With more than 154 million units sold, the Nintendo DS has had the long-standing honor of being Nintendo’s best-selling console. It ranks second only to the PlayStation 2 with less than one million separating the number one and two spots. Whether the DS gets passed over by the Nintendo Switch remains to be seen, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
When it was released, the world had never seen a console, never mind a portable console, with two screens working in tandem. As the top screen served as the focal point for gameplay and the bottom acted as an interactive touchscreen, all new gameplay elements could be introduced and to new portable console owners.
Thanks to this unique design, game types like real-time strategy found a whole new way to interact with the player and Nintendo took full advantage.
Let’s take a look at the best real-time strategy games for the Nintendo DS, according to Metacritic.
What is a Real-Time Strategy Game?
While many people believe real-time strategy games are only titles like Command Conquer or Starcraft, this point of view only looks through a narrow RTS window. Instead, RTS games should be looked at more broadly as a game type where a player has to attack an enemy player and every move occurs right away. Unlike a turn-based strategy game, both player and opponent moves happen in real-time, as you play.
In addition to the time aspect, RTS games will likely require players to manage more than one unit at a time. One example could be selecting multiple soldiers and ordering them to attack an enemy base. A different example could also be constructing new buildings so you can build equipment that can collect resources. Because of these various definitions, the types of gameplay that fit RTS-style games are no longer strictly defined by one type of game.
Was the Nintendo DS Known for Real-Time Strategy Games?
The Nintendo DS was known for being home to a number of game types, real-time strategy among them. Even so, real-time strategy was never one of the biggest categories of games available for the DS. For the most part, RTS games are best played on screens where you can use a mouse or cursor to select multiple soldiers, buildings, or machines and direct them from point A to B.
The DS had its stylus which could act as something of a mouse cursor for many different game types but it wasn’t the same level of control RTS fans were growing accustomed to. However, the DS had a small but mighty library of real-time strategy games that kept fans of the genre entertained.
A prime example of a game that was well designed for the Nintendo DS, Robocalypse is a sci-based retail-time strategy game. As the commander of a cartoon army, you control the game with the stylus and the touchscreen while the DS hardware buttons provide secondary support. Across 17 levels, there are numerous primary missions to complete as well as side missions to achieve, all of which enriched the level of gameplay in a fun way.
As one might expect in an RTS game, you are responsible for amassing units, building factories, deploying your troops in a strategic way, and acquiring new weapons to counter those of your enemies. The RTS system works well with a point-and-click style approach that should be very familiar to fans of this genre. Robocalypse commands a 78 Metacritic score from critics as well as an 8.5 user score out of 10 thanks to strong graphics and easy-to-recommend gameplay.
#6: Lock’s Quest
Something of a combination of real-time strategy and tower defense, Lock’s Quest was first released on the Nintendo DS but remains playable across multiple consoles to this day. Gameplay is observed from an isometric perspective using the bottom screen of the Nintendo DS which is also where you engage in different combat methods. As you play the game’s “Build” phase, players are provided with a finite amount of time and resources during which they have to build up defenses. These defenses might include traps, walls, towers, and machines to help stop your enemy in their tracks.
Once the “Battle” phase begins, it’s go time. Throughout the course of the game, you play as Lock and begin an in-game 100-day single-player campaign. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged and you’ll want to keep both eyes open for new skills that can help you achieve your ultimate goal: vanquishing your enemies for good.
The roughly 18 to 20-hour campaign managed to score a combined 80 Metacritic score from online reviews as well as an 8.4 out of 10 from users.
Ninjatown for the Nintendo DS is gameplay proof that not all real-time strategy games must follow the same formula.
In this wonderfully fun game, you are responsible for the creation and management of ninja-style buildings. Don’t let the kid-friendly graphics fool you, Ninjatown requires plenty of real-time strategies all while mixing in tower defense style fighting. The core gameplay revolves around appropriately named “Ninjatown,” a prosperous city that has remained peaceful until a nearby mountain erupts and begins spewing out evil-doers.
The tower defense aspect requires you to spread out your ninjas strategically along various paths to stop the bad guys from reaching their evil goals. The gameplay is a bit zany but that’s what makes it so charming, and with the real-time strategy aspect requiring snappy decision-making on where to move your players next, every second counts.
Thanks to its cute style of gameplay and clever work taking place on screen, Ninjatown earned an 80 Metacritic score and 8.5 out of 10 from users.
#4: Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings
Something of a combination of real-time strategy and role-playing, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings is a standout game on the Nintendo DS. As part of the Final Fantasy lineup of games, expectations are always high, and this DS title delivers with an 81 Metacritic score and 8.9 out of 10 user score.
The game itself takes place after the events of Final Fantasy XII with the main character, Vaan, beginning a new quest for treasure.
The game begins with characters on an airship, which is conveniently where most of the game progress also takes place. As a real-time strategy game, the Nintendo DS stylus plays a critical role in helping you give your characters commands just by tapping on them with the stylus. These commands include directing characters to use a special ability or focusing their attacks on a specific target.
When the game was released, it was quickly praised for its graphics, core missions, and roughly 25 hours of gameplay.
#3: Plants vs. Zombies
Plants vs. Zombies is a game that needs little introduction as a well-recognized title that has since been released on a variety of consoles across multiple video game generations.
Popcap, the developer of Plants vs. Zombies, was sold to a little-known game maker known as EA, but before that happened, its 2011 Nintendo DS release was a fantastic blend of real-time strategy and tower defense. The cartoon-like style makes it ideal for all ages and the controls were perfect for the Nintendo DS, thanks to the use of the stylus-based interface.
Tower defense features heavily as does real-time strategy, both of which ensure that you’re making snappy decisions all game long. There’s no moving around characters as a typical RTS game would ask; instead, real-time decisions immediately impact any one of the 50 main campaign stages. As is the case with most iterations of the game, Plants vs. Zombies was a hit with critics and fans alike scoring an 81 on Metacritic with an 8.4 out of 10 user score.
#2: Starship Defense
The only DSiWare-based entry on this list, Starship Defense is a great RTS title that was available directly from the Nintendo online store through the DS hardware.
No matter how you get a game, what matters is its gameplay, and Starship Defense doesn’t disappoint. This is a game that is full of strategy that stretches across multiple genres, real-time strategy among them. As you start each level, you have a limited amount of energy available to build up weapons. Once enemy waves start coming, your job is to position these weapons in a way that stops the enemy from attacking your fleet.
Thankfully, power-ups are available along the way to help you stop the more powerful enemies you engage with as the game progresses across 30-plus stages. Real-time decisions matter and, depending on how you lay out your forces, the enemies may break through your lines or you might get lucky and be able to hold them off this round. Starship Defense’s gameplay style is minimalist and unique but it works in a way that you don’t typically see on today’s consoles. Critics agreed with an 82 score on Metacritic, although user feedback was a little tougher at 7.5 out of 10.
#1: Dawn of Discovery
A real-time strategy favorite on the Nintendo Wii as well, Dawn of Discovery is hands-down the best RTS game available for Nintendo DS console owners according to Metacritic.
The 82 score is written in stone, though it comes with a caveat as user reviews dragged their own rating to a 7.3 out of 10. Reviews aside, Dawn of Discovery, also known as, Anno: Create a New World, is a combination of real-time strategy and city-building. In the year 1404, King George sent out his two sons, Edward and William, to help their fledgling kingdom find its way back to glory.
Throughout the game, you play as William, the more welcoming of the king’s two sons who seek out new partners. The city-building aspect asks William to build new lands, explore trade and open up his kingdom to new treaties. The real-time strategy aspect comes into play once gameplay progresses and friends become enemies, forcing William to make real-time decisions to defend his land in battle. Maps are randomly generated making for strong replay value so if you fail, you can try again until you help William succeed.
The Nintendo DS is never going to be remembered as the best place to play real-time strategy games, but this list proves there were still a few diamonds in the rough. The addition of the stylus, which could double as a pseudo-mouse, really helped add to the familiarity of the RTS concept many video game fans are familiar with.