Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sollosi's Favorite DS Games

Here's a new thought experiment.  I'm going to start making Top Ten lists of games for the consoles I play the most.  I'll kick it off with this bit about my favorite games on Nintendo's sales juggernaut of a handheld, the DS.  
Before you read on, I have to apologize - I had this blog post more than 90% completed when I accidentally deleted it, trying to copy/paste some edits in.  I ended up having to rewrite all of the intros and eleven of the fourteen big entries.  This might seem rushed or poorly-edited, and it's because much of it was hastily re-written in frustration.  For the likely suffering of quality as a result, I'm sorry.  

The current generation is now the Wii U, PS4, XBone, 3DS, and PS Vita.  I own none of those, but plan to enter this new generation of gaming hardware later this year.  So, over the next few months, I'm going to celebrate our passing generation of consoles by making lists of my favorite DS, PSP, and PS3 games.  The DS comes first because, well, it's probably the "deadest" of those three.  The PSP still has at least one game I'm grabbing later this year (Trails in the Sky 2nd Chapter), and the PS3 has a 2015 game that I'm buying on day one (Persona 5).  The DS hasn't had a new game in a long time now, with Nintendo moving on to the 3DS.  So here we go, my ten favorite DS games.  OK, it's actually fourteen games, because of course it fucking is. 


The World Ends With You
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Animal Crossing: Wild World
WarioWare D.I.Y. 

Well, those are five games highly rated on MetaCritic and GameRankings that I haven't played enough.  Like, for more than 30 minutes.  I didn't like the brief time I played GTA or TWEWY; I was leery about trying Animal Crossing or WarioWare; and I disliked Phantom Hourglass so much that I passed on Spirit Tracks.  I won't rule out ever playing these, but they can't be here because I didn't play them enough to properly judge them.  Whatever.  Here's the real list: 

Sollosi's Top Ten Favorite DS Games

Now, I should probably mention that the DS versions of Final Fantasy IV, Chrono Trigger, and Disgaea are nowhere to be found on this list.  While I love those three games dearly, the reason I love them is not because of their DS versions, but because of my decades of history with those three stories - I love them because of their original versions and not because of their DS versions.  If I was being honest, Chrono Trigger DS would be somewhere on this list's top five games.  But it isn't.  And I guess this list is technically seventeen games now.  Shit.  

Honorable Mention
Pokemon White 2

Pokemon has had two generations, two major remakes, and a slew of spinoffs on the DS, and all of them were successful.  But... they were still Pokemon.  I poured over a hundred hours into Diamond, Soul Silver, and White 2 over the past several years, and there were important improvements made with each iteration, but I don't consider any of those Pokemon games among my top ten experiences on the DS.  If you really like Pokemon, though, they're must-plays, with White 2 being my favorite.  Black 2 is probably pretty much the same. 

Honorable Mention
Mario Kart DS

Mario Kart DS is a technical marvel.  It looks gorgeous, plays very smoothly, and has surprisingly functional multiplayer.  However, I can't say it's one of my favorites because, well, I never played the multiplayer enough?  I dunno.  MKDS has all of the same problems as other Mario Kart games (lacking variety in modes, lame rubberbanding game design), it takes a few steps back in gameplay from its excellent predecessor, Mario Kart Double Dash, and the MKDS single-player isn't robust enough for me to love it as much as other games on this list.  Mario Kart is hella-fun if you can play it often with others, though, and I would still call it a must-buy if you don't own a more recent Mario Kart game. 

Honorable Mention

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Dual Strike is the oldest game on this list, having come out just eight or nine months after the DS's launch, and it absolutely holds up.  Featuring a huge wealth of single player stages with a new story mode, dozens of challenge maps and multiplayer maps, and something like thirty COs to choose from (quick Google: there are 27 COs), AWDS has tremendous content and replay value.  It's just about everything you could want in a turn-based strategy game.  So why isn't it in my top ten?  Well, I never finished it (eep!), and I didn't play enough of the multiplayer.  It's an excellent value, though, and better than Days of Ruin. 

Honorable Mention

Big Bang Mini

Big Bang Mini is not only one of my favorite DS games; I feel it's one of the most underrated games of the past fifteen years.  It's a top-down shooter (or "shmup") where the player uses the bottom screen to aim and launch fireworks at enemies descending from the top screen.  The enemies and stage themes get increasingly ridiculous (and STUNNING), and each of the ten stages introduces new special moves and gameplay wrinkles.  The soundtrack is brilliant, too.  The major rub: if one of your fireworks misses, a few sparks descend from the top screen, providing new obstacles for your player-blip to dodge.  You gotta be a little precise.  So why is this game (definitely 11th or 12th on my list) not widely-known or very popular?  Couldn't tell ya. 

Number Ten

Radiant Historia

I hate to compare Radiant Historia to Chrono Trigger, because it isn't as good as Chrono Trigger, but I will anyway.  It's the easiest comparison to make.  Radiant Historia is an entertaining RPG with good visuals, good audio, great combat, and a really interesting time travel theme.  Following a major decision made very early in the game, the main character Stocke must travel between two different timelines, affecting events from the war-front and behind the scenes, in order to prevent mass destruction.  The grid-based combat is really interesting, with turn manipulation and use of space as primary elements.  Really excellent Japanese RPG for fans of the genre. 

Number Nine

999: Nine Persons, Nine Hours, Nine Doors

999 is the first of several adventure game / visual novel / story-driven puzzle games on this list, which I suppose is a genre pretty well-suited to the DS.  Whatever, in 999, you solve a number of locked-room puzzles as part of a group of kidnapped strangers locked on an abandoned cruise ship.  Every puzzle amounts to "get out of this room by finding the key to opening this convoluted lock mechanism" but they're consistently challenging and interesting, and the game's dialog, characters, and completely wild twists are a fun ride.  I ended up spending several additional hours on second and third playthroughs of 999 just to unlock new endings.  Seriously, one of the characters right there on the cover dies in the first thirty minutes.  This game doesn't fuck around. 

Number Eight

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

The Mario RPGs are one of the best RPG series of all time.  Not a joke.  Nearly a dozen games, and all of them that I've played are great.  No duds.  Well, Bowser's Inside Story is one of the best Mario RPGs, with solid timing-based combat, truly hilarious exposition and setting, and multiple game modes that keep the player on his/her toes.  The attack items are hugely entertaining mini-games, the boss fights and major story events are awesome to behold, and the challenge areas in the late game make Bowser's Inside Story surprisingly replayable.  My favorite Mario RPG other than Legend of the Seven Stars and The Thousand-Year Door, which is high praise indeed. 

Number Seven

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations

More than any other game on this list, Ace Attorney 3 stands on the shoulders of its predecessors.  It doesn't introduce any major changes or gameplay improvements compared to the first two, and it doesn't innovate the mechanics like Ace Attorney 4, but Trials & Tribulations goes deep into the pasts of Phoenix Wright and Mia Fey in a way that's incredibly satisfying to fans of the series, and delivers the strongest selection of cases in any of the Ace Attorney games.  I can't recommend it without playing the first two games beforehand, but I've played them all and the third one's my favorite.  Awesome characters doing excellent dialogue in a compelling whodunnit. 

Number Six

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

When I was younger I liked the "classic" Castlevania games on the NES and SNES, but not as much as Mario, Mega Man, or Donkey Kong.  Then I played Symphony of the Night in 2000/2001 and it all changed.  I absolutely *DEVOURED* each Castlevania game that released on GBA and DS and enjoyed them all quite a bit, but Dawn of Sorrow is my favorite.  It's a direct sequel to its immediate predecessor, Aria of Sorrow, and expands on its conceit of mastering Dracula's powers rather than killing Dracula.  Dawn of Sorrow has a bevy of souls to collect, a ton of weapons to find, great boss fights, a strong soundtrack, and a solid cast of characters.  Julius Mode is one of my favorite alternate gameplay modes available in any DS game.  Dawn of Sorrow was the highlight of my mid-2000s Castlevania obsession, and I'd recommend it to any fan of character action games. 

Number Five

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Dragon Quest V is technically a remake of a Super Famicom game, but it's the first time we (i.e. Not Japan) have ever received it, so I'm allowing it.  Same rule for the first three Ace Attorney games, which were originally on GBA.  Anyhow, I love Dragon Quest V for the depth of its quest and the incredible journey of the main character.  You follow The Hero across multiple generations, from toddlerhood to fatherhood, in his quest for self-discovery and revenge.  It's awesome.  It has the traditional Dragon Quest gameplay in place, along with deep systems for recruiting monsters and gambling for special items.  

Now, I fully admit that I'm overrating Dragon Quest V more than any other game on this list.  Well, it's mostly because: A) I love Dragon Quest and V is one of my top two favorites in that series; and B) I'm amused by the idea of placing Dragon Quest V in spot number V.  Same went for 999.  Anyhow, Dragon Quest V is slow-paced and at times awfully dense, so it's only worth playing if you have that JRPG patience and are very curious about the series.  It's not a game for everyone, but it's definitely a game for me. 

Number Four

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Level-5 really killed it on the DS, with three Professor Layton games that got more challenging, more beautiful, and more emotional with each entry.  Then there was the fourth Layton game, which was a little disappointing, but no matter.  Unwound Future is the third Layton title, and it's a doozy.  We learn more about Layton, Luke, and a few other important characters in the series, and do it in the craziest, steampunky-est setting yet.  Unwound Future's puzzles (ranging from mazes to math to sliders to simple riddles to what have you) are the best in the series, and these charming games have made Herschel Layton one of Nintendo's signature characters. If you love puzzles involving words, numbers, or cartoons, then play one of the Layton games.  Or all of them.  Unwound Future is the best one.  

Number Three

New Super Mario Bros. 

We've been spoiled with Mario recently, haven't we?  Since 2009 we've had at least one or two "serious" Mario platformers each year up to the present.  I guess we can thank New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Galaxy for that, because those two got Mario rolling on the DS and Wii, respectively.  

New Super Mario Bros. is absolutely gorgeous, and straddles that perfect balance of serious nostalgia and significant improvement.  It has a new signature tune (do-do-do-dooo doo-doo do-dooo) and a few new tricks for Mario that fit in nicely with his classic moveset, affect stage interpretation in a major way, and are just fun to use in general.  Giant Mario, Tiny Mario, Shell Mario, and wall-jumping seem like small maneuvers, but they help NSMB stand out and succeed.  Sure, Fire Flower is still the best power-up, and the boss battles are still too easy, but Mario looks great, plays tight, and has fun in this gorgeous game.  If that wasn't enough, there are a bunch of mini-games (including the original arcade Mario Bros. game) and hidden areas to find.  Every Nintendo machine needs a signature Mario game, and the DS sure has a marvelous one.  

Number Two

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

So when Capcom was making the two Miles Edgeworth games following Ace Attorney 4, what was the Ace Attorney creator doing?  Only making my favorite puzzle/adventure game of all time.  Ghost Trick begins with a murder, and a brand-new ghost tries to solve his own murder (and prevent the murders of several others) using a combination of poltergeist powers and time travel.  Each stage is an elaborate set piece where Sissel (our ghost hero) knows a murder will take place, but must travel from object to object of the crime scene to prevent the death from taking place.  You can also time-travel to the start of a murder scene, which is an interesting, Prince of Persia-esque way to explain replaying a stage following a Game Over screen.

Ghost Trick's puzzles are ingenious Rube Goldberg machines that are better at making players feel smart than any Zelda dungeon.  They're incredible.  And if that wasn't enough, Ghost Trick is genuinely funny, with amusing, interesting characters and over-the-top comedy situations (oh god the dancing cop).  Add in surprisingly strong, boldly colorful visuals and you have one of the absolute best story-driven puzzle games ever made.  Ghost Trick has so many twists and turns to its convoluted plot that I wish I could erase my own memory just to experience them again.  Ghost Trick is weird, but it's one of my all-time favorite handheld experiences. 

Number One

Elite Beat Agents

I am still surprised that EBA is ranked in spot number one.  I had it in my top ten from the get-go, but as I started refining my rankings Elite Beat Agents kept moving up the list.  I couldn't stop it.  I even tried playing it again, and it only strengthened my conviction.  EBA is a unique game (even comparing it to the two Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! games, which have near-identical gameplay to EBA), in its rhythm-precision gameplay, totally absurd characters and scenarios, and outrageous soundtrack combining Top 40 tunes, classic rock, and iconic pop.  What the fuck. 

So, Elite Beat Agents is about using the Power Of Funk to save people in crisis.  A director that needs a hit to save his career; a lost dog trying to find his way home.  With the help of a team of three funky Agents dancing to happenin' beats, these poor souls are inspired to overcome the odds.  But really, the best part about EBA is the touchscreen.  The trio of Ouendan, EBA, and Ouendan 2 is the best use of the DS's bottom screen in the entire DS library.  Hitting the target buttons in time to the music gets intense, with a steep (but reasonable) difficulty curve that evolves into a furious dance of stylus-on-screen.  For having a truly delightful premise, incredible moments of gameplay and story (including one tearjerker stage), and the best use of a touchscreen in any game ever made, Elite Beat Agents is my favorite DS game.


Wow, six or seven of those fourteen games fit the category of "the best game of a DS trilogy" and in part are on this list as representatives of that greater series.  I'm okay with that.  The DS has a wealth of good games, and a lot of sequels, and some of them are the best in their trio by coincidence (Castlevania, Elite Beat Agents), and others in large part becuase they stand out and build on their predecessors (Ace Attorney, Professor Layton).  That's just how it worked out. 

 So anyway, I'm moving along swimmingly in Digital Devil Saga, which has been my game du jour for a few weeks now (de la semaine? Du mois?).  Really enjoying that.  Also working on some more Persona stuff, so hopefully both of those show up on this blog before May happens. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice list. Interesting to see Elite Beat Agents still at #1. I trust you still have the copy of Osu 2 you got at Trivia Day 2007? ;)