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The 15 best Nintendo DS games of all time

The Nintendo DS and Nintendo DSi consoles are still wildly popularly with retro and modern gamers alike, thanks to a catalog that features hundreds upon hundreds of high-quality titles. With so many amazing titles for the DS and DSi, though, how do you pick the perfect one for you? Easy — check out the 15 games below, many of which are still available for the Nintendo DS family of systems.

We’ve also found the best 3DS games, GBA games, and Game Boy Color Games of all time.

15. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton and Diabolical Box
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It’s a tall order to pick just one Professor Layton game to feature on this list, as they all offer similarly stellar gameplay, each featuring plenty of brain teasers, puzzles, and point-and-click goodness. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box ups the ante with an engrossing story, superb voice acting for the era, and stunning graphics and animation. The puzzles are also among the most unique and satisfying of the entire series. There is a reason, after all, why this game was recently remade for mobile devices. 

14. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass 

Zelda Phantom Hourglass
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This direct sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker made excellent use of the dual screens and touchscreen found with the Nintendo DS family of systems. As a matter of fact, it can only be controlled via touchscreen, using absolutely no buttons whatsoever. This brought in all manner of unique puzzles, enemies, and environments. Plus, you know, this Zelda game has Linebeck, a pirate constantly on the run from his ex-wife and one of the funniest characters in the franchise’s storied history. It has one drawback, which fans all agree on, in the form of a constantly repeating dungeon, a design mistake that The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks fixed later on in the console’s lifespan. 

13. The World Ends With You 

The World Ends With You
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This is perhaps the most unique JRPG game that Square-Enix ever made. It takes place in the real world, a version of Tokyo, and is almost exclusively controlled via touchscreen, which makes for some frenetic real-time battles with the game’s many enemies. The storyline is nuanced and quite dark, and the music and menus all feature a modern J-pop aesthetic that still seems fresh and vibrant to this day. As a matter of fact, it was recently re-released for the Nintendo Switch, though we prefer the control scheme of the DS original. 

12. Nintendogs

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It’s hard to overstate just how popular these games were when they first came out, as they are largely credited with the initial success of the Nintendo DS console. At its core, the franchise is just your average simulator game, like a Tamagotchi, but with plenty of Nintendo polish and sheen. You can use the touchscreen to interact with your dogs (and later, cats) and the built-in microphone to call for them. These games held plenty of surprises and secrets for long-time players, including agility competitions, hidden items and, of course, dog parks. It’s just a shame the Nintendogs never actually grow up, forever remaining Nintenpuppies.

11. Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver

Pokemon HeartGold
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These are widely considered to be the best Pokemon remakes ever created, bringing all kinds of modern gameplay mechanics to the original Pokemon Silver and Pokemon Gold designs. They allowed for online Pokemon trading and battles via the company’s now-defunct Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and featured a slew of new touchscreen-enabled mini-games, including the fiendishly addictive Voltorb Flip. These games also allow your top Pokemon to follow you around on-screen throughout the entire game, echoing what the original series did in Pokemon Yellow with Pikachu. The titles also received significant graphical and audio upgrades, both of which still hold up today as some of the best Pokemon games.

10. Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

Mario and Luigi
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This is the best Mario-and-Luigi action RPG ever made, full stop, and a great Mario game in general. The script is one of the funniest things to ever come from Nintendo, which is saying a lot. The gameplay is further refined from previous entries in the franchise, and the graphics ooze style and detail. Bowser is also a fully playable character, with his own move set and hilarious animations. This game has remained popular throughout the years and was recently remade and released for the Nintendo 3DS family of systems.

9. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Castlevania dawn of sorrow
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The Castlevania series reigned supreme throughout the lifespans of the Gameboy Advance and the Nintendo DS. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is one of the higher watermarks in the franchise’s storied history, with plenty of Metroidvania goodness to please even the most cynical fans. The map is huge, the weapons and spells are plentiful, and the souls system, which allows for the absorption of enemy moves, is absolutely robust, with hundreds of unique moves and status perks available. The music, composed by series mainstays Michiru Yamane and Masahiko Kimura, is a treat, and the controls are perfectly balanced. It’s just a joy to play. Please, Konami — make more old school Castlevania games.

8. Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Advance Wars Dual Strike
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It’s been a while since the last Advance Wars title, though games like Wargroove on the Nintendo Switch have filled the gap nicely. Advance Wars: Dual Strike was an exceptionally solid entry in the franchise, making great use of the console’s dual screens. The bottom screen shows the battle map and allows for user inputs, while the top screen displays pertinent information, such as terrain and unit intelligence. This dual screen approach nearly eliminates the need to pause the game or navigate menus, streamlining the gameplay significantly. It’s also an absolute blast to play in local co-op. Just like the original, co-op does not necessitate two consoles, as one console can simply be passed back and forth between two players.

7. Animal Crossing: Wild World

Animal Crossing Wild World
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As the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch has once again proven, the public loves this franchise, and for good reason. Animal Crossing: Wild World boasts all the fun of the Gamecube original, but with portable play and some fairly robust online mechanics. As a matter of fact, this is the first entry in the franchise that could actually be played online, via the now-defunct Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. All of your favorite characters are here, including Tom Nook, the Able Sisters and, of course, renowned local musician K.K. Slider. This is a solid entry in the series and holds up to this day.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks
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The world wasn’t exactly clamoring for a Zelda title that embraced a steampunk aesthetic but, against all odds, Nintendo managed to pull it off. The company took everything great about the previous DS entry, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, and streamlined the gameplay, taking great care to eliminate redundant mechanics such as the repetitive dungeons found in the previous entry. The end result is a fantastic Zelda adventure set against a railroad backdrop, with fantastic characters, genius dungeon design, and pinpoint touchscreen controls in line with its predecessor.

5. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

grand theft auto chinatown wars
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A fully realized GTA title on a portable platform? Yes, please. Though the overhead design recalls the original Grand Theft Auto games before they made the jump to 3D, the gameplay is filled with modern flourishes, plus dozens of mini-games and a large open world to explore. The narrative boasts a biting wit (a series staple), and the gameplay is as fast, frenetic, and chaotic as ever. It also features drug dealing as a main gameplay component, which has got to be a first for a Nintendo system. 

4. New Super Mario Bros.

New Super Mario Bros. DS
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A list of top Nintendo games would not be complete with the company’s mascot character and his cowardly, green-suited brother. New Super Mario Bros. is the first title in the new and updated style of sidescrolling Mario adventures, a series that saw the recent release of New Super Mario Bros. Wii U Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch. It introduced plenty of design innovations that continue to this day, including three hidden gold coins per level; the hilarious Mega Mushroom, which enlarges Mario to gargantuan size; and the equally ridiculous Mini Mushroom, which shrinks Mario to the size of just a few pixels. This is the best-selling game on the Nintendo DS, with over 30 million copies sold as of this writing.

3. Chrono Trigger DS

Chrono Trigger DS
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What can be said about Chrono Trigger that hasn’t already been written? This is, by many accounts, the greatest JRPG of all time, with best-in-class gameplay mechanics, an innovative story, plenty of unique playable characters, and some of the best music to ever grace a video game. The DS version features brand new environments, streamlined gameplay options, and a bunch of other bells and whistles, making this the definitive version of the title. This version has gone on to be re-released for mobile and Windows computers, where it continues to sell like hotcakes. 

2. Pokemon White Version 2 and Pokemon Black Version 2

Pokemon White 2
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People were not expecting a direct sequel to mainline Pokemon games when these titles were announced, and they address several of the key concerns folks had with the original pair of titles. They feature plenty of new Pokemon, including some new legendaries, a slew of fun mini-games, and the obscenely addictive Pokemon World Tournament, which allows you to battle infamous gym leaders from previous iterations of the franchise. These are simply the best and brightest Pokemon games to be found on the Nintendo DS, though the originals are also great for, you know, the purposes of “catching them all.”

1. Mario Kart DS

Mario Kart DS
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The second portable outing for Nintendo’s massively popular kart racer was a home run, offering the first appearance of many features that are now standard with Mario Kart outings. These features include retro tracks, modern imaginings of SNES and GBA favorites, single player missions, and the ability to design your own kart. This was also the first Mario Kart title to support online racing, integrating with the company’s now-defunct Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You’ll be surprised how masterfully this racing game holds up, easily holding its own against modern racers, including Nintendo’s newer Mario Kart titles.

Editors' Recommendations

Lawrence Bonk
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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