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Our Favourite Games on Nintendo DS

Our Best Games on Nintendo DS - largeThe DS celebrates 8 years this week in Europe! Because of this we had a DS special for the first part of the discussion segment on this week‘s The Final Battle podcast. But you guys wanted more and so did we. So the celebration of Nintendo’s wonderful little handheld continues as five editors have collected their favourite DS games and written a little something about each one.

It’s a long read, but if you own a DS you probably already know that there’s too many games for it to talk about, and if you don’t, maybe this will be what makes you pick one up? All of these games are playable on the Nintendo 3DS after all. Let’s go!

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Tobbii Karlsson’s Picks

tobbii-1Another Code: Two Memories (Trace Memory)

When I first got my Nintendo DS back in 2005 there were not too many games out that interested me. Most people would pick up something like Super Mario 64 DS or Wario Ware Touched, and while those games certainly were good titles, it was not until I came across Another Code: Two Memories, released as Trace Memory in the US, that I really found a game that defined the console for me. Which was a trend that would continue with almost every game Cing would release before the developer ceased to exist.

Another Code tells the story of Ashely Mizuki-Robbins, a teenage girl who lost her mother at a young age. She was brought up by her aunt and for her 13th birthday she’s set to meet her father for the first time since she was really young. She also received a small device called a DAS (Dual Another System) which is identical to the original DS in design but works more like a mini-computer that Ashley uses throughout the story. When she arrives at her father’s private island things begin to go wrong and she meets the ghost of a child called ”D”, they begin to explore the island together to find out what’s going on.

The game plays like a standard puzzle-filled adventure game, though with some really clever quirks and ideas that made the game unique and perfectly designed for Nintendo’s new handheld. To this date I don’t think any game has used a entire console in such a practical way for a puzzle that Another Code did at one point in the game. I don’t want to spoil the puzzle itself, but when I finally realized how it was done I felt brilliant and like a complete moron at once. A must-have for any fan of adventure games and by far my easiest recommendation for any DS owner.

tobbii-2The Kyle Hyde Series (Hotel Dusk + Last Window)

Staying on the topic of Cing developed games one can not forget Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and the sequel Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, the latter which never released in the US, starring Kyle Hyde. Similar to Another Code the Kyle Hyde games focuses heavily on puzzles, but instead of the standard adventure game fair it plays more like a Visual Novel with puzzle game elements. Last Window even going as far as to have the game create an actual novel out of the story you played, influenced by your decisions.

Both games are heavily stylized and told in a noir-fashion as the player guides Kyle through gorgeously animated conversations, I’d even go as far as to say that the Kyle Hyde games had some of the best use of 2D art on the Nintendo DS. Every character in the game are animated through rotoscoping while retaining a nice black-and-white comic-book artstyle. The game was also one of the games that popularized holding the DS like a book on its side, a gameplay style replicated in games such as Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. Because of this the game also had a left-handed mode that used the face buttons as a d-pad, something games today still struggle with.

The story of both these games are heavily inspired by 1970’s thrillers and murder mysteries and focuses heavily on the player discovering clues and hints throughout the events that they’re presented with. Hotel Dusk tells the story of Room 215, a hotel-room that’s said to grant the wishes of the people staying in it. The game was even named Wish Room in Japan and in its original localization announcement. Similar to this, Last Window is about the Cape West Apartments, Kyle’s home, which are suddenly set to be demolished and Kyle needs to figure out why and what secrets the building holds.

tobbii-3Lost in Blue

Let’s leave Cing for now as the only other game they released on the DS was the less-than-stellar Again: The Eye of Providence. Let’s instead talk about a game that I mentioned last week in my feature 5 Most Fun Representations of Survival in Games, the game I’m talking about is Lost in Blue. Developed by Capcom as a sequel to Survival Kids 2, Lost in Blue basically revitalized the Survival Kids series into what we now call the Lost in Blue series, sporting two sequels and a Wii spinoff.

Lost in Blue is to this date the most fun and well-made attempt at making survival a gameplay element in a videogame if you ask me. The game makes sure to toss you just as little as you’ll need to make it through and will only reward you if you truly know what you’re doing. It’s a hard game, but it’s certainly a fair one. You have to keep tack of both Keith and Skye’s well-being as you try to make it off the island alive, and something as simple as eating dinner might end up in having you both poisoned and dying from it at a fast pace.

I mentioned the game got multiple sequels and a spinoff, I’d say the second Lost in Blue is worth trying out as it fixed some of the gameplay issues the first one had but had overall a more boring island to explore and suffered a bit in the characterization of the main characters. The third game is terrible, changing up the game to make it less of a realistic survival simulator and more of a Sim-like game, not a bad idea in general, but the bad characters and less appealing art-direction made for nothing but disappointment. The spinoff on Wii is not even worth trying out as it ditched everything that made the original game good and instead became a mini-game filled mess that looked like something out of the PS2 bargain bin.

tobbii-4Ace Attorney 4: Apollo Justice

We don’t often get visual novels outside of Japan, and when we do, they’re Ace Attorney games. Now, I could have gone with either the entire series, the point-and-click adventure Miles Edgeworth spinoffs or any of the celebrated Phoenix Wright games. But I decided to focus on the fourth game in the series, Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice, which was also the first game specifically developed for Nintendo DS rather than Game Boy Advance like the original trilogy because I feel it’s often overlooked despite being a damn fine game.

Replacing the role of Phoenix Wright is Apollo Justice, the best named attorney in the history of lawsuits. The gameplay is divided into two different phase, the Investigation phase and the Trial phase. During investigation the player must talk to NPCs and explore areas to gather up data for the coming court-trial that you’ll be playing next. This is done in a light point-and-click fashion that makes the game a bit more like a standard adventure game than a regular Visual Novel. Following that is the trial where you, as Apollo, must present evidence, make good statements and yell “Objection!” at the opposing prosecutor in the most proper of ways to win the case. It’s simple gameplay done right and the joy of winning a case is just as big as the beating of any good videogame boss.

Now, with the upcoming Ace Attorney 5 the tides have turned once more and Phoenix Wright is back as the main character, possibly due to fan-demand but there’s bound to be a good story to back it up as well. But all is not lost for Apollo, as of this week it was confirmed he would be returning as well as a prosecutor you face in the game. Not only that, but he’s wearing a badass bandage-eyepatch. I think we can basically confirm that Apollo is to Ace Attorney what Raiden is to Metal Gear, and that is awesome. …so Capcom, why don’t you guys announce “Ace Attorney Rising: Retractance” now? Pretty please?

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Jacob Plackett’s Picks

jacob-1Elite Beat Agents

As soon as I laid eyes on Elite Beat Agents, I knew that this was a game I had to try out – little did I know that it would turn out to be my favourite DS game of all time. Released as a response to the high import rate of Osu! Takatae! Ouendan, EBA is a spiritual sequel in the sense that it retained the fast, tough rhythm-based gameplay of the original while replacing the japan-heavy aesthetics and music with ones which would appeal to a western market, with songs such as “September” and “Y.M.C.A”. One particularly memorable scene in the game for many is the Christmas stage, “You’re the inspiration”, which in a sudden change of direction turns the game, for at least that scene, into one big tearjerker.

The covers are extremely well done, fooling me into thinking that they were the real versions the first time around, and are thoroughly memorable, and entertaining to play – if you’re not at least humming one of the tracks from this game after you’re playing it, you haven’t played enough. What makes the game so addictive is its difficulty – the stages on the higher difficulties are extremely challenging, but also extremely entertaining to play – whether it’s to keep trying at that one stage you keep losing on, thinking that maybe this time you’ll pass it, or it’s to get that sacred “S” rank or “perfect” award.

All of these things come together to make a game that just feels right to play for me. It’s a real shame this game didn’t hit Nintendo’s expectations, as I’d love to see a sequel. But hey, if the 3DS can signal the return of the Kid Icarus franchise after 25 years, maybe there’s still hope.

jacob-2Star Fox Command

The StarFox games is a franchise not only known for innovation, but for constantly being different, and StarFox: Command is no exception. Instead of being a linear on-rails space shooter similar to the first two games it instead uses the All-Range mode style gameplay featured in StarFox 64, combined with new strategic elements. You can control each of your fighter’s flight paths (each with their own theme song) on a map screen, leading them into battle against the enemy in an effort to not only defeat their mother ships but also to keep the Great Fox safe from harm.

The game play is just as entertaining as the previous games, but what makes it so special is how different each time you play can be. You truly do feel like Fox McCloud, at the helm of this great team, commanding his allies into defeating the Anglar forces.

What really makes this game stands out is it’s story; the game starts with StarFox essentially being disbanded; and with a new threat arising, the Anglar Forces, Fox is called back into action and must call upon old and new friends to take them down. You can however, MOLD what happens during the story with branching storylines, more of which are unlocked with repeated playthroughs – it doesn’t have to be the same playthrough twice, and with 9 endings the game certainly has strong replay value – which is also boosted with wi-fi online play.

Star Fox Command is a perfect sequel to the Star Fox franchise – not only does it provide a brilliant continuation from all the games that have passed, and the brilliance continues throughout the experience, providing a story that can consistently change and surprise the player with it’s multiple endings and flexible, entertaining gameplay.

jacob-3Sonic Colours

See, this is a difficult one for me. I was originally going to pick Sonic Rush Adventure – as a fan of the Sonic games, it had improved upon the original which I loved – better music, better gameplay, more innovation, etc – but then I remembered Sonic Colours, and how the DS version is not only the superior “Colours”, but the superior Sonic DS experience overall.

Running off the Sonic Rush Engine, it combines the DS Rush games with the Wii Sonic Colours’ mechanics to give a superior experience. The gameplay is much better than the Wii version – the controls feel tighter, and the 2D is much better than the Wii version’s floaty 3D-locked-in-a-2D-Perspective “maze”-like sections. It’s quite surprising to see how much effort went into the PORTABLE version of a game when compared to the Wii version – whereas the Wii version just has the Stages, Sonic Simulator and the Red Rings, the DS version has not only those, but extra missions given to you by other characters in the franchise similar to those found in Rush Adventure.

It’s clear that the DS version was designed in the vein of the Rush games, and not just piggybacking off the Rush engine while awkwardly implementing the Wii game’s features. The Wisp powers are entertaining and quick to use, with the DS exclusive Red Burst and Violet Void power-ups proving to be much more entertaining than the Wii powers. Another thing which amazed me when playing the two games is that the Chaos Emeralds are actually used as a plot point in the DS version – collecting them all via secret stages earned by beating regular stages with 50 rings a la Sonic 1 unlocks the true final boss as Super Sonic – something which is just a throwaway bonus in the Wii version.

I had played the DS game first and the Wii game after, and I have to say that learning that the Wii version has LESS content than a DS game is extremely disappointing. Sonic Colours is the quintessential DS Sonic experience, and it thoroughly entertained me throughout.

jacob-4WarioWare: Touched

Ahh, WarioWare. One of Nintendo’s most original series in years, it gave me some of my most memorable gaming experiences – except for Twisted and Snapped, but I never played Twisted that one because it was banned over here, and I didn’t play Snapped because I didn’t have a DSi at the time (and according to the critical reception, I should be thankful). However, I did pickup the first DS installment, WarioWare: Touched!, and just like the others, I was enthralled.

Instead of the games being focused on specific genres such as Sport or “Strange”, Touched creates different sets of microgames mostly based around different styles of touch-based gameplay – e.g. Rubbing the screen, drawing, etc. One set of microgames is focused on using the DS’ microphone, with a karaoke-loving robot named Mike. Speaking of characters, Touched introduced a few brand new faces alongside the new playing styles – while characters such as Mike didn’t really last, others such as 18 Volt lived on – particularly Wario Man, the world’s worst super hero, and Ashley, the game’s most memorable character, who even had her own theme song.

The game was filled to the brims with content; doing something as simple as beating a high-score in a single game could unlock something new every time you play, such as a “toy” or a small application, e.g. Wario Paint, a send-up to the SNES classic. While it isn’t my favourite game in the franchise (that would be the GameCube’s “Mega Party Game$!”, the multiplayer-centric remake of the GBA game), it certainly is one of my most memorable DS experiences. So much originality and content was packed into such a small package, you’d be hard pressed to find a funnier, more engrossing mini-game collection on the DS.

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Tommy Chodakowski’s Picks

tommy-1The Ace Attorney Series

I wasn’t on the ground floor when the DS started being a thing. Mostly due to my then-obliviousness of the console space and being a low-income college student, I didn’t get one until Autumn of 2009 as a properly employed citizen. After a rocky start, I began to slowly amass a decent library of DS titles, and in turn it ended up being my second-most-played console to date. And the first of those games are the Ace Attorney series.

Extremely simple in gameplay and presentation, the story and its characters is the main attraction of the series. I found the combination of the courtroom drama, detective work and strong characterization extremely compelling. All three entries that I’ve played had their share of heart-racing moments, hanging on the edge of my seat, and being amazed at how the plot points from prior chapters came together in one satisfying crescendo. If I was to pick one definite winner among what I’ve experienced in the series so far, it would definitely be the third game, Trials and Tribulations, but it wouldn’t be there without the prior two games leading up to it.

tommy-2The Professor Layton Series

Next up is the Professor Layton series. I have had a soft spot for brain teasers ever since I started gaming. Games like Lemmings, Benefactor, Logical or Locomotion were among my favorites in my Amiga days, as well as the point-and-click classics from the Lucasarts’ stable on the PC. I was more than pleased to learn that there is a series that takes puzzle minigames and puts them in a story-driven context.

While I had a fond experience with all of the three entries that I played, the puzzles sometimes feel counter-intuitive once you get to find the answer, which is something I recall being the most prevalent in the second game. Regardless, the adventures the main characters embark on more than makes up for any shortcomings. If I was to single out a stand-out entry, I’d have to give two answers: the original title plot-wise, but the third one, The Lost Future, gameplay- and puzzle-wise.

tommy-3Ghost Trick: The Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick: The Phantom Detective is by far the best DS game I’ve played. Delivering more presentation and gameplay while retaining the same strong sense of character writing-wise, this game kept me up to ridiculous hours, just to see the next plot development, to navigate and manipulate yet another stage in a not-exactly-corporial form. If out of all the games I’ve mentioned so far you had the possibility to acquire one and just one, this is the one to go with.

What I find most surprising about my DS experience was that the games I just mentioned, despite lending themselves perfectly to the handheld format, kept me glued to the screen (both of them, in fact) on a level unmatched by many “big” console titles. These are most definitely some of the best games of this generation and overall, some of the best ones I’ve played on any system.

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Marshall Henderson’s Picks

marshall-1newRune Factory 3

Rune Factory as a series is engineered specifically to ruin my life. No game in any series, save for Disgaea, can claim as much of my time, willpower, and, assuming such a thing even exists, soul, as Rune Factory. Each release in the main series increased its Satanic hold exponentially, so when Boss Dungeon’s own Gregory Edwards told me that Rune Factory 3 is a thing that exists in the West on the DS, I immediately began drawing the necessary bloody pentagram to summon my dark master.

Rune Factory 3 improves, categorically, every thing about the series. Combat is tighter, townspeople have more randomized, individualized dialogue, and the farming itself has the heart and soul of Harvest Moon in it, utilizing a huge variety of different seasonal crops and requiring rotation to maintain soil quality.

All of the crafting elements from the second half of Rune Factory 2 are back, but available to the player earlier on. Also, the 11 skills in Rune Factory 2 are expanded to include an additional 22 skills, from walking to sleeping to eating to bathing. Much like those skills, leveling them has a practical application outside of just sleeping better or eating better, boosting stats like Strength or HP or whatever. If you need an altar before which to prostrate, Neverland’s series has got what you need.

marshall-2MegaMan Zero Collection

Is it considered cheating, when considering the best the DS had to offer, to include a collection of Game Boy Advance games? Yes, but let me convince you of otherwise. MegaMan Zero Collection represents probably one of the best deals you can get on a DS game. Each of the four individual games are full-length experiences for a MegaMan title, and the whole package benefits for the superior hardware of the DS.

Overall, the presentation (save for an annoying letterboxing from the fact that it still uses the GBA’s native resolution) is far crisper. The DS audio system removes the noisiness and tinniness of the Game Boy Advance versions, as well as the sprites themselves being cleaned up appropriate to the console. Moreover, the plot of the series is an excellent prequel to the DS’s native MegaMan ZX, except with the edge of challenge to which fans of MegaMan may be accustomed.

Ports sometimes travel about as well as hard-shell tacos when going to a new console, but the action-oriented gameplay of every one of the MegaMan Zero titles holds up remarkably well, not just to the DS era, but even by today’s standards.

marshall-3Pokémon: Platinum Version

No Nintendo handheld would be complete without a Pokemon title, and no list honoring the handhelds would be complete without honoring one of those. To me, Pokemon Platinum Version stands out in a way that is unique to my own experience, but I can’t divorce that sentimentalism from the series.

I had a crisis of faith. When Pokemon Red released in September of 1998, I owned it before Halloween. By December, my Pokedex was in the 130 range. When the series boomed and trades became more readily available, that number rested at 149 (including Mew) before I lost my copy of the game at Archie LeCroy’s house some time after the millenium ticked over. By the time of Pokemon Diamond, however, some of the magic had gone. The Elite Four fell to my team, each member skirting the 90s, and I felt none of the vim I’d had before for my successes.

When I played Platinum, I decided to lowball my levels. After the second gym, as the rule went, I had to be at least 5 levels below the next gym. Suddenly, the game was challenging again. Suddenly, I had to consider my moves and when to switch, whether to use status effects or stat-reducing moves. When I fought the Champion, the battle ultimately, through usage of every stopgap and strategy I could pull out, ended up lasting over 45 minutes, which is a hell of a long time for a Pokemon battle. To many, that might not be enough to make a definitive Pokemon experience, but to me, nothing else could.

marshall-4Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

When it comes to games, one could expect me to, with the distinctive nasally drawl of a douchebag in a trilby-not-a-fedora and an it’s-a-duster-not-a-trench-coat who likes everything but rap and country, tell you that I like most genres, but Visual Novels just don’t do anything for me. Phoenix Wright, like the music of the Silver Jews or Johnny Cash will do to people who don’t like country or Saul Williams will do to non-rap fans, shows me how full of crap I am.

Capcom made sort of a strange decision in bringing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney to the west, with the relative niche size of the audience for VNs, but to hell with anyone who isn’t grateful for it. It has vibrant characters, exceptionally snappy dialogue, and, even if the cases aren’t that hard, picking out the right evidence and doing well during investigations makes me feel way smarter than I actually am, which makes my bias against VNs make me look even stupider.

There is a dearth in games that focus much on the core, genuinely character-and-plot-driven elements of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, so hopping into this series is almost necessary for revitalizing yourself after all the brown-and-bloom shooters.

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There you have it, 8 years of amazing games including some of our favourites of the generation that is slowly passing into next. We could have spent even more time just talking about our favourite titles, and we did on the podcast, but I think we’ve made out point about how great the DS library really is.

But what games did you guys enjoy? Well, we took to twitter to find out and these were the picks that arrived in order:

Elite Beat Agents
The World Ends With You
Hotel Dusk / Last Window
Ghost Trick
Rhythm Paradise
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Sky
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
SMT: Devil Survivor 2
Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume
SMT: Strange Journey
Etrian Odyssey (Series)

Thanks for reading and if you feel we missed a game or you just want to talk about DS games even more, leave a comment below!

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