The Greatest Nintendo DS Survival Games

The Nintendo DS family of consoles brought dual screens, touch inputs, wireless multiplayer and innovative new gameplay concepts to portable gaming. First launched in 2004, the base DS model featured 256 x 192 pixel LCDs powered by a 67 MHz ARM9 and 33 MHz ARM7 CPU alongside 4MB of RAM. These were modest specs even then, but the unique dual display configuration enabled fresh gaming ideas unexplored by contemporary mobile titles reliance on iterative updates to the Game Boy Advance.

Over the years, Nintendo iterated on the DS form factor while retaining backwards compatibility. The slimmer DS Lite arrived in 2006 with brighter screens but the same internals. 2008 brought the camera-equipped DSi with SD card expansion before the final DSi XL capped off DS hardware evolution ahead of 2011’s glasses-free 3D equipped Nintendo 3DS successor.

Despite its family-friendly image and accessibility to casual gamers through titles like Nintendogs and Brain Training, the DS catalog contained several memorable and terrifying survival horror and action games. Creepy locales, tense combat and foreboding atmospheres were fantastically translated to the small screens thanks to clever artists, designers and programmers. Let’s spotlight some all-time favorites.

Dementium: The Ward

Renegade Kid co-founder Jools Watsham drew inspiration from classic frightfests like Silent Hill and Resident Evil along with personal hospitalization experiences when conceiving Dementium in 2006. His nascent independent studio aimed to demonstrate DS horsepower by crafting a first-person survival horror game tailored expertly to dual screen inputs.

You awaken inside decrepit Redmoor Hospital suffering amnesia, greeted only by flickering lights, peeling paint, scattered medical detritus and mysterious growling echoing in the distance. With pipes and planks for weapons, you carefully explore the dilapidated halls, backtracking with newly unlocked keycards to access previously blocked off wings all while avoiding or battling distorted mutants roaming the premises.

Gameplay happens from a first-person viewpoint for heightened immersion, while the lower touchscreen manages maps, objectives, health meters and your handy notepad for scribbling clues. Visuals impress on DS hardware – 3D assets utilize 1,024 textures mapped onto four 128 frame animated character skeletons with individual hit detection per limb. Later areas incorporate neat lighting tricks like volumetric fog with custom shaders to boost ambience. Dynamic shadows were still too performance heavy alas. The dark ambient soundtrack accentuates feelings of loneliness excellently, layers of atmospheric samples and unsettling growls putting players on perpetual edge.

With methodical combat emphasizing attack timing over run n’ gun spray tactics and maze-like corridors rewarding players who remember layouts and shortcuts, Dementium channels classic PS1 survival horror experiences expertly while leveraging DS strengths like the second screen. It remains one of the scariest Nintendo games 25 years after the company’s public debut.

Dementium fared reasonably from a sales perspective, selling over 100,000 units globally during its lifespan per NPD data. Critics praised the moody vibe and immersive implementation of DS features into core gameplay. UK outlet NGC Magazine awarded it 93% saying “a horror masterpiece…enthralling from bloody start to spectacularly squishy finish.” 2010 sequel Dementium II built upon fan feedback but received less marketing support from cash-strapped publisher SouthPeak. Renegade Kid later brought both games to Steam in 2014 boasting improved textures and higher display resolutions. Fans eagerly await potential remakes or sequels on Nintendo Switch.

Resident Evil Deadly Silence

Capcom’s 1996 PlayStation exclusive Resident Evil basically codified and popularized survival horror gaming. So releasing a DS retelling featuring modernized gameplay using touch innovations while retaining the original’s challenge seemed an ingenious fit for Nintendo’s experimental handheld given its sizable install base.

Resident Evil Deadly Silence recreates Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield’s horrific 1998 ordeal within the zombie-infested Spencer Mansion and nearby environs with all puzzles, boss encounters and weapons intact. The plot uncovering Umbrella Corporation’s bio-organic weaponry research remains enthralling due in equal parts to hilariously bad live action videos and the underlying mystery permeating the entire adventure. Fans craving to replay the pivotal title on the go got their wish in 2006.

While retaining the original’s notorious tank control scheme, Deadly Silence enhances playability by switching inventory management, environment maps plus essential status monitors to the lower display by default. Players touch menus intuitively versus navigating them on the main view. Knife attacks are now swipe gestures, door switches rotate smoothly, everything complementing cramped quarters. The horrific zombie models and mansion interiors receive texture face lifts boosting mood, although the dated full motion clips merely get cleaned rather than re-edited. Fortunately they remain ideal tongue-in-cheek schlock. Overall visuals and audio still impress by DS launch window metrics. Enemy AI obeys slightly smarter pathfinding routines helping the creaky engine appear less dated. And local multiplayer lets friends provide assistance during the 10+ hour nightmare which is a huge bonus.

Critics praised Deadly Silences’ faithfulness to the landmark Capcom survival game while highlighting the touch screen and dual display modernizations as welcome usability perks. Outlets like IGN said it makes going back “exciting again” thanks to “intelligent changes”. Fan opinions echoed similar positivity based on 68 aggregated reviews yielding an average Metacritic score of 89. As of September 2022 over 90,000 copies got sold in the United States according to NPD, indicating resilient popularity 16 years from release. Any Resident Evil admirer without DS nostalgia should still check this gem out via Nintendo eShop.

Resident Evil Deadly SilenceMetascoreUnits Sold (US)
8990,000

Aliens Infestation

SEGA coinops like Alien Storm combined run n’ gun shooter thrills with popular horror licenses resulting in memorable arcade experiences during the early 90s. UK developer WayForward Technologies hoped to recapture that magic in 2D portable form by adapting 20th Century Fox’s beloved sci-fi films Aliens, Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection into gonzo side scrolling action. Their retro-flavored love letter to the property released in 2011 quickly garnered critical adoration and a dedicated cult following that influences even current Alien titles.

You control an ever-changing squad of Colonial Marines investigating Weyland-Yutani Corporation colony disestablishments across various extra-terrestrial human settlements. Missions alternate between completing objectives like restoring power, rescuing survivors or escorting civilians and battling iconic biomechanic Xenomorphs swarming through hallways in numbers. Play emphasizes resource management as each marine has finite health and death removes them from your character rotation permanently until no one remains. Fallen teammates even reappear later as eerie cocooned hosts for deadly Facehuggers in an exceptionally macabre and tension-building touch. Easy mode permits limited respawns making things accessible for less experienced shoot ‘em up players should relentless enemies overwhelm.

Presentation impresses tremendously – gorgeously animated 2D sprites fight atop pseudo 3D backdrops layered via parallax scrolling emphasizing depth. Gradients and subtle dithering effects give everything a proper Aliens-esque used future feel. Display differences accentuate the distinctly DS flavor: the top typically handles gameplay while the lower shows motion trackers and mission data in a brilliant callback to LV-426 footage. Even the distinct ping of said tracker attracting nearby movement permeates audio design. Infestation heavily recalls Metroid structuring too with certain tools unlocking access to previously sealed sectors. Fans often liken it to a horror-themed take on Nintendo’s seminal side scrolling formula.

WayForward absolutely nailed the Alien atmosphere and adaptations like Infestation prove expanding beloved film franchises into interactive mediums can succeed wonderfully whenever creators respect cinematic source material while exercising their own inspirations. If only more licensed tie-in projects reached these inspired heights!

Theresia

While Japanese developers excel crafting survival horror games centered around action, WorkJam chose a more introspective direction for their 2007 Nintendo DS title Theresia. Leveraging interesting technical feats only possible on DS hardware, players control Sylvie, an amnesiac traversing a surreal world solving environmental puzzles and reading diary fragments slowly regaining memories of her past self and relationship with a little girl named Elenore.

This interdimensional realm resembling Alice In Wonderland and Wizard Of Oz takes heavy symbolic influence from western fairy tales and gothic visual novels. Environments have a constructed sensibility accentuated by the separate 2D character sprites and 3D environmental areas which mirror storybook pages come to life. One backdrop shows bloodied stuffed animals nailed to checkerboard walls beneath oversized crescent moon windows. Signs point in odd directions or extend from invisible surfaces. Light sources pulse erratically, doors materialize spontaneously and muted grays give everything a lonely, melancholy atmosphere. Locations may repeat but key details changing subtly across multiple visits keeps things unnerving via intentional familiarity versus randomization. The gorgeous score featuring music box twinkles and piano echoes layers dread wonderfully.

Puzzle solving requires manipulating voids to access obstacles otherwise hidden inside walls where players rotate panels, light torches or input codes deciphered from cryptic poems left behind by Elenore. Limited inventory slots ensure carrying only essential keys until discovering larger pouches, better evoking adventure titles from the 90s. While Theresia incorporates traditional horror elements like disturbing imagery and jump scares, its narratives gradual breadcrumbing through abstract environs makes for an emotionally compelling, introspective experience examining deep psychological complexities rarely seen in games of this period let alone Nintendo handhelds. WorkJam truly developed an avant-garde gem still impressing audiences today through its indie sensibilities and expert utilization of DS hardware strengths into delivering an unforgettable adventure.

Theresia remains a cult favorite amongst Nintendo DS enthusiasts 15 years later despite middling sales from its initial launch. Critics praised the disturbing presentation and escape room design mentality which felt remarkably fresh on a mobile platform in 2007. RPGamer’s review said “Thereseia provides a blueprint other adventure games would do well to follow.” Notable influencers still cite it as an inspiration on later projects. While difficult to find physical copies nowadays, digital versions on DSi Shop or emulated play preserve this standout horror entry well worth experiencing for players craving unconventional premises away from traditional genre formulas.

Hopefully this guide across five exemplar experiences drives home how Nintendo DS hardware – while technologically humble by today’s standards – allowed developers realizing survival horror and action games every bit as engrossing as contemporary titles on more powerful PlayStation 2/Xbox consoles. By embracing unique DS functionality around dual screen presentation, touch inputs and local wireless connectivity options, artists crafted genuinely frightening worlds that still compel 15+ years later.

Dementium remains one of the scariest first-person survival projects ever created. Resident Evil Deadly Silence modernized a pivotal Capcom title for on-the-go fans. Aliens Infestation is widely considered the greatest film license game realization. And Theresia broke ground expressing mature themes rarely seen on DS through lateral puzzle design emphasizing adventure gameplay merged with horror aesthetics. Each experience here shines brilliantly even after significant genre evolution across other hardware generations.

I hope spotlighting these personal favorite DS horror gems either stokes nostalgia for returning fans or inspires new players towards discovering memorably terrifying worlds missing from most conversations surrounding Nintendo’s unorthodox mid-2000s handheld. Tracking down physical copies grows challenging yearly as curiosities climb. But digital ownership options via DSi Shop or emulation ensure these fantastic frightfests stay accessible into the foreseeable future. Just make sure to play them with lights off and headphones on for proper nightmare fuel immersion!

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