The DS has been a great little handheld for me. I’d consider it the best one I’ve owned, to be honest. I have two games in my Absolute list and several in my Alternate list (due to lumping the Ace Attorney games all together). If I had to narrow the selection down to ten, though, these would be what I would pick.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (Nintendo/CiNG)
Hotel Dusk to me best defines the DS. It utilizes the touch screen, the dual screens, and the other aspects of the hardware to create a fantastic title to showcase the system. There’s some stunning art direction and an engaging plot to back the nifty gameplay tricks, too. If you haven’t played Dusk yet, I heartily suggest you do so.
Chrono Trigger (Square-Enix/TOSE)
This is sort of a cheat, since it’s merely an enhanced port of the Super NES classic, but I would argue it’s the definitive version of the game. The Super NES original is minimally altered, with the extra dungeons and monster training modes completely ignorable for purists. The PS1 anime clips are here, and there’s a huge Treasure Room with art, music, movies and more to unlock. It’s a great way of experiencing this gem of a RPG.
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies (Nintendo/Square-Enix/Level-5)
The finest game in the long lineage of Dragon Quest must be tried. Keeping a lot of the franchise’s traditions intact while updating key aspects that make the whole thing feel fresh, DQIX is the premiere DS exclusive RPG and is well worth digging into. I’ve had so much fun with my party here, and I think Grace would back me up on how awesome it is.
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney…and the Phoenix Wright series (Capcom)
I still can’t break up the Ace Attorney games! If any one new franchise excelled on the DS, it’s these four games (I’m excluding Miles Edgeworth’s Investigations spin-off, as it’s a bit different). Combining exquisite character design with a compelling storyline, Ace Attorney maintains its excellence all the way through, with Apollo topping off the whole saga beautifully. A creative and unique gaming thrill.
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (Square-Enix/Arte Piazza)
Unlike Chrono Trigger, which saw little to no change to its spritework and music, Square-Enix’s Dragon Quest remakes revitalized the art and music, as well as bringing two chapters to American shores for the first time. DQV has one of the greatest RPG setups in history, with three generations of your hero working together throughout the fascinating plot to save the world, and its monster-gathering mechanic adds a lot to the overall joy. I need to finish this (I’m so close!), but I implore you to hunt this down if you like Dragon Quest. It’s the best of the first six, I’d say.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Konami)
The three CV DS titles are going to be debated over what order to put them in. Some love Dawn of Sorrow (I would, too, if those stupid touch screen elements were not in the game), but I found my playtime with Shanoa to be the funnest of the bunch. It’s a tough little game (in a good way), Shanoa combines elements from Alucard, Charlotte and Soma Cruz (Symphony of the Night/Portrait of Ruin/Aria of Sorrow) beautifully, and the boss battles were epic and incredible to fight. As for which one is best, it’s really a matter of preference, but Ecclesia is my choice.
Monster Tale (Majesco/Dreamrift)
This joyful blending of action, exploration and monster developing came very close to toppling Konami’s DS Castlevania efforts, but it has a couple of design flubs that prevent it from claiming the open-ended action genre prize on the handheld. The lack of warp points, overdoing the backtracking and the need to constantly reactivate switches to progress in said backtracking mar an otherwise wonderful effort. Great music, responsive controls and challenging boss fights combine for a glorious game. I’m quite excited for Epic Mickey’s 3DS outing due to how great this turned out.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Konami)
Now, let’s return our focus on that preferential question with the DS ‘Vanias with Portrait of Ruin. It has the best music and freshest ideas of the three games, and the dual protagonist concept, while underused, is wonderfully implemented. The game suffers a touch from some poor design choices and goofy puzzles, but on the whole gameplay goodness wins out. Don’t miss the anime character stylings, though.
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen (Square-Enix/Arte Piazza)
Yes, the DS made me love Dragon Quest. :p There’s three separate titles from the franchise on my list. I wouldn’t put them all here if I didn’t think they didn’t deserve it, though, and luckily, DQIV’s multiple storylines that eventually unite make for a gripping reason to dig deeper. The overall gameplay is solid, and while it’s the weakest of the three DS DQ RPG’s that I’ve played, it’s still leagues above a lot of other games.
N+ (Atari/Silverbirch Studios/Metanet Software)
The sequel to the freeware N properly uses both screens to aid the player in their platforming decisions, and is full of punishing yet incredible gameplay bliss. I adore N+, and consider it the best platformer on the handheld without question.
Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals (Natsume/Square-Enix/Neverland)
Lufia is another remake, this time of the Super NES Lufia II, but the DS rev molds the game into more of an action-y affair with RPG stats powering the heroes and heroines. Six characters you can flip between on the fly, mind-bending puzzles and some of the most impressive graphics the handheld had seen makes for a fabulous time. If only it didn’t pad the game with a couple of dumb minigames and a constant need to revisit places you’ve already been to.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Nintendo/Level-5)
Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime (Square-Enix/TOSE)
Mario Kart DS (Nintendo)
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth (Capcom)