The 30th anniversary of the Game Boy’s arrival on North American shores got us thinking about the unlikely upstart system that stole its portable crown and permanently ousted the mighty Game Boy brand from Nintendo’s lineup. It’s strange to think back to a time when the Nintendo DS – that odd-looking folding system – was positioned as a ‘third pillar’ alongside GameCube and Game Boy Advance before it promptly slayed the Boy king and took his throne.
The original prototype and even the initial ‘Phat’ version of the hardware certainly didn’t look like much of a threat. The early reveal model Reggie pulled from his pocket looked undeniably clunky, especially up against the sleek elegance of Sony’s PSP. There was a nervousness from fans that Sony’s arrival on the handheld market was the death knell to Nintendo’s dominance in the same way it had been with the home console market nearly a decade earlier. How was an ugly dual screen Game and Watch-alike going to win a console war?! Nintendo seemed to be grabbing at straws, and inexplicably jumping off the good ship Game Boy, scuppering its flagship handheld for no good reason.
The gamble paid off, though, and the Nintendo DS became the first movement in a blue ocean strategy that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata would soon employ on the company’s home console line with the Wii. With its approachable touchscreen input and huge breadth of software to appeal to audiences old and young, gamer and non-gamer alike, the DS helped bring handheld gaming to the masses which had felt ‘excluded’ from the Game Boy phenomenon for whatever reason.
Software like Brain Training and Nintendogs sat alongside core RPGs and classic games on a system that could be as wacky or as straight-laced as a developer desired. Gamers’ favourite franchises continued to arrive in fresh forms while games like Animal Crossing: Wild World found a huge new audience, too. Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay the Nintendo DS is that it made us forget entirely about the retirement of the ‘Game Boy’ brand – it’s got one hell of a library!
Last week we asked you to vote for your favourite Nintendo DS games and, thanks to your User Ratings, the following ranked list of 50 games has congealed into existence. It’s a very fine selection, but not one that’s set in stone. This list can still evolve if games get more votes, so don’t worry if you missed out on voting – simply scroll down and do so now!
So, we present to you the 50 best Nintendo DS games ever…
Although everyone has an individual preference, and Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time may not be the strongest game in the series, that’s more a reflection of just how great the Mario & Luigi games are. While the story might hover just below the level of other instalments, it’s still creative, appealing and laugh-out-loud funny, and mastering the four-button setup of battles is as fun as ever. Bowser’s Inside Story might have the edge, but it’s tough to go wrong with this series.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2) / Developer: CyberConnect2
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is a game crafted with care and painstaking detail, incorporating a lengthy, well-written story with engaging battle mechanics and an impressive variety of quest styles. If text-heavy Japanese RPGs don’t appeal to you, then this may not be a great fit. However, those seeking an original, attractive experience that might have slipped your notice should hunt this game down.
Contra 4 isn’t for everyone. The difficulty level, even when set to ‘Easy’, is quite frankly on the insane side. But with such a series you have to accept that this is intentional; a Contra title that doesn’t pose a stiff challenge isn’t worthy of the name. Stick with it, though, and you’re virtually assured of huge rewards and plenty of ‘old school’ entertainment. It’s an impeccably crafted blast-a-thon of the highest standard.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Q Entertainment
A tile-matching game from producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the developer behind such memorising titles as Rez, Lumines and, more recently, Tetris Effect, Meteos was an early puzzle hit in the life of the DS and a is good enough to stand proudly in the company of the very best in the genre. Discovering that quickly swiping the stylus across the screen often gave better results that consciously puzzling your way through was a minor disappointment, but those who avoided that temptation found a brilliantly addictive game – one that occupied our cart slot for many months.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Game Freak
Doing our best to avoid spouting Prince lyrics, what is there to say about Pokémon Diamond & Pearl? The core experience holds up as well as it ever did and, at the time, these were the greatest Pokemon games ever created. As with so many video games successful enough to spawn a never-ending series of sequels, each entry is destined to settle beneath its successors, compacting down with the passing of time until they’re mere fossils – worth treasuring and remembering, yes, but not worth actually playing, right?
We guess that’s the price of success and progress, but while Diamond & Pearl might not boast the refinements we’re now accustomed to, they’re still excellent Pokémon games and deserve to be taken off the shelf and played with once in a while. They’re sure to make you a happy boy or a girl.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
If you’ve never played Super Mario 64, you may want to start with the original due to its vastly superior control system and the fact that your life will be improved immeasurably for having played it as nature intended. On the original DS, this version controls too awkwardly to compare. However, the analogue nub of the 3DS transforms the way this game plays, placing it much closer to the feel of the N64 classic. The DS remake takes a stone cold classic and augments it with new characters and minigames that make a playthrough more than worthwhile it if you’ve played the original to death.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Intelligent Systems
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is the last we saw of Intelligent Systems’ ‘Wars’ series on any system and is one of the best games available on the DS. The system lends itself well to strategy titles, and although some may find the change in style from the previous game unnerving, additions like online play made the change worth bearing. In all honesty the more sombre tone made the message of the game – that war can destroy lives – a little easier to digest than it would have been sporting the colourful style of previous entries. It’s a difficult game, but the gratification you get when a battle is finally won after hours of relentless toil is priceless.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter is another yet top-quality game in a truly brilliant series. Known as The Spectre’s Call in Europe, this was the fourth entry in the series and a prequel to the previous trilogy of games. Combining a thrilling narrative with its trademark puzzles, it challenges your mind in a way very few games seriously attempt to do, and the feeling you get when you solve a particularly difficult puzzle is less one of relief than it is a desire to leap ahead in the game and find the next one. Any list of the finest DS games is bound to be lousy with Layton, and with very good reason. Jolly good show, Hershel.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD
Decried by some as mere shadows of the original games, there’s no denying the popularity of the New series. The original New Super Mario Bros. may well give off a “been there, done that” vibe these days, but it opened up the series to entirely new generation. Us dinosaurs can pine for our pixels, but there’s still a remarkably solid Mario platform game here. No, it’s not the pinnacle of the series, nor is it absolutely essential in the grand scheme of things, but there’s still plenty to like.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo SPD
WarioWare Touched! might not have quite the wow factor that it had upon release, but it’s overflowing with the maniacal energy that makes the series such a blast, regardless of platform. Despite being an extremely short experience (with the main mode easily completable in an hour or so), and featuring incredibly simplistic gameplay mechanics, the DS entry still has plenty to offer. The sheer abundance of microgames and the game’s colourful visuals, quirky humour and wonderful soundtrack make it a timeless experience and worth catching up with all these years later.