The Nintendo DS is one of the most beloved systems of all time. With other 150 million units sold, it also stands as one of the bestselling. With so many people having been introduced to gaming through the DS, it certainly holds a special place in the hearts of millions. And it’s easy to see why. Its innovative dual-screen setup (one of which was a touch screen), its family-friendly branding, and affordable price point all made it an instant success when it launched in 2004.
But what made the DS really stand out were all the incredible games that were released for the system over the course of nearly a decade. Animal Crossing: Wild World, Brain Age, New Super Mario Bros, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Mario Kart DS, The World Ends With You, Pokemon: Diamond, Pearl, Black and White – there were just so many great games that DS players were fortunate enough to have access to.
However, as with every gaming console, sometimes you need to dig a little deeper to find the hidden gems in its games library. The Nintendo DS is no different, and while all the games mentioned before are undeniable classics, there are also dozens of underrated games out there that are worth checking out if you really want to grasp everything that this wonder system had to offer.
Here are the top 10 underrated Nintendo DS games that are still absolutely worth playing today!
10. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
The first game we are looking at is from a series you would hardly call “underrated”. Nevertheless, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia often gets overlooked when discussing the best games in the Castlevania series. And it really shouldn’t because Order of Ecclesia is a really strong metroidvania that fits in really nicely with the other games Koji Igarashi was making around this time. Shanoa made for an interesting protagonist, the Glyph-based magic system was fun to experiment with, and the brooding atmosphere was as wonderfully gothic as ever. If you are a fan of the Castlevania series and you haven’t yet played Order of Ecclesia, then you really must track this gem down.
9. Diner Dash
Diner Dash was a bit of a sleeper hit when it was released on PCs in 2003, but fans of this cutesy restaurant simulation game shouldn’t give the DS port a miss. The same frantic waitress action that the series is known for is still front and center in the DS game, as your guide Flow around a restaurant – seating customers at their tables and bringing them their meals. It’s an addicting experience that works for both casual and hardcore gamers alike. Don’t dash away from this underrated Nintendo DS game.
8. Contra 4
Here we have another iconic Konami franchise that received a surprisingly great new entry for the Nintendo DS that not a lot of people talk about anymore. The main difference is that, unlike Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, Contra 4 was released almost 15 years after the last mainline entry in its series. Despite this long wait, when Contra 4 was finally released in 2007, it was well worth the wait. Fans of the series finally had all the great run and gun action that they were used to, only now, the gameplay was cleverly split between both of the DS’ screens, making for a high adrenaline experience that could only ever work on this system.
7. Lunar Knights
Lunar Knights is an exceptionally fun action role-playing game from Konami that not enough people talk about these days. The game cleverly uses different weather elements in its gameplay mechanics, making for a unique and innovative take on the action RPG genre that more people should definitely check out. Even if Lunar Knights is far from the most famous thing to come out of Kojima Productions, its likable character, gorgeous fantasy setting, and novel gameplay concepts mean that it is still flowing with all the Kojima eccentricities that we know and love.
6. Super Princess Peach
How on earth, we hear you ask, could a game in the Mario series – arguably the most iconic video game franchise in the world – make it onto a list of underrated DS games? Well, that’s because Super Princess Peach is a particular spinoff of this world-renowned franchise that nobody talks about anymore. And that’s a crying shame (emphasis on the crying) as Super Princess Peach is a fascinating little platformer that finally puts the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom in the role of the hero. The cutesy pixel-art graphics still look sharp today, and the different “emotion” abilities afford this game its own gameplay identity – even if they aren’t always the most politically correct.
5. Aliens Infestation
Aliens Infestation is one of the most unique metroidvanias, not just for the Nintendo DS but for the entire genre. Set in the iconic sci-fi horror series Alien, this game sees you take control of a space marine tasked with taking down a Xenomorph. The catch? If you die, you take control of one of the other space marines in your team. If you all die, you lose the game. This permadeath feature may not be for the faint of heart, but you cannot deny that it adds a whole extra layer of tension to this already suspenseful action game.
4. Rune Factory 3
If we are talking about underrated games, then the entire Rune Factory series could be considered a strong contender. However, if we only had to choose one game from this fantasy simulation/role-playing series, then it would have to be Rune Factory 3 for the Nintendo DS. The third game in the series built upon the strong foundations laid by the first two games. With an improved combat system, better AI, a multiplayer mode, and more memorable relationships to be formed, Rune Factory 3 stands as one of the most heartfelt experiences on the DS.
3. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is the first game in the Zero Escape series and is a visual novel and adventure game that will stay with you for some time. While those types of games were commonplace on the system, 999 stands out with its gripping concept, memorable characters, and stylish presentation. In this game, you play one of nine people who have been abducted onto a sinking cruise ship and who must work their way through high-stake situations in order to survive. If you don’t like reading a lot of text and solving puzzles, then this may not be the game for you. However, if you like thrilling stories mixed in with entertaining and thought-provoking gameplay sections, then jump onto 999.
2. Trauma Centre: Under the Knife
Trauma Centre: Under the Knife is unlike any game you would have played before. The game is a surgical simulation game that uses the DS’ touch screen to cleverly emulate the act of performing medical procedures on patients. While this is interesting in its own right, what really makes Trauma Centre stand out is how it marries together this unique gameplay with a surprisingly complex narrative, complete with cute anime doctors and surgeons who you will grow to love by the end the game. Trauma Centre also represents the kind of strange oddity that the DS seemed to welcome with open arms. It’s the kind of game that could only ever really work on the DS (although there is also a really good Wii remake as well), and we are so glad that the executives at Atlus greenlit this strange little title about anime doctors performing surgery.
1. Radiant Historia
Out of all the games mentioned on this list so far, Radiant Historia may be considered the most criminally underrated. In the sense that it is an actual legit crime against all that is good in gaming that this truly special thought-provoking time traveling JRPG isn’t discussed more as one of the true greats of its genre. Because Radiant Historia is exactly that: the kind of game that you get once in a generation that leaves a deep imprint on the hearts of all who have played it. Comparing it to the legendary Chrono Trigger is appropriate not just because of the obvious time-traveling connection. Just like the iconic SNES JRPG, Radiant Historia mesmerizes with its fully-fleshed-out characters, unforgettable setting, and emotional use of time traveling as both a gameplay and story element that will make you question your choices at every step of the journey. Radiant Historia shouldn’t be lost to time and stands as one of the most underrated Nintendo DS games that have ever been made.
There are far more underrated games for the Nintendo DS than just the 10 that have been mentioned in this article. Still, we hope that you have discovered a hidden gem amongst this list that maybe wasn’t on your radar before, as all of them deserve greater attention and recognition for their own special place in the DS’ storied history.