Before there was the Nintendo 3DS, there was the Nintendo DSi. It was what I like to think of as an “appetizer” handheld, kind of like how Nintendo released the Game Boy Color before going all-out with the Game Boy Advance. The DSi may have seemed like an ordinary upgrade to the DS, but it actually had its own library of games under the label of DSiWare. Unlike the GBC, these games were not in a physical format; similarly to the Wii, the DSi had an online shop application that ran from 2009 to 2017 – the last game released in 2015.

Considering the Wii Shop Channel would only allow games to be 50 MB at the largest, I could only wonder what little space could be published to the DSi Shop Channel. Yet, there were all kinds of titles available. Some were bite-sized variations of DS releases, but there were a lot more original games altogether. In fact, certain games were even originally planned for the DS before being moved to the DSi Shop as DSiWare! The results were actually pretty impressive for a library that doesn’t even stack up to the capabilities of WiiWare.

There are a lot of memories I have with various DSiWare games I downloaded. This article is mainly going to be a series of thoughts I’ve had with these games. While there weren’t any games that would compete with the best of the regular DS, you’d be surprised what goodies there were while the service lasted.

The very first game I got was Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again. When it came to the Mario vs. Donkey Kong subseries, I still wish the sequels followed upon the awesome gameplay of the first in the series. Still, eight bucks for a new installment was something I couldn’t pass up on. And despite how I wished the sequels carried along, I have enjoyed the Lemmings-style puzzle-platform gameplay present here. What was even cooler about the game was how you could share levels you create online instead of just locally. 

Nintendo was actually pretty active with its own DSiWare developments. They brought the WarioWare series into it as well via WarioWare: Snapped. In this one, there are a total of twenty minigames divided into four groups. All of them take advantage of the DSi’s built-in camera, so you had to put the system on a desk in a well-lit room to play as the system registers your face and hands. In hindsight, even with the setup aside, it’s a very short game that was built entirely on a novelty that could wear out after playing through it.

Pictobits, on the other hand, was probably the best of Nintendo’s DSiWare titles. Although it’s part of the Art Style series, I remember it much more for the fact that it was a puzzle game that’s as coated in an NES flavor as Tetris DS. You use the stylus to connect four pixels together; the more groups you chain together, the more the top screen creates a character from a classic NES title (whether it be Super Mario Bros, Zelda, Balloon Fight, etc). The trick is that you could only hold so many pixels at once, and new ones fall into the bottom screen consistently. The result is a fantastic DSi game that does the stylus justice.

Speaking of NES games, I found the Super Mario Bros.-inspired Mario Clock of all things to be a great way to kill time during study hours in middle school. I know it’s not technically a game, but it does have this fun mini-game in it where you play as Mario or Luigi and you have to collect hundreds of coins in looping levels. If you get enough coins, you get to visit Peach as if you beat Super Mario Bros. There was also a Mario Calculator and an Animal Crossing Clock, but I think neither app had a mini-game like this.

There was this other small game Nintendo released called Photo Dojo. It was actually available for free until a couple months after its release. The idea is that you digitize people by taking pictures of them doing fighting poses and using those pictures as frames of animation for a playable fighter. The gameplay wasn’t anything deep, and there were only two modes that lasted minutes at most. Yet, a lot of goofy fun was had with the game’s hook.

Other small games include the ones starring a Japanese mascot named Domo. Domo isn’t too well-known here in the US, but it’s a lot bigger in Japan – enough for Nintendo to make games out of it. I got three of them on the DSi: Pro Putt Domo, Crash Course Domo, and Rock ‘n Roll Domo. The first is mini-golf, the second is a ramp-less Excitebike, and the third is a short rhythm game. I thought they were fun while they last, but for some reason, I was not able to transfer these from my DSi to my 3DS. Why not?! Why are any games unavailable to transfer, let alone these?!

Anyway, an arguably bigger novelty Nintendo initially released for free was a special port of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords. Not only did it have new levels to play through, but it also featured (GASP) a single-player mode! Now you don’t need multiple Game Boy Advances and friends to play with! Unfortunately, Nintendo removed this port from sale. If you happen to have downloaded this when it was available, consider yourself lucky.

Nintendo weren’t the only ones bringing their signature series to DSiWare services, either. Hudson Soft released what ended up being the last Bomberman game until Konami put out Super Bomberman R for the Switch. This game was Bomberman Blitz, and it was a $5 entry that solely focused on online play. I was never really good at it, but I had fun trying to win nevertheless. Easily what I appreciate most from this game was that it was essentially my introduction to the series. I thank Konami for letting me continue what I started with this little title.

Capcom also delivered the goods with the release of Dark Void Zero. Developed by Other Ocean, what was supposed to be a tie-in for the Dark Void Xbox 360 game turned out to be a pleasant homage to NES games that overshadowed the very game it’s tied to. Players traverse through three large levels looking for objects and blasting enemies while flying with a jetpack or running and gunning through confined areas filled with obstacles. Sadly, my old 3DS died with this game inside it. I’d love to play this again sometime.

But you know what else I have gotten to play?

Some other DSiWare games for the first time!

Yeah! For this other half of the article, I’m going to provide mini-reviews for new experiences I’ve gotten to have as of late. I wasn’t sure how many I could really get together for the occasion or if developers would bother lending any, but I want to thank the folks at Teyon and Big John Games for letting me explore some of their titles this late. They could have easily brushed my requests off given that the DSi has generally been long eclipsed by the 3DS (which itself is kind of getting eclipsed by the Switch now), but they contributed anyway! I don’t think they have any idea how much I appreciate that.

The first game I played from this batch is Working Dawgs: Rivet Retriever. What’s funny about this game is that even though this is the first time I’ve played it and it’s not even that old of a game (2012), I felt nostalgic from its pre-rendered title screen and GBA-quality music. Anyway, this is a 2.5D platformer taking place at a construction site where you have to fetch an amount of objects and bring them to a fellow worker under a time limit. The controls are responsive and makes the movement feel nice, but the enemies can be annoying. Every time you get hit, you lose some of the collectibles and you have to move outside the level’s boundaries to get them back before they disappear. And since you can’t put any of that precious time to waste, there’s little room for error. Rivet Retriever is not a bad game, but it could have used some more ironing out.

The sister game, Working Dawgs: A-Maze-Ing Pipes (Get it?) is one of those games where you connect pipe pieces together to create a whole path from point A to point B. You drag and drop pieces with the touchscreen, and you turn on the water to finish the level. You’re rewarded more points for the more pieces you use, but you can get the bare minimum done to move on. It’s a rather easy game in that regard, with the challenge being just about optional entirely. The game tries spicing things up by having time limits and a finite amount of times you could delete a piece from the grid, but it’s nothing anyone can’t overcome in due time. For what it’s worth, the presentation gets the job done and the experience can be a decent time killer.

Sea Battle is Battleship. Judging by its 2013 date, I guess it was trying to be a late cash-in on the Battleship movie, which came out in 2012. For those that haven’t played the game before, you aim somewhere on a grid, hoping you’ve hit one of your opponent’s ships. You can’t see any of his/her ships, and she/he can’t see any of yours. This iteration spices things up a little by having one-turn power-ups and mines that make players lose a turn. The presentation is fine, but I wish the pace moved a lot faster. The existing speed makes the average session last longer than it needs to be. This is why there are only four missions in the Mission mode. If you like Battleship, though, you may find enjoyment here if you can tolerate some of its quirks.

Super Swap is a puzzle game that plays mostly like the Bejeweled series. The modes aren’t very varied, but the base gameplay can be pretty fun and steadily paced in Hard mode. Swapping around shapes makes for an entertaining challenge when more fall into the playing field as players try clearing them. There isn’t much else to do other than reaching for the highest score you can, though. There are levels, but no ending in sight. As far as puzzle games go, Super Swap could have done more to differentiate what it has and build upon those things further.

Robot Rescue is a bit of a wild card, because I actually did play it back when it was relatively new. I saw it get a solid recommendation in an issue of Nintendo Power, and for the $2 price point it sounded like it had a lot of bang for the buck. However, like Dark Void Zero, it was another game that fell victim to the death of my old 3DS. Now that Teyon gave me a chance to relive the game, I have to agree with the Nintendo Power reviewer. This is a logic puzzler where you navigate a group of robots simultaneously through a series of cleverly designed labyrinths. The D-Pad is all you need, and the game constantly gets you thinking about what to do next. There are also a lot of these levels to play through, and it gets gradually challenging as it goes on. Just like any good game in this caliber, really.

Little did I know Robot Rescue became a full-on series since the last time I owned it. I have yet to get a good look at the other entries, but Robot Rescue 2 is an evident case of the phrase,”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” The game is built on the same foundations on the first, but features a new slew of puzzles and mechanics (such as multicolored robots) to work with. It’s not to the point where it overshadows the basic concept the original established, however, which makes Robot Rescue 2 a faithful and equally entertaining sequel.

Lastly, we have Kart Krashers. This one isn’t a kart-racer per se, rather is it a game where you use your vehicle to drive around on a variety of fields collecting stars and using power-ups to get high enough scores to move on to the next area. As basic as it sounds, it manages to pull the idea off well. The physics can be a little irritating when the car gets flipped over, but the collectibles consistently feel gratifying to pick up. Adding to this are combos that build up the quicker you gather the stars or knock things over, which accounts for bigger and bigger score gains. If you’re looking for a kart game that isn’t a Mario Kart clone, Kart Krashers could be of service.

Yeah, I didn’t find myself with anything I could consider to be outright bad. I guess you could say this article is a feel-good sort of Ryan’s Corner. I just wanted to look back on my personal experiences with DSiWare since I believe it’s as important of an era in Nintendo gaming as any. Of course, I didn’t play every DSiWare game (I only finally played Shantae: Risky’s Revenge via its PS4 and iPhone releases, for example), but I hope I’ve included enough on here to show just how much there was to it. Like the Wii Shop Channel before it, the DSi Shop Channel was loaded with exclusive digital titles for those with the handheld. Even if they were a lot smaller than usual DS titles, they were no less significant. If you want to play any of these games today, you should still be able to find them on the Nintendo 3DS’s eShop.