Nintendo’s dominance in the handheld space has long been a facet of the video gaming industry, with only the recent advent of smartphone gaming providing a challenge to the Big N’s throne.
The follow-up to the wildly successful Game Boy, the Game Boy Advance, largely built upon its predecessor’s legacy and was, in many respects, a portable Super Famicom. It also sported a traditional form factor and later added the major advancement of back-lighting. In other words, the Game Boy Advance did everything right while trying to change as little as possible.
But, as anyone who knows Nintendo’s history can already tell you, doing the same thing just better is not what Nintendo is all about.
Innovation is at the core of the company and at the heart of one of their most successful systems of all time: the Nintendo DS. Its clamshell design made it look like an overgrown cellphone and its stylus recalled the PDAs of a bygone era. What was this weird screen and what in the heck was the DS supposed to be?
DS either stands for “dual screen” or “developer’s system.” Either way, it is an icon of modern gaming with many of the innovations it introduced later perfected in Nintendo’s blockbuster return to the summit of home console gaming, the Nintendo Wii. Over its lifetime and its many incarnations the Nintendo DS has sold approximately 153 million units to date, putting it in second place only to the PlayStation 2 as the best selling console of all time.
Of course, no system becomes a legend based purely on its innovation alone. If that were the case the Virtual Boy would have succeeded. Rather, the Nintendo DS boasts perhaps one of gaming’s strongest libraries around. In this article we are going to list the 10 top Nintendo DS games ever released. While not definitive, you can’t really go wrong with any of the titles on this list.
10. The World Ends with You
A JRPG taking place in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, The World Ends With You feels a lot like Square’s interpretation of Atlus’ popular series Persona but also contains elements of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. As a participant in the Reaper’s Game, players will go through three chapters representing the three weeks protagonist Neku spends in the tournament. Action heavy and bleeding with style, The World Ends With You is an experience targeting those players that might not have played a JRPG but enjoy PC-based RPGs. It does the amazing thing of pleasing both audiences at the same time, a feat rarely achieved in video games. And the soundtrack – wow is all we can say about that.
9. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night introduced this genre to the series, and Dawn of Sorrow might be its apex according to some critics. This game is like SOTN on steroids. There is just simply more of everything. A thoroughly modern tale, too, Dawn of Sorrow eschews the medieval trappings of earlier Castlevania games for a modern take on the franchise. You can fire guns, use spells, and leap around massive stages in your quest to level up your character and save the world. This game easily has hours of content and is immediately accessible.
8. Animal Crossing: Wild World
Animal Crossing is one of those games you either get or you don’t. For those of us that do love it, Wild World is everything you got on the Game Cube in a portable format – and that’s more than enough for most of us. Animal Crossing is a grind on a different level, making it perfect for the DS format. This edition also takes advantage of the DS unique touch screen features, the styles, and microphone – just about everything. Living in the community of Wild World never gets boring and Animal Crossing’s endless charm will help sustain even the most jaded gamer’s interest.
7. Pokemon Black and White
The first installment of Pokemon for the fifth generation, Black and White features a deep narrative and tight gameplay but really doesn’t rock the boat. As the first games on the Nintendo DS, this was probably a wise move. As you will probably remember, the Pokemon series was huge on the Nintendo Game Boy and created a craze worldwide when it came out. Nintendo didn’t really have much incentive to change the formula too much and Black and White is a masterpiece because of it.
6. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown
Grand Theft Auto on a Nintendo system? You better believe it. This game is one of the grittier entries in the popular franchise and fully takes advantage of the Nintendo DS’ unique capabilities as a system. While it has made appearances on other formats since its initial release on the DS, nothing has provided quite the experience that the DS did. If you’re a fan of Grand Theft Auto, then Chinatown won’t disappoint you. The story is really strong and the presentation is a combination of classic GTA before the 3D era and comic book style.
5. Mario Kart DS
What is a Nintendo system without an installment of Mario Kart? Mario Kart DS is one of the best games in the series of all time. A definite must-play for the system, it’s amazing how well the game has held up over the years. Employing the cartoon visuals seen in other games, this iteration fondly recalls both the Game Cube edition and the classic first game on the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t really do anything different from other Mario Kart games and it does mildly take advantage of the touch screen and stylus but really the focus of this game is kart racing at its finest.
4. Pokemon Heartgold and Soulsilver
A remake of Pokemon Gold and Silver, Heartgold and Soulsilver was a visual and gameplay update on the classic games. This is because the team behind it didn’t want to isolate longtime fans or newcomers to the series. Because it was inspired by an older pair of games, the narrative isn’t quite as lengthy as modern installments in the Pokemon series but it is classic stuff nonetheless. These games were huge on the Nintendo DS, racking up sales that placed them in the top 10 of all DS games, but more importantly they showed that Nintendo was dedicated to its legacy as much as it was pushing towards innovation. This reaching back has stuck with Nintendo to this day and resulted in the Virtual Console on the Wii and the indie-slant we see now with the Nintendo Switch.
3. New Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo’s re-imagining of its classic Super Mario Bros. for the original Famicom, New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS updates the graphics a la Super Mario Allstars but also introduces new powerups, a ton of stages, and a lengthy gameplay experience. The game’s platforming action ramps up as expected with a Mario game and it adds some innovations to the traditional Famicom formula without being isolating for fans. Again, it is just pure Mario fun in a portable format and that really can’t be beat. Sure, the Nintendo Switch has taken this concept to a whole new level, but it was the Nintendo DS that showed the world a stand-alone Mario game on a handheld could not only compete with home console versions but also inspire them.
2. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl
This game was an instant success upon release and brought Pokemon thoroughly into the modern era. Again, Nintendo made small tweaks here and there but largely retained the traditions established in previous Pokemon games. Diamond and Pearl was the most successful launch for the series on the Nintendo DS and showed that the craze had not abated. It is hard not to emphasize the importance of Pokemon games on Nintendo handhelds. While the DS would have likely succeeded with fewer Pokemon games, there is little doubt that the steady stream of titles in this series kept the system selling deep into its lifecycle.
1. The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Another game that was inspired by a game on the Nintendo Game Cube, The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass continues in the world introduced in The Windwaker. Using the same art style with a more top down approach, The Phantom Hourglass also takes full advantage of the DS’ microphone and is completely controlled by the stylus in some areas. The puzzle solving is classic Zelda fare but where the game shines is its story. A more light-hearted narrative than the amazing The Windwaker, The Phantom Hourglass does not forget it is a Zelda game and provides a full experience. It is pretty amazing how engaging this game is and it is definitely worthy of its name.