Happy 10th Birthday Nintendo DS, You Were The Best

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!


    You can't post a picture of the 3DS as the header on the DS's birthday! That's his day! Thunder-stealer...

    I agree with all of these, for the reasons given.
    Completing Jumping Jack Flash right at the very end of EBA is just about the most satisfying thing I've ever done in a game - I've still got the replay saved and am experiencing the urge to crack it out and watch it again!
    I'd also add Metroid Prime Hunters to the list. I think it's the best alternative control scheme to a mouse and keyboard for an FPS I've ever come across.

      Ahhh Jumping Jack Flash! Spent many many many hours getting a 100% rating with the cheerleaders, but I got it in the end. Possibly the pinnacle of my gaming achievements.

        Really? 100%?? I was happy to just get past it. That's damn impressive.

          Yeah, its nuthin *flicks fringe*

          Actually at the time I almost had a heart attack achieving it, became a small obsession of mine

            I agree with all of this, the DS was great but it really came into its own with the DS Lite. I also was obsessed with getting S rank on Jumpin' Jack Flash on the hardest difficulty, too.

            I eventually got it, and then could repeatedly get the S rank after that. Unfortunately, once I moved to a 3DS XL, I found that I couldn't play it any more! My muscle memory only worked on one screen size haha

            Last edited 24/02/15 6:02 pm

      Because of that quickness and accuracy, hunters comfortably played at quake speed compared to any console fps ever.

      Also, the little vapour people when you nailed a headshot were great, like killing a pikmin but without the awful sadness.

      Last edited 24/02/15 2:18 pm

    Happy birthday old buddy! Some of my favourite games and most endearing gaming memories have been shared with my aqua blue ds lite. I still remember being shit scared at 3 in the morning playing 999 to the point where I had to stop playing. I also slept in and was late for school the next day.

      People seem to always get the Axe ending at around 3 in the morning...

    Mark, have you played Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors? I think everyone that owns a DS should play them.

      Yep, 999 is incredible. Virtue's Last Reward (3DS/Vita) is the sequel to 999 for those who don't know. Both games are must-play visual novel/adventure games if you ask me.

        Yes, I've just recently finished Virtue's Last Reward on the Vita and it's amazing. Everyone should play the Zero Escape series. Let's hope we see the third one soon.

          The creator has been hinting that he's working on it, so hopefully there's concrete news soon.

    "The Game That Ended Up Being My Favourite Mario Kart Of All Time"
    Werd. Also, the mission mode was an awesome addition to that game.

      To be honest the DS version seems to be the best, chock full of unlockables, and it was just plain fun to play. I have the Wii and Gamecube Mario Karts and I don't love them as much as the DS version.

    Great great shortlist! Loved all of these to bits, especially the Ace Attorney's which are easily an all time favourite franchise. Always had a soft spot for the Touch Detective games that seemed to fly under most people's radar. Also, the Advance Wars iteration on DS is probably my favourite of the series, played it oh so many times.

    That being said, Trauma Center's story sections were mind numbingly bad, one of the very few games I started skipping scenes entirely.

    Last edited 24/02/15 12:22 pm

    The DS is and quite possibly will always be my most loved and most played console. So many good games on it. What's more a lot of stuff on it was pretty innovative, and the 3DS will never be able to live up to that.

    Can't believe I've had my original (and only) DS for 10 years now. I was in grade 6 :S It still works fine and other than a couple of scratches looks perfectly fine too!

    I just imported & started playing Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey. Great DS game.

      It's funny to think I own so many DS games but the only game I've played on this list is Mario Kart.

      I spent hours playing Dragon Quest IX & Pokemon Platinum was the one that got me hooked!
      Then there's the Castlevanias , The Marios, Chrono Trigger & Final Fantasys. There was just so much quality on offer!

      What a time!

        Surprised the anime-ness of Ace Attorney didnt appeal to you

          It was always on my to do list but DS just had so much.

          Never too late. Maybe I'll borrow yours without your permission somehow

    Random thoughts:

    * Used to play multiplayer Meteos in lectures when I was at uni, good times.
    * Brain Age was pretty cool and unique for its time. Sudoku!
    * Online Tetris was a humbling experience.
    * Ace Attorney became one of my favourite video series. Those games are a joy to play.
    * The Chrono Trigger enhanced port! :D I was so happy because it was the first time CT got released in the PAL territories, I was finally able to own a legit copy.
    * I've picked up a bunch of FF, DQ and SMT games on the DS over the years. Unfortunately haven't had the time to play most of them :/ But yeah Radiant Historia, The World Ends With You...the DS was great for JRPGs.
    * I should probably talk about Animal Crossing WW. This game was like crack addiction to me. At one stage I wasn't even enjoying the game, but I just had to play it everyday to keep the town tidy. Kids, just say no!

    Also, REGION-FREE!!!
    I took advantage of this to the fullest, thanks Play-Asia!

    Anyway, I loved Mario Kart DS so much I unlocked everything in it. I learned all about the blue turtle, how everyone seems to be cheating, and yet I couldn't get enough of it.

    Still pissed that they turned the Nintendo network off, can't play Animal Crossing fully on the DS anymore :(

    I thought it was cool, but due to everyone screaming 'it's just a gimmick' I was really surprised how much fun it was. It used the two screens and touch to give something you couldn't get from anything else at the time. I was playing my DS instead of my consoles when I was sitting around the house.

    Kirby Super-Star Ultra was one of the best games on the platform. If you didn't get it, you missed out!

    I could have sworn the DS is older than 10 years.

    What a stellar list of games,

    However i think The World Ends With You Deserves to be on there for one of the only games to use the dual screens in an interesting and unique way, instead of just using it for a map or stats or something.

    (also it's one of the best JRPG's ever made)

    Last edited 24/02/15 2:58 pm

    Holy crap it's really been that long?

    Perfect article for the perfect system, there's not a single point there I don't agree with. Especially the part about the best Mario Kart ever.

    Other amazing games for the system:

    Kirby Canvas Curse - personally I also hugely enjoyed its kind-of-predecessor, Yoshi's Touch 'n' Go)
    Metroid Prime Pinball - essential if only for the rumble pak! Ten player multiplayer off a single cart was awesome too
    Meteos - had one of the most amazingly epic opening movies for a god damn puzzle game
    Tetris DS - still one of the best versions of Tetris ever released, imo
    Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime - I wouldn't have picked this up if it weren't for the recommendation of a friend. You fight head-to-head in gigantic oversized tanks, feeding ammo into the guns and boarding the other ship almost more like some kind of weird pirate ship battle. Also, it's overflowing with puns.
    GTA Chinatown Wars - possibly my most favourite GTA, I'm stuck tossing up between it and 2
    Space Invaders Extreme - another one that makes you glad you picked up that rumble pak (EBA was one of these too). Super cool twist on the classic game, with awesome music/aesthetic/feedback
    Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword - these cool stylus-only games just keep coming and coming
    Rhythm Heaven - I love EBA, but Rhythm Heaven just pips it for number one rhythm game on the DS. Incredible soundtrack, I literally had the songs from this game constantly stuck in my head for a month straight
    Soul Bubbles - if you don't know Soul Bubbles (and you probably don't unless you're part of the super secret cool club), you need it. My number one most favourite game for the system, incredibly well designed.
    Infinite Space - that Platinum game everyone forgot about/didn't notice. Ridiculously huge in scope, I have a friend who has completed it and I have no idea how he managed to get all the way through. Last count I think I was about 60 hours in and still seemed to have a tonne to go

      Soul Bubbles! Yep.
      Noone's ever heard of this one and it's nice to see it pop (HA) up occasionally. Very beautiful too - it's what Rayman Origins would have looked like if it came out during its lifespan.
      +1 DS credibility!

        Soul Bubbles was one of the last games I played on the DS, before putting it away. That game was also partially made by the guy who made Little Big Adventure and Alone in the Dark, great pedigree. I remember Soul Bubbles had a cute disclaimer when you turned it on: https://1.bp.blogspot.com/_vg2SEZfWIz4/TKeV3OWXqMI/AAAAAAAAFhA/LHDI6udvGwQ/s400/NTR-P-YLEE-010.jpg

        I've actually gotten the DS out again and have been playing the fan translation of Ace Attorney Investigations 2. The hinge is busted but it's still so great.

          Ha ha, I'd forgotten about that little gem. Cheers for the reminder!

    I bought my first DS back when I was working at Hungry Jacks. There was an absolutely massive storm and I couldn't walk home until it passed, so I went to EB and picked up the big, grey behemoth with Mario Kart.

    That storm was kind of nuts and I didn't have power at home until the next morning. Whenever I wasn't trying to dry out all the carpets that got wet (we left the windows open and I was the only one home), I spent the night unlocking mirror mode.

    It was a good night.

    The NDS might just be my favourite game console. Trauma Centre easily slots into my top 5 games of all time (I'm one of those jerks that took it seriously and used two styli) and I'm struggling to think of a platform that gave me more consistently high quality gaming.

    Ah the DS. Unfortunately I was late to the party and picked up the Lite when it was new. I remember there being a limited amount of Mario Kart copies in stores, but I managed to get one and instantly became addicted.

    I also remember the Professor Layton games were a huge timesink, especially the first one.

    Last edited 24/02/15 7:30 pm

    The PSP was the greatest handheld console to date. Don't let nostalgia make you blind to that fact.

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