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Best Nintendo DS games: best Nintendo DS games for the handheld

Best Nintendo DS games
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nowadays, the best Nintendo DS games can get a little lost among the many games that released for the handheld. The DS produced some astounding games, but anyone who discovers the console now surely wants to start with only the best. While some of these have been ported to the Nintendo Switch or mobile devices, most Nintendo DS games remain forever on the DS.

Thankfully, you can still get a Nintendo DS or 3DS, the successor boasting fun 3D screen effects. If your pile of unplayed games on another platform isn’t too high and you want to catch up on some gaming history, there are many great games on the DS you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

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

Best Nintendo DS games – A shoulder view of a group of characters from Advance Wars: Dual Strike

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

A tactics game that became its own genre

Reasons to buy

+
Challenging yet incredibly satisfying
+
Beautiful sprites
+
For all those who enjoy slower gameplay

Reasons to avoid

-
Some challenges can drag on

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.

Best Nintedo DS games – A Sinisear Pokémon engaging in battle

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2

Sometimes it's all black and white

Reasons to buy

+
Better than the original games
+
Expanded stories

Reasons to avoid

-
Some new Pokémon aren't for everyone

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.

Best Nintendo DS games – A giant Bowser spitting fire at Mario who is on a stone platform to the left of him

(Image credit: Nintendo)

New Super Mario Bros.

Mario Bros. like you've never seen it before

Reasons to buy

+
Fun level design in the spirit of the series
+
Multiplayer option

Reasons to avoid

-
Sometimes slightly frustrating
-
Comparatively short playtime

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.

Best Nintendo DS games – Final Fantasy 4 protagonist Cecil Harvey in front of a black background

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Final Fantasy IV

Still not the final Final Fantasy

Reasons to buy

+
Great boss fights
+
Interesting augment system
+
Beautiful cutscenes

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly too easy for series veterans

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 logo with Kirby in the middle smaller Kirbys painting, cooking, riding a bike, dressed up as Link next to it

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Kirby Super Star Ultra

A true super star is back

Reasons to buy

+
Great new abilities and environments
+
Beautiful vibrant visuals

Reasons to avoid

-
Individual levels are pretty short

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.

Best Nintendo DS games – male and female Animal crossing wild World player characters on a green meadow, with flowers and trees in the background

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Animal Crossing: Wild World

Relaxing times with your wild friends

Reasons to buy

+
Big villages
+
Wide variety of villagers
+
Multiplayer

Reasons to avoid

-
Few tasks

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.

Best DS games – Roxas, Axel and Aqua sitting on a clock tower and eating ice cream

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days

Don't wait 358 days to play Roxas' adventure

Reasons to buy

+
Roxas finally gets to shine
+
Fun look and skill optimization options via the Panel system

Reasons to avoid

-
No new worlds to visit

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.

Best Nintendo DS games – Princess Peach is about to kiss Mario on his knobbly nose

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Super Mario 64 DS

Reasons to buy

+
Additional playable characters with different skills
+
New mini-games
+
Great soundtrack

Reasons to avoid

-
Controls don't translate 100% to the DS

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?

Best Nintendo DS games – A group shot of all characters of Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

(Image credit: Spike Chunsoft)

Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors

The best visual novel escape room thriller around

Reasons to buy

+
Surprising story developments
+
Tense puzzle sequences

Reasons to avoid

-
Story sequences between puzzles can be long

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Link and Zelda are on a train that drives through a green landscape

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

All aboard the hype train

Reasons to buy

+
Great battles
+
Lovely music

Reasons to avoid

-
The demon trains a re very annoying

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.

best Nintendo DS games - the Pokémon Ho-Oh and Lugio in front of a view of the Johto region

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver

Two classics get a new lease on life

Reasons to buy

+
Many improvements on two already great games
+
Lots of additional Pokémon

Reasons to avoid

-
Levelling and evolution can be very grindy

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Ghost Trick Tengo and Lynne at a rubbish dumb, with Tengo the spy pointing a shotgun at Lynne who stands with her back to him, her arms raised

(Image credit: Capcom)

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Spies, time travel and talking ghosts, oh my

Reasons to buy

+
Beautiful 2D/3D art mix
+
Genuinely funny dilaogue
+
Surprising to the end

Reasons to avoid

-
Touch controls can be a little fiddly

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.

best Nintendo DS games – GTA Chinatown Wars protagonist pulling a gun from his jacket

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto happens everywhere these days

Reasons to buy

+
Clearly designed with the DS in mind
+
Running from the police to a great soundtrack is reliably fun

Reasons to avoid

-
There really is a lot of police

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Link and Tetra sailing across the sea

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

This Zelda game will never give you sea legs

Reasons to buy

+
Great touchscreen controls
+
Beautiful level design

Reasons to avoid

-
Too easy for veterans
-
That one temple you have to clear on a timer

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Castlevania dawn of Sorrow boss fight against a giant monster hurling lasers from its throat

(Image credit: Konami)

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Reasons to buy

+
Great selection of weapons
+
Large variety of enemies
+
Beautifully terrifying bosses

Reasons to avoid

-
Can get slightly repetitive
-
The story isn't the best

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.

best Nintendo DS games – view of Super Metroid protagonist Samus' face through her helmet

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Metroid Prime: Hunters

This galaxy is too small for this many hunters

Reasons to buy

+
Great use of multiplayer
+
Fun weapons

Reasons to avoid

-
Clunky controls

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Mario driving his kart

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Mario Kart DS

Every Nintendo console needs a Mario Kart

Reasons to buy

+
Great tracks
+
Online multiplayer was revolutionary at the time

Reasons to avoid

-
Can feel slightly dated now

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.

best Nintendo DS games – the male and female versions of Fire Emblem main character Marth standing next to each other

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Reasons to buy

+
Good way to still enjoy the first Fire Emblem game
+
Online functionality

Reasons to avoid

-
Disappointing support system compared to later games
-
Clunky battle animations

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.

best Nintendo DS games – the world ends with you characters Neku and Joshua arguing, Neku shouting "you killed me" and Joshua saying "aww, Neku"

(Image credit: Square Enix)

The World Ends With You

Don't miss this death game with a cult following

Reasons to buy

+
Unique control scheme
+
Cool visual style
+
Surprising story

Reasons to avoid

-
Controls aren't for everyone
-
Story can be a bit too complicated

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Chrono Trigger characters in a photo that stands on a desk

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Chrono Trigger

An unmissable adventure for JRPG lovers

Reasons to buy

+
Great story
+
Innovative time travel mechanic

Reasons to avoid

-
Huge cast

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.

best Nintendo DS games – Ace Attorney protagonist Phoenix Wright standing at a podium and saying "er, yes your Honor?"

(Image credit: Capcom)

Phoneix Wright: Ace Attorney

Reasons to buy

+
Funny dialogue
+
Memorable characters
+
Simple but effective game mechanics

Reasons to avoid

-
Solutions to some cases are just guesswork
-
Some overly long cases

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.

best Nintendo DS games – two Final fantasy Tactics characters riding a chocobo

(Image credit: Square Enix)

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

Reasons to buy

+
Offers its very own, consistently popular tactics formula
+
Still beautiful

Reasons to avoid

-
Slighty grindy

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.

Henry St Leger
Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist. Before going freelance, he spent more than three years at TechRadar reporting on TVs, projectors and smart speakers as the website's Home Cinema Editor – and has been interviewed live on both BBC World News and Channel News Asia, discussing the future of transport and 4K resolution televisions respectively. As a graduate of English Literature and persistent theatre enthusiast, he'll usually be found forcing Shakespeare puns into his technology articles, which he thinks is what the Bard would have wanted. Bylines also include Edge, T3, and Little White Lies.

With contributions from