Celebrate The Nintendo DS’ 10th Birthday With A Look Back At Its 25 Best Games

by Mike Futter on Nov 21, 2014 at 07:11 AM

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the Nintendo DS’ launch in North America. Nintendo reports that over 945 million software units have been sold to the install base of 154 million (across all versions of the DS hardware).

Last year, we published a list of the best games on the handheld, and today we’re sharing that with you once more. Now’s the perfect time to revisit on of these gems on your original DS, 3DS, or 2DS. For more, check out our editors discussing the best of the DS.

[This feature originally appeared in Game Informer issue #243]

25. Korg DS-10 Synthesizer (2008)
This one technically isn’t a game; it’s a piece of software that emulates Korg’s popular MS-10 synthesizer. Korg DS-10 is a music-making program done right, with great options and effects, an intuitive interface, and the ability to save and share your compositions. For music lovers, this is a must-have. 

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (2011)
Sissel has lost his memory. To make matters worse, he’s also dead. That’s the set-up for the story-driven puzzle game, which has players possessing various objects to manipulate the world and nearby characters. The premise is interesting, but Ghost Trick also has charm to spare thanks to the outstanding writing, music, and animations.

23. Mario Kart DS (2005)
Mario Kart doesn’t change drastically between installments, but you have to admire the series for its consistency. This installment has the solid racing, cool tracks, and crazy action of its predecessors, but adds online multiplayer. This lets players fire off those awful blue shells without worrying about any real-world repercussions. 

22. Picross 3D (2010)
An addictive puzzler in the vein of Sudoku and Minesweeper, Picross 3D challenges players to chip away cubes from a larger block to crate an image (like a dog, rocket ship, etc.). This title moves the concept into 3D, producing more challenging and rewarding puzzles than its 2D counterpart (also on DS). It also has a cool puzzle creator for you to test your own designs. 

21. Okamiden (2011)
Okami was a standout title on the PS2, and many elements from that game make the transition to this handheld  follow-up - especially the drawing. As the young wolf Chibiterasu, players use the Celestial Brush to battle foes and interact with the world. The mechanic is a natural fit for the DS, and a perfect reason to revisit Okami’s charming style.  

20. Trauma Center: Under the Knife (2005)
Without the advent of the DS touchscreen, a game about a supernaturally gifted surgeon might never have happened. Thankfully, we don’t live in that world. Under the Knife features demanding gameplay that players performing delicate operations like extracting glass, defusing bombs, and fighting off lethal bioweapons. 

19. Tetris DS (2006)
No puzzle game has endured like Tetris. The title has appeared in different iterations on multiple systems, and it’s fun every time. Tetris DS continues the trend, with new modes (some competitive) that add new layers to the block-dropping formula. Messing with perfections is risky, but Tetris DS strikes the right balance between old and new. 

18. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (2006)
Of all the Dragon Quest titles to appear on DS, the most engrossing is the one that strays the furthest from series tradition. Rocket Slime is an action/adventure that puts players in charge of a little blue slime who rescues his comrades. He also collects ammunition to use in huge tank battles, leading to a lot of depth behind that slime’s dopey smile. 

17. Metroid Pinball (2005)
Metroid Prime Pinball isn’t the traditional Metroid experience many fans were hoping for, but holding a grudge is hard when the final product is so much fun. Engaging pinball elements blend seamlessly with the touchstones from the Metroid universe, creating an excellent (if unlikely) combination that appeals to fans of Metroid and pinball alike. 

16. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials & Tribulations (2007)
Trials & Tribulations completes the initial arc of defense attorney Phoenix Wright. Your participation is mainly reading text and selecting items from a menu, but the compelling and hilarious courtroom drama makes this stand out as the best in the series. To enjoy it to its fullest, you should also play the first two – a prospect that should raise no objections. 


[25 through 16] - [15 through 6] - [Top 5]

15. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (2009)
Everyone knows about their princess-saving skills, but the Mario brothers rarely get a chance to show their sense of humor. That’s where this spin-off RPG series shines, highlighting quirky characters and top-notch dialogue. This entry is the funniest and most refined yet, and the belligerent Bowser steals the show as a playable character. 

14. Super Scribblenauts (2010) 
Games have rules and limits, which means that players can’t harness their full imagination to solve problems. Super Scribblenauts breaks down that barrier, letting players type in the names of various objects and living things. These things then appear and interact with the world, giving players unprecedented freedom to use their creativity while solving puzzles. 

13. The World Ends with You (2008)
Don’t let the spikey-haired kid fool you: This isn’t your typical “save the world” RPG. Set in modern-day Japan, the story is dark and full of twists. In combat, players manage two fronts simultaneously, stringing together combos up top and casting spells below – one of the most inventive uses of the system’s dual screens. We’d still love to see a sequel. 

12. Kirby: Canvas Curse (2005)
Kirby fans expect to see the little puffball sucking in enemies and absorbing powers, but this DS outing is something completely different. Using the stylus, players draw lines on the touchscreen to serve as platforms and ramps for a rolling Kirby. This departure from tradition was a smart move, as it created the best game in the early life of the DS. 

11. Radiant Historia (2011)
Several classic RPGs saw re-releases and remakes on the DS, but Radiant Historia isn’t one of them. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise; it looks and plays like a lost gem from the 16-bit era. Though it hits the right notes in terms of old-school appeal, the unpredictable story and strategic combat are sharp enough to meet any modern standards. 

10. Animal Crossing: Wild World (2005)
As the second Animal Crossing title, Wild World still gives players the freedom to explore and customize a simulated world. Collecting items, talking to anthropomorphic animals, and checking out your friends’ villages is the backbone of the experience. If you’re in the mood for some stress-free simulation, Animal Crossing is the place to be. 

9.  Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift (2008)
Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the most trusted names in grid-based strategy, and this installment adds even more depth and strategy. New races and jobs provide extra options on the battlefield, and improvements to the law system mean that players aren’t punished for breaking the rules. This is one of the best strategy RPGs out there, handheld or not. 

8.  Contra 4 (2007)
The DS has plenty of innovative titles, but it also opened the door for developers to revisit a style of gaming that had been dormant for years. Contra 4 faithfully recaptures the challenge and fun of cooperatively blasting tons of bad guys, proving that old-school design and difficulty will always have a home among the hardcore. 

7.  Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (2005)
If you want to play Castlevania on the DS, Dawn of Sorrow should be your first stop. The tactical soul system makes combat and exploration as addicting as ever, and Dracula’s castle hides plenty of secrets. While other titles (like Order of Ecclesia) embrace the series’ punishing difficulty, this one still dishes out equal parts challenge and entertainment. 

6.  Professor Layton and the Curious Village (2008)
In Professor Layton’s world, everyone loves a good puzzle. That works out well for players, who are treated to brain teasers around every corner. A mystery surrounding a strange town propels Layton and his apprentice through the story, and the endearing characters and fun puzzles make the journey memorable. 

[25 through 16] - [15 through 6] - [Top 5]

5.  Pokémon Black and White (2011)
Despite their similarities, not all Pokémon games are created equal. Pokémon Black and White is a fantastic entry in the long-running series, due mainly to the way it balances tradition and innovation. It captures everything fans love about collecting, training, and battling Pokémon, while adding new features to keep the adventure fresh.   

4.  Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009)
Nintendo’s family-friendly image might seem at odds with the Grand Theft Auto series. Nevertheless, Chinatown Wars delivers authentic GTA action. Players navigate a volatile drug war, viewing the mayhem from the top-down perspective of the franchise’s early entries. Plenty of side missions and other activities make this the complete GTA package. 

3.  Advance Wars: Dual Strike (2005)
Advance Wars was already a hit on the Game Boy Advance, but two screens allow the turn-based tactical combat to reach new heights. A second front on the top screen requires just as much attention as the main battlefield, which is dominated by a cool assortment of land, sea, and air units. In the war for handheld strategy superiority, Dual Strike is victorious. 

2.  The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)
In a rare move for the Zelda series, Phantom Hourglass is a direct sequel. Following the events of Wind Waker, Link must rescue Tetra and take to the seas once again. The cel-shaded visual style looks great on DS, and the cool touchscreen elements – like plotting your sailing course – fit in perfectly with the traditional Zelda experience. 

1.  New Super Mario Bros. (2006)
Leave it to Nintendo to take a familiar concept and make it fresh again. Leaving 3D by the wayside, New Super Mario Bros. taps into the nostalgia surrounding the 16-bit era by returning to the series’ side-scrolling roots.

Mario and Luigi bust bricks and stomp koopas like the good ol’ days, collecting clever power-ups and facing new challenges along the way. This return to form instantly became a definitive DS title, and has helped shape the future of the Mario franchise in the years since. 

[25 through 16] - [15 through 6] - [Top 5]