Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Best Puzzle: Tetris DS at Amazon
"A reliably enjoyable Tetris experience, enhanced through touch controls."
Best Racing: Mario Kart DS at Amazon
"Nintendo’s kart racing franchise makes a graceful transition to the DS."
Best Platformer: New Super Mario Bros. at Amazon
"A pure celebration of the best from Mario."
Best Action-Adventure: The Legend of Zelda at Amazon
"Fun touch-based controls makes this a fulfilling Zelda adventure."
Best Open World: Grand Theft Auto at Amazon
"Adapts the open-world madness of GTA to the small, portable screens."
Best Simulator: Nintendogs at Amazon
"All the joy of owning a dog is captured brilliantly in this magical, cute simulation."
Best RPG: The World Ends With You at Amazon
"Combines frenetic combat and captivating design for stunning results."
Best for Education: Brain Age 2 at Amazon
"As fun as it is enlightening, you can’t go wrong with the Brain Age franchise."
Best for Kids: Scribblenauts at Amazon
"Guaranteed to give hours of free expression and imaginative fun."
Best Strategy: Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver at Amazon
"This will scratch the tactical itch for all Pokemon fans."
Courtesy of Amazon
No matter what video game console you might find yourself currently in possession of, you can almost always guarantee there is some version of Tetris available for it. The block-based puzzler truly stands the test of time as one of gaming’s most consistent treasures and has for decades since it first made its debut on the original Game Boy.
Of course, it would be unfair to say that Tetris remains completely the same no matter what device you use to play it. In fact, one of the series’ selling points is how it can find new ways to be innovative as it adapts to new technology. That’s certainly the case for Tetris DS, which uses the dual screen and touch screen technology of the DS to add some exciting new spins on the Tetris formula.
Tetris DS includes six new modes such as “Touch,” which allows you to use the second screen touch controls to move the individual tetromino pieces (the falling blocks Tetris is known for), and "Puzzle" mode, where you have to plan your moves in advance. The backgrounds and music are all Nintendo themed, and you get a wave of nostalgia whether playing online or against the computer. We argue this is the best way to play Tetris, especially on the go.
On first glance, you wouldn’t assume that the Mario Kart series would be a good fit for the Nintendo DS handheld. However, Nintendo knew what it was doing when it came to squeezing their venerable kart racing series onto the DS.
The Mario Kart DS still stands as one of the best in the series and features both classic and original tracks as well as competitive multiplayer modes. If you want to play with other people who own a 3DS or DS system, you can use a single cartridge to allow multiple people to play wirelessly, a novel solution to a unique problem.
Using the handheld’s two-screen system, Mario Kart DS allows you to play the game primarily on the top screen while using the bottom one to check your position on the map, access kart pick-ups, and see your standing in the race at any time.
This can be extremely handy in a pinch, and segmenting all that management off to a separate screen makes for a cleaner, more intuitive experience. And with five different modes available to you from the start, there will be plenty to keep you coming back for more Mario Kart DS.
New Super Mario Bros. is the best-selling title of all time for the DS, and for good reason. It is the perfect portable game: a pocket-sized, but no less compelling, adaptation of the Mario platformer for the DS system. It’s pretty much a love letter to the series that has been kicking since 1981, and Nintendo, of course, does not fail in honoring its most iconic mascot. The Italian plumber, his brother Luigi, Daisy, Toad, and the rest of the cast come back for classic 2D action, jumping and all.
The story here is simple, as is often the case for most traditional Mario games: Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, and you must traverse every castle in the land in order to save her. The simplicity of New Super Mario Bros. is one of the game’s strong suits. It’s all about the fantastic level design and bouncy fun gameplay features (that and the catchy-as-always chiptunes and cute animation style).
Playing through the game’s many stages is as addicting as always, and you’ll just be reminded throughout what makes the basic Mario formula so compelling in the first place. New Super Mario Bros. isn’t just a great Mario game for the DS, it’s one of the best Mario games ever made, period.
Next to Mario, The Legend of Zelda is Nintendo’s most iconic franchise, and the publisher spared no expense in bringing the series to the Nintendo DS system for the first time. Phantom Hourglass is the 14th installment of the Zelda franchise released since the original back in 1986.
But more importantly, it was the first direct sequel to the beloved GameCube game The Wind Waker, which gave a bit of a soft reboot to the series with a gentler, more overtly animated new art style. Everything is cel-shaded so it's akin to a Saturday morning cartoon (and we think makes it have a timeless look and feel that's incomparable).
Of course, Nintendo was smart to adapt certain gameplay mechanics to the distinct capabilities of the DS system. One of the most notable being the movement system, which has you using the stylus completely to move Link from place to place. That’s not the only stylus-heavy feature in the game: The path of the main boomerang weapon is also forged through the use of the stylus pen, as is the direction that your ship will take in the game’s many sailing levels.
Phantom Hourglass is a great action-adventure game, but it’s also one of the most pivotal examples of what the Nintendo DS’s stylus and touch screen combo can really do if utilized well.
What better setting to play an open world game than a vibrant, living and breathing city full of danger and intrigue? Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars offers by far the best open world on the Nintendo DS, and is one of the most critically acclaimed games in the console's history. GTA games are well-known for their adult content, so be prepared for mature themes and lots of references to crime and violence (which is very unlike the DS' typical oeuvre).
Developer Rockstar had a unique challenge when it came to bringing their biggest franchise to handheld systems: How would they possibly be able to match the scale and insanity of the series while having to deal with the technological limitations of the system it would be on? Rather than look to the future for answers, Rockstar took a page from their past and designed Chinatown Wars with a top-down, zoomed out perspective similar to that of the franchise’s first installments from the early ’90s.
While this gives Chinatown Wars a bit of a retro feel, the gameplay is anything but. All the fun and anarchy of modern Grand Theft Auto are alive and well, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. This version of the game has exclusive DS features not found on other platforms, like blowing into the microphone to call for a taxi and tapping the touchscreen to control your PDA, GPS, the map, and the radio station.
If you ever wanted the thrill of owning an animal, without the real-world responsibilities (and, frankly mess) of actually caring for one, then Nintendogs is exactly the game for you. Perhaps one of the most well-known names in the Nintendo DS library, Nintendogs allows you to adopt and care for your own pet animal by playing, walking, and feeding it as you would in normal life. There are dozens of breeds of dogs to choose from, so collect them, name them, and love them each equally.
While this doesn’t sound like much on the surface, Nintendo utilizes the uniqueness of the DS to create some very neat ways to interact with your virtual pet. You can speak to it via the system’s internal microphone, or give it a good scrubbing in the bath using the stylus and touchscreen. You can even play fetch with your virtual pet by using the stylus to hurl a disc or ball across the in-game environment.
How you interact with your dog is entirely up to you, but don't get too attached, since the sequel has cats in it. Who can choose between two super cute options like that?
Publisher Square Enix took a pretty big swing with The World Ends with You, one of the first titles they released on the Nintendo DS. A new franchise entirely, the game is set in the Shibuya shopping district of modern-day Tokyo, which is a bit of a departure from the fantasy worlds and venues that Square Enix is primarily known for. Of course, the game doesn’t play it completely straight, as there’s an alternate plane of reality nestled beneath the real-world of Shibuya, one where the dead fight for another chance at life in the grand tradition known as the Reapers’ Games.
You play as Neku Sakuraba, an anti-social teenager who is tasked with defeating the demonic beings known as “The Noise” in order to gain another shot at life. All of this is accomplished through a fluid combat system Square Enix dubbed the “Stride Cross Battle System.” Taking full advantage of the Nintendo DS’ two screens, the battles stretch to both the upper and lower screens, with each representing a different zone of combat.
This creates a distinct and fulfilling gameplay design and paired with the game’s catchy soundtrack and eye-popping art style, it makes The World Ends With You one of the defining titles of the Nintendo DS system.
Brain Age, Nintendo’s puzzle “edutainment” venture, promises to train your brain in minutes a day. That’s a bit of a lofty goal but considering what the series has to offer, it's not so far-fetched.
Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes A Day! features a variety of new minigames distinct from the first installment, such as Number Memory, Match Recall, Serial Recall, and even Rock Paper Scissors, while retaining favorites like Sudoku.
All the modes are well designed and incredibly addictive to play, but they also go a long way towards accomplishing the series main goal: exercising your mental abilities to grow your cognitive capacities. When you first begin the game, you are guided through a test used to determine your “brain age,” which can start from as low as 20 and as high as 80.
As you play more and more of the game’s puzzles and challenges, your brain age will steadily grow larger, as the results of Brain Age 2’s mental gymnastics becomes more and more evident. Learning has never been more satisfying – or fun, for that matter – as with Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes A Day!
courtesy of amazon
Though the Nintendo DS is ostensibly an all-ages console, it’s hard to deny that the handheld device is catnip for younger gamers. Thankfully there are plenty of games geared more towards families and kids available on the Nintendo DS.
Perhaps the best is Scribblenauts, published by Warner Bros. Interactive and developed by 5th Cell studios, Scribblenauts is one of the most unique games available on the Nintendo DS system and allows you to use your imagination in order to solve the 200 puzzles available at your disposal.
The pen (or in this case, stylus) is truly mightier than the sword when it comes to Scribblenauts. The game incorporates the ability for you to summon any object to aid you in your trials by simply writing it down on the touch screen pad. The game's internal database features tens of thousands of distinct items and nouns that you can use to make your way through the game’s extensive puzzles.
Just type in a word and it suddenly appears, allowing you to collect enough “Starites” in order to complete the game. Kids are sure to have a blast thinking of creative ways to solve the puzzles in front of them.
Although Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver is an enhanced remake of Gold and Silver from the Game Boy Advance, the DS version includes updated graphics, new gameplay mechanics, and the possibility of choosing a Pokemon to follow your character wherever you go.
And if you've never played a Pokemon game before, this is a great place to start. To become a Poke Master, you'll explore the Johto and Kanto regions looking for new Pokemon to catch, train, and trade. Battle other Poke trainers and level up your team so they can learn new abilities, and possibly evolve into whole new Pokemon.
As you tackle gym leaders and earn badges, you'll encounter the nefarious Team Rocket during the story, and have to defeat them to make your way to the end. Filling up your Pokedex has never been more accessible and fun than in these remakes.
Animal Crossing games are known for a few things: being able to last for an infinite amount of time, having an unlimited amount of things to do, and being the most adorable and relaxing experience in gaming. In Wild World, you visit a randomly generated town and slowly upgrade your house, garden, furniture, clothing, and anything else you own.
You live life as fast or as slow as you want to take things, and paying back the debt on your house is the only real goal in Animal Crossing. You can just simply do as you please, whether that means talking to your neighbors, going fishing, planting some trees, or participating in local events and holiday festivals in your village.
Wild World is open-ended in its activities and highly customizable to fit your needs. Everything in the world is synced to the actual date, year, and time, so different in-game events will happen naturally as you play through the different seasons and days of the week. Using the DS touchscreen, you can draw designs for your outfits, write letters to penpals, or move your character around.
Animal Crossing is all about interacting with other people and giving you the freedom to collect or accomplish just about anything you can think of without the burden of difficulty or time restrictions like most games have.
Our writers spent over 100 hours researching and playing the most popular DS games on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 40 different games overall, screened options from 30 different brands and manufacturers, read over 50 user reviews (both positive and negative) and played 8 of the games themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.