The Nintendo DS has a lot of games. How many games, you ask? A fair bit over two thousand, that’s how many. We still have an absolute wealth of titles in our DS library. Wealth enough to worry over which games to play!
Narrowing down the top 10 best Nintendo DS games is an ordeal, to say the least. Hundreds of contenders exist, and at least several dozen of those are genuinely fantastic. But even among gemstones, diamonds shine the brightest. Let’s find those diamonds!
Mario Kart DS
Surely, you’ve heard of Mario Kart? Even on Switch, Nintendo’s highly successful current console, nothing compares to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in sales. But while you can go out and buy a Switch right now with ease, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to check out the classic Mario Kart games for portable consoles. None of those portable titles hold a candle to Mario Kart DS, a game that revolutionized how players looked at their dual-screen handhelds back in 2005.
What makes Mario Kart DS so special? It was the first game in the time-tested series to utilize online play! That’s right, before the DS came along there was no way for Kart fans to hit the tracks together except locally. We still have fond memories of realizing the potential for signing into our Nintendo IDs and racing players across the world. Of course, nowadays this is hardly out of the ordinary. Every Mario Kart game since DS has included online play. But isn’t there something to be said for sitting down with a friend, or even going head-to-head against AI opponents? That’s the core of the Kart experience. So let’s join together and enjoy those old times with one of the best Nintendo DS games.
JRPG diehards may be wondering, “why play Chrono Trigger on Nintendo DS when you can just play it on SNES instead?” Indeed, this epic 1995 Squaresoft classic was originally released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. And it remains perfectly playable there to this day, a gem of a game with such brilliant pacing and charming characters that role-playing enthusiasts still pop the cartridge into their aging Nintendo hardware year after year.
So why bother with the 2008 DS port of Chrono Trigger? Two words: extra content. That’s right, this version has more stuff in it! And who doesn’t want to spend more time in the gorgeous fantasy world designed by legendary Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama? In Chrono Trigger DS, an additional dungeon tests your skills to their very limit. Even better, there’s a new boss battle against a certain foe that ties the enigmatic character Magus to the PlayStation sequel, Chrono Cross.
We may never get a third Chrono game despite the popularity of the brand, so return to the Kingdom of Guardia and relive the magic today!
Mega Man ZX Advent
Among platforming icons, Mega Man stands tall alongside giants like Mario and Sonic. Everybody knows the Blue Bomber, but did you know his games have never sold nearly as many copies as his contemporaries? Which isn’t to say the Mega Man franchise isn’t successful! Capcom’s beloved robot boy has made the company billions over the decades, but he’s always existed in the financial shadow of his plumber-and-hedgehog brethren. There are certain Mega Man gems that go almost entirely overlooked, then, including ZX Advent.
In ZX Advent, a Nintendo DS exclusive that unique characters dive into a futuristic world far beyond what you might recognize from the classic adventures of Mega Man and his robo-dog, Rush. To be sure, you may wish to play Mega Man ZX — the first game in this duology — beforehand in order to familiarize yourself with the setting. But once you’ve reached Advent, you’ll see exactly why it’s one of the t0 best Nintendo DS games. It takes everything we love from the series and pumps it to 11, with fast-paced fights and nail-bitingly difficult platforming. Give it a try!
Digimon World DS
Speaking of existing in the shadows of bigger names, here’s Digimon! In the West, we’ve often mistaken this great franchise as a slightly more digitized riff on a certain hugely popular creature-catching series you’re sure to see before this list is over. In truth, Digimon and Pokemon are two entirely separate beasts, and Digimon World DS is one of the best games in the bunch.
In Digimon World DS, your goal is to find lots of “rookie Digimon” and evolve them to their ultimate forms. But if that sounds familiar, here’s the twist — you don’t simply level them up like you do with Pokemon. Oh no, not at all. You’ve got to find creative ways to get your pals pumped during training, and that includes fighting other Digimon but it also means finding secret items and treating your friends with respect. There’s lots to love in Digimon World DS, so grab a seat and get Digivolving!
Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia
Maybe this isn’t the Pokemon game you expected to see on our list of the 10 best Nintendo DS games! Fret not, you’ll see something more “mainstream” before we’re finished. So what’s Pokemon Ranger? It’s a fantastic sub-series of games that are less about gathering badges and becoming a Champion, and more about saving the world through adventures with your Pokemon buddies. Yep, the Pokemon Ranger games tell more epic plots about the titular Rangers, environmentalist trainers who strive to defend peace against evil-doers.
The games play out more like traditional RPGs in this regard, but what makes them special — and Shadows of Almia is the best of all! — is the unique manner of monster-capturing. You circle critters with your Nintendo DS stylus in a bid to acquire them, and then rely upon their special abilities to capture more. Combined with majestic worlds ripe for exploration, Shadows of Almia makes a real case as one of the best Pokemon games some folks have never even heard of.
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Did you know that Final Fantasy XII received a sequel on Nintendo DS? The adventures of sky pirates Balthier and Vaan continue with this surprisingly good spinoff that runs less like a turn-based JRPG and more like a WRPG-inspired real-time strategy game. You’ll deploy iconic Final Fantasy monsters and even summons into big battles against vicious foes as Vaan and his partner, Penelo, explore a mysterious archipelago that floats in the clouds above FFXII’s storied locales.
The plot is solid, but the best reason to play Revenant Wings is the gameplay. Gathering friends to take down tyrants is genuinely engaging and some missions are hard enough to give you an intense sense of satisfaction at the end. Plus, you get to see how your pals from the previous game are doing, including Princess Ashe and her loyal bodyguard, Basch!
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
There’s a decent chance you’ve heard of Fire Emblem, but have you heard ofthis one? Advance Wars is from the same developer, Intelligent Systems, and while it might be a little unfair to say it’s “Fire Emblem with tanks,” that’s more or less how fans tend to introduce the uninitiated. You’ll recognize some classic anime tropes in the gripping story of Dual Strike, which is easily the franchise’s high point. The basic flow of combat is also similar to the sword-wielding antics of Marth and his friends, but the setting is more modern (and even a little sci-fi!).
If you’re looking for a superb Nintendo DS game that will suck you in and demand your very best, look no further. Advance Wars: Dual Strike requires keen strategizing and a will to win.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
It would be an easy matter to dismiss Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars as “some mediocre spinoff” from the mega-popular home console entries. To do so would be a colossal mistake, as Chinatown Wars takes full advantage of the unique features of the Nintendo DS to deliver quite possibly the most underrated entry in the series.
The smaller scope of the game means you’ll become very familiar, very fast, with the Chinatown setting. But make no mistake, you’ll be stealing gorgeous cars and evading cops in just as high-octane and riveting gameplay as any of the more popular titles. Chinatown Wars’ best element, however, is its fantastic story. It might not get the recognition it deserves, but you can check out this forgotten tale right.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
If there’s a common theme between some of the 10 best Nintendo DS games, it’s this: many of them are lesser-known chapters in historic franchises. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is no exception. Both the DS and its GBA predecessor pumped out numerous Castlevania games, and most are set well after the memorable escapades of Simon Belmont, introducing a new cast and more RPG-like elements with sprawling “Metroidvania-like” castles and phenomenal boss monsters.
Portrait of Ruin is the cream of the crop. In today’s world, games like Hollow Knight are all the rage. Tough as nails and requiring mastery of a huge map, with tons of hidden passageways and killer weapons at your disposal, Portrait of Ruin is something of a precursor to modern hits. If your Castlevania knowledge extends to Symphony of the Night and the excellent Netflix show, do yourself a favor and brush up with this picturesque cult hit.
Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver
Ah, here we are. Handheld Nintendo’s ultimate success story rounds out the list with what might well be its high-water mark. To call HeartGold & SoulSilver simple remakes of the Game Boy Color’s Gold & Silver would be like saying the Empire State Building is a ripoff of prior skyscrapers. Truly, these remakes soar, with a veritable smorgasbord of enhancements including tougher trainers, a far stronger second half, and the (at the time) revolutionary idea to show your Pokemon buddies following you close behind wherever you go.
Add in a heaping helping of addictive minigames, a majorly improved storyline, and beautiful graphics that hold up a decade and more down the line, and HeartGold & SoulSilver are the definitive Pokemon experience. We heavily recommend trying out Black & White and Platinum alongside them, but if your time is limited, look no further.