolting onto the sides. Different weapons correspond to the shirt colours of companion Miis – a pink top will give you a Globular Cannon, which shoots out a goo that can roll along walls, while a Mii dressed in black becomes a gun that fires out bombs. Weapons can be positioned on the front of your craft in the centre, diagonally at the top or diagonally at the bottom, or in the centre on the back of the ship.

Weapon arrangement is completely your choice, and positions can be switched at any time on the touch screen so that you can adapt to any situation. You can also strengthen your offences by shifting Miis behind others, powering up the one in prime position. For example, you might lead with a fire-shooting red Mii and place a blue and a yellow Mii behind it for a single boosted source of firepower. Alternatively, you could set the red, blue and yellow Miis in entirely different positions for three separate bullet streams. There's no right answer, and often you have to switch pods around on the fly.

Weapons aren't strictly fixed into place in another way: you can rotate them right around your craft as much as you want by tapping the L and R buttons. Enemies can dart in from any direction, so it's important to keep the shoulder buttons clicking and those weapons spinning if you stand any chance of survival. If you're lucky, you can grab a power up that grants you temporary invincibility and 360 degrees of firepower – but without mastery of your own twisty cannons, you're going nowhere.

You never begin a stage with all your gathered Miis on ship – you have to collect them throughout, gradually powering up as you move along. Every time you're hit you lose a Mii recruit, and once they're all gone you lose a life. Generously, you're given three chances to complete a level per squad of Miis – and you're going to need them. The action is pretty straightforward in the opening world, but subsequent adventures become a lot tougher: the second world features falling blocks that can crush you and switches that need to be shot to open up doors, while the third opens with you attached to a crazy rollercoaster ride of doom. Each level ends with a boss too. Should you fail, you have to start the whole level again, and you're only allowed to complete one stage per group of Miis.

StreetPass Squad is probably the best value for money of the new StreetPass Plaza games and should last you quite a while. As well as the campaign levels, there's an emphasis on high scores too, so each stage is very replayable.

How does your garden grow?

StreetPass Garden should sprout some interest from any Puzzle Swap obsessives. With the help of Mr Mendel, this one gives you the opportunity to grow the digital garden of your dreams. It's certainly a leap away from Grezzo's previous output – it last worked on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition.

Of the four games, StreetPass Garden is the hardest one to get to grips with. It doesn't blossom into its true form for several sessions; luckily we saved up plenty of Play Coins for the very purpose of testing out this collection, so we were able to play a few days' worth of the game at once. Initially you are given a flower, and any Miis you've met trot into your garden and give it a nice drink of water. With enough sustenance it blooms into a bright and beautiful bit of flora, which can then be placed in your virtual garden.

Over the course of a few sessions, though, more depth is revealed. You can pop that plant on your pretty little patio, or you could keep it on hand and let it get watered more, producing seeds that can be used to grow new plants. Or you can venture to the shops and sell it on. Or you can get a job in a shop and use it to complete a customer request. There's quite a lot to take in, and spreading it out so broadly does get a little much.

The aim is to nurture all 20 species of flower and become a Master Gardener, but there are other variations to keep in mind. Each plant can come in different colours, and the seeds you gather each hold unique possibilities of new types or hues. Once a flower reaches maturity, what it produces is all down to the visitors of your garden and what colour shirt they're wearing.

There are shops that let you customise your garden too, such as a landscaping service that gives you access to new areas to decorate, or one that lets you buy all sorts of furniture to spruce things up. You can also buy seeds for any species of plant that you've already grown, or grab some new plant pots – the poor woman stuck selling those for the rest of her life isn't exactly the life of the party.

Once you've put together the best display you can muster, you can take photographs that are stored on your SD card. Grezzo's Ocarina of Time 3D gyroscope experience comes into play here, as you move the system about to get the perfect shot. If you're running short of help, you can also spend two Play Coins to bring back any Mii that has previously visited your StreetPass Plaza – though you don't get to pick who, so you could end up with anybody from that girl you sat next to on a bus two years ago to Satoru Iwata and his flashy golden trousers.

If you enjoy Puzzle Swap, as well as games such as Harvest Moon, StreetPass Garden could be worth a punt. It's the slowest of the new titles to get started, with the mildest aroma of a teeny tiny RPG, but don't give up – there's a lot to experiment with once it gets going.

World doMiination

StreetPass Battle thrilled us the most upon boot up, but unfortunately, due to the way it's set up, it's likely to be the game that you play the least. Or rather, the one you do the least in. It's a strategy title developed by Spike Chunsoft, of Mystery Dungeon fame, that pits you against the world as the most cheerful looking warmonger we've ever seen.

See all those people in your StreetPass Plaza? They're your army now. If you've met 700 unique people, your army's off to a good start; if there are only 12 bodies standing about, you've got some work to do. Anybody that passes you will add their own number of unique hits to yours, gradually building your army up into a fearsome horde.

Once you have a sizeable force to your name, you can try to invade enemy countries. Battles are rock-paper-scissors affairs: cavalry beat archers; archers beat infantry; infantry beat cavalry. Before a clash begins you're shown how the enemy's army is divided, and from there you split your own soldiers up into the classes that you think will work best by sliding some notches to dictate how much of your army will be cavalry, infantry or archers.

Fights are partially based on luck; you must guess which third of the enemy's army will march forth first and pick an appropriate counter from your own three sections. You can tip the balance in your favour with careful manipulation of your troop numbers, however; when distributing soldiers to types, indicators pop up on the slider. If one of your teams is marked by a gold medallion, it cannot lose no matter what the enemy throws out – if possible, the trick is to balance your army so that two of the thirds are unbeatable. Boiled down, it's a best-of-three rock-paper-scissors – win two of the three encounters and the country is yours, along with a portion of its army. If you're beaten, some of your own soldiers will run away.

As well as world domination, there's a secondary objective of building yourself the best castle ever. At the beginning you can select your favourite kind of castle – medieval, Japanese or futuristic – and make it bigger as you take over more of the world. You do have to trade off some of your soldiers if you want to bump it up a level, though.

It's a blast seeing thousands of Miis going to war, and it's one of the most interesting uses of StreetPass we've seen. The problem is the amount of time it takes to get anything done due to the amount of troops needed once you get to a certain point. If you're not getting much in the way of StreetPass hits, or the ones you are getting aren't delivering as many soldiers as you'd hope, it's going to take a long time to build up an army capable of conquering anything.

We've only won three of the 20 countries on offer and already need upwards of 4,000 soldiers to stand a chance of taking the next place – it's not going to happen for a while yet under normal circumstances. The Play Coin balance is also completely out of whack here, with a full daily allowance of ten Coins needed to generate an extra 300 soldiers, which is nothing when it comes to larger fights.

While we've enjoyed what we've played of it, due to these factors we can't see StreetPass Battle getting a lot of use if you're not regularly bumping into people with several hundred StreetPass hits to their name – more often than not, you'll collect however many you can and then choose the “do nothing” option every day until you eventually have enough to continue. As such, the price point feels too steep for this one.

Spirited away

Prope's StreetPass Mansion rounds off the selection. As a paranormal investigator, you've got to creep up 30 floors of haunted house, taking out ghosts and ghouls along the way. It's easier said than done, though, as there's no clear path through the house – the maps have all been shredded – and there aren't any visible stairs.

You encounter the petrified Miis of anybody that you've StreetPassed as you go, and each gives you a map piece, up to five blocks in size, that matches the colour of their shirt. You then slot the piece onto the current level's floorplan, rotating it with L and R to find the best fit, and your Mii trots forward to the new area created by the latest map piece. The aim is to uncover the stairs so that you can ascend to the next level and eventually climb to the top. If you're scant on StreetPass hits, you can hire a fellow investigator for two Play Coins.

If you place pieces of the same colour next to each other to form an area that's a square, a treasure chest is generated – and for every extra two blocks you put together, another will appear. These can contain health potions, new weapons and other special items to help you out.

Put different coloured pieces aside one another, though, and a door is created between them. When your Mii opens the door to move on, there's a reasonable chance that he or she will encounter a ghost that needs a busting, at which point the game switches into battle mode. Fights are pretty simple; you hit A to fire your weapon at the spirit, but you have to keep an eye on your battery meters. Every shot uses up a segment from battery energy meter, and once it's drained you have no choice but to wait while it recharges.

You can also use items that you've picked up to help out, or guard by pressing L – though that drains battery too. If things get too much, you can retreat by holding down on the D-Pad. You'll want to avoid doing that too often, though, as successful spars result in experience points and leveling up. The higher you get, the stronger you need to be.

StreetPass Mansion pulls puzzle gameplay and an RPG style battle system together into a compelling little adventure with a lot of content. The ghost designs are great too, particularly the one with the massive waggling tongue; this one's definitely worth a go.

Overall

Bringing in separate developers has the positive effect of creating variety, but it also brings up some small problems of consistency. For example, Prope includes a tutorial in StreetPass Mansion, allowing players to review information if they're feeling a little lost; on the other hand, StreetPass Garden contains no such function, which it could have vastly benefited from given how much it spreads its new information about.

These games are also the only way to get hold of Plaza Tickets, added in the update, that give you a new way to unlock adorable new hats for your Mii. There are 22 to get in each of the four new Plaza games, handed out whenever you complete achievements.

There's a lot of quality in the new batch of StreetPass Plaza games; they complement the original free games well and expand the scope of the Plaza beyond what we've seen before. However, it's difficult to recommend them if you don't get much in the way of StreetPass activity, as with the current Play Coin restrictions you're simply not going to get much out of them. The ten-a-day rule didn't feel so bad with just Puzzle Swap, StreetPass Quest and the odd Super Street Fighter IV figurine or Animal Crossing: New Leaf fortune cookie to fund, but with these games practically demanding them at times it's beginning to feel like a serious limitation.

If you're going to be getting a lot of action, the price points are reasonable; on the face of it they seem expensive, though considering that these could be used every day for months on end it's not so bad. The main exception is StreetPass Battle which sadly, despite its quality, won't get as much use as the others due to its huge Play Coin demands and the way it's set up as a game of waiting and patience.

Have you picked up any, or all, of the new StreetPass Plaza games? Share your thoughts about them in the comments below.

Which StreetPass Plaza DLC game do you like the most? (172 votes)

StreetPass Squad

30%

StreetPass Garden

13%

StreetPass Battle

20%

StreetPass Mansion

37%

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