In 2008, only four DS games have risen to the NPD's monthly top ten U.S. sales charts: Guitar Hero: On Tour, LEGO Indiana Jones, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Only one of those is from Nintendo, and none had much staying power on the list. Yet the system has always been first or second in hardware sales in 2008, topping rival consoles by hundreds of thousands of units per month.
The best-performing DS game in any given month was Guitar Hero: On Tour - a rare example of a relatively piracy-safe game, though not due to crafty file protection. Rather, the game requires a proprietary add-on inserted in the GBA slot of the system.
On the other hand, take Contra 4. This November 2007 release from Konami was met with both hype and acclaim, touted as a proper follow-up to the longtime action franchise and packed with the gritty gameplay that older gamers fondly remember from the series' early days. According to the NPD Group, the game has sold only 109,000 copies in America to date.
A hundred thousand copies is respectable, but for a top-tier title targeting the savvy gamer, it would have been reasonable to expect the game to top half a million. Here, then, that estimate of 200,000-plus flash cart owners becomes more significant - especially considering that for the last two months of 2007, four million new DS units were sold.
To be fair, NPD stats reveal strong total DS software sales of 31 million for January through September of 2008. But when Nintendo presented these numbers in late October, it didn't mention tie ratios or third party sales (unlike stats presented for the Wii).
In the past year, well-reviewed third-party games for the DS have been dwarfed by the sales of Nintendo's first-party efforts, with the clear exception of Guitar Hero: On Tour. Four years into the device's lifespan, you can no longer attribute the sales imbalance to Nintendo having a better handle on the hardware.
Nintendo's sluggish response to the growing popularity of flash carts has changed the potentially innovative system for the worse. The recent marketing push behind the Touch! Generations label, home to titles like Brain Age and Personal Trainer: Cooking, is no accident.
Nintendo now focuses on titles that cater to minimal-purchase DS owners - casual gamers who pick up the DS and purchase very few accompanying games. These gamers typically choose functional, multi-use games and established hits. They aren't as likely to desire flash carts, either because they don't want a bunch of games or they're simply unaware that flash carts exist.