10 years ago today the Nintendo DS was released. No-one really expected much from the DS, no-one really knew what to expect.
Now that the dust has settled I can say without reservation that the Nintendo DS is my favourite handheld console of all time. I certainly didn’t expect that.
Today, a decade after its release, I want to take some time to discuss my favourite gaming experience on the handheld that changed everything.
The Game That Convinced Me A Stylus Could Be A Controller
When people ask me my favourite DS game, I always say Trauma Center: Under The Knife.
In some ways it’s a strange choice. It didn’t review well at the time. Didn’t really set the world on fire in terms of sales. People don’t generally talk about Trauma Center or remember it fondly, but I do.
For me Trauma Center was the game that convinced me that a stylus could be a controller. The game that taught me the DS was a console that could provide new gaming experiences that were impossible on other platforms. I had an idea of the potential of the DS, but I doubted the ability of developers to execute. Trauma Center was a unique gaming concept executed perfectly. It was the second game I owned on the DS, but the first that was controlled exclusive through the stylus. In that respect it was an incredible eye-opener.
The Game That Ended Up Being My Favourite Mario Kart Of All Time
The best Mario Kart of all time is Mario Kart DS. That’s not even an opinion. That’s just fact.
Okay, okay. It’s just my opinion. But seriously? Has there ever been a more complete Mario Kart package before or since? I’ve always felt as though Mario Kart DS, at the time, presented the most perfectly distilled Mario Kart experience possible.
It was a game drowning in content: you had your Grand Prix, your versus, your Battle Modes, all that stuff. But then you had the missions section – an entirely new section of weird shit to do that wasn’t even related to racing, but somehow still made sense.
Mario Kart 8 has come along and made a fair fight of it, but pound-for-pound I still believe Mario Kart DS is the best game in the series to date.
The Game That Made Me Love Adventure Games Again
I don’t think many people would call Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney a Graphic Adventure game in the traditional sense of the word, but it certainly had that vibe about it. Ace Attorney almost feels a little less like the Sierra/Lucasarts style adventure game and more like, say, Lord of the Rings and those super old school text adventure games.
So in that sense Ace Attorney was something of a throwback to a different era, but it was also an original experience in its own right. The brilliance of the court scenes, the way that tension was handled and executed. The startlingly high level of writing – and the incredible translation work – the fact that it’s a properly engaging video game, with moments of high drama.
Seriously, there’s nothing else like it in video games. In a way Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a game that defines the DS: original, substantial, definitive.
The Game That Made Me Feel Like I Understood Rhythm Games
I never played Ouendan, the Japanese game that Elite Beat Agents was based on, but I most definitely played Elite Beat Agents. I played the hell out of it. I played the hell out of it during a time when rhythm games – your Guitar Heroes, your Rock Bands – were in their infancy.
Back then I didn’t really ‘get’ Guitar Hero. I tried it a couple of time, failed, and moved right along. Elite Beat Agents really convinced me that rhythm games were worth exploring. And playing.
I bought Elite Beat Agents because it reviewed well. That’s it. I had no idea what to expect; no idea what I was getting myself into. Perhaps that’s why I ended up loving it so much.
Here’s the great thing about Elite Beat Agents: it’s ‘wacky’, it’s 'cute', it’s 'funny' – it’s a video game about three men who save the world by dancing for christ's sake, but it’s also a game with a tremendous amount of heart. It’s a game about enduring and pushing through difficult times in life. There are parts of Elite Beat Agents that are genuinely affecting. It’s a beautiful, insane video game. Elite Beat Agents is absolutely unforgettable.
The Game That Made Me Treat My DS Like A Book
Ghost Trick might have been the last truly great DS game that I played. And while I loved the twist and turns of the game’s narratives and its truly memorable characters, it was the way I played Ghost Trick that was most memorable.
I played Ghost Trick like most people read books.
In bed at night, waiting to fall asleep, that’s when I’d play. I’d say, ‘just the 10 minutes’. Next time I check it’s 3am and I have to wake up in four hours.
That was Ghost Trick, utterly compelling. A passive experience in a sense, but a unique one that always felt stimulating. It felt like a new way to tell a story. You participate, but you exist as an invisible hand that stimulates that story. Like most great DS games, Ghost Trick was a perfectly unique experience.
And that’s the word that defines the DS: unique. But not only was the DS a unique console that changed the trajectory of gaming, it was a console that provided experiences that spread through the spectrum of genre and – in many cases – completely reinvented that spectrum. The five games mentioned above are so dazzlingly different from one another. They literally have nothing in common. The DS was a catalyst: the great experiences, great idea, great video games. Games that transcended and pushed and tugged at our perception of what games were capable of.
Happy 10th birthday old buddy!