Over the years, at least four branches of gaming have developed: the console thread, the PC thread, the VR thread, and the handheld thread. Handheld games aren’t a genre but they are a classification of games and often the blunt fact of their existing on a handheld device that has less power than a home console or a PC defines what’s possible for their development and mechanics. That, in essence, is what makes handheld games interesting. They can feel much more bite-sized, much more focused, but they can rely on many features unique to handheld devices such as link cables, roaming around, AR, sunlight reception, battery levels, and so on.
I recently tried to make this point in my review of Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas. I felt that this was an example of a game which didn’t take advantage of its existing on a handheld platform. Rather, it took good ideas and stunted them, made them worse. Instead of taking its tribute of borrowed thoughts from the Legend of Zelda series and interpreting them in a new way, it took those and did little with them, in a few places even making them more frustrating than they were originally. Nintendo, who dominates the handheld gaming arena, has historically used the handheld platform to come up with innovative ways to play. After all, the omnipresent directional-pad cross on the controllers with which we’re all very familiar was first created by Nintendo for a handheld device, developed in ’82 for the Donkey Kong handheld.
These are our favorites in miniature…
The Green Screen Mage
Animal Crossing: New Leaf!! WHY WAS THERE NOT A NEW ONE ANNOUNCED AT E3? WHY? Does somebody hate me? It’s a real-time game where you go to a town full of animal people and you have to earn Bells (Money) to pay off loans, make the town better, buy new clothes, and a whole bunch of other things that would make it seem boring, but it so works!
The Black Humor Mage
I have a love for handheld games. Growing up, I had to go to work with my mom after school, run errands with her, or travel to my family’s house an hour away a few times a month. So, this made handheld games a godsend. I played so many games on my Game Boy Advance and PSP, and out of all of these games, Pokémon Fire Red has to be my favorite. I loved all the original 151 Pokemon, so when a remake for Red and Green came out, I was on board. I played this game so much, and I’ve played it multiple times throughout the years. A really special game for me.
The Midnight Mystic Mage (Sublime Reviews)
I had the Pikachu Game Boy Color with Pokémon Yellow, and there was no game that could hold my interest more. The Pokémon RPG’s have always been the ideal handheld game in my eyes and are still to this day some of the most fun to play. Wish I still knew where that awesome Game Boy was! (Honorable Mentions – Pokémon Black/White, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Scribblenauts)
The Spoony Bard Mage (Nerd Speaker)
This is a broad category. There have been so many amazing games on handheld, taking games on the go was a true revolution. That being said, the one game that demonstrated what handheld games were truly capable of is Pokémon, with its trading and battling capabilities, and I always think way back to my first: Pokémon Blue. For the first time, kids would meet on the playground and be able to play a game together using their own trained creatures, which made the multiplayer experience more personal. Remember link cables?
The Five More Minutes Mage (Gamegato)
The first Minecraft “edition” that I got was Pocket Edition, and I loved it. I enjoyed building things and fighting monsters. I loved exploring. Even though now I can play a better version on my Wii U, Minecraft Pocket Edition will always have a special value to me.
The Final Fourteenth Mage (Cilla vs. Games)
The World Ends With You. What a fantastic gem on the Nintendo DS! The artstyle and concept captivated me before the initial release and I was so delighted with the game. I enjoyed the characters, the story, collecting the different pins and the battle system. I was so very excited when they had their countdown for the ‘New Seven Days’ and it turned to be an iOS port. I will never forget the hurt that I felt that day.
The Hopeful Handheld Mage (Retro Redress)
Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA). In answer to question 21, no, this is the best Mario Kart ever. It’s an upgraded version of the SNES game, with a great roster and some incredible tracks. I’ve bought and played through this game twice and would happily do it a third time.
The Brave Blue Mage (924COLLECTIVE)
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. This was my first Game Boy game. So it holds a special place in my heart. Also the debut of Wario makes this a memorable inclusion in Mario’s long history. Bring back my Bunny Ears!
The Dapper Zaffre Mage (Save File 02)
Persona 3 Portable. This Persona 3 port for the PSP probably got an unfathomable amount of hours from me, thanks to multiple playthroughs and how grindy one could get in trying to properly complete the game 100%. The adjustments to the gameplay from the original certainly helped it become a favorite, as you no longer had to sit by helplessly as your AI partners did everything except what you wanted them to do. I think that alone made P3P more accessible to a lot of players than before.
Honorable mention goes to Soul Hackers on the 3DS, which also kept me along for multiple playthroughs for 100% and increasingly hard difficulty. But that’s SMT games in a nutshell.
The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage (Nostalgia Trigger)
Pokémon Red/Blue (1998 in NA). Like many kids who grew up in the late 1990s, a Game Boy was a part of the every day “out of the house” arsenal, tossed carelessly into the backpack before heading out of the house. Once you got to the middle school playground, it was all about none other than Pokémon! Trading and battling your way to the top of your class was part of every day life – and if that sounds like an exaggeration, at my school, it certainly was not. Everyone played Pokémon and it was an incredible time for the franchise. Whether you played the card game or the video game, it was everywhere.
With the release of Pokémon GO last July, we saw a beautiful resurgence of the franchise, the scale of which hasn’t been seen since the earliest days. But those early days of handhelds and Pokémon still hold a special place that, with the explosion of smartphones, likely won’t ever be seen again.
The Rage Mage
As far back as stupid 1980, Nintendo was already tainting the gaming industry with their irresistible cuteness. The Game & Watch series of handhelds are credited with being some of the first mobile games, and everything’s been downhill ever since. Now we have mobile gaming with microtransactions and crappy Wifi. Thanks, Big N.
The Well-Red Mage
Despite possessing a moniker indicative of well-rounded experience, I consider myself to be very much a console gamer, as distinct from PC and handheld systems. I certainly don’t partake in the gimmick of VR. I prefer to relax on a couch a look at a big screen. That said, Tetris, Pokémon Red/Blue, Golden Sun, Advance Wars, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, and yes Pokémon GO all come to mind as games on handheld platforms that I’ve enjoyed. As much as I’d love to name classic Tetris at least once during this Challenge (spoilers), I’m going to go with my favorite Zelda game that didn’t make the cut when we talked Open-World games. This is of course The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It’s a haunting soliloquy in the Zelda series and its plays upon the world of dreams and even a bit of existential philosophy, as well as its monochrome graphics, making it one of the unique titles in its franchise. It feels like a natural successor to the original game and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for more Legend of Zelda post-Breath of the Wild.
Quit squinting at the screen. Today’s list is over! Our Elemental Challenge is almost done, too! There are only two days left. See you again soon.
Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in restoring integrity and quality to entertainment journalism. We specialize in long-form, analytical reviews and we aim to expand into a podcast and webzine with paid contributors! See our Patreon page for more info!