One of the joys of Nintendo’s Switch is how it marries the company’s home console heritage with its equally prestigious handheld line. Ask anybody over the age of thirty to name a handheld system and “Game Boy” will likely still be the first answer; the name became synonymous with portable gaming just as home consoles were routinely referred to as “Nintendos” back in the day. Younger generations, though, are more likely to name the unlikely upstart that stole Game Boy’s portable crown and permanently ousted that mighty brand name from Nintendo’s lineup: Nintendo DS.
It’s strange to think back to a time when the Nintendo DS – that odd-looking folding system – was positioned as a ‘third pillar’ alongside GameCube and Game Boy Advance. That was until it promptly slayed the Boy king and took his throne.
The original prototype and even the initial ‘Phat’ version of the hardware certainly didn’t look like much of a threat. The early reveal model Reggie pulled from his pocket looked undeniably clunky, especially up against the sleek elegance of Sony’s PSP. There was a nervousness from fans that Sony’s arrival on the handheld market was the death knell to Nintendo’s dominance in the same way it had been with the home console market nearly a decade earlier. How was an ugly dual screen Game and Watch-alike going to win a console war?! Nintendo seemed to be grabbing at straws, and inexplicably jumping off the good ship Game Boy, scuppering its flagship handheld for no good reason.
The gamble paid off, though, and the Nintendo DS became the first movement in a blue ocean strategy that Nintendo President Satoru Iwata would soon employ on the company’s home console line with the Wii. With its approachable touchscreen input and huge breadth of software to appeal to audiences old and young, gamer and non-gamer alike, the DS helped bring handheld gaming to the masses which had felt ‘excluded’ from the Game Boy phenomenon for whatever reason.
Software like Brain Training and Nintendogs sat alongside core RPGs and classic games on a system that could be as wacky or as straight-laced as a developer desired. Gamers’ favourite franchises continued to arrive in fresh forms while games like Animal Crossing: Wild World found a huge new audience, too. Perhaps the biggest compliment we can pay the Nintendo DS is that it made us forget entirely about the retirement of the ‘Game Boy’ brand – it’s got one hell of a library!
We asked Nintendo Life readers to score for their favourite Nintendo DS games and, thanks to those User Ratings, the following ranked list of 50 games steadily congealed into existence. It’s a very fine selection, but not one that’s set in stone. This list can still evolve as games receive new user scores, so don’t worry if you missed out on ‘voting’ – simply scroll down and rate them now! Be sure to check out our feature on the 50 best Nintendo 3DS games if you want to compare this console’s lineup with its successor.
If there’s a game bubbling under the top 50 that you’d like to rate, feel free to find it using the search tool below and give it a score out of 10. Otherwise, we proudly present the 50 best Nintendo DS games ever…
10. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (ds roms)
Coming from the mind of Shu Takumi, the main developer responsible for Phoenix Wright (and his Japanese voice), Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective equals, and arguably surpasses, the quality of the lawyer’s many games. It has a few issues towards the end with some of the puzzles requiring a few leaps in lateral thinking (particularly when controlling multiple characters with different abilities), but Ghost Trick is a perfect showcase of what the Nintendo DS could accomplish with the right design. Making use of the system’s stylus to latch onto object cores and ultimately recover the deceased protagonist’s memory, it’s still a delight to play, with a dramatic, jazzy soundtrack and a story that continues to surprise until the end. It may be crammed full of tricks, but this is still an absolute treat.
9. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (DS)
The third entry of the mystery-solving DS Layton trilogy, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future doesn’t stray too far from the winning formula of the first two releases, and instead focuses its attention on offering up what is easily the best storyline of the series on the console, not to mention some of the best minigames as well. It’s no slouch with the puzzles, either, and it’s safe to say that if you’re a fan of the franchise, this is a game you absolutely do not want to miss.
8. Tetris DS (DS)
You can see the 9am meeting at Nintendo HQ now: “Mornin’ all. So, we’re putting Tetris on the new portable and we need a name. Ideas?”
Fortunately, Nintendo SPD didn’t head straight to the pub after striking upon the revolutionary Tetris DS title, but knuckled down to produce one of the finest iterations of the block-falling classic ever made. With touch controls, Wi-Fi connectivity and a truckload of Nintendo nods and winks, it is still one of the best ways to play the game and well worth tracking down if you’ve never had the pleasure.
7. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (DS)
999 blends interactive novel elements with a digital escape room to stunning effect. It sports a captivating plot driven by a fantastic cast of characters, a satisfying mix of puzzles and mathematical, scientific and philosophical quandaries to ponder. While the third person descriptive prose might be lacking and solving the same unchanging escape sections repeatedly can become a bit of a bore, it’s too compelling not to play through multiple times to see the “true” ending. The game more than makes up for its imperfections and creates a truly gripping experience that you owe it to yourself to try.
6. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS)
The first game in the series to grace the Nintendo DS (as if that subtitle didn’t clue you in), Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is a sequel to the brilliant Game Boy Advance game, Aria of Sorrow. Soma Cruz returns having (spoilers!) thwarted the Prince of Darkness in the previous game, and this time his adventure includes various stylus-based elements which, if we’re honest, feel more than a little gimmicky. When the console first arrived it took a while for developers to work out how best to take advantage of the touchscreen and, crucially, when to ignore it. Despite the bolted-on Seal system and a feeling of ‘enforced’ innovation, the series’ classic heritage still blasts through and this remains one of great Castlevania games… along with around nine or ten others. What a series!
5. Radiant Historia (DS)
Radiant Historia received an updated 3DS port in 2018 gaining the subtitle Perfect Chronology (which we absolutely loved), but in all honesty it didn’t feel drastically different to the DS original. Developed by Atlus and Headlock, it’s a top-shelf JRPG, with an engaging time-travel hook, brilliantly fun, puzzle-like combat, and a genuinely likeable cast of characters. While it’s far from the first adventure to draw on parallel timelines, it smartly integrates its world-hopping gameplay and narrative, and the result is a unique, beautifully-paced experience that’s a joy to play whether here or on 3DS.
4. The World Ends With You (DS)
The World Ends With You is a mass of innovative ideas stylishly combined into a beautifully presented package. Its battle system, although complicated, can be tailored to suit each player’s style, and the flexibility displayed throughout the game is highly commendable. The end result is an RPG that’s every bit as unique as the person who plays it, and that is truly rare. The Final Remix Switch port is still a winner, but necessary changes to combat and controls mean it can’t quite recreate the joy of the original dual screen experience – this DS version remains arguably the best way to play.
3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations (DS)
The third game in the Ace Attorney series was originally released on GBA in Japan, but found its way to the west via the DS in 2007 (and the series has since graced most other platforms you care to mention). The culmination of the original trilogy, Trials and Tribulations puts you back in the shoes of the plucky defence lawyer for another round of convoluted cases and supernatural shenanigans.
Sure, you can play these games on Switch now, but the titular attorney’s visual novels hold up well on virtually any platform (except for, perhaps, WiiWare, although you’ll have a job getting your hands on that version these days) and if you fancy going through them on DS, you’ll get no objection from us.
2. Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver (DS)
The original Pokémon Gold and Silver games are fondly remembered by Pocket Monster fans all over the world, and with good reason: they introduced features that genuinely evolved the original Game Boy games, such as breeding and an in-game clock (not to mention colour!), features that have become series staples. Add in fan-favourite monsters and these remakes were always going to be well received. Future games would trickle in additional quality of life features and other innovations, but some would argue it never got better than travelling across the land, searching far and wide in these DS remakes. The Game Boy originals may be a little hard to return to these days, but Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver strike the very best balance of nostalgia and that patented catch-’em-all gameplay.
1. Chrono Trigger (DS)
Chrono Trigger has truly stood the test of time – a testament to the magical sustainability that occurs when you combine impeccable storytelling, gameplay, visuals and music. This version of the SNES classic contains a hefty amount of additional features and bonus material, including touch screen controls, a series of dungeons (the Dimensional Vortices), a monster battle ground (Arena of the Ages), a re-mastered script, and an additional ending. Some might claim that this masterpiece should be experienced on the biggest possible canvas, but despite the console’s diminutive size, its dual screen layout frees up command menu clutter. Couple this with all the refinements and extras and the Nintendo DS version really is the definitive edition of this beautiful work of art. It’s an essential purchase for any RPG fan, and even if you’ve played it before, you should follow those nostalgic urges, dig out your trusty DS (which will probably still have some juice in the battery) and take that journey through time once again.
Phew, what a list! Disagree with the ranking here? Can’t understand how Animal Crossing is so low or how Brain Training and Nintendogs didn’t even make the Top 50? Remember, it’s not set in stone – head to our games page and get ranking to influence the order above.
For more on the system itself, check out our article on one of the best console revisions ever made, the Nintendo DS Lite. Let us know your thoughts with a little comment in the usual place.