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2009's most impressive DS games

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?

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.

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

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Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.