The Nintendo DS has seen a number of hardware improvements over the years, culminating in the 3D-compatible platforms.
But it started with the original DS and DSi consoles. If you’re a nostalgic DS owner, then we’ve got the best games for you — including our pick for the best DS game, New Super Mario Bros.
There were around 1,837 games created for the original Nintendo DS system. How do you pick which games to play from such a mammoth library of titles? The answer is to trust a definitive ranking of the best DS games, which is what we’ve put together for you here.
To narrow down the staggering number of games available, we’ve consulted official gaming authority websites and authentic customer ratings. After reviewing the long list of best DS games against specific criteria, we created a finalized ranking of the best games available for this platform.
So that we don’t favor any specific type of game, we’ve considered titles across a range of genres. Whether you’re an action addict or a platformer pro, we’ve got you covered with a list of the best-in-genre games.
History of the DS
In November 2004, Nintendo launched the Nintendo DS, closely followed by a slimmer DS Lite in 2006. Then, in 2009, Nintendo launched the Nintendo DSi, with 2 digital cameras and online connectivity. The original DS family ended with the launch of a larger DSi XL, with bigger LCD screens for more immersive gaming.
Since then, Nintendo also created a lineage of 3D-compatible versions of the Nintendo DS. These consoles came with a range of 3D-only titles that couldn’t be played on older handheld DS consoles. But all the devices work in the same way, utilizing 2 screens that can be operated using a stylus. In this ranking, we’re focusing on games for the original Nintendo DS that started it all. Luckily, there are no issues with supply and demand, and prices haven’t really risen over the years. Starting your DS collection won’t be as pricey as collecting games for older home console systems.
Where to buy your DS games
Getting hold of DS games is as easy as ever, since the newer consoles can play most titles. Though production has been discontinued, the immense popularity of the device means most titles aren’t rare or expensive. You likely won’t find any new copies of a game, but there are plenty of secondhand cartridges around.
Thanks to this abundance, you won’t have to go poking around flea markets to find hidden gems. Most games are relatively cheap off Amazon or eBay — and the latter is often a good place to get cheap bundles. Alternatively, there are communities online that actively trade games they’ve already completed for something new.
If you don’t yet own a Nintendo DS, eBay is a great place to look. People will often bundle in their old game collection when getting rid of their console. This can result in big savings as opposed to buying all your games independently.
Saving game states on the Nintendo DS
Past Nintendo consoles have had less-than-stellar game save mechanisms that were prone to data loss. The NES and SNES, for example, used RAM that required a power source to operate. When it eventually came time to change the battery, your game save data would be lost. Thankfully, the process is much more reliable on the Nintendo DS cartridges, which have built-in memory. The device stores game save data directly to the game cartridge. It can also store information such as the Wi-Fi settings and profile name.
As a result, it’s very common to find old game save data on a cartridge when you purchase one secondhand. But this data is easily deleted or overwritten so that there’s no temptation to cheat and get ahead. The data also stores no identifying personal information, so there’s no risk in selling or trading your old games.
Looking after your equipment
Nintendo DS games don’t suffer from one of the most common complaints of the NES, SNES, and N64 games that came before. That is, the connecting pins that plug into the cartridge slot are more accessible and not hidden away inside a crevice. So keeping them free from dust and dirt is easier — though as a trade-off, they’re exposed to the elements.
It makes sense to keep your growing collection of DS games inside game cartridge cases, which are very inexpensive. And you can also pick up DS carry cases that hold multiple games at once. This will protect the cartridge’s connecting pins when the games are not in use.
Your Nintendo DS also comes with a stylus pen that’s used for interacting with the dual touch screens. When not being used, the stylus slides into a housing on the side of the console. Though the styluses are notoriously easy to lose, rest assured that they are also easily replaced and won’t empty your wallet.
After sorting through hundreds of titles, our final ranking of the best DS games ever made comes down to 27 winners. To determine the finalists, we’ve scoured official game authority websites, where each of these titles has been reviewed. We’ve also considered real gamer feedback from other sources to get a balanced picture of each game.
As a final step in the process, we compared the winners against a range of our own criteria. This criteria, below, has helped us to further refine our list. Here are the factors we considered:
- Value for money, in terms of packaging, accessories, and length of gameplay;
- Immersiveness and believability of the game’s storyline and character building;
- Multiplayer and party game options for engaging with friends and family;
- Originality of gameplay and game concept;
- Replay value beyond the first play-through;
- Depth of the world and the game systems underpinning it.
Whether you’re looking for a hidden gem, or just starting your DS game collection, start here.
Best DS Action-RPG Games
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Castlevania games can easily fall into the trap of being very similar to their predecessors. But this iteration uses the Nintendo DS second screen to permanently display a world map and other useful menus. Thanks to this design, accessing inventory, statistics, or navigation aids never feels like a break in immersion.
Combat is another area in which the original game is improved thanks to the DS system’s specific hardware. Once you’ve chipped away at the health bar of a boss, you must ‘seal’ their soul with an emblem. This is achieved by rapidly drawing on the touchscreen using your stylus, a clever and engaging mechanic.
The World Ends With You
Many RPGs can lack a degree of originality, focusing on the same tropes of swords, magic, and princesses. But The World Ends With You dared to be different, with a modern-day setting. The gameplay, storyline, and combat introduced new ideas to the genre, making this a popular and successful title.
You wake up to a text message forcing you to take part in “The Game,” or be erased from existence. Missions utilize clever set pieces that make use of both of the device’s screens, while combat uses multiple controls at once. The vastly different concept and gameplay can be jarring for new players, but well worth the time investment.
Dragon Quest IX
Despite the hype that any new Dragon Quest title generates among Japanese gamers, the West is less familiar with the series. It’s not one that completely redefines the genre, using many traditional elements that include turn-based combat and a 4-man party. But there are novel twists on the usual formula that help to set this title apart from others in the genre.
Rather than being handed a predefined character, you get to create one through a character-creation process. You’ll also pick a vocation from a number of options, and even create your party members, too. The world is immersive and believable, and combat makes full use of both screens offered by the DS.
Best DS Action-Adventure Games
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Chinatown Wars combines both new and old GTA generations — though the camera angle is top-down, the game is fully 3D-rendered. Cars can flip and roll should you put pedal to the metal, while debris can bump and fly into traffic. Rockstar has done a fantastic job of cramming so much content into a smaller medium.
The game lacks the fully animated cutscenes of the original console games, but that can be forgiven. This is still one of the defining sandbox games ever made for the Nintendo range of handhelds. And given the limitations imposed by a smaller system that can be carried around, we’d definitely recommend Chinatown Wars.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
One of 2 Legend of Zelda titles to make our list, Phantom Hourglass has many faces. It’s a classic Zelda game that any fan will enjoy, but one that’s also welcoming and casual to new gamers. This entirely touch-based outing is realized in full 3D, with a wider audience appeal than its predecessors.
The visual style is one of the most impressive offerings in an early Zelda title. Every scene appears to have been constructed with cinematic quality in mind, whether traversing land or sailing the seas. Controls lean heavily on the touch capability of the DS, so there’s a learning curve, but it’s one worth learning.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
It used to be rare that Nintendo would release more than one Zelda title on the same console. Yet on the DS, we were treated to not one, but 2 outings of Link. Not a lot changed between Phantom Hourglass and this title, with the exception of a train over a boat for transportation.
So our recommendation is to play Phantom Hourglass to get familiar with the visually distinctive style of DS Zelda games. But once you’ve completed it, you should definitely consider picking up Spirit Tracks to enjoy more of the same type of gameplay. But who are we kidding — there’s no need to recommend this game, as you’ll be dying to continue the adventure.
Best DS Adventure Games
999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
Much like a visual novel, or a “choose your own adventure” book, 999 is all about your decisions. Dumped on a ship in the middle of the ocean with 8 other survivors, you’re forced into a game of choice. Make the wrong choices during your 9-hour playthrough, and you might not make it out the other side.
The puzzle-solving exploration that’s littered throughout this title is nothing new when it comes to DS titles. But the storyline and “choose your own” style affords a unique kind of tension to the experience and genre overall. No matter how many playthroughs it takes, this is one game that you’re going to want to see through.
Animal Crossing: Wild World
Cleaning the house and doing the shopping might seem like chores, but that’s the foundation of Animal Crossing. And yet this game manages to turn everyday life into an immersive game that sucks you in. It’s easy to spend weeks doing almost nothing at all, yet enjoying the ride all the same.
Improvements have been made on the GameCube original, such as inventory management and streamlined task management, though there isn’t a great deal to set this game apart from the previous outing. Still, if you’ve never played Animal Crossing, then you should definitely add this game to your collection.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Phoenix Wright is an odd beast. It’s a title that doesn’t quite follow the same concepts set up by other games. Think along the lines of a point-and-click adventure, and you’ll have an idea of what this game’s all about. Gather evidence and cross-examine witnesses in court to win or lose your case, though it’s trickier than it sounds.
For all its charm, and despite making it onto our list of best DS games, the title isn’t perfect. One complaint is that replay value suffers due to a linear script, so you’ll know the answers already on any subsequent play-through. But owing to the originality of the concept and gameplay, it’s well worth giving Ace Attorney a whirl.
Best DS Platform Games
New Super Mario Bros.
Our best DS game returns to its roots as a side-scrolling adventure, bringing the much-loved Mario to handheld. Overall, the look and feel are true to the game’s origins, but there are enough new elements to advance the series. These are not tied to the DS console’s hardware, as the game makes little use of the touch controls and dual-screen setup.
Instead, despite being side-scrolling, Mario is fully 3D, which opens up a range of new moves and opportunities. Levels feature more moving components to increase the difficulty, whilst Mario can grow to supersize proportions. Familiar gameplay meets innovation in our best DS game that fans and newcomers alike will love.
Kirby Canvas Curse
Canvas Curse is a side-scroller in which you don’t actively move your character through the level with a controller. Instead, you’ll use nothing but touch controls to guide a constantly-moving Kirby through, over, and past hazardous obstacles. Use your stylus to draw paths to follow or walls to block Kirby’s path and avoid enemies and deathtraps.
The game doesn’t end with the completion of all levels — collectables, used to purchase new abilities and modes, within an area add a new layer of replay value. You won’t see the entire game without snagging these coins. It’s certainly a novel concept and one that’s a refreshing break from the usual JRPGs and action games.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
The evil of Dracula’s castle has once again reared its ugly head and it’s up to you to destroy it. Portraits throughout the locale have been brought to life by an evil force, which is what gives the game its charm. These paintings afford a unique design to each level, with a maniacal circus, haunted pyramid, and more.
Though the storyline reuses many of the same concepts from the previous outing, the game doesn’t feel stale. Gameplay mechanics introduced in Dawn of Sorrow are improved upon, whilst this title introduces some new tricks of its own. The result is a Castlevania that’s significantly grander in size and length than any previous iteration.
Kirby Mass Attack
Like Canvas Curse, this Kirby outing is another deviation from the enemy-devouring series you’re likely used to. The touch-only controls make a return in this adventure, to surprising effect, with no option to use a d-pad. The premise is simple — Kirby has been split into 10 and must regroup to defeat the enemies in each stage.
Gather a Kirby army together and command each Kirby individually using nothing but your stylus. To uncover all the secrets of the game, you’ll need to think outside the box. And with 5 worlds to explore, as well as complex puzzles, there’s heaps of replay value to keep you going.
Best DS Puzzle Games
Any game can hand you a puzzle scenario and ask you to solve it with predefined tools. But where Super Scribblenauts shines is in its unique approach to solving puzzles. Rather than giving you a set of tools, it simply hands you a proverbial dictionary and a pencil.
Find the stars in each level by using any items you can think of to solve a puzzle. Your hero will magically conjure any non-trademarked item you need simply by naming it. The combinations are limitless and provide enough variety to replay puzzles over and over.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
Professor Layton games revolve around solving an increasingly complex series of puzzles surrounding a central storyline. Each game introduces a new story, and this outing focuses on a common theme among our top DS games — time travel. The game is split into 12 chapters with 10 different mysteries to solve as you progress.
This series is known for excellent production value, with animated cutscenes and voiceovers littered throughout the game. However, replay value is low as you’ll have little reason to revisit the same roster of puzzles you’ve already completed. But with a full complement of side-quests, there is a lot to do and you’ll easily get many hours out of this game.
A refreshing break from story-driven games, Picross is pretty simply a collection of number puzzles. However, it’s a puzzler with considerable depth and multiple tools at your disposal. The second game in the series, Picross 3D literally brings the medium into 3 dimensions, making the puzzles more complex.
Presented with a grid of blocks, you must chip away at cubes to reveal a hidden picture. Though the premise sounds basic, it’s an addictive concept that’ll keep you guessing for hours. And it’s an enjoyable brain workout to engage with in between the usual high-octane RPG storylines.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village
In a nutshell, this title is a vast variety of puzzle games combined into a classic point-and-click adventure. Seemingly everybody that you meet in the world will challenge you with a brain teaser. Some must be solved before you can progress the story, whereas others are purely optional.
If you like your puzzle games to be story-driven, then Layton games are for you. Rather than advancing the previous games in the series, the Curious Village is more of the same fantastic gameplay with a new storyline. Difficulty scales as you play, but it’s a truly rewarding experience when you crack all the puzzles and beat the game.
Best DS RPG Games
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
With this title comes another RPG outing into the Mario world, though it’s something different than most gamers are used to. Instead of controlling Mario and Luigi, you’ll take control of Bowser in his first “big break” as the central character. Rather than being enemies, the trio work together to defeat series protagonist Fawful.
The series is littered with mini-games, where you’ll temporarily control the plumber brothers to help out with the story. It’s a bit of a bizarre concept, but it makes a change to the side-scrolling adventures you’ve seen before. Put everything together and you’ve got a fresh take on the genre and on the franchise.
Pokemon Black 2 and White 2
Of course, after the success of Pokemon Black and Pokemon White, Nintendo simply had to release sequels. These titles aren’t a quick rehash of the original games of the same name, but rather a vast improvement. The results of those improvements are some of the best cinematic qualities offered by any Pokemon game on a handheld device.
A brand new region to explore is supplemented by an overwhelming ream of new content. There’s a new story, new characters, and new monsters throughout the game. Players new and old will find something to love in either of these sequels.
Pokemon Black and White
This isn’t the literal black and white game that started it all, but a sequel to Diamond/Pearl and SoulSilver/HeartGold. It does return to Pokemon’s roots with a similar storyline and the same loveable combat mechanics. But improvements include speedier battles, a streamlined world — combining Pokemarts and Pokecenters — and more believable baddies.
Graphics haven’t changed much from the immediate predecessors, but the camera has been adjusted to better show off 3D elements. As a result, the game feels like a much shinier and more enjoyable version of the original game. For older fans looking to reconnect or introduce new gamers to the series’ origins, it’s the perfect game.
Mario and Luigi: Partners In Time
When Nintendo called this game Partners in Time, they weren’t kidding with the whole “partners” aspect. The control scheme is split in 2, with you navigating one of the brothers on each DS screen. Though this makes things a little clunky, it’s also a unique concept that’s enjoyable to master.
The storyline kicks off at an easy pace, spoon-feeding you with the solution to most puzzles. But thankfully these cues don’t last, and the difficulty ramps up gradually. Overall, the title does an excellent job of following the much-loved Superstar Saga that came before.
Much like Chrono Trigger, this game incorporates time travel into its storyline, though to different effect. There are multiple possible game outcomes that can morph and change depending on your choices. This massively boosts the replay value, as you can try to best the game in numerous ways.
The usual turn-based combat system is ditched in favor of a more complex, enjoyable system. It’s a refreshing change for hardcore RPG fans, but doesn’t alienate itself from the RPG genre. And everything is packed into a rich and vibrant open world that’s enthralling to explore.
Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver
Much like Pokemon Black and White reimagined the original Pokemon game, these 2 titles are also remakes. Each one is virtually identical to Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver from the Game Boy Color console. But like Black and White, each adds new improvements to the game with a few minor tweaks.
In addition to receiving the same 3D visual upgrade, the games also came packaged with the Pokewalker gadget. If you’re picking up a copy of the game, be sure to try and snag one of these, too. Shaped like a Pokeball, the gadget had a built-in pedometer, which leveled up your lead Pokemon with each real-world step taken.
Pokemon Pearl and Diamond
With the popularity of the Pokemon games that came before, Pokemon Pearl and Diamond was bound to sell millions of copies. The series all started with a black and white game on the original Game Boy, and it has evolved massively since.
This Pokemon outing builds on the previous versions to introduce a wealth of new pocket monsters to collect and battle. But like other DS games, the magic is in how the series utilizes the new hardware of the system. Widgets can be plugged in as you progress, turning your second screen into a Pokedex, a map, and more.
Best DS Turn-Based Strategy Games
Chrono Trigger is produced by the same company responsible for the critically acclaimed Final Fantasy series of games. Originally released on the SNES, the game was ported to the Nintendo DS with a range of additions. Gameplay was improved with new functionality designed around the stylus touch buttons offered by the DS hardware.
The single-player storyline revolves around a fantasy time-travel concept. There’s an enormous and immersive 2D world to explore, and endless monsters to slay. As you’ll infer from the genre, combat is turn-based and highly strategic.
Advance Wars: Dual Strike
The Advance Wars series was ported onto Western handhelds, starting with the Game Boy Advance. Until then, only Japanese gamers had been able to enjoy the modern military, turn-based battle systems that the game offers. As the third installment, Advance Wars: Dual Strike was the biggest and best of the initial trilogy.
Combat revolves around the careful positioning of military units like anti-air guns, tanks, and infantry. Much like a game of chess, you’ll have to pick your unit for the enemy you’re trying to beat. And once you’ve bested the single-player campaign, a whole new experience awaits in multiplayer.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
This isn’t a new title, but a remake of the original, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. But this isn’t a drawback, as the original title never made it onto consoles in North America or Europe. Instead, it was released for the Japanese 90s console, the Famicom (Family Computer Home Video Game Console).
What this means is that the title is the first chance for DS owners to play a Fire Emblem game. The result is one of the best turn-based strategy games that the DS has to offer. A deep storyline and well-balanced combat mechanics rival even the biggest Final Fantasy RPG titles.
Your DS does have wireless connectivity, though it won’t be quite the same as the Wi-Fi you’re used to. Certain DS games have online multiplayer options allowing competitive play, or Pokemon trading for example. Originally, online-compatible games used a Nintendo-hosted service to connect and play online.
However, on May 20, 2014, Nintendo announced that they would be discontinuing the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service. This resulted in the loss of online play and matchmaking, user content sharing, and other online functionality. Thankfully, the DS community has found ways around this to continue playing online.
By creating and hosting private servers on the internet, some DS owners have managed to keep online play alive. Though not all games will necessarily be supported, popular titles like Mario Kart are still played on such servers regularly. Finding a server to play on is pretty straightforward — just consult Google for connection details.
Are Nintendo DS games region-locked?
Games from the Nintendo DS and Game Boy series of handhelds don’t use region lockout for physical cartridges. This means that you should be able to use a game bought in one country on a device from another. But there are a few exceptions to the rule, for both hardware and software.
Some software specific to the Nintendo DSi is region-locked. Some games produced in China are, too. The Chinese DS has some hardware and software differences to support the Chinese glyph images used in their language. Some Nintendo 3DS software is also locked down — but we’re only looking at original DS games here.
In most cases, you won’t have to worry about region locks in the same way you would with a home console. But be wary if you do purchase a foreign console and take it far afield to get home. In online matches, you may get matched against foreign opponents, which could increase game latency.
Are Nintendo DS games still being made?
When the Nintendo DS reached the end of its life cycle, it had sold around 154 million units worldwide. In 2013, the handheld was discontinued in favor of the next generation of devices: the DSi, the 3DS, and the 2DS. And when the DS was discontinued, so too was production of any new DS-specific games.
So in short, no, Nintendo DS originals are no longer being manufactured and sold. Instead, production focuses on titles for the newer consoles, and will likely switch again if a new DS system is released. The good news is that game publishers are continuing popular game series with new sequels all the time.
You typically won’t be able to play 2DS or 3DS titles on an older model of DS. If you’re buying a DS, consider buying one of these newer models, which will still allow you to enjoy all the games on our list. But you’ll also have the added benefit of being able to play newer 3D titles, too. Which brings us to our next question…
Do Nintendo DS games work on the DSi or 3DS?
The Nintendo DSi is an improved version of the original Nintendo DS, and so can play original DS games. The exception is any DS game that uses the GBA Game Pak Slot on the DS handheld. These games won’t work on the DSi, as it lacks this component as part of its design.
The same applies to the newer Nintendo 2DS and 3DS consoles, which also lack the Game Pak Slot. That said, there’s no backwards compatibility — that is, you can’t play 3DS games on the original DS or DSi. These newer titles utilize 3D graphics and mechanisms that just won’t work on the original hardware.
That said, we’re only looking at the best DS games that you can get for your console. To look at the best games available for the Nintendo 3DS, we’d need a whole separate list. But should you choose to buy one of these newer consoles, you’ll still be able to enjoy the games listed here.
What are the best DS games?
With a dual-screen design, the Nintendo DS offered huge gameplay differences over the original Game Boy. And with nearly 2,000 original DS games to choose from, it’s understandable that you’d want to narrow it down. So we’ve put together a list of the very best games that you can find for the Nintendo DS.
Our recommendations are based on the top picks from official review websites, as well as customer feedback. But we’ve also taken into account our own criteria, such as game originality, value for money, and replay value. This ensures you have a final list built on objective opinions from real gamers worldwide.
Our best Nintendo DS game is New Super Mario Bros. Enjoyed on previous consoles like the Famicom, NES, and SNES, it was revamped for this modern, handheld console. But if you’re not a fan of platform games, there are plenty of other options to pick from.
The World Ends With You was our second-best DS game and an impressive action RPG. Or there’s the mobile version of the classic series, Mario Kart DS. Though it only earns an honorable mention on our list, it’s definitely worth checking out. The same can be said about Elite Beat Agents if you’re into music games with a beat.
So now you know what gaming authorities and real gamers have to say on the best DS games ever made. But to round things off, we’ve also got a list of useful recommendations that can help up your game. Check out these products to complement your current setup, whether you’re at home or on the go with your new DS:
- Carrying Case for New Nintendo 3DS XL, 2DS XL, 3DS: This carrying case is compatible with most generations of DS console. There’s plenty of space for both the handset and your new collection of the best DS games.
- Replacement Stylus compatible with Nintendo DS: A stylus is easily misplaced, especially if you’re buying a console for the kids. If you need another stylus, they’re inexpensive and easy to replace.
- AmazonBasics AC Adapter for Nintendo 3DS XL, 3DS, and 2DS: Nothing’s worse than a dead battery in the middle of a marathon gaming session. Extend your handset’s reach with this AC adapter, letting you continue the game when your battery needs more juice.
- Turtle Beach Recon 200 White Amplified Gaming Headset: Headsets aren’t just for console or PC gaming. Turtle Beach is one of the best-known gaming headset brands, and this particular headset supports multi-platform.
- Nintendo Switch – Neon Red and Neon Blue: If you love mobile gaming on the DS, then you may want to check out the newer Nintendo Switch. It’s perfect for solo or family gaming, at home or on the move.