We'd always looked, but now we can touch...
Nintendo's handheld systems have produced some of the best on-the-go experiences we've ever gotten our hands on, and with the DS it's no different. Before there was glasses-free 3D, Nintendo introduced gamers to touch screen gameplay with the DS' two screen, clamshell design. Franchises like Zelda, Mario Kart, and Pokemon had some of their strongest entries on the handheld, and dozens more titles are now timeless classics.
With more than a decade under its belt, the DS' most prominent titles are still worthy of picking up and playing again and again. Looking to catch up on some of the handheld system's great titles? You're in luck. We've ranked the 50 best DS games on the following slides. Find out which games you absolutely need to hunt down and play. Starting with...
50. Flower, Sun, and Rain
Suda51 is known for wacky, off-the-wall games, but not many people have experienced or even know about Flower, Sun, and Rain. Ported from a Japan-exclusive PS2 game, Flower, Sun and Rain will make you laugh and test your brain through its crime-solving mystery story.
There's a lot of reading to be done, as well as a lot of backtracking, but all of it is worth experiencing for the tale that Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture have spun here. Fans of those developers certainly won't be disappointed.
49. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is a spin-off game we didn't know we wanted, injecting some strategy into the already radically different Final Fantasy XII. Though it's definitely easier than most RPGs, there's a definite charm and accessibility that makes Revenant Wings very enjoyable, especially to the casual fan. We called it the "Final Fantasy for everyone" in our review for a reason.
Revenant Wings presents a real-time strategy-esque combat scheme, eschewing the turn-based battles of old for something fresh and fun. It's not going to challenge the hardened FF aficionado, but Revenant Wings is definitely worth trying out. Who knows, the "FF for everyone" might be for you, too.
48. Super Princess Peach
Princess Peach finally gets her own starring role! For once, she is in charge of saving Mario from capture! She uses the power of the mighty Vibe Scepter, which allows her to harness her emotions into magnificent powers! Flames of anger! Waterfalls of tears! All can be used to save Mario!
Inappropriate thoughts aside, Super Princess Peach is actually a fantastic little game worthy of Her Highness. A starring role for Peach truly was long overdue, and this game has plenty of the platforming excellence the Mario games are known for, just with a feminine touch. Mario can take a backseat for once, Peach has got this.
47. Mario Hoops 3-on-3
We all know Mario is quite the athlete. He's played tennis, baseball, and golf on virtually every console since the Nintendo 64, but this marks the first time he's ever taken to the hardwood. Mario Hoops 3-on-3 is a neat little sports game, mixing Dr. Naismith's brainchild with the lovable Mario cast... and some unexpected guests.
Now it's no NBA Jam, but this cartoony take on basketball is easy and fun to play. Plus, who'd have ever thought we could team Mario and Luigi with a moogle, white mage, or red mage from Final Fantasy? The interesting cameos are just some of the features in this cool little sports game, one that's definitely worth your time.
46. Yoshi's Island DS
An upgraded classic with plenty of new features, Yoshi's Island DS is exactly the kind of update we like to see. This isn't the same Yoshi's Island ported over to another system; the added elements make the game feel like a fresh and new experience.
Sure, Baby Mario is still around, but now Baby Peach and Baby DK are traversing the world on Yoshi's back, lending their own abilities to the cause. Even with the new additions, we still loved throwing eggs and butt-slamming foes in the beautifully drawn 2D world. We don't think we'll ever tire of Yoshi's Island.
45. Pokmon Conquest
A major criticism of the Pokmon games is that the central formula hasn't changed. It's the same "gotta catch 'em all" experience it's always been, granted with a few bajillion more faces. Pokmon Conquest is the perfect answer to those gripes, turning Pokemon into a quality strategy RPG with plenty to offer
Teaming with, of all names, the Nobunaga's Ambition series, Pokmon Conquest tells a story of a different kind of feudal Japan, one where warriors link up to Pokmon who carry out the battles for them. The action takes place on a grid-like battlefield worthy of any tactics game, while maintaining the allure of Pokmon. Pokmon fans ought to set out on this Conquest.
44. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
Immediate risks are taken whenever a game demands that the DS be held like a book. Some, like Hotel Dusk: Room 215, are visual novels that make holding like a book make sense. Others, like Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, are action games that make you question just what the heck is going on. Fortunately, no matter how the DS is being held, Ninja Gaiden is an excellent action game.
Dragon Sword is controlled entirely by the stylus, another risk that pays off immensely. You'll slash, jump, and move via stylus, creating a comfortable control scheme few other games can accomplish. It may not have felt natural initially, but now we can't imagine playing Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword any other way but sideways.
It's not easy to adequately describe Contact. Nonsensical comes to mind, as does batsh*t crazy, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. What else would we expect from a dev like Grasshopper Manufacture?
Contact is an RPG that tries its best to not make sense. The professor you're trying to help knows you're communicating via a Nintendo DS. He's disguised his spaceship as a pirate ship until you help him repair it. '80s-gaming homages abound, sure to put a smile on any longtime gamer's face. Simply put, Contact is a unique little game, sure to have been missed by many, but adored by those who played it.
42. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter
Back when Namco Bandai were still Namco and Bandai, Bandai released a game called Tail Concerto, which remained a little-known cult hit.
For those who remember it, Solatorobo is a game with you in mind. A spiritual sequel to Tail Concerto, this underrated DS gem features a nonlinear story, plenty of main and side quests, and a charming world filled with French-speaking humanoid dogs and cats. If that last sentence alone doesn't do it for you, nothing will.
41. Picross DS
Picross should not be this addicting. Literally coming from "picture" and "crossword puzzle," picross puzzles are some of the most unique and fun little brain teasers we've ever come across. They're so fun, in fact, that two Picross games have made this very list. How about that?
The first one is Picross DS, a pretty standard picross game. Dozens of puzzles await your cognitive skills, and we defy any of you to try and play the game without burning at least two hours on it. Go ahead. Try it.
40. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
Kingdom Hearts tried portable gaming before 358/2 Days, but the card-based battling and strange story didn't quite satiate the rabid KH fan's hunger. This game, however, brings as authentic a Kingdom Hearts experience as the DS can handle.
358/2 Days has everything a Kingdom Hearts fan can possibly want: real-time combat, beautiful worlds, and Disney out the wazoo. The only difference is the star of the show, Roxas, but after a while we grew to ignore his shrill battle cries just as we did Sora's. No harm, no foul.
39. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!
Little robot Marios must safely make a Lemmings-like journey from the beginning of a level to the door at the end, and it's Mario's job to get them there. If not, his lady friend Pauline will remain in the clutches of Donkey Kong, the nefarious ape.
Sounds like some kind of strange alternate universe, right? It is in fact the premise of Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!, one of the most unique games on the DS. It's simple yet constantly enjoyable, and it serves as one of the biggest time-passers on the system. We can't help but love it.
38. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Fire Emblem has gained quite a name for itself ever since Marth and Roy appeared in Super Smash Bros. Melee. However, despite the range of games from the GBA to the Wii, American fans had yet to experience the original Fire Emblem adventure starring Marth himself. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon changed that, and now we understand why the series is so revered in other regions.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon combines grid-based strategy RPG with rock-paper-scissors (in this case sword-spear-axe) to form a delightfully fun adventure well worth the 20-year wait. It's also nice to see where Marth came from, so we can stop staying "oh that swordsman from Smash Brothers." If Advance Wars is up your alley, there's no reason Fire Emblem wouldn't be too. Speaking of which...
37. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
Days of Ruin is not the Advance Wars we've come to know. This is a darker, grittier tale of war; a more grown-up view of a world in combat.
The color and vibrance may be gone, but Days of Ruin retains all of the fantastic gameplay elements that we've come to know. Excellent grid-based strategy with varied units and huge battle landscapes highlight a premier turn-based strategy endeavor. We may have been worried about the change in tone, but after playing it we see no Days of Ruin ahead for the Advance Wars name.
36. Kirby Mass Attack
Kirby meets Pikmin. It's a weird hybrid to be sure, yet somehow in practice it makes perfect sense. Kirby Mass Attack may have been Kirby's last jaunt on the DS, but we'd argue that it was his best.
The game's level design and puzzles are nothing short of brilliant, using the multiple Kirby idea to its full potential. Couple that with the expected charm of a Kirby game, and we have an adventure that rivals any of Kirby's previous exploits.
35. Radiant Historia
To an outsider, Radiant Historia may look like any other JRPG. Brooding hero? Check. Fantasy setting? Check. Turn-based combat? Check. However, this game takes some serious risks with the formula, concocting an original and awesome experience.
The 3x3 grid battle systems allows for an infinite amount of strategies and flashy combos, while the branching, time travel-based storyline keeps the plot interesting. If you're anything like us, you'll continue to travel through time and complete tasks just to prolong the game as much as possible. We didn't want it to end, and neither will you.
34. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
We love playing games that don't take themselves too seriously. We especially love when a game will go out of its way to make us laugh every chance it gets. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time is one of those games, and there's no way you can play it without cracking up.
While you're laughing, you'll love the classic RPG feel of Partners in Time, harking back to the excellent Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo. Turn-based combat, dungeons, bosses, and more of the tried-and-true RPG elements are here, but not many other RPGs will make your sides split like this one. Try not to play it in public, though. People will think you're crazy.
We love Okami. There, we said it. It's no surprise that we then love Okamiden, its DS successor. Everything that made Okami great, from the Zelda-like exploration to the unique Celestial Brush techniques, carried over to the new game, and we fell in love instantly.
The DS faithfully represents Okami's lush, beautiful animated world, and our new hero Chibiterasu (think Amaterasu but much cuter) enlists companions to aid his quest, adding some new wrinkles to the gameplay. We couldn't be happier to play more Okami, and Okamiden fits the bill perfectly.
32. Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2
Spend a lot of time watching TV shows like ER and you might think you can man a scalpel and save a life. Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 does everything it can to prove you wrong. Surgery is hard, lives are at stake, and using the touch-screen capabilities of the DS has never been quite as fun.
We sweated buckets trying to kill an infection. We gritted our teeth as we sewed a patient back up, trying not to mess up. We froze in tension while trying to mend a broken bone. If nothing else, Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 does an incredible job of conveying the agonizing pressure of being a surgeon. ER can keep the scalpel.
31. Contra 4
Contra 4 is pure 2D madness, like a Super NES game plucked from 1992 and infused with pixelated steroids. Bullets rain from all sides (and screens), enemies kill you in one hit, power-ups cascade through the level, rockets launch you and a friend into the stratosphere and back again... its just completely nuts.
Contra is one of those series we love, but nostalgia plays a big role. We poo poo any new, 3D game (like Neo Contra or Legacy of War) and tire of pandering rereleases on Xbox Live. Could anything live up to our memories? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes--Contra 4 delivered in every measurable way, and then tossed in the original two games for good measure, just to show us it was paying attention. Seriously, the challenge mode alone kept this in some of our DSs for months after release. It's the ultimate DS action game.
30. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
For 17 years, Japan exclusively experienced one of the largest, grandest RPG experiences on the Super Nintendo. With the DS quickly becoming an RPG haven, Square Enix thought it right to finally bring Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride to the States. Thank the Goddess they did, because Dragon Quest V is a game not to be missed.
Little did we know that things like plot-changing choices and major twists could be found way back on the SNES, but Dragon Quest V has them in spades. By following the hero from birth, we witness every little turn his life takes, both good and bad. Why it took so long for Americans to finally get this is anyone's guess, but we're more than happy to be able to play it.
29. Kirby Super Star Ultra
Kirby Super Star Ultra remains the premier Kirby experience in all of video game history. Countless hours were spent in the game's myriad adventures, from the classic Spring Breeze to the treasure-seeking Great Cave Offensive. There's a ton of Kirby to be had here, and the DS port maintains all of it.
If you'd rather take a break from adventuring, play one of the addicting minigames offered, like the quick-on-the-draw Samurai Kirby or one of the three brand-new touch-centric games. Anyone who has loved Kirby since the beginning should have Kirby Super Star Ultra in their library; it's everything that makes Kirby so great in one small package.
28. Puzzle Quest 2
For such a brazen rip-off of Bejeweled, Puzzle Quest is a surprisingly innovative game. It's an ingenious hybrid of the puzzle and RPG genres that takes the core gem-swapping mechanic of Bejeweled and turns the gem board into a turn-based battle. You play as a character with all the trappings of a typical RPG hero, with stats, spells, equipment, and so on, but instead of a traditional battle system, you exchange blows with various monsters and evildoers on the puzzle board. As you take turns swapping gems with your opponent, mana meters fill corresponding with the various gem colors, and you can use that mana to unleash spells and attacks.
The Bejeweled-style gameplay is already undeniably addictive on its own, but when you add the addictiveness of leveling and character progression, the combined elements are compounded into a magic so pure as to be irresistible. And while the DS version probably isn't the definitive version (the XBLA version, for example, is obviously much prettier), we found ourselves putting way more play time into this version because of how well it works with the stylus controls and its suitability for portable play.
27. Rhythm Heaven
The DS was home to many memorable music and rhythm games, but none were more digestible and catchy than Rhythm Heaven. Created by underrated Nintendo developer SPD 01, Rhythm Heaven has much in common with the WarioWare games created by the same team. The bite-sized songs might be a little longer than the standard Wario stage, but they have the same comedic sensibility.
Starting with the simple gameplay of flicking the stylus on the bottom screen to the tempo of the songs, each level gets increasingly more demanding. The zany concepts of each stage are so humorously conceived; some of the best include clapping monkeys, picking turnips, and singing Moai heads. Bizarre concepts backed up by catchy songs is what Rhythm Heaven does best, leaving its songs stuck in our heads long after weve powered down the system.
26. Final Fantasy IV
In each of these countdown lists, were trying to avoid ports or rereleases, good as they may be. Final Fantasy IV, however, is a DS-specific, console-level reimagining of one of the most important and seminal JRPGs of all time. The time-tested gameplay, story, and characters are all identical to the beloved 16-bit original, but rest assured this is a uniquely DS experience.
That doesnt mean there are interesting touch-screen or microphone ideas at work; instead, FF4 benefits from impressive graphics, elaborate cutscenes, remastered music, and tons of recorded dialog. It all comes together in a robust package we never thought the DS was capable of containing on one game card, and earns its place on the list for both its technical victory and for brilliantly updating a game weve already played to death.
24. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Link's first DS adventure took us back to the open seas in Phantom Hourglass. The Wind Waker graphics translate perfectly to the DS, and the new touch screen-centric controls give us a whole new way to play a Zelda title.
Everything else about Phantom Hourglass is classic Zelda: exploration, dungeon-crawling, and plenty of gear to use during the adventure. Just... get used to the Temple of the Ocean King, because you'll be going there seemingly ad infinitum.
23. Super Scribblenauts
The first Scribblenauts was an idea we absolutely loved... until we actually got hold of it, at which point we realized that most of its puzzles could be solved by just typing in the word jetpack. Super Scribblenauts, released a year later, worked around that problem by offering puzzles that--while still solvable in a variety of different ways--were more complex than just grab the star.
Rather than just dangling a shiny object in front of us, Super Scribblenauts made you work for it by meeting certain conditions--getting a lion to fall asleep, for example, or waking up an astronaut so they could put out a fire. The sharper puzzle focus made Super Scribblenauts infinitely more interesting than its predecessor, and kept us fascinated even after wed gotten bored of the games real draw: experimenting with bizarre objects on the title screen. Its a formula not possible on any other system, and so improved from its predecessor we couldnt help but include it.
25. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
"You are going to participate in a game. The Nonary Game. It is a game... where you will put your life on the line."
These chilling words best describe the puzzle masterpiece known as 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors. 999 shares a lot of what makes the Saw movies scary: strangers locked together in a tight space, and a deadly game being played that they've no idea how to win, with seemingly no way out. The story is intense, the puzzles are masterful, and the game will stick with you long after you've finished. Not many games sneak up on us and grip us like 999 did, which, considering the storyline, is more than appropriate.
22. Retro Game Challenge
While its not necessarily one of the highest-rated games, the apparent love and care that went into Retro Game Challenge won over the entire GR office. In a sense its a minigame compilation, but each game directly rips off an 80s classic and turns it into a 15-minute abridged version perfect for a handheld system. Best of all, each game comes with a fictional backstory told through a series of made-up articles that read exactly like game magazines of the 80s and 90s. Each time we fire this up, its like diving back into our innocent years and enjoying videogames in the purest, most earnest sense.
So yes, it appeals directly to aging gamers who long for their lost youth. But even post-1990 players should be able to carve out some new-old memories with copycats like Robot Ninja Haggle Man, Cosmic Gate, Guadia Quest, and Rally King. Each comes with a quartet of goals to achieve before moving on to the next, though each is substantial enough to keep you playing well after those challenges are met. All the while the floating head of the real-life Japanese TV show's host eggs you on.
21. Picross 3D
In recent years, the once-ubiquitous crossword puzzles have had to share space with the more popular Sudoku number puzzles. Either can make for a fun afternoon, but years ago Nintendo implemented a clever new way to combine aspects of both into its unique brainteaser. Picross (short for Picture Crossword) adapted the Japanese creation of nonograms into a treasured series of games, and Picross 3D was a fresh take on the cute enigmas.
You start each puzzle with a hint of what the final image of the puzzle will be, and then see how many squares within a line should be filled in. Combining logic with trial and error, you eventually create a picture out of whats left; that challenge was deepened immensely in Picross 3D by adding a third dimension to the previously flat puzzles. If youve played all the other predictable puzzle games on the DS, pick up this to get a taste of something different.
20. Animal Crossing: Wild World
The first sequel to follow the excellent GameCube game, Animal Crossing: Wild World brought everything we loved about the original game to a portable console, while throwing in both IR and online pathways to visit friends' towns. Gone were the days of needing two memory cards in one system, we could now travel through the air itself. What a beautiful thing.
We're not sure what makes Animal Crossing: Wild World so appealing. It may be the cute little animals themselves, chatting away like there's no tomorrow. It may be the satisfaction of paying off a house, something that may never happen to us in real life. Perhaps it's just plain old fun, something that will never go out of style. Whatever it is, we love it, and we always will.
19. Planet Puzzle League
Rehashed from two classic puzzle games, Planet Puzzle League is a puzzle junkie's heaven in a box. You've played Tetris Attack before, and we're sure Pokmon Puzzle League crossed your path during your "gotta catch 'em all" phase, so Planet Puzzle League should feel very familiar... it's the same game!
Planet Puzzle League may be another rehash of the Tetris Attack formula, but that doesn't make it any less addictive. We couldn't tell you how many hours we've collectively spent on this; during lunch breaks, phone meetings, you name it, Planet Puzzle League kept us company. If you value your free time, stay away, but if not Planet Puzzle League is for you.
18. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
The Dragon Quest series has always made a point of appearing on the most successful console of the current gen, but Dragon Quest IX marked the first time the main series premiered on a handheld. Longtime fans were resistant to such a big change, but Square Enix and codeveloper Level 5 (Professor Layton) didnt take it easy just because they were developing for a portable. After refining the job system first introduced in Dragon Quest III and marrying it with some of the best polygonal graphics the DS ever saw, Dragon Quest finally entered the current world of gaming, even if that meant taking a step back from the gorgeous designs of PS2s Dragon Quest VIII.
Though the story was a little simple compared to previous DQs, there was so much else to do that it barely mattered. You could use the incredibly dense item-crafting system, try to master every job and specialize in every skill, or invite several friends into your game to complete one of a seemingly endless collection of side quests. The mere inclusion (and emphasis) of multiplayer suggested a certain level of modern awareness, something the series has been notoriously resistant against, and that aspect has since made it the best-selling DQ game of all time. If youre looking for the de facto JRPG experience, or a good place to step in and try the series out, this is it.
17. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Between this, Order of Ecclesia, and Dawn of Sorrow, we had a hell of a time deciding which Castlevania could truly be named the DSs best. However, weve already honored GBAs Aria of Sorrow, so its more than fair to split the difference and go with Portrait of Ruin, which in all honesty was truer to the Castlevania spirit--a guy with a whip, tearing ass through a haunted castle. Portrait also introduced Charlotte, a magic-wielding second player you could swap to at any time. Between the two of them, magical and physical attacks were covered, and they could also trigger tag-team Dual Crush assaults. Pity they were drawn in a weak-ass anime style instead of the usual, lustrous art from Ayami Kojima.
Perhaps most notable were the locales; instead of being confined to one murky castle, you traveled to distant lands via demonic paintings made by the games artistic villain (spoiler: he summons Dracula). This mix of new vistas with old tropes made the journey both familiar yet new, breathing fresh air into a series that, while always fun, needed something to see beyond stony hallways and damp dungeons. Jonathans upgradable weapons also chewed up hours of our time, and pursuing the elusive 1000% (yes, one thousand percent) completion kept us hooked even longer. As if that werent enough, a bevy of hidden shout outs made this a celebration of the entire series.
16. Kirby Canvas Curse
Earlier we spoke of how weak the first six months were for the DS. That worrying trend was officially and thoroughly broken by Canvas Curse, a colorful, enticing platformer that made full use of the touch screen. In fact, it demanded heavy use of it, as you could only guide a limbless Kirby by drawing him a path to follow. Sounds limiting, but in that limitation came a brand-new way to play the game, and in a roundabout way, a new way to even conceive games. Curse? More like a blessing.
This one game made such a strong impression that the DS, a system many were still shrugging their shoulders over, gained a second wind that carried it well into the holiday season, where several more innovative (or at least fun) titles cemented the platform's popularity. Its a shame the promise of Canvas Curse wasnt followed up on in subsequent Kirby games.
15. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
Featuring beautiful 2D art and an incredibly lengthy campaign, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes shares very little in common with past M&M games. That caveat, however, doesnt hold it back from being one of the best games on the DS, as well as one of the most engaging puzzle games of all time. The gameplay is an unorthodox hybrid of puzzler and tactical RPG: Different units can be lined up to create either walls or attacking armies, which then march across a digital battlefield toward the opponent.
Its wonderfully creative, and remarkably original. Lining up units and marching them into battle has a slight Puzzle Quest vibe, but because of the polished gameplay and less reliance on grinding, Clash of Heroes comes out on top, and should definitely find its way into every DS at one point or another.
14. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Despite the passive nature of the Ace Attorney series' gameplay, its courtroom drama is still somehow actively and intensely satisfying. As Phoenix, you feel a rush of power each time you yell "Objection!" to press a witness on their testimony until they sweat with nervous terror. You gleefully tear their story apart to find a fatal flaw and delight in throwing evidence of guilt in their face, yelling "Take that!" until they cave under the pressure. And although it's often cheesy and not at all realistic, Ace Attorney's puzzles still require a careful logic and attention to detail that any fan of the murder mystery genre will immediately appreciate, not to mention fans of the old point-and-click adventure genre who should be delighted to solve puzzles that actually make sense.
The Ace Attorney series is as text-heavy as a video game gets, but despite the massive amount of reading required, it's never needlessly talky--each and every word counts. There's more depth even in Ace Attorney's secondary characters than in most games' protagonists--over time you can't help but grow fond of characters like the kindhearted yet dimwitted Detective Gumshoe and the verbally sharp yet emotionally fragile Miles Edgeworth. And while each case stands on its own, together they weave a bigger story that had us hooked through all the many Phoenix Wright games.
13. The World Ends With You
Square Enix put out its fair share of remakes and sequels on the DS, but the developers originality should also be celebrated, and few games were as unique as the criminally underplayed The World Ends With You. The game takes place in present-day Japan, specifically the high-fashion Shibuya district where mopey adolescents hang out, and right out of the gate it looks like nothing else on the system.
The plot, which was backed up by an eclectic soundtrack, focused on dejected youth Neku playing in a high-stakes game of death and rebirth against other lost souls. The controls might have been too complicated for some, as the mind-bending battles had you controlling characters on both screens, demanding ambidextrous thinking at all times. With one hand you maneuver the main character using the stylus, while the other members of the party reside on the top screen and are controlled by a series of inputs with your other hand. Not every technique paid off, but few games challenged expectations like TWEWY, and we tip our collective hats to Square Enix for such strong innovation.
12. Elite Beat Agents
On a handheld filled with weird games, it says something that Elite Beat Agents stands out as memorably bizarre. Primarily a rhythm game, EBA tasked you mainly with tapping and sliding the stylus across the touch screen, hitting markers in time with a licensed soundtrack--but it was the story and presentation that really set this one apart.
Each level of Elite Beat Agents sent a trio of goofy-looking government agents out to dance, clap, and encourage people in need, ranging from a TV weatherwoman trying to make the sun shine, to a sprinters white blood cell (represented as a syringe-wielding nurse) and a little girl who wanted her fathers ghost to come home for Christmas. The music was extremely catchy, and the chorus of claps and bass thuds youd get for staying on rhythm made it even more so. Factor in unlockable characters and mini-cutscenes that changed depending on how well you did, and there were plenty of reasons to keep playing long after youd won each song.
11. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
The typical puzzle game is extremely narrow in scope. Whether it's about swapping gems on a board, guiding falling blocks, or checking boxes in Picross, most puzzlers focus on one key mechanic with little variation to the core concept. Professor Layton is just as focused on puzzle solving, but the diversity of the puzzles it presents is unparalleled in the genre. From logic, reasoning, spatial visualization, mathematical word problems, to all manner of brain teasers, it's the most rigorous brain workout possible that doesn't involve any kind of specialized knowledge. And its remarkable that the level of quality remains consistently high from puzzle to puzzle and sequel to sequel despite how wide ranging the content is.
While we strongly recommend that anyone interested in the series start at the first entry (Professor Layton and the Curious Village), we have to acknowledge the franchise has only gotten stronger, with Unwound Future the best in the series to date. Not only does it surpass its predecessors in the sheer volume of puzzles (of which the quality has steadily remained consistent across the series, so that's not to say that the individual puzzles in Unwound Future are superior) but also story-wise in how much is at stake for the characters. The beautifully animated cutscenes go far to make the story shine too, and the overall presentation, including the music and art, is absolutely flawless.
10. New Super Mario Bros.
When New Super Mario Bros. arrived in 2006, it was the first real 2D Mario game since 1991s Super Mario World. So, you can understand how elated thousands (millions?) of gamers were to see Mario returning to his side-scrolling roots; thankfully the outcome was a game that lived up to expectations, even if it was a tad on the easy side.
Was there a lot new? Not really. Oh some mushroom made Mario big and another made him small, but the nuts and bolts were classic Super Mario Bros.--run through themed levels stomping on baddies anywhere they roam. It was a welcome return to form that was handled as well as it could have been, and no doubt introduced a whole new generation of gamers to the Mushroom Kingdom. We werent wild about the sparse, multiplayer-minded Wiiquel, but this one still has a place in our hearts.
9. Tetris DS
This may be the best version of Tetris ever made--assuming you love Nintendo. Oh you do? Then for effs sake, this NES-soaked rendition is an unmissable variation on an otherwise played-out franchise.
Sure theres the usual falling-blocks mode. But DS adds unique ideas like a block core that falls through a vertical Metroid tunnel, nabbing any nearby blocks like a katamari ball. You then have to shift the entire mass (seen above) to avoid obstacles and additional blocks. Thats just one of many new ways to play, plus an amazing eight-player (off one card!) multiplayer mode that truly does remain fun to this day. Yeah, its kind of lame to pick a Tetris game, but if we gotta pick one Tetris for life, this is it.
8. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Around the GR offices the response for this game was clear: Each and every person who has finished Ghost Trick has walked in the next morning gushing about the story, characters, and tear-jerking ending. Not many other games, DS or otherwise, can make that claim.
The gameplay is rather unique too; you play as Sissel, a man whos killed in the games opening moments. As a spirit, you can posses and manipulate various objects on the screen. Thing is, in 24 hours, your spirit will fizzle and youre dead for good--that leaves precious little time to figure out exactly how and why you died. The journey takes you to some weird places, and the puzzles can veer into dreaded trial-and-error territory, but they gel into an inspired experience that easily ranks as one of this generations top tales. The animations, backgrounds, and music also kick ass, so theres very little to pick apart--get on this.
7. Chrono Trigger
A game many--including GamesRadar--have called the best JRPG ever made, the DS remake of Chrono Trigger is much more than a slapped-together port. Unlike some of the more primitive revamps of SNES games seen on Nintendo portables, Square Enix took great care when reintroducing its role-playing classic to the world. The publisher readjusted the SNES title to fit on the two screens of the DS beautifully, making everything we loved about the game shine even brighter, and theres a lot to love.
The story spans a dozen lifetimes, and is filled with beautiful character moments alongside grand spectacle. The characters are so well realized and have so many important moments, youd be hard-pressed not to adore all of them by the end. The 16-bit graphics have aged incredibly well, and the music remains some of the greatest ever. Chrono Trigger DS is the best version of one of the best games ever, nuff said.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Link on a train is one of the hardest concepts to swallow in the history of video games. Its like putting Mario on a motorcy... oh wait. Ahem, well, if you bothered to get past the imagery of Link donning an engineers hat, Spirit Tracks is perhaps one of the DS's best adventures.
Beyond the surprisingly appealing train (and its heartwarming music) the most notable difference here is the story and characterization of Zelda. Rather than engage in another save the princess tale, Zelda is with you throughout the game as a ghost who can possess certain suits of armor. Naturally this leads to some amazingly creative puzzles. Some may think Zelda is too spacy and ditzy for a legendary princess, but in this case shes young--let her be scared of mice! And at least theres no Temple of the Ocean King you have to revisit and replay every two or three hours.
5. Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Were always willing to sing the praises of this ingenious turn-based strategy series, so its tough to think up all-new ways to say this is awesome. The guts of Dual Strike were the same as the GBA games: armadas of tanks, planes, troops, helicopters, and anti-air artillery duke it out for the fate of the free world, and the series eccentric, captivating characters were every bit as charming as before (except for 733t J@k3, we guess), so right out of the box it comes with our highest recommendation.
Just because its remarkably similar to the GBA games doesnt mean Dual Strike phoned it in; your colorful commanding officers could now combine their special powers for insane battle effects that could turn the tide in one turn. The skirmish could now spread across both screens, with the top housing a separate but related warzone that required just as much attention as the primary fight on the bottom screen. When we had to choose the strategy game for DS, we just had to side with Advance Wars; its slightly more welcoming to new players and again, the characters (and music!) cant be beat.
4. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
The first DS Mario & Luigi game, Partners in Time, was a nice follow-up to the awesome Superstar Saga, but it wasnt until their second dual-screen adventure that devs AlphaDream really took advantage of everything the system could do. Bowsers Inside Story uses the DS to the best of its abilities, whether its jumping between both screens for story purposes, using the touch screen in battle, or using both to engage in Godzilla-scale battles between Bowser and his enemies.
However, an RPG is nothing without its plot, and Inside Story had the best one yet. Fawful, a midboss from Superstar Saga with some of the funniest dialogue of all time, is out for revenge on the Bros. and the whole Mushroom Kingdom, which he traps within Bowsers guts. To save the day, the brothers have to secretly work within Bowsers perilous body to battle Fawful and his minions, which involved you switching between the germ-sized plumbers and Bowser himself. With some of the best writing and localization to date, Inside Story was at the forefront of Mario-centric story and gameplay, and it only could have been done on DS.
3. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Previous attempts to cram GTA onto Nintendo platforms did not go smoothly; both Game Boy Color and Advance saw compromised versions of Rockstars signature series, neither of which captured the seedy and melodramatic atmosphere the franchise is known for. Chinatown Wars, on the other hand, felt like the real deal, custom built for the DS and shrunk down for on-the-go homicide.
Granted, the graphics arent top-notch, and the screens dont do the game any favors, but the gameplay is totally GTA. You play as Huang Lee, a spoiled, entitled son of a Triad gang boss, who (in GTA fashion) is swept through a violent power struggle filled with betrayal and revenge. In addition to some extremely creative missions (hiding in a parade, tossing Molotovs from a helicopter, etc.) you can also lose entire hours to Liberty Citys burgeoning drug trade. A narcotics sim on a Nintendo platform? Thats historic all by itself.
2. Pokemon Black and White
A common complaint from those ignorant of the progression of the Pokmon series is that every new Pokmon game is the same as the last. While it's true the core ideas of the original Red and Blue have been preserved from sequel to sequel, the Pokmon series has greatly benefited from improvements and additions with each new game. Pokmon Black and White definitely stands on the shoulders of the Pokmon games that came before it, but there's something to be said for the kind of refinement and depth that you get when a series has had over a decade to evolve.
Pokmon Black and White shows that time hasn't been wasted. Not only does it look amazing, showcasing how gorgeously timeless sprite art can be, but it features the best online functionality of any Nintendo title to date. With full infrared, wireless, and online multiplayer for all your trading and battling needs--including online video chat if you're using a DSi--the social aspect of being a Pokemon trainer is finally supported by the technology. Add to that the Pokmon Global Link website (2014 update: now defunct) that syncs your game data with the site's worldwide leaderboards and allows you to download all manner of Pokemon and items, and you've got a fully-fledged online game the likes of which we never could have dreamed of when we were trading Oddishes and Bellsprouts with our link cables over 10 years ago.
1. Mario Kart DS
Which Mario Kart is best? That question alone can devour hours of someones day. The debate continually rages in the GR office, though more than a few of us side with Mario Kart DS, a game that acts both as a great introduction and compilation of the series best aspects. Miss the old SNES tracks? Theyre in here. Want more than basic racing? The addictive mission mode places a series of challenges at your feet and introduces a whole new wrinkle to the Mario Kart formula.
Its biggest feature is also one of its most problematic. Mario Kart DS helped kick off the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service, finally enabling people all over the world to join in online races. Its definitely a feature we wanted since the notion of online gaming surfaced, so to see it finally happen was beautiful; problem is, Friend Codes and laggy play made the feature almost worthless. Still, this large hindrance was overcome by the deep, immensely replayable single-player package, not to mention all the joy of local wireless matches.
Did we leave off one of your favorites? We'd love to read your opinions in the comments!
And if you're curious how other Nintendo handhelds rank, check out our other lists detailing Nintendo's portable history. There's the best GBA games, the best 3DS games, the best Game Boy Color games, and the best Game Boy games.