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DS Fanboy Favorites: Eric's top five

Eric Caoili

All this week, the DS Fanboy staff is letting you in on a few of their favorite titles. Each day, a different member of the staff will present their personal top five DS games along with a snapshot of their gaming paraphernalia and habits, in an effort to provide our readers with a little more information on the tastes and personalities of our writers.

When my afternoons aren't busied by hours of photoshopping cat heads onto pictures of my friends, I pass the time with puzzlers and plumbers on my DS Lite. But those kitten-free days are few and far between, so I end up being able to only fit either the most polished or the most eccentric games into my packed schedule. Wario: Master of Disguise? Sorry, I've got things to do and feline faces to retouch. Lost in Blue 2? I'll have to pass -- I'm already lost in trying to get these whiskers to look perfect.

My collection is a mishmash of AAA titles and niche releases, their cases piled atop one another like a Jenga stack of mismatched blocks, threatening to topple over at any moment. Just pulling a game from the middle of the shaky structure is an act preceded by hours of anxiety and self-doubt. Having my wife provide commentary during the ordeal, remarking "Oh god, it's going to crash this time for sure, I just know it. Why'd you even try, Eric?! Game over, man! Game over!" as I tug out my copy of Advance Wars DS doesn't make the challenge any easier.

So when I do manage to put aside the pussycat photos and secure a game to play, it better damn well be worth it. Journey forth and read which of those titles have captured a place not only on my top five list, but in my heart.

1. New Super Mario Bros.

Whether it was seeing my cousin finish Super Mario 64 or marveling over Super Mario Bros. speedruns on Youtube, I've spent a lifetime watching other people trot through the mustachioed mascot's platformers. Having New Super Mario Bros. perched at the top of my list seems tame, but the game was my first opportunity to appreciate with adult eyes and my own hands what the series has to offer.

Like a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, each bite of Mario's 2D return is magically delicious. Even after you've gobbled up every spoonful of its sterling level design, immediate accessibility, and playful locales, the game leaves behind a pool of sugary milk for you to savor. You can close your eyes and feel the cool, sweetened skim of it crashing against the insides of your cheeks days after you've sipped it all up.

2. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Describing Puzzle Quest as a Bejewled puzzle clone with RPG elements slapped on would be insulting and inaccurate. Infinite Interactive boiled the two genres and bonded them together with baking soda, whipping out the gaming equivalent of crack cocaine.

Though I've never thought of myself as someone who would be prone to substance addiction, playing this hybrid title has forced me to reevaluate my assumptions. Looking at how gripped I've become with Puzzle Quest, it isn't difficult to imagine my life playing out like Requiem for a Dream's ending montage after a few unexpected turns. Years from now, I'll be curled into a ball and hugging myself with anxious arms on a hospital bed, wondering how I lost it all.

3. Mario Kart DS

To this day, I can recall the exhilaration of tearing down a straightaway, shooting off a red shell and taking the lead spot right before rounding DK Pass' last hairpin corner. The defeat of my opponents would be so swift and sudden, months would pass before they realized that the ghostly static heard seconds before their loss was the skeletal chuckle of Dry Bones as I passed their spun-out karts. I have nothing but great memories of this game.

4. Contact

Contact is an above average game at best, but Grasshopper's offbeat approach to the RPG genre and Atlus' charming localization vaulted this title to my hall of DS champions. I was able to overlook all of the grinding and costume-changing hassles in lieu of its fourth-wall-breaking presentation and entertaining cutscenes. Also, the friendship I developed with Mochi, Contact's space-dog, was like something out of Where the Red Fern Grows. Oh man, remember that book? That was some sad stuff.

5. Tetris DS

My wife and I would spent every Saturday morning last summer battling it out in Tetris DS' standard mode. We sat Indian-style on our bed, all of the room's windows pushed up to lure in June breezes and save on our electricity bill, trash-talking each other while we played until we were hungry enough to go out for lunch. Her block-stacking skills overwhelmed mine more often than not, but she refused to accept my excuses.

Me: "Jesus, I can't believe I lost. All I needed was a line piece."
Her: "You know who else needs a line piece? Yourrr mamaaaaa."
Me: "Yeah, that's real mature."
Her: "Your mama's real mature."

Honorable Mention: ArcoMage DS (Homebrew)

I was a Magic: The Gathering fiend in high school. There wasn't a moment in the day when I didn't have a deck of Magic cards in my pocket, ready to dispense Fireballs and unleash Serra Angels at a moment's notice. Likewise, there wasn't a moment in the day when I could be spotted in proximity of the opposite sex. Maybe there wasn't a relation between the two phenomena, but I took no chances. I pulled that albatross off my neck, indifferent to the card-game joys the seabird once brought me.
While ArcoMage DS doesn't crib too much from Magic: The Gathering's mechanics, its card-based combat and resource management do a lot to remind me of my old hobby. Originally a Might and Magic minigame, this streamlined port provides a lot of depth considering that each match lasts about 5-10 minutes. As an added bonus, you can skirmish against an AI opponent in the comfort of your own home, hidden from the judging eyes of the people you want to date.

Favorite DS Game That Hasn't Been Made Yet: X-Com: UFO Defense

Every one of my computers since 1994 has had X-Com installed on it at least once. To my knowledge, there hasn't yet been a tactical RPG comparable to this game. Even Rebelstar: Tactical Command, the GBA successor created by X-Com's original developer, lacked the depth, micromanagement, and fun that its predecessor perfected twelve years beforehand. The DS' touchscreen interface and graphical capabilities are primed for a handheld port... just like yourrr mamaaaaa.

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