Two screens? On a handheld? The form-factor of the original Nintendo DS might seem obvious now, but at the time it seemed like a strange move from Nintendo, who had spend twenty years making games designed to be played on a single screen.
But after developers got the hang of designing games for two screens it soon became obvious what Nintendo had intended with the design decision that had initially seemed so left field.
What resulted were some incredibly innovative games which ranged from delightful small puzzle games to epic RPGs that used the second screen to really let players wrap their heads around the genre’s plentiful menus.
The best New 3DS and New 3DS XL deals
Nintendo might have since moved on to supporting the Nintendo 3DS, but with the handheld offering full backwards compatibility with its predecessor you’ve got no excuse for not checking out some of the best games on the Nintendo DS.
Want a more modern round-up? Check out our best Nintendo 3DS games gallery.
The Pokemon series dominated the Game Boy, a tradition that carried over to the DS. While there are generations upon generations of Pokemon games out there, the latest ones are, for good reason, the greatest, building upon the original games and adding their own awesome features. Not only that, but Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 aren’t just minor updates over Black and White – they’re a new addition to the series, allowing for exploration of the Unova region. From exploring the new region, to the classic turn based battles, these games are not games you’ll want to miss out on.
Speaking of classic games series, we would be remiss to not include at least one Mario game. OK, fine, we’ve included more than one Mario game, but New Super Mario Bros. is among the best. The game represents a new generation of Mario that stays true to the classic side-scrolling concept of the original Super Mario Bros. games, yet makes it a little more, well, modern.
You’ll find both familiar enemies, and new ones, and you can even link wirelessly with your friends to play as Mario and Luigi in a multiplayer mode. If any game proves that Mario is still relevant, it’s this one.
Final Fantasy IV (known as Final Fantasy II in the US) may have originally been made for the SNES way back in 1991, but the game seriously deserved a remake for a new generation of players. Square Enix did just that. The HD update offers newly developed 3D graphics and new added content, and not only brings two generations of Final Fantasy fans together, but also cements FF4 in the memory books as one of the best RPGs ever.
Final Fantasy IV isn’t the only SNES game to be ported over to the Nintendo DS – Kirby Super Star is an excellent choice for a dual-screen game, and brings the epic Kirby adventure to your pocket. Of course, this isn’t a complete copy of the original game – it also features things like new modes such as Meta Knight Ultra and Revenge of the King. Sure, you could argue that Super Star Ultra isn’t as exciting as Kirby Canvas Curse, but as a short and sweet adventure game, Super Star Ultra isn’t one to miss out on, especially if you’re a Kirby fan.
Animal Crossing: Wild World takes the popular GameCube game and makes it much more social. In the game, you and up to three of your friends from anywhere in the world can hang out in the same village and interact in real time. You can also hang out in your friends’ villages. When you’re back home there’s always something to do – from decorating your home to collecting new items to just lounging with the locals.
Kingdom Hearts 352/2 Days takes place during the year that Sora was asleep, and revolves around Roxas. You’ll basically follow Roxas and the other members of Organization XIII through the various Disney worlds. Perhaps the coolest new feature in the game is multiplayer mode, which allows you and your friends to play as other Organization XIII members.
While long-time Kingdom Hearts fans will love this addition to the franchise, new players will also get a kick out of it – it’s not too difficult to learn, and while some backstory may help in the general understanding of the game, you’ll still have a lot of fun without it.
While New Super Mario Bros. is an awesome game, there’s nothing better than going back to the classics. Super Mario 64 DS is, as I’m sure you can imagine, a port of the original Super Mario 64 game for the Nintendo 64. However it takes full advantage of the Nintendo DS’ dual-screen setup and adds touch screen features and even wireless multiplayer compatibility. Who says an old plumber can’t learn new tricks?
The third Mario game on the list is there for good reason – it’s an awesome, albeit weird, game. In Partners in Time, Mario and Luigi partner up with none other than their younger selves. As strange as it sounds, you get to control both the adult and baby sets of Mario Bros. as they explore the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond to take down the evil invaders from space, the Shroobs. The game gets a little out of control, but in this case, that’s a good thing.
Spirit Tracks sends our hero Link on a brand-new adventure, offering a totally new story with more puzzles, and so on. While Spirit Tracks is actually the second Legend of Zelda game for Nintendo DS, it trumps the first in almost every way, offering challenging boss battles and excellent gameplay. Link travels by train, as the name suggests, opening up new possibilities for puzzles and interesting challenges.
Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 are great games, but fans of the early generations may find themselves a little lost at the number of Pokemon to catch. HeartGold and SoulSilver are remakes of Gold and Silver for Game Boy Advance, which are considered by many to be some of the best Pokemon games ever made, and for good reason. The game takes place in the Johto region and offers updated graphics, touch controls, and even the ability to use the ‘Pokewalker’ – essentially a glorified Tamagotchi – to take your Pokemon wherever you go.
Tetris DS takes the classic Tetris concept and makes it much more social. So much so that as many as 10 DS players can battle each other with only one user needing to own the Tetris DS game card. There are a total of six modes, each based on other classic Nintendo games, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and so on. Of course, you can play the game in the same way you’ve been able to play any other Tetris game, building the blocks up to complete lines and get as far as you can before those blocks reach the top. In this version, however, you can take things a step further by adding your score to a global leaderboard and battling online.
Chinatown Wars is an entirely new entry to the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and it carries on the tradition of a game in which players can roam the world and so whatever they want. Of course, there are also awesome missions to complete along the way, and while there are a few things that have been left out in the handheld version of the game, plenty has also been added, making Chinatown Wars one of the best (and only) mature-rated Nintendo DS games out there.
While Spirit Tracks is arguably a better game, Phantom Hourglass is its enjoyable predecessor filled with familiar features and well-worn gameplay. Phantom Hourglass is a little more casual than other Legend of Zelda games and arguably a little easier too, but that doesn’t make it any less of a seriously entertaining pocket adventure.
Dawn of Sorrow is set around a year after Aria of Sorrow, and follows a cult that wants to resurrect a dead Dracula. Soma Cruz gets entangled in the plans and must now find a way to stop the resurrection from happening. Unlike many other Nintendo DS games, most of the action takes place on the bottom screen, while the top screen is reserved for maps, character information, and so on. Many suggest that Dawn of Sorrow is one of the best Castlevania games of all-time, and for good reason – it’s beautifully designed, offers great battle scenarios, and finds the perfect balance between nostalgia and innovation.
Samus is obviously the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. Or is she? A total of six other bounty hunters are looking to gain that title, which is the premise behind Hunters. Hunters doesn’t just feature an awesome story – I mean, nothing was worse than Metroid: Other M, right? – it features a great multiplayer mode too, allowing you to go through intense battles with friends through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can play as any of the seven bounty hunters, with each of them having their own special attacks and skills.
You can’t go through a great game list for Nintendo without getting Mario Kart. Mario Kart DS is exactly what you might expect from a Mario Kart for Nintendo DS game, featuring a multiplayer mode where you can face up to eight players at once, as well as the ability to race through some of the most classic Mario Kart circuits out there. The DS version of the cart racer may not have the visual sizzle of the newer Wii U version, but if you’re looking to take Mario and Co. on the road, there’s no place better to start.
This game was pretty highly anticipated upon its release, however some were a little disappointed that instead of getting an all-new game, they instead got a remake of the original. Still, the original game is a great game, and the Nintendo DS version brings updated graphics and modern features. For fans of the turn-based strategy experience (or awesomely named Japanese franchises), Shadow Dragon should be one of your first stops when stocking up your Nintendo DS library.
Developed by Jupiter and published by Square Enix, The World Ends With You follows the story of Neku Sakuraba, a 15-year-old boy who wakes up in the shopping district of Japan and is told that he will die unless he completes a certain task. (It’s Final Fantasy XIII before Lightning made an appearance on the scene.) What I admire most is that the developers behind the game took a chance with it – they could have easily come up with another Kingdom Hearts game – but the chance was well worth it and has resulted in one of the most underrated role-playing games out there.
Another port of a classic game, Chrono Trigger DS is the immaculately recrafted version of the SNES game. If you missed the original, it follows a young Chrono, who has to rescue his friend after a teleportation machine malfunctions at the fair. Eventually, he uncovers a plan to destroy the world and has to race the clock in order to save it.
While technically a direct port of the game for SNES, the DS version adds some great features, like support for the dual-screen setup, touch screen functionality, and a wireless play mode that adds a dimension of gameplay.
Phoenix Wright is a great game for those who enjoy a good puzzle – though, as a word of warning, depending on your puzzle-solving skills you might even find some of the challenges too difficult!
If you haven’t ever dug into Phoenix Wright’s case files before, the series essentially involves you having to uncover clues, discover characters’ personalities, and so on, as you slowly solve cases and bring justice to the criminals along the way. You won’t hear any objections from us on this one.