The 12 Best Games For The DS

The 12 Best Games For The DS

Long the 800-pound gorilla of handheld gaming, the DS is in its twilight, besieged by smartphones and pushed aside by the 3DS. And, yet, you got one, you old softy. Here are 12 excellent games as a nice reward for showing an old handheld some love.

Making the leap from Game Boy to DS let dev studio Intelligent Systems throw more visual information at players than ever before. That’s a great thing since Dual Strike packs in more depth and flexibility than its predecessors, giving you an almost boundless elasticity to thwart the enemy army in this strategy game.

A Good Match for: To beat Watson, or Deep Blue, or HAL 9000. The AI antagonists in this Advance Wars installments are no joke, reading the weaknesses of your defensive strategies and working around your offensive forays. You’ll really have to plumb the depths of human ingenuity to win consistently against the computer opponents.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for new designs. Lots of the visual elements in Dual Strike seem to be lifted from previous Advance Wars.

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Radiant Historia, a DS game from 2011, wouldn’t be out of place on the Super Nintendo in the early 90s. That’s part of the charm — this is an old-school JRPG experience to its core, and although it eschews some antiquated concepts like random battles, Radiant Historia maintains the charm of its Golden Age predecessors. Combine a fun, complicated combat system with an interesting time travel mechanic and you’ve got a game that deserves to stand next to Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI.

A Good Match For: JRPG fans, or people who want a good place to start becoming JRPG fans.

Not a Good Match For: People who don’t like high-falutin fantasy plots or turn-based combat.

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This downloadable DSiWare game hits the sweetest spot possible on the 8-bit nostalgia map by tasking players to recreate the blocky sprites of old-school characters like Mario. The falling blocks title isn’t just rosy-eyed memory lane trip, though; it’s also a challenging puzzler that will force you to re-wire your spatial perceptions.

A Good Match for: NES cartridge collectors. If you’ve still got a fannish devotion to Nintendo’s old school hardware, then drawing whole scenes from retro Legend of Zelda games will hold a special warmth for you.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want more of the same. Pictobits was an overlooked gem in 2009 and it’s sadly never been followed up with a sequel. C’mon, Nintendo!

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For months in 2005, word spread westward from Japan about this crazy male cheerleader/good Samaritan rhythm game called Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan that just had to be experienced to be believed. Import storefronts in the West did a brisk business shuttling Ouendan to foreign shores until developer iNiS and Nintendo re-tooled the concept into a brand new game, as Elite Beat Agents. The main characters were changed into Secret Service-styled operatives but the tap/swirl/slide beat-matching gameplay stayed the same. And, lo, it was good.

A Good Match for: West Side Story fans. Really, any fan of song-and-dance-based storytelling should dig Elite Beat Agents for the wacky situations the operatives help out on and the twists that iNiS put on the rhythm matching genre.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want to keep their hands in one place. You’ll need to tap spots all over the DS’s touchscreen but you’ll screw up sometimes because the icons you need to hit pop under the same hand holding the stylus. It’s the touchscreen equivalent of tripping over your own feet.

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There are so many Kirby games that play the same way. The pink puffball Kirby walks from left to right, inhaling enemies, gaining their powers and spitting his unusual form of justice. This game is a little differently and perfectly crafted for the DS. In Canvas Curse, Kirby is but a pink circle — no legs — and the player uses the DS stylus to draw Kirby the pathways he needs to glide through levels, attack enemies, gain powers and spit his unusual form of justice.

A Great Match For: A gaming experimentalist who wants to experience one of the most unusual sidescrollers ever made.

Not a Good Match For: A Kirby purist or anyone who would be uncomfortable playing a game with a stylus.

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A spiritual sequel of sorts to the mega-popular Ace Attorney games, Ghost Trick’s superb animation puts players in the role of a newly-minted ghost named Sissel, who learns from a talking lamp that he can possess inanimate objects and manipulate them. By doing tricks while inside of objects, the player goes about preventing the deaths of other innocents and solving the mystery of Sissel’s own mysterious death.

A Good Match for: Aficionados of classic adventure games. Ghost Trick updates the point-and-click formula to become tap-and-move but, really, it’s got the same kind of one-of-a-kind charm that imbued classics like Grim Fandango and The Secret of Monkey Island.

Not a Good Match For: Anyone who’ll want to play it all over again. As fun as it is making Rube Goldberg life-saving machines out of the stuff you possess, there’s only one chain-reaction solution to each giving you little reason to re-visit Ghost Trick once it’s all said and done.

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It may seem hard to believe that a game about folding boxes at a factory could be one of the best games on one of the best game platforms of all time. An obvious choice it ain’t. Yet try Box Life and you too may discover its irresistible, bizarre charm. Part art-game, part joke-game (we described it as a game about “smart misery”), Box Life is actually a deep, complex and satisfying puzzle game. In the game’s main mode, players need to cut out sections of a sheet of paper and use the DS stylus to fold them into boxes. They’re doing this against a timer, are striving to make the boxes surround bombs before said bombs explode (it makes sense when you play). Ultimately, players can improve their in-game life, as represented by a single box-like diorama on the game’s title screen.

A Great Match For: People who read the above paragraph without the thought “You left Bowser’s Inside Story off for that???” popping into their heads. (Hey, that’s a cool game, too.)

Not a Great Match For: People turned off by so-called art games.

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Nine people are told they have nine hours to escape a terrifying facility before they are all unceremoniously murdered in 999, a game that’s gruesome, chilling, and emotionally engaging. 999 is a visual novel, so it unfolds less like your typical high-octane video game and more like a tense, gripping horror novel, but that’s part of the appeal. You’ll have to play through 999 at least twice to see the whole story, which is both a key part of the narrative and totally worth your time. (Don’t worry — on replays, you can skip through text you’ve seen before.)

A Good Match For: Anyone who likes a great story, complete with twists, turns, and lots of murder.

Not a Good Match For: People who don’t like to read, or don’t have the patience to sit through tons and tons of text.

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The debut of Rockstar’s bawdy, outlaw open-world franchise on a Nintendo system seemed like a sign of the apocalypse when it hit in 2009. But the world didn’t end. In fact, it got better as the touchscreen gave Rockstar new ways to implement criminal hi-jinx like lock-picking with the DS stylus.

A Good Match for: GTA addicts. It’s not the same thing as sitting in front of a console, but much of what fans love about GTA — the huge world, pedestrian chatter and traffic-filled streets — is all there in the palm of your hand.

Not a Good Match For: People who want three-dimensional, polygonal GTA‘s — you know, the famous ones — because this is strictly old-school, top-down.

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Drawing on the cartoony style of Wind Waker, this 2009 top-down adventure sets Link on far-ranging journeys for the usual Tri-Force wrangling. In addition to its train focus, Spirit Tracks also diverges by letting you control the series’ titular princess, who’s got loads more charm than ol’ Pointy-Ears.

A Good Match for: Locomotive lovers. The trains in Spirit Tracks are more than just ways to get around. They’re also manageable resources that let you ferry stuff around and battle enemies in a brand-new way. Bringing supplies from one town to another winds up changing the whole gameworld, making it a worthy successor to any train sets you played with as a child.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want D-pad controls. Most of Spirit Tracks‘ play happens via stylus and as it goes on, you’ll find yourself testing the limits of your dexterity. Get ready for hand cramps!

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The 3D in this game’s title has to do with the additional dimension folded into Nintendo’s puzzle-carving franchise. You’re supposed to chip away at the non-descript grids of blocks presented to you in order to tease out shapes hiding in each. But you only get a specific number of tries to reveal the virtual figures inside each shape. If it sounds maddening, that’s because it is. If it sounds genius, that’s because it’s that, too.

A Good Match for: Sculptors. Artists who approach a slab of granite sometimes say that their work already exists in there and is calling to them to carve it out. Picross 3D will make you feel the same way, pulling out at some hidden intuition — with the help of some clues — to see reality differently.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a solid conceptual footing. Even though the game’s basics are well explained, there’s still a high level of abstraction that you have to wade through to get good at Picross 3D. You never quite know when you’re really going to “see” the puzzle and that might prove frustrating to some people.

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This portable JRPG differs from its dozens of peers by speaking to the time in which it was made. As opposed to the plucky quasi-medieval lads & lasses of similar games, the heroes and heroines of The World Ends With You could have walked right out of Akihabara and, moreover, come across just as fashion- and culture-obsessed otaku like the many gamers controlling them.

A Good Match for: Multitaskers. TWEWY‘s other innovation is in its symbiotic combat system, where two party members share health while fighting enemies. Complicating things even further are the actual inputs, where main character Neku is controlled with the touchscreen and the partner character is controlled with the D-pad. You need to split your focus in a way that few other games demand.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want grown-up protagonists. The characters in this RPG channel the energy and anxiety of teenagers, complete with enemies who represent post-modern anomie. There’s angst and self-discovery aplenty, so go the other way if you’re not trying to revisit high school.

Watch it in action.

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 11/12/13: With a new design of the Bests, we took the opportunity to shake up our DS list and add some new games. Pokémon Black & White, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword, Contract and Super Scribblenauts clear out to make room for Art Style: Box Life, Radiant Historia, Kirby: Canvas Curse and 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

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