Top Ten Essential DS Games

Finally, I get to talk about the best of the best!  I’ve eagerly been waiting to sit down and ruminate about all the great games on the DS!  However, a slight feeling of dread has also been churning in the pit of my ulcer-filled gut.  How in the hell I am going to do the DS library justice?  It’s a daunting task for one who’s so intimately attached to the system and all its exemplary games.

Ready for Round Two?

I can honestly say that the DS is one of my favorite systems of all time.  I sometimes seriously debate whether I like it more than the SNES.  I know: It sounds ridiculous, but what the DS has to offer is really outstanding.  And I’m not even talking about the innovation it brought to the gaming scene.  I genuinely think that the DS has a plethora of amazing titles.  So much so that it was impossible for me to make a Top Ten Best Of list. This got me thinking: What constitutes a great game?  What elevates a game above the rest?  I struggled for some time before it hit me: Replayability!

All lists are going to be subjective; that’s the nature of lists.  Once I embraced that concept, I decided that replayability would be the deciding factor for what titles would be on my Top Ten DS Games list.  Yet this ultimately didn’t satisfy me.  There are a ton of great titles for the system that don’t have great replay value to me, but they still captured my imagination and/or gave me great, unforgettable experiences.  Take RPGs for example.  I love me a good RPG, but I tend to never play through them multiple times. Once I hit college, RPGs became a one-way trip for me.  This wasn’t the case when I was younger.  I used to blaze through Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, FFII, and FFIII several times a year.

I liked them before they went mainstream and their game started going for $300.

Therefore, I decided to make two Top Ten Best Of lists!  One will be for the DS games I love and love to replay, and the other will be for the equally amazing games that were a hell of a lot of fun but didn’t have the same replay value for me.  These lower-replay-value games I have deemed Essential Games that everyone should play through from start to finish.  Because these games are freaking awesome!

Here’s the rules:  I had to have owned the games, and the games must be some of the best the system has to offer!  The following may not be my official Top Ten DS Games, but they’re pretty damn close and deserve your attention.

Without further adieu, here are my Top Ten Essential DS Games!

Warning: Some of the entries contain spoilers, but I do my best to avoid them.

10. Ace Attorney Series

What can I say?  Everyone and their fat, ugly mamas love them some Phoenix Wright.  The writing is good, the game is funny and ridiculous, and the characters are memorable, likeable, and sometimes hate-able (and sometimes all three).  These aspects are what save the game from an otherwise completely boring premise: You’re a lawyer who must defend his clients.  When I read about Phoenix Wright years ago, I thought the idea was ludicrous.  Of course I played it, though.  I had to see how dumb it was.  To my chagrin, the game kicked ass!

Aw, maaaaaaan.  The game’s good.

It’s really no wonder why the game’s so sweet.  It has the Rocky effect.  Wright goes into each case with all odds against him and nothing to back him up except raw talent, tenacity, and a few good friends.  How could you not like the guy!?  My favorite part about the Phoenix Wright games is the rush you get when you start poking holes in someone’s story.  You guys who’ve played the game know what I’m talking about!  It’s the moment while questioning a witness when you find some kind of fallacy or continuity problem in their testimony.  The moment when Wright gets to scream “Hold it!” or “Take that!” or the exceptionally meme-able “Objection!”  These are the moments I played the game for!  I don’t care about the well-drawn characters or goofy plots.  When you yell “Hold it!” and that music changes, my adrenaline starts pumping!

Ah, shit’s goin’ down, now!

I’m not even joking.  When that music changes and I hear the very satisfying slashing sound the game makes upon catching someone in a lie (that sound is totally necessary and fantastic, by the way), I get tense and excited.  I feel like I’m ready to kill some jabroni with some logic!  I especially like how the witness looks like they got sucker punched in the gut when you call bullshit.  And, man, do I get pissed when the judge dismisses something or the prosecutor brings doubt to your story.  The “victim” will play up whatever crap the prosecutor said and give you a sly smirk.  It makes me jump off my couch and scream, “YOU SON OF BITCH!”  I freaking love it!

The Ace Attorney series is awesome.  I highly recommend it.  It’s even inspired some people to make a couple musicals and a movie.  I don’t recommend them.

9. Super Scribblenauts

It’s impossible for me to convey with words alone all the joy this game has brought to me, and most of that joy comes from reading the game’s title.  Scribblenauts II was what the game was going to be called, but it eventually got changed to the superior Super Scribblenauts, harkening back to the 16-bit days of old.  At least, that’s what it reminded me of.  Whatever the case, it definitely deserves the moniker “Super” because it’s way better than its predecessor, Regular Scribblenauts.  Super Scribblenauts added adjectives to the mix, and it greatly improved upon the hideous controls implemented by the first game by giving players control over Maxwell with the D-Pad instead of limiting movement exclusively to the stylus.  Controlling Maxwell the latter way sucked.  Holding the stylus between your thumb and your index finger or between your butt cheeks rendered the same results: Maxwell flailing around like an over-stimulated rag doll and getting dick done.

All this stuff, and the game wouldn’t let me conjure up “Butt Cheeks.”

There’s just so much to do in Super Scribblenauts, and that’s before even starting the game.  I seriously spent hours in the opening playground just bringing random things into existence when those hours should have been used to help Hollywood Video stay in business.  This game has everything: a rotten sleigh pulled by fancy werewolves, a bazooka-toting nun on a skateboard, and the cast of Mega64.  The amount of words this game can recognize is baffling.  And then all those words can be modified by adjectives, creating an insane amount of new things.   I remember a friend and I ignoring customers at Hollywood Video while we tried to crack each other up with our ridiculous creations.

My bad, HWV.

We created a game where one of us would make a violent situation and then pass it to the other to see if they could survive.  We made all kinds of stupid rules and regulations and everything.  One time I filled the screen with tiny cyborgs and androids, and that asshole used an EMP and cleared them all out in a second.  We totally went berserk it was so cool.

I did actually end up playing the story mode.  It revolved around doing what the game asked by conjuring stuff.  It was pretty fun, especially when you had to find three completely different ways to solve the same puzzle.  It really got your brain going on some of those later levels.

So the game’s fun when you’ve dicking around, and the game’s fun when you take it seriously.  There aren’t too many games that excel in both categories.  Super Scribblenauts is truly a game that is limited by your own imagination.  If you haven’t played this game yet, I’m sure you can go to your local Hollywood Video and pick up a… oooohhh.  Never mind.

8. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

Bowser’s Inside Story is one of those rare RPGs that I’d actually replay.  The game is so interactive and fun that it really doesn’t feel like you’re playing an RPG.  In fact, I’m pretty sure this is the only turn-based RPG my buddy THE Dustin Thomas has ever completed.  He’s not a big fan of RPGs or kissing ladies.  Anyway, you jump to avoid attacks during the enemy’s turn, you play mini-games a lot (even during your special attacks), and you can time your own attacks in order to do more damage.  Simply put, there’s no downtime in this RPG.

Lazy-ass JRPGer.

Any game that lets you control King Koopa and punch shit square in the face is worth anyone’s time.  The parts with Mario & Luigi are fun as well, but I always looked forward to controlling Bowser.  Ever since Super Mario RPG, I’ve always wanted some more time with Mario’s nemesis.  Sure, you got to be him in the Paper Mario series, but Inside Story lets you do what the King does best: summon minions, trash talk, gloat, and breath fire!  Also, punching shit is a way better defensive maneuver than jumping.  While I’m on the subject of punching, the beginning of the end credits for this game always reminded me of the ending to Rocky III.  It’s not exactly, but it’s pretty damn close, obviously making this one of the best video game ending still shots ever.

Ding, ding.

And how could one forget the epic return of Fawful?  In Superstar Saga, he won my heart with sayings like: “Ouch, Hotness!  It is the overheat!” and: “I HAVE FURY!” and my favorite: “Your lives that I spit on are now but a caricature of a cartoon drawn by a kid who is stupid!”  I’m pretty sure I pooped myself when he said that last one.  But did he top any of those in Inside Story.  Not really.  In fact, I can’t remember a single thing he said.  He was funny, and the sayings were funny, but they didn’t stick out to me. But it was good to see him back.

It has the time for appearances in Smashing Brothers!

There’s a lot to do, see, and laugh at in Inside Story.  The game is self-aware and full of in-jokes, references, and great, original, funny writing.  Bowser is the man, and this game is incredibly fun.  Play it, or I will drizzle rage dressing on you.  Rage dressing on a salad of evil!

7. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick was a game that took me awhile to get into, but when I did I was hooked.  I think what put me off about the game was how you had to be very exact in everything you did, and messing up required you to redo entire sections.  This wouldn’t be so bad except Ghost Detective requires players to watch and wait for opportunities, which translates to re-watching animations over and over again until you get it right.  For example, there are many times in the game where you need to grab onto something as it swings by, but if you miss it you have to restart and try it again.  I hate it when games waste your time, but there are check points in the levels, so it could’ve been a lot worse.

Bitching aside, I love this game!  The characters are great, the story is wacky and intriguing, the ending’s phenomenal, and the reveals and twists along the way grab your attention and keep you playing.  The ending really got to me, too.  Of course, I flexed instead of cried because I’m a man, but the fact that the game evoked my flexing-reflex is a testament to how attached I became to its characters and its story.

I should have replaced crying with flexing instead of eating years ago!

It’s no surprise to find that the same guy who wrote the script for Phoenix Wright wrote the script for this game, too.  Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot I can say about the plot without spoiling things.  You’ll just have to play the game yourself to find out.  You won’t regret it.

6. Okamiden

Okami may draw (ha!) a lot of comparisons to The Legend of Zelda series, but I actually prefer it to any of Link’s 3D outings.  I know that may sound blasphemous or like I’m trying to be controversial and get attention, but it’s the truth.  The original Okami, though a bit derivative to everyone’s favorite elf boy, did have enough going for it in order to differentiate itself as something fresh and unique, such as its beautiful art style and its cool Celestial Brush mechanic.  Naturally, Okamiden picks up where its predecessor left off, both artistically and where the plot is concerned.  It also continues the great tradition of having its characters babble like characters from Banjo Kazooie when they talk.

Remember when they were cool?

As if to reflect its format change from console to handheld, Okamiden shrinks everything down.  All of the playable characters are young children, and all the areas from the first game, though present, are broken up into tinier sections so the DS can handle them.  Thankfully, the graphics don’t really take a hit.  Compared to Okami, Okamiden is still as colorful and vibrant, though the character models do look a little blocky.

The best part about Okamiden is how smoothly the Celestial Brush mechanic moved to the DS.  It was a natural fit!  Drawing slashes on the screen and circling dead grass never felt so right! I only wish the game was more difficult.  The puzzles were easy enough, and the combat never really challenged me. But it was still a great game full of weird characters and spaceships in feudal Japan.  Wait, what?

So…many…questions…Why…rainbow…?

Yeah, I never really got the story in this franchise.  Something about gods coming to earth, but I think they really crashed and were trying to find a way to get back home?  Also, there’s time travel for some reason, and a girl and a rocket.  Whatever.  I just love going around and circling things so they bloom!  And running around at full speed, watching flowers bloom in my wake!  Also, cleansing areas so that a wave from the magic sapling makes everything bloom is freaking sweet! Wow.  Those were the gayest sentences I have ever written.

My dad’s going to be so disappointed.

I’m going to go do push ups and eat beef jerky now.  You guys should forget everything I’ve said in the past paragraph and go play Okamiden.

5. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

Stupid name, great game.  999 was the first, and last, interactive novel I’ve ever played.  I don’t know why I wanted to play it, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve never seen anything have a plot like Saw before!

I want to play a game… on the DS.  It’s lodged in your colon.

Yeah, it’s true that the game kind of rips off Saw a little.  You wake up not knowing how you got where you are, you’re life’s in danger, and you have to solve puzzles to survive.  The latter thing isn’t so much what happens in Saw, but the fact that you’re ambushed and knocked out seemingly by random by some crazy stranger in order to be in his demented game sure does sound familiar.  But, after you get past that, you’ll find 999 has so much more to offer than Saw ever did.

I absolutely do not want to give anything away about the game’s plot, but I’ll say that its ultimate ending blew my fucking mind!  This game grabbed me by the ass and flipped me upside-down.  There’s absolutely no way you see the twist in the end coming.  Sure you might figure that someone in your group might be in cahoots with Zero, the dude who kidnapped you and made you swallow a bomb, but that’s said near the beginning of the game and isn’t even that big of a reveal.  Though, the identity of Zero is surely going to kick you in the brain.  It’s very creative and very cool.

The only thing I want to say about this game is that I love how they gave it multiple endings.  I normally hate that because it’s a lame excuse to replay a game, but 999 has it to where the other endings affect the ultimate and best ending.  And how it does that is brilliant.  Honestly, I haven’t read or played anything this thought-provoking or captivating in a long, long time.  When I was playing through the final stretch of the best ending, you couldn’t have done anything to peel me away from my DS.

What?  I turned into a gorilla in a top hat?  Shush!  I’m at a good part!

The topics and subject matter present in this game are very mature, and I mean that beyond the blood, gore, and cussing.  There’s some high-level theory to peruse, and a lot of critical thinking involved.  Please, for the love of God, you have to play this game!  The sequel is coming out soon, and everyone better go out and support it!

4. Radiant Historia

Radiant Historia is a game that some unfairly compared to Chrono Trigger because both games deal with time travel.  I think that comparison is too superficial.  While RH does have you hopping back and forth on a timeline it also has you hopping between two different timelines: one where you’re a spy and the other where you’re a soldier.  Navigating between these two timelines, though easy enough thanks to a convenient flow chart-like menu, added a lot of complexity to the plot that Chrono Trigger never really had.  But, to be honest, RH‘s plot was a bit convoluted.

I played through the game when it first came out, so the plot is a little hazy to me.  I remember the timelines were completely separate from one another, but they somehow influenced each other as well.  I recall Stocke, the time-traveling protagonist, was the only one who could go from point to point on the timeline and retain all knowledge; yet, for some reason, there were parts where other characters would also retain knowledge.  For example, Gafka, the gorilla guy and therefore best character, never met Stocke in one of the timelines but trusted him because “he felt like he knew him.”  I don’t know why that happened.  I’m sure there’s a more practical reason than “magic” that I may have missed, but I doubt it.

Monkey Magic, perhaps?

The story is pretty good, though.  The reveals are pretty cool, and the characters are likeable, especially the main antagonist.  The antagonist isn’t revealed until late in the game (though you’ll guess who it is immediately upon starting), but what he does for Stocke in the game’s best ending is very moving and unexpected.  And although the game does rely on some over-used JRPG tropes (the main character being an amnesiac is the big offender) and fantasy tropes (Humans are dicks!), it does do some things story-wise that I appreciated, like your best friend doesn’t turn on you.  I’m so sick of that.

The main draw to RH is the combat.  I love it!  Basically, you have a party of three, and your enemies are on a 3×3 grid.  Your characters have special moves that push and pull enemies in the grid, and if multiple opponents occupy the same square, your attacks will hit all the enemies simultaneously.  There’s a lot of strategy involved, and it’s addictive.  I’d actually go out of my way to fight enemies in this game because I liked the combat so much.

I’ll mess up some fire chickens and dinosaurs all day!

But, despite my love for its combat, the game has some glaring issues.  There wasn’t much enemy variety, so Atlus decided to use a lot of palette swaps.  Also, you’d have to replay certain parts in the game many times to advance the plot.  Cut scenes and dialogue were able to be skipped, but you still had to traverse large, boring environments repeatedly.  Take into account that the weak enemies would attack you and waste your time, and you’d see how it could get frustrating.

So the game’s not perfect.  It’s still very fun with a pretty well-told and very creative story about time travel, magic, and politics.  This is a must-play for any RPG fan.  Just don’t go in expecting the next Chrono Trigger.

3. Professor Layton Series

The Professor Layton series is very popular and needs little introduction.  Currently, there are four localized installments in the US and five in Japan with a sixth, and final, game on the way, the latter two titles being for the 3DS.  Hershel is also teaming up with Phoenix Wright to take on a bizarre witch trail, and he’s starred in a few original movies, one of which has been released on DVD here in North America.  Level 5 has had some great success with the Professor and Luke, but what makes the series so endearing?

Answer: Grosky!  Obviously.

To put it plainly, the entire package makes Layton endearing.  Everything in it works. I love the puzzles, I love how there’s a narrative surrounding the puzzles, and I love how random people ask you to solve puzzles for no reason.  I love playing part in unraveling a mystery regardless of how implausible the mystery and its answers and reveals may be. The art style is so uniquely Layton, the animated sequences are always a treat, and the music is just so fitting as well.  The characters are odd and fun, both in personality and in appearance.  All these factors come together to make a distinctive title that’s as memorable as it is fun and exciting to play.  But the thing that makes Layton so damn great is that the stories and characters always make me feel.

Damn you, Layton, for making me feel things!

Curious Village and Last Specter had me experiencing womanly emotions a little, and Diabolical Box and Eternal Diva made me flex some.  But Unwound Future made me flex so hard my eyes were watering.  Seriously, if you play through Unwound Future and watch the ending cut scene and aren’t moved, then I don’t want to met you because you’re a robot or android or something bent on world destruction.

Even Johnny 5 got emotional sometimes.

If you haven’t experienced a Layton game yet, you really are missing out.  I suggest playing them in order, but it’s not entirely necessary.  Whatever order you decide to tackle the games, make sure you bring your thinking cap and patience.  Some of those puzzles can get pretty tough.

2. The World Ends With You

I don’t know what it is with TWEWY, but it has a HUGE following.  I only checked the game out because it had so many devoted fans talking it up.  I popped it in, and my initial reaction was to hate it.  I took one look at Neku and was immediately filled with rage.  He was a total douchebag; the kind of guy I hated in high school; the goth/depressing kid that didn’t talk much or do anything.

I’d be pissed if I was such a tool, too.

I guess playing TWEWY  as an adult didn’t do the game any favors because I didn’t really relate to any of the characters.  Shiki was kind of annoying, Beat was really annoying, and Joshua was all right, but ultimately annoying.  Without my former teenage angst, all the characters just got on my nerves with their whining and their slang.  And then there was the music.  I’m still not a huge fan of the soundtrack, but some of the tracks grew on me, and I ended up not hating a majority of them.  Also, the art style wasn’t to my liking.  To this day I still don’t like it.  There’s too much contrast and black used.  Who the hell does this game think it is?  Batman: The Animated Series?

I got more angst than 15 Neku’s combined!

Wow.  All I’ve done is bash the game.  Why the hell is it so high on the list?  Pretty much because it’s fun as hell.  Playing on both screens with two characters simultaneously, one on each screen,  using the D-pad for one and the stylus for the other is incredibly difficult to figure out, but I loved trying to master it.  And when I finally got the hang of it, the game became a blast.  Top that off with fighting multiple battles in a row to add a little risk/reward to the mix, and I was addicted.

The story was okay.  I liked the idea of people entering a week-long, life-or-death game to win back your soul, and the allegory of people as sheep was amusing.  Those were enough to hook me.  The reveals and twists were meh at best with two exceptions: discovering who Shiki really was and discovering who killed Neku.  The latter cracked me up.  It reminded me of The Simpsons episode where Lisa accused the aliens of trying to cook them, then they kept blowing dust off the cook book to reveal more of the title, each revelation resulting in a dramatic gasp and lighting effect.

I’ll set the spoiler-ridden scene: Neku can’t remember how he was killed, but he keeps getting flashes of images showing the moments before his death.  At first, he thinks Joshua killed him:

I guess it’s understandable to be depressed about that.

After struggling with the fact that he’s working with the guy who killed him, Neku receives more images that show a reaper killing him, and Joshua was unsuccessfully trying to save him:

Take note, teenagers: Being depressed will make everyone want to kill you.

But then, Neku receives even more images, completing the scene.  He discovers that Joshua successfully saved him by stopping the bullets, Matrix-style, and chased the assailant away.  Unfortunately, he also discovers that Joshua immediately shot him in the face afterward, and then celebrated:

Double-tap.  Just to make sure…

It’s so stupid it’s genius!  Go play this game now if you haven’t.  The combat is so good that I almost put TWEWY in my actual Top Ten DS Games list.  I may get this game back to replay it someday…

Oh, I almost forgot!  The game’s title!  It’s not as stupid as you’d think.  It actually makes sense in the context of the plot.  Basically, The World Ends With You = Your perception of the world is limited to how you interact with it, e.g. if you’re an introvert who doesn’t trust people, then you are your world.  How very pretension and existential.  Seriously, it’s not that bad of a message, and Neku actually learns from this and shows some tangible and believable character growth.  So the game has that going for it, if you’re into that sort of thing.

1. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

Solatorobo is a sequel to a game I never played on the Playstation called Tail Concerto, so I can assure you that having no knowledge of the latter game will not lessen the amount of fun you’ll have with the former. Also, I want to go on record and say that I am not a furry, and I still love this game.  Why do I love this game?  Because it’s about Dog and Cat people living on floating islands and piloting mechs.  That’s so freaking crazy and weird, especially in a market full of consumers who actually throw up a little in their mouths when they see a game like this.

FIRST-PERSON SHOOTERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You play as Red Savarin, an anthropomorphic dog who has (wait for it!) amnesia.  He’s a Hunter, someone who does a lot of stupid odd jobs, pretty much.  He travels around the sky with his mech, a purple cat chick named Chocolat, and another cat chick who he thought was a dude until he walked in on her naked named Elh.  Elh contracts Red to help her destroy a huge robot that’s threatening to destroy everything, and Red accepts.  This is all pretty standard for a JRPG, but things quickly get more interesting in the second half of the game.

Before I talk about all the great stuff, I want to talk about where the game can improve.  First off, the combat gets old.  You grab things, throw them, and that’s it.  Eventually, you get new mechs with more moves and a special state you can unlock, but all this happens very late in the game.  It’d have been nice to get more combat options earlier.  Secondly, the game poses absolutely no threat.  I never struggled against anything in this game.  My mech was so powerful, and the enemies and bosses were so weak and easy to dodge.  Lastly, the side missions were actually necessary because not doing them would stop you from advancing the plot.  Each job you take levels up your Hunter Rank, and some plot-advancing missions can’t be accessed unless your Hunter Rank is so high.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the missions weren’t repetitive and boring, mostly involving fetch quests and moving boxes.

And that theme has already been fully explored.

What makes Solatorobo great is the presentation and plot.  It’s weird, but what I really liked about this game is that it was twice as long as I originally thought, and the second part felt like a continuation or sequel rather than the second half of the same game.  Solatorobo achieved this by changing the opening title screen animation, adding in some very ridiculous and cool plot twists, and introducing more menacing and powerful antagonists.  All this was done after the first half’s very ominous epilogue, which effectively set a different tone for the second half.  I felt like I was watching the second season of an anime, like Dragon Ball Z.  In DBZ, the characters all train really hard to fight some incredibly powerful enemy, fight the enemy almost to the point of destroying the planet, and then defeat the enemy, only to find that there’s an even more powerful enemy on the horizon.  That’s pretty much how Solatorobo‘s transition from the first half of the game to the second felt; in fact, Red even gains a new form much like how Goku becomes a Super Saiyan.

And everyone else in the freaking show.

But the icing on the cake for me is how the game’s genre changes.  Whenever a movie or game does that, I fall in love.  Solatorobo starts out as a fantasy game, but ultimately becomes a work of science fiction.  Just saying that feels like I’m spoiling a lot, so I’m going to end it right there.  Do yourself a huge favor and play this game.  Hopefully you’ll love it as much as I did.

———————————————–

Thank you so much for your Reading!

For all those who took the time to read this, you rock!  This post is a culmination of all the time and love I’ve put into one of my favorite systems.  The DS definitely deserves a send off, and I felt that, since I was such a fan, doing so would inspire others to do so, too.  If that happens, let me know!  I’m always interested in what others think when it comes to the DS.

But I’m not done yet!  I still have one more list to do before I say goodbye to my first dual-screen love: My Top Ten DS Games!  These are the best of the best of the best!  These are the games that I love and replay frequently.

Stay tuned for more DS love in the near future!

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