Here you go, my top five favourite handheld games of the year (so far). So come and take a seat beside me on this faux bear-skin rug, take a sip of wine, and get to know me better. There’s even a (tiny) surprise at the end!
5. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Capcom, 3DS)
Despite my praise for Soul Sacrifice as the anti-Monster Hunter, my heart still belongs to this bundle of joy.
I adore how calculated it is. The devil is in the details, and if there’s one thing Japanese developers have over everyone else, it’s minutiae. Every encounter with the game’s many beasts is a game of of observation, watching for its tells. It’s rare to just hammer on a foe, you have to seize your openings and retreat just as quickly.
It plays like a toybox, goofing around with everything available only to settle on that one weapon that suits you perfectly. The Monster Hunter series is about finding the perfect experience, learning and exploiting the tiniest details along the way. It’s not about immediate thrills, Monster Hunter‘s concern is earning them.
4. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (Nintendo, 3DS)
I don’t think anyone could understand my excitement when Dream Team was first announced. Occurring only a few months after Paper Mario: Sticker Star‘s release, it was something I hadn’t considered to see the light of day for at least a year. But Nintendo decided it had to wash our mouths clean of that stickers gunk as quickly as possible, releasing another stellar entry in the Mario & Luigi series.
I enjoy seeing the progression made in the series, witnessing the improvements made with each entry. Dream Team‘s execution of the ‘dual world’ motif is terrific, besting Bowser’s Inside Story. Pi’illo Island and Luigi’s dream world are cohesive, yet still manage to play differently in an effective way. The Pi’illo Island segments represent the M&L formula I love; isometric exploration and battles. While the dream sequences share the 2D sidescrolling seen in Bowser’s Inside Story, it goes much further in distancing itself. Here, Luigi is an all powerful being, able to summon dozens of clones and become part of the environment to assist Mario. It’s super engaging, and in switching between these two playstyles, the game constantly feels fresh.
Oh, and it makes me chuckle.
3. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (Next Level Games, 3DS)
Another great example of Nintendo at their best, because just what is Luigi’s Mansion? It’s this freaky hodge podge of ideas, held together by a fumbling plumber clad in green. Dark Moon is an example of the perfect Nintendo experience, something different, old, and new, all at the same time.
To Next Level’s credit, they managed to twist and reshape what the GameCube original introduced, and made it their own. Instead of one massive mansion, they divided the game across five distinct areas, each carrying its own theme. Next Level also broke the game up into missions, forcing Luigi to tackle each mansion in bite sized chunks. Their commitment to building a handheld game shone threw, and further proved why they’re Nintendo’s go-to Canadian developer.
Let me also say that the online is a ton of fun, and well worth dipping your toes into. There’s fun to be had in sucking up ghosts as Pink Luigi.
2. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (Nintendo, 3DS)
Yet again, another example of Nintendo blowing me away. Unlike Fire Emblem Awakening, I did intend on picking up New Leaf. I’ve always been an Animal Crossing fan, owning three Animal Crossing themed GameCube memory cards through an odd sequence of events. Problem was my disinterest in the Wii entry caused me to think the series’ time in the sun was over. I failed to recognize that A) the games belong on handhelds, and B) New Leaf brings along some significant improvements.
Being mayor isn’t just a job title, you’re responsible for shaping the town. Its future hinges on decisions you’ve made, and it feels wonderful to see the world around you grow and prosper.
The game is packed with content, seemingly offering an endless supply of furnishings. Its life is extended even further by its online capabilities, allowing me to visit and share my creations with those around the world.
New Leaf is a necessity for any 3DS owner, as its a game that suits a variety of play styles. You’re never pushed in any one direction, you can play with determination or simply take it easy. It exemplifies the idea of an ‘open world’ more than any other game, letting players partake in their own idea of fun.
1. Shin Megami Tensei IV (Atlus, 3DS)
I’ve played Shin Megami Tensei IV in ways I had never bothered in other RPGs. What sparked this is SMT IV wants me to care about what I’m doing, a feeling I had never felt imposed on me before.
As opposed to crafting a ton of content that I will likely never see, SMT IV invites me over, promising just rewards for my actions. It says, “Try out my sidequests, they’re genuinely worth a damn.” I don’t think I’ve ever bothered with sidequests; the stories they tell often seem boring, and the demands obtuse and confusing. SMT IV always provides terrific direction, my mission never seems pointless or a simple case of filler.
I guess it’s part of a new wave of JRPGs, ones that learn from the past. It doesn’t damn me for lacking the appropriate skills and knowledge, instead it allows me to manipulate the situation, have it work in my favour. I’ve never so consciously formed a party before, one that is so well rounded. It encourages experimentation, something rare in any genre.
SMT IV shows there’s no danger in appealing to new and old players alike. It’s so well formulated that I really feel comfortable playing how I want to. There may be challenges, but the rewards are so great it’s difficult to turn anything down. SMT IV wants me to enjoy myself, which isn’t something every game can say.
Top Ten Games Of The Year (So Far!)
10. Soul Sacrifice
9. Anarchy Reigns (Platinum Games, PS3)
8. Fire Emblem Awakening
7. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
6. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
5. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
4. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
3. Shin Megami Tensei IV
2. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Platinum Games, PS3)
1. Pikmin 3 (Nintendo, Wii U)