It’s with a heavy heart that I must declare this my final regular Gamers on the Go column here on Games are Evil. I’ve been hired as a copywriter for an advertising agency in St. Louis (yes, corporate shill), and my new job is requiring much of my attention.
Though it doesn’t feel like I’ve been here all that long, I have felt very included by the staff and the community the throughout my entire time here. I appreciate you allowing me to evangelize handheld gaming to you every other Saturday.
I’m not completely disappearing into the ether though. I will still be recording my podcast (also called Gamers on the Go) when time allows. You can keep up with that on the Gamers on the Go Tumblr.
Now, if you would allow me one last time, I’d like to share with you my top five handheld games ever (something I probably should’ve done for my first article so you could’ve gotten an idea of where I was coming from).
Narrowing the list down to five was a herculean task in and of itself, so to save what’s left of my sanity; these are in no particular order.
Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
In a move that should be no surprise to regular readers of Gamers on the Go, Fire Emblem Awakening easily earns its place in the top five.
Normally, I’d feel putting a game that came out just this year into a list of all-time greats to be a bit premature, but I feel no such apprehension with Awakening. Intelligent Systems really outdid themselves on this one, allowing players to play Fire Emblem the way that suited them best.
A metric ton of fan service (Editor’s note: when applied to abstract entities, a quantity measuring 7 or more – according to university experts) built on top of refined mechanics, Fire Emblem Awakening is the holy grail of turn-based strategy games, regardless of what those Final Fantasy Tactics fanboys tell me.
My only disappointment is that the greatness of Awakening keeps Advance Wars: Dual Strike (another Intelligent Systems masterpiece) from making the list.
Despite my preference of handheld games over iOS fare, Drop7 is a game that just cannot be ignored. I’ve easily put more time into it than any other game on this list. Everything about Drop7 has been engineered into a finely tuned machine of a puzzle game.
Functional minimalist visuals, multiple modes of play (though you should only be playing on Hardcore Mode), stats that track your average score, leaderboards for both friends and the world, and one cool-ass song that loops forever and ever, Drop7 is a game I will never stop playing: The ultimate “I’ve got five minutes to spare” game.
Golden Sun (GBA)
It was a dead heat between Golden Sun and Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies for this spot. Both games have a bevy of interesting and well-executed mechanics and systems.
But the amount of cool stuff Golden Sun allows you to do without penalty give it the slightest of edges. I’ve already written a fair amount about Golden Sun, so I shan’t repeat for you here. Suffice it to say, I hold it up as one of the best RPGs of all time, on any console.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
As the rest of this list no doubt dictates, I have a definitive appreciation for turn-based games when it comes to handhelds. However, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker manages to buck the trend by being just a fantastic, goddamned game.
Before Peace Walker, my only experience with the Metal Gear franchise has been a couple of hours with Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance for the original Xbox, which I did not enjoy at all.
Even with the wonky control scheme due to the PlayStation Portable’s single analog nub, Peace Walker still managed to be the best play smoothly and intuitively. But what really grabbed me were the RPG-elements.
An unlockable and upgradeable arsenal of firearms, health items, and equipment, special camouflages and costumes with different stealth stats, the ability to recruit enemies for use in other missions, and the chance to build and spar against your own metal gear: Peace Walker is packed full of amazing content. I spent over 100 hours on the PSP version, and when the game came to home consoles in the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, I put in another 100 on my Xbox 360.
Now that it’s available to download on Vita (and takes advantage of the additional analog stick), I’m ready to dive back in for another 100 hours.
Pokemon Red & Blue
And, of course, no list of great handheld games can be complete without mention of Pokemon. So why Red and Blue over Gold and Sliver or even the revamped FireRed and LeafGreen?
Red and Blue were the first games I played where discovery was at the core of the experience. The game told you just enough to get you going and then let you go to explore (albeit in a very designed way where completely screwing yourself over was nigh impossible). If you played without a guide like I did for the longest time, a surprise could be waiting for you around every corner. What Pokemon will be available in this cave? How do I get Pikachu to evolve into Raichu? Why is this “Dragon Rage” attack seemingly getting weaker as I level up? Why would anyone use Magikarp? OH, THAT’S WHY SOMEONE WOULD USE MAGIKARP!
It was a game where information was a commodity among your friends. “I’m not telling you how I evolved that Haunter you gave me into a Gengar (I’m not quite sure myself, really.)”
And it was a game of incredible secrets and glitches, both real and made up. Who among you believed there was such a thing as MISSINGNO until you had seen it with your own two eyes? How many times did you try using “Strength” on that truck hoping it would house a Mew? Was there actually a way to catch that Marowak in Pokemon Tower?
It’s questions like these that made the first Pocket Monsters game the best. No amount of refinement found in the later titles could make up for the pure discovery found in the first.
Editor’s Note: It is of course with sadness and good wishes that we see off Chase. Rest assured, when a massive change in the handheld universe inevitably occurs, Chase will hopefully be here to share his wisdom. We wish him the best of luck!