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Published July 6, 2011

If you’re one of the few early adopters of the 3DS, you’ve probably racked up a massive pile of play coins, street passed dozens of commuters (or not) and maybe even conquered Donkey Kong ’94‘s 100 levels by now. What more could a cool guy or gal like you want out of your handheld? Well, some games would be nice. Though Ocarina of Time 3D was a welcome addition to the 3DS library, the early months have been especially rough for Nintendo’s latest hardware, and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you decided to hock yours on eBay.* But before you make any rash decisions, let me ask you this: have you checked out any DSiWare?

*(glaring menacingly…)

Believe it or not, a surprisingly high percentage of DSiWare is not horrendously bad.** In fact, as we’ve said on the podcast a few times, the service is one of Nintendo’s best kept secrets, since the company refuses to advertise it at all. Games like the Art Style series and Shantae have earned accolades from both ourselves and the big sites, but the problem here is that only a very small audience has had access to them — that is, until now. The vast majority of DSiWare is compatible with the 3DS and can be found on the eShop, making this the perfect time to check out what you’ve missed. And to help you get started, I humbly suggest that you direct your attention to the following.

**Even if most of it is!

The Art Style Series: I’d argue that this is the cream of the crop, especially if you’re into puzzle games. The majority of the series was developed by Skip, the studio behind the brilliant Chibi Robo. Art Style: Pictobits is arguably the developer’s finest work. You gather up pixels in a “well” using the stylus and place them directly below falling blocks of the same color to create pixel art from Nintendo franchises like Mario and Zelda. The unlockable chiptunes tracks help sweeten what was already a great deal at $4.99. Art Style: Box Life is also a winner. Here, you cut out patterns from a constantly rolling sheet and assemble them into cubes. If these sound a bit hard to grasp, I probably shouldn’t even bother trying to describe Q Games’ contribution, Art Style: DigiDrive. Trust me when I say that while it may be a bit incomprehensible on paper, but it’s mesmerizing in practice. There are other Art Style games in the collection that aren’t quite as successful, but they’re all safe bets if you’re sick of the typical match-3 formula.

Aura Aura Climber: Nintendo has been outspoken in recent months about pricing and perceived value — that cheap downloads somehow translate to subpar experiences. As a counterpoint, I would offer up the company’s own Aura Aura Climber, in which you control a cheery spark latching onto grapple points in order to rise through the atmosphere. The grapple mechanic isn’t nearly as fluid as PixelJunk Eden’s, but the sense of freedom that comes with swinging through the air is still thrilling. The emphasis is placed on high scores and precision jumping, which has kept me coming back ever since its release. At only $1.99, you won’t find a better bang for your buck.

Link ‘n’ Launch: This could have very easily been a welcome Pikmin spinoff, but I’ll cut Intelligent Systems some slack since the results are still pretty grand. Another puzzler, your goal here is to propel a rocket ship to its destination. Doing so requires quickly spinning tiles to connect pipes to fuel supplies, which is slightly reminiscent of Pipe Dream from back in the day. It’s more mentally taxing than some of the other puzzle games listed here, but I’m sure some of you would welcome that.

Q Games’ Sci-Fi Trilogy: These game don’t seem to have any direct ties to each other, but they do share an outer space motif and addictive gameplay. Trajectile is the most straightforward of the bunch — you line up rockets to ricochet off walls and clear blocks — but you get a lot of content for five bucks. It plays a bit like a combination of Bust-a-Move and Breakout. Starship Defense may be my favorite tower defense game ever, with balanced weapon choices, varied missions and a cool graph paper art style holding things together. And most ambitious of them all is X-Scape, the sequel to an obscure polygonal Game Boy game that served as a precursor to Star Fox. The campaign spans over a dozen planets and offers one of the most satisfying experience you can find on the DSi (and 3DS, for that matter).

My losing pose, witnessed by literally tens of people.

Photo Dojo: Part of me wonders if I should leave this out because Face Raiders renders it a little obsolete. That said, the gimmick of using photos of your friends to create a custom fighting game still elicits smiles, and the custom voice quips are guaranteed to be hilarious.

The WayForward “Trilogy”: These games are also very tenuously connected, but they are all just as vital as the first party stuff. Mighty Flip Champs got many people to take notice of DSiWare when it came out a few years ago, and even more will get to see it when it arrives on the PSN as a Mini this month. I’m also partial to Mighty Milky Way, which I reviewed not to long ago. Lastly, Shantae: Risky’s Revenge might be the very best DSiWare of all. This “Metroidvania” game can easily stand with the best in the genre, with fluid animation, vibrant colors and the ability to traverse multiple planes.

R.I.P.: I would have loved to include the Art Academy games and Flipnote Studios, but these games sadly did not make the transition to the 3DS. On the bright side, the former is at least available at retail and the latter is rumored to be coming back slightly retooled.

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface, too. A Kappa’s Trail, Spotto! Mario vs. Donkey Kong and more narrowly missed the list, and I’ve heard some praise for games like Glow Artisan and Inchworm as well. I’m sure our readers (and Tom) can offer a few more suggestion. In the meantime, remember that not all of these random puzzle games should be dismissed outright. For every dozen miserable Bejeweled clones, you might actually stumble onto a hidden gem.

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