Top 5 Tuesday: Games on Nintendo Handhelds

The next couple of months are going to be huge for handhelds, particularly the 3DS. Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Pokemon X/Y are the obvious headliners, but don’t sleep on Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies or Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. And on a personal note, I just received the Radiant Historia (supposedly one of the best handheld RPGs ever) in the mail.

Needless to say, there may be some shakeup among my top favorite handheld games. Before the storm hits, I thought I’d churn out a top five list of my favorite games on Nintendo handhelds. The list’s only requirement is that the games had to originate on a handheld (otherwise the list would reek of SNES ports). The top 3 were easy picks, but any number of games could’ve snagged #4 or #5.

Honorable mentions: Metroid: Zero Mission, Metroid II: Return of Samus, Castlevania: Order of Eccelesia, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, Mega Man Battle Network, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

5. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow


Professor Oak’s Lab: Where life’s biggest decision goes down.

Why it made the list:

It was a tough call, but I gave Pokemon the nod over Metroid: Zero Mission and Mario Land 2. The fact is, Pokemon was a colossal part of my childhood, not to mention the first RPG I ever played. And while its story and characters pale in comparison to those of most RPGs, the quest is a total joyride. 151 party members, eight gyms, and all kinds of elemental weaknesses made the game perfect for multiple playthroughs. Then there were the Missingno glitches, surviving the Elite 4, farming Rare Candy, mashing A until you could afford Porygon, cloning Pokemon via link cable, battling friends at recess, tapping B at the right time to catch Mewtwo in a Great Ball, accidentally using a Master Ball on a stupidass Voltorb… the memories go on and on.

Best Part:

That big decision at the beginning. Squirtle, Bulbasaur, or Charmander–who ya got?

4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney


You say there’s a better case than 1-4? OBJECTION!

Why it made the list:

There’s honestly not a funnier game out there that I’ve played. The cases may be completely ludicrous at times, but the all five of them offer compelling plotlines, nifty courtroom logic, and some of the best characters in all of gaming. Edgeworth’s character development is downright brilliant, Phoenix manages to be a noble truth-seeker without descending into goodie-goodie territory, and the villains and countless supporting characters (Dick Gumshoe, Larry Butz, Wendy Oldbag, the list goes on) complete one of the most lively casts in gaming.

Best Part:

Case four. Without question the best case in the series. After Phoenix and Edgeworth duel out cases 1-2 and 1-3 in the courtroom, the tables turn on Edgeworth. He finds himself facing the the very thing he spent his entire career dishing out: a guilty verdict. I won’t spoil anything. Just play it.

3. Fire Emblem


Fire Emblem’s title screen. I’ve come to associate it with character deaths, botched strategies, and soft resets.

Why it made the list:

What makes Fire Emblem amazing is that it’s so easy and hard to play. I don’t think there’s another strategy-RPG out there that can be so welcoming and so vicious all at once. FE operates with a simple, accessible system where two squads take turns moving characters across a grid and attacking. Even the battle system is just rock-paper-scissors with swords, axes, and lances. So how can a game built on such simple gameplay be so challenging? Because death means death to the characters of Fire Emblem. For real. There are no Phoenix Downs or Life Bottles or resurrection spells. If a character’s HP hits zero, you hit the reset button if you want him back.

FE’s take on mortality takes strategy to its peak. Whereas a lot of strategy-RPGs offer mildly strategic battles, FE’s death system forces players to treat every battle like a grand-scale puzzle. It’s not simply about executing a plan; rather, FE demands you make dozens upon dozens of correct moves–with minimal room for error. If your paladin’s wounded and surrounded by enemies, can you really afford to send your weakass cleric into that frey to heal him? Do you dare to send your axe-wielding lord into battle against the lance-wielding boss when there are swordsmen all around him? Those are the decisions that make Fire Emblem so compelling.

Best Part:

Nothing beats learning the ins and outs in Lyn’s ten-chapter-long prologue, then seeing just how damn serious the game is in Eliwood’s main story. The game is a love note to the masochist in all of us.

2. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX


Nintendo: Enacting capital punishment on shoplifters since 1993.

Why it made the list:

It’s the best 2D Zelda in my book. Take Link to the Past, toss out the annoying light/dark world hopping, and behold the masterpiece that stomped every other handheld game of its time.

Link’s Awakening is bigger than the Game Boy deserved, and the deluxe edition added another dungeon on top of it. The game itself is dark, conveying a grim, lonely atmosphere that begins with Link trekking down to the southern tip of the island for his sword. From there, it’s a journey through eight phenomenal dungeons that bestow bangin’ weapons like Roc’s Feather, the Hookshot, the Pegasus Boots, and the Flame Rod.

What really made Link’s Awakening a standout title for me was the fact that it took me four years and two playthroughs to complete. The eighth dungeon, Turtle Rock, had one bombable wall that escaped me until I discovered as a teenager. I took one look at a map and smacked myself so hard across the forehead that I was concussed for days. Four years and it was staring me right in the face.

Best Part:

Stealing from the shop. Pick up the overpriced bow, walk around in a circle, carry it out the door, and it’s yours. The catch? You get branded as THIEF and you learn a pretty stiff morality lesson the next time you enter the shop.

Also, I love Dungeon #6: The Face Shrine. The dark atmosphere and music rock, and there’s something special about throwing around coffins with the Level-2 Power Bracelet.

1. Fire Emblem: Awakening


Henry has the right attitude for a game this brutal.

Why it made the list:

Because sequels are never supposed to be this good.

I bought a 3DS to play Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I never expected it to be anything more than another great game in the series. What I got was chess on crack, a thinking man’s masterpiece, a masochist’s delight. Over the course of one playthrough spanning 140 hours, I watched the series take its brilliant strategy formula to the next echelon with support pairings, double-teams, and a truly addictive breeding system. Throw in some stellar battle design, crisp visuals, over two-dozen side missions, and an army of characters with vibrant personalities and hilariously memorable battle quotes, and you’ve got yourself the best thing on a three-inch screen.

Best Part:

Nearly every level in the game. It’s that good.

If you need a specific answer, I’ll say Chapter 17: Inexorable Death. It’s the level taking place at the castle with two entrances. You end up sending two teams through, and if they make it (big “if”), you have to worry about blocking a dozen staircases so enemies can’t respawn. It must’ve taken me twenty tries to get my strategy right–and even then, I got lucky when my whole crew survived the battle. If I remember correctly, it’s the first chapter that really throws Valkyries (mages on horseback) at you. They’re a nightmare since you can’t attack them without getting counterattacked. Plus, their only weakness is physical weapons, and it just so happens that most of your weapon-wielders are weak against magic. Yikes.

Also, I loved Chapter 14: Flames on the Blue. It’s the level with the three ships where your squad is stuck fending off enemies who try to cross planks onto your ship. Makes for some great lane-clogging battles and panicky moments once the Pegasus knights arrive by air.


One thought on “Top 5 Tuesday: Games on Nintendo Handhelds

  1. Pingback: Top 5 Tuesday: Games of 2003 | Title Screen

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