The best DS games show just how unstoppable Nintendo’s dual-screen system was. The handheld console came out in 2004.
It was meant to be between the GameCube and the Game Boy Advance, but it didn’t take long for the DS to surpass both.
As of now, more than 154 million Nintendo DS games have been sold, making it the most popular handheld game system of all time.
Maybe that’s because it has so many great and different games. This list of the best Nintendo DS games just scratches the surface of what’s out there.
Many of the best DS games were built around that unique stylus and made good use of both screens. This style of play made the system more approachable and easy to use.
Nintendo wanted the system to be fun for people who don’t usually play video games, so the library has more than 2000 games.
Because there were so many games to choose from, making a list of the best DS games of all time was hard, but not impossible.
Let’s jump right in.
- 27. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
- 26. Kirby: Mass Attack
- 25. Planet Puzzle League
- 24. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
- 23. The World Ends With You
- 22. Animal Crossing: Wild World
- 21. WarioWare Touched!
- 20. Pokemon Black & White
- 19. Chrono Trigger
- 18. Tetris DS
- 17. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
- 16. Kirby: Canvas Curse
- 15. Hotel Dusk: Room 215
- 14. Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise
- 13. Pokemon Conquest
- 12. Trauma Center: Under The Knife 2
- 11. The Legend Of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
- 10. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
- 9. Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow
- 8. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
- 7. Bangai-O Spirits
- 6. New Super Mario Bros
- 5. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
- 4. Advance Wars: Dual Strike
- 3. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
- 2. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
- 1. Mario Kart DS
27. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Nintendo’s best example of how to do precise role playing is the Fire Emblem series. The DS version is a remake of the first game in the series.
The graphics have been updated, and the touch controls make it easy to control your friends. It’s also the first game in the series to have online play, which is a huge step forward for this big series.
The story of a prince’s escape and a country on the verge of collapse in Shadow Dragon is just as exciting today as it was 20 years ago.
Shadow Dragon is easy to put on our list because of the new graphics in this version and the way it uses both screens.
26. Kirby: Mass Attack
The Kirby series has shown that its versatility is not only its most constant feature, but also its best feature. Mass Attack was the first game where you could control a group of Kirbys that had to work together to reach shared goals while avoiding damage.
Not only did the touch controls work perfectly, but the game also had a sort of difficulty scale that rewarded players who kept their pink puffballs from getting hurt.
Mass Attack came out late in the DS’s life, but it quickly became one of the most memorable games on the system and in Kirby’s history. It was a good mix of creativity and difficulty.
25. Planet Puzzle League
There are a lot of great puzzle games for Nintendo’s dual-screen system, but this is the one we play most often. In this great game from Intelligent Systems, which is called Panel De Pon in Japan, you have to put together groups of three or more of the same color tiles before your bin fills up.
Blocks can be moved with a simple swipe of the pen, and there are many different ways to play, like clearing all the blocks above a Clear line or getting as many points as you can in a certain amount of time.
Planet Puzzle League is very hard to put down once you add great multiplayer games and a variety of fun Daily Challenges.
24. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
One of the most surprising DS successes happened in late 2010, when Aksys Games took a chance and localized a visual novel, a type of game that is rarely seen in the United States.
Most of the time, there is more text in these games than real game play. They are like interactive “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, but because there are so many words to translate, they are almost never available in other countries.
The mind-bending and murderous story of 999, in which nine kidnap victims try to escape a sinking cruise ship full of traps, was beautifully translated into English, giving adults with a DS one of the most enjoyable M-rated games they can play. It was printed more than once and started a whole new series.
23. The World Ends With You
Even though Square Enix and Jupiter’s game can now be played on iOS and Nintendo Switch, neither can match the unique experience of playing it on DS.
Aside from its modern setting, highly stylized characters, and upbeat music, TWEWY’s truly unique fighting system is what sets it apart from other games. Combat takes place on both of the DS’s screens, and you have to use the face buttons and pen to control both of them at the same time.
At first, it’s maddeningly difficult, like rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, but when it all comes together, it gives you an experience that’s just as unique as the way its characters look.
22. Animal Crossing: Wild World
When a game made for a computer is put on a portable system, the results are often not very good. But this wasn’t the case with Animal Crossing: Wild World. In fact, this DS game in the popular series could be the best of all of them.
The main draw of the game is how relaxing it is to improve your town and home, make weird animal friends, collect everything in sight, and so on. Being able to play this game anywhere only adds to its appeal.
Have five minutes to kill while you wait in line at the store? Get a cup of gourmet coffee at the Roost and watch your worry melt away, or give Blathers some fossils to look at.
The game was already very addicting, but being able to play it on the go and with other people online took it to a whole new level.
21. WarioWare Touched!
Even though Project Rub is also a great collection of stylus-based minigames, WarioWare does the same thing much better.
It’s a lot like the other games in the series in that you only have a few seconds to do a certain task, but as you might think, the games here make great use of the DS’s special features.
You might be poking cats and swatting flies one minute, then putting ketchup on food or driving a remote-controlled car while trying to get away from a baby the next.
It’s wildly silly, and while it doesn’t have as many new ideas as Project Rub, the sheer number of games more than makes up for that.
20. Pokemon Black & White
Most of the time, radical overhaul and Pokémon don’t go together, but Game Freak did try to add many new ideas to its highly successful series.
The most noticeable change is the new way battles work. For example, you can now throw out three Pokémon at once for scraps to make a strong team.
Rotation fights are similar, but you can move your cute animals around whenever you want to give yourself a better chance of winning. The games look a lot better than Diamond and Pearl, and there are a lot more side quests and cool minigames.
The scale of Pokémon games has always been big, and Black & White set new goals for Junichi Masuda and his team to reach.
19. Chrono Trigger
We don’t usually put remasters on lists like this, but Chrono Trigger is one of the best JRPGs of all time, and every gamer should play it. Even though the price of the DS version is going up quickly, it’s still much cheaper than the US SNES version and has more features.
It has all the extras from the later PlayStation port, makes great use of the DS’s touch screen controls, has a “run by default” option, and a lot of other improvements that make it easier to play.
It’s the best way to play Square’s amazing story that takes place over a long period of time. It’s also one of the best RPGs on the system.
18. Tetris DS
Since the brilliant decision to include Tetris with the original Game Boy, Nintendo handhelds and this classic Russian puzzler of falling blocks have been inseparable.
But Tetris DS did more than just pay tribute to a long-running legacy. This version of the classic design embraced its new home with fresh touch-based modes, remixed classic ways to play, and wrapped the whole thing up in a presentation full of vintage Nintendo sprites and sound effects. One of the best games ever made has one of the best versions ever made.
17. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Capcom’s series stayed good on DS, and the first five games were released in the west. Only Ace Attorney Investigations 2 was only available in Japan.
We chose the first game because it introduces many of the characters who will show up again and again in later games. It’s also a big step up from the GBA version, which was also only available in Japan, and has some great cases.
The courtroom battles have always been the best part of the game, and you’ll feel very proud of yourself when you catch your opponent in a lie and prove it.
The best part, though, is the last case, which makes full use of the DS’s features and makes you feel like a real detective as you look into crime scenes.
16. Kirby: Canvas Curse
Some of the best DS games do new and interesting things with well-known franchises, and Kirby’s first trip on the system is a great example. You don’t control the cute pink blob directly. Instead, you use your stylus to make rainbow tracks for him to follow through each stage.
You can only make paths with so much ink, so you need to make sure your supplies stay full by controlling Kirby as well as you can.
You can also use the stylus to kill enemies, and soon you’ll be furiously rubbing and poking the screen to get to the next level. The game that came out of it is one of the most creative in the series.
15. Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Cing is no longer making games, but its legacy goes on in games like Hotel Dusk and Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, which are just as fun as the original.
Hotel Dusk feels like a virtual book when you hold the DS vertically. You can read interesting dialogue and use the stylus to move around the hotel’s rooms and solve tasks.
The secret behind the hotel unfolds beautifully thanks to interesting characters, a strong story, and great pacing.
It also stands out from other games on Nintendo’s system because of its unique art style. Another Code: Two Memories, by Cing, is just as worth your time.
14. Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise
Tim Stamper’s original idea for Viva Pinata was for Pocket PCs, so it’s nice that the idea has come full circle and can now be played in your hand.
One of the most impressive things about Pocket Paradise is not just its unique isometric graphics, but also how close it is to the Xbox 360 version.
Even though it doesn’t look as good and some parts have been taken out, the core game is still there. You can take care of your garden and breed new Pinatas as much as you want, and the smart stylus controls and context-sensitive top screen make it easy to meet the needs of your many cute critters.
13. Pokemon Conquest
When you consider how popular Tecmo Koei’s strategy game is in Japan, Nintendo’s choice to pair its popular Pokémon series with Nobunaga’s Ambition makes a lot more sense.
Some people will be unhappy that there are only 649 Pokémon and that many of their special moves are missing, but you can’t argue with how good the game’s battles are or how well-balanced its core combat system is.
Like the best crossovers, it takes key parts from both games but isn’t afraid to be its own thing as you and your loyal Eevee discover the beautiful Ransei Region.
12. Trauma Center: Under The Knife 2
In Vanguard’s fun sequel, you can turn your simple pen into a scalpel, a laser, or even a defibrillator as you try to help people. The story takes place three years after the events of the original DS game.
It is hilariously silly and centers on Doctor Derek Stiles, who is back and having trouble using his famous Healing Touch, which lets you slow down time while playing.
Each patient needs a different set of skills, from killing viruses and stitching up wounds to doing delicate skin grafts and putting broken bones back together.
It’s a crazy mix of fun and stress, as your shaky fingers and sweaty face would gladly trade it all for a simple game of Operation.
11. The Legend Of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass
Surprisingly, Zelda’s DS adventures didn’t quite live up to the grandeur of the Game Boy games, but they were still fun in their own right.
We chose The Phantom Hourglass over Spirit Tracks because we think it makes much better use of the touchscreen and we like how you have to keep going back to a huge area to explore it instead of going through smaller ones like in other Zelda games.
It also looks great, keeping The Wind Waker’s unique cel-shaded style. The game’s mechanics are deep, with new things to use, and the Phantom Hourglass gives you a unique way to explore the colorful game world.
10. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
The third puzzle game in Level-5’s popular series is still the best one. Professor Layton and Luke’s new adventure is impressive not just because the puzzles are clever, but also because there are so many different kinds of riddles.
There are more than 160 puzzles for the two of you to solve in this book. They range from simple sliding puzzles to brain-teasing logic problems.
Even if you can’t solve some of the puzzles, there are plenty of hints to help you out, so you’re never too far from the great story that’s at the heart of the game.
9. Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow
All three Castlevania DS games are worth having, but the one we keep coming back to is Dawn of Sorrow. Even though the tablet features are poorly done (you draw seals to beat bosses), the rest of the game is pure Metroidvania, and it’s a good follow-up to the GBA hit Aria of Sorrow.
The main character, Soma Cruz, is back, and so is the Tactical Soul system, which has been improved in many ways so that souls can now be sold in to upgrade weapons and make new ones.
The graphics are a huge improvement over the GBA version, thanks to the game’s moody settings and some huge, scary-looking bosses.
8. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Shu Takumi is best known for making the Phoenix Wright games, but he also made this great journey. The main character, Sissel, is a ghost who can’t remember what happened to him.
It’s up to you to figure out what happened to him as you travel through both the Ghost World and the real world.
Since Sissel is a ghost, he has to use inanimate items to get around in the Ghost World. However, he can also take over dead bodies and talk to them to find out how they died.
Once he has a gun, he has four minutes to go back and try to save their lives. It’s a cool way to work, and Sissel can do similar things in the real world, where he can use his tricks to make things happen that help the great story move forward.
7. Bangai-O Spirits
When it comes to shoot-em-ups, the DS doesn’t have a lot to offer, but Treasure has made this wonderfully wild game to make up for it.
Everything about Treasure’s game is completely crazy, from the crazy story to the crazy amount of missiles that can fill the play area when things get heated up.
It mixes hard-core shooting with smart puzzles and keeps you on your toes with creative curveballs that make sure no two levels feel the same.
And if you get tired of the 160 or so steps that Bangai-O Spirits gives you, you can make your own, encode them as sound files, and then share them with other people.
6. New Super Mario Bros
As Nintendo kept pushing Mario’s 3D games to crazy new heights, his side-on adventures became less and less important.
Before New Super Mario Bros. came out in 2006, the last major side-on game was Super Mario World, which came out in 1990.
You forget about the long wait once you start playing the game and find fun new power-ups like the Mega Mushroom, which makes Mario bigger and destroys anything he touches, and the Mini Mushroom, which makes Mario smaller and is needed to get through some levels.
It’s a great comeback for the well-known plumber, and 30 million copies were sold because of it.
5. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
There are a lot of great RPGs for the DS, but none of them are as good as Nintendo’s dynamic team.
Alpha Dream’s hilarious adventure builds on the fighting system from the previous games, but it also adds Bowser as a playable character.
Bowser doesn’t know that Mario and Luigi are having their own adventure inside his body, which is shown on the bottom screen.
It’s a great way to set up a game, and the action moves back and forth between the two screens as the three try to beat Fawful.
Bowser’s Inside Story is the most fun you can have on Nintendo’s dual-screen system. It has a lot of creative touches, like when Bowser eats enemies, they are sent to Mario and Luigi to fight. It also has a sharp script.
4. Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Dual Strike is called that because it is the first game in the series that lets you take two Commanding Officers (or COs) into war.
It also adds a lot of new units, like the powerful Megatank, and a number of new COs to the list. During some battles, you can even fight on both screens, which makes them even more strategic. All the original game modes are back, and the story from the GBA games continues.
There are also two new game types: Survival and Combat. Advance Wars: Dark Conflict, a sequel that came out in 2008, had a whole new story and a stark look that was different from the bright look of the first game. Both of these strategy games are great.
3. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
We’ve seen the DS stylus used in a lot of interesting ways, but powering a cheerleading squad’s moves is by far one of the most exciting.
In most rhythm action games, you just hit buttons to the beat of the music. Ouendan goes a step further by having you use your pen to follow patterns and tap different parts of the screen.
It works perfectly and has some great songs that go well with the action on screen and the often interesting stories on the top screen.
Elite Beat Agents, the English version, is also fun to play, but the tracklist isn’t nearly as good. And don’t worry about the Japanese language barrier; both Ouendan and its 2007 update are easy to understand.
2. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Only Rockstar would be brave enough to put a game about selling drugs on a Nintendo system. Even more impressive is that drug dealing is just a side job in Chinatown Wars.
The main plot of Rockstar’s game is a well-done revenge story about Triad member Huang Lee, who is left for dead in the game’s opening explosion and must get back the family heirloom that was stolen from him.
Chinatown Wars has some really memorable tasks, and it also makes great use of the DS.
For example, you can use the stylus to break into cars, and you can call a cab by whistling into the DS’s mic. It had great graphics and the usual polish and swagger of a Rockstar game.
It also showed once and for all that a Nintendo console was more than capable of holding the amazing worlds that Rockstar can make so easily.
1. Mario Kart DS
The fifth main game in Nintendo’s famous series was full of firsts that helped the company stay ahead of the competition.
It was the first game in the series that let players from all over the world fight each other, though it wasn’t always the smoothest experience.
New items like the Bullet Bill and Blooper made their debut, and there’s a fun new battle mode called Shine Runners that will make you fight with your friends a lot.
There are four cups with 16 brand-new tracks, and there are also 16 retro tracks with famous courses from the SNES, N64, GBA, and GameCube versions.
Mario Kart DS is filled to the brim with things to do, and we haven’t even talked about the amazing and unique Mission Mode, which adds even more time to the game.
Add to that the tight racing controls that have been a part of the series since the beginning, and you have the best DS experience money can buy.