Best of 7th Gen: My Top 7 Handheld Games

by Matthew Thompson

(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)

I decided to leave handheld games out of my Best of 7th Gen Countdown partly to remove one more difficulty from creating the list and partly because of the slightly different run times of the handheld generations. That isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty to love on handhelds last gen. With two great systems in the PSP and DS, it is actually my favorite generation for portable games. With handheld gaming in decline, that fact might never change. But it means there are plenty of excellent games to choose from. Here are my top seven games among them (I decided to stick to my one game per series rule for this too):

7. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword

Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword

The DS hardware allowed for some really unique games with its two screens and touch controls. One such game was Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. Gone are the complex combos of the console outings, in their place some simpler swipe-based mechanics, but it is still a blast to slice up baddies as ninja extraordinaire Ryu Hayabusa. The game’s book-style presentation that had you holding the DS sideways was another way the game managed to stand out. I enjoyed the introduction of Momiji too, who I was glad to see pop up on the console outings later. It may lack the challenge the series is known for, but I appreciate the developer’s different take on the series here on the DS.

6. Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow

Syphon Filter Logan's Shadow

Part of the appeal of the PSP was playing console-like experiences on the go. With only a single analog stick, shooters were tougher to transfer to the handheld, but Sony Bend managed to do the job as well as one could imagine on multiple occasions. My favorite of the bunch was Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow. The pace helped the face buttons work for aiming and the design that surrounded it made for a stellar final outing for Gabe Logan. The game had a great mix of stealth and action, a slick cover system, one of gaming’s best sniper rifles, and the pure fun of tasing someone. Heck it even made shooting work underwater. It was that good.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks

Link on a train is actually a pretty fun idea. It is just kind of a bummer how it segments the overworld. If it weren’t for the way this hurt exploration, this would likely be higher on this list because I love just about everything else in the game. The touch controls for the DS entries were divisive, but I enjoyed them and they are much more polished here than in Phantom Hourglass. There are some excellent dungeons and items here too, in particular the Sand Temple with its accompanying Sand Wand. This game’s version of Zelda is also arguably the series’ best and she gets plenty of screen time to prove it. She tags along on the adventure where she is both helpful and hilarious. It all makes for another quality entry in one of my favorite game series.

4. Okamiden

Okamiden

While I still dream of a big-time console sequel to Okami, Okamiden helped to fill the void delivering a lot of what I loved about the original game on the DS. The DS’ stylus was a great way to utilize the series Celestial Brush mechanics and it is put to good use in many new ways unique to this entry. The story features much of the same lore I loved from Okami, but now with a lot of the core characters’ kids which is a neat way to connect it to the original. And it is just fun to play as a young wolf pup too. The gorgeous cel-shaded visuals are back and look quite good considering the limits of the DS hardware. It also doesn’t hurt that it delivered the big explorable overworld on the DS that I had been craving after playing the two Zelda titles.

3. LocoRoco 2

LocoRoco 2

Sony didn’t build as much new IP for their first portable system as I had hoped, but they did knock it out of the park with LocoRoco. The tilt-the-world mechanics really made for an original platforming adventure while the colorful graphics, adorable characters and fun music made for what might be the happiest game I’ve ever played. It was a great way to show off my PSP to friends as everyone seemed to get a kick out of the charm LocoRoco exuded. All the PSP entries in the series were great even the ultra-challenging Midnight Carnival, but LocoRoco 2 was my favorite for adding variety to and refining the mechanics of the already fun first entry.

2. Lumines II

Lumines 2

Never before have I been so addicted to a puzzle game as I was with the Lumines series on the PSP. The way it fused classic block-dropping gameplay with electronic music and sound so perfectly just hit all the right notes for me. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of some of the new licensed tracks used in the second game, I still give it the slight edge over the original because of the extra modes and multiple difficulties that added a lot of replay value. In truth, the Vita version is the best, but I definitely put the most time into Lumines 2. In fact, it is likely my most played handheld title ever. There was nothing quite like putting in your headphones and getting in the zone in Lumines. It is an experience like no other.

1. Daxter

Daxter 1

This was the perfect way to bring a console series onto a handheld platform. Instead of trying to cram the button-heavy Jak series onto the PSP which lacks two shoulder buttons and a second stick, Daxter is a game designed for the controls available on Sony’s portable. This means it doesn’t play exactly like the series it spawned from, but it does capture the essence of it. It features the same combination of 3D platforming and vehicle segments as the rest of the series, but with its own feel.

One thing I have always loved about the Jak series is that each new entry brought something new to the table. For this game that comes in the form of Daxter’s new bug spray. In some ways it acts as the ottsel’s answer to Jak’s morphgun, but more interesting is the way it is used to hover over gaps and reach new places in the game’s platforming segments. It reminds me a bit of Super Mario Sunshine’s FLUDD and adds a new twist to the series run and jump bits.

And to be honest, a spinoff for Jak’s wise-cracking little buddy on Sony’s littlest platform just seems so right, especially for someone who loves the series as much as I do. Daxter delivered the kind of quality platforming, humorous antics and top-notch graphics I’d come to expect from Jak on the big screen and let me take it on the go. It has been my favorite handheld title ever since.

That will do it for this look at my favorite handheld games last gen. I’m hoping to supplement my Top 25 with some more smaller lists like this as I continue, so be on the look out for more posts like it in the future. Thanks for reading!

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2 comments on “Best of 7th Gen: My Top 7 Handheld Games

  1. Pretty different from mine, which you saw for the most part with my favorite DS games. The PSP library really didn’t impress me that much, but I did enjoy Daxter, MGS: PW, Mega Man: Powered Up and GoW: GoS. Though gotta be honest, I played Crash Bandicoot more than every other PSP game combined. So I love the system just for reuniting me with that series.

    I think Ninja Gaiden is the only one that would show up on my list. Like you said, it was a lot of fun and a unique take on action games. Syphon Fliter I avoided for the face button camera. I know I said how I love PW, but that demo really sold me on the game and at that point, Syphon Filter was well out of my sight and mind.

    Okamiden I feel I should give the original another try first before starting it. Zelda I liked a lot but traveling on the train held it back. Still, great dungeons as you said.
    Locoroco I just do not get. I love the visuals and charm but the controls irritate me. Lumines I enjoy on Vita, but still would put Meteos high above it.

    Daxter I did like, but felt it was just solid. Nothing that really wowed me or stuck out, just something I enjoyed from start to finish. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the game I personally will go back to a while from now unless I really need a 3D platformer and by some horrible accident got sick of Mario, Crash, Sly, and regular Jak. Though I’d be much more concerned with my sanity and personality at that point rather than what I should play next.

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