The Top 10 Nintendo DS Games

With the 3DS unleashing a wave of headaches across the land, now seems as good a time as any to rate the top 10 games to come out on the most successful console of this last generation. Unlike most DS top lists, this list is going to be from the viewpoint of an adult who plays his DS primarily to distract during long distance commutes. Buying a DS just to play at home is a prospect even more depressing than that Alienware commercial where the guy is playing Doom on his laptop at the coffee shop, presumably to mooch off their free wifi, and the actress serving him coffee tries awkwardly to follow the direction of, “Okay, the joke is that he’s oblivious to the world in a public place and looks like a weirdo, but don’t look too weirded out! In fact, try and look a little turned on!”

#10 Bangai O Spirits

A Free-roaming version of Every Extend with a Giant Robot theme and an obsession with kicking your DS’ graphics processor in the balls. Other Websites have been a teensy bit overenthusiastic by saying Bangai-O renders all other videogames obsolete forever, but it is a blast to play. Just bear in mind that you must speed run the levels, plowing past the regular enemies toward the mission target, and bombing whenever you’re cornered by missile swarms. Slowly and meticulously picking off every obstacle ruins the game. Fun in small bursts, it’s the DS’s replacement for Wario Ware ever since they gave up and released Wario Ware: Fuck it, make your own goddamn games!

#9 Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

As always for the GTA series, an amazing technical accomplishment, rendering this gigantic city in 3D on the fly with no pauses for loading areas. The drug dealing Elite mechanic is an incredibly fun new way to avoid the awful campaign missions in a GTA game. I can’t believe that it’s the 7th or 8th title in the series and it’s only now that they got the idea to incorporate Dope Wars into their open world crime-spree games, (especially that it didn’t occur to them until after they got the idea to incorporate Animal Crossing into GTA 4!)

People who complain about getting wanted stars from offscreen cops and toll booths are idiots. Sedate uneventful commutes delivering goods from Dealer A to Dealer B are not what make for a fun game. High speed chases with the police while all your money is tied up in a satchel full of heroin, then crashing cop cars to erase the wanted stars are. The main strike against the game is that, as always for the GTA series, the controls are an awkward and frustrating mess, especially once you throw a stylus into the mix.

Great as it is, I’m not surprised this game bombed. It’s a GTA game you play in public! The first time I started it up, I noticed a woman looking over my shoulder right as the screen had a huge image of a girl lying on the ground with blood streaming out of her mouth and nose and the subtitle, “Ling! What the fuck?!!” Oh yeah, GTA:CW was designated to Hotel room duty only after that.

#8 Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

Using the old Resident Evil trick of 3D characters on a pre-rendered background, this is hands down the best looking game on the DS. The touch-screen controls are incredibly simple, fast, responsive and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not a real deep combat system, but there’s a certain visceral satisfaction to actually tracing the slashes across the bad guys. Considering all the DS games that look like they could have easily been released on the SNES, it’s refreshing to have a title that shows off how this handheld is indeed more powerful than a PSX.

My only real complaints about the game are the strange ways Team Ninja tried to gear it to the DS’ intended child audience, like forcing Ryu to hang out with a bunch of irritating ninja kids between levels, removing all traces of gore, or only using a hideously deformed demon woman with half a face as the game’s sex object.

#7 Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground

I hear people all the time say that Mario 64 (and the DS port) is this ageless classic that’s still fun today. Seriously? Because THPG is a superior 3rd person platformer in every way. It has bigger environments chock full of secrets to discover and minigames to play, a selection of protagonists way more acrobatic than Mario or Luigi ever were, and a lack of Mario 64’s archaic camera system that was a greater threat to your survival in that game than the enemies themselves.

The only strike against THPG verses Mario 64 is that THPG has a serious case of the Brown ‘N Greys. Thanks for rendering the filthy decaying cityscape that most real life skateboarders use to train so realistically, guys. It’s not like I’m playing your game for escapism or anything..

#6 Advanced Wars: Days of Ruin

The best DS title in Nintendo’s premiere portable strategy series, but it tried its damndest to make you hate it.

From a pure gameplay standpoint this is the most balanced AW has ever been. The simple experience system for units discourages using attrition tactics. Loading COs onto specific units creates a nice “King” unit to mix up attack priorities and give you an option for disrupting the enemy’s HUGE! HUGE! HUGE! super power meter.

But Christ on a pogo stick, why did they have to take AW’s bright, cheerful visuals and silly story and turn it into a SERIOUS LESSON presented in brown-o-vision? Was there some kind of public outcry that impressionable teens would turn to video games for moral guidance and start a world war because AW made it look like good clean fun? Sorry, video game developers, but when you write a character whose sole personality trait is that he tells bad jokes at incredibly inappropriate times like he’s got some irritating strain of Tourettes, Tolstoy you ain’t.

#5 Spider Man: Web of Shadows

I’ve sung the praises of this game in greater detail before. A DS game that not only captures the gameplay of Devil May Cry 3 in a way that no other imitator succeeded in, it actually improves the combat in several respects. Plus with half the environments covered in Giger-esque alien goo, it feels more like a proper Metroid game than the two official DS Metroid titles ever did.

#4 Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume

This is the game I THOUGHT Disgaea was going to be based on the box blurb. This is the game I was PROMISED Rondo of Swords was going to be by a certain nutjob. It’s a definite love-it-or-hate-it title based on the wildly varying review scores, but for me it’s the best SRPG on the DS.

The big thing this game does is admit that SRPGs are less a battle of wits against a cunning opponent and more a game of bait-and-pile against simpleminded AI drones. Each battle your antiheroes are outnumbered and must not only defeat the larger enemy force, but surround each individual in formation and so completely overpower them that the finishing blow sends their HP deep into negative number territory, netting you “sin” points. There’s a minimum score you need to reach per battle, and exceeding that minimum gets you a huge bounty of free items, including permanent stat-boosting ones.

The other big wrinkle in this game is that when a character attacks an enemy, all the other characters in range attack as well (and can attack multiple times per round this way). The flip side is that your enemies do the same thing, and bad character placement can get half your team wiped out in a single round. Throw in a lack of random encounters for XP grinding and this is the most challenging and unforgiving SRPG I’ve ever played. It’s also nice that the game has rotatable textured 3D arenas that look better than the original Final Fantasy Tactics, unlike a certain game I’ll get to later.

Unfortunately the game is made by Square Enix who specialize in games that can be finished by people in persistent vegetative states, so they added a panic button. Using the magic power of the game’s Mac Guffin, you can max out the stats for one of your teammates and breeze through a battle, at the price of that teammate permanently dying after the battle ends and pushing you ever closer to the bad ending. You can use a maximum of 4 characters per battle and you get at least 1 new one every chapter. If you can’t resist using this item, this game may not be for you.

Finally, this game is even funnier than Disgaea. It’s supposed to be all dark and tragic, but it’s written by Square Enix and the result is the funniest shit since The Happening! “No, Ersatz-Satan! Don’t make me kill the odious comic relief character and send his soul screaming into the depths of hell!”

3. Metal Slug 7

I can’t speak for how this game ranks in the entire Metal Slug Series, but it kicks the shit out of Contra 4! It’s a glorious run-n-gun platform ballet of explosions. A huge selection of weapons, gigantic and beautifully animated bosses, attacks and hazards you can see coming, secrets strewn everywhere, a level where you pilot a 2-story tall battlemech, and… a dating sim?

2. Civilization Revolution

I don’t care that the graphics are ass, the sound is almost non-existent, and the AI is a cheating bitch, because the distracting power of this game will DEVOUR a long plane flight. It’s like a speed chess version of Civilization with a smaller map and all the fat trimmed from the unit list and technology tree, but all the insanely absorbing megalomania intact. Just be careful you don’t get too drawn in, it’s very awkward to have a stewardess telling you, “sir, the plane has landed, you have to leave,” only for you to snap back, “No! Not until my Jihad is complete!”

1. Knights in the Nightmare

Another game I’ve lavished praise on before. What more can I say? Every other great game on this system can best be summed up with, “It’s _____, only portable!” In an entertainment medium where 90% of the content is based on Aliens, KitN’s plot is based on King Lear fer chrissakes! More creative and genre-bending than a bucketfull of Mirror’s Edges, in my opinion it’s the best game on the DS.

Mischief Maker

Editors’s note: Be here Wednesday for the 5 most disappointing Nintendo DS games!