If you’d have told us that 2011 would be yet another stellar year for the aging DS, we’d have questioned your sanity. Despite the platform’s consistent sales, it seemed the industry had already shifted its gaze to the next generation of portable consoles, leaving DS an afterthought in most everyone’s mind. And yet, after we bid a fond farewell to the system back in February (and who could blame us, what with 3DS fast approaching a worldwide release?), it caught a second wind, hosting some of the finest games to ever grace its library. In fact, the console saw more notable releases in 2011 than even Wii did, though whether that’s a testament to its persistence or an indication of Wii’s decline is certainly up for debate. So, which of these games stood out among the rest?
BEST DS GAME
Pokémon Black and White
It was certainly a close call, but in the end Pokémon Black and White took the honor of being the best DS game(s) of 2011. Despite their familiar appearance, the two represent a sort of rebirth for the franchise, shaking up their formula just enough to revitalize the series in a way previous entries had failed to do. The new and modernized region of Unova served as an appropriately-exotic backdrop for the adventure, presenting the player with a vast, gorgeous world to explore and over 150 new creatures to tame. The end result, while not a radical departure from standards set back in 1998, was different enough to make them the freshest pair of Pokémon titles since the original Red and Blue versions, reminding many a Pokéfan of just why they fell in love with the series in the first place. Add in a wealth of post-game content, from the grueling Battle Subway to the online Dream World (not to mention a constant stream of opponents over the Global Battle Union, and local co-op in the form of the Entralink), and you have two of the deepest games on any platform, home or handheld. Their daringness, especially in a year rife with conservative sequels, and their breadth of gameplay set them apart from the rest of DS’s 2011 releases, which is why they earned the top spot in our category.
BEST DS GAME RUNNERS-UP
What’s most surprising about Ōkamiden is not how well the experience translated over to a portable console (DS’s touch screen was perfectly suited for the game’s painting mechanic), nor how excellent the final product ended up being (that was a given), but that it even exists at all. Clover Studios, the development team behind the original Ōkami, was disbanded not too long after the title’s release, leaving the possibility of a sequel in jeopardy. Miraculously, the powers-that-be at Capcom– before they’d taken to crushing dreams— actually granted one, developing a successor themselves for Nintendo’s little wonder console and releasing it in the early part of 2011. The resulting game was a success among fans and critics alike, capturing the look and feel of the original despite the move to a weaker platform. It also introduced a handful of new elements to the series, foremost among them being the partner characters who accompany Chibiterasu (son of Ōkami’s Amaterasu) on his quest to save Nippon. More than anything, though, the game proved that, even in the twilight of its life, DS could still produce an adventure every bit as captivating as those found on a home console, and that alone makes it one of the highlights of the past year.
Monster Tale, the latest brainchild of the minds behind Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure, is a veritable amalgam of gaming genres. One-part platformer, one-part pet-raising sim (with a liberal helping of RPG elements added to the mix), the title is certainly a frontrunner for “most confused game of the year.” And yet, contrary to all logic, DreamRift makes these elements come together brilliantly into one cohesive design. The top screen follows protagonist Ellie as she explores the Monster World in true Metroidvania fashion, blasting and backtracking her way through its winding corridors and cavernous depths, while the bottom screen is devoted to rearing her trusty companion, Chomp, in the most addictive pet raising game this side of, well, Pokémon. He proves to be much more versatile than any of Nintendo’s monsters, too, able to evolve into one of over thirty different forms, each with its own special attributes and abilities. The game may be a tad on the easy side, but its unique vision and engrossing mechanics make it one of the year’s best releases nonetheless.
BEST DS GAME HONORABLE MENTIONS
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, Radiant Historia, Professor Layton and the Last Specter
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?
Tell us which of the above titles you’d pick as the winner, or if you think another game is more deserving, select “Other” and tell us in the comments!