This is it, I promise. I know the last one was supposed to be it, but I had too much to say, so I stopped and am going to finish here. Here they are, my favourite Nintendo handheld games of all time (as of now).
8. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
This game is downright spectacular. In fact, it’s the only video game I’ve bought on launch day. It’s the first 2D Zelda game since the early 2000’s I believe, and this game captures all the charms of the old games, while the visuals and the little things they added for a modern-day audience keep it relevant. Older fans may be a bit sceptical when I say it’s relevant to modern day audience, but I assure you, the hint system is entirely optional and not in-your-face like Navi was, and though the puzzles are not as difficult as some older titles, there will be some head-scratching for sure. The story looks promising, too (I admit I’m not done yet, I have two dungeons to go). I’ve been spoiled a bit already, but I still really want to see how the game pans out. Last thing, the music is everything you could expect from a Zelda title, with a healthy mix of old and new. In particular, I like how the overworld theme changes as you progress, and Hilda’s theme is just so soothing. Everything considered, this is a game you cannot miss.
7. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (DS)
I said before, over two years ago, I think this is a near-perfect game when you come down to its component parts. It is probably the longest of any Pokémon game, and many of the mechanics added to the DS version are more advanced than the later games, Black and White. The visuals manage to look good on an ageing system, bringing forth the elegance of the Johto region alongside with the music and story. This is one of the best Pokémon games ever made, and although this was some of the best fun I had while playing a Pokémon game, because I was older and this game came out when I was ‘too cool’ for Pokémon, I just don’t have the same memories with this title as I have with others, and because this is a remake, you can’t praise the creativity as much.
6. Pokémon X and Y (3DS)
This game is a remarkable phenomenon. At my school, there are currently at least 15 to 20 people actively playing this game. That’s more than I remember from elementary school! I think the game is just that bit more grown up to appeal to an ageing fanbase, while still retaining the heritage that made Pokémon so popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I think part of it is the reintroduction of older Pokémon and the introduction of less new ones (none of the new monsters seem like filler). The visuals are just beautiful, something which could never be said for older Pokémon titles, and the new gameplay features expand the experience in just that perfect incremental amount that doesn’t seem too much. The internal mechanics are more exposed than before, and competitive training and battling is encouraged. I think that this game might, objectively speaking, the best in the series to date. Really, if you haven’t played a Pokémon game for a long time, now as good a time as ever to start again, because this is the beginning of an era, and the franchise is back and better than ever.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)
I picked up a 3DS partly to play Pokémon X and Y and partly because I was told by my friends (who are farm guys that don’t normally like video games) that Ocarina of Time is the best video game ever. It very well might be. The game is so good today that I struggle to imagine just how dumbfounded the world must have been when it came out back in 1998. The combat is simple but addictive, the puzzles are challenging, and the world is your oyster. (Actually the story is quite linear and the world is a bit limited by today’s standards, but it took me the whole game to figure that out. It manages to make you feel so unrestricted in your choices.) Also, unlike the Internet in general, as a first-time Zelda player, I liked the help Navi and the Sheikah Stones gave you. I know people complain about the hand-holding, but it’s optional, so just don’t look at it if you don’t want to. After the first playthrough, I decided to try the Master Quest without any external help, and the experience is better that way, but as a game intended to introduce new meat, I think the help can really ease the introduction into the amazing series that is The Legend of Zelda.
4. Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 (DS)
I decided to jump back into the Pokémon world early last year, and heeding the advice of the Internet, I decided to skip Black and White and get White 2. These are games that seem to epitomise the first 14 years of Pokémon, not only the last hurrah of Pokémon on the DS, but of Pokémon in 2D, and it really feels like a mashup of everything that was good about the earlier games. There are more available Pokémon than in any game before (over 300 in the main quest), and the mechanics are streamlined enough for even a young child to be able to raise a team and battle online. And the competitive battling scene, until recently, was incredibly populated. While maybe not as good as X and Y mechanically, these games are definitely the summary of an important period in video gaming history, and that’s every bit as important.
3. Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)
Except for Pokémon, which doesn’t really count, I’d never touched a JRPG before this one. This is the most recent title I’ve purchased, but I think I can safely say it is the best game I’ve ever played. I’m being serious. It’s only third because 1st and 2nd carry with them memories and such. Fire Emblem has nothing like that going for it (I’ve had it less than a month). I think that the lasting appeal might not be like Pokémon, in which you can keep transferring your monsters forward in every new game, but the 30-40 hours I spent playing through the story for the first time were better than any 40 hours I ever spent playing Pokémon. The story is just so deep and well-written. Because of the endless dialogue options available, the characters are more fleshed-out than in any other game I’ve played. The gameplay is something quite unique to a Western audience, and the replayablilty is definitely there, if perhaps a little less than something like Pokémon. It’s difficult putting this game so far up in the rankings, because this is a game which, in a few months, I may never play again, but this past month I feel I’ve experienced perhaps the most perfectly crafted video game I’ve seen on a Nintendo handheld.
2. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (GBA)
I know, I know, the last two are Pokémon games, big surprise. But what is this one doing here? I gave it a kind of harsh review last year, but I played it again since, and thinking back, I think that while my opinion of the game’s quality hasn’t changed since then, when you factor in the hours I spent playing this game as a little kid, this definitely merits this No. 2 spot. I’ve done more playthroughs of this game than any other game, to the point where I know the locations of many hidden items by heart for at least the first half of the game. The game is short, there is no postgame, and the water routes are annoying, but these frustrations all carry with them memories of a time when I really cherished my video games. (I was only allowed to play games an hour a WEEK when I was little, and only if I did all my chores!). I managed to slowly enjoy Sapphire for all of two years as a kid, and that is why such a flawed and different Pokémon entry is up here, higher on my list than many Nintendo greats. If you are thinking of trying these games, consider Pokémon Emerald. I never owned it, but it is basically the same game with some slight improvements.
1. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen (GBA)
This is a special game, special because it is the very fourth game I ever owned, and my favourite of all time. When my grandpa bought this for me (thinking back, I really got a lot of games when my grandparents visited for a month in 2005!), I realised that it was this, not Pokémon Pinball, that the kids at school were talking about. I could do whatever I wanted to. This was just like life, except I had money to spend on cool stuff, and there were Pokémon to be friends with. But this game is first on my list because just looking at the cartridge represents, to me, a victory. My first experience with the game was short. I never got past Mt. Moon, because I left the cartridge in a rental car in Montréal a couple of months after first playing the game. Christmas that year, I got a new copy, but I think it must have been a less-than-legit copy, because its save battery ran out (the real carts don’t have a save battery). So I was once again without Pokémon FireRed. Fast forward seven years, to early 2013, I asked around everywhere and finally got a proper cartridge from some dude at school for $2. Score! And it is every bit as glorious as I remember. It is the very first Pokémon adventure, remade for the GBA with added details and less glitches. Extremely recommended for anyone new to the Pokémon series, as this is almost where it began. (Also because where it really began is glitchy and expensive.)
Do you agree with my choices? What do you think are the best Nintendo console (particularly handheld) games? Discuss with us in the comments!