The 10 Best Handheld Games of 2014

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In spite of the popular theory that mobile devices will soon force other handheld games out of the market, Nintendo and Sony have continued to publish impressive delights on their respective handheld consoles. Here are the ten titles most enjoyed by the staff here at Paste Games, many of which benefit from the joysticks and analog buttons that only an “old school” handheld console provides by default (not that we didn’t enjoy the mobile games that 2014 had on offer as well).

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10. Persona Q (3DS)

Knowing and liking the characters is the requirement for enjoying Persona Q’s story; the plots of either game are dealt with minimally and the real focus is just on bouncing the characters off of each other in silly and amusing ways. In many ways it works better than the social links of the previous games; instead of the protagonist trying to form friendships with arbitrary dialogue options, you’re able to just enjoy the characters hanging out and talking with each other, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do in the first place. You can choose to focus on the Persona 3 or 4 cast, but the other side joins after the first brief dungeon and all of the strolls involve both casts, so the difference is not so huge.—Aevee Bee

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9. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (3DS)

At a macro level, a crossover game between these two worlds makes almost zero sense. Zoom in though and the similarities are obvious: the strapping lead character, the solving of human dilemmas, the pointing. Both titles have found a level of success rare to quirky character studies that would fit in more naturally as a TV series on BBC or Comedy Central than as a videogame. But only when seeing these two types of play combined have I fully understood why they have remained popular for so long, why these franchises are such a compelling—and indeed, important—aspect of today’s gaming landscape, and what is gained by combining two games that, separately, already work just fine.—Jon Irwin

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8. Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (3DS)

After pushing through the story, getting my bike and clearing the first few gyms, Pokémon ORAS started to open up to me. While the Hoenn region where the game takes place wasn’t as thematically consistent as the adapted France of X & Y’s Kalos region, each of the game’s distinct areas—the caves, the volcano, the forests—all look great rendered in this updated style … Like those environments getting updated to the new look of Pokémon, some old features from the original Ruby & Sapphire return, boosted by the technological leap from GBA to 3DS. “Pokémon Contests”, where the game tests a Pokémon’s cuteness, coolness and other abstract concepts, returns as the obligatory non-battle related mini-game. It’s not really what I play Pokémon for, but “Pokemon Contests” does provide one fantastic new addition to my experience—a little guy called Cosplay Pikachu. I feel like I need to type that again, so you’re sure it’s not a typo. Cosplay. Pikachu.—Casey Malone

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7. Tomodachi Life (3DS)

This weird little game basically simulates what it’s like to be rich, as you don’t really do anything but hang out, shop and make money doing nothing. Nintendo received some well-deserved criticism over the lack of same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life, but despite that bad decision and Nintendo’s tone-deaf response, Tomodachi’s laidback pace and goofy charm is something this industry needs more of. It’s Animal Crossing’s weird second cousin, with cartoon versions of my real-life crew instead of persnickety mice. The stakes are fun and those stakes are high.—Garrett Martin

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6. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy (3DS)

If you’re familiar with the Professor Layton games, released annually for Nintendo handhelds since 2007, there will be little in the series’ sixth title, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, to surprise you. Hershel Layton and his assistant Luke tear around a puzzle-obsessed near-Earth with a cast of supporting characters, engaging the locals with their favorite pastimes, which are puzzles, and resolving a nested cascade of mysteries, by solving puzzles, all while collecting hidden trinkets and playing minigames to unlock hidden game content, which are puzzles … Layton’s puzzler gameplay serves similar single-purpose utility as horror movies do jump scares, and the quality of the template is high enough to make the particulars of each game stand out on their own, once you are subsumed within them.—Stephen Swift

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5. Super Smash Brothers (3DS)

As violent as [Super Smash Brothers] is, with its constant button-mashing and Mario-bashing, it’s still a game that’s built on love, powered by love, that enlivens the love we feel inside for Nintendo and our friends. That fundamental power might be weaker, but it still exists in this 3DS version. The dozens of fighters, a killer’s row of Nintendo heroes and villains from the iconic to the obscure, represent a broader sampling of games than ever before. The new additions fit in seamlessly, from the Wii Fit Trainer to Shulk from Xenoblade Chronicles, each one calibrated to fill slight variations on familiar Smash Bros roles … When I’m able to focus on my Villager flying around the screen, or my Pac-Man gobbling up Pokémon like ghosts, the size issue recedes into the background and I lose myself in the rush of a Smash Bros game at full pitch. I press buttons and punish beloved childhood mascots, picking up weapons and trophies and dealing damage like a pro. When I’m on I can send them hurtling into the abyss time and again. When I can look past the size of the screen this is entirely, 100% Smash Bros.Garrett Martin

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4. Kirby: Triple Deluxe (3DS)

Kirby began life as a handheld hero in the Gameboy’s Kirby’s Dreamland, so his cream-puff presence on a small screen feels only natural. Still, Kirby: Triple Deluxe does its best to push the limitations of its tiny protagonist by introducing a “Hypernova” power that allows Kirby to swallow far huger objects than ever before, such as tree trunks and wooden crates several times his size. The game also makes good on its punny 3D-themed title by allowing Kirby to hop not only left and right but forward and backward in certain scenarios. The game’s plot, music, and aesthetic are nothing new, but the introduction of these new technical elements adds just enough variety to overcome the sameiness of Kirby’s world. I found myself collecting every single star and retreading the levels again and again, simply because I couldn’t bear to put the game down. Kirby may be formulaic, but he ain’t broke yet.—Maddy Myers

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3. OlliOlli (Vita)

OlliOlli is a skateboarding game, but it shouldn’t be viewed in the same light as a Tony Hawk or Skate. Roll7’s game owes more to a variety of flash-fire mobile games, from the Ur-endless runner of Canabalt to the high score hijinks and level-specific goalposts of every other mobile game in existence. OlliOlli is a basically a skateboard-themed mobile game that gives your left thumb a thorough workout.—Garrett Martin

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2. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Vita)

The premise of the game is that you, a young student, have been accepted to Hope’s Peak Academy—a prestigious school for the elite with “Ultimate” talents—when suddenly your entire class is somehow transported to a seemingly deserted island … Then Monokuma shows up, who is something like a bear or tanooki or stuffed creature, and things get deadly serious. He says that the only way off the island is to kill another student, and then if the rest of the students fail to determine that the killer was the one that did it, everyone but the killer will also be killed—and said killer is free to leave. Of course this means that someone decides the only way to get off the island is to kill someone, so they do. This leads into the inevitable investigation where you, the player, gather clues to try and piece together what happened.—Rollin Bishop

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1. Fantasy Life (3DS)

I enjoyed almost everything about the world of Fantasy Life, but out of all of those things, its writing still shines the brightest. This aspect is as entertaining and endearing as it is in many other Level-5 games, in addition to being an example of truly outstanding localization, but that’s not the only reason it stands out. There were many times that the story made me pause, times when a character, a piece of stray lore or a cutscene would imply something that worried me. Frankly, I was worried about a lot of things. I was worried about how female characters would be handled. I worried about how characters with substance abuse problems would be handled. I was worried about how a faction that may as well have been directly named “The Exotic and Dangerous Other” would be handled. Every single time Fantasy Life seemed to be leaning into classic and harmful fantasy story tropes, I worried. I soon learned that (for the most part) when Fantasy Life seems to lean in to these tropes, it’s only for the sake of pushing off harder, and it pays off. There are still parts of the game that could have been handled better (and this game certainly deserves a few think pieces that it probably won’t get) but overall, the way it addresses some of its more challenging topics is worth recognizing.—Janine Hawkins

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