Crispy Gamer

Nintendo DS Buyer's Guide

Nintendo DS Buyer's Guide


With the massive success of the Nintendo Wii, it's easy to forget that Nintendo has been kicking ass and taking names with its fabulously popular line of handheld game machines since 1989. The Nintendo DS was the first to ditch the Game Boy brand name, and at first glance it felt a little gimmicky. With two screens (one of them touch-sensitive) the machine felt like a goofy departure from the sheer simplicity that made the Game Boy a standby for mobile gaming. And the first incarnation of the Nintendo DS that hit in 2004 wasn't all that great. The thing had the form factor of an old Volvo. The screens were dim and most of the games weren't all that great.

But Nintendo quickly went back to the drawing board and in 2006 unveiled the Nintendo DS Lite, a streamlined version of the DS that retained all the original system's great functionality (Wi-Fi, built-in microphone, Game Boy Advance backward compatibility) but crammed it into a package with contemporary iPod-esque styling. In April of 2009 a fancy new system called the Nintendo DSi came out. This new-fangled model has larger screens, a built in camera and on-board memory for downloading DSiWare games. There's an even newer version of the DS in the works -- the DSiLL (already out in Japan) is a supersized version of the DSi.

Okay, now I'm confused; which Nintendo DS should I buy?

Nintendo DS Buyer's Guide

Nintendo DSi

Don't spring for the DSi if playing Game Boy Advance carts is more important to you than DSiWare downloadables. Stick with the DS Lite for that extra GBA slot on the bottom.

And unless you're a huge, hulking monster like me, don't bother waiting for the DSiLL. The current Nintendo DSi is a fantastic little machine and it's currently available in huge array of colors. Sure, the new DSiLL will have even bigger screens. Why wait when you could be playing New Super Mario Bros. right now?

But isn't the PSP better?

Sony's PlayStation Portable seemed like a contender when it first launched. It's a sexy piece of hardware with more horsepower than the Nintendo DS in nearly every category. If you're looking for a portable multimedia device -- something for listening to music, watching video, and looking at pictures -- you might consider nabbing the PSP. But when it comes to games, the Nintendo DS' catalog handily outclasses the PSP's. See, many of the games released for the PSP failed to take the idea of portability into account -- they recreated the console experience in the portable setting. And that's not what gamers really needed or wanted. The best Nintendo DS games aren't graphically stunning or all that technically innovative, but they deliver great pick-up-and-play fun.

I have the old Nintendo DS; should I upgrade?

Hell, yes. It's time to put that old DS fat out to pasture. Or, better yet, donate it -- along with a couple Nintendo classics -- to your local children's hospital or Salvation Army. After an hour with the DSi's well-lit screens, you'll be glad you forked over for your shiny new toy. The value proposition drops significantly if you're upgrading from the DS Lite to the DSi -- the DSi doesn't have a slot for Game Boy Advance carts, so keep that in mind if you're still prone to playing old-school carts (or go grab one of the increasingly rare Game Boy Micros before it's too late).

What accessories should I grab?

BD&A Nintendo DS Lite Stylus (3-Pack)
Nintendo DS Lite Stylus (3-Pack)

The really nice thing about the Nintendo DSi is that it comes with everything you need. The system is pretty sturdy, and since it folds into a clamshell you won't need anything to protect your screens. So, the only additional stuff you should consider buying is gear that helps you personalize or accessorize the system to better match your style. There are tons of third-party carrying cases that range from tacky to tasteful. If you're the absent-minded type, you can fork over some cash for a spare stylus or two. I prefer the kind that slip into the system's storage slot, but there all kinds of cute pointers that come decorated with videogame characters. If you find the stock stylus too small or uncomfortable, some of these larger styli might be just what you're looking for.

What are games on the Nintendo DS like?

There's a wide variety of games available for the Nintendo DS, serving nearly everyone. Versions of many of Nintendo's standbys, like Super Mario Brothers and Tetris, are available. And the system has become a great opportunity to revisit or become reacquainted with classic role-playing games. Square Enix has re-released some of its greatest old-school games as well as a handful of exceptional sequels. A great deal of the games for the Nintendo DS feature online play, so if you're looking for somebody with whom to trade Pok?mon, all you need is access to a Wi-Fi hotspot and you're connected to millions of other traders. If you don't have a wireless router in your home or apartment, the official Nintendo DS Web site has a list of places where you can connect to the Internet.

You'll also find a bunch of one-of-a-kind experiences on the Nintendo DS -- quirky games like Elite Beat Agents and Rhythm Heaven that are as odd as they are fun. And there's a whole slew of software designed to help the Nintendo DS feel more practical -- programs that help you cook meals, learn languages, and practice math. It's not an exaggeration to say that there's something for almost everybody on the Nintendo DS.

What about those downloadable DSiWare games?

Go nuts! The great thing about bite-sized downloadable games is that they're cheap. If you don't wind up liking them, it's not like you're out 40 bucks. Still, nobody likes to waste money, so I'm going to point you toward some good bets. Here's a good rule of thumb -- look to your favorite game makers and series for quality product, but don't be afraid to give an indie a try. There are lots of neat games being made by small upstarts and they need your support.

So what games should I get?

There's a lot of junk on store shelves right now, so be really careful what you grab. Try to stay away from any game based on a cartoon, movie or superhero. Skip the game if the name of the game ends with a "z" rather than an "s." Truth is, many casual gamers are perfectly happy with games like Imagine Babyz or Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force. But I'm a videogame critic. It's my job to point you towards the best of the best -- the games that innovated. So if you want a game about dogs, do yourself a favor and grab Nintendogs, the game that started it all. If you're into cats, sadly, you're out of luck.

Below you'll find a bunch of top-10 lists featuring a wide variety of fun games that come with the Crispy Gamer seal of approval. I've sorted these lists in order of accessibility. The first list features games for nearly every gamer -- including the casual player looking for a great game with which to pass the time.

As the lists progress, the experiences get deeper. So if you're just getting back into gaming, try a couple of games from the early lists before jumping into more involved experiences.

Ten Nintendo classics

New Super Mario Bros.
Mario Kart DS
Animal Crossing: Wild World
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Nintendogs
Super Mario 64 DS
Yoshi's Island DS
Tetris DS
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Pok?mon Diamond Version, Pearl Version and Platinum Version

Ten mysteries, puzzlers, parlor games and brain-benders

The New York Times Crosswords
WordJong
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Clubhouse Games
Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day!
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (series)
Sudoku Gridmaster
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Meteos
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Action, old-school & arcade

Space Invaders Extreme
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia
Retro Atari Classics
Namco Museum
Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff
N+
Moon
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Geometry Wars: Galaxies
TrackMania DS

Ten excellent RPGs

Chrono Trigger
Final Fantasy IV
The World Ends With You
Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen
Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
Front Mission
Etrian Odyssey and Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard
Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Days of Ruin

Ten offbeat options

Elite Beat Agents
Away: Shuffle Dungeon
Flower, Sun and Rain
WarioWare: Touched!
Retro Game Challenge
Scribblenauts
Trauma Center: Under the Knife
Korg DS-10
Personal Trainer: Cooking
My Japanese Coach

Ten recommended imports

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2
Daigasso! Band Brothers DX
Ketsui Death Label
Arkanoid DS (with paddle controller)
Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland
Front Mission 2089: Border of Madness
Super Robot Wars W<
Game Center CX: Arino no Chousenjou 2
Gyakuten Saiban: Mask Vision Murder Case (out of print as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney in the U.S.; coming to DSiWare)
Rittai Picross

What's the deal with these imports? I can't read Japanese!

The Nintendo DS is a region-free console -- meaning games from any country will play on it. You can also buy a Nintendo DS from Japan and use it to play American games. This is a great option if you're looking for a special color of Nintendo DS, or want one of the fancy-pants special-edition handhelds that come out in Japan every so often. And yes, most of the games you nab from Japan will be in Japanese. Some require familiarity with the language to enjoy, but others can be enjoyed by anyone. Keep in mind, too, that Europe occasionally gets games (such as Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland) that don't make it to the U.S. -- just make sure to find out if anybody plans to release the game in the States before you import it, because exchange rates can make some imports pretty pricey. So, yes, some of these games may not be English, but many can be enjoyed despite (and even because of) language barriers. Arkanoid DS is also available in the states, but it comes with a nifty paddle that plugs into the GBA slot at the bottom of the Nintendo DS. If you're in the market for stuff from Japan, try Play-Asia.

Final thoughts

If you made it through that last paragraph, you have a pretty good feeling for the diversity of experiences available on the Nintendo DS. The system really does cater to wide variety of gamers. And because of this diversity, Crispy Gamer urges you not to take our word as gospel when it comes to game recommendations. Our tastes may differ. Take the list of games we provided as a starting point and go from there. Ask your friends what Nintendo DS games they enjoyed. Read a couple of reviews from different sources before making a decision. No matter what you do, don't make your game purchases based on the box cover and bullet points on the back alone. Put in a tiny bit of effort before you spend your dough, and you'll be rewarded with endless hours of fun. That said, don't be afraid to grab a cheapo game out of the bargain bin. Every so often you'll find a great gem. And some marked-down games are so terrible, they turn the corner to awesome. Just know that you almost always get what you pay for.

Check out more Buyer's Guides.