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With my recent purchase of Okamiden I have finally exhausted my interest in new software for Nintendo’s phenomenally successful handheld. That’s it, there are no more DS games available or on the approach I intend to buy (unless Nintendo decides to localise Fire Emblem – Shin Monshō no Nazo: Hikari to Kage no Eiyū at the eleventh hour, sadly unlikely). And so to reflect upon the little dual-screened machine that could, this is the debut of a new feature for the blog, the Console Awards which will honour the best games for the system. As usual this post is based on personal experience and in no way definitive so only games I’ve actually played can be considered. I’ll be doing a follow-up post listing my Top Ten DS Games too so check back soon to find out my choice for the best overall games on the system.

Best Design – Mario and Luigi – Bowser’s Inside Story

The third entry in the brotherly plumbers’ comedic handheld RPG outings featured some really ingenious level design made possible by the game’s core concept. The dynamic plumbers spend most of the game inside Bowser’s many bodily systems, interacting with his innards in brilliantly original and hilarious ways. It’s a great example of story and gameplay working in tandem and made for a highly satisfying experience. Add to that the usual visual polish associated with these games and you’re on to a real winner.

Honourable Mentions: Chrono Trigger, Professor Layton and the Spectre’s Call

Best Gameplay – Chrono Trigger

Notwithstanding the fact that Chrono Trigger is essentially an SNES port this handheld version was actually the first time the title saw the light of day in Europe and in decade or so since its original release has lost none of its addictiveness. Utilising an innovative and entertaining Tech system which enables innumerable combinations of special moves the battles feel as fresh now as ever and the labyrinthine time travel only makes matters more compelling.

Honourable Mentions: Fire Emblem – Shadow Dragon, The Legend of Zelda – Spirit Tracks

Best Graphics – Metroid Prime Pinball

This one might seem a bit left field but the fact is that this spin-off is ridiculously pretty. The rendered pinball tables are richly detailed and from a purely aesthetic standpoint there can be little doubt the game features the most eye-pleasing 3D visuals on the system. That a handheld game like this can actually live up to some of the most stunning looking games on the Gamecube is quite an achievement.

Honourable Mentions – Chrono Trigger, Mario and Luigi – Bowser’s Inside Story

Best Sound – The Legend of Zelda – Spirit Tracks

Few game series can claim the musical pedigree of Zelda so it should come as no surprise that Spirit Tracks walks away with the Best Sound award. Far from riding on the success of past games the title’s best tunes are entirely original especially the brilliantly used main theme. Sound effects are top notch too, natch.

Honourable Mentions: Castlevania – Portrait of Ruin, Chrono Trigger

Best Value – Chrono Trigger

Although Chrono Trigger isn’t renowned as one of the lengthiest RPGs it still packs a solid twenty hours of gameplay but the real value is found in the thirteen endings which will keep fans occupied for weeks and months. More than this the game is so brilliant that even those not hell-bent on seeing every ending will surely be tempted to pop the card back in the machine for another go.

Honourable Mentions: Fire Emblem – Shadow Dragon, The Legend of Zelda – Spirit Tracks

Biggest Surprise – Professor Layton and the Curious Village

It’s not often a game comes along that unites the hardcore and the casual in mutual appreciation. The Professor Layton series has become a byword for quality on the DS and its easily accessible yet intelligent gameplay has enjoyed universal appeal. The first game in the series might be considered the console’s defining title.

Honourable Mention: Elite Beat Agents

Best Original IP – Professor Layton

No question about this one. With no fewer than four games already released another on the way for 3DS as well as a crossover with Phoenix Wright and rumours of home console iterations in the works Professor Layton is undoubtedly the success story of the DS. The quirky storytelling, demanding puzzles and excellent presentation charmed all types of gamers form the get-go and the series has gone from strength to strength since.

Best Use of Hardware – The Legend of Zelda – Phantom Hourglass

Before Phantom Hourglass came along the idea of a Zelda game controlled entirely by touch screen was laughable but it happened and it’s a triumph. That a game as complex and varied as Zelda could be so successfully re-ordered to the DS’ touch screen particularly the diverse and thoughtfully integrated inventory items and it feel natural as some achievement. Scribbling notes on maps is extremely handy and the way the second screen is incorporated into boss fights is frequently inspired.

Honourable Mentions, Mario and Luigi – Bowser’s Inside Story, Another Code – Two Memories

Most Underrated – Fire Emblem – Shadow Dragon

To call any Fire Emblem game underrated is pushing it but all the same they often tend to get forgotten in the pantheon of other more well-known quality Nintendo titles. Shadow Dragon is about as satisfying a remake of the original game in the series as we could have hoped for and provides a welcome dose of the hardcore to a console known for its casual shovelware.

Honourable Mention: Yoshi’s Island DS

Best Third Party Game – Chrono Trigger

There’s a reason Chrono Trigger is regarded as a classic on the SNES, a console that spawned numerous RPG highlights. Square’s tight gameplay, appealing characters and outstanding presentation have not dated one bit and the game is as successful on the DS as ever it was before.

Honourable Mentions: Okamiden, Castlevania – Portrait of Ruin

Best Nintendo Game – The Legend of Zelda – Spirit Tracks

Phantom Hourglass was great but not free a few faults. The follow-up Spirit Tracks corrected most of them, provided a more involving story and world to explore and built on the good work of the original with even more ingenious dungeons all presented with Nintendo’s signature polish. Driving a train is way more fun than piloting a plodding boat and having a ghostly Zelda along for the whole show is joyous.

Honourable Mentions: The Legend of Zelda – Phantom Hourglass, Mario and Luigi – Bowser’s Inside Story