2009's most impressive DS games

Appropriately addicting drug dealing:
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Probably the most popular DS game all year in the GR offices, GTA's first DS outing had just what the system needed: some M-rated, Rockstar mayhem. Set in a version of Liberty City that’s nearly identical to GTA IV’s, Chinatown Wars takes you through a recognizable tour of the city's underworld, as blood and bullets fly. It has all the beloved features of GTA's past, but also hides a new trick up its sleeve: drug dealing.

Yes, Rockstar introduced drug dealing on one of the most family friendly handhelds there is. Admittedly, that didn't really equal sales, but it was a brash and interesting choice by a company known for such moves. Not only are the drugs a great way to earn more money in the game (even though they can be pretty risky if you’re caught), but it's an economics lesson as well. You need to carefully study supply and demand, and always be prepared for shifts in the market. It’s so distracting, one can easily lose sight of their in-game goals while chasing the drug market.

Mario plus Tetris Attack equals awesome:
Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure

Another sorely unappreciated game, Henry Hatworth took some real chances on its bizarre gameplay and presentation, which is surprising, as EA was billing it as one of its more family friendly titles of the year. But this game and its very British hero took a very clever genre mash-up and ran with it, artfully combining puzzles and platforming into one seamless whole.

As Henry tracks down the items needed to become the perfect gentleman, he must traverse dangerous lands in classic adventurer form on the top screen. But at any time, you can switch to the bottom screen, where a puzzle game that's pretty similar to Tetris Attack/Puzzle League series slowly moves along. The balance between the two comes into play as they interact: you can gain power-ups and healing items for Henry by clearing blocks, for example. Also, enemies defeated by Henry in the top screen become blocks with faces in the bottom screen, which will eventually rise back up and attack you if you don’t clear them quickly. Not at all schizophrenic, both parts of the game interact well while being separate experiences. A must for fans of either genre.

Easily the best DSiWare game:
Flipnote Studio

DSiWare sucked this year, big time. In its first year of existence, it introduced some very sloppy third-party games, and even Nintendo itself didn’t do a great job supporting it. The service sported such great "games" as Mario Clock, Animal Crossing Clock, and Mario Calculator, plus a few old DS titles that were separated into multiple parts and sold piecemeal. If not for the appearance of Flipnote Studio, this year would've been a near-total loss.

This inspired and FREE release is more a tool than a game. Taking advantage of all the DSi's abilities – touchscreen, mic, camera – the game enables you to create simple animation with ease. And after your masterpiece is complete, you can even upload your cartoons online, a rare web-savvy move by Nintendo. Even if it wasn't free, this should be a day-one download for any new DSi owner.

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • stealthmog - December 20, 2009 10:24 a.m.

    Why no love for Phantasy Star Zero? I thought it was pretty dang impressive what they packed into the game.
  • Xeacons - December 19, 2009 6:59 p.m.

    Yeah, can't argue with the quality (or lack thereof) of the DSiWare. Best one's were the utility programs: Web browser, calculator, notebook (I'm still waiting on the spreadsheet). But there's no denying, Flipbook is worth BUYING a DSi for, especially if you're in the cinema/animation business!
  • FanofSaiyan - December 19, 2009 9:48 a.m.

    I can't believe they didn't put Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days on this list. That game was awesome!!
  • zanthox - December 18, 2009 9:51 p.m.

    I litterally JUST finished Spirit Tracks... It has a few control flaws but other than that... It is perhaps the best Zelda game to date...
  • crumbdunky - December 18, 2009 10:10 a.m.

    Played, as ever, a ton of jrpgs on my DS this year(thought Devil Survivor was a little overrated,mind)and sadly NOTHING was as food as last years high water mark in TWEWY, imo, despite there being the usual plethora to wade through. Didn't play the VP strategy game though and will when I see a copy. Otherwise a great little list with GTA:CW being an opus and ode to the DS and it's abilities(it remains a far better game on Nintys handheld than on PSP-where it's still cool). It easily stands up to full size GTA releases and is something the people at R* Leeds should be proud of. The only other game on the list I haven't played at all is Bowsers and I'm getting it for my little lad for Xmas so some fatherly indian giving seems on the cards. Don't make that face -when you have kids you'll find that buying the games you want as presents for them is about the best way of keeping a decent library while not annoying the other half(who despite being a gamer herself does get angry at over five games per month). And besides, my dad used me as an excuse to tracel to Chelsea games throughout the 70's and 80's. And we were crap then-so the lad gets off light and still gets the games-when I've finished "helping" him.
  • GameManiac - December 18, 2009 7:03 a.m.

    I could NOT agree more with Scribblenauts, Bowser's Inside Story, and Spirit Tracks.
  • McSpermie - December 18, 2009 2:53 a.m.

    I understand, I didn't catch that the list was meant to be most innovative but it makes sense now. I haven't tried Valkrie Profile for the DS I'll give it a go though
  • GR_HenryGilbert - December 18, 2009 2:16 a.m.

    @McSpermie A couple things. First off, I almost put Devil Survivor on here, I reviewed both and it's a better game than Valkyrie Profile, but this was a list for inventive and impressive games, not strictly a best of list. Still, anyone who likes strategy-RPGs or summoning demons and fusing them should buy Devil Survivor immediately. Same goes for Layton. I had the first game on last year's list, and while this year's entry was very good, it wasn't all that new.
  • McSpermie - December 18, 2009 1:12 a.m.

    woah woah woah, there are a few things missing here. First off as said by sveini22, Professor Layton should have been there which you guys gave a 9 while you gave Scribblenauts a 7. Secondly Devil Survivor was also very good (you gave it a 9 also) and I was surprised not to see that on there. Lastly though I understand that most wouldn't agree with me here I loved Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days and was really hoping it would be on here. So anyways nice article I just would get rid of Scribblenauts and put those in.
  • sveini22 - December 17, 2009 8:26 p.m.

    i personaly think that professor layton and pandoras box shoud have made the list
  • Kaz993 - December 17, 2009 5:23 p.m.

    Big titles only? what about Phantasy Star Zero? Packing all the gameplay of Phantasy Star Online into a game pack, complete with a 14-hour storyline, amazing graphics for the DS that run smoothly in full-rendered 3D, and online play to boot?
  • Migglez - December 17, 2009 3:48 p.m.

    scirbblenauts is great haha was there even a story i just drew whatever and it was still hella fun
  • rxb - December 17, 2009 1:25 p.m.

    I got China Town Wars for my bros birthday. He loved it.
  • Cyberninja - December 17, 2009 12:08 p.m.

    sprit tracks is awesome i am about to finsh the ocean temple and i think scribblenauts will be fun a holiday partys, i think the best dsi ware game is march of the minis or might flip champs but i also love flipnote studio and i want to find VP:CotP for $20 again that would be nice
  • Romination - December 17, 2009 2:45 a.m.

    A tear shed for Henry Hatsworth... It's interesting that you guys like Haggleman so much since I didn't think it was so great. Hm. Some of these categories felt ODDLY loaded...but I'm sure you had the game and then came up with the category, RIIIIGHT?
  • Spybreak8 - December 17, 2009 2:20 a.m.

    Nice article, I have been playing GTA: Chinatown Wars off and on for a while now. I could do everything in the game but I have way more games to play to find all the security cameras lol. Just grabbed Spirit Tracks and I will probably grab the Mario & Luigi title sometime. I knew Scribblenauts was going to be on the last page lol.
  • nik41507 - December 17, 2009 12:09 a.m.

    @SuperGoomba64 I am sorry, there is a cookie shortage You do not get a cookie Maybe next time Nice article
  • Ransom - December 16, 2009 11:59 p.m.

    A system can never have too many rpg's! Or maybe that's my rpg-deprived, PS3-playing subconscious talking.
  • Shadowhatchi - December 16, 2009 11:42 p.m.

    In scribblenauts, wings are easier to use then a jetpack. Just saying.
  • SuperGoomba64 - December 16, 2009 10:56 p.m.

    I played Chinatown Wars and Retro Game challenge do I get a cookie? I was pretty mad though when GTA erased it save data right after I beat the game.V_V