Feature: Bargain Bin DS Games

The best things in life are cheap

With 3DS firmly established in the market for more than 12 months and the Nintendo DS entering what can be confidently called its twilight year, there is no better time to head to the (virtual or physical) bargain bin to nab yourself some overlooked DS gems to keep you entertained until 3DS releases pick up momentum later in the year.

Here’s a selection of games you can find for a fraction of what Animal Crossing: Wild World will cost you, while providing just as many hours of joy.

Jam with the Band
Available for around £5 on eBay UK / unreleased in the U.S.

A sequel to the Japan-only musical game Daigasso! Band Brothers, Jam with the Band took nearly two years to appear on Western shores, but when it finally did, Nintendo made sure it was jam-packed full of content to justify the wait. In essence a Rock Band-style rhythm game, Jam with the Band offers more than 75 pop hits ranging from Depeche Mode to Whitney Houston (plus plenty of Nintendo classic tunes) to tap buttons along to, with the option to play more than 60 different instruments in 5 different difficulty levels. Admittedly, something had to give in order to fit all this in a small DS cartridge, and quantity was chosen over music quality: the game uses MIDI tracks instead of the actual songs compressed into the game card, but if you can see past this limitation, its 8-player multiplayer Download Play and the possibility of downloading up to 100 extra songs for free more than make up for it.

The game was never released in the US, but is widely available in Europe and must have flopped hard enough for new copies to have such a low price tag, especially considering it’s distributed by Nintendo.

Another cheap alternative: Guitar Hero on Tour – while controls are nowhere near as tight as in Jam with the Band due to gimmicky add-ons, the use of the actual master tracks of the songs may give the Activision title the upper hand for some.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Available for around £8 on eBay UK / $12 on eBay U.S.

Strategy games, with their reliance on reflection and slow-burn tactics, generally provide a good bang for your buck. The DS is home to several of these titles, but the bargain bin crown must go to Advance Wars: Dual Strike for its perfect balance of cheap as chips price, refined turn-based gameplay and genuine replayability. Once you’ve conquered the standard 28-mission campaign mode, you can venture into the War Room for another 25 extra unlockable maps, while Survival and Combat modes offer unique spins to the traditional AW formula (the former is a non-stop combat against relentless enemy squadrons while the latter transforms the game into a real-time strategy title). The AI has become too predictable, you say? Spread the tactic fever with both single and multi-cartridge multiplayer, swap your own battlefield maps created in the editor mode or try your hand at the Hard difficulty level for some real carnage.

Another cheap alternative: A sequel, Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (Days of Ruin in the US), was released in 2008 and has a similarly low second hand value. If you don’t find its “grittier” take on the Advance Wars universe too off-putting, Dark Conflict offers new units, properties and online connectivity for both battling and map exchanging in case you can’t find any other strategists near you.

Rhythm Paradise (Rhythm Heaven — US)
Available for around £6 second hand on eBay UK / $10 on eBay U.S.

There’s weird, and then there’s Rhythm Paradise. A sequel to the GBA rhythm-action game Rhythm Tengoku that never left Japanese shores (is there a pattern emerging here?), Rhythm Paradise was marketed in the West as the funny uncle of the Touch! Generation games, a quirky but simple 50 music mini-game collection that any Brain Training regulars might enjoy. Nintendo went as far as hiring Beyoncé for the promotional campaign, pretending the game was so accessible even a successful popstar could grasp how to play it (if you’ve ever seen the TV adverts, she really couldn't.)

The reality is Rhythm Paradise turned out to be more of a cult title than a casual million seller and it struggled to find a mainstream audience, but if you happen to fall into the niche it caters for — gamers who like music games, rather than music fans who like games — it's one of the cleverest examples of sound design at the service of gameplay. It’s no walk in the park either, requiring players to use their ears more than their eyes and throwing random challenges to achieve perfect scores for a wealth of bonus content to be unlocked, including synchronised glass-tapping in singles bars (!) or rock guitar lessons to the tune of the Munchy Monk song.

Another cheap alternative: Is the DS the home of the overlooked rhythm games? Elite Beat Agents, with a friendlier if slightly schizophrenic song selection ranging from Deep Purple to Avril Lavigne, has unjustly been relegated to obscurity (and the bargain bin) when it should have achieved immortality.

Picross DS
Available for under £5 on eBay UK / $10 on eBay U.S.

The DS isn't short on puzzle games, but while some of its most famous ones (Tetris DS, Puzzle League DS) favour a frantic pace and a heftier price tag, Picross DS has a humble admission ticket and a deceiving sudoku-lite presentation to lure you in. Its premise — reveal the picture hidden behind a grid using numerical clues — is not entirely dissimilar to Minesweeper, which may sound like faint praise until the first 40-odd puzzles of its 300-plus compilation are out of the door and you're left to brave some real mind-benders armed with just a stylus and blind confidence in Nintendo’s masterful puzzle design. Before you know it, Picross DS has turned its siren charms onto you, becoming a huge time sink that can take over your life with its alluring “just one more” chants.

Another cheap alternative: Picross 3D, released in 2009, swaps the grid of its predecessor for a geometrical prism made of cubes that players must chip away following the same numerical clues as in the 2D version. The transition into the third axis is seamless and the game is every bit as addictive as Picross DS, albeit with a slightly higher price (£15-20) due to smaller distribution numbers.

Sim City DS
Available for under £5 on eBay UK / $8 on eBay U.S.

In terms of value for money, you can’t really go wrong with a game that has no ending, especially one you can buy for the price of a pint. It also helps that Sim City DS doesn’t stray too far away from the tried and tested formula of the series it belongs to but still manages to take advantage of unique features of the DS such as the double screen and the touch controls. Portability also fits a city-building simulator like a glove, as part of the fun in the game comes from learning how to prioritise the different mayoral tasks — creating residential areas, laying down road tracks, managing crisis — in short periods of time. The ability to save at any time also guarantees that every little bit of progress contributes to the overall betterment (or fall from grace) of your mayoralty.

The randomness of events like strikes or natural disasters manage to constantly keep you on your toes, but should you feel like you’ve already mastered the art of building your own perfect city, Sim City DS offers a ‘Save the City’ mode where players are thrust in the middle of a troubled scenario with the objective of turning the tables like a super-human politician.

Another cheap alternative: If local politics isn't your cup of tea, why not try your hand at the ruthless business of amusement parks? Theme Park DS, although simpler in scope than Sim City and marred by some dodgy touch screen controls, oozes micromanagement charm and is a decent remake of the 1994 classic.

What cheap DS games do you think are must-haves?

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