Almost all of us owned a Nintendo DS. It’s the second-best-selling games console of all time and introduced dozens of franchises to an entirely new generation. The Nintendo DS is steeped in nostalgia for many of us at this point, so it’s only right that we take a moment to look back at the very best games in its library.
In this list we’ve collated the ten very best Nintendo DS games of all time. If you’ve never played Nintendo DS games before, these are the titles you should start with. All of them are stone-cold classics. We’ve limited our selection to one game per series so it’s not just filled with Zelda and Mario games.
The first Zelda game to hit the Nintendo DS took full advantage of the system’s unique features. All combat and movement is handled with the touch screen, with other hardware features such as the built-in microphone and even closing the screen used as mechanics to help you progress. You can map out a route on a sea chart before sailing onwards, explore unique islands, and of course, solve chaotic dungeons. The direct sequel, Spirit Tracks, might be even better, but both of these are excellent Zelda entries.
Touch screens change things for tactical games like Advance Wars. The GBA originals were great, but the ability to simply tap your units on the touch screen to navigate them is a revelation and makes Dual Strike feel entirely fresh. Advance Wars gets a bit dark on the DS, but Dual Strike is one of the best games in the series.
A best-of list for Nintendo DS isn’t complete until it includes The World Ends With You. This game makes full use of the dual-screen design of the DS to create a combat system that is entirely unique in the RPG space, and even though the game has been ported to other platforms now, it’s just not quite the same. The World Ends With You is a classic, and still best played on DS.
We would give the Pokémon slot on this list to Heart Gold & Soul Silver, but they’re remakes, while these are entirely original DS entries in the Pokémon franchise – and excellent, too. Previous games didn’t put much of an emphasis on story beats, but that all changed with Pokémon Black & White, with the sequels going even further beyond. Still some of the best games in the Pokémon series.
Dragon Quest is one of the most beloved RPG franchises in the world – though you may remember it being called Dragon Warrior. Dragon Quest IX allowed players to create a custom character, and then go even further and design the entire party for a grand journey across the world. The Akira Toriyama art style means that some design aspects, including hairstyles, are taken straight from Dragon Ball Z, which is only a good thing.
Animal Crossing: Wild World changed the game. The Gamecube version was just an expansion of the N64 original, and Wild World was the first true sequel. This rounded off the Animal Crossing world, added a starry sky, allowed for online multiplayer, and much more. Wild World introduced a lot of what makes people love and play Animal Crossing to this day, and is still a great way to waste a few hours. Or a lot of hours.
Also known as Professor Layton and the Mysterious Village, the Professor Layton series on Nintendo DS combines classic mystery short stories with puzzles, and it works wonderfully. The first entry sees Layton and his assistant Luke uncover the mystery plaguing a strange village in the British countryside. Just be careful, once you play one of these games, you’ll need to play them all.
This isn’t actually a port of Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, it’s an entirely unique Tony Hawk entry for Nintendo DS, with online multiplayer. Based roughly on American Wasteland, American Sk8land has several stages from that game which are heavily redesigned, along with some unique levels. This is a shockingly good handheld iteration of Tony Hawk, and playing multiplayer on a handheld against opponents across the world felt truly revolutionary at launch.
We’ve all played Nintendogs, and yes, it’s great. Nintendogs wasn’t the first pet simulator, but there have been dozens of imitators since. You simply raise a dog, teach it tricks, play with it, and enter it into simple competitions. Watching your pet progress from a witless mutt to a trained machine is wonderful, even if the voice command function didn’t always behave as well as your pet did.
The Phoenix Wright fanbase is ravenous for new content these days, but this first Nintendo DS entry is the one that created that fanbase. Yes, it is technically an enhanced port of a Japan-exclusive GBA game, but we’ll waive that rule this time. This game is responsible for the rabid fandom you know today and is unquestionably a classic in every sense of the word. Ace Attorney is now one of the best visual novel franchises you can play, and the first game is unparalleled.
Written by Dave Aubrey on behalf of GLHF.