While Nintendo has consistently seen success in the handheld gaming market, none of its products has been as successful as the Nintendo DS. A rather innovative handheld, the DS introduced a number of new hardware features that gave developers the freedom to create truly fresh experiences that simply weren't possible with standard video game controllers. The result was a lot of creative games and a massive library of excellent titles.
For those looking for the absolute best Nintendo DS games out there, we've collected the 10 highest-rated DS games of all time, according to Metacritic. Please note that we left Flipnote Studio off the list as, even though it has a 93 rating, it's arguably not a "video game."
10 The World Ends With You (88)
A unique action-RPG from Square Enix, The World Ends With You released to widespread critical acclaim when it launched in 2007, taking home numerous awards in the process. Set in Shibuya, Japan, The World Ends With You stars a dead teenage boy named Neku Sakuraba, who finds himself participating in something called the Reapers' Game. Those who win the Reapers' Game are given the chance to come back to life, but they have to compete against other passed souls if they hope to win. The game's innovative Stride Cross Battle System used both of the DS screens to create a completely new kind of RPG combat experience, and while it was later ported to iOS and the Switch, it's a game that can only be truly appreciated when played on the DS.
The World Ends With You was praised for its originality, sharp graphics, and soundtrack. Many reviewers enjoyed the story, in particular the evolution of Neku from the beginning of the game to the end. Despite such a strong positive reaction to The World Ends With You, Square Enix has yet to pull the trigger on a full-fledged sequel, but the characters from the game have started appearing in Kingdom Hearts.
9 Meteos (88)
The DS stood out from other gaming hardware thanks to its unique features, like the dual screens that gave it its namesake, as well as its touchscreen. Games that were able to utilize the DS's capabilities to their full potential stood out on the system, like the puzzle game Meteos, which was actually designed by Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai. A twist on the "falling block" subgenre of puzzle games, Meteos has blocks falling from the top screen that players then have to manipulate on the bottom screen.
Packed with game modes, the Metacritic reviews for Meteos were almost universally positive, with the game noted for its addicting multiplayer and fun core gameplay. Meteos also earned praise for its soundtrack and graphics, and won numerous end-year awards in 2005.
8 New Super Mario Bros. (89)
Side-scrolling Super Mario games may be taken for granted now, but when it launched, New Super Mario Bros. was the first completely original side-scrolling Super Mario game that released in over a decade. Taking Mario back to his roots, New Super Mario Bros. offered an updated take on classic Super Mario gameplay, with brand new power-ups and game modes to keep things fresh. Besides the standard single player Super Mario experience, New Super Mario Bros. also featured a competitive multiplayer mode and simple but fun mini-games that took advantage of the DS's touchscreen and microphone.
Reviews on Metacritic praised New Super Mario Bros. for successfully updating the classic Super Mario formula for modern audiences. They also noted the game's soundtrack, graphics, and replay value as high points.
7 Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (89)
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, the sequel to the Game Boy Advance game Aria of Sorrow, successfully brings the Metroidvania-style of gameplay to the DS. Its touchscreen controls divided critics, but all were pretty much in agreement that the game delivered thrilling action platforming, plenty of content, and an engaging story to top it all off. Reviewers also praised the game's soundtrack, with some noting that the game sounded surprisingly good despite the DS's unimpressive speakers.
6 Advance Wars: Dual Strike (90)
The Advance Wars series made a name for itself on the Game Boy Advance as a strategy series to keep an eye one, but Advance Wars: Dual Strike took things to the next level. Praised across the board for its addicting, tactics-based strategy, Advance Wars: Dual Strike also cleverly used the DS's dual-screen functionality to its advantage. By showing the battle on the bottom screen and reserving the top screen for other information, Advance Wars: Dual Strike featured significant quality-of-life improvements from the previous games. The dual screens also allowed players to "battle on two fronts," with both screens sometimes displaying battles at the same time.
Reviewers weren't just impressed with Advance Wars: Dual Strike's clever use of the DS's dual screens. They also praised Advance Wars: Dual Strike's core gameplay, significant depth (it will take a completionist almost 200 hours to fully complete the game), multiplayer battles, and map editor.
5 The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (90)
A Nintendo system simply isn't complete until it's had a Zelda game, with The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass being the system's first Zelda game. Serving as a direct sequel to The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass has a focus on exploration, as players explore the seas in search of new items and treasure. Its touchscreen control scheme was polarizing at the time, but worked like a charm, offering a fine alternative to a control stick. Its puzzles in particular were very inventive, with one puzzle actually requiring players to shut their DS system in order to solve it. Phantom Hourglass is even one of series producer Eiji Aonuma's favorite Zelda games, so it's not surprising that it's considered by many to be one of the best DS games overall.
Reviews on Metacritic call The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass a DS masterpiece. While some reviewers pointed out some flaws, like players having to replay the Temple of the Ocean King dungeon multiple times, almost everyone gave it a high score, and many even called it the best DS game of the year.
4 Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (90)
The Mario & Luigi franchise are beloved for their quirky humor and simple but addicting gameplay, with Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story arguably the best in the series, nominated for Best Handheld Game at the 2009 Spike VGAs. In the game, Mario and Luigi end up inside their longtime enemy Bowser, resulting in a number of ridiculous and hilarious situations. Making good use of the DS's dual-screens, the bottom screen in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is used to control Mario and Luigi, whereas the top screen is for Bowser.
Most of the praise aimed at Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is due to the game's plot, with some hailing it as one of the best comedic plots in gaming history. Metacritic reviews also pointed out various quality-of-life improvements in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story that made it a stronger game in their eyes. Anyone interested in experiencing the game for themselves may want to consider checking out the Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story 3DS remake, as it offers even more content for players to sink their teeth into.
3 Mario Kart DS (91)
Simply put, Mario Kart DS is a must-have for anyone's Nintendo DS collection. Mario Kart DS pushed Nintendo's racing series forward in significant ways, serving as the first Mario Kart game to ever support online multiplayer. And while Nintendo DS online connectivity is no longer available, the game is still stuffed with content for offline players. Mario Kart DS players can still enjoy the Grand Prix, Time Trial mode, local multiplayer, and more.
Metacritic reviews for Mario Kart DS shower the game with praise as being one of the most portable racing games of all time, with some saying it could even compete with home console racing games in terms of value.
2 Chrono Trigger (92)
Chrono Trigger is often hailed as one of the absolute best JRPGs ever made. So it came as no surprise when the DS re-release earned near-universal acclaim from critics, with many considering it the definitive way to experience the classic game. Chrono Trigger on the DS features not only the main Chrono Trigger game, but the bonus content from the PlayStation version, but a number of quality-of-life improvements as well, including an improved translation. New story content was added to sweeten the pot, in addition to some new areas for players to explore.
Reviews on Metacritic have praised Chrono Trigger for its story, gameplay, and high replay value for a JRPG, offering numerous endings for players to see.
1 Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (93)
Leave it to Rockstar to top the list of highest-rated Nintendo DS games with Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. One of the few M-rated DS games, Chinatown Wars sees players slinging drugs and fighting off the police as Huang Lee, the son of a dead Triad boss who has just arrived in Liberty City. Serving as an engrossing open world experience, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars features some smart use of the DS's unique features, letting players use the touchscreen to interact with the game world, and even whistle into the microphone to hail a taxi. It successfully retains the open world gameplay that has made the Grand Theft Auto series so popular, but translates it to handheld form in brilliant fashion.
Reviews on Metacritic for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars are largely positive, with the game even earning some perfect scores, and winning Best Handheld Game of the Year at the Spike Video Game Awards.