Destroying Standards; the Nintendo DS Revolution
Join Alessandro as he takes you on a journey with his personal top 10 Nintendo DS Games.
If you read my overly written last article, you might have understandably assumed that I have a poor opinion of Nintendo. While it’s true I never owned a Nintendo home console until I was 18, I’ve had their handheld consoles since the nineties. Like everyone else in that decade, I got caught up playing Pokémon Red on the Game Boy Color. When it comes to handhelds, no one has done it better than the red brand. Though that’s not to say they didn’t have competition to contend with along the way.
When Nintendo was designing its successor to the Game Boy Advance, they had Sony breathing down their necks with their upcoming PlayStation Portable. The brand which had been kicking their arse for two home console generations was now making a move on the handheld market. While Nintendo had beaten challengers to their handheld kingdom a few times in their history, complacency had also cost them before. They had to go all out with their next handheld to keep their market share. It was at this point that the genius idea came to them; a touch screen. Hard to imagine a time when that is a mind-blowing innovation, but for Nintendo, it was the start of something huge.
The Nintendo DS was more than just a new console; it was a turning point in gaming history. To this day it is one of the best selling game consoles ever, second only to the PlayStation 2. Games never even considered before found their creation now that they had a touch screen to use for input. It also helped a lot of familiar franchises find new ways to innovate their gameplay, as they were finding their new life with all the tools the DS could offer.
To this end, I thought I’d take note of my own, personal collection of DS games which helped fuel the touch screen revolution. For each game, I would recommend you seek a DS to go get your hands on even to this day.
"When I think of the Nintendo DS, my mind will always remember how free the system was to a player like me."
Honourable Mention: Nintendogs
OK, I’m just throwing this in mostly because Jen will make me sleep on the sofa if I don’t say something. While I never played it for very long personally, I have met plenty of people (mostly women) who bought a DS with this game. To those young girls, this was their first handheld gaming experience.
There’s a quote from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell that sticks with me. To paraphrase; the sight of a modern
controller can be intimidating to people who don’t play video games. It is to them what the cockpit of a 747 is to
those who do game. Taking a game down to just the touch controls puts it in a place that is easy to understand, and easy to approach. For casual games like Nintendogs, redefining games to be understandable to that inexperienced audience helped the DS to an audience who never owned a Nintendo handheld before. The touch controls enabled a whole new generation of gamers who are still buying consoles to this day, and it
should be celebrated.
10. Mario Kart DS
As a kid who never grew up with an attachment to Nintendo, I had never played any iteration of Mario Kart
before this one. If I was at a friend’s house and wanted to play Mario Kart I’d probably just watch rather
than get involved myself. What caught my attention with this one though was an incredible ability that
the DS offered for multiplayer games; DS Download Play. Mario Kart DS allowed you to use the local wireless
connection to play a race with friends, even if they didn’t own the cartridge as well. The DS had their back.
Getting an 8-player game going with strangers became an amazing bonding experience. Not having a cartridge locked you to just using Shy Guy with no kart options, but you were racing alongside them all the same. I ended up buying the game just so I could get a better selection of racers for when games happened in the future. It was features like this that made bringing your DS to a party the best way to find your group in the crowd.
9. Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?
There were a solid 6 months where this game became such an obsession in my world. My friends and I would be challenging each other on who could set the lowest brain age score. None of us 20-year-olds having quite enough intelligence between us to think our way out of a box, yet feeling smart for this game’s logic processing skills.
Dr. Kawashima brought the excitement of processing puzzles into our hands with such a simple set of challenges. It brought a promise of science to those who wanted something fun, with many middle-aged gamers liking the challenge to beat the clock with the power of their brains. So, I’m basically just adding this game to my list as it was the one which made my 50-year-old mum want a DS of her own.
8. Professor Layton and the Curious Village
I’ll admit this is a series I find hard to take seriously. Ever since seeing the South Park episode with the Hardly Boys, I can’t think of this series without Making a comparison. All the times when the Professor and his sidekick Luke see or hear some innocuous subject, and suddenly get ‘a raging puzzle’ that they need to solve immediately. Parking that image to one side with how contrived the puzzles are sometimes, what you do have left is still something worth celebrating.
The Professor Layton series is a cavalcade of the same brain-stretching powers that our last entry helped us train. From logic puzzles to skill challenges, no Professor Layton game has ever felt too short. You’ll always find plenty of puzzles to be mastered around every nook and cranny. All wrapped around a simmering plot that will keep you plugging away just to solve the greatest mystery the game can provide. Whether it’s this or any of its sequels, it did help build the DS into a one-stop shop for putting brain over brawn.
7. The World Ends With You
For all the dislike I have for Tetsuya Nomura and what he’s tried to do to Final Fantasy, this game is the only
good thing he’s ever produced. The man’s obsession with teenage emo attitude is perfectly suited for this
game’s world of punk rock, death trials, and fashion. The World Ends With You was a real shot in the arm
in an era when the J-RPG were becoming maligned. With the PS3 being hard to program for, and the Wii
being gimmicky, the DS became a saving bastion in protecting the genre through the times.
Being able to do so with a unique battle system that almost doesn’t work on any other format than this one.
Two screens showing two different battle systems for you to control completely serves the games loud,
confident nature. If you pick this game up through the Switch port, you do sadly lose something from the
original as they’ve had to make the experience work on a single screen. TWEWY was an experience which was
unique to this system. An experience that isn’t replicated on anything easily available.
6. Another Code: Two Memories
Between this game and its stronger successor Hotel Dusk: Room 215 from the same developer Cing, it’s the first game I keep coming back to when I think of my most influential DS games. When puzzle adventure games were winding down from their nineties high, the DS became a great last haven of innovation for the genre. With the smaller programming power of the console, it enabled companies to make the kind of games we laud the indie market for creating today.
Another Code: Two Memories serves as one of the best demos for the DS by introducing you to multiple features you might take for granted on the system; the abilities of the touch screen, its built-in microphone, and
the two screens offering you different images. I even remember a puzzle that was solved by tilting the screens together until you could see the top screen reflect onto the bottom screen to complete the image. Thinking outside the box to get you using your DS in ways you might have not expected if you were used to earlier Nintendo handhelds.
Pour one out for the lads at Cing. They did not survive the shelf life of the DS, but they definitely helped keep the shelf propped up.
5. Trauma Center: Under the Knife
Have you ever wanted to get into one of those debates like you see on those American, right-wing news debates where they are talking about violent video games? They complain about the cop killing in GTA, and ask “where’s the video games where you play a doctor, or a lawyer?” What I wouldn’t give to smack my DS down on their desk and say “why don’t you try doctor game! It’s amazing, you ignorant clowns.” (And don’t worry, we’ll get back to the lawyer game later).
Trauma Center is a sadly lost gaming franchise which we are all lesser for no longer having. It abandons the silliness of other surgeon simulators, and offers the chance to be the life-saving doctor with a plot which puts real weight on your skills. People’s lives are in your skilled, careful hands, and your touch screen will test how tidy you’re being with your stitching. The stress makes the reward of a healed patient more worth come the end of the level, as you tell the story of a surgeon’s battle against a deadly virus which can only be removed by going under the titular knife.
4. Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver
After what was a personal falling-off point in Pokémon fandom during the GBA days, the DS did everything right that brought me back around with games like HeartGold & SoulSilver. The endless amount of touchscreen features were a start, but the 4th gen games made use of every feature the DS offered. The wireless connection
made trading or battling with friends effortless. The time systems would heavily change certain Pokémon depending on when you’re playing. Using Wi-Fi to do online trades made completing the Pokédex effortless.
Why I put HeartGold & SoulSilver over other DS Pokémon games is how this title brought you closer to the Pokémon than any game that’s come before, or since. Set aside the Pokéwalker that was rattling in my pocket well into my working days, having your Pokémon visibly follow you on the screen made it feel more personal. Their reimagining of the second generation with all the fourth generation tech made this game one I had the most excitement revisiting whenever I have a need to replay a Pokémon game.
3. Jump Ultimate Stars
It definitely baffles me how this remained a Japanese-only game series until some of the much later, and much worse entries. A game which can legitimately be called “the Super Smash Bros of anime” would still have been
as much a big deal back in the DS days. Featuring such heavy hitters of the time like Dragon Ball, Naruto, One Piece, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Bleach, even series like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure which would ramp up in popularity as the 00s gave way to the 10s.
Serving as solid proof you could easily do fighting games on a handheld system; Jump Ultimate Stars was an awesome experience. Even allowing for the translation guide I kept saved to my iPod Touch to use as reference.
It controls with all the snappy excitement you’d expect of a fighting game today, with exciting super moves to highlight each character’s speciality. The touch screen serving as your character switcher mid-battle still put
the DS features on full display, though switching from buttons to touch screen did leave each session with fingerprints to wipe off the lower screen.
2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Now I know it’s unfair to include this one as it’s technically a GBA port, but owing to not being Japanese I feel very comfortable counting this in my list of games which helped define the DS generation. Besides, I doubt this game would have been as popular even if it was translated back in 2001. The Ace Attorney DS remakes came at exactly the right time to an audience who wasn’t picking up their DS to play platformers or racing games.
Phoenix Wright and his courtroom antics opened the gaming world to the joys of the visual novel, delivering an exciting story to read as you solve each case. While the touch screen wasn’t put to its best most of the time, the brand new fifth case added does take the time to lay the groundwork for future additions of how the touch screen can be added to the investigation suite once DS-specific entries started to release.
Also, check out Ghost Trick as another game from the same creator that sadly was bumped from the list.
1. Osu! Tatake! Ouendan!
Sometimes, I feel like I fever-dreamed this game into existence. This bizarre, high-energy rhythm game offered such satisfaction to play. There have been very few rhythm games that could offer this level of enjoyable challenge to a player at the harder difficulties, while also making the story of the game fun to experience. If we consider the guitar sims as their own side of the rhythm genre, then I would call Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! the peak of gameplay-based rhythm games. The song flows perfectly through the taps of the touch screen, trying to anticipate where the notes will land based on the key beats of the song.
While its English counterpart Elite Beat Agents does make some of the song choices very clear to the comedic stories they tell (the man fighting back a zombie apocalypse with a can of nuts, set to Destiny Child’s Survivor definitely comes to mind), the game’s vibe as a group of dancing agents saving people does seem a bit contrived. The simpleness of a traveling group of ōendan, a traditional Japanese male cheer squad, just adds to the comedic brilliance of the game.
Thankfully, this does plug into one of the greatest features of the DS; no region locking. Especially to a European who had seen far too many games be denied to my shores, being able to import games like Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! to players all over the world was a wonderful feeling. When I think of the Nintendo DS, my mind will always remember how free the system was to a player like me. No limits, no hassle, just the joy of video games.
And that’s my list. Got any games you feel also helped the DS stand out from the crowd? Or want to share your opinion on any of the games mentioned. Feel free to comment below and share them with the QTB community.
About the author:
Alessandro is a lifelong video game fan from Glasgow, Scotland. He is the host of the Starter Quest podcast, where they look at classic video games through the eyes of a noob. He talks his partner Jen through the classics of gaming, to see how they hold up to fresh eyes and beginner's thumbs. Available over at https://starterquest.com