What are the best Nintendo DS games to own forever?

June 25, 2012

The Best to Own Forever series isn’t about what’s great right now. It’s about what will be great in 10 years, even though there will be better-looking games and later sequels, and what will keep you pulling that dusty old console out of the closet every once in a while. In this installment, we look at the Nintendo DS.

Meteos is a one-of-a-kind puzzler that fully utilizes the DS’ touch screen in a fantastic way. This alone should make it a must own, but that’s only scratching the surface. The visuals, fast-paced puzzles and multiplayer modes all add a lot to a puzzle game that is, on the surface, fairly simplistic. It’s the perfect example of taking a basic concept and adding to it to make it seem more complex than it actually is and, as a result, Meteos is one of the most addictive puzzlers to come out in quite some time. If you’re a fan of puzzle games and you don’t have this in your DS collection, then you need to fix that immediately. – Andrew Passafiume

One of the trickiest aspects of designing for the DS is deciding how to best split the game between the upper and lower screens. Many titles simply use one or the other for a map or other info dump, while others use the touch screen as a pseudo analog stick or for customized interface buttons; either way, the actual action is basically limited to one screen or the other. And that’s fine: that’s what just about every other system has to do, after all, so we’re used to it. But then there’s The World Ends With You, which forces you to keep track of both screens at once while simultaneously using the stylus (or occasionally microphone) and D-pad to input commands for them. Nothing else on the DS is quite like it, and the fact that it came from Square Enix, a company not generally lauded for its gameplay innovation, was even more surprising. TWEWY stands out among a ridiculously-deep field of DS JRPGs by sheer distinctiveness, but the high-quality story, characters, visuals and sound don’t hurt either. I consider it to be the DS’ “total package,” realizing all the potential of this oddball little handheld that has come to dominate the world. – Chris Ingersoll

There were three Castlevania titles released for the DS, but the first, Dawn of Sorrow, stands the test of time the best. It’s a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow on the GBA (which is also the series’ best on that system) and holds true to many of the concepts that made that game so great to begin with. The design of the areas and return of many of the series’ iconic areas doesn’t hurt either. While both Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia are fine games, there hasn’t been a 2D Castlevania game quite like Dawn of Sorrow since its release. If you need to pick just one of them, this would be the clear winner. – Andrew Passafiume

Chris talked about The World Ends With You, which is the best truly DS RPG. Radiant Historia, on the other hand, may be the best RPG that just happens to be on the DS. It gets comparisons to Chrono Trigger, some of which are unfair, but others warranted, and not just because of the time-jumping mechanics. The game holds up to multiple playthroughs because of its branching tale, and the combat is charming and interesting enough to not zone out through. It doesn’t do anything that really makes it special on the DS, but it doesn’t need to: it’s a magnificently-crafted tale wherever you can get it.  – Graham Russell

Hotel Dusk was the second game released by the now-defunct Cing. Thanks to playing Trace Memory (or Another Code: Two Memories for our European readers out there), I was interested to play this back when it was first released. Whether the idea of an interactive novel stayed with you, it ran with the idea and executed it beautifully. Holding it like a book was definitely a great start (and a nice touch), but the gameplay was reminiscent of old-school adventure game, which really made it stand out. The characters themselves were engaging, the storyline was immersive, and the puzzles were just the right difficulty and fit the setting of the hotel extremely well. Years from now, you’ll find yourself wanting to return to Hotel Dusk if you’ve played it before, but it’s still worth a visit now if you haven’t given it the chance. – Eric Albuen

The rhythm game genre doesn’t normally see a lot of action on handhelds, especially during the era of plastic instrument peripherals that we just went through (which even managed to find the DS with Guitar Hero: On Tour). Fortunately, iNiS realized that the touch screen itself is perfect for tapping (and dragging and spinning) along to beats, and thus the Elite Beat Agents (and their Japanese predecessors, via Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! and its sequel) were unleashed to provide inspirational motivation to people desperately in need of it. EBA features a song selection just as eclectic as its oddball storyline, and if you play it long enough you’ll never be able to hear some of these songs again without thinking about the game. And you will play it long enough, as the gameplay is quick, addictive, and entertaining, plus it has four different unlockable difficulty settings to keep testing your skills. Just do yourself a favor and never fail “You’re the Inspiration”. Trust me on this. – Chris Ingersoll

The original Advance Wars brought strategy gaming to the masses, with its simple-but-deep mechanics and oddly-comforting aesthetic. Dual Strike is the pinnacle of that concept (since the series took a turn with the only release since, the darkly-themed Days of Ruin). It has all the fun and characters and maps of the GBA games, some gimmicky dual-screen mechanics that don’t get in the way more than you want them to, and a delightfully time-sucking CO upgrade system. – Graham Russell

Ghost Trick wasn’t something I expected much out of when I first heard about it. I worried it would be bogged down by gimmicky stylus controls. Happily, this worry was completely unfounded. The gameplay and controls work in tandem to make the puzzles engrossing but not too complicated, even when time is running low. Add a great story with a bunch of interesting characters with interwoven plots and you’ve got an instant classic. Oh yeah, and it has the best video game dog ever, so how could you ever say no to it? – Shawn Vermette

Combining adventure elements reminiscent of the Game Boy installments of Zelda with a collect-and-battle tank element and horrible slime puns? Yeah, I’m on board. There’s something satisfying about stretching your slime and running into enemies and items to pick them up and carry them on your head. When you’re done saving villagers and solving simple puzzles, the fun turns into gathering great ammunition for tank parts and launching them at enemies. Oh, and finding good teammates for the tank battles… and heck, launching them at enemies too. There’s very little that’s frustrating in Rocket Slime (at least until the post-story fights), and that’s great, because not all games need to be. – Graham Russell

Connecting with one another and having good times with friends has always been a thing the DS strived for. Unfortunately for some games, in order to enjoy the good times together, it required each DS user to have their own copy of the game, and even then they’d be limited in what they could play with others. Very rarely can we praise a game for embracing the whole multiplayer aspect to the fullest and with only one cartridge to boot. I found this with Clubhouse Games. The game contains a variety of card, board, and parlor games that most audiences would be more or less familiar with. As long as someone has this game, we can play a round of Dots and Boxes to reminisce on our games in high school, maybe play Spit because we’re too lazy to find a box of cards or even attempt to learn Shogi or Koi Koi if we really wanted to. Despite its 2006 release date, I’ve found myself dipping back into this game with friends for the last six years. Clubhouse Games, for me, has withstood the test of time easily since it contains games that have survived the test of time longer than most games on this list. It packages timeless classics all into one cartridge. – Eric Albuen

I hope you like reading, because while 999 features several “escape the room” style puzzles, the bulk of the content here is a visual novel of the highest caliber. This game will make you think, will make you care about the characters, and will constantly keep you guessing until you’ve finally forged the correct paths through it. Yes, “paths:” you can’t complete 999 until you’ve played it at least twice, and there are several (literal) dead ends you might find instead. Not that multiple playthroughs will be a problem; although having to repeat puzzles can be a chore (most of them can’t be short-cutted even if you already know the solution), the game lets you fast-forward through any block of text that you’ve already seen as long as it hasn’t changed in any way, and keeps track of choices you’ve already made by greying them out. This might be a tricky game to find, but if you like what you see here be sure to keep an eye out for its sequel (Virtue’s Last Reward) coming to the 3DS and PS Vita later this year. – Chris Ingersoll

Well-made RPGs tend to hold up very well over time, and this game was made as well as any other on the DS. It has a great, funny story backed up with great mechanics that make good use from the touch controls. And of course, any game where Bowser is a principle playable character for any length of time tends to be great. With Paper Mario making the jump to handhelds, the future of this series is unknown. If it does disappear though, at least it went out on a high note. – Shawn Vermette