A few weeks ago I counted down my personal favorite console games of the previous generation. This week, I decided to downsize, and count down my favorite games that appeared exclusively on handheld systems, meaning the PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS. Last generation was the first generation where I really got into handheld gaming, and now, most of the gaming I do is on my 3DS or PlayStation Vita. Not a whole lot more to explain, so lets get going.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
Probably my favorite GTA game, period. I was amazed how great it felt driving around a scaled down Liberty City, and the drug-dealing side game was strangely satisfying. I would love to see a downloadable version made available on the consoles, I would gladly double-dip for that.
God of War: Ghost of Sparta
I just felt like I had to list a PSP game on this list, and even though it letter got a console release, I'm still counting it because it's my list.. It was a late PSP title, and the first PSP entry in the franchise, Chains of Olympus, proved you could have huge, console-like experiences on Sony's handheld, but Ghost of Sparta took it and ran with it, and created an entry superior to its console brethren.
5. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
The Nintendo DS had three different Castlevania titles done in the 'metroidvania' style, and all of them are superb. Sure, the stylus implementation in Dawn of Sorrow was a bit wonky, but it was still a great game. Portrait of Ruin was an even better game, giving you two protagonists that you can switch to on the fly, and going into different worlds via portraits gave them the freedom to get creative with the level design. But Order of Ecclesia is still my favorite of the DS trilogy. It's actually somewhat similar to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest on the NES, in that you travel to several different locations before being able to finally tackle Dracula's castle.
The game gives us a strong female lead, Shanoa, who is part of the Order of Ecclesia, a group of people who have taken up the battle against Dracula and do their best to try to prevent his return. Through the use of different glyphs, Shanoa can alter the abilities of her weapons, which was a breath of fresh air from the traditional swords, axes, and magic found in most action-RPGs. The game was a bit longer than it needed to be, because if you want to reach Dracula and get the true ending, you need to do a lot of backtracking.
4. 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
I love a good story in my games. I don't enjoy games that only have good stories, but I count it as a bonus when it does, as long as the gameplay is still solid. Never before have I been as engrossed in a game's story as I was with 999. The funny thing here, however, is that there really isn't much gameplay at all. It's an interactive story, and the interactive bits are just puzzle-solving, choosing which of the remaining survivors you wish to continue into the next room with, and choosing your dialogue branch when prompted. Other than that, it's a lot of reading, but at least they gave us the option to skip the dialogue rather quickly on subsequent playthroughs.
The game has 6 different endings, and the craziest part about that is that the true ending gives explanations of how all the other endings are true and actually happened. It has a lot to do with alternate realities and timelines, and can get a little confusing. It was fun trying to figure out who you could trust and who you couldn't, and some of the story revelations will blow your mind. Think of 999 kind of like a Saw movie, but with a story worth paying attention to.
Also, the game has a pretty great sequel called Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward that appears on both the 3DS and Vita.
3. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
It seems as though the Professor Layton series lost something after this particular entry in the franchise, but I still clamor for more each and every time. Much like 999, the puzzles and wandering that constitute the gameplay are just window-dressing for a fantastic story, they're there to give you something to do, otherwise you just dropped $35 to watch an animated movie on a small screen. Regardless of how you feel about the puzzles in the series--I couldn't tell you which game had which puzzle, also, way too much math--you can't deny that the stories run the gamut of emotions, and none more heart-wrenching than this one.
All the games are very cleverly written, and the titular professor always reminds you of a younger version of your wise grandfather. In this entry we get to see a more personal side of the professor, as the overarching story involves a lost love of his. It also has a lot of time travel, and the twist at the end, albeit implausible, was very good.
2. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
I've never been a fan of turn-based combat. In my entire life, I've only finished four games that have it, and all four of them have Mario in the title. Bowser's Inside Story was the first of the four, and it was a monumental accomplishment for me. With JRPGs, the combat just wears on me after a while and I just put the game down and never come back to it. That's the reason I never finished games like Final Fantasy III/VI and Chrono Trigger. I'm aware that that's borderline blasphemy for someone as into retro gaming as myself, but I can't help what my tastes are. The important thing is that I tried, right?
Anyway, I took a chance on Bowser's Inside Story. I knew going it that it was turn-based, but I thought the idea of Mario and Luigi controlling Bowser from inside his body was fun enough to take the risk, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. They switch control from the Bros to Bowser and vice versa often enough to where it never got monotonous, and the humor--which is a staple of the series--kept me interested in the story throughout. This entry is my favorite in the Mario RPG/Mario & Luigi series.
1. Picross 3D
I've never had $20 go as far for me as it did with Picross 3D. I've spent more time twisting and turning these 3D puzzles than I have in Skyrim, and that's no small feat, because, like most gamers, I played a lot of Skyrim. This game is now over four years now and I still play it with consistency.
Most people don't expect this coming from me, but puzzle games are one of my favorite genres (perhaps that's the reason I never grow tired of Professor Layton), however, I had never played a Picross game before this one. I've spoken with a buddy of mine on several occasions who has a particular affinity for Picross DS, so I decided to give it a shot, and I still disagree and think Picross 3D is the superior game.
It's the perfect time-waster, it's the perfect pre-bed time game, it's a near-perfect puzzle game. Picross 3D gets nothing but my highest recommendation. If you have a Nintendo DS or 3DS, this is an essential item for your collection.
That's it for this week's top 5, but don't forget to follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas and listen to my buddies and I muse about videogames on our podcast.
Thanks for reading.