I think listing a top ten list of anything is difficult and I found the task of listing my top ten handheld games very tough. There are so many great handheld games. I think of how many times I have played each game, and what emotions I have associated with each experience. It is possible that if asked to make a top ten list next week that it would differ a little from this, but for today this is my top ten handheld games:
10. Contra Advance - The Alien Wars EX (GBA)
When I first played Contra III: The Alien Wars on the SNES I was blown away. It was more coin-op than most coin-op games at the time. The graphics were incredible. The audio was almost movie-like. And, the gameplay was executed perfectly. The pacing of challenges was amazing. The game made its way onto the GBA in 2002; 10 years after its' original SNES release. Sure, it is still bloody difficult, but it is fair. Oh, and the overhead "mode 7" levels from the SNES version have been replaced with levels from the Genesis Contra: Hard Corps title, which I think works really well and improves the overall experience.
9. Ninja Five-O (GBA)
When I first saw Ninja Five-O I was not impressed. The art style looked out dated, and it just didn't jive with me. Probably because I had already experienced the delight of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon on the GBA, but more on that title later. Fortunately, a good friend of mine, Peter Ong, urged me to play the game. Ninja Five-O is a very well balanced and extremely enjoyable game that will test your skills. I have enjoyed many hours with this game, and feel accomplished when saying that I completed it.
8. Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (DS)
I first heard about Hatsworth from the same friend who urged me to play Ninja Five-O. He also happened to be the Lead Designer of Hatsworth! Knowing of Peter's abilities as a designer I was eager to check out his baby. I was lucky enough to play the game once during the development of the game, and I was instantly impressed. The platforming gameplay is fun, tight, and challenging. The blend of melee combat and projectile combat is superb. And, the puzzle game on the lower screen is simple, fun, and a welcome breather from the frantic action on the top screen. The only bad thing I felt after playing the snippet during the development of the game was the fact that I had to wait months for the final game to be released so I could play it again!
7. New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
I have been a fan of Mario side-scrolling platform games since Super Mario World. I know, Super Mario Bros. came first and established the genre, but when SMB was released I was still messing around with my Commodore 64, so I missed a lot of the NES glory. Anyway, when NSMB landed on the DS, in many ways it felt like a refined Mario experience with fancy graphics and presentation. The new power-ups and modern updates provide a truly enjoyable experience that is easy to play at any time for long or short periods of time.
6. Metroid Zero Mission (GBA)
The fact that I kinda missed out on the NES days, and therefore the original Metroid, in some ways, made Metroid Zero Mission a wonderful treat for me. I had already played the original NES title, but it was after I had already enjoyed the wonders of Super Metroid. It is hard to appreciate an 8-bit title after having been captivated by its' 16-bit successor. Anyway, Zero Mission is much more than a reskin of the original NES Metroid; it feels more like a modern homage by the folks who made the original. A truly incredible experience.
5. Metal Gear Solid (GBC)
The Gameboy Color version of Metal Gear Solid was released in 2000, after the original PlayStation version and before the PS2 version. It has all of the MGS features that established the series as an incredible experience, including story, stealth, action, puzzles, and fun. Being able to take MGS with you on the go is a joy. Makes me wonder why there was never a version made for the DS. Oh well, at least the 3DS is getting one. :)
4. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX (GBC)
The flow of Link's Awakening is truly great. I think this title benefited from being developed after the SNES title, A Link to the Past, as it feels tighter and more focused. Personally, I like the "burst-scrolling" utilized in Link's Awakening as it forces you to see all of your immediate surroundings - even though the effect was probably used to avoid the blur of the original Gameboy with scrolling games. I list this Zelda game over the DS titles because this title was simply more enjoyable for me.
3. Super Mario World - Super Mario Advance 2 (GBA)
Super Mario World bowled me over when I first saw it running on the SNES. The art style. The audio. The gameplay. All stunning. Super Mario World is an incredible piece of work. The minds behind the design of this title were truly gunning for gold, and they hit the target. The platforming gameplay is ridiculously tight. The world map is superb and fun in itself. The variety in gameplay and visuals as you proceed through the game. Just incredible. When this gem made its way onto the GBA I couldn't have been happier. Sure, the screen resolution is a little smaller on the GBA, but the game translated very well from the SNES to the GBA. Bravo Super Mario World. Bravo. I love you!
2. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)
I'll admit that I haven't played Symphony of the Night much. I know. It's sad. Anyway, when I first started playing Circle of the Moon it felt very fresh to me. Sure, it kind of had that Metroid feeling going on, but the variety in weapons, items, and the leveling up with experience points was all very cool. And, I am a sucker for the gothic theme. The more I played it, the more I fell in love with the game. It was the first time that I experienced grinding in a game, and actually enjoyed it. I encountered a boss, and he kicked my ass. I was not ready for him apparently. So, I went away and killed a bunch of enemies to level up and also got my hands on a new nifty weapon power-up. I returned to the boss and handed him his ass with my new-found powers. It felt great. The simplistic beauty of Circle of the Moon is what makes it trump the DS Castlevania entries to the series for me.
1. Mario Kart (DS)
I fell in love with Super Mario Kart when it was first released on the SNES in 1992. Wow, what a fun game it was. Both single player and multiplayer were tons of fun. When Mario Kart 64 came along in 1996 it lost a few fans, including me in a way. It changes a lot of what made the original so fun, primarily by changing the jump-into-corner-slide-boost technique, which was so much fun and advantageous in the original SNES title. In retrospect, I was too harsh on Mario Kart 64. I was being snobby. It is a great game. I played it recently actually, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although, I did find the laps to be awfully long! :) The GBA version of Mario Kart is a strange beast, but I'll save that for a different discussion. When Mario Kart DS was released I was suspicious of its ability to outshine the original SNES game. My oh my, it outshines it, and every other version (including Gamecube and Wii), in a major way. Mario Kart DS just feels great. It looks great. It sounds great. It features retro tracks from all previous versions. It is a great Mario Kart title. It is going to be hard to top this title, but I have high hopes for the 3DS version. The replayability of Mario Kart DS is insane. Just a great game!
Dementium II (DS)
Yeah, I know this is bias because I worked on the game, but I truly think Dementium II is the best FPS on the DS. There, I said it. It has great visuals, story, gameplay, and audio. And, it is all presented in smooth 60 frames per second. I am very proud of Dementium II, and think the team did an outstanding job.
Retro Game Challenge (DS)
This game is clever, fun, and challenging. With a wealth of fictional retro titles that feel authentic, Retro Game Challenge really brings the feeling of old with a modern presentational wrapper. The inclusion of the story and requirement to "read" gaming magazines of that time make this title a uniquely fun experience that everyone should at least check out. A very clever and fun game.
Super Mario 64 DS
Last, but by no means least. When Super Mario 64 was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1996 it was a significant milestone in 3D gaming. This game demonstrated how a third-person platform game can be executed very well in 3D, which is certainly no easy task. This was the birth of the analog stick too, which contributed greatly to the smooth controls of Super Mario 64. Alas, the lack of analog stick on the DS unfortunately made the DS version feel stiff and awkward. It is still a fantastic game on the DS, but it simply does not play as well as its original N64 brother. Once again, the 3DS addresses this shortcoming and should prove to be a capable platform for smooth analog control once again.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my top ten handheld games. Tell me about your favs.