The DS represents a critical moment for Nintendo’s success over the next two years. If it succeeds, we rise to the heavens, if it fails, we sink into hell.
Time for something completely normal!
Not really. For today’s Day 19, we’ve acquired the immeasurate talent of Normal Happenings to instruct us in miniature. That certainly doesn’t happen every day! I haven’t known Norm (see what I did there?) that long, but I’ve already known him to be a friendly, intelligent, and dedicated writer. He’s a fellow craftsman of long-form publications, so I have to say I’m a fan. You may be too after finishing this excellent piece: Normal’s top 7 best games for the Nintendo DS!
I can’t wait until we wed him into magedom… 😀
-The Well-Red Mage
The Top 7 Nintendo DS Games!
First, I’d like to say how amazed I am at this intriguing series of lists. What an incredible idea from The Well-Red Mage, and seeing all of the different styles on display has been a real joy! For such a diverse group of bloggers, these lists have been nothing short of consistently insightful and fascinating. My hope is that my long-winded philosophical musings will fit right in, but there is no way of knowing for sure.
When the Well-Red Mage approved me to dive into the ocean of Nintendo DS games and surface with the seven best ones, I was honored (if a little intimidated). It was the highest selling handheld of all time by millions of units, only being eked out of highest-selling video game system of all time by the PlayStation 2. It seemed like everyone I knew had a DS, and you don’t have to look hard to find one around for very cheap.
Consequently, the DS is known almost as ubiquitously as mobile devices for what gamers have come to know colloquially as shovelware – low quality games meant to fill out a system’s library. That means I brought with me a fun homework assignment, if you’re interested in getting the definitively average Nintendo DS experience. According to Wikipedia’s list of DS games, there were around 1,837 titles released on the system, so here’s your task:
- Open up the list of DS games.
- Using a random number generator, set it to give you a random number from 1-26. This will correspond to your letter: A=1 B=2 C=3… Z=26.
- Next is the big one. Set your number generator from 1-150. Yes, 150 – you wanted true randomness right, and as gamers we’re no stranger to stat grinding. Then start counting down, beginning with the first game in alphabetical order corresponding to your letter.
- Once you reach that number, that’s your game! If it’s not in your language or region, skip up or down until you find one that is accessible to you. From here, you’ve got options:
- Buy the game on Amazon or eBay and play on your 3DS. Seriously, most of them are crap and cost less than the shipping itself.
- Watch a Let’s Play on YouTube or Twitch.
- Write a humorous review on your blog.
- Snicker and move on with your life.
An Exercise in Mediocracy
Regardless of what you do, feel free to let us know your game and reaction in the comments below. I did the challenge and got D(4)-95: Dancing with the Stars: We Dance! A shining example of DS shovelware, watching a let’s play of it was enchanting. The game’s mechanics were not bad – a bit similar to Elite Beat Agents — but I was never worried about stumbling into hidden greatness.
The DS is a shrine to mediocracy, and that carries over to its best games as well. If you look on Metacritic, you’ll see the top three games are a weird top-down Grand Theft Auto game also available on PSP and mobile, a free DSiWare game, and a one-to-one remake of the greatest game on the greatest system of all time. It’s only when you get to number four do you arrive at something really good. The DS is like having a sports team of solid players who know the fundamentals of the game, but with no all-star presence to anchor the lineup. My point: even the best DS games are never going to measure up to the great games from other systems. The system is never going to be remembered for having an Ocarina of Time or Chrono Trigger.
#7. Super Mario 64 DS
I am contractually obligated as a Nintendo fan to put this game on the list because I sincerely believe that getting a 3D platformer of this caliber to run on the DS as a launch title is enough to propel it into one of the top slots. I’m a technical achievement nerd when it comes to underpowered hardware, so it’s difficult for me to shake the goosebumps of playing Super Mario 64 on a severely limited little machine. This game took some creative risks that, I feel, paid off immensely. The updated graphics look pretty good on the small screen, the new characters (especially Yoshi) are fun additions, the minigames are a fantastic time-sink, and the additional 30 stars are unique and challenging.
About the only thing that could make me lose the magical feeling is terrible controls. And trust me when I say this game has genuinely bad controls, which is saying something considering the original is no Super Mario Odyssey in the human interface department. Without an analog stick to allow for precise movements, a game needed to be designed in a manner conducive to its limitations. This was the perfect opportunity for a Super Mario 3D World-style demake of SM64, but the designers tried to do a bit too much. Still, sometimes great achievements in video game development can outweigh inherent design flaws, and the cool stuff done with this remake just barely tips the scales into “really good” territory.
#6. Clubhouse Games
If I were stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a DS, a charger, and one game, I would give up everything on this list for this one. If I wanted to truly make a bold statement, I would call this the quintessential Nintendo DS game. Clubhouse Games represents everything the DS strives to be, and does so in style. Yes, it’s shovelware, but it’s shovelware in its most enlightened form. The game’s premise is simple: cram bunches of traditional card and board games – 42 of them, in fact — onto a DS cart. And it does so effortlessly. Easy games, challenging games, complex games, and luck-based games are all here, and it will take you forever to master them. The amount of customization in this game is insane, and you’ll never run out of things to do. Difficulty options appropriately match your skill levels with each game, and it incentivizes by rewarding you with different music and table themes.
The only issue with this game, which I suppose could not be helped, is that some games such as dominoes and Mahjong render too small for comfort if you’re playing on a DS. The larger screens of the XL models of DS tend to help this issue quite a bit, and I recently played it on a 3DS XL with no problems.
#5. Sonic Rush
This game deserves far more praise than it gets. Sonic Rush is the best game released for the blue hedgehog between Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Sonic Mania. It is the forerunner to the boost-centric mechanics of Sonic Colors and Generations. It’s the only time where the developers get pure speed boost-style gameplay in 2D right, and it feels so good. It seems like Dimps put special effort into designing a trick system hard-wired to appeal to the player’s desire for speed, therefore the game plays more like a racer than a platformer. The game does rely on memorization to a fault, especially in the later stages, but a great number of quality of life improvements have been introduced. The music doesn’t stop when you fall into a bottomless pit, and the game throws the player back into the action almost immediately. The graphics are also gorgeous, some of the best on the DS in fact. “Crisp” is not an adjective I typically associate with DS graphics, but everything about this game’s visuals is smooth and colorful.
And yet, the absolute best thing about this game is its smoking hot soundtrack. Crafted by the incredible Hideki Naganuma of Jet Set Radio fame, Sonic Rush has the best soundtrack of the entire Sonic library. There, I said it — It’s better than Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic Adventure, and Sonic Colors. With its crazy style and funky beats, this game easily has the best soundtrack on the DS.
#4. Advance Wars: Dual Strike
This is easily the most addictive game on the list. I’m a sucker for turn-based tactical games, which explains my love for the Shining Force, Fire Emblem, and Final Fantasy Tactics franchises. I wasn’t really a fan of any of the releases on the DS from those franchises, but once I got my hands on Advance Wars: Dual Strike, I was hooked.
This game is engaging on a level of depth I’m not used to in a DS game. It is quite hard to describe what makes it so compelling, other than saying that it is ultra-refined tactical gameplay. The game’s combat mechanics are deep, and there are plenty of ways to finish each mission. It is balanced, being very challenging without ever feeling unfair. Also helpful is the game’s length – it seems to go on forever, but not in a manner that drags. More accurate would be to say that it allows you to be addicted in whatever capacity you wish, without it ever feeling repetitive. If this game has one flaw, it is the music. While I got used to it after a bit, the soundtrack never felt like it merited the amount time spent with it.
#3. New Super Mario Bros.
There is a group of people who love to hate this game almost to a comical extent – I’m sure you, dear reader, are not one of them. The more harshly Mario critics bash New Super Mario Bros., the more I think it deserves the same love and respect given to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Criticism of its sequels aside, I don’t understand what this original game did wrong.
I realize that each of the previous 2D Mario games are harder, but it’s not like the later levels of this game don’t offer up considerable challenge. Additionally, finding the three big coins hidden inside each course is a fun adventure. Finally, even the most seasoned Mario fan will find themselves flummoxed the first time around attempting to locate the hidden flagpoles. Like with a good Kirby game, the challenge lies in 100% completion, not beating the game by memorization. The controls for this game are also silky smooth, and the wall jump is a dream to control in 2D. I like the art style, as it truly embraces that Mario aesthetic established over the years.
#2. Kirby Canvas Curse
Speaking of good Kirby games, I adore this game so much. There was a time, before Returns and Dreamlands, before Planets and Robobots, where I would have looked you dead in the eye and told you Canvas Curse is the best Kirby game. Sometimes I still feel that way, as Canvas Curse is something truly original and spectacular to behold.
The momentum-based mechanics are addictive, even if they take some time to master. It has all kinds of collectibles, meaning it will be a long journey towards 100% completion. What’s more, the game is actually challenging — I know, right! That’s crazy for a Kirby game. The art style of this game is weirdly abstract and uniquely memorable, filled with geometric shapes on acrylic and a techno facade. It’s so out-there that I doubt we’ll even see another game like it. And it has one of the best soundtracks on the DS to boot, with staticy, techno remixes of tunes from all over the series library. If you play just one game from this list, please let it be this one. Just don’t play Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. That game takes everything about Canvas Curse and makes it worse.
#1. Mario Kart DS
This is it. We all have our favorite version of this game, but this is my Mario Kart. I remember the countless local multiplayer battles with my friends, where anything could happen and no lead was safe. I remember learning to drift around turns in Delfino Square with absolute proficiency. And the steel drums of Cheep Cheep Beach still fill me with unshakable pangs of nostalgia.
Mario Kart DS is the best game the system has to offer, and screams fun above all others. This is the only game in the DS library I would consider definitively great. Copious amounts of polish, solid mechanics, creative courses, and that intangible Nintendo x-factor oozes out of this game’s every pore. It’s no wonder this was the system-seller that got so many hardcore Nintendo fans’ hands on a DS.
It’s a hollow victory, though, because the nature of the series means nobody’s going to want to come back to MKDS after basking in the perfection of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But I can’t judge a game for future entries in the series – Mario Kart DS is the most impressive accomplishment in the kart racing genre, even if future games in the series did an overwhelmingly good job of perfecting the formula.
Before I go, I wanted to throw out some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list. Elite Beat Agents and Rhythm Heaven are two rhythm games with quirky fun mechanics that are well worth your time. Kirby Super Star Ultra is one of the best remakes of a video game ever made, flawlessly giving DS owners their own version of an already great original game. The World Ends With You is a JRPG which impresses in presentation, even if there isn’t quite enough interaction for my tastes. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are respectable, even if they are disappointments when compared to the otherwise consistent quality of my favorite game series. Finally, if you even need an excuse to play Chrono Trigger again, check out the solid port for the DS.
In retrospect, there is a great deal of very good stuff on the DS, and while I feel the games may fade with time, I don’t really want them to. The little clam-shelled system is one of my favorite gaming devices I’ve ever owned, and it got me through a large portion of my childhood. These solid games always ensured I was never bored, even if the adult version of me understands that there are better games elsewhere.
Do you own a DS, or did you in the past? If so, what games were you a fan of playing? Did I miss any amazing games? I’ll be around in the comments if you’d like to discuss.
If you liked my writing, you can see more of it by following my blog over at Normal Happenings! I write long-winded philosophical musings about being an optimist and appreciating everyday life, and I’m also working on a character-driven science-fiction novel project called Dysontopia. I’ve also been known to write about a video game or two as well, usually from a thematic perspective, though when I get time I intend to ascend to magedom and burden all of you with my preoccupations.