Alright %26ndash; after several days counting the best games on each of Nintendo%26rsquo;s handhelds, we%26rsquo;re finally at the toughest round. Narrowing down the 25 best DS games proved more challenging than we expected; obviously we knew the system had no shortage of top-notch software, but when asked to shave amazing titles like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance A2 and Rhythm Heaven from the countdown, we started to truly appreciate how fantastic the DS has been to us. It all began back in 2004%26hellip;
Above: The launch era commercials downplayed games, and spent more time promoting the touch screen. %26ldquo;Touching is good,%26rdquo; after all
First revealed at E3 2004, the hefty Nintendo DS raised plenty of eyebrows. Two screens? A touch pad and stylus? How the hell can you create a Mario or Zelda game for that? The nay saying continued well past the November 21, 2004 launch and into the opening days of Sony%26rsquo;s PSP; compared side by side, it was hard to suggest a DS over a PSP in those days, as the former didn%26rsquo;t yet have many killer games. We%26rsquo;d argue the first six months were rather dismal, actually. But 2005 picked up with tons of great content, and then in 2006 it all went nuts:
Above: The DS Lite made the old model look positively hulkish, and led to a massive marketing campaign that made the system a household name
The DS went from another Nintendo portable to a trendy accessory, elegantly posed next to celebrities around the world. Broader games like Brain Age and Nintendogs acted as Trojan Horses for deeper, more %26ldquo;traditional%26rdquo; games and ultimately made the DS (Lite, DSi, DSi XL etc) the best selling handheld of all time. It%26rsquo;s been a strange journey, but now, nearly seven years after launch, there%26rsquo;s no denying how flat-out awesome the DS has been and will remain into the 3DS%26rsquo; lifespan.
Additional entries by Carolyn Gudmundson, Mikel Reparaz, and Henry Gilbert
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 Rockstar%26rsquo;s 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 shrunken down for on-the-go homicide.
Granted, the graphics aren%26rsquo;t top notch and the screens don%26rsquo;t 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 City%26rsquo;s burgeoning drug trade. A narcotics sim on a Nintendo platform? That%26rsquo;s historic all by itself.
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 it's remarkable 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.
Retro Game Challenge
While it%26rsquo;s 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 it%26rsquo;s a minigame compilation, but each game directly rips off an %26lsquo;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 %26lsquo;80s and %26lsquo;90s. Each time we fire this up, it%26rsquo;s 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 trio 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. And c%26rsquo;mon, it%26rsquo;s basically got a floating Miyamoto head egging you on.
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 the touch screen, 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. It%26rsquo;s a shame the promise of Canvas Curse wasn%26rsquo;t followed up with subsequent Kirby games; instead, the touch-only approach went to the next game on our list%26hellip;