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The Nintendo DS is the best-selling video game console of all time, with total worldwide sales now approaching 150 million. The system has become synonymous with handheld gaming, and even the most hardcore gamers have found themselves drawn to the innovative touch-screen controls and excellent software offerings.
There are thousands of titles available for the system, making it difficult to find the best games, especially those available for a bargain price for players on a budget. Our list of the five best Nintendo DS games for under twenty bucks contains five titles that currently rank among the top ten highest-reviewed on metacritic.com, a site that compiles game ratings from a myriad of different sources to produce aggregate ratings.
Pricing information for each game comes from gamestop.com, where you’ll find each of these titles available $20 or less.
Each of these games is a fantastic choice, and all are available for less than the price of a few gallons of gas.
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Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Chinatown Wars is the highest-rated DS game on Metacritic, with an overall rating of 93. Anyone familiar with the old-school (PS1-era) Grand Theft Auto games will feel right at home with this game. Featuring a return to the top-down perspective used in the series’ earliest entries, Chinatown Wars tells a story of revenge, violence, and pharmaceuticals set in a living, breathing city.
This M-rated game is definitely not for the younger crowd, but for the more mature gamer looking to prove that the Nintendo DS caters to even hardcore gamers, it’s hard to find a better title.
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Among all the SNES-era RPGs that have been remade for the Nintendo DS, Chrono Trigger was perhaps the most beloved. It’s also one of the few titles that has truly stood the test of time. As fun as it was when I first played it in high school, this time-traveling epic features interesting characters, a genuinely-enjoyable battle system, and a gaggle of endings you’ll spend hours trying to unlock.
The DS version features some improvements over the original, most notably the inclusion of anime cut scenes and some tweaks to the original translation, but the original spirit of the game remains intact. Whether you’re looking for a trip down memory lane or just jumping behind the wheel for the first time, there’s a lot to love about Chrono Trigger, especially when you can get it for less than twenty bucks.
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Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Really, any of the DS Castlevania games could have earned a spot on this list, but it seemed best to go with the highest-rated of the lot. Retaining the popular “Metroid-vania" formula of the most recent Castlevania titles, Dawn of Sorrow is a 2D platformer with action game and RPG elements.
Like the classic games in the series, the objective here is to stop the resurrection of Dracula by fighting your way through a castle filled with interesting enemies based on horror film tropes. Defeating these enemies occasionally gives main character Soma a “soul" to collect. Each soul carries with it a unique advantage or special ability, and collecting them all gives Dawn of Sorrow an almost Pokemon-like level of addictiveness.
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Unlike many modern puzzle games, Meteos is not derivative of some earlier title. Sure, it has the tile-shifting gameplay of Tetris Attack, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. The premise is simple, Meteos are falling from the sky, and it’s your job to align them into matching-color columns and blast them back into space. The gameplay is fast, frenetic, and engaging, and the game itself is suitable both for marathon sessions and quick rounds on a break or in the bathroom.
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The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
The gameplay is classic Zelda, but this DS version definitely tries to be a bit more user-friendly. The characters talk a bit more, the touch screen controls make it a bit easier to line up those difficult boomerang shots, and the cartoony visuals of The Wind Waker are in full effect here. Still, you won’t find very many games on the system that offer as complete and compelling an experience. Phantom Hourglass is definitely a must-own DS title, and you can pick it up for less than 20 bucks.
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Looking for a few more enjoyable titles for less than 20 dollars? Check out these “Honorable Mentions" that didn’t quite make the top 5: Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, Scribblenauts, Diddy Kong Racing, and The World Ends With You.