Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Top Ten Handheld Games of 2016

SuperPhillip Central can't quite get away from 2016, but we're trying! However, before we as a site do that, we want to talk about an oft overlooked part of gaming, especially when consoles take up so much attention of gamers these days. We're talking, of course, about handheld gaming. The Nintendo 3DS still has some life ahead of it, and the PlayStation Vita continues to get niche support. 2016 was a great year for both systems, and this list of the top ten handheld games of the past year shows this in a wonderful way.

10) Bravely Second: End Layer (3DS)

Retaining many of the features of the original Bravely Default, perhaps to a fault for some, Bravely Second: End Layer features the similar well done combat system of the original, as well as a masterfully crafted world. While the story doesn't do much to excite with shallow writing, where Bravely Second truly shines is within its gameplay and design, which both maintain a significant level of quality. Then, there is the total lack of needing to return to the same dungeons over and over again as seen in Bravely Default, a marked improvement over the original severalfold.

9) Severed (3DS, Vita)

Cut and slice enemies into oblivion. Severed was developed by the same team behind the stupendous Guacamelee, but while that game was lighthearted, Severed takes on a darker tone. The game tasks players with moving through dungeons in a first-person view, solving environmental puzzles as well as taking on an abundance of foes through strategic slices and slashes on the screen. Each enemy has a meter that fills up, and when fully filled, attacks. Attacking enemies can be stopped by properly slashing them in the correct direction. Severed is pretty simple when facing but one enemy at a time, but soon the game becomes quite challenging with having you contend with multiple enemies from all angles. Severed is a touching and heartfelt adventure full of innovative touch-based gameplay and a mysterious world to explore.

8) Lara Croft GO (Vita)

Originally released in 2015, Lara Croft GO launched for PlayStation platforms (PS4 and Vita) in November of last year. It is just as amazing a game on those platforms as on mobile. Go is turn-based, focusing more on puzzles than the fast-paced action the Tomb Raider series is known for. The goal is to move Lara Croft through environments while evading dangerous hazards and interacting with the environment to clear levels. Many facets of Tomb Raider's design are incorporated into the game, including moments where Lara runs away from boulders as well as challenges requiring a modicum of proficient timing to complete. Being a touch-based puzzler, Lara Croft GO feels especially at home on the PlayStation Vita over the PlayStation 4, making it a game that was great in 2015 on mobile devices and also great on the Vita.

7) Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS)

Despite a greater focus on established Mushroom Kingdom characters, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam delivers a delightful adventure that perhaps strayed too closely to the well received formula of the Mario & Luigi series. However, when the formula is so well done, it's hard to argue that what's here in Paper Jam isn't anything but wonderful. This time Paper Mario enters into the world, as does a host of other paper-styled characters, creating a charming story that may be another "Bowser kidnaps the princess" tale, but is one that has multiple twists to keep players engaged. The combat is as wonderful as ever, offering timing-based attacks and defensive maneuvers to make every battle as engaging as the last. The level of challenge is also high enough to not make the game boring, and the greater lack of hand-holding or forced tutorials makes for a more enjoyable adventure overall.

6) Picross 3D: Round 2 (3DS)

For those like the crew at SuperPhillip Central who couldn't get enough of the three-dimensional Picross puzzles of the Nintendo DS's Picross 3D, the gift that Nintendo bestowed upon Nintendo 3DS last year with Picross 3D: Round 2 was a delight in every sense of the word. Through the careful analysis of numbers placed on rows and columns of three-dimensional objects that tell how many blocks the player should remove, players carefully chip away at the correct blocks through deductive reasoning to ultimately end up with a final object like a car or a frog, for instance. Chipping away a wrong block penalizes the player. Curved blocks and dual numbers are new mechanics introduced in Round 2, offering even more Picross-styled goodness to players. What it all amounts to is a sizable amount of additional new puzzles to those that have exhausted all of the content of the original Picross 3D.

5) World of Final Fantasy (Vita)

Someone got Pokemon in our Final Fantasy. Then again, simplifying World of Final Fantasy through that statement isn't exactly truthful, as the game is more than just collecting and battling the various creatures found throughout the Final Fantasy series. World of Final Fantasy features an elaborate story implementing familiar faces in the series, from all-star characters like Cloud Strife and Final Fantasy XIII's Lightning to creatures like Chocobos and Cactuars. The ability to stack monsters on the protagonists' heads introduces strategy, as each monster in battle offers different stats and abilities to use in battle. World of Final Fantasy is a turn-based RPG that both die-hard fans of the Final Fantasy franchise can enjoy as well as those who just enjoy some great gameplay or collecting a cast of colorful creatures to engage in battle with.

4) Monster Hunter Generations (3DS)

Offering a fresh take on the aging Monster Hunter formula, incorporating new mechanics like brand-new combat styles, special attacks, and the ability to play as series mascots Felynes, Monster Hunter Generations brings another round of strategic battles of endurance with enormous beasts. The same gameplay loop of battling creatures, gathering loot, and creating new items, weapons, and armor is present and accounted for in Monster Hunter Generations, but the aforementioned new combat styles and addition of special attacks shake up the formula enough to make for an entry that feels worthy to invest dozens upon dozens of hours into. Playing online with friends and strangers alike to fell a massive, magnificent beast is as engaging as ever, making Monster Hunter Generations a blast to play whether doing it alone or locally and online with other players.

3) Kirby: Planet Robobot (3DS)

Kirby's last few games have been amazing platforming journeys, and once more developer HAL Laboratory has crafted a stellar entry in the long-running series with Kirby: Planet Robobot. The gameplay is quite similar to that seen in Kirby: Triple Deluxe with levels that stretch from the foreground to the background, showing off the Nintendo 3DS's wonderful stereoscopic 3D to great effect, as well as the gathering of special collectibles to unlock new levels. However, new to this installment of Kirby is the ability to commandeer special mechs that can allow Kirby to plow through enemies, even copying their abilities in mech form to transform the pink puffball into an even more powerful force to be reckoned with. The level and boss design is as stupendous as ever, giving players plenty of secret locations to find and challenges to face. It all adds up to a platforming adventure that once again is worthy of the Kirby name.

2) Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)

Taking a page from Pokemon, with Fire Emblem Fates, the developers split up the story between three games: Birthright, seen as a great game for beginners of the series and strategy RPG genre to embrace; Conquest, better for veterans wanting a challenge; and the downloadable-only Revelations, viewed as a middle ground between Birthright and Conquest. Unlike Pokemon, however, each version of Fire Emblem Fates offers enough gameplay and story differences to make them all worth playing. Even if you just dabble in one of the games, you'll find satisfying tactical action, giving players plenty of engaging gameplay systems, character development, and an impressive story to uncover. With Fates, it's as if the developers heard every criticism made of Fire Emblem: Awakening and made three games that fixed them to varying degrees of success (usually quite successful at that).

1) Pokemon Sun and Moon (3DS)

With the massive success that was Pokemon GO, Pokemon as a franchise saw a tremendous resurgence with used copies of past games seeing notable markups by sellers and Pokemon Sun and Moon, the newest entries of the franchise, seeing immense sales between both versions. Pokemon Sun and Moon are also worth mentioning for changing things up considerably with the series, most notably with the structure of the game, eschewing the need to tackle eight gym leaders for their badges. New additions to the formula include over 80 new Pokemon, including new Alolan forms of first-generation Pokemon, immensely powerful Z-Moves, Ultra Beasts, and more impressive visuals, including those in battle and on the various maps to explore. Overall, Pokemon Sun and Moon feel like a duo of games that don't just go through the motions and a list of boxes to check. Instead, they feel like marked steps forward in both innovation and freshness for the franchise.

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