15. 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.
14. 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 DS' best. Aria of Sorrow remains one of our pics for best GBA games, so it's more than fair to split the difference and go with Portrait of Ruin, which is truer to the original 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 anime style instead of the usual, lustrous art from Ayami Kojima.
Perhaps most notable are the locales; instead of being confined to one murky castle, you traveled to distant lands via demonic paintings made by the game's artistic villain (spoiler: he summons Dracula). This mix of new vistas with old tropes make 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.
13. Chrono Trigger
A game many 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, you'd 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.
12. Kirby Canvas Curse
Early experimental games on the Nintendo DS were exciting but not lasting experiences. Kirby Canvas Curse, a colorful, enticing platformer that made full use of the touch screen, was one of the first games to truly prove the Nintendo DS was the real deal. The game demanded almost exclusive 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.
11. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Without the DS, the world would never have known Ace Attorney outside Japan. Despite the passive nature of the series' gameplay, its courtroom drama is still 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 series refined its formula for years, but the original is one of the best DS games that has to be in everyone's library.
10. The World Ends With You
Square Enix put out its fair share of remakes and sequels on the DS, but the developer's originality should also be celebrated, and few games are as unique as the 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.
The plot, backed by an eclectic soundtrack, focuses on dejected youth Neku playing in a high-stakes game of death and rebirth against other lost souls. The controls might be too complicated for some, as the mind-bending battles have you controlling characters on both screens, demanding ambidexterity and lateral 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.
9. 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, you tap and slide the stylus across the touch screen, hitting markers in time with a licensed soundtrack - but it's the story and presentation that really set this one apart.
Each level of Elite Beat Agents sends 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 sprinter's white blood cell (represented as a syringe-wielding nurse) and a little girl who wanted her father's ghost to come home for Christmas. The music is catchy as hell, and the chorus of claps and bass thuds earned by staying on rhythm make it even more so.
8. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
Professor Layton's puzzle diversity 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 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), Unwound Future is our favorite. Not only does it surpass its predecessors in the sheer volume of puzzles but so much is at stake for the characters. The beautifully animated cutscenes go far to make that story shine too. The overall presentation, including the music and art, is flawless.
7. New Super Mario Bros.
When New Super Mario Bros. arrived in 2006, it was the first real 2D Mario game since 1991's 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 game lived up to expectations.
It was a welcome return to form that was handled as well as it could have been, and went on to become one of Nintendo's best-selling games of all time. The secret to its success is clarity. Levels that at first seem too simple and spare compared to games like Super Mario Bros. 3 reveal themselves to be expertly laid out challenges just the right length. The more time passes, the more New Super Mario Bros.' elegant simplicity shines.
6. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Anyone who has played Ghost Trick walks away the next morning gushing about the story, characters, and tear-jerking ending. Not many other games, DS or otherwise, have the same effect. You play as Sissel, a man who is killed in the game's opening moments. As a spirit, you can possess and manipulate various objects on the screen.
Thing is, in 24 hours, your spirit will fizzle and you're 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 generation's top tales. The animations, backgrounds, and music also kick ass.