With the launch of the eShop, Nintendo 3DS owners now have access to a wide array of DSiWare releases – bite-sized downloadable games originally designed for the Nintendo DSi that also run on the fancy-schmancy new handheld. Unfortunately, DSiWare's best offerings have been criminally overlooked and shrouded by waves of unremarkable junk, but if you dig a little, you'll find some great handheld experiences, many of which are available for just a few bucks apiece.
Not only does the service offer solid scaled-down versions of larger franchises like Dr. Mario and Bomberman – as well as solid renditions of multiplatform hits like Flight Control and Plants vs. Zombies – but more importantly, it also houses numerous worthwhile original games that either debuted on the service or remain exclusive to the platform. Whether you're a new 3DS owner looking for some cheap downloads or a DSi user who didn't keep up with the steady flow of new releases, here are our 10 picks for must-download DSiWare offerings.
Every platform has to have its updated Breakout/Arkanoid clone, and the Nintendo DS had a couple of solid retail options in Nervous Brickdown and Break 'Em All. But AlphaBounce takes a different tact in presenting the familiar gameplay, as it wraps the stylus-based paddle approach up in a customizable RPG-like quest where you play as one of three prisoners attempting to wrap up a stint at a mining colony. In addition to a load of unique Arkanoid-like power-ups, AlphaBounce lets you alter your paddle (called an "envelope" here) with a hundred distinct upgrades, plus the game includes dozens of brick types and reportedly millions of randomly generated levels. Though the menus are a little overbearing to start, AlphaBounce packs in a whole lot of brick-breaking goodness for just a few scant bucks.
Art Style series ($4.99 each)
Rather than fill up this article with multiple releases from Nintendo's Art Style series – each of which offers up a uniquely stylized and often totally original puzzle experience – we figured it made more sense just to recommend the whole set. Granted, the seven titles vary significantly in style and longevity, but if you're a fan of well-manicured morsels of handheld goodness, they're all worthwhile in one way or another. Of special note are Pictobits (a match-three puzzler with classic Nintendo iconography), Boxlife (a challenging stylus-based box-building affair), and Digidrive (a traffic-directing game), but the other four – Aquia, Base 10, Precipice, and Zengage – are also smart picks, and all of them are available for just $4.99 apiece.
Bird & Beans ($1.99)
Bird & Beans is arguably the least complex offering on this list, but it's also the cheapest – and at $2, it perfectly fits the mold of a tiny mobile game with one simple, reliable mechanic that holds up well over numerous playthroughs. Many may remember Bird & Beans from its debut as a microgame in the original WarioWare for Game Boy Advance, and the approach hasn't changed since then: you'll move a tiny bird back and forth on a side-scrolling plane, using its extensive tongue to suck in falling beans before they crash into the ground, which would limit your pathway. The DSi version also includes Birds & Beans 2, which swaps in a shooting feature, and both add up to a lightly amusing diversion to play between heavier DSiWare fare.
Cave Story ($9.99)
The enhanced 3DS version of Cave Story – the PC freeware favorite turned acclaimed Wii/DSi downloadable release – was supposed to be out by now, but a recent delay sadly pushed it to November. Luckily, the DSiWare version's presence on the eShop means you don't have to wait to play this beloved indie platformer, which pays homage to classics like Metroid and Mega Man with polished side-scrolling action and pixel-perfect retro aesthetics. Cave Story offers a lengthy, challenging quest with a worthwhile narrative and multiple available endings, and we called the DSiWare version a "fantastic action/adventure title on any platform" in our review. The $10 release still comes highly recommended on the 3DS.
Dark Void Zero ($4.99)
Capcom's Dark Void landed on consoles and PC with a pretty hefty thud at the start of 2010, but the overall project wasn't completely devoid of value. Case in point: Dark Void Zero, the "lost 8-bit entry" dreamed up for DSiWare and later Steam and iOS, is actually a pretty great flashback to NES-style action favorites like Metroid and Contra. Dark Void's jetpack approach transfers over surprisingly well to the side-scrolling aesthetic, and while most players probably won't care about the story bits dealing with the Watchers and an alien invasion, the rock-solid gameplay is enough to pull in fans of retro-stylized adventures. Plus, you start the game by blowing into the 3DS/DSi microphone to knock dust off a virtual NES-like cartridge. Awesome.