What I have planned is a five week celebration of one of my favorite gaming platforms period, the Nintendo DS, showcasing what I consider to be the fifty best games the handheld has to offer. The plan is to present ten terrific titles every Thursday. There are so many brilliant titles to choose from that I am sure I will miss some of your favorites. No need to wait until the last week to mention your most cherished; feel free to sound off whenever you'd like.
In cases where there are multiple games in a series, I will usually pick the one that I enjoyed the most to represent the franchise on this list. However, this rule will not always be followed. With that out of the way, let's get to the first set of ten. Note: Only games released in North America will be mentioned as this is where SPC resides.
New Super Mario Bros.
Mario fans and partakers in the platforming genre had been waiting with bated breath for a brand-new 2D Mario ever since the release of the Game Boy classic, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is actually a Yoshi series game). Would you believe it would take Nintendo fourteen years to finally deliver some fresh 2D Mario goodness? It's commonplace to look back on this game and chide it for having a bland presentation or a lesser entry than the tremendous Wii incarnation, but at the time of release, critics praised the game for its clever level design, lovely platforming, nice mix of 2D and 3D, and the significant replay value when compared to previous 2D Mairo games. It's a cool thing to hate on this game now, but I still find it to be one of the best Nintendo DS games available and a very competent Mario game. Even a "bland" Mario is still entertaining and holds up well compared to others of the same genre.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
The Mario RPGs currently follow two formats: either Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi. The third installment of Mario & Luigi, Bowser's Inside Story, takes the two plumber brothers, shrinks them, and places them inside their decades' old nemesis, Bowser. As the Koopa tyrant is controlled in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Mario brothers team together to solve puzzles and take out nasty enemies inside Bowser. This is all to help Bowser overthrow fan favorite Fawful, who has returned in a villain role to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. The turn-based RPG action requiring both plumbers to time their offensive strikes and defensive maneuvers has returned, as has the always charming comedic dialogue and situations. The laughs will be as numerous as the exciting battles portrayed in the game. A funny and unique game, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is a remarkable RPG.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
What I consider to be the pinnacle of the Professor Layton series, The Unwound Future is the third game in the franchise, ending the opening trilogy of titles. The gameplay is unchanged from other games in the series, but the whole structure is refined to a near perfect point. You move around London across several still-frame scenes, helping out NPCs by solving their puzzles. Not only are the puzzles fun, requiring smarts in logic, math, and powers of deduction, but most of them advance the story. And man, is the story something! One can't help but get choked up at the ending. It's truly touching, and there's two parts that elicit such a response, too! A game that tugs at the heartstrings and energizes the brain, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is an apt pick.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
They say war is hell, and in reality, it very much is true. However, in Nintendo-published and Intelligent Systems-developed Advance Wars: Dual Strike makes war seem just so colorful and fun. All of the standard modes from past Advance Wars games have been included such as Campaign, War Room, and the ability for you to create your own maps to play on, as well as two new ones: Combat and Survival. The variety of units available is vast, and each type has their own strengths and weaknesses. It's sort of like a rock-paper-scissors affair where anti-air units obliterate aircraft, tanks destroy artillery, and submarines eliminate battleships. The subtitle of the game references the capability for two commanding officers to team up and control one combined army of mass destruction. The ability to use a Dual Strike makes the game seem unbalanced to some players, as it is essentially gives the side that uses it two turns, but regardless of this, I still find the first DS installment of Advance Wars to be an addicting strategy game.
Kirby: Canvas Curse
A platformer but an atypical one, Kirby: Canvas Curse (known as Kirby Power Paintbrush in PAL territories) is controlled entirely with the stylus. The gameplay consists of drawing lines to guide Kirby, trapped in ball form, through multiple worlds. Not only do these lines provide travel for Kirby, but they can also block projectile attacks. Enemies can be poked to stun them while poking Kirby himself will make the pink puffball dash. Kirby: Canvas Curse was one of the first Nintendo DS games to really show what touch screen controls on a dedicated handheld could truly do, and not just in a tech demo-like fashion which Super Mario 64 DS' touch-based mini-games did. Canvas Curse was a full adventure, packed with plenty of secrets, surprises, and challenge. It was a game that split up the severe first-year drought of the system before the onslaught of titles like Mario Kart DS, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, and Nintendogs came to start the DS party. A brilliant game, Kirby: Canvas Curse belongs in any collection.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
The first Castlevania for the Nintendo DS, this game follows Symphony of the Night's design by being Metroid-like in structure. The game, like Aria of Sorrow before it, possesses a collectible feature for those who just gotta collect 'em all. The collectibles in this case are souls, dropped abilities by defeated monsters and bosses. Bosses automatically drop abilities. These are generally necessary to access new parts of the castle, but the optional abilities from ordinary creatures have different probability ratios of whether they drop souls or not. There's plenty of souls to nab, weapons to earn, and monsters to slay. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow was my introduction to the franchise, and alongside Symphony of the Night, remains one of my most enjoyed titles in the this Gothic series.
Yoshi's Island DS
Did you know that Nintendo changed the name of Yoshi's Island DS from Yoshi's Island 2 a mere couple of weeks before its release? Perhaps they didn't feel the game lived up to the standards of the original. Certainly in the music department that was true. Compared to Super Mario World 2, Yoshi's Island DS's score was mediocre at best. However, the gameplay which consisted of switching between babies like Baby Mario, Baby Peach, Baby Wario, and Baby Donkey Kong, chucking eggs at foes, and trying not to get your baby captured by sinister forces was all enjoyable. This addition of new babies with different abilities gave something fresh to the series formula while still maintaining the level of fun the Super Nintendo classic had. It's nowhere near as masterful, mind you, but it is still a worthwhile title to play. It gets darned difficult, too, especially if you go for 100%! You might start wailing like Baby Mario when he's separated from Yoshi!
Super Princess Peach
I'm not going to get into how this game could be perceived as reinforcing the stereotype that women are overly emotional and wear their feelings on their sleeves. I will, however, get into how charming Super Princess Peach was to me. The game is a simple in challenge platformer where Peach uses her emotions to advance in levels: joy, rage, gloom, and calm. Joy summons a miniature twister, allowing windmills to be turned, the short power of flight, and blast enemies away. Gloom makes Peach shed pools of tears, allowing her tears to make beanstalks grow from seedlings. I'm guessing you can probably tell why some criticized the game now, can't you? It's an easygoing platformer, and sometimes that is exactly what my gaming taste desires. It was nice to see Princess Peach finally being the savior instead of the saved. Add in some emotional bad guys like crying Goombas, and you have a game that I recommend.
The World Ends With You
No doubt that this game will become a commodity (more so than it already is now) because of the cast of the game recently being included in Square Enix's recent release, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The World Ends With You is action-RPG where battles take full advantage of the Nintendo DS system's dual screens and are staged across both. Attacks are performed by equipping pins that each have attacks unleashed through performing various touch-based gestures like rubbing, swiping, circling the screen, and so forth. What I liked most about the game was that Square Enix actually developed a brand-new property outside of their comfort zones (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts) that was worthwhile and full of ingenuity and innovation. The game might grate on you at first with its characters (but they grow on you), the controls might not be perfectly precise, and the learning curve might throw off some players, but if you give the game a chance, you will find that it is a wonderful world.
Mega Man Zero Collection
Might be cheating here as this is merely a collection of the four Mega Man Zero games which all debuted on the Game Boy Advance, but Mega Man Zero Collection is a great value at a great price. The addition of an easy mode, allowing players to go through all four games as if they were but one entity, was sensational. The original versions of the games were very much intact, but bonus content was added as part of the collection. This included artwork and the option to remap specific actions to certain button presses. Rated number three on my list of all-time greatest Mega Man series, Mega Man Zero is an action-packed 2D side-scrolling shooting game full of devious difficulty and glorious bot-bashing entertainment.
So, that wraps up Part One and the first ten of fifty Nintendo DS games to get an emphatic mention here at SuperPhillip Central. Please join me for next Thursday where the second batch of ten DS games will be revealed. Will your favorites be included?