Editorial: Ten games we’re glad were on handhelds

March 8, 2012

Writers Andrew Passafiume and Graham Russell tend to be on opposite sides of the debate when talking about handheld games: Andrew would usually rather be playing on a big screen, and Graham likes that lower system specs makes devs focus on gameplay. In this two-part feature, the two get together and make their picks of the games that best and least fit on a portable.

Pokemon Red and Blue Versions
Graham: What made the Pokemon games special was the idea that you built up these teams, carried them around and obsessed over them and then took on friends. Later games (and later tech) allowed for online play and profile porting, but even then, that’s not the same experience.
Andrew: The Pokemon series always felt like it was just perfect for handhelds. It was all about the ability to take your team wherever you wanted and trading with friends, like you said, so I completely agree.

Andrew: Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t put this on the list. While there have been many console versions of Tetris, nothing beats playing it on the go. I selected the original because, well, it’s the original, but Tetris DS is another fantastic version that I think could easily go here. It might not have the same impact on a handheld as something like Lumines does, but it always felt like a handheld game to me. Playing it on a console just seems weird.
Graham: Hmm. I won’t totally object here, since I love Tetris and definitely believe it defined the Game Boy experience, but the more I play Tetris, the happier I am that I’m not worried about battery life. Or getting hit by a car.

Picross 3D
Graham: I think this is the perfect example of the game that you love precisely because of its portable nature. While people don’t really want to plop in front of their TV to complete a sudoku puzzle or crossword, finishing a little logic game has always been the thing to do while out in the park or at a coffee shop. Picross 3D goes one step farther than what people were used to with folded newspapers, and it’s a delightful step.
Andrew: I don’t think I’ve ever played a Picross game, but what you say seems convincing enough. Honestly, a lot of puzzle games feel just right at home on handhelds.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike
Andrew: I have absolutely no experience with the Famicom Wars games, so keep that in mind, but this has always felt like a handheld franchise to me. The DS version introducing touch controls felt perfect for this style of game and it was fun to have something that could easily be played in short bursts as well as a time sink.
Graham: I have lots of experience with the Famicom Wars games, and I’d still have to agree. While I didn’t so much enjoy the touch-screen controls for this one, the move of the main series to the GBA (because the Game Boy Wars games really were spinoffs) brought about the two things that make it great: the four-team multiplayer play that’s a lot more interesting than the chess-style two-player in previous games, and the increased focus on making a compelling single-player campaign.

Boktai: The Sun is In Your Hand
Graham: This fits the spirit of our list nicely. Introduced in a time that may be the main reason for this list: when portables became the default rather than the alternative, and when a portable game actually had to come up with a reason for you to go outside to play it. Unless you propped a Game Boy Player beneath a lamp, which I put in the category of “things that make me lose all respect for a person.”
Andrew: I still have never played this one, but the concept alone makes it a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I admire what the developers were going for when they made this; it combines something we are familiar with and a completely new concept that seemed to work decently under the right conditions.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Andrew: The Professor Layton series is an absolutely perfect fit for handhelds. It’s another great example of a pick up and play game that uses touch screen controls perfectly. I could imagine a Wii version of Professor Layton working okay, but it would still be an odd fit.
Graham: You’re right: you wouldn’t want to play these puzzles on a big screen nearly as much. Layton thrives on a platform that follows you around and has a sleep mode.

Graham: The game’s superb sound-based gameplay gets it a nod here. A repeated, rhythmical nod. While games with great music and beat have been successful on console and PC, what makes this best on handhelds is this: have you ever been around someone else playing Patapon? Without the use of headphones, any innocent bystanders are driven mad with the chaka-chakas. If it were a home game, this would be the normal experience, giving the series an entirely different reputation.
Andrew: I actually can’t say I agree with this one. Patapon is a good fit for handhelds but I think it would work equally well as a downloadable title for consoles as well. I’m not saying it doesn’t belong on this list, but your reasoning isn’t much to go on. I, for one, don’t mind the sounds of someone playing Patapon. It has a nice rhythm to it!

Kirby Canvas Curse
Andrew: When I played Kirby’s Epic Yarn back in 2010, I remember there being a section where you guided a Kirby train by creating tracks along the way using the Wii Remote. It moved fairly slow, but it didn’t feel that precise and those sections were probably the weakest in the game. And then I remembered Canvas Curse and realized that playing a super-fast version of the train sections from Epic Yarn would be a nightmare on the Wii. It demonstrated the capabilities of the DS’ touch screen better than most games have, even today.
Graham: Canvas Curse will go down in history as “the game that justified the DS’ existence,” and there’s a reason for that: it’s what it was designed for. I may not have loved that game as much as others, but it’s absolutely true that it would have gone from great to mediocre if it had to deal with less-precise motion controls. (Or, a shuddering thought: traditional controls.)

Lumines: Puzzle Fusion
Graham: While we have seen ports of Lumines to the PS2, 360, PS3 and PC, this game has always been best on a small, shiny screen with a good pair of headphones and played in short bursts. (In fact, you could argue that its Vita successor was the system’s best launch title as well.)
Andrew: There is nothing like playing Lumines on a portable system. I still think it’s one of the best games you can play on the PSP and, like you said, the Vita version seems like one of those must-buys as well. I do appreciate the console versions, but it feels like it’s at home on that tiny screen.

The World Ends with You
Andrew: I’m not as crazy about this game as everyone else is, but it’s memorable because of its ridiculous battle system that really would not have been possible on any other platform, especially not on consoles. The battle system is far from perfect, but because of it this game feels like the perfect example of how to do a handheld RPG right while distinguishing it from the rest.
Graham: You know, this one should make the list for a totally different reason: it’s an original IP on a system that usually got spinoffs and little brother ports. Among a sea of Kingdom Hearts side stories and Final Fantasy remakes, TWEWY stood out, and that let people take notice. If it were instead a late-life PS2 title, I doubt it would have fared nearly as well.

What do you think of our list? Let us know in the comments!