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The 25 best DS games of all time

Best DS games
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Beef up your collection or wallow in nostalgia with the best DS games to grace the Nintendo handheld. Nintendo may have described the DS as its "third pillar" when it made its original debut, but it soon proved to be a far more durable system than either the GameCube or Game Boy Advance. By the time Nintendo had moved onto the 3DS, its previous console had sold over a staggering 154 million units, making it the most successful system the company had ever released. Consider this, not only did the DS outsell both the GameCube and Game Boy Advance, its sales were higher than the NES, SNES, and N64 combined, that’s one hell of a legacy. 

Blessed with a diverse library of games, and built around a distinctive stylus that anyone could get to grips with, Nintendo’s handheld reached beyond just gamers and was just as much a hit with grandparents as it was with traditional gamers. Yes it has an insane amount of shovelware and yes some of its games rely on naff gimmicks, but there are an incredible amount of gems in the machine’s 2000+ library. The following titles will help highlight why Nintendo’s DS became so popular. Third pillar indeed...

25. Hotel Dusk: Room 215

Best DS games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Developer Cing may have long since disbanded but its legacy lives on thanks to titles like Hotel Dusk and its equally enjoyable follow-up, Last Window: The Secret Of Cape West. Played with the DS held vertically, Hotel Dusk feels like a virtual book where you read engaging dialogue but can use your stylus to traverse the titular hotel and solve numerous clever puzzles. The mystery behind the hotel unfolds beautifully thanks to engaging characters, a strong narrative, and great pacing, while the distinctive art style also helps it stand apart from similar games on Nintendo’s system. Cing’s Another Code: Two Memories, is equally worthy of your time.

24. Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise

Best DS games

(Image credit: THQ)

The original Viva Pinata was planned for Pocket PCs, so it’s nice that Tim Stamper’s original idea has come full circle and is now playable in your hand. One of the most impressive aspects of Pocket Paradise is not only its distinctive isometric visuals but just how similar it is to the original Xbox 360 release. Granted, it lacks its spectacular aesthetics and certain elements have been cut, but the core game is all here, allowing you to tend your garden and breed new Pinatas to your heart’s content, while the clever stylus controls and context-sensitive top screen makes it easy to tend the needs of your many cute critters.

23. Pokémon Conquest

Best DS games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo’s decision to pair its popular Pokémon series with Tecmo Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise makes a lot more sense when you realize just how popular Koei’s strategy game is in Japan. While some will be disappointed that only 649 Pokémon are included and that many of their special moves are missing, you can’t fault how solid the game’s many battles are or the balanced combat mechanics at its core. Like the best crossovers, it pulls key elements from both games but isn’t afraid to forge its own identity as you explore the gorgeous Ransei Region with your loyal Eevee.

22. Trauma Center: Under The Knife 2

Best DS games

(Image credit: Atlus)

Turn your humble stylus into a scalpel, laser, or even a defibrillator as you attempt to patch up patients in Vanguard’s enjoyable sequel. Set three years after the events of the DS original, the plot is delightfully absurd and focuses on returning Doctor Derek Stiles, who is struggling to use his famed Healing Touch (which allows you to slow down time during play). Each patient you encounter requires various techniques, from blitzing viruses and suturing up wounds, to performing delicate skin grafts and even fixing broken bones. It makes for a ridiculous blend of pressure and fun as your trembling fingers and sweating forehead would happily trade it all in for a simple game of Operation.

21. The Legend Of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass

Best DS games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Interestingly, Zelda’s DS adventures didn’t quite match the majesty of the earlier Game Boy games, although they remain compelling releases in their own rights. We’ve opted for The Phantom Hourglass over Spirit Tracks because we feel it makes far better use of the touchscreen and we like the way you continually have to return to and explore a gigantic dungeon rather than tackling smaller ones like in other Zelda titles. It looks lovely too, retaining the distinctive cel-shaded look of The Wind Waker and its mechanically rich, offering new items to use, while the Phantom Hourglass of the title gives you a unique way to explore the vibrant game world.

20. Planet Puzzle League

Best DS games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo’s dual-screen console is awash with great puzzle games, but this is the puzzler that rarely leaves our console’s cartridge slot. Known as Panel De Pon in Japan this gem of a title from Intelligent Systems requires you to match colored tiles into groups of three or more before your bin fills up. Blocks can be moved with a simple swipe of the stylus and there are a number of different gameplay modes to enjoy as well that range from clearing all the blocks above a Clear line to scoring as many points as possible in a set time limit. Throw in some fantastic multiplayer modes and a fun selection of Daily Challenges and Planet Puzzle League becomes incredibly hard to put down.

19. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Best DS games

(Image credit: Aksys)

Chunsoft’s first entry in its Zero Escape series is a cracking adventure and a brilliant entry point to the visual novel genre. The strength of 999 is easily its expertly crafted story, which focuses on Junpei, who wakes up in a cabin on a cruise liner and discovers he’s trapped with eight other victims. The writing throughout is excellent, but it’s complemented by some truly masterful puzzles in the form of Escape sections which will truly test your grey matter. Filled with twists and turns and requiring multiple playthroughs in order to reach its true ending, 999 is a slice of brilliance that shockingly never received a European release.

18. The World Ends With You

Best DS games

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Granted this collaboration from Square Enix and Jupiter is available on iOS and Nintendo Switch now, but neither can fully replicate the uniqueness of playing it on DS. Aside from its modern-day setting, highly stylized characters, and energetic soundtrack, the thing that really sets TWEWY apart from its peers is the utterly unique combat system it uses. Combat takes place across the DS’s two screens and you need to manage both at once using face buttons and the stylus. It’s maddingly frustrating at first, akin to rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, but when it finally comes together it delivers an experience that’s every bit as special as its unique-looking characters.

17. Animal Crossing: Wild World

Best DS games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Who would have thought Nintendo’s world of cute anthropomorphic critters would work so well on a handheld? Wild World took everything that was great about the GameCube game and introduced online aspects to make visiting the villages of friends and family even easier. While the loss of classic NES games was a bitter pill to swallow, its solid online aspects and high level of customization meant you still had plenty to keep you busy. It also highlights just how suitable the franchise is for gaming on the move, as the ability to go for a quick fishing session or dig up some fossils ensures none of your spare time is ever wasted.

16. WarioWare Touched!

Best DS games

(Image credit: Nintendo)

While Project Rub is another great selection of stylus-based mini-games, WarioWare pulls off the same concept with much greater style. It largely follows the same template as earlier games in the series, giving you a few seconds to complete a specific task, but as you’d expect, the zany games on offer here make excellent use of the DS’s unique abilities. One minute you’re prodding cats and swatting flies, the next you’re covering food in ketchup or controlling a remote control car as you attempt to escape an infant. It’s ridiculously silly and while it lacks the inventiveness of Project Rub, its sheer diversity and range of games more than compensates.

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Darran Jones

Darran is so old that he used to play retro games when they were simply called games. A relic from the Seventies, he’s been professionally writing about retro gaming since 2003 and has been helming Retro Gamer since its resurrection in 2005, making him one of the UK’s longest-running editors of a games magazine. A keen board gamer, nature photographer and lover of movies, Darran’s writing credits include GamesTM, Play, SciFi-Now, Official Xbox Magazine, SFX, XBM, Cube, Total DVD, World Of Animals and numerous others. You’ll find him online discussing everything from bird photography to the latest 4K Arrow releases, as well as the ever-increasing prices of retro games.