Even though I took home the site’s sole launch retail DS unit and its first batch of games, and then dragged the thing with me as I traveled home for Christmas break, I didn’t really enjoy anything on the system until January, when a review copy of Zoo Keeper DS showed up.
The match-three puzzle concept was hardly new to me. I was a “hip” and “with it” game journalist, you know, so I had played Bejeweled. But I didn’t care until Zoo Keeper DS.
The trick was in the touch screen. This was the first DS game that made me stop and say, “Wow, I get it.” Bejeweled was fun enough, sure, but a few rounds was enough to satisfy me. Add in the precision and immediacy of touchscreen controls, however, and suddenly I found myself unable to stop playing.
The DS and Zoo Keeper dropped while I was living in San Francisco’s Nob Hill district, about two miles from Ziff-Davis’ office at the time and close enough that I walked there and back nearly every day, but I started taking aimless bus rides places just so I could have the excuse to sit and play Zoo Keeper without any distractions. Ah, the magic days before smart phones, when email couldn’t track me down me anywhere on the planet.
I would occasionally stop myself and ask, “What on earth am I doing!?” That is, “Why am I seriously spending time on this game for this system, which is surely going to be dead inside of six months?” And yet there I was, ticking away at little animal heads for hours at a time. I even mentioned it to a woman I dated briefly at the time — which turned out to be a moot point. She was a lot more into the game than she was into me.
I didn’t realize I was looking at the future. Within five or six years, the best-selling games platform on the planet would consist of nothing but a touchscreen, and its popularity would hinge on match three titles. The DS gave me a front-row seat to gaming’s future. Yet I witnessed this revolution obliviously; I just wanted to swap bunnies with elephants.