A brief buying guide for the original Nintendo DS


Excellence in a clamshell

The Nintendo 3DS is gradually being put out to pasture, now that it’s bulkier, flashier half-brother is taking over. We’re bidding adieu to a console that had a pretty impressive back catalogue, and dominated the handheld market for a good number of years.

But what if you’re not ready to say goodbye? What if you want to get more use out of the little pocketbook marvel? Or what if you want to get an older console for the first time? Well, the 3DS is backwards compatible with the original DS’s games, and if you never tried those out, then you’re missing something special.

[For where to buy the games/hardware, I’ve linked to Amazon and eBay sellers, but that’s not an endorsement for buying off of these sites – you might find better deals elsewhere.]


If you’re interested not only in playing your original DS games on your 3DS, but in actually getting some hardware, there are three different versions of the DS that you could purchase: the original DS, the DS Lite and the DSi.

I would recommend the DS Lite, as it is more elegant and compact than the unwieldy original. The DSi comes with an internal camera and very small selection of exclusive games, but is crucially missing the Game Boy Advance slot in the bottom of the console. It’s your choice – between messing around with a by-now pretty low-grade camera, or opening yourself up to Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, or Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, just for starters. I would take my pretty white DS Lite any day of the week.

The staples

I got a huge amount of use out of my DS Lite, and I still do today, because some of the more popular titles are replayable, distracting fun. One of my favourite aspects of the original DS is that the games were so whimsical; I value a game that can completely pull me out of any stress going on in my personal life.

As with a lot of consoles, the titles that are popular have earned that position due to their quality. There are six of these titles that I would recommend above any others.

1. Trauma Center: Under the Knife (Atlus, 2005)

This game came out around the time I started watching House, M.D.I’d always been fascinated by medical shows, whether it was catching snippets of ER as my parents watched it (I’m still haunted by the surgeon getting his arm chopped off by helicopter blades), or being warned not to run with scissors after watching a particularly grisly episode of Casualty with my grandma. Theme Hospitalis also one of my favourite games of all time, so why not take the action a step further and actually remove lumps of tissue from patients’ chest cavities? Heck yes!

In Trauma Center, you conduct surgical examinations of patients and treat a range of illnesses and injuries that span the mundane to the outright bizarre. Frankly, only Atlus could make draining abscesses with a syringe this compelling. Needless to say, it’s not a game for people who flinch at the sight of cartoon pus, but it’s hardly a gorefest, either. A sequel was released in North America and Japan (not an issue for us PALsters, since the DS, aside from DSi games, is region-free), but the original is absolutely worth giving a go first.

2. New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo EAD, 2006)

Getting back to the roots, how can you collect for a Ninty console and not buy a legitimate Mario platformer? Not including this one on the list would have raised a few eyebrows, and for good reason. New Super Mario Bros.is probably one of the more definitive entries to the Mario platforming series. It has very few quirks and twists, though it’s undeniable that games that ran away with a theme, such as Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, are some of the best games ever released for their respective consoles. It’s just a simple box-headbutting platform game, which was invaluable for those of us who had long since consigned our Game Boys to the car boot sale. I think this and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coinsare the two entries I would give to someone if I wanted them to have an immersive experience with Mariogames in a single afternoon.

3. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (Capcom, 2007)

OK, I get it. Why pick a game from the Ace Attorney series and not go with the real G, Mr Phoenix Wright? Did I not enjoy those games? Did Maya cast some sort of befuddlement hex on me?

No, I am deliberately selecting Apollo Justice above any of the originals, as great as they all are. I remember tearing through the Phoenix Wright games as an activity I did every year, when I went on holiday to Majorca with my family. All of the Ace Attorney games I’ve played (Justice for All, Trials and Tribulations,and Apollo Justice) have been equal parts taxing and fascinating. But Apollo Justice has the most interesting story, in my opinion.

Seeing a young upstart filling Phoenix’s defence attorney big boots spoke to me more than being the loveable oaf, Phoenix, himself. Also, the storyline with Klavier Gavin pipped any of the prior ones to the post. I suppose if you want to understand the story properly, you should start right from the beginning and get the first Ace Attorney game. But if you’re not the sort of person who minds jumping into a series halfway through, you will certainly enjoy Apollo Justice as your first entry. You don’t have to dig around on eBay for a used DS cartridge, either – it’s coming to 3DS via the eShop in November.

4. Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Level-5, 2007)

I’ll admit that this is a series I always borrowed off my sister, rather than buying for myself – and one that even my fairly smart 15-year-old brain had trouble with.

Any riddle aficionado will enjoy playing as the Professor as he investigates…well, a curious village, accompanied by his impossibly young assistant, Luke (Layton can expect truancy fines and court summons through his letterbox any time now). You hop from villager to villager, solving the puzzles that they are agonising over, some of which still leave me scratching my noggin. Rather than starting with the most recent iOS release, this is one series where I would advise going back to where it all began, simply because the conundrums have always been flawless. And you’ll want to try every single one of them, once you’ve experienced the Curious Village.

5. Animal Crossing: Wild World (Nintendo EAD, 2005)

This title isn’t actually the origins of the series. In this case, there had already been an Animal Crossing title released worldwide for the GameCube, simply called Animal Crossing. Confused yet? Still, I feel like the marriage between Animal Crossing and handheld consoles is an indefatigable one, so you owe it to yourself to pick up the first pocket version of the game.

You probably know the drill with Animal Crossing: get into fights with bees, rid the landscape of all sustenance, put up with your neighbours’ incessant nagging and become an indentured servant. No, but seriously, you plod around your little town, interacting with a number of delightful animals living in nearby shacks, building collections and making your abode beautiful.

If you already have the 3DS release, New Leaf, I would still advise getting Wild World, to see all of its little individual quirks. As with all original DS games, you will have to accept that the online functions are no longer functional. But, regardless, you can have hours of aimless fun in your own little town with Wild World, all while failing to socialise with your real-life neighbours! As it should be.

6. Picross DS (Jupiter Corporation, 2007)

This is a very special entry to the list for me, because it’s a game I still play on a regular basis. I became interested in on-paper logic puzzles at a very young age,ever since my grandma used to let me try out old puzzle books she hadn’t finished. These books always contained a couple of nonograms, and as I got older, I started buying books with just nonograms in. My own rule was always that if I screwed up, that specific puzzle was a wash, because an eraser usually couldn’t get rid of the markings 100% and the grid would become impossibly muddy if I tried to start afresh.

Imagine my joy when I released, in 2017 (oh dear, Charlotte), that nonograms had actually clawed their way onto a handheld! Suddenly, I could undo my shoddy work and try the same grid over and over again. It was an amazing discovery for me, and I snapped up a Picross DS cartridge for a handful of coins.

Picross DS is made all the more enticing by the fact that there are theme categories, various difficulty options and mini-games, and the more you play, the more puzzles you unlock. I have spent hours in bed watching Netflix and tucking into a nonogram or ten, and I can guarantee that if you love picture-based puzzles, you will love picross, too.

Honourable mentions

I admit that everything I’ve included so far isn’t very obscure. But if you’re in the market for some cult classics, the DS also has plenty to offer in this regard. Elite Beat Agentsis an unmissable rhythm game, if you haven’t got your fill of the genre after the fairly recent Parappa the Rapper Remastered release. The World Ends With You combines RPG elements and hip-hop, while remaining effortlessly cool.

If you want to do something more gruesome with your DS (not an invitation for photos), Resident Evil: Deadly Silenceis a commendable port of the game that christened survival horror, with a few of its own neat additions. If you want rock-hard dungeon-crawling, it might be worth keeping an eye out for Etrian Odysseyand its sequelon eBay. For some broodier detective work, check out Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Flower, Sun and Rain. The graphics for the DS port of the latter are eye-bleedingly awful, but most Suda51 games are work a peek, at least for curiosity’s sake.

Of course, there are a few more obvious entries I would encourage you to consider, even though they didn’t make it onto my “staples” list. The Cooking Mama series is a guilty pleasure, as I find being rewarded for repetitive movements quite soothing; admittedly, since I learnt how to cook for myself in real life, it’s lost some of its charm. And whether the Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?games actually make you smarter or not, they do provide a nice level of entertaining challenge – plus, you can’t go wrong with sudoku.

Which of the original DS games would you recommend to a first-timer? Did you own a DS back in its heyday? If so, what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments down below!