The Nintendo DS is the second best-selling video game console of all time. It sits just behind the record set by the PlayStation 2, with an estimated 154 million units sold worldwide. The DS comes from the time when Nintendo was at their peak of commercial success, with both their handheld and home console dominating the market. Along with having some amazing Nintendo games, the DS’ large user base led to lots of third party support, as well as allowing many obscure video game franchises (like Phoenix Wright) to leave Japan for the first time.
We are here today to rank the best games on one of the greatest video game consoles of all time. There will only be one entry per franchise allowed, to prevent a deluge of Final Fantasy, Super Mario and Pokémon titles from dominating the rankings. Each franchise will have to put its best foot forward to make it onto this list.
Here are the 20 Best Games On The Nintendo DS, Ranked!
20. Super Mario 64 DS
Super Mario 64 was one of the greatest launch titles of all time. It brought the Mario games into the 3rd dimension and did so with one of the best platform games ever made. This was the game that put the Nintendo 64 on the map and convinced the gaming world that 3D graphics was the way forward.
When the Nintendo DS was first released, an updated version of Super Mario 64 was one of the first games on the system. Super Mario 64 DS managed to improve on the original, by giving you access to three new characters. You could now play the game as Yoshi, Wario and Luigi. Each of these characters had their own strengths and weaknesses, which added a new layer of gameplay to this classic title.
Honourable mention – New Super Mario Bros. was an excellent game that brought the series back to its 2D roots. The only problem was that the game was incredibly short. It’s possible to complete New Super Mario Bros. in under five hours, which includes clearing out all the levels in each world.
19. Professor Layton And The Curious Village
Professor Layton and the Curious Village has a very unusual concept. You play as Professor Hershel Layton, as he journeys to the village of St. Mystere with his young apprentice, Luke Triton. The residents of the town are all obsessed with puzzles, and Layton can’t even go the toilet without some British stereotype asking him to solve a brain teaser.
The town of St. Mystere is an enigma filled with puzzles. Professor Layton has to discover the secret of the Golden Apple, whilst constantly needing to solve the smaller puzzles that make up the bulk of the game. If you love mysteries, then this is the game for you.
Honourable mention – There were three more Professor Layton games released on the Nintendo DS after Curious Village. The first game had a reason behind its unusual setting and characters. The later games just got lazy with their explanations and made everyone in the world obsessed with puzzles. They are still really good games, but the Professor Layton formula seemed to be diluted with each following instalment.
18. Elite Beat Agents
The Guitar Hero series created a massive interest in rhythm games. To play those titles, however, you needed to buy expensive peripherals. Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS required no such fancy hardware. To play the game, all you needed was the Nintendo DS, a stylus, and your ears.
Elite Beat Agents stars a team of suit-clad cheerleaders, who travel the world helping people in need. The gameplay involves tapping the screen in time with the music, as well as following other directions (like following a track or spinning a wheel). The game had an amazing soundtrack, made up of pop and rock songs. Elite Beat Agents featured songs like “Let’s Dance” (by David Bowie), “ABC” (by The Jackson Five) and “I Was Born To Love You” (by Queen).
If you thought “Through the Fire and Flames” was difficult, then you need to try “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on the hardest mode in Elite Beat Agents.
Honourable mention – Rhythm Heaven is a title that is composed of numerous sound based minigames. While the tunes in this game can be catchy, they lack the replay value of the mainstream songs in Elite Beat Agents.
17. Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin adds a unique twist to the formula established by previous games in the series. The plot of the game involves a vampire named Brauner, who has taken over Dracula’s castle. It is the job of the player to once more lay siege to the castle and kill the vampire within. The difference is that you are not playing alone. This game stars Jonathan Morris, who uses the fighting style of the Belmonts, yet lacks the bloodline needed to control their weapons. You also get to play as Charlotte Aulin, a powerful witch who is still in training.
In Portrait of Ruin, you can switch between the two characters at the push of a button, or summon the other as an A.I. controlled helper. You need to use both Jonathan’s physical prowess and Charlotte’s spells to survive within the castle.
Honourable mention – There were two other Castlevania games on the Nintendo DS. The first one was Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. While it is a decent enough game, it has some poorly implemented touch screen sections. The other was Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. While this was an excellent game in its own right, it was also brutally difficult.
16. Kingdom Hearts Re:coded
The Nintendo DS could not handle 3D graphics as well as its competitor, the PlayStation Portable. This did not stop several developers from trying to create 3D games on the system. Square Enix managed to do this on several occasions, most notably with Kingdom Hearts Re:coded.
Kingdom Hearts Re:coded involves Sora entering the digital world within Jiminy Cricket’s journal, in order to defeat the bugs that have corrupted it. Re:coded lacks a lot of the overly complex plot of the other games, and offers an awesome action RPG, that manages to blend a Final Fantasy X-style sphere grid into the gameplay. While Birth By Sleep might have better graphics, it lacks the accessibility of Re:coded.
Honourable mention – Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was also released on the Nintendo DS. The is also a really good game, but unlike Re:coded, you need to have played the other games in the series to know what the hell is going on. Re:coded is more of a side adventure, that doesn’t rely on prior knowledge of the Kingdom Hearts series.
15. Contra 4
The Contra series provided some of best action games of the 8 and 16-bit eras. For some reason, the series lost its way in the 32-bit era. The games became overly complex and started to introduce intricate storylines and deep character motivations.
Contra 4 returned the series to its roots in a big way. The 2D run and gun action returned, with Bill and Lance doing battle with the alien invaders once more. The arcade action from the earlier games in the series is back, only this time, you have two screens worth of enemies to contend with. The game won’t hesitate to add flying enemies to the top screen, in order to ruin your day.
Honourable mention – Metroid Prime Hunters was a fun first-person shooter for the system. While it was a good game, it was held back by its control scheme. The Nintendo DS only had a single D-pad, which made it a terrible system for first-person games. You had to use a mixture of the D-pad, shoulder buttons and touch screen for both movement and firing.
14. Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
The original Final Fantasy Tactics is one of the best tactical RPGS of all time. While Final Fantasy Tactics appeared on the original PlayStation, the game wouldn’t see any direct sequels, instead, it had spinoffs that were released on Nintendo systems.
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is the second Tactics game to appear on a Nintendo console. Like its predecessor, the game follows a boy from our world, who is teleported to the mystical land of Ivalice. You play as Luso, who becomes the leader of a prominent guild of adventurers. The game features hundreds of hours of content, with numerous battles and quests that need solving. Tactics A2 also features an unprecedented level of party customisation, with a huge range of player races and classes at your disposal.
Honourable mention – Final Fantasy 3 finally receive an official English release on the Nintendo DS. While the game did feature an updated job system, it still had a lot of the extreme difficulty of the NES version. Final Fantasy 4 also received an updated port, which included a new “Augment” feature. The problem was, you needed a guide to learn how to get the best Augments, as some of them were hidden a little too well.
13. Mario Kart DS
Mario Kart DS offered fans their first portable 3D Mario Kart experience. It also gave fans the chance to play the game online, through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Mario Kart DS also offered you a rare chance at being rude in an online Nintendo game, as you could design the emblem on the front of your kart. The Mario Kart league was suddenly adorned with crudely drawn penises and sketches of Adolf Hitler.
Despite the Nintendo DS’ issues with displaying 3D graphics, Mario Kart DS offered crisp gameplay without slowdown or other technical issues. It offered the true Mario Kart experience on the go.
Honourable mention – Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing received a port on the Nintendo DS. This is actually a decent game, with its own recognisable characters and fun gameplay. Like all other kart-racing games, however, it is still just running in Mario Kart‘s shadow.
12. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride is a remake of Dragon Quest V for the Super Nintendo. While the previous games in the series offered straight up stories about heroes defeating villains, Dragon Quest V did something a lot closer to home.
What makes Dragon Quest V such an improvement over the other entries in the series is its story. You start out as a young boy on an adventure with his father. By the end of the game, you are now the father, who is adventuring with his wife and children. Dragon Quest V offers an amazing story, with twists that we will not spoil for you here. That is to say nothing of the usual tried and true Dragon Quest JRPG gameplay.
Honourable mention – There were three other Dragon Quest titles on the Nintendo DS, and they are all well worth your time. Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen is slightly less interesting in the story department than V. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation has a disjointed story, which takes a while to pay off. Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is a game that is best played with a strategy guide, as a lot of the side quests are either extremely difficult or poorly explained.
11. Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords has been released on numerous consoles since its debut. When the Nintendo DS port of the game came out, it was the only iteration of the game that offered touch screen support, making it the superior version.
If you have things to do in life, then do not buy this game! Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is the video game equivalent of heroin. Puzzle Quest takes the matching blocks gameplay of Bejeweled and wraps it in a fantasy RPG, where you can level up, train monsters and take over the world.
Honourable mention – Sid Meier’s Civilization: Revolution may be just as addictive as Puzzle Quest. This portable version of the classic strategy game offers hundreds of hours of gameplay, with almost limitless replayability. The only real issue the game has is its shoddy visuals. The Nintendo DS was capable of so much more.
10. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, you play as a soldier, who is sent as part of an international task force to investigate a portal that has appeared in Antartica. Once you pass through the portal, the mission goes to hell, and most of the operatives are killed by supernatural beasts. It is your job to continue the mission and discover what is behind the appearance of the portal.
Like other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, Strange Journey offers you the chance to control the beasts and gods of mythology, as you explore dungeons from a first-person perspective. You will need all of the help you can get, as Strange Journey doesn’t mess around. If you are looking for a challenging RPG with a deep story, then Strange Journey is the game for you.
Honourable mention – Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor and its sequel are two other excellent games in the series. The reason they don’t appear on the list is due to their outright unfair difficulty. You can expect to die a lot in those games.
9. Kirby Mass Attack
The makers of Kirby Mass Attack decided that the best way to improve the Kirby series was to add more Kirby. In Mass Attack, an evil wizard named Necrodeus uses a magic staff to split Kirby into ten different beings. It is up to Kirby to become whole again.
You control the game (and the multiple Kirbys) with the use of the touch screen. In a lot of the ways, the gameplay more resembles Pikmin than it does a traditional Kirby game. You have to guide the multiple Kirbys through each level, and use the power of their numbers to solve puzzles and defeat enemies.
Honourable mention – There were three other Kirby games released on the Nintendo DS. Kirby Super Star Ultra was a remake of a SNES game. Kirby Canvas Curse was a touch screen game that mainly involved building bridges for Kirby to roll across. Kirby: Squeak Squad was similar to the other Kirby games and didn’t bring anything new to the table.
8. Animal Crossing: Wild World
The Animal Crossing games are all about creating a relaxing atmosphere, as you build your own town for the other villagers to live in. When playing the older games in the series, you might wonder why you are bothering to build this awesome town, if there is no one around to see it.
Animal Crossing: Wild World was the first game in the series to offer online functionality. Not only was the game now portable, but you could visit the towns of other people and play games with them. This game set the template for the other Animal Crossing titles to follow.
Honourable mention – The three Rune Factory games for the Nintendo DS are all great titles. They are essentially Harvest Moon, with the addition of dungeon crawling and weapon creation. These games are highly addictive and offer more of a purpose than Animal Crossing does.
7. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The adventure game genre was considered to be dead by many fans, until its revival by Telltale Games. Nintendo fans knew that the genre was still alive and well on the Nintendo DS, with the adventures of Phoenix Wright.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney follows the titular lawyer, as he solves a series of criminal cases that involve a cast of wacky characters. The game has incredible writing, with an amazing job done on its localisation. You must help Phoenix keep his clients out of jail, despite the fact that it seems like the whole world is against you. It is up to you to gather evidence and prepare a case for the defence.
Honourable mention – There were two other Phoenix Wright games on the Nintendo DS, as well as games in the same series that followed Apollo Justice and Miles Edgeworth. While these are all great games, you really need to start from the beginning in order to get the full effect of the story.
6. Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Advance Wars: Dual Strike is a strategy game that takes the concept of a modern war and adds colour and character to the proceedings. You play as different commanders from a series of countries, who join forces, in order to defeat the evil nation of Omega Land.
Don’t let the light-hearted visual style fool you into thinking this is a simple game. Advance Wars: Dual Strike offers a complex strategy experience, as you juggle your finances in order to choose which units to build and send into combat. There is also the CO powers to take into consideration, as every commander has a unique ability that can change the course of a battle in a heartbeat.
Honourable mention – Advance Wars: Days of Ruin was also released for the Nintendo DS. This game completely changed the setting and went for a post-apocalyptic struggle for survival. All of the humour from the previous games was replaced with a grimdark setting and lots of speeches about how life sucks now.
5. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
If there was ever a video game that truly captured the spirit of the Saw franchise, it is this one. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors took the Nintendo DS audience by surprise when it was first released. This game came out of nowhere and quickly garnered lots of acclaim due to its mystery, characters, and puzzles.
It is hard to talk about the story of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors without spoiling anything, and this is a game that needs to be entered without any prior knowledge. Basically, you play a young man who is kidnapped from his home and placed inside an abandoned cruise ship. He wakes up with a strange device on his wrist. He meets up with eight other people who are also trapped. They are tasked with escaping the ship by a mysterious voice who speaks over an intercom. If they don’t follow the strange rules laid down for them, then a bomb within their wrist device will detonate.
Honourable mention – Hotel Dusk: Room 215 might be the best looking game on the Nintendo DS. The whole game uses an animation style that makes everything look like a sketch drawing. Hotel Dusk does have a problem with its game overs, however. It is possible to lock yourself into a no-win scenario, where you are forced to reset the game and start over.
4. Picross 3D
There have been numerous Picross games released for Nintendo systems over the years. The 2D version of the puzzle pails in comparison to the 3D Picross game that was released on the Nintendo DS.
Picross 3D is a like a mixture between a puzzle game and sculpture. Each level gives you a cube covered in numbers. It is your job to chip away at the cube and reveal its intended shape. The numbers provide the clue for which pieces you should break and those that need to remain. Picross 3D is maddeningly addictive, and you will find yourself breaking away at the blocks for hours on end. The game would later see a sequel on the 3DS.
Honourable mention – Tetris DS is another instalment of the classic series. This version of the game features some new modes that are inspired by classic Nintendo games. For all of its bells and whistles, however, Tetris DS is still just another Tetris game.
3. The Legend Of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a rare case of a Zelda game being a direct sequel. The Link from Wind Waker goes on a new adventure, where he must save Tetra from a ghostly pirate ship. The game takes the unusual design choice of making a Zelda game that is played entirely with the touch screen. This control scheme is actually implemented very well, even if it is unnecessary.
Phantom Hourglass offers players a portable spinoff of Wind Waker. While the game isn’t quite as grand as its forebear, it does offer hours of exciting Zelda action, as you explore the Great Sea once more.
Honourable mention – The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is a Zelda game that is based around the theme of trains. The main issue with the game is that the train riding mechanic isn’t actually fun. The trains are very limited in what they can do, and they feel like a much more limited version of the boat from Wind Waker.
2. Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver
Pokémon Gold & Silver for the Game Boy were considered to be the best games in the series by many fans. This was due to the numerous improvements over the original games, with the added benefit of the huge amount of story content available.
Fans had been asking for the second generation of Pokémon games to be remade for a long time. They finally got their wish in 2009, when Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver were released. These remakes added the Wi-Fi functionality from the other Pokémon games, as well as fleshing out the Kanto region (which was pretty barren in Gold & Silver), and allowing your Pokémon to follow you around like Pikachu did in Yellow. In terms of sheer amount of content, Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver cannot be beat.
Honourable mention – Pokémon Diamond & Pearl were let down by extremely slow gameplay (though this was alleviated somewhat in Platinum). The Black & White series (including its sequels) were a lot better and could have easily taken the place on this list. As fun as Unova is, however, it is still only one region.
1. The World Ends With You
In The World Ends With You, you play a dead teenage boy, named Neku, who has no memory of his life before the moment he was killed. Instead of passing on to the afterlife, he wakes up in the Shibuya shopping district. Neku receives a message on his phone that tells him he can return to his normal life… if he can complete the Reaper Game. Neku must survive for seven days and complete all of the tasks given to him, if he wants his old life back.
More than any other game on the system, The World Ends With You was designed with the DS in mind. When you enter a battle, Neku is controlled on the touch screen and his companion is controlled on the top screen with the buttons. You have to switch your attention between the two, in order to succeed in battle.
The World Ends With You offers an unmissable experience. Along with the unique and satisfying combat, you have an amazing story, where Neku must learn the secrets of his past, as well as discover who or what is behind the Reaper Game. If you own a Nintendo DS, then you owe it to yourself to play this amazing game.
Honourable mention – Radiant Historia is a JRPG that borrows heavily from the Chrono series and uses a story based on time-travel and parallel universes. While it is an amazing game with tons of replay value (due to its multiple endings), it lacks the polish and incredible presentation of The World Ends With You.