* Awarded `Nintendo DS GOTY`2009

It’s been a long time since we have used Nintendo and Grand Theft Auto in the same sentence, and boy is it good to see them reconnect with the Nintendo DS exclusive, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. It’s likely if you own a Nintendo DS then you have probably already purchased the highly acclaimed Chinatown Wars. However if you are still on the fence, check out our review to get another perspective on Rockstar Games latest and greatest, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars.

Rockstar Leeds, the development team behind the brilliant Playstation Portable translations of GTA: Vice City and GTA: Liberty City Stores takes on the new challenge of making a new Grand Theft Auto title on Nintendo's handheld platform. Like I said in the introduction, it’s been a long time since we've seen Nintendo and Grand Theft Auto uttered in the same line, and for everyone who is a little upset with Nintendo’s lack of adult titles, your remedy has arrived. Working along side Rockstar North and the New York branch, Leeds has done an amazing job reinventing the series for the Nintendo DS. Chinatown Wars is not only one of the best Nintendo DS games on the market; it’s a solid adventure into a gritty, violently acceptable world that could only be Grand Theft Auto.

Introducing Huang Lee
Chinatown Wars centers around a new lead character, Huang Lee and his misadventures in Liberty City. Huang is a wealthy member of the Chinese Triad who leaves Hong Kong after the death of his father. You are sent to Liberty City to deliver the “Yu Jian” a sword that represents a false sense of honour to your power-obsessed uncle Wu “Kenny” Lee. And this is where the game starts, landing at Francis International Airport you are ambushed by a mysterious group of gunmen who rob you and leave you to die at the bottom of Humboldt River... of course, you make it out alive and start you quest to retrieve the sword. Along with recover the sword you will uncover the truth behind your father’s assassination and help Uncle Kenny secure his position as the leader of the Triads. Yup, that is enough gusto to kick-start another healthy dose of GTA, and Chinatown Wars gets tangled up its own drama and makes a good run at this Triad inspired storyline.

A New Perspective
The gameplay in Chinatown Wars is a take off of the old top-down GTA titles that started it all. The twist here is that they have made it a top-down game, but in a scaled 3D called an aerial perspective. It’s one of those, 2D/3D deals and it works wonderfully on the Nintendo DS. The camera can also be moved around in 360 degrees to see the game from every angle which helps to deal with the limited amount of map space that is given up. It’s pretty amazing that Rockstar managed to go back to the old school roots of series and turn it on its head by coming out with an updated, relevant, fun version of their old game. Without denouncing how coolness of the original games, Chinatown Wars is in a whole other league, and needs to be given some hands on time to truly appreciate the format.

Liberty City has Style
Right along side the new aerial perspective we have some impressive visuals pumping out of the DS. Instead of going for the realistic style that GTA usually follows, Chinatown Wars is stylised like a cartoon. Liberty City has been turned into an alive solid-line cartoon, and not in a silly animated way. This is mature content done with perfectly on the handheld without holding back due to Nintendo's kid friendly demographic. Liberty City is generated and rendered in real time along with some impressive weather effects running in the system that complements the 24hr day/night cycle. For the little handheld, it’s pretty darn impressive. Rockstar Leeds even managed to squeeze a dynamic shadowing system in the game that helps add depth to the project, again that is running in real-time as well.... and the beauty to all this fancy programming is that Chinatown Wars looks great and runs at a solid frame-rate without a hiccup. It’s nearly impossible to not be impressed on some level because Chinatown Wars is a real good looker.

Remember Me, Ramapage?
You would think since Grand Theft Auto is running on the handheld that you would loose a sense of scale, or at least the typical side-missions of grand theft auto, but nope! Liberty City on the DS is huge, and manages to be larger than we expected. Leeds did a great job keeping in all the content gamers have come to expect out of Grand Theft Auto. There are over 100 vehicles that you can jack up and have fun with in the game each with their own handling. It’s not the same as driving in real 3D, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. Expect to see a number of cars, vans, buses, boats and even motorcycles. The variety is there and better yet the vehicle mini-missions are included. This means you can jack a cab and be a cabby for a while, or play a Firefighter by jacking a fire truck. All the standards that you have seen before are present along with a few surprises that are waiting to be discovered.

For some Chinatown Wars might feel like more of GTA game then Nico’s run last year. It’s definitely great to see this vehicle mini-missions included in the package and continuing this trend is the ability to active Rampage missions! Yea, remember them? Well, they are back and it’s a lot of fun to find theses missions that let you go ballistic on the city, no-regrets. Besides being addictive and a lot of fun you can go for high scores, and unlock medals in during the Rampage missions. Like all GTA titles, even when you are not wrapped up in the main storyline, the game can be a whole lot of untamed fun. You might be wondering, what else is tucked under the hood? Well, unique stunt jumps are still present and the new random pedestrian feature that was GTA IV. It’s really hard to get bored in Chinatown Wars which is a testament to the tried-and-true gameplay of GTA.

Grand Theft Blackberry
Also pulled from GTA IV is the use of an in-game PDA which acts as a main hub for Haung, like it did for Nico. By pulling up your PDA you will have instant access to all the information you need. This includes emails and o important messages from other characters during your game. The PDA also doubles as a GPS map system, a music player and a contact database... what else would you need? It’s the digital version of the Blackberry, and it totally fits the dynamics of Haung's world. I’m the PDA concept is something we will see expanded on in future alliterations of other Grand Theft Auto games as well.

Dusting off that Fuzz
One thing that has changed in Chinatown Wars besides the “look” of GTA is the new police evasion system. Instead of different levels of the police bumping up like normal when you’re in the hot seat, you will now be a little more diligent to shake the fuzz. The new system has you disabling the police cars by ramming them, or making them crash into other objects before your wanted level will go down. Now you don’t have to destroy the police vehicles, you just want to sidetrack them. Harming the police will obviously make your level go up, so it’s a tricky balance to manage. I’m not a 100% sold on this new system. For one it’s tougher to loose your wanted level and it really shouldn’t be as hard on the player as it is. Secondly the top down perspective is a little tricker to work with when you can’t see too far ahead of your player. The viewpoint can make it hard to see obstacles, escape roots, and even the police who are chasing you. One thing going for the new system is that is more intense then the normal five star deal. It’s more challenging as well, depending on your play style you might agree or disagree... but its definitely one of the most questionable change.

What a Concept, Replayble Missions!
Continuing the path of changes, Chinatown Wars has a new feature that is a must have feature, and that is the new Repayable mission structure. For the first time in a Grand Theft Auto game you can revisit any previously completed mission by hitting up the whiteboard that is located in the player’s hideout. This breaks down the missions to players and gives a brief recap of each mission so you can run through missions whenever you wish. This no-brainer feature helps keep you in the action by having new goals of earning medals, improve your speed, or just to have some pure fun. I have always had moments in GTA when I was like, wow, that mission was cool... or I wish I could do that over, and now you can. Hmmm, what took so long Rockstar?

Are you Local? Local Multiplayer.
Before I wrap up this review, I have to touch base on the Multiplayer that is avaliable in Chinatown Wars. Unfortunately you need a friend with their own Chinatown Wars to hook up to enjoy some multiplayer modes. Local multiplayer is better than no multiplayer and it is fun to hit up the modes that are available. There are six modes that include races, stash dashing contraband stealing, Deathmatch styled survivor slaughterfests, gang banging territory take-overs, and a defend the base co-op game that has you taking down increasing waves of enemies. So as you can see the Local multiplayer is stacked and should be a good diversion, if you have a friend with the game. Clock in the multiplayer time, side-missions, and the normal game and you’re still looking at 15hrs plus of pure Grand Theft Auto action. Not too shabby.

It should be more than obvious if you read any the above review that we are standing behind Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars 100%. Rockstar Leeds did an amazing job bringing the Grand Theft Auto franchise to life on the Nintendo DS platform. I believe the results are even better than most gamers hoped for, making Chinatown Wars a must have for any Grand Theft Auto fan who owns a Nintendo DS. Actually, Chinatown Wars should be a must have for anyone who owns a DS, and is old enough to purchase the title. It’s good to see the words, Grand Theft Auto and Nintendo together again, now let’s hope the next time we see them together it doesn’t take another five years. Kudos to Rockstar Leeds for bringing Chinatown to the Nintendo DS.

Gameplay:9, Graphics: 9.5, Sound: 8.5, Innovation: 9, Mojo: 10 Final: 9.2 / 10

Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 03.30.09
  • Solid storyline in that typical GTA tradition
  • Top down perspective is perfectly matched to the gameplay
  • Impressive visuals running with dynamic real-time effects
  • Lots of side missions to fool around with including vehicle mini-missions
  • The PDA works wonders again... easy to figure out what to do
  • Replaying missions is a new must-have feature
  • New Evasion system makes it a little to hard to shake the fuzz
  • Viewing restrictions can be bothersome at times
  • No voice-over work, or licensed music


Grand Theft Auto
Chinatown Wars

Rockstar Games
Rockstar Leeds
Released (US)
March '09