The Most Underrated & Overlooked Nintendo DS Games

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The Nintendo DS revolutionized the industry by making handheld gaming its own thing, rather than a downscaled copy of the home console market.

It invited developers to create games that could really shine on the go.

Regrettably, the public has limited attention – and many of the best games developed for Nintendo’s handheld slipped under the radar.

Everyone knows New Super Mario Bros., Nintendogs, and Mario Kart – but there are plenty of criminally underrated games just waiting to be discovered by retro enthusiasts.

These are the unsung heroes of the Nintendo DS.


30. Flower, Sun, and Rain (2009)

Flower, Sun, and Rain / NDS gameplay

Flower, Sun, and Rain was initially developed for the PS2 back in 2001 by Grasshopper Manufacture, the people behind Killer7 and No More Heroes.

It follows a “searcher” named Sumio Mondo, who makes a living finding people’s misplaced valuables. While on a mission in an island resort, Sumio finds himself locked in a time loop, forced to re-live the same day until he finds a way to prevent a terrorist attack.

Since the PS2 game was only released in Japan, this excellent NDS port is the only way for Western fans to enjoy this classic.


29. Lunar Knights (2007)

Lunar Knights NDS screenshot

The fourth entry in Kojima Productions’ Boktai series did away with stealth and sun-based weapons for something entirely different.

One of the biggest gameplay changes was removing the sunlight-collecting mechanic of previous GBA entries.

Luckily for those who live in perpetually cloudy regions, the NDS doesn’t have room for the sunlight sensor.

Still, if you have any previous Boktai games, you can plug them into the handheld’s GBA port and use natural sunlight to recover health and other stats.


28. Super Princess Peach (2006)

Super Princess Peach gameplay

Not many people remember when Princess Peach rescued the Mario Bros. instead of the other way around.

Super Princess Peach follows the classic Super Mario Bros. formula – with one big difference.

The magic of Vibe Island amplifies Peach’s emotions, giving her emotional superpowers.

If she’s happy, she’s swept up by the winds; if the regent becomes enraged, she’ll burn her enemies to a crisp.

Hardcore SMB veterans might find SPP a bit easy.

But it’s a great introduction to platforming for younger audiences.


27. Witch’s Wish (2010)

Witch's Wish game screenshot

As a 6ft tall bald man with a beard, people look at me weird if they see me playing cute games.

Still, that never stopped me from enjoying Witch’s Wish.

You’ll play as Vicky, an aspiring witch in a town where only the wealthy get the chance to learn magic.

The gameplay has you exploring the town, figuring out puzzles, and drawing magic runes on your lower screen to cast spells.

Its simple gameplay and adorable anime art style make Witch’s Wish ideal for younger gamers and anyone who likes vibin’ with chill games.


26. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (2007)

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 NDS gameplay

Everyone knows Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright.

But the NDS was particularly rich in investigative adventures.

Hotel Dusk is one such title. It follows Kyle Hyde, a former NYC detective investigating a disappearance connected to a room in the eponymous hotel.

Everyone has a secret, and you’ll need all the info you can get to piece together the puzzle.

There’s point-and-click exploration, interrogations, plenty of puzzles, and even multiple endings. It’s also one of the only games that make you hold your NDS sideways.


25. Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (2010)

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West screenshot

If you liked Hotel Dusk, you’ll love its tragically overlooked sequel.

The story features one of the best murder mysteries in gaming – that of Kyle’s father.

This game focuses on interrogation and actually lets you choose when to push or lay off the pressure.

Find the right balance, and you’ll have your information.

Every chapter cleared unlocks a new chapter of the Lost Window novel to read in-game. It changes depending on the player’s actions, and it’s an excellent extra for the literary-minded.


24. Radiant Historia (2011)

Radiant Historia NDS gameplay

What would you do if you could turn back time?

Radiant Historia follows Stocke – a soldier chosen by the gods to travel between timelines and save the world from desertification.

This storytelling device sets Radiant Historia apart from other RPGs of its time.

Combat is pretty good, but exploring timelines and figuring out how to change them to progress is what it’s all about.

It can get a little convoluted at times, which drove many to drop the game halfway – but keep trying (or read a guide), and you’ll be treated to one of the best stories on the NDS.


23. Chibi-Robo! Park Patrol (2007)

Chibi-Robo! Park Patrol NDS gameplay

Those of us who played original GCN Chibi-Robo! (2005) know how much fun there is in the life of a house-cleaning automaton.

Park Patrol puts the all-new Blooming Chibi-Robo in charge of a garden, where they’ll grow flowers and defend them from evil Smoglings.

You’ll have to sow seeds, water them, build and repair structures, and keep a vigilant eye out for foes.

The gardening gameplay can get repetitive after a while.

But the game looks gorgeous and plays like a dream.


22. Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 (2008)

Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 game screenshot

As a launch title for the Wii, surgery simulator/visual novel Trauma Center: Second Opinion (2006) got a lot of attention, but only a select few enjoyed its NDS counterpart.

Both the original Trauma Center: Under the Knife (2005) and its 2008 successor offer a higher challenge.

The Trauma Center Wii games are no walk in the park, so the difficulty might have kept people away.

Even if you’re not a surgical master, Under the Knife 2 lets you lower the difficulty, so don’t deny yourself this medical adventure.


21. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass NDS gameplay

I know, I know.

How can I call one of the most famous series in the world “underrated”?

Well, Phantom Hourglass is underrated among Zelda games.

Sure, it sold OK – but in comparison to its predecessor, it was criminally ignored.

The touch-based controls and limited scale allowed by the NDS might have been a turn-off for some, but those of us who did play it know how good it can be.

There’s plenty of dungeons to conquer and a large map to explore aboard your steam paddler with Linebeck and the rest of the cast

The multiplayer is also surprisingly good.


20. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (2009)

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks screenshot

If Phantom Hourglass was slept on, then Spirit Tracks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The change from the limitless sea sailing to the somewhat restrictive railroads was conflicting for Zelda fans, but this unique entry deserves way more credit than it gets.

It’s not every day we get such an extensive continuation of Link’s story.

Spirit Tracks also made Zelda a much more active participant in your adventure, making me care more about the character.


19. Fossil Fighters (2008)

Fossil Fighters NDS gameplay screenshot

Everyone loves Pokémon.

But it’s hardly the only monster collecting game on the NDS.

If you love dinosaurs and archaeology, you’ll love Fossil Fighters.

To put it simply, it’s Pokémon with elementally charged dinosaurs.

Instead of catching them, you’ll find their fossils in special dig sites, clean them up, and eventually bring them back to life.

It may be similar to Pokémon, but there are plenty of unique additions to the formula that make it worth a play – especially for dinosaur enthusiasts.


18. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (2008)

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin gameplay

Advance Wars is well known for its fantastic turn-based tactics gameplay and lighthearted personality.

And the second entry on the DS shook things up by replacing the game’s somewhat goofy tone with something much darker.

The new post-apocalyptic setting and more “serious” art direction was a big turn-off for some fans, but there’s a reason why the game was critically acclaimed.

It features a very robust multiplayer component and really sharp graphics. There are also plenty of Commanding officers with unique abilities that completely change the gameplay and add replay value.


17. Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (2011)

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter / Nintendo DS screenshot

Solatorobo is the spiritual successor to Tail Concerto (1999), a little-known gem on the PSX.

Both games focus on anthropomorphic animals riding bad-ass mecha suits for combat and exploration.

There’s a beautiful and surprisingly varied world to discover, and boss fights are challenging enough.

It’s also one of the most visually appealing titles on the NDS, thanks to its anime art style and well-produced graphics.

Not to mention it’s also masterfully written, though I’d say it has way too much dialogue for an action game on a handheld.

Developer CyberConnect2 polished Solatorobo to a mirror sheen, and the result was one of the best games on the NDS. Regrettably, it didn’t sell as well as they hoped, and it remains criminally overlooked even today.


16. 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (2010)

999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors gameplay

The Zero Escape series started on the NDS with 999 – a game that helped popularize visual novels in America.

This sleuthing adventure casts you as an abducted student forced to play the Nonary Game against eight other participants.

You’ll have to find clues and clear puzzles for a chance at escaping a sinking cruise liner.

It’s a bit like SAW, but with much more dialogue and less gore.

You get a great sense of accomplishment from solving puzzles, but figuring out what’s happening behind the scenes is the real challenge.


15. Retro Game Challenge (2009)

Retro Game Challenge NDS gameplay

As its title suggests, Retro Game Challenge runs you through a gauntlet of classic 8-bit game genres.

These include a Galaga clone, a platformer, a top-down racer, and even a JRPG.

What makes the game entertaining is all the challenges you’re presented with inside each game.

Instead of just clearing a game, you’ll have to get “achievements” to unlock other games and extras.

It forces you to engage with each game and look at it from different perspectives before moving on to the next.

As a result, you might just learn something new about gaming’s 8-bit era.


14. Style Savvy (2009)

Style Savvy NDS game screenshot

Look, I know what you’re thinking.

“How the hell is a dress-up game an underrated gem?”

While it’s true that dressing up your clients is a big part of gameplay in Style Savvy, so is managing your business smartly. You need to find a demographic, fill up the store with merchandise they’ll like, and participate in fashion contests to spread the word about your style emporium.

It looks like a dress-up game on the surface.

But it’s more of a store management simulator.

If you want to get your little sister into tycoon-style games without her realizing it, this is the way to go.


13. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (2009)

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes / NDS gameplay

Clash of Heroes is a fantastic puzzle RPG that borrows a lot from Heroes of Might and Magic – including the setting and the playable classes.

The game follows five different protagonists who command knights, wizards, demons, elves, and necromancers on a quest to defeat the demon lord that destroyed their lives.

When facing off against an enemy commander, players will take turns to arrange their units into same-colored columns so they can attack.

The story is nothing to write home about – but the presentation is top-notch, and the gameplay is addictive.


12. Elite Beat Agents (2006)

Elite Beat Agents NDS gameplay

The Elite Beat Agents are a different kind of Men in Black.

Instead of alien technology, this secret government agency will get your feet moving and fight chaos with mad dancing skills.

You’ll have to tap and slide your stylus on the lower screen to help the agents perform their dance moves up top.

Do it well enough, and you’ll help solve problems around town by inspiring the populace.

EBA also features excellent multiplayer and a robust campaign that serves as a great excuse to jam to the game’s awesome soundtrack.


11. Big Bang Mini (2009)

Big Bang Mini game screenshot

Big Bang Mini doesn’t look like much on paper.

The cover is relatively basic.

And without a real storyline, there was little reason to feel drawn to the game at the store.

Still, hiding within this cartridge are 90 levels of pure fun with one of the most innovative shoot-em-ups at the time.

Rather than lasers or missiles, you’ll be launching fireworks from the bottom screen to hit enemies on top.

It’s challenging, different, and the neon-heavy visuals are top-notch.

This psychedelic shooter is great for shoot-em-up veterans and newcomers alike, and its multiplayer feature is a real treat.


10. Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth (2010)

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth / NDS gameplay

Unlike Phoenix Wright games where you play as a defense attorney, Ace Attorney Investigations casts you as fan-favorite prosecutor Miles Edgeworth.

He’s one of the best characters in the series, and definitely one of the most beloved.

It’s easy to see why, too.

Despite being a bit cold and ruthless when practicing the law, Miles has a heart of gold and a crystal clear sense of justice that make him endearing.

Your job as the prosecution includes examining crime scenes, following leads, and questioning witnesses to build a case and bring down the hammer of justice on a smuggling ring.

Admittedly, this game is better enjoyed after you’ve played every other Ace Attorney game on the NDS, which contributes to keeping it in relative obscurity for anyone but the staunchest fans.


9. Rhythm Heaven (2009)

Rhythm Heaven / NDS gameplay

Most people think of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero as the only kind of rhythm game.

But as Crypt of the NecroDancer (2015) taught us, the genre is surprisingly flexible.

Rhythm Heaven is a compilation of quirky rhythm games played by holding the NDS vertically and tapping the right screen with the stylus.

The game features 50 unique mini-games full of unbridled Nintendo creativity.

It’s a bit like WarioWare (2003), but much less chaotic.

It’s the kind of deceptively simple but innovative game design that got the Big N where it is today.


8. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (2007)

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords / NDS screenshot

RPG and puzzle lovers alike will find hours of fun in Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords.

This unique marriage of strategy and brain training has you matching pieces to gain magic power so you can cast spells.

The better you play, the faster you burn down your foes.

When you’re not actively trying to match tiles, you’ll level up, learn new spells, and manage your equipment to become the most powerful fantasy hero.

If you prefer sci-fi over medieval fantasy, make sure to check out Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.


7. Meteos (2005)

Meteos NDS game screenshot

If there’s a genre I love to see on the NDS, it’s puzzlers – especially when they’re as good as Meteos, which features fantastic visuals and one of the most exciting takes on match-three gameplay.

Meteos is similar to Tetris Attack, where the player arranges falling blocks into horizontal or vertical rows.

Still, while Tetris Attack’s blocks simply vanish when matched, Meteos are launched into space.

You’ll tour around the galaxy, helping 32 different alien races keep their planets safe from these falling blocks and take the fight back to the blocks’ home planet.


6. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009)

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars / NDS gameplay

Grand Theft Auto V has become a worldwide phenomenon since its 2013 release.

But did you ever hear about Chinatown Wars on the NDS?

The thirteenth entry in the series takes a page from the first few GTA games for its gameplay, as reflected by its overhead camera.

It features everything you expect from a GTA title.

You can explore a big city open-world, fight for power in the criminal underworld, and even deal out some of those ever-so-cherished drugs.

The visuals are also surprisingly good for an NDS game, thanks to its cel-shaded graphics.


5. Pokémon Conquest (2012)

Pokémon Conquest / NDS game screenshot

Pokémon may be a giant multimedia empire with worldwide reach, but even they’ve had a couple games go overlooked by the masses.

In the case of Pokémon Conquest, maybe Western fans just weren’t ready for it.

This turn-based tactical RPG is a re-telling of Oda Nobunaga’s conquest of Japan, except the armies of these feudal warlords mainly comprise Pokémon.

Most of the characters are based on real Japanese historical figures, and they have some of the most fabulous designs in a Pokémon game.

Pokémon Conquest is an unusual look at how the Pokémon world might have looked centuries ago.

And if you want a more detailed look at the game then this review might be worth skimming.


4. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (2009)

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure / NDS gameplay

Are you an Italian plumber or an English explorer?

This Puzzling Adventure is the perfect marriage of platforming and puzzle-solving – and Henry Hatsworth’s gentlemanly English charisma is the glue that holds it together.

Enemies defeated on the top screen are sent to the bottom one as blocks in a match-three puzzle.

If you don’t match them fast enough, they’ll respawn, and eventually overwhelm you.

Or if you do move fast, you’ll get juice for your special moves, or fuel for a bad-ass mecha.


3. Rune Factory 3 (2010)

Rune Factory 3 / NDS gameplay screenshot

The addition of action RPG elements in the Rune Factory spin-offs made Harvest Moon’s farming/social sim gameplay appealing to the masses.

Still, by the time Rune Factory 3 came out, interest had died down a bit.

A shame too, considering it’s probably the best in the series.

Rune Factory 3 features massive improvements in combat, and more complex and engaging farming.

The writing is fantastic this time around, and the bachelorettes are all attractive to get to know.

If you like fighting and taming monsters, wooing townswomen, and becoming a vital part of the community, this is the best way to do it on the NDS.


2. Aliens Infestation (2011)

Aliens Infestation / NDS gameplay

The Alien series has a pretty solid track record of video game adaptations.

And Aliens Infestation is no different.

This Metroidvania draws inspiration from the original films.

Its chilling atmosphere, appealing graphics, and excellent level design keep it a fantastic gaming experience a decade later.

There are 20 individual characters to recruit in Aliens Infestation, all expertly written. Their deaths are permanent, so losing any of them to the Xenomorphs is tragic.

If you’re looking for a fun side-scrolling shooting adventure, Aliens is a no-brainer.


1. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (2011)

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective screenshot

My favorite sleuthing game on the NDS is Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, which follows a recently deceased ghost trying to remember who he was and how he got killed.

It was written and directed by Ace Attorney creator Shu Takumi, but the game sets itself apart from his previous work with the hands-on, fast-paced nature of the gameplay.

You’ll have to possess corpses and inanimate objects in real-time to influence the living and find what you’re looking for. Most of the time, you’ll be helping people persevere through challenging situations as a sort of guardian angel.

It was one of the NDS’ swan songs, but it remains relatively obscure despite critical acclaim.

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Nelson Chitty

Nelson Chitty is a Venezuelan expat living in Argentina. He’s a writer and translator passionate about history and foreign cultures. His ideal weekend is spent between leisurely playing games of Civilization VI and looking for the next seinen anime to marathon.