It's been over 10 years since Nintendo released the Nintendo DS (Phat Edition) and there's a rumbling of nostalgia that hasn't been felt since the 16-bit era. Second only to the PlayStation 2 in number of consoles sold, it's one of the most ubiquitous pieces of hardware ever made and its game library tops out at over 2000 titles. It was, to put it lightly, one hell of a run. We've already covered The 20 Greatest Nintendo DS Games as voted by our audience, but let's look back on some underappreciated gems that didn't make the cut, but are still worthy of some recognition.
As always, all opinions are subjective and specifically based on that time around 2009 when I had a 90 minute train commute and a shiny new flash cart.
One of the most appealing aspects of the NDS library was the amount of unconventional games that found their way to the system, for example this pop-art minigame collection about trying getting Japanese hipsters to bang with the help of a traveling half-rabbit ska band. Known in Europe and Australia as "Project Rub", it's a visually dynamic and charming celebration of "love at first sight" that will put a smile to your face. Plus it's far and away the most normal portrayal of human relationships ever produced by Sonic Team.
Ah Chibi-Robo, the little mascot who couldn't. Despite oozing off-beat charm from every metal pore of his tiny frame, Nintendo could never quite get this little helper into the big leagues. Park Patrol is a colorful chaotic clusterfuck of a game in which your titular robot is tasked with maintaining a public park and bringing happiness to the neighborhood around you. The sheer number of systems and mechanics at play forces you to water plants, play music to help them grow, defeat black "smoglings" and manage chibi's limited resources in increasingly complicated scenarios. I remember breaking a sweat in a Starbucks, frantically spinning, swiping, and pumping the touchscreen like a man possessed, terrifying the other yuppies as I gave my all for this dead-eyed automaton and his LSD menagerie of friends. 10/10 would play this virtual fever dream again.
The DS was in no shortage of both Pokemon pretenders and huge JRPG timesinks, which is why I'm including this expansive spin-off from the Dragon Quest franchise. Combining a fully realized 3D world (years before Pokemon would do it) and a monster breeding system that rewarded infinite amounts of grinding, this adventure had you capturing and training the most batshit creations to ever come from Akira Toriyama's mind. It's the kind of game that makes you actively wonder if spending 4 days trying to nab a "King Metal Slime" could possibly, MAYBE be a waste of the precious gift of human life. A technical achievement for the system, it delivered hours of... well "fun" might be a strong word... but definitely "activity". Fun Fact: there was an exclusive monster that would only appear once the player had collected 100% of the creatures in the game including that exclusive monster, thus ensuring it can never be found. This programming error wonderfully illustrates the Sisyphean nature of the whole endeavor.
Known in Japan as Wish Room: Angel's Memory, this is a forgotten jewel in the DS' adventure game crown. Cult favorites like the Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton series have sequels for days, but Hotel Dusk, with its subdued style and noir-inspired characters hasn't made much of a comeback (there was a sequel, but it never came to US shores). One of the few games that utilized the DS in a vertical orientation, it was incredible just how much the wonky plastic device began to feel like a genuine detective's notebook in your hands. One notoriously frustrating puzzle required you to close the DS in order to "flip" a key item over. It's moments like this that felt oddly intimate*, a connection between game and physical object that hasn't quite been matched since.
*or, so infuriating that you threw your handheld onto the pavement, only to have it still work perfectly, because Nintendo.
Ditching the awkward stylus-based magic system of Dawn of Sorrow and the anime tag-team mechanics of Portrait of Ruin, Order of Ecclesia is a fantastic little Castlevania game with multiple endings, a few memorable twists, and solid gameplay. Shanoa is fine example of the tried and true "dark-haired amnesia girl" trope and series producer Koji Igarashi seems to have a fondness for the character since he's using an eerily similar protagonist for his Kickstarter game Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. If you enjoy the sumptuousness of Igarashi's Castlevania games, this is the one to pick up.
Before striking it big with the addictively simple Scribblenauts franchise, 5th Cell was an odd little developer that produced some of the most memorable DS games ever. You're probably familiar with Drawn to Life, which was an average platformer that had the unique gimmick of making the player draw their own assets and sprites as they played. It was one of my most memorable moments in gaming when I had hit the late stages of the game and realized that this bizarre world of robots, puppies, and dildos was one of my own creation. Lock's Quest called upon a different kind of creativity, building ramparts and tower defenses to buy you precious time as your avatar scrambled around a battlefield fighting enemies and repairing turrets. The writing for each game was bittersweet, both took time to focus on the enemies' perspective and gave the player moments of real contemplation. These titles were disarmingly sincere and had WAY too many cutscenes, yet came from a place of such genuine earnestness that they still leave an impression to this day.