It’s hard to believe it now, but back when Nintendo revealed the DS, the company treated it as something of an experiment. Upon being shown it on stage, Satoru Iwata described it as a “third pillar” alongside the Game Boy Advance and the Gamecube, pitched as yet another device for gamers, but one with a focus on experimentation and new play experiences. Well, thanks to some of the best DS games and the novelty of the device, the console ended up taking over the world.
Everyone and their mum owns a DS, a copy of Brain Age, and once upon a time were busy teaching Nintendogs to sit, or helping villagers as Professor Layton. Thanks to its success, the console has a vast library of stellar titles, so if you’re looking to go back and play a few, we’ve whittled it down to present you with a guide to the best DS games. So grab your stylus, and get ready to enjoy twice the fun across twice the screens.
Let’s dive into our guide to the best DS games.
- Tetris DS
- New Super Mario Bros
- TLoZ: Spirit Tracks
- Bowser’s Inside Story
- Animal Crossing: Wild World
- GTA: Chinatown Wars
- The World Ends With You
- Kirby Canvas Curse
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
- Advance Wars: Dual Strike
- Warioware: Touched!
- Professor Layton
- Pokémon HG&SS
- Pokémon Black 2 & White 2
- Mario Kart DS
- Sonic Rush
Taking the brilliance of Tetris and turbocharging it with a plethora of great Nintendo-themed levels and songs, Tetris DS somehow improves on the original and still stands as one of the best versions of the puzzle title you can play today.
New Super Mario Bros
The first 2D Mario game since Super Mario World had a lot to prove, and luckily New Super Mario Bros still stands as one of the best 2D entries in the series, even if the ‘New’ brand has lost its lustre over time. New power-ups, tight design, and a bunch of great mini-games help this one stand the test of time.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
While Phantom Hourglass is still a fun way to bring the world of Wind Waker to handhelds with touch controls and some smart ideas, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks takes all those ideas and expands on them to deliver a true handheld Zelda experience. Zelda travels by your side as a ghost, you build a train to battle enemies, and the dungeons are a real test that make smart use of the DS’ features. Easily the better of the two DS entries.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
An RPG title where you play as either of the titular Mario bros with individual buttons and explore Bowser’s guts to control the king of the koopas, this is one weird game. But the Mario & Luigi series always bolsters its weirder elements with charm, great presentation, and fantastic gameplay. Bowser’s Inside Story still holds up as the best entry in the series, and it still makes us laugh to this day.
Animal Crossing: Wild World
Once a small and quirky title that few people knew about, Animal Crossing: Wild World sent the series into the stratosphere, and for good reason. Animal Crossing was always destined to excel in the comfort and portability of a handheld device, and the DS entry made living and exploring your own little world easier than ever before. With years of content, countless interesting animals to meet, and so many fun ways to decorate your house, Wild World truly blew everyone away at the time, and it still deserves a look to see how the series truly began.
You might have never heard of this one, and it’s less of a game and more of an experiment. Japanese artist Toshio Iwai (later known for creating the instrument known as the Tenori-On) worked alongside Nintendo to develop this quirky interactive world full of tiny creatures that all make a noise. If you can find a copy it’s a great way to chill out, and the marriage of gorgeous visuals and satisfying sounds still hypnotises us today.
GTA: Chinatown Wars
After the huge success of 3D GTA games like San Andreas and Vice City, people scoffed at the idea of a return to the top-down style of old after the initial announcement of this title. But GTA: Chinatown Wars is a fantastic entry in the series, and was a great way for Rockstar to flex its creative muscles, showing everything the company learned while creating a new experience that was absolutely perfect for the DS. Fight rival gangs, deal drugs, and explore a portable world in this fantastic action game.
The World Ends With You
After its many years on the market, the DS is known as an RPG powerhouse, though many of its biggest hits are remakes of existing titles such as the Final Fantasy remakes, or the incredible port of Chrono Trigger. Looking back though, The World Ends With You utilised fantastic RPG elements, a new type of world, and some really interesting touch-based rhythm controls to make an experience truly designed for the DS that no game could ever top. You can play it on other devices now, but we really recommend tracking down this game to play it as it was intended.
Alright, it sounds weird now, but Nintendogs is a testament to the childlike spirit of Nintendo, and its ability to create joy from the most simple things. Nintendogs was built as a showcase for the DS’ touch screen, allowing players to play with their pets, teach them to roll over, and even use the microphone to register voice commands.
It’s also deeply satisfying as you watch your pup become the master of sports and tricks, and unlock so many fun ways to play with them, including little Mario Kart toys you can zoom around the living room! It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that only Nintendo could make fun, and we’re still absolutely begging Nintendo to bring the series back in some form.
Kirby Canvas Curse
There are a few games on the DS that feel like they use the touch screen just for the sake of using it, and then there are games like Kirby Canvas Curse which feel so perfect you wonder how somebody came up with it. Canvas Curse has you create paths for Kirby as you draw them on the screen, letting the pink puffball fly around the stage like a pinball, but giving you the control and agency to guide him where you need. It’s chaotic, it’s clumsy, but it’s still absolutely brilliant and needs to be on the shelf of any Kirby fan.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
First of all, play any of the three Castlevania games for DS you can get your hands on. Second of all, good luck finding this title for less than the price of a used car. However, if you’re flowing in cash or stumble across this in a bargain bin somewhere, I cannot recommend this game enough. After helping to direct Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Koji Igarashi went on an absolute creative tear, producing a string of fantastic games inspired by that style of platforming action-RPG.
While Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow on the GBA signalled the first real killer title in this string of releases, Order of Ecclesia bookends that as the final true Castlevania game from Igarashi, and the culmination of everything he learned from Symphony of the Night and every title since. Whip-smart action, gorgeous pixelated worlds to explore, dozens and dozens of weapons and spirits to experiment with, and a colourful cast of eccentric characters and gruesome bosses. Play any DS Castlevania game you can, but Eclessia is truly the best of the bunch.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Originally a cute and colourful approximation of war back on the GBA, the DS entries expand the series both in gameplay and theme. The touch screen makes placing units easier than ever, and the story here shows that Nintendo can approach a silly story about war but still introduce some nuance. A thrilling tactical title that demands some thought, Advance Wars: Dual Strike still holds up as a leader of the tactics genre.
As soon as Nintendo announced the touchscreen, it was obvious Wario was going to do something weird with it. Dozens of fun mini-games that make use of the two screens and touch capabilities, Warioware: Touched gets you to pull bogies out of noses, grab toilet paper, and send paper aeroplanes off into the distance. Frantic, gross, and stuffed with things to do, it’s still one of the best uses of the DS’ many features to ever exist.
Professor Layton and the Lost Future (Professor Layton and the Unwound Future)
A relaxing puzzle game series with a whimsical story all about uncovering mysteries, the Professor Layton series is a smash hit with players of all ages. While Curious Village is the first entry, Professor Layton and the Lost Future features some series highlights in the puzzle department and an engaging story that probably still has the best twist in the entire franchise. What a great way to relax while stretching the brain.
Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver
How do you improve on the best Pokémon games ever made? Just add more. Returning to Johto was always going to be a nostalgic experience, but The Pokémon company went above and beyond to ensure that the remakes of the Game Boy Colour Pokémon games have as much love, care, and atmosphere as those classic entries. With a brilliantly vibrant pixel style that still has no match, I’d argue Pokémon has never looked better, before or after.
Meanwhile, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver revisit the following mechanic seen all the way back in Pokémon Yellow, but this time any Pokémon you catch can follow you around and be your travel buddy. With all the advances made to battles throughout the years in between, HGSS feel like the games the 2nd generation always should have been, even including the iconic original Kanto map to explore again, and there’s an argument that these are still the best Pokémon games ever made.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2
While HGSS truly run on nostalgia, Pokémon Black and White pushes to create something entirely new, acting as a soft reboot for the series, with a huge amount of new Pokémon and a world based on America. It’s also the first time any Pokémon region is inspired by a location anywhere outside of Japan. The themes of yin and yang, light and dark, and two opposing forces are well told, but it’s the sequels where everything really comes together.
Pokémon Black and White 2 feel like the real next step in the series, pushing the quasi-3D pixel style to its limits, perfecting new elements like the underground, and even featuring the one and only times Pokémon games have difficulty options. They also act as true sequels to Black and White, taking place years after the events of those games and continuing the story in interesting ways. HGSS may have the power of nostalgia, but B2W2 shows that Game Freak still has what it takes.
Mario Kart DS
Mario Kart. But online. I could finish this description here, but there are still so many elements that make Mario Kart DS such an unforgettable entry in the franchise. Featuring a gorgeous 3D visual style and some great new tracks, it didn’t feel real back in the day that a Mario Kart game like this was truly in your hands. The fact it’s so good is just a bonus.
Not only that, but Mario Kart DS features actual missions, challenging players to beat specific requirements in some great twists on the existing tracks, as well as bosses for players to beat. The online component is also incredibly well done for such an early attempt, and players all over the world caught Mario Kart fever once again. Plus, you could play as R.O.B. the robot. How could you not love this game?
If I hear anyone say that Sonic hasn’t been good for years, I want to give them a stern talking-to and a copy of Sonic Rush. While the Sonic Team was busy making… 3D Sonic games, a small company called Dimps was given the reins to create the Sonic Advance and the Sonic Rush games. The Sonic Advance titles are brilliant in their own way but perhaps are a little too close to the games they came from.
Sonic Rush gives the blue blur the titular rush mechanic, an instant speed boost with a single button press, and it completely changes the momentum of each level and the thrill of platforming. The dual-screen set-up also allows for some really interesting open areas, and seeing Sonic spin a loop between the screens is always so satisfying. Sonic Rush Adventures is just as good as the original and has a lot more content to boot, but either of these games is worth your time if you’ve ever enjoyed a Sonic game.
Well, that’s all the best DS games we have time for today, but if you’re diving into the world of dual-screen gaming, we hope our handy guide will set you on the right path. If we missed your favourite, do feel free to get in…touch… over at the Pocket Tactics Facebook page. Meanwhile, for even more great retro gaming, be sure to check out our guide covering the best Game Boy games next.