The sun has begun its slow descent on the Nintendo DS. With thousands of available titles, multiple hardware iterations, and nearly 150 million units sold, it's the most popular game system of all time.
As of this weekend it will be succeeded by the Nintendo 3DS, a new device which counts among its many advancements improved graphics and the ability to play games in 3-D without wearing glasses. DS games and hardware will continue to be produced and sold for a while, but Nintendo's game making partners have already shifted their focus to 3DS development.
Now seems like a perfect time to revisit what the DS has given us over the last seven years. Some people will reflect fondly on the DS' all-ages entertainments, such as the Pokemon games, Nintendogs, and Mario Kart DS. Others will remember its deep and mature adventures, including The World Ends With You and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. Indeed, we'll all remember Nintendo's first dual-screen handheld for our own reasons. The games below are simply my own personal favourites. The Nintendo DS may be shuffling toward retirement, but I doubt I've played any of these titles for the last time.
Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes
I don't remember the last time I immediately restarted a game within moments of finishing it, but that's exactly what I did upon completing this puzzle/strategy RPG from Toronto-based Capybara Games. I credit its wholly original puzzles, which combine strategic battle abilities with gratifying match-three play. It's an epic game that can be consumed in tiny bites-an ideal design for a handheld system.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Playing this game in public has led to fellow fans young and old, male and female introducing themselves and entering into excited discussion about how far along they are in the story and what they like most about exploring Bowser's belly. Such is the universal appeal of this original and often amusing adventure RPG that has the famous brothers journeying inside and outside their nemesis' grotesquely expanded guts.
The Professor Layton trilogy
The Curious Village, The Diabolical Box, The Unwound Future-I just can't pick a favourite. These masterful puzzle games have proven a crossover smash, enticing hardcore players with their clever narratives and lovely cartoon-style graphics while grabbing the attention of casual players via brilliant and wildly diverse puzzles, which range from word problems and shape sorting conundrums to sliding puzzles and trick math questions. Just be warned: If you play one, you'll want to play them all.
Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure
This EA-made handheld escapade brought us a new video game icon in the form its titular character, a quirky sword-and-teacup wielding British gentleman on a quest to retrieve all the pieces of an unimaginably dapper suit. Better still, it makes use of the DS' two screens in a bold new way, offering us platform high jinks on top while delivering a bit of complementary puzzling on the bottom. It's not to be missed.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
I'm a sucker for turn-based strategy games, and the Fire Emblem series has delievered some of my very favourites. With a variety of unit types and smartly designed maps, the tactics are rock solid. Just as important, the story features a huge roster of characters whose fates are entirely up to you. If they die in battle, they stay dead, their ongoing story abruptly halted because of your mistake. It makes for great motivation to carefully consider every single move in combat.
New Super Mario Bros.
Before New Super Mario Bros. Wii came this DS platformer, a different game with a similar name that drew upon grown-ups' fond memories of Mario's original side-scrolling adventures while simultaneously enchanting the next generation. It has sat at or near the top of the DS charts for an amazing 250 weeks, selling 25 million copies in the process. Take that, Call of Duty.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Another case of me not being able to settle on a favourite within a series, these two Zelda adventures are distinct but complementary. Their puzzle-like dungeons make players use different skills and abilities, and their lightly upgradeable rides-a boat in the first, a train in the second-feel similar in concept but offer their own challenges. It's their aesthetic and narrative style that bind them together more than anything. If you've yet to play them, do so in order.
The original Scribblenauts allowed players to summon anything they wanted into existence simply by writing the corresponding noun. However, it suffered interface issues and objectives didn't encourage experimentation. The sequel not only fixes these two problems but also adds a great new element in the form of adjectives-words that can subtly or overtly change the nature of any object players call forth. It's a masterpiece of imagination.
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
My favourite traditional Japanese RPG released for the DS, the latest chapter in the Golden Sun saga is an epic story filled with memorable characters, great writing, beautiful graphics, and a slew of slowly collected abilities that can be used not just in the game's speedy battles but also to solve environmental puzzles. It's great fun for people looking for a well-balanced mix of action and storytelling.
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
This sly combination of Bejeweled-style puzzling and traditional RPG action came out of nowhere to win instant acclaim from both critics and the public. Players work through a standard fantasy tale complete with dialogue, quests, and armour upgrades. The twist is that the battles are actually matching puzzles. It went on to spawn a few imitations, as well as a sequel and a sci-fi-themed spin-off, but none have managed to capture the original's charming and unique vibe.