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Buyer's Guide:    Best Nintendo DS Games for Teenagers: Top Ten

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A new feature at, our Buyer's Guides help make buying choices easy for consumers. We test hundreds of children's products and strive to keep up to date on the latest releases. Of course, every family is unique. We can't please everyone. However, we are able to select some special titles that are at the top of our "edutainment" list--those that have that extra edge in the categories of design, entertainment, education, and play value. 

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Video Games for Teenagers: Nintendo DS

The games we recommend stand out for multi-level and extensive gameplay and/or ease of use. 

Top Ten DS Games/Series for the Hardcore
Fight, game lovers! For everlasting peace!

By Curtis Montgomery

 Still going strong five years and three models later, the DS is shaping up to have one of the most well-stocked game libraries around. The reason? More than any other system, past or present, the dual-screened portable, with its button-based and stylus-driven control schemes, seems to have something for everyone. Consumers range from game-shy grandparents to the most grizzled alien-blasting veterans.

This accessibility has proven something of a problem for the latter group, though; the rise of the casual game market makes it easy to fear the prospect that room will soon be made on the endangered species list for hardcore games. Here are ten series/stand-alone games that would love to prove your fears unfounded. You’ll undoubtedly have little trouble in thinking of others; this wasn’t the easiest of lists to compile, and there are a lot of deserving snubs to choose from. Ports and remakes aren’t included, but there are some treasures in that pile, too.


 Mega Man ZX
Entries: Mega Man ZX, Mega Man ZX Advent

“Another six months, another Mega Man game,” you might say to yourself, and, in truth, you wouldn’t be far off. Mega Man is a video game icon for a reason, though, and the games in the ZX series are determined to remind you how he achieved that status by providing the fast, twitch-based action, great level design, memorable bosses, and well-stocked arsenal that made Mega Man a hit in the first place. It’s all placed within an interconnected 2D world, a first for the Mega Man series, and although exploration definitely takes a backseat to the action, it has the effect of making the world feel much more organic. The ZX series doesn’t try to start a revolution, but instead lends credence to that timeless saying, “if it ain’t broken, give it a little bit of love and polish and presto.” Or something like that.

[For more information, or to buy: Mega Man ZX or Mega Man ZX: Advent for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

9 Knights in the Nightmare

Mixing the tactical precision of strategy-RPGs with the frenetic action of top-down arcade shooters, this could very well be the most hardcore title on the list if you gauge “hardcore” by a game’s ability to eat you alive if you don’t know what you’re doing; skip past the extensive tutorial at your own peril. Despite the game’s frightening learning curve (learning hairpin?), it’s an incredibly fun, rewarding, and unique experience that you just won’t find elsewhere. As you move your wisp around with the stylus, dodging a blitzkrieg of shrapnel and priming enemies for a pounding, you’ll find a sense of accomplishment around every corner as you gradually master the game’s mechanics.

[For more information, or to buy: Knights in the Nightmare for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

8 Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

Collecting and raising your own personal army of monsters is just an incomparably satisfying experience; the Pokemon craze proved that to the world. It was actually an ancestor of DQM: Joker, Dragon Quest V (a Japan-only title until the DS remake was released in North America just a few months ago), that introduced the monster-catching mechanic, and the genre has done plenty of evolving (pun not intended) since then. You’ll travel between the various islands that comprise the game’s world, gathering gems that will prove you’ve got what it takes to compete in a grand tournament. Along the way, you’ll meet and fight the monsters that inhabit each island and convince them to join your ranks by showing them how macho you are. You’ll also find yourself hopelessly addicted to the idea of making ever-stronger monsters by synthesizing weaker ones. Joker looks great, too, sporting the charming cel-shaded look of the Playstation 2's Dragon Quest VIII. It all comes together for a game that has little trouble sinking its teeth into many hours of your life.

[For more information, or to buy: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

7 Rhythm Heaven

A music-driven game that is about as far from a me-too Guitar Hero clone as you can get, Rhythm Heaven is equal parts quirky and infectious. It features a large gallery of games, each one having all the surreal charm of a WarioWare microgame (minus the “micro”: a round of most of these games lasts upwards of a minute or two), and songs that are absolutely guaranteed to crawl into your mind and nest there. You won’t be hammering out notes and trying your best to mimic the song; the developers suggest thinking of your DS as brand-new sort of musical instrument for the purposes of the game. You’ll feel like you’re really genuinely contributing to the song as you carry out your designated role, tapping, flicking, and sliding the stylus to bring the piece to its beautiful conclusion (or flub it miserably). The game also deserves special mention as one that you and Aunt Bertie can both enjoy; it’s easy to play and difficult to master. Just make sure you bring your sense of rhythm.

[For more information, or to buy: Rhythm Heaven for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

6 The World Ends With You

At the rate Square-Enix has been known to pound out remakes, compilations, and sequels in recent years, you’d almost think they’ve sucked their well of ideas dry. WEWY cordially invites you to think again, breaking the mould and ditching convention in almost every way possible. This fast-paced action-RPG features battles that take place on both screens simultaneously, and you’re going to have to get comfortable with the idea of swiping the stylus and tapping buttons in perfect harmony if you hope to master the system (or, if you’re not feeling particularly inclined to give life as a four-eyed octopus a shot, you can have the AI ease you into things). It also has a sharply-written plot set in modern Tokyo that deals with trends, survival, individuality, inner demons, and teamwork. There are so many new bits and bobs that WEWY wants you to get used to that it can actually be somewhat terrifying at first, and that alone earns it a place on this list. Is creativity dead? Don’t think so!

[For more information, or to buy: The World Ends With You for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

5 Etrian Odyssey
Entries: Etrian Odyssey, Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

Tailor-made for the old-school RPG masochist crowd, each entry in this pair of hardcore dungeon crawlers has you exploring a vast labyrinth with a crew of specialists you’ve personally assembled from a nice list of class choices. You’ll draw your own maps with the stylus, battle monsters that don’t care in the least how much of a clumsy greenhorn you are, flee for your frail little life from monsters that REALLY mean business, and become engrossed in a world that pays attention to the little details and emphasizes telling over showing, immersing you in that Dungeons & Dragons sort of way. This is nutritious food for the imagination, and is best served with a generous helping of patience and persistence.

[For more information, or to buy: Etrian Odyssey or Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard for the DS at (affiliate link*)]


Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Like Rhythm Heaven, Layton is that rare gem that can simultaneously be accessible enough to allow someone who’s never played a video game before to jump right in but challenging and compelling enough that long-time gamers can easily recognize that it’s something special. This mystery-solving puzzler starring a delightful man with a top hat and his bright young assistant gives you mysteries aplenty to unravel in a town populated by inhabitants who are anything but cooperative. This makes things difficult for Layton but fun for you, as this is where the real gameplay steps in; each townsperson wants you to prove your mental mettle by solving logic-driven puzzles of the sort you’d find in brain-teasing puzzle books before they’ll consider opening up to you a bit, and the result is a game that challenges you to think logically and creatively as you revel in the game’s endearing setting.

[For more information, or to buy: Professor Layton and the Curious Village for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

3 Retro Game Challenge

If you’ve been praying every day to the 8-bit gods for a proper tribute to video games in the 80s, get off your knees and go on a pilgrimage to your local game store. The title might lead you to believe that this is just another random collection of old games, but don’t be fooled: this gallery of “classic” titles is comprised of 100% original games that faithfully recreate (and poke fun at) the games of old, from platformers to space shooters to RPGs. Including everything from translations laden with Engrish gobbledygook and non-sequiturs to monthly issues of a fictional game magazine that contain previews, tips, and cheats, glorious nostalgia is everywhere. Best of all, no cartridge-blowing is required.

[For more information, or to buy: Retro Game Challenge for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

2Contra 4

This is the DS entry in the storied Contra franchise, which has been thrilling gamers since the days of the NES with screens full of bullets, badguys, and awesome-looking bosses. It’s obvious that the developers at WayForward, despite not being the original creative force behind the series, were committed to delivering an absolutely authentic Contra experience. We have missiles, machine guns, and spread shots. We have a ride on a runaway rocket followed by a battle with a giant robot. We have delightfully atrocious one-liners delivered by oily, muscle-bound men. It’s everything about Contra you know and love with that extra touch of modern love and care. “Let’s attack aggressively!”

[For more information, or to buy: Contra 4 for the DS (affiliate link*)]


Entries: Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, Order of Ecclesia

Few series are as venerated by the gaming populace as Castlevania, and there’s a very good reason for that. Where there’s Castlevania, there’s challenge, a castle full of demons culled from every corner of mythology, and a certain well-dressed vampire named Dracula (you might have heard of him before) and his bosom buddy, Death himself, serving as the series’s primary antagonists. The three DS titles continue the recent Castlevania trend of giving you a sprawling map to explore, a staggering variety of weapons and abilities that you can discover, and extra modes that promise to make your replays worthwhile. You won’t find a general consensus on which title is the best of the three DS installments; what you will find, however, is 2-D action of the highest calibre no matter which you pick.

[For more information, or to buy: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, or Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia for the DS at (affiliate link*)]

Also Consider:

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Product Description
In The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, Link returns as a humble train engineer. Before long, the train tracks, aptly called Spirit Tracks, begin to disappear and Link is confronted by an evil figure. This time, he'll be accompanied on his journey by princess Zelda herself, a series' first. Spirit Tracks is controlled completely by the DS touch screen, aside from two buttons. Players trek through puzzle-laden dungeons, some of which can be very challenging. When players aren't fighting evil, they are traveling around the world on their train and helping people out, whether by transporting fish to a hungry man or bringing a carpenter to fix a bridge. The train controls are rather simple, but can be cumbersome in tight situations.

Recommended for: Ages 10 and up, for motor skills and the challenge level of puzzles.

Why do we recommend this game? The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the complete package for Zelda newcomers and fans alike. Many improvements have been made from its predecessor (The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass), and it provides the player with a rich and surprisingly deep experience.

[For more information, or to buy: The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks for the DS at (affiliate link*)]


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January 2010

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