With the release of Grand Theft Auto IV on the XBox 360, as well as the Playstation 3, Rockstar let it be known that they had no problems releasing games on systems other then Sony’s. Yes, yes, GTA had shown up on the original Xbox, but only after some time it was released for the PS2. Now Rockstar will grab whatever console they deem worthy, so it should come as no surprise that their latest release makes it debut on the Nintendo DS. Being the most popular hand held gaming device certainly has its advantages and one of them is having Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars specifically tailored for the. While the DS may be the weakest current generation system in terms of power and graphics, it hasn’t stopped Rockstar from producing one of the deepest and fulfilling chapters in the Grand Theft Auto saga.

Chinatown War was developed by Rockstar Leeds, the same studio responsible for developing the previous two PSP versions, so you know they have experience dealing with hand held gaming. They’ve managed to incorporate a lot into a little. Chinatown Wars, as you can imagine, deals with the Triads of Chinatown in Liberty City. The story opens with Huang Lee delivering the Yu Jian, a symbolic sword, to his Uncle Kenny. Huang’s father, a Triad boss, was mysteriously slain and “tradition” dictates that the sword must pass from his possession to his brother. Upon landing in Liberty City, Huang is ambushed, his sword stolen, and he’s tossed for dead into the harbor. Your objective is to regain the sword and help your family secure a place within the Triad hierarchy. The little details are best kept to finding out on your own.

The gameplay in Chinatown Wars hearkens back to the original Grand Theft Auto with the camera displaying a top-down perspective. Rockstar Leeds has managed to incorporate many current generation aspects into it through, from the 3D buildings, cars and obstacles and the way they interact and react with the player. You’ll find yourself flipping cars, knocking down light poles and causing various damage through out the city. The weather even shifts subtly as you go about your missions. All of it is presented with a heavily stylized cartoonish cel-shading look with thick, black outlines.

Liberty City still has all the back alleys, shortcuts, and bypasses that we’ve become used to in GTA IV, and it still has the same boroughs, but this time you’re able to explore the entire city from the get go. You’re no longer limited to unlocking areas of the city. You can explore at your own leisure, and much like its cousin GTA IV you can explore in whatever fashion you want. Whether it’s stealing a car or motorcycle, the choice is yours but be warned that each vehicle handles differently. Heck, you can choose to simply walk around if that tickles your fancy.

Chinatown Wars focuses on weaponry as much as other GTA games, from pistols, machine guns to flamethrowers, all are available through the ammunition merchant AmmuNation.com. Shooting is handled by tapping the right shoulder button to lock-on to an enemy before hitting A to fire. Most of the time it works fine, but there are occasions when the lock-on system chooses the wrong target and forcing you to try to correct yourself while taking enemy fire. Throwing grenades and other projectiles is a bit more of a daunting task. Lobbing one requires you to tap the stylus onto the icon and slide it around the radius to lob. If the mission calls for tossing explosive weapons then it works well, but in a firefight it tends to get a bit cumbersome.

GTA IV had you using the cellphone for a number of objectives, in Chinatown Wars they’ve replaced it with an intuitive PDA. You can use it as a GPS device, plan your routes, check emails, and even order weapons from AmmuNation.com. Another great feature of the PDA is when you receive an email from another characters you can tap on the link at the bottom of the note to link their location on the GPS to find them easily.

This works extremely well when trying to track down drug dealers, a big feature of Chinatown Wars’ drug trading element. A lot of the game revolves around buying and selling drugs all over the city. You want to buy low and sell high and you’ll find that the more people you befriend the more tips you’ll get in helping you achieve your goals. You can even stock up your drugs back at your hideaways. While the drug scenarios are part of the mini-games that can be found in any GTA series, there are other side missions you can work on. Hot-wiring cars, assembling a sniper rifle, planting explosives and even using a defibrillator while running from the police just make the game even more impressive.

Being a game for the Nintendo DS you can’t compare the visuals for Chinatown Wars to any previous GTA game, but Rockstar Leeds did an outstanding job for what they had to work with. By DS standards, Chinatown Wars’ visuals are outstanding. The 3D engine runs 30 frames per second almost the entire time, rarely slowing down.

You will spend hours playing Chinatown Wars, and in typical GTA fashion you could easily spend 12 plus, depending on how much or how little you become distracted by the mini-games. Once you’re done with the single player campaign you can immerse yourself in the multiplayer. Chinatown Wars’ multiplayer features up to four players, facing off in standard races as well as a “capture the flag” style modes where you race for a Van hidden in the city and drive it back to your base. A co-op feature is also available in the “Defend the Base” mode, and all of it is available to play via the DS’s wireless mode. Unfortunately the multiplayer and co-op modes cannot be played on-line like traditional GTA games, but considering what you’re already getting it’s forgiveable.

Rockstar pulled out what many thought impossible, a fully immersible sandbox game for the DS that not only plays well, but looks good. Chinatown Wars isn’t about fitting GTA into the DS, it’s about making the DS work for GTA. The game takes advantage of every ounce of power the DS has and it makes for an excellent game. This is something that should definitely be added to your collection.