This Friday June 23rd sees the release, at long last, of the Nintendo DS Lite in Europe. Priced Ł99.99 and available in black and white colours, it's arguably the slickest, most fully formed handheld Nintendo's ever made - with virtually no drawbacks. That was certainly my view when I took it to pieces after a few days of ownership - and unusually the intervening weeks haven't offered any cause to revise the view. Console quirks typically become most apparent after a bit of sustained usage, but the DS Lite appears to be an exception.
In other words, it's a worthy purchase. But more than that, it's very probably an ideal time for some of you to pick up your very first DS, and with this in mind we've put together a guide to the very best games in the DS catalogue - with a few honourable mentions thrown in as well - based on our playing habits since the console's original release in the US in late 2004. This is by no means a top ten - think of it more as a best-of. And if you'd like to make a case for something not included, this is the place.
Eurogamer's Favourite Nintendo DS Games
Easily our favourite Mario Kart game since the original one, the DS version includes extensive options for solo players with a huge range of unlockable characters and carts, and online racing only let down slightly by a four-player limit and occasional delays in hooking up with rivals. From the review: "Played alone, it's another satisfying Mario Kart game. I doubt anything will ever dislodge Super Mario Kart from the throne in my mind, but it comes close as the best of the series. But the beauty of Mario Kart DS is that it's really, genuinely practical to play with other people, wirelessly or online. There's not much more to say. Except that if the DS in Mario Kart DS stands for anything, perhaps it's 'default state', because it's hard to imagine a time when I'll be reluctant to return to the multiplayer racing - and as long as there are people who feel likewise, it'll be a game that richly rewards anyone's investment."
A lovable reimagination of the GameCube game, Wild World is about building a quirky little community of animals, forging relationships, planting things, fishing, digging, trading turnips and inviting people around wirelessly to see the excellent hat you just bought from the shop. Difficult to explain, almost impossible to stop playing. From the review: "I'm playing this version through with, if you can't tell, my girlfriend, and the aspect of simply playing the game with others, either on the same cart, of across Wi-Fi, is a whole new experience, one absolutely fraught with joy, laughter and loveliness. If you have never, ever played Animal Crossing in any form before, I can't hesitate to recommend it."
Not the most imaginative reworking of the classic GBA series, and perhaps a bit complicated for absolute newcomers, but Advance Wars is also one of those games that, once you get your teeth into it, you'll probably struggle to put down until its over. Tactical strategy at its most finely planned. From the review: "As long-term fans might expect, Intelligent Systems' uncanny knack of being able to come up with fresh ideas and more challenging maps and missions is the reason we keep coming back. Whether you've played it before or you're a newcomer wondering what the fuss is about, it stands out as one of the finest handheld games ever."
Historically, it's the only game that ever made me join in the "whooping" when it was announced. The GBA original was a funny, intelligent and brilliantly knitted together little RPG. This is better. Funnier, prettier, all the rest. From the review: "Twenty-seven hours. Without getting stuck. It's HUGE. It's like getting the most wonderful box of chocolates, and then finding that there's a second layer of them underneath the first tray. And then a third. And a fourth. I didn't mention this until now, but it's unquestionably the best DS game so far. And I suspect it will be the best for a long time to come."
The debate about whether it actually makes you any smarter or not rages on (boringly), but there's no question that Prof. Kawashima's Brain Training is one of the more entertaining little games available on the DS - with a price that reflects the fact you can't really play it for that much longer than a few minutes each day. A pile of sudoku puzzles adds to the value, but really it's the fun of testing yourself and your friends that proves decisive. From the review: "Given the hype, you might dismiss Kawashima as some sort of Atkins for brains. In the game, he's more like a lively science teacher; likable, and at the very least he's taught me, once and for all, that six sevens are 42. Plus, whether it works or not, you'll have fun playing it; lots of fun; and that, more than anything, is why you should buy it, and watch out for Big Brain Academy, due out later in the year, which'll tell you whether you're more diplomatic than Ellie 'shouts at cats' Gibson or not. Frankly, I rather suspect you are."
When we first saw the screenshots and it was clear Konami had used one of the screens for the map, there were lots of scowls. After playing through Dawn of Sorrow, we changed our minds. Being able to glance at it all the time removes one of the few remaining niggles in this little sub-genre - pioneered by the likes of Castlevania and Metroid and delivered here with enough zip to keep even the most hardened Belmontalista interested. From the review: "Dawn of Sorrow, like its predecessors and the Metroid series to some extent, is one of those games that initially seems to contradict accepted wisdom about mechanics becoming tedious when you can see through them, because while on the surface it's about roaming round a castle collecting weapons and triumphing over evil, that's not what its hooks are snagging you with. At one point, you're faced with a sliding puzzle that controls the rooms - this is far more of a microcosm for whole game. It's not that it relies on a healthy suspension of disbelief to overcome its contrived elements; it's about bringing order to foggy chaos. This, it does with aplomb."
A game that we liked so much after a while, we went back and wrote another review slagging off the first one. The DS version of Zoo Keeper - itself a simplish take on Bejeweled - is about sliding tiles into lines of three to delete them, but the quality of the control system and the range of modes (particularly the infamous Time Attack) means that once it's settled into a DS cartridge slot for the first time it's seldom dislodged for many weeks. We still play it now and then, 16 months later. From the review: "Zoo Keeper is deceptive. But the key point for me is that while it won't reveal all of its charms immediately, it has enough of those charms - and enough that you can't get for free - to keep you happy for a very long time. It's not perfect. There are things that could make it better. But it's good enough to warrant a better score than I gave it originally, and it's good enough to be worth buying if you're in need of a puzzle game for your new handheld.