The Nintendo DS. The system that has the better half of itself. The Gameboy Advance 4 because there’s two screens in one. The system your grandma probably at some point may have played Brain Age or New York Times Crosswords on. The system that had a library just as strong as the GBA’s and had so many different models. It could play Gameboy games, GBA games, and then it all went away when they took the GBA slot away to give us cameras. Yeah, no thanks. The DS has a vast library of amazing games, but the system is becoming more and more collectible as time goes on and your favorite childhood DS game may be over $100. Metroid Prime Hunters? Yeah, forget it. Hamsterz Life? Yes! Castlevania? Not going to happen. My Baby Girl? You got it! In all seriousness there are cheap games that aren’t shovelwere, quite a few in fact. Also, don’t even bother with the few horror games on the system Japanese release only or not.
Complete in box games are hard to come by and can be expensive, so I dug into my own collection and will be talking about these games that are under $20. Of course there’s shovelware if your a glutton for punishment, that stuff can be bought by the truck load off of eBay and paid by the pound. There may be a few games here you don’t have or just got a shiny DS or have a 3DS and want to dive deeper into this backlog of goodness.
Age of Empires: Age of Kings – Backbone Entertainment/Majesco Entertainment – 2006
Yes, the Majesco that killed off Psychonauts and made the crappy Game Gear re-release in 2000. That Majesco. That’s okay as Age of Kings is a fantastic strategy game on DS and there aren’t many. The touch screen allows for some better controls over buttons and remember this is a tile based game rather than real-time like on PC. It’s a lot of fun, but slow paced and nothing flashy or pretty. It’s great for relaxing on a quiet day and exercising your brain.
Alice in Wonderland – Étranges Libellules S.A./Disney Interactive – 2010
This game came out late in the system’s life, but what is this even?! A good Alice in Wonderland game? A good DISNEY GAME? It looks like Okami?! C’MON! This is a fantastic platformer with a gorgeous art style and thankfully has nothing to do with the terrible Tim Burton movie. I’m surprised it’s not worth more as it’s pretty unknown and was overlooked on the shelves because of the terrible timing of the movie. It’s dark, pretty, and a lot of fun.
Band Hero – Vicarious Visions/Activision – 2009
Band Hero is probably the most peripheral heavy game on the system. They packed an entire band in here! The great thing is you can still pick this up new for under $20 because no one cared about it. Sadly, it’s a great game! It comes with a guitar grip and a weird rubber drum condom. It has great licensed songs and play better than Guitar Hero on DS. It’s a game you can’t really emulate well or watch. It’s an experience of the senses. You of course need a DS with a GBA slot so that pesky DSi won’t due. It’s made by the Crash Bandicoot team so it’s got to be good right?
Big Bang Mini – Arkedo SARL/SouthPeak Interactive – 2009
This is a fireworks shoot ’em up hybrid that utilizes the touch screen very well. It’s super colorful and bright and a lot of fun to get into. There are mini-games and the challenge ramps up as you go on. It’s super colorful and tons of fun with varied boss fights and enemies. This is a must have.
Brain Age Academy – Nintendo – 2006
Well it’s brain teasers, math problems, timing tests, reaction tests, and many things you probably did in school, but it’s fun because it’s a VIDEO GAME. This series was actually quite fun and you can sink several hours into the game and don’t want to stop. Your grandma probably didn’t want to stop either. The entire series is pretty much the same just with new ideas and mini-games and problems. They’re solid and utilize the touch screen well.
Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! – Nintendo – 2007
Around this time people were tired of Dr. Kawashima’s crap and sales dropped. Brain Age 2 is the best of the bunch and is less mini-game like from Big Brain Academy and more educational. These brain exercises are great for anyone studying in school, children, or just plain fun if you want to utilize that fancy touch screen. It’s nothing pretty to look at but a seriously interesting piece of software that only could be done on the DS.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – n-Space/Activision – 2007
Can you 360 no scope in this game? Probably not, but it’s a great single player experience with decent visuals and it feels like a portable Call of Duty game. The only way to get it portable as Roads to Victory wasn’t too hot on the PSP. This was built from the ground up and n-Space were excellent developers for the system back in the day. These are highly overlooked because they’re not big bombastic console versions, but they are quite solid on DS.
Classic Action: Devilish – Starfish Kaihatsu/UFO Interactive Games – 2007
Well this game got shit on a lot because it was unchanged from the Genesis/Game Gear version, and that’s okay. It just stretches the play field out across both screens, but it’s still fun. This plays like a shoot ’em up mixed with Arkanoid. It’s not an instant classic, but that BOX ART THOUGH! Yeah, it looks nothing like the game, but you can still pick up sealed copies of this game because no one knew it existed. That’s okay. At least you do now.
Diner Dash: Sizzle & Serve – Climax London/Secret Stash Games – 2007
Well this was a popular Java mobile game series and also on PC and it came to DS. I love time management games as they are so addictive and you can’t put them down. Diner Dash may not look amazing but it’s super addictive and a ton of fun. You will sink more hours into this game than you will want to admit. Guilty pleasure indeed.
Feel the Magic XY/XX – Sonic Team/Sega – 2004
This was a launch title for the system and was super weird. So the game is all about rubbing things, and no you can’t feel up Sonic I looked, and it was rather fun. It was zany Japanese mini-games that utilized the mic and touch screen really well. You won’t sink hours into this, but it’s cheap enough for some quick fun.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes in Time – Square Enix – 2009
One of the few Final Fantasy games on the system under $20. This was the better half of the Crystal Chronicles series released on GameCube. It’s a top down real-time combat action game with RPG elements. It’s rather fun and unique and different from what we’re used to in the series, especially at this point in time. Even if you don’t care for Final Fantasy this is worth a look.
Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings – Square Enix – 2007
One of the other few cheap FF games on the system, this was a turned based RPG with a slower pace than its console brother. It looks good and has 2D sprites which just look good. You can play the entire game with just the stylus so your screen will finally get it’s mileage if it hasn’t already. It’s a longer RPG that takes around 30 hours to finish so it’s a great time sink and if you are already an FF12 nut then add this to your collection.
Glory of Heracles – Paon Corporation/Nintendo – 2010
If you don’t like JRPGs then look elsewhere. It’s about a JRPG-y as it gets here. At least the skills and powers and done with the touch screen which is nice, and it’s nice and lengthy and a good time sink. It was a late bloomer in the system’s life cycle and didn’t see many sales, but the DS is one of the best handhelds when it comes to JRPGs.
GRID – Firebrand Games and Entertainment/Codemasters – 2008
A racing game that didn’t look like poopoo on the DS? Color me surprised. Racing games weren’t a strong suit for the DS due to the lack of power and anyone willing to create a hand-tailored engine for the system. Either you played Mario Kart DS or didn’t. That was it. Then GRID came along and was a game changer for the system. It looked fantastic and ran at a good framerate and was an actual good racing game. It also wasn’t an arcade racer and more of a sim game, or at least as sim like as you can get on the DS. This is a must own for any racing fan.
LEGO Rock Band – Backbone Entertainment/Warner Bros. Interactive – 2009
Well, if peripherals and weird condoms aren’t your thing then this might be. This was a peripheral-less Rock Band game featuring Legos. You used the DS buttons or touch screen and looked good and had some great licensed tracks. It’s one of the better rhythm games on handhelds and shouldn’t be passed up over the kid-like appeal.
Mario Kart DS – Nintendo – 2005
This was an early instant classic on the system. It’s considered one of the best in the series and actually had online play. It’s fantastic Mario Kart goodness and it’s all in 3D rather than the Mode 7 style of the past. It was a big deal as it was the first portable Mario Kart game in 3D and took the world by storm. Everyone was playing it and so should you.
Meteos – Q Entertainment/Nintendo – 2005
A early puzzle game for the system that was a smash hit. It’s bright, colorful, fast paced, has great music, and you can sink hours into it similar to Tetris. It’s honestly one of the best portable puzzle games ever made. It was created by none other than the Rez man himself Tetsuya Mitzuguchi. This is something that can only be experienced on the DS as it utilizes both screens. You match blocks and they shoot up like rockets at the top screen and you need to chain them. It’s a lot of fun for such a small price.
New Super Mario Bros. – Nintendo – 2006
Well this is why Mario 2D platformers returned. It was the first one in 15 years. New Super Mario Bros. was a mega-hit and the formula of the physics, looks, art style, and identity is all due to this game right here on the DS. It’s an instant classic and just as good as any older 2D Mario game. While the series burned itself out on 3DS it’s feel more energetic and innovative here.
Orcs & Elves – id Software/EA – 2007
I’m surprised this isn’t worth more being an id Software game and an obscure one at that. This was a Java port using the mobile Doom engine from the mid-2000’s. It’s a fantastic FPS game of might and magic and should be owned by everyone who likes Doom or classic dungeon crawlers. It uses the dual screens well and I’m sure it will eventually shoot up in price at some point. You can’t get the mobile version anymore so this is it.
Ridge Racer DS – Nintendo/Namco – 2004
Ok, here me out. A PlayStation exclusive racing series developed by Nintendo for a Nintendo handheld. What kind of sorcery is this?! Yeah, Nintendo made this while Namco published it. So, it’s not Mario Kart that much is obvious and it’s why no one bought it. If you’re a Nintendo racing game and you aren’t Mario Kart you’re going to have a bad time. Here’s the thing, it’s one of the better racing games especially being an early title for the system. It’s not GRID pretty, but it looks and plays really well. The system is anemic with the racers so get this if you can.
Skate It – Exient Entertainment/EA – 2008
Welp, it’s not Tony Hawk. While American Sk8land was much better this tried to bring the Flick-It system to the DS using the touch screen and it mostly worked. It has a high learning curve, but for those patient enough to stick with it you will have a good time.
Super Mario 64 DS – Nintendo – 2004
This was a launch title for the DS and holds up well today. It’s a full remake of the game and is still the best version. There are more characters to play as with different abilities, an expanded quest, and more stars to collect. It’s the definitive version of the game yet not many people talk about it. It’s far superior to the N64 version and is a must own, probably top 5, for the system especially with how cheap it is. You will probably always find at least one copy at every used game store.
Thor: God of Thunder – WayForward Technologies/Sega – 2011
This was released so far into the system’s life it barely sold anything and hardly anyone noticed. It’s made by the talented Shantae studio as well. Ignore Chris Hemsworth on the cover and ignore the movie license tie-in. This is through and through one of the best best platformers on the system bar-none. Don’t believe me? It’s made from the ground up and doesn’t follow anything from the movie. It looks fantastic, isn’t in 3D, bosses fill both screens, and it’s a blast. It’s not a fast paced platformer, and there are a few flaws, but it’s always overlooked.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 – EA Tiburon/EA – 2007
Welp, there was Tiger Woods at the beginning and then there was 08. You can’t get miracles here. The series skipped a few years and returned due to the popularity on the PSP. This is probably the only good golf game on the DS as it wasn’t a popular genre on the system. It looks decent, plays well, and uses the touch screen for the swing meter. It’s dirt cheap and if you are a golf fan then this is a no-brainer.
Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land – Vicarious Visions/Activision – 2005
An early game on the system, American Sk8land on GBA and DS was better than the console versions by a long shot. It had a unique art style, better controls, less dull, and got rid of the stupid skate park building system that wasn’t any fun in the console versions and had a better one. There was wifi mode on the DS which was a blast. This is probably the best skateboarding game on the DS.
Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam – Vicarious Visions/Activision – 2006
Downhill Jam was a pretty awful game, but the limitations of the DS pushed Vicarious to make a pretty good game. While not as good as Sk8land, this downhill racer is just that, but with Tony Hawk stuff thrown in. I much prefer the open levels, but this is still fun and a nice change of pace. Just stay away from the console versions.
Trauma Center: Under the Knife – Atlus – 2005
This game is hard as nuts. It’s solely unique to the DS hardware as you can’t do it anywhere else. Pulling out glass shards, zapping polyps, and stitching up patients. It has a crazy anime infused storyline about terrorism. The last few puzzles are so hard I have never finished them to this day, even on the Wii port. It’s still a lot of fun and has that Atlus difficulty curve thrown in for good measure.