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The Top 10 Most Visually Appealing Nintendo DS Games

Posted on November 16, 2014 by (@Patricklous) in DS, DSiWare, Features, News, Reader Poll

One of the big selling points of the Nintendo DS was its ability to render things in both 2D AND 3D. Wow! I mean sure developers could pull off polygons on the Game Boy Advance, but they probably shouldn’t have.

Like the jump from the 16-bit to 32-bit/64-bit consoles, the games on the DS contained a mix of art styles that don’t all hold up particularly well, but there are certain titles that overcome the low resolution of the console and deliver an experience that looks pretty darn nice. Consider this the top 10 least ugly games on the console, as voted by you:

#10 – Golden Sun: Dark Dawn


I don’t know if this says more about Golden Sun’s visuals or the game itself, but the impressive graphics are pretty much the only thing I remember about Dark Dawn. Like, I can’t name a single character aside from Matthew, but I sure can describe the experience of summoning a massive laser-firing narwhal in vivid detail. Dark Dawn’s colossal summons than spanned both screens of the console were what really left an impression on me, but the rest of the game was no slouch in the graphics department. Just like the original Game Boy Advance titles, Dark Dawn’s battle scenes were packed with neat graphical effects with some surprisingly detailed character models. Even though the visuals took a bit of a downgrade when the party stepped back onto the overworld, the game never really stopped looking snazzy.

#9 – Super Mario 64 DS


The simple 3D graphics of this platforming classic made Super Mario 64 the stand-out of the console’s launch line-up, and it’s still quite the looker. From Dire Dire Docks to the Hazy Maze Cave, all of the game’s locations are just as you remember them from the Nintendo 64 days. Or close enough to it. Hey, 1996 was a long time ago after all. It’s only natural things don’t look exactly the same. At least Mario doesn’t look like some kind of polygonal balloon man anymore.

#8 – Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days


Even when it comes to spin-offs, the Kingdom Hearts games always seem to push consoles to their limits —the massive sprites and FMV cutscenes in Chain of Memories come to mind— and Three Five Eight Days Over Two (wow that’s a silly name) is no exception. The game made use of some detailed 3D graphics to bring to life the adventures of anime Jesse McCartney and company. The Kingdom Hearts series always strives to capture the look of several iconic Disney films, and I think this DS entry did a good enough job. The end result looks as close to the PS2 games as the DS could possibly get – though that might just be due to all the recycled character models and settings.

#7 – Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story


When your two leading characters (sorry, secondary characters after Bowser) rarely say anything intelligible, they need to look as expressive as possible, something that this hilarious RPG manages to accomplish. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to claim that Bowser’s Inside Story has some of the best spritework on the console. Everything from the way the brothers dance during battles to Bowser’s bizarre bodily functions oozes personality and it’s clear that the artists at Alphadream put plenty of care into creating the game’s visuals. Also of note are the occasional segments where an enlarged Bowser and his giant opponents duke it out across both of the console’s screens. Even if the sequences in question kind of sucked (please never force me to use the microphone again) they still utilised the console’s unique features to present an impressive sense of scale.

#6 – Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver


Surprisingly, HeartGold and SoulSilver managed to narrowly beat out the series’ fifth generation of games for a place on the list. Though Black and White drew plenty of attention with their more animated sprites in battles, fans preferred the presentation of the rustic Johto region. HeartGold and SoulSilver went a bit easier on the 3D graphics than following entries, relying on the series’ iconic pixel art rather than a jarring combination of visual styles. Plus, every Pokémon now featured a unique sprite used when following the player around, which is no mean feat considering there were 493 of the creatures to draw.

#5 – Mario Kart DS


Mario Kart DS might not look as nice as the games that came after it (though it’s still the #1 Mario Kart game in my heart), but this early technical showpiece has aged pretty darn gracefully. It’s the relatively detailed 3D tracks and consistent framerate that helps Mario Kart to stand out amongst similar kart racers on the system like Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing or (ugh) Homie Rollerz. It was also neat to see the tracks from the SNES and Game Boy Advance games actually rendered in 3D for the first time – there’s none of that Mode 7 trickery here! Still, there’s one thing about the graphics in Mario Kart DS that always bugged me. What was with Donkey Kong’s teeth? It looked like he had a colossal underbite or something.

#4 – The World Ends With You


Other titles might have outplaced it on the list, but it’s hard to imagine anything on the DS that’s quite as stylish as The World Ends With You. The game’s visuals transformed Tokyo’s very real Shibuya district into a larger-than-life battlefield filled with crazy tattoo monsters and hip teens. The World Ends With You might be the one game where Tetsuya Nomura’s offensively gaudy character designs work in its favour, perfectly capturing the look of the “fashionable” Shibuya kids who make up the game’s cast. It’s trying so hard to look trendy that you know what? It kind of is.

#3 – Okamiden


The original Okami has to be one of the best-looking games of all time. Okamiden, the downsized DS sequel, obviously doesn’t quite match up to it, but it’s still an admirable attempt at capturing the series’ distinctive sumi-e style. The fact that Okamiden placed so high on the list is testament to the fact that solid art direction matters more than things like consistent frame rates or detailed textures. The virtual brushstrokes give an endearing hand-crafted feel to the world and characters of Okamiden. It’s clear the developers put in detail where it really mattered – there’s a certain charm to everything from the blooming cherry blossoms to Chibiterasu’s lovingly painted buttonhole.

#2 – The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks


Man, I don’t know why you guys voted for all these games that try so hard to capture the style of some of the best-looking games of the last decade, but I guess I can’t fault you. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is still a visually stunning game, and its simple cel-shaded style still works quite well when downsized to the DS. Unlike the first attempt at bringing Zelda to the DS, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks ditched the nautical theme in favour of rolling plains and more modern technology. Whether or not this new setting looks any better than Phantom Hourglass is down to personal preference (but since that other game didn’t place let’s just say it is), but there’s no doubt the visuals in Spirit Tracks possess the same charm we’ve come to expect of the Zelda series.

#1 – Metroid Prime: Hunters


From the moment it was first demonstrated alongside the newly-revealed DS at E3 2004, Metroid Prime Hunters was always intended to be a technical showcase for the system. And it sure was! Hunters boasted some detailed 3D graphics that are still pretty impressive for a handheld game over a decade after it was shown.

While the actual game may have left something to be desired and it never came close to matching the engrossing environments of its console big sisters, Metroid Prime Hunters represented the first real effort by developers to try and tap into the full potential of the hardware.
With some neat touches like reflective surfaces and plenty of pre-rendered cutscenes, Hunters was keen on pushing the DS to its full potential early on in its lifepan. Even the user interface was ambitious, changing based on which of the game’s Hunters you were playing as. It’s hard to think of any game on the system that ever topped it in terms of visuals.

Stay tuned to find out what the best DSiWare titles on the system are. Voting for all the other categories is still open, so if you didn’t vote before and you’re disappointed that Love Plus didn’t make the list (I know I am), why not let your voice be heard?

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