5. Advance Wars: Dual Strike
The guts of Advance Wars: Dual Strike are 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 are every bit as charming as before. Right out of the box it comes with our highest recommendation.
Just because it's remarkably similar to the GBA games doesn't mean Dual Strike phoned it in. Your colorful commanding officers now combine their special powers for insane battle effects that can turn the tide in one turn. The skirmish can also spread across both screens, with the top housing a separate - but related - warzone that requires just as much attention as the primary fight on the bottom screen. It's slightly more welcoming to new players and the characters and music cant be beat.
4. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story uses the DS to the best of its abilities. Jumping between both screens, using the touch screen in battle, and Godzilla-scale battles between Bowser and his enemies; it's magical stuff to play.
Inside Story also has one the best Mario RPG stories. 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 Bowser's guts. To save the day, the brothers have to secretly work within Bowser's perilous body to battle Fawful and his minions, which involves switching between germ-sized plumbers and Bowser himself.
With some of the series' best writing, 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 Rockstar'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 shrunk down for on-the-go homicide. The gameplay is pure Grand Theft Auto: 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's burgeoning drug trade. Yes, a narcotics sim on a Nintendo platform famous for games about puppies and brain training.
2. Pokemon Black and White
The common misconception is that every new Pokemon 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 Pokemon series has greatly benefited from improvements and additions with each new game.
Pokemon Black and White stands on the shoulders of the Pokemon 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. Even as the series has moved on to Pokemon Sun and Moon as well as Pokemon Go, Black and White stand up thanks to their selection of monsters and fun story.
1. Mario Kart DS
What is the best Mario Kart? The debate continues but Mario Kart DS is a strong contender even now, a game that acts both as a great introduction and compilation of the series' best aspects. Miss the old SNES tracks? They're in here. Want more than basic racing? The mission mode places a series of challenges at your feet and introduces a whole new wrinkle to the Mario Kart formula.
The game's 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. It's definitely welcome. The world wanted online Mario Kart forever. Problem is, Friend Codes and laggy play made the feature almost worthless. Sadly even a Virtual Console release couldn't fix the problem on Wii U since it strips out online functionality.
Still, this 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.