Thursday, November 21, 2019

The 15 Best Nintendo DS Games

Today marked 15 years since the Nintendo DS originally launched in North America. To commemorate the occasion, SuperPhillip Central has returned to the domain of the dual screens, the handheld with heart: the Nintendo DS, to deliver to you the 15 best games the system has to offer. With its impressive library of insanely original, creative, and sometimes outright wacky games, this was a difficult process.

After you've scoped out SPC's picks for the best Nintendo DS games, which ones that may or may not be listed are your personal favorites?

Advance Wars: Dual Strike 

They say "war is hell", but in the Advance Wars series, hell appears to be rather cartoony and colorful. That notwithstanding, Advance Wars: Dual Strike saw the series march onto the Nintendo DS in style with its immense amount of strategic turn-based battles, an entertaining campaign, a custom map maker, online play, and the arrival of the titular "Dual Strike", where duos of commanding officers in battle could combine their beneficial CO Powers and use them one after the other to either turn the tide of battle or march ever closer to victory. While these could be construed as overpowered, they made for much more engaging, exciting and entertaining battles by virtue of trying to plan ahead and overcome them if you were on the receiving end of a Dual Strike.

Animal Crossing: Wild World

The Nintendo DS brought a lot of new ideas to Nintendo hardware, and one of the most profound ideas implemented during the DS generation of handheld hardware was that of online play. While having to finagle friend codes for every individual game was a hassle, it led to marvelous moments like being able to venture into friends' towns, chat, play, and enjoy each other's company in Animal Crossing: Wild World. The GameCube Animal Crossing stole a good part of my year when it came out, and Wild World managed to take even more time. However, I loved every minute of it.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

The first Castlevania to reach the Nintendo DS remains my favorite of the three games, as well as one of my favorite Metroidvanias of all time. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow followed closely to the structure of the Game Boy Advance Castlevania games, and implemented an incredibly addicting souls mechanic where hero Soma Cruz could acquire the souls of enemies. This would allow him to use their abilities in battle. Dawn of Sorrow remains one of the most cherished entries in the Castlevania series for Nintendo fans, and that's because it is one of the more well-rounded, well designed, and polished entries in the franchise.

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

There was no shortage of Dragon Quest games available on the Nintendo DS, but my personal favorite of the bunch was Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride--a game that arrived for the first time in the West thanks to the combined efforts of Nintendo and Square Enix. Between the ability to have a party of four characters, the coming of age tale and how it's separated so splendidly between different ages, the ability to marry one of three characters, and the ever-fantastic, tried and true battle system that the series is well known for, Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride was well worth the wait for English players to enjoy and be enamored with.

Elite Beat Agents

The western-ized spiritual successor of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, the rhythm-based game known as Elite Beat Agents saw the titular heroes solve concerns of everyday citizens through the power of music. Players tapped, swiped, and held the Nintendo DS stylus to the touch screen under the instruction of on-screen prompts, perfectly in sync and rhythm with the music. Though all of the songs featured in the game were cover versions and not their originals, that did not stop many players from fighting back tears during the "You're the Inspiration" chapter of the game. Who knew a rhythm game could be so emotional?

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Though the series had been on the Game Boy Advance, it wasn't a truly big deal for Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto series to arrive on a Nintendo platform until the Nintendo DS. Two titans of gaming combined into one: the Nintendo DS and GTA, and the final result was Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. The game returned to the series's origins, an overhead perspective instead of the fully 3D worlds franchise fans are most familiar with now. Chinatown Wars not only was a terrific game on its own, but it implemented the Nintendo DS's features wonderfully, such as the bottom screen for HUD and map information and the touch screen during specific mini-games. Overall, a well done GTA game and game in general for the Nintendo DS.

Kirby Canvas Curse

As we've seen with Elite Beat Agents, games on the Nintendo DS utilized the touch screen and stylus of the system with great success. An early example of this was a meaty platforming adventure featuring Nintendo's pink puffball Kirby, a hero who is well known for partaking in an experimental game here and there. Kirby Canvas Curse was a game where players drew lines to guide Kirby through hazard-filled, enemy-infested levels. Tapping on Kirby would speed our hero up, propelling him into enemies. Some defeated foes would give Kirby their powers, just like the mainline games. Kirby Canvas Curse was a year-one title in the Nintendo DS's life, but the fact that it remains so memorable, so fun, so creative, and so remarkable to this day, makes for a fantastic feat.

Mario Kart DS

Along with Animal Crossing: Wild World, Mario Kart DS was one of Nintendo's premier games for its Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection online offerings for the DS. Though the amount of tracks available for online play was limited, there was no question that finally being able to drift, chuck shells, and hurl items at players from all around the world kept Nintendo DS owners addicted to the game. Furthermore, Mario Kart DS brought forth other new additions to the franchise, some of which would remain with the series to this day, such as retro cups featuring returning races from past games. However, one feature that keeps this iteration of Mario Kart so worthwhile is that of Mission Mode, featuring unique challenges and boss battles that can still be enjoyed to this day. Mario Kart DS was both a success online and off, possessing enough content to keep both solo and multiplayer racers loving every chaotic moment on the track for a long while.

New Super Mario Bros.

I'm a sucker for 2D Mario, and while New Super Mario Bros. is not the best 2D Mario in the series or even under the "New" moniker, it's still a really well put together game with original bosses (no Koopalings to be found) and intriguing new power-ups. It's easy to now take for granted how important New Super Mario Bros. was for Nintendo fans back in the day--what, with countless similarly dressed 2D Mario games available to us now--but it brought back original 2D Super Mario Bros. games after more than a decade of hiatus, ushering in a new renaissance for 2D Mario. Though its challenge isn't the highest, New Super Mario Bros. remains a game I enjoy returning to, despite it setting up many of the design tropes that would plague future New Super Mario Bros. games.

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Nintendo DS owners did not find any reason to object to Capcom delivering an original game to their handheld of choice. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney saw a wacky and whimsical approach to playing as a lawyer: seeing and interacting with oddball characters, investigating crime scenes, presenting evidence at the appropriate times, and all the aforementioned leading up to finally cracking the case. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney brought a renewed popularity to the visual novel adventure, and one that would see the franchise get sequel after glorious sequel, multiple spin-offs, and even a spot on the roster of the Marvel vs. Capcom series.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver

The remakes of Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver brought players on a return trip to the Johto region with updated visuals, new gameplay improvements, and fresh features, such as having Pokemon follow you throughout Johto--Pokemon Yellow-style. A series take on the Olympics with the Pokeathlon gave players unique touch-screen focused challenges and events to place their Pokemon in. More importantly, though, Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver allowed players at the time to trade and battle Pokemon online via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, so players could trade not only between HeartGold and SoulSilver, but also Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. Johto is one of the most beloved regions in Pokemon history, so it was a fantastic privilege to revisit the region once more in this pair of remakes.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

There were four Professor Layton games released on the Nintendo DS, but by far my favorite of this charming and exquisite puzzle-solving franchise was Professor Layton and the Unwound Future--subtitled The Last Time Travel in European territories. Despite the absolute bonkers reveal and plot twist--even by Professor Layton series' standards--the finale to Unwound Future managed to choke me up by how heartfelt, touching, and emotional it ended up being. The 100+ puzzles and brain teasers that were generally well woven into the plot were challenging and fun to figure out, if not sometimes frustrating when the solution was much simpler than I had surmised. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future continued the tradition of a well told story with gorgeously drawn cutscenes, tremendous acted voicework, and enough mystery and intrigue to keep players guessing to the very end.

Sonic Rush

We take for granted now that Sega and Nintendo play nicely together, but there was of course a time when the two were bitter, ugly rivals. Those days have passed, and Sonic the Hedgehog has since shown up on every Nintendo hardware since Sega's exit from the hardware race, including the Nintendo DS. Sonic's first Nintendo DS speedy adventure was so big that it couldn't be contained to just one screen. Instead, Sonic Rush had the action play out on both screens of the Nintendo DS hardware, showing expanded levels and views in an incredibly way past cool manner. Meanwhile, boss battles took place in arenas with impressive (for Nintendo DS hardware) 3D visuals. Couple all of this with an insanely awesome and catchy soundtrack by Jet Set Radio's Hideki Naganuma, as well as a new playable character with Blaze the Cat, and you had one stellar Sonic adventure for the Nintendo DS hardware.

Tetris DS

Tetris DS sounds like a simple game. It's Tetris but on the Nintendo DS. However, thinking of it by those terms does an extreme disservice to the game. Tetris DS takes the Tetris pretty much everyone knows and loves, and Nintendo-fies it, attaching multiple Nintendo characters and franchises as the window dressing for each of the game's six modes. The themes consisted of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Balloon Fight, and Yoshi's Cookie. Tetris DS not only brought some Nintendo love for prospective puzzle game players, but it also brought a bevy of unique modes and online play to them. While the latter is obviously no longer available, Tetris DS still contains an immense amount of content for a game of its type, making it one of my favorite ways to play Tetris to this day.

The World Ends With You

Our final game was one that was a big deal due to the fact that it was a brand-new original franchise from Tetsuya Nomura, the creator and director of the Kingdom Hearts series, and it was exclusive to the Nintendo DS. That game was The World Ends With You, and while it has since found itself ported to mobile devices and most recently as of last year, the Nintendo Switch, many fans of the game see that the Nintendo DS original remains the definitive version. Being able to battle enemies on two screens, successfully diverting attention between two battles going on at once, utilizing the right pins to unleash strategically sound attacks, and fighting foes with the touch screen and buttons made for an intense and engaging combat system with The World Ends With You. Adding in an intriguing story, a modern-day setting, and a catchy soundtrack made The World Ends With You a winner to many Nintendo DS owners.

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