This is it. The time has finally come. It’s time to reveal my Top Ten DS Games.
For the past couple months, I’ve been racking my brain, trying to send the DS off with the dignity that it deserves. Granted, it’s technically still alive with games still coming out. Also granted, the games are awful, but the Adventure Time game coming out soon looks pretty sweet, and I’ll probably end up getting it for DS and 3DS because I’m dumb.
Anyway, as I stated in my Top Ten Essential DS Games post, I was having a hard time coming up with just ten games to put on my Top Ten DS Games list because the library is so expansive and great. I ultimately cut the list down to twenty and created two lists: The Essentials list, which is full of games that I loved and that gave me great experiences, but I’ll probably never play again (RPGs mostly), and the Top Ten List. This Top Ten DS Games list is composed of games that I loved to play and intend to get back because they had great replay value. They were my go-to games that, when I didn’t have anything new to play, I’d pop in and replay because they were just so damn fun.
This list is a culmination of all the time I’ve spent collecting and actively playing games on my DS. Before the fire, I had amassed a little over 500 DS games, domestic and imported. I had spent years – eight to be exact – purchasing and hunting down games to add to my ever-growing collection. I goes without saying, but this list is a big one for me. The feature pic you saw at the beginning of this post was my actual collection. Now that they’re all gone, I can’t really warrant putting all that time, effort, and cash into getting them all back. I’d rather just move on.
Before I get started, I’d like to recap my other lists. I suggest checking these out before reading my Top Ten DS Games:
Top Ten DS Games I Wish I Played: DS Games I had but never got to.
Top Ten DS Game Disappointments: DS Games that didn’t meet my expectations.
Top Ten DS Hidden Gems: DS Games that exceeded my expectations.
Top Ten Essential DS Games: Must-play DS Games with low replay value for me.
Here we go: My Top Ten DS Games. And here’s the rules: I had to have owned the game, the games have to have great replay value, and they have to be freaking awesome!
10. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
There were three great Castlevania games on the DS: Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia. Any of these games are worth your time, and they’re all great additions to Castlevania‘s revered legacy, but, in the end, Portrait of Ruin was the DS Castlevania I had the most fun with. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here, but it doesn’t really matter because all these games are so good and replayable.
Dawn of Sorrow was actually pretty forgettable, but I remember enjoying it. Order of Ecclesia was outstanding, and it even introduced a lot of new enemies and character models to the franchise, which at this point the franchise had been criminally recycling enemy sprites for some time. I always loved Castlevania because the enemies were a blast, and the developers would grab all monsters from all mythologies: Greek, Gaelic, Asian, etc. In OoE, they even brought in a North American monster, the Jersey Devil. I thought that was pretty sweet.
OoE was a little on the difficult side, though. It wasn’t too bad since I like my games hard, but it did go a little overboard. Portrait of Ruin seemed to be at a more comfortable difficulty setting for me. I remember it being hard yet manageable and the optional stuff being really hard. That’s a good balance for me.
I also liked how in PoR you got to control two characters at once. That was refreshing in that it had never been done in a Castlevania game before (simultaneously, I mean. Castlevania III let you switch out between characters, but the characters were never on the screen at the same time). It helped to alleviate that sense of isolation you get in Metroidvania-type games. I don’t know why, but I liked not feeling so alone.
What a nerd.
The game also had a great sense of humor. For example, the most effective weapon against the optional Belmont boss was the pie sub weapon. That sentence is as amazing as it is real. And I couldn’t have been the only person who laughed when, at the beginning of the final battle, Dracula threw down his glass for no reason. He could have easily placed it down but instead opted to be as needlessly dramatic as possible. It reminded me of the beginning of Symphony of the Night, making it way more awesome. The best part is that Dracula and Death just look at the screen after the glass breaks, like they’re saying “Oops.”
Great. Not everyone can teleport and fly around the room, you know?
Good thing this ends up being a really epic final boss fight. Fighting Death and Dracula at the same time is as challenging and fun as you’d think it’d be. I can confidently say it’s the most fulfilling final boss fight in the history of Castlevania. Then, to top off a great game, Konami delivered on some of the best post-game content I’ve ever seen in a Castlevania game. You can replay the game as the vampire sisters, or you can play as Richter and Maria from Rondo of Blood. Post-game content is always a treat, and, in PoR‘s case, it’s what put the game over the top for me and earned it this spot on my list.
9. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure
Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure would have easily made my Hidden Gems list if it weren’t so good. It didn’t hit the massive audience it deserved, but anyone who played it will tell you it’s an amazing game. Essentially, it’s a platformer and a match-three-whatsits game wrapped up into one, and it’s as smooth as butter. You kill enemies on the top platform-game screen, and they drop to the bottom match-game screen. If you don’t match the enemies with other blocks in a timely manner, they’ll re-emerge up top to take you down! You can also get items and power ups that help you on the top screen by matching them on the bottom screen. This mechanic is implemented very well and never got old for me.
All those adorable faces want you dead!
The best part about Henry Hatsworth was all the quirky stuff in it. I loved how HH is an old man that can kick major ass with cheap juggling combos. And the fact that the characters speak gibberish a la Banjo Kazooie cracked me up. The plot revolving around finding the Gentlemen’s golden suit is pretty campy and funny as well. But Tea Time stole the show. When you got enough energy, you could tap the touch screen to initiate a cutscene that showed HH tipping his cup to his associates and proclaiming it to be a “Good show,” followed by him inexplicably being inside a mech, jumping through the air with the Union Jack in the background. All this is done while that song from Extreme is playing. Then, you get to tear shit up in your invincible mech suit for a limited time. It’s just magical. I wish I could experience it for the first time all over again.
This and Motörhead are the best things to come out of the UK.
The second best thing about this game is Lance Banson. He’s just incredible, and the song that plays while you fight him is just superb. Imagine a mix between Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and Simon Belmont from Captain N, and you got the gist of the beefcake, lady-killing, opera-singing, air pirate stud that is Lance Banson.
Men gaze upon Lance and openly weep, lamenting what they can never be.
The game does have some glaring flaws, however. It’s hard as hell! The last boss in particular really busted my balls. And the levels were way too long, and some of the enemies could take more than a dozen hits to finish off. It just got tedious after awhile. It’s a good thing the DS had a sleep mode, or else Henry Hatsworth wouldn’t have made it on my list. I really hope Dream Rift or EA make a sequel and fix these issues because HH has the potential to be a great franchise.
8. Izuna 2: The Unemployed Ninja Returns
I love rougelike games. These are games where the dungeons are randomly generated every time you enter them, and items and weapons are never in the same place. Everything about the game is done by chance, so every time you play you get a new experience. Rougelikes are also hard as hell! You get deep into a dungeon, maybe 15 levels down, only to die because you used an untitled magic scroll that reversed your controls and got you killed. Now, you have to start all over, and you lose all the experience and items you gained up to that point. This is the nature of the rougelike, and I love it! Know what else I love? Boobs! Boobs make everything better, and the Izuna series has me covered!
Boobs, ninjas, and swords. This game has everything!
Izuna 2: The Return of the Unemployed Ninja is the sequel to Izuna: The Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, also on the DS. Izuna 2 improves upon the first by giving you a ton of characters to play as and allowing you to control and switch between two characters while in a dungeon, adding a lot of needed strategy to a difficult game. The characters you get to choose from are the boss gods from the original game, which I thought was a nice touch. Another great addition over the first game is how you can now do a special screen-clearing move with both of your characters to help with those intense situations. And, of course, Ninja Studio, the developers, saw this as another opportunity to show off Izuna’s boobs.
You boys are doing God’s work!
But boobs, great gameplay, high difficulty, character growth, and sweet new mechanics aren’t all Izuna 2 has going for it. It also has a great personality and sense of humor. The game’s constantly cracking jokes, and the writing and localization is just spot on. I really liked visiting the game’s website to read the digital comics. They were always pretty funny, and they played up the characters’ eccentricities very well. The plot is a little more serious compared to the first game, but that didn’t stop the developers from doing a bunch of boob jokes anyway, and I applaud them for that. I also like their affinity for breaking the fourth wall. That’s usually great in a video game when done properly.
The game has a beautiful SNES aesthetic with hand-drawn character models that pop up when someone talks. This game is just so fun and addictive, and the characters are endearing and funny. Pick this game up and give it a try, especially if you’re in Japan where it was marketed as a porn game.
7. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
I had heard of Heroes of Might & Magic, but I never really gave a crap about it. So, when I came across Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, I met it with a lot of indifference. I eventually popped it in just to see if it worked (standard protocol when purchasing a used game), and that’s all it took to get me hooked. The standard 3-minute game check turned into a 2-hour long gaming session.
I Googled “addicted video game,” and this happened.
Clash of Heroes played like nothing I’ve ever played before. Basically, it’s a match-three-whatsits puzzle game with soldiers, dragons, deer, and angels, but there’s no time limit and you physically move your “pieces” from the back of one column to another. Matching three of the same color will make your soldiers charge for an attack. Add in things like leveling up, equip-able items, and “linking” and “combining,” and you’ve got yourself a very strategic puzzle game.
Adorable and addicting.
The game does have a story mode with a plot, but it’s pretty forgettable. It’s just the stuff between the awesome battles. Advancing the plot will let you play as all 5 character types, each with their own warriors and special moves. It adds greatly to the replay value, especially if you have a like-minded buddy and play the Vs. mode. I can’t recommend this game hard enough. Go pick it up if you can find it or download it on XBLA or PSN. There’s just no way you could be disappointed.
6. Rondo of Swords
Rondo of Swords is deceptively good. The character models are as generic as they can get, the plot is fairly uninteresting (but interesting enough), and it’s just another SRPG in a handheld market that’s flooded with SRPGs. I can see how many people wouldn’t even consider giving this game a second glance, and that’s a shame because it’s just so damn fun.
I’m a huge fan of SRPGs; in fact, I’d say that it’s my favorite genre besides platforming, of course. I’ve been a fan since I first played Shining Force on the Sega Channel (*sigh*), and I continue to play new and modern SRPGs to this day. However, some modern SRPGs are just too convoluted and time consuming. The Disgaea series is just overflowing with crap you can do and must do in order to get good at the game. I just don’t have time for that anymore. That’s why Rondo of Swords is so great to me. It keeps it simple by only having prep screens, battle screens, and the occasional plot-advancing cutscenes. What else do you need? RoS also has a unique battle system, and it keeps things old school with its visuals, which is something I appreciated.
Really old-school visuals.
The game showed a skippable and visually-appealing cutscene during attacks, which is something I also liked because it reminded me of Shining Force. The arrow you see in the above pic is where your character is going to move. If they move through an enemy, they attack, and if they move through an ally, they can get bonuses like health, attack, and defense boosts. Since you and your enemies can move through several enemies and allies in a single move, there’s a lot of strategy involved. It’s a unique and fun battle system that I’d like to see more of.
The thing I really like about RoS are its characters. There’s not really much to like about their personalities because the story isn’t something I cared about. But I did like that each character is unique in a battle setting. I love Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, but the great majority of characters you get in those games are generic and interchangeable. Just about every character in RoS brings something different to the fight, much like in Shining Force. This really adds to the game’s replay value. Also, since Success developed RoS, they brought a couple of their more popular characters in for some crossover action: Cotton and Izuna! That’s two appearances on the top ten list for the unemployed ninja, for those who are keeping count. They’re both awesome, but Cotton is broken as hell. For you SRPG nerds out there, Cotton is the Orlandu of Rondo of Swords.
But I still love her!
The game offers multiple endings, class upgrades, and better upgrades through side quests, but I really didn’t take the time to understand the latter part of upgrading. Yet I still had a blast with the game. I’m sure a lot of people don’t agree with me on how awesome this game is, but I think it’s fantastic. Sometimes less is more. Play this game ASAP. And go play Shining Force as well. That game’s freaking sweet, too.
5. Picross DS
Picross DS got me through college. Seriously. When you have three to four hours between classes, you commute, and you aren’t much into socializing with people, it’s very tempting to just get in your car and go home. Had it not been for Picross DS keeping me entertained, I’d have skipped and flunked half my classes. The success in my life can be directly attributed to this wonderful and life-changing game.
Your average Picross DS enthusiast.
Picross DS is a very fun and challenging puzzle game where you make pixel-art pictures by using logic and numbers. It sounds about as fun as filing taxes, but it really is awesome.
There’s really not a whole lot I can say about Picross DS. It’s a puzzle game. There’s no plot, no characters, and no real reason to continue playing other than because you’re having fun. But isn’t that really all you need in a video game?
Besides boobs, of course.
The sequel, Picross 3D, was great, too, but I logged waaaaaaay more hours into Picross DS, more hours than I’m comfortable with admitting. You should play this game and feel uncomfortable, too.
4. Retro Game Challenge
If I could make a game that depicted my childhood, it’d be pointless. Because that game has already been made, and it’s called Retro Game Challenge.
RGC is about you, the player, getting thrown back in time to the 80’s by Game Master Arino, a man who sucked so much at current-gen games and obsessed about being the best gamer so hard that he became a digitized version of himself. In the 80’s, GM Arino forces you to clear self-imposed challenges by playing the games he played as a kid. Thankfully, you actually meet up with Arino’s younger self, and Young Arino decides to help you out because if you don’t clear GM’s challenges you’ll be stuck in the 80’s forever!
Oh, God! There’s Cabbage Patch Kids and AIDS everywhere!
Okay, that doesn’t exactly depict my childhood, but the rest of the game does, and with a plot like that, how could you not want to play this game?
The retro games are full games influenced by actual games of the era and are fun in their own rights. There’s a couple of space shooters, a racing game and its re-release, a platformer and its two sequels, and an RPG that keeps getting hilariously delayed. You and Young Arino eagerly follow news about the RPG and the other games by reading GameFan Magazine, the fictional, in-game publication that comes in every month for you to peruse. Each magazine is like a real magazine with dedicated sections: Letters from readers, cheats, rumors, news, and editorials. And the best part: the publication looks like it was pulled right from the 80’s with its verbiage (Radicalize!) and goofy graphics. Young Arino takes great care of these magazines and keeps them on a shelf for you to reference at any time. Ah, hoarding starts when you’re so young. Now can you see how this reminds me of my childhood?
But without all the girls laughing at and ignoring me.
There’s also times in the game when Young Arino will come home from school and talk about what kids have been saying on the playground, like rumors and cheats they’ve found that weren’t in the magazines. Sometimes they’re true, and sometimes they’re just kids messing with you. It’s this kind of thing that puts RGC over the top for me. It accurately captures an important time for older gamers, and the games are genuinely fun and accurately reflect how things changed over time for the game industry. Robot Ninja Haggleman, for example, starts out playing similarly to Ninja JaJamaru-Kun and ends up looking like Ninja Gaiden in the third game. It’s interesting and funny all at once.
I don’t know how newer gamers will feel about this game, but I think they’d at least think it’s worth a playthrough. Older gamers will absolutely love it! Go play Retro Game Challenge now, and a winner is you!
3. Elite Beat Agents/Ouendan
I’m kind of cheating by putting a whole franchise in a single spot, but it’s only three games, and it’s my list, so suck it!
EBA and Ouendan 1 and 2 are rhythm games that were unlike any rhythm game I had ever played. And I love rhythm games! Of course, there have been some imitators since the early 2000’s, but EBA/Ouendan are still the best at what they do. What makes them so awesome are their presentation and ridiculous premises. The games present themselves in a comic book-like fashion, and they’re about a group of guys who support people in mostly mundane endeavors by dancing and cheering. The guys help a kid pass his entrance exam, a dog return home, heiresses survive a deserted island after a plane crash, and a novelist with her new romance novel. They help out with more serious stuff as well. They’ve been seen helping people take out lava monsters, robots, meteors, and aliens who have enslaved the world and banned music! Yeah, it’s pretty great.
I knew they’d be fine, but I still fist pumped when the spell was broken.
On the hardest difficult, these games can get intense. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with tapping along with the music perfectly and getting a kick ass score. I can’t describe it, but it’s great. The music in the games are covers mostly, but they get the job done. EBA‘s soundtrack is eclectic to put it mildly (Destiny’s Child, Sum 41, Cher, David Bowie?), and the Ouendan games have completely Japanese soundtracks, which are surprisingly amazing. The first Ouendan has my favorite overall soundtrack. EBA’s is next with Ouendan 2 coming in last. Honestly, I feel Ouendan 2 to be the weakest in the series, but it’s still a solid title. Plus, it had the Elite Beat Agents in it, who I prefer over the Ouendan boys. I don’t know why, but the fact that there’s a government agency solely existing to send out dancing cheerleaders to help a babysitter land a date with the captain of the football team makes laugh. However, one can’t deny how epic it is to see the Ouendan bust in somewhere and yell “Osu!” It’s excellent no matter the situation.
With the Ouendan’s fervor, even I can’t help but to cheer for… this!
It’s impossible for me to recommend this game enough. It’s so original and hilarious, and it’s incredibly fun to boot. If you aren’t ready for unabashed ridiculousness taking itself completely seriously, then I don’t know why you even play video games, frankly. Stop being so lame and play one of these wonderful games.
And, if I absolutely had to chose only ONE game for this entry, I’d pick… Elite Beat Agents. It has September; therefore, it wins.
2. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
It’s exceptionally rare to see an RPG so high on a Top Ten List where replayability is a major determining factor, so it speaks volumes about how incredible Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor really is. Though, it does help that it’s an SRPG, but it’s impressive, nonetheless. I was utterly addicted to this game when it first came out and spent an entire weekend on it. Like, from Friday night until Sunday evening. My wife was not amused, nor was she amused when it was re-released on the 3DS. I just had to see those 8th days! The story had me completely hooked.
I loved the story so much. It dealt with some pretty mature themes, the most prevalent being religion, the human condition in collapsed society, and the struggle of justice vs. power. Each of these themes have been explored in many different mediums, especially video games, but SMT:DS decided to go nuts and add a bunch of demons, ghosts, monsters, and gods in the middle of cult and government conspiracies. It was super effective!
I think that’s why I loved this game so much because they threw in as much weird and obscure mythologies as they could, and I’m so into that kind of thing. The demons you can recruit are eclectic and weird, and I loved combining them to create new ones. Combining was my favorite thing to do. I always wanted to make the perfect, invincible creature. I finally achieved that goal on the 3DS remake with Metatron. It took an embarrassing amount of time to do, but I regret nothing.
He’s just so awesome!
So the story was great, and the hook of creating and mixing demons was great, but the real fun in the game was the combat. Here, you got to let your precious creations shine. Not only that, but I had never played an SRPG like it. You got to move your characters on the battlefield like any other SRPG, but the fights were straight up first-person, old-school, Dragon Quest-like RPG battles. It was awesome, and hard as hell! But it was never too difficult because you always had the option of grinding, which I hate. I remember doing it once because I needed a team to take out Belial, a fire demon. I went in and he ended me in like 5 seconds. I grinded (ground?) for about 4 hours and created a team that reflected or absorbed everything he could possibly do. Flawless victory.
There really isn’t anything I don’t love about this game. The story, the combat, the hook, the enemies, the challenge: everything is amazing. And the fact that there are multiple endings and a “new game +” feature was enough to get me hooked again and again. This game really has everything.
If you haven’t played this game yet, fix that immediately. It’s becoming a real problem, and your family and friends are starting to take notice.
1. Giana Sisters DS
I don’t know what to say. I’m an enormous Nintendo fanboy and Mario fanatic, yet I have as my favorite game on Mario’s own console a game that’s a shameless Mario rip-off. The irony is as painful as it is shocking, but I don’t care. Giana Sisters DS is my favorite game on the DS, hands down.
You were over 20 years off, Sisters, but now you got ’em!
The Great Giana Sisters was a Commodore 64 game released in the 80’s by a German developer who saw The Super Mario Bros. and thought, “Yeah, we can make a game like this. No one’s gonna totally notice.”
They totally noticed.
Reportedly, and for obvious reasons, Nintendo pressured the developer and publisher to recall the game by threatening legal action. It worked, and the Sisters became history… until now!
I never played the original C64 version, but that didn’t stop me from loving the DS version. The first thing I noticed while playing was the amazing music. I imported the German version because I didn’t think it’d get released over here in the States, and the back of the German version’s box toted that the music was done by Chris Hülsbeck. I immediately knew the music was going to be good because he had an umlaut in his name, and that shit is METAL! Though the game’s music is as far removed from metal as you can get, it still kicked ass.
The game’s presentation is one of the best on the system. Everything is bright, cartoony, and animated very well, especially the background; it’s just so gorgeous. The background on the first level reminds me of how games looked to me as a kid, even though they never looked that good back then. Things were always better as a kid.
The game takes me back, even though I’ve never been there.
As much as I love the game, it’s not perfect. The game is way too easy… at first. The beginning difficulty can throw off gamers, but I promise the game gets tougher. In fact, you’ll be required to do jumps in later levels that would cause a Mario game to gasp in disbelief and drop his monocle into his drink. It also ramps up the difficulty if you’re a completionist. Each level has a certain number of secret red gems in them, and finding them can get hard. But collecting them all unlocks levels, so it’s worth it beyond just getting the satisfaction of having digital wealth.
The bosses in the game are dumb, too. And when I say “bosses,” I mean the same dragon boss over and over again. It’s like how Bowser is the boss over and over again in Super Mario Bros. It’s a minor complaint because the rest of the game is so remarkable, but some more originality would have been nice.
I’m painfully aware of the irony in that last sentence.
Beautiful visuals, outstanding music, and solid platforming that actually bests the plumbers’ efforts on their own system make Giana Sisters DS one of my favorite games ever made, and it more than deserves the high honor of being the best DS game!
I’ve actually purchased this game four times now: I imported it, bought it when it was released in North America, and then bought it two more times after I lost the other two copies in the fire. One of the copies is my play copy while the other is sealed.
The obsessive nerd in me has returned!
Thank you all for your Playing! These last couple of months have been rough on me after losing everything, and these lists to send off the DS have been very cathartic. I’ve enjoyed making them, and I really hope you enjoyed reading them. As you can probably tell from the pic of my sealed copy of Giana Sisters DS, my collecting habits are healing nicely. Though the future of gaming seems bleak for collectors as we move toward a world where downloading the hottest new game is becoming more realized, I still hold out hope for limited edition collector’s editions and sealed copies of stuff in the future.
And, with that, I say goodbye, Nintendo Dual Screen. All the time we’ve spent together will be cherished forever. Please don’t forget about me, and I promise you I’ll do the same.