Even years later, the best Nintendo DS games still make an impression. Some astounding titles were produced for the DS, making innovative use of its dual-screen and touch-screen novelties, and these are a source of nostalgia for many of us.
However, for those only just picking up their first DS on eBay, choosing the best games might feel like a daunting prospect. While some of these have been ported to the Nintendo Switch or mobile devices, most Nintendo DS games truly shine on their original platform.
Our list of the best Nintendo DS games has it all, from Nintendo-only staples like Mario and Pokémon to Grand Theft Auto and Chrono Trigger. The handheld is home to big franchises and interesting standalone games alike. Nowadays, Nintendo is home to games from all over the world, but back then the Nintendo DS was a great handheld for fans of Japanese games, with exclusives for series such as The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy Tactics which you still can’t catch anywhere else.
However, if your heart belongs firmly to the Nintendo Switch by now, you can also check our list of the best Nintendo Switch games.
Best Nintendo DS games
One of a handful of great strategy games on the Nintendo DS, Advance Wars: Dual Strike mixes smart rock-paper-scissors-esque combat with the brutal backdrop of an ongoing war. Dual Strike makes great use of the DS’ two screens, often forcing you to fight two battles simultaneously. Perform well enough on both battlefields, and you can perform the eponymous Dual Strike, allowing you to take two turns back-to-back, often with devastating results for the enemy.
Should both you and a friend own a copy of the game (which admittedly is increasingly unlikely at this point) you can actually face off in head-to-head battles. For its intense single-player campaign, and potentially friendship-ruining head-to-head gameplay Dual Strike is one battle we could fight all day long.
The Pokémon series dominated the Game Boy, a tradition that carried over to the DS. While there are generations upon generations of Pokémon games out there, the DS ones are, for good reason, among the greatest, building upon the original games and adding their own flavour.
Not only that, but Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 aren’t just minor updates over Black and White – they’re a new addition to the series and let you explore the new Unova region. From exploring the new region to fighting in turn based battles, these games are beloved by Pokémon fans for their classic features and shouldn’t be missed by those looking to become fans, either.
Speaking of classic game series, we should include at least one Mario game. Okay, we included one new Mario game and a port, but how could we not. New Super Mario Bros. represents a new generation of Mario that stays true to the classic side-scrolling concept of the original Super Mario Bros. games, yet makes it a little more, well, modern.
New Super Mario Bros. offers both familiar enemies as well as new ones, and you can even link wirelessly with your friends to play as Mario and Luigi in multiplayer. Mario will never go out of style, and games Like New Super Mario Bros. will make you see exactly why that is. If you’re looking for another Mario adventure afterwards, check our list of the best Mario games across all consoles.
Final Fantasy IV (formerly known as Final Fantasy II in the US) is one of the early Final Fantasy games that received a remake for another generation of consoles.
It may not have made our list of the best Final Fantasy games, what with years of great games following it, but every Final Fantasy is worth experiencing when you get the chance to.
The HD update for this one offers newly developed 3D graphics and new added content. Final Fantasy IV only brings two generations of Final Fantasy fans together, but also stands as one of the best RPGs ever.
Kirby Super Star, also formerly a SNES game, is an excellent choice for a dual-screen game, and brings the epic Kirby adventure to your pocket. Of course, this isn’t a complete copy of the original game – it also features upgrades like new modes such as Meta Knight Ultra and Revenge of the King.
You could argue that Super Star Ultra isn’t as exciting as Kirby Canvas Curse (the first DS release for Kirby, also known as Kirby Power Paintbrush), but as a short and sweet adventure game, Super Star Ultra isn’t one to miss out on, especially if you’re a Kirby fan.
Animal Crossing: Wild World was the first step to a more social Animal Crossing experience. While Animal Crossing: New Horizon is clearly the game that offers the most interaction between players these days, not everyone is a friend of the currrent instalments island setting. Going back to the cozy villages of Wild World is just the thing, then.
You can also hang out in your friends’ villages. When you’re back home there’s always something to do; from decorating your home to collecting new items to just lounging with your favorite villagers.
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days takes place during the year that Sora from Kingdom Hearts 2 is asleep, and revolves around Roxas. You’ll basically follow Roxas and the other members of Organization XIII through the various Disney worlds. Perhaps the coolest new feature in the game is multiplayer mode, which allows you and your friends to play as other Organization XIII members.
While long-time Kingdom Hearts fans will love this addition to the franchise, new players will also get a kick out of it – it’s not too difficult to learn, and while some backstory may help in the general understanding of the game (it is a Kingdom Hearts game after all), you’ll still have a lot of fun without it.
One of the best Nintendo 3Ds games, it’s also a Kingdom Hearts game that’s still only playable on the DS – the Kingdom Hearts collections only include a cinematic retelling of the story, no remake of the actual game.
Super Mario 64 DS proves there’s often nothing better than going back to the classics. As we’re sure you can imagine, it’s a port of the original Super Mario 64 game for the Nintendo 64, and a great alternative to getting the version of Super Mario 64 you get with a tier of your Nintendo Switch online membership.
However, it takes full advantage of the Nintendo DS’ dual-screen setup and adds touch screen features and even wireless multiplayer compatibility. Who says an old plumber can’t learn new tricks?
For all those looking to get into visuals novels, the DS has a great selection, and one of the best Nintendo DS games in that category is Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, commonly abbreviated to 999. If you’ve ever heard people gush about writer Kotaro Uchikoshi, 999 is one of the reasons why.
999 builds a mystery on a cruise ship, consisting of ‘novel’ sections where you get to follow the story and make branching decisions, and ‘escape’ sections where you puzzle your way through an escape room. 999’s story builds with every playthrough, and each new revelation comes with truly mind-bending twists – a true “you have to see it to believe it” kind of game.
Spirit Tracks sends our hero Link on a brand-new adventure with a totally new story with more puzzles and new friends to meet. While Spirit Tracks is actually the second Legend of Zelda game for Nintendo DS, it trumps the first in almost every way, offering challenging boss battles and excellent gameplay.
Link travels by train, as the name suggests, which opens new possibilities for puzzles and interesting challenges.
Spirit Tracks is one of those Zelda games you can still only play on a DS – if you’re looking for Zelda games on Switch check our list of the best Legend of Zelda games you can enjoy on Nintendo’s current handheld.
Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 are great games, but fans of the early generations may find the number of Pokémon to catch a little daunting. HeartGold and SoulSilver are remakes of Gold and Silver for Game Boy Color, which are considered by many to be some of the best Pokémon games ever made, and for good reason.
The game takes place in the Johto region and offers updated graphics, touch controls, and even the ability to use the ‘Pokéwalker’ – essentially a Tamagotchi – to take your Pokémon wherever you go.
From the mind that brought us Ace Attorney, also deservedly one of the best Nintendo DS games of all time, comes Ghost Trick, one of the best Nintendo DS games simply not enough people are talking about.
You step into the ghostly shoes of a private investigator who unfortunately died (it happens) and now tries to change the past by possessing different items and saving other people’s lives. There’s a talking desk lamp! The best dog in video games! A cook singing about chickens!
Ghost Trick combines great comedy with gameplay that makes great use of the stylus and the second screen, and it has the kind of story that will leave you dazed and wanting for more by the end.
This is another handheld entry in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and it carries on the tradition of roaming the world and doing whatever you want, mostly crime.
Of course, there are also awesome missions to complete along the way, and while there are a few things that have been left out in this version of the game, plenty has also been added, making Chinatown Wars one of the best (and only) mature-rated Nintendo DS games out there.
While Spirit Tracks is arguably a better game, Phantom Hourglass is its enjoyable predecessor filled with familiar features and well-worn gameplay.
Phantom Hourglass, which centers around travel by boat, is a little more casual than other Legend of Zelda games and arguably a little easier too, but that doesn’t make it any less of an entertaining pocket adventure, and definitely a must on the DS.
Dawn of Sorrow is set around a year after Aria of Sorrow and follows a cult that wants to resurrect the dead Dracula. Soma Cruz gets entangled in these plans and must now find a way to stop the resurrection from happening. Unlike many other Nintendo DS games, most of the action takes place on the bottom screen, while the top screen is reserved for maps, character information, and so on.
Many suggest that Dawn of Sorrow is one of the best Castlevania games of all-time, and for good reason – it’s beautifully designed, offers great battle scenarios, and finds the perfect balance between nostalgia and innovation, making it one of the best Nintendo DS games and an unmissable entry for fans.
If afterwards you’re still looking for a challenge, try the games on our list of the cruel, unforgiving games to punish yourself with.
Samus is obviously the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. Or is she? A total of six other bounty hunters are looking to gain that title, which is the premise behind Hunters.
Metroid Prime: Hunters doesn’t just feature an awesome story, it features a great multiplayer mode too, allowing you to play intense battles with friends through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can play as any of the seven bounty hunters, with each of them having their own special attacks and skills.
You can’t make a list of the best Nintendo DS games without Mario Kart. Mario Kart DS is exactly what you might expect from a Mario Kart for Nintendo DS game, featuring a multiplayer mode where you can face up to eight players at once, as well as the ability to race through some of the most classic Mario Kart circuits out there.
The DS version of the cart racer may not have the visual sizzle of the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but if you’re looking to take Mario and Co. on the road, this is still a great place to start.
Gotten in the mood for more kart racing? Try the best Mario Kart games that aren’t Mario Kart.
This game was highly anticipated upon its release, however some were a little disappointed that instead of getting an all-new game, they instead got a remake of the original. Still, the original game is a great game, and the Nintendo DS version brings updated graphics and modern features.
For fans of the turn-based strategy experience (or awesomely named Japanese franchises), Shadow Dragon should be one of your first stops when stocking up your Nintendo DS library – the latest Fire Emblem entry sits in our list of the best RPGs for good reason.
Developed by Jupiter and published by Square Enix, The World Ends With You follows the story of Neku Sakuraba, a 15-year-old boy who wakes up in the shopping district of Japan and is told that he will die unless he completes a certain task.
What we admire most is that the developers started a completely new franchise, which nowadays can be considered a major risk. The chance Square Enix took was well worth it and has resulted in a cult classic JRPG we can’t recommend enough.
Another port of a classic game, Chrono Trigger DS is the immaculately recrafted version of the SNES game. It follows a young Chrono, who has to rescue his friend after a teleportation machine malfunctions at the fair. Eventually, he uncovers a plan to destroy the world and has to race the clock in order to save it.
While technically a direct port of the game for SNES, the DS version adds some great features, like support for the dual-screen setup, touch screen functionality, and a wireless play mode that adds another dimension of gameplay.
Phoenix Wright is a great game for those who enjoy a good puzzle – though, as a word of warning, not everything makes sense here. Depending on your puzzle-solving skills you might even find some of the challenges too difficult.
To this day, the Ace Attorney series has a large number of fans, and was the gateway to visual novels to many players in the west. Its humour and strong characters make it a mainstay on our list of the best Nintendo DS games.
If you haven’t ever dug into Phoenix Wright’s case files before, the series essentially involves you having to uncover clues, discover characters’ personalities, and so on, as you slowly solve cases and bring justice to the criminals along the way. You won’t hear any objections from us on this one.
Closing out our list is Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift – a sequel to the great-selling GBA game that was a sequel to the awesome, trail-blazing PS1 game. While Grimoire of the Rift didn’t re-write the formula for the Tactics series, it did add several classes and features that greatly enhanced an already great franchise.
Combat is turn-based and deeply cerebral as you attempt to out-maneuver and overpower your enemy. In between battles, you’ll equip characters with new weapons and skills and take on side-quests and new characters. It’s a formula that never feels old and has yet to be beaten, even now, years after its release.
Original reporting in this article was by Christian de Looper.