There’s no doubt that the 3DS is a spectacular piece of hardware. Unfortunately, it will be awhile before any worthwhile software is released for it. At the same time, the DS’s support is rapidly winding down to coincide with its successor’s arrival. That makes now the perfect time to look back at one of the finest systems ever. Maybe we’ll dig up a few hidden gems to revisit with the 3DS’s backwards compatibility functionality along the way. You can read parts 2 and 3 of this piece here and here.

Nintendo DS – Nov. 21, 2004
Super Mario 64 DS – November 21, 2004
Feel the Magic: XY/XX – November 16, 2004

The best selling system of all time had a rough start. It began life on the market sporting an ugly design that looked like it was straight out of 80s science fiction. Much worse, the games lineup was woefully lacking. In those early days, it looked like Sony’s promise to bring handhelds out of the “gaming ghetto” was coming true with its PSP, leaving Nintendo behind.

That’s not to say the early DS was all bad. The thumb strap was an interesting idea that deserves a revisit. Mario 64 DS was awkward to play, but the additional mini-games were a fun testament to the potential for touch-screen gaming. Of the thin launch line-up offered, I have a soft spot for Feel the Magic. It wasn’t “just” a mini-game collection, but a wild ride facilitated by goofy art direction and preposterous story.


Image: Electroplankton box art. Nintendo.

Daigasso! Band Brothers – December 2, 2004 (Japan)
Electroplankton – April 7, 2005 (Japan)
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan – July 28, 2005 (Japan)
Jump Super Stars – August 8, 2005 (Japan)

There was a post-launch period where it seemed like the DS would not amount to much. We scrounged for Japanese imports of Daigasso! Band Brothers. We petitioned Nintendo to bring Electroplankton, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, and Jump Super Stars over to the west. In those early days, it seemed the best things about the DS were PictoChat and the GBA backwards compatibility.

Even I, a tireless Nintendo fanboy, didn’t bother getting a DS at launch. I still remember the moment I knew I needed one though: I saw a video of an upcoming title called New Super Mario Bros. I still managed to sneak in a launch unit though, one that came packed with that awful Metroid demo.

Kirby’s Canvas Curse – June 13, 2005
Meteos – June 27, 2005
Nintendogs – August 22, 2005
Advance Wars: Dual Strike – August 22, 2005

It took half a year, but North America eventually saw worthwhile DS games. For many, it was Nintendogs, which flooded off store shelves. For me, it was Kirby’s Canvas Curse: a brilliant little title with touch functionality which I maintain remains unmatched in gaming.

Another favourite of mine during that time was Advance Wars: Dual Strike. This follow-up to the GBA’s Advance Wars games stayed close to the formula, but the ability to direct units from an overhead view with the touch screen made infinitely more sense than fiddling with the GameBoy’s d-pad.

Phoenix Wright box art

Image: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney box art. Capcom.

Trauma Center: Under the Knife – October 4, 2005
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – October 4, 2005
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – October 11, 2005
Mario Kart DS – November 14, 2005
Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time – November 28, 2005
Animal Crossing: Wild World – December 5, 2005

It was the holiday season of 2005 that quality gaming finally arrived en masse to the double-screened handheld. Titles like Trauma Center: Under the Knife, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, and Animal Crossing: Wild World pounded up GameRanking’s charts.

It was during this period in which the west finally got to experience Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The smart pairing of adventure games with touch controls was realized.

Oh right, and Mario Kart DS. Not just any Mario Kart, not just another Mario Kart, but the best Mario Kart. One stuffed with levels, modes, tight physics and tight turns. The first Mario Kart to offer online multiplayer (beyond that crazy hack for Double Dash!!).

Tetris DS box art

Image: Tetris DS box art. Nintendo.

Tetris DS – March 20, 2006
Brain Age – April 16, 2006
New Super Mario Bros. – May 15, 2006

In the ramp-up to the DS Lite’s release, three games came out that took over. Brain Age, the phenomenon from Japan caught on with “casual” gamers in North America as well. Simple math, memory, and logic games were the rage.

The game I had been waiting for, New Super Mario Bros., finally came out to much deserved fanfare. It turned out nostalgia for Mario’s 2D days was entirely deserving. He’s a fun guy from the side.

Finally, there was “just another” Tetris. Except it wasn’t. Much like Mario Kart DS was (and still is) the ultimate Mario Kart, Tetris DS is the ultimate Tetris. This Tetris featured multiple modes that would have each been worthwhile individually.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, in which I explore the DS’s “lite” rebirth.

Remembering the DS: Part 1, The Phat