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2009's most impressive DS games

Most inventive Mario game of 2009:
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

Yes, we said it. It's hard to admit, but as longtime Mario fanboys, we have to say that New Super Mario Bros Wii just isn't all that. It's a great 2D throwback, and we had single-player fun all the way to the end, but it had the unimpressive twist of adding three more players on screen, thus rendering it virtually unplayable. However, Mario fans looking for a game stuffed with new ideas needed only look in their pockets – assuming you keep a DS in your pocket with a copy of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, that is.

Despite being the third game in the approachable RPG series, Inside Story has so many ingenious tricks flying around that it feels new. You often switch on the fly between the Mario Bros and Bowser, with each playing quite differently from the other; the brothers travel in 2D through Bowser's insides, while the Koopa King stomps around a top-down-viewed overworld. There are so many different minigames between battles that take full advantage of the DS’s strengths, be they rhythm-, giant-monster- or massage-based, , that they feel almost even in number and frequency with the franchise's traditional, though still fresh-feeling battles. Add to that some of the biggest laughs gaming had this year and an amazing localization, and how could this not be Mario's best game this year, or his most inventive?


Most creative use of Princess Zelda:
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

When it was first announced, we weren't all that excited with the newest Zelda game, Spirit Tracks. Oh, we felt safe in assuming it would be a quality game worthy of the Zelda name, but riding a choo-choo train around Hyrule in a lame conductor’s outfit? Sorry, we aren't five-year-olds or divorced men over 40 with basement space to spare, so trains aren't all that cool to us. But then, about a month before release, the game's big secret was revealed: Zelda would accompany Link the entire game as a, gulp, gh-gh-gh-ghost!

Yes, due to some evil plot, Zelda's spirit needs to be reunited with her body, so she and Link take to the rails. Thanks to her ability to possess suits of armor, she accompanies Link even in the dungeons, where she's instrumental in solving some of ST's surprisingly challenging puzzles. Plus she acts as Link's guide in this game, thus removing the need for annoying, whiny fairies like Navi. It's a big change for the series, but we're happy to see an expanded role for the usual damsel in distress, even if you technically still have to save her.


The most inventive game of the year:
Scribblenauts

Yes, we all knew we'd come to this one. It's for games like this that this list was invented, to celebrate games that try something new. Well, how about the ability to make anything and everything, and have your character use it? That’s the idea behind Scribblenauts, which tasks you with solving puzzles using whatever solution you can think of. Want to burn down a tree to get the star at the top? Or would you rather get a ladder?  Logic problems like these are the crux of the game.

Unfortunately, the reason it made this list is also why it wasn't the best game it could be – it dreamed too big. Your character, who you have no direct control over (you just tap a point on the touchscreen to  make him move), often fails to recognize things given to him, or uses them the wrong way. Plus, we found that "jet-pack" is a catchall solution for most puzzles, so it obviously has some balance issues. It's hard to hate a game that has such big ideas, though, and as a toy to experiment with, it's great. We just hope the inevitable sequel fixes its many problems.

Dec 16, 2009


2008's most impressive DS games
We call out 10 amazing titles that pushed the system to its limits


The complete history of Mario RPGs
We chronicle one humble plumber's random encounters with role-playing stardom


2009's best under-the-radar games
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22 comments

  • 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

Showing 1-20 of 22 comments

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