The 10 Best Handheld Games of 2013

Games Lists

Whether you’re waiting for a train, sitting in the passenger’s seat on a road trip, or battling insomnia, handheld videogames will be there for you, letting you game without the thumb pain of a mobile game (not that we don’t love our mobile games here at Paste). Sometimes that portability makes the handheld reissue of a console or PC game the definitive version, as with Spelunky and Hotline Miami. In case you missed out on any of this year’s delights crafted for small-but-not-that-small screens, here’s our rundown of the ten most memorable titles for the PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo 2DS and 3DS.

10. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (2DS/3DS)

Dual Destinies represents a return to form for the game’s own intra-case narrative. It does something terrific at the same time, though: it undoes the narrative damage wreaked by Apollo Justice, and it does so while constructing a robust scaffolding for future n-entry sequels, regardless of primary narrators, and it accomplishes all this without being tremendously obvious about it.—Stephen Swift

9. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (2DS/3DS)

Dream Team’s story is refreshing simply for how cute and silly and unserious it is. The plot is that the ancient inhabitants of Pi’low island, the Pi’low folk (who look exactly like pillows, obviously), have all been trapped in stone pillows, and Luigi must fall asleep on them so Mario can travel to the dream world and free them. Maybe what’s most unique and most engaging about the world of Dream Team is how thoroughly it’s stuffed with an almost overwhelming variety of things to do. There’s always a task, usually ridiculous, almost always fun, that moves the story forward.—Aevee Bee

8. Hotline Miami (Vita)

In Hotline Miami every “mission” begins in a squalid apartment with an answering machine message alluding to a target. The protagonist gets into his gull-wing car, puts on a rubber animal mask, and drives off to kill everybody he can. The developers, Denis Wedin and Jonatan Söderström, aren’t just offering hyperviolent escapism. Hotline Miami’s unsettling undercurrent is that it keeps indirectly asking, “Why are you doing this?”—Filipe Salgado

7. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (2DS/3DS)

More content with a quiet night in an armchair than with playing the hero, Luigi reluctantly resumes the practice of ghost capturing in Dark Moon. It’s hardly a fulfilling line of work: He’s taunted by every spook, chided by the absent-minded Professor E. Gadd, and thrown into the thick of it with little preparation. But the game gives his animated agitation texture. Every stumble, whimper, and small burst of courage reaffirms Luigi as a character with appreciable qualities beyond his regulation overalls and trembling voice, one worth chuckling at and cheering for in equal measure.—Nate Andrews

6. Fire Emblem: Awakening (2DS/3DS)

Fire Emblem: Awakening can be a library of ticketless panics. I say “can” because new games can be started under either Casual or Classic rules, the former allowing for characters to respawn after battles, the latter enforcing mechanical permadeath. Deciding between universal truths (my GOD, the power) is one of the first choices the eleventh game in the Fire Emblem series dares you to make, and it matters more than any other choice for the rest of the game.—Dan Crabtree

5. Pokémon X and Y (2DS/3DS)

From the beginning, X & Y shows you how much it’s changed in comparison to other Pokémon games. Instead of fading in from black and seeing your character wake up, X & Y starts more dynamically by spinning the camera around your bedroom to follow a well-animated and rendered pokémon. The world is a big, three-dimensional land filled with beautiful-looking creatures. Earlier games had you plodding slowly from house to house until you found “running shoes” which allowed you to jog; in X & Y, the second you push the analog stick, your tiny trainer moves full tilt. What are you waiting for? Nintendo’s not stopping you.—Casey Malone

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (2DS/3DS)

A successful Zelda mixes familiarity with innovation, and for that and many other reasons A Link Between Worlds might be the most successful Zelda since Wind Waker. The rental system restores a degree of punishment, and the merge ability introduces new opportunities for puzzling temple designs, whereas the overworld faithfully recreates the map of A Link to the Past. Worlds looks to the past to make one of the best games of today.—Garrett Martin

3. Spelunky (Vita)

Spelunky isn’t really about finishing. It’s about getting better. It’s about setting your own personal mark, either in the total value of gold and gems discovered, or how many levels you survived, and then besting that mark again and again. Although Spelunky has appeared on other platforms in the past, this handheld port feels like an ideal home, since the game’s transitory nature lends itself well to short burst-sized play sessions.—GM

2. Tearaway (Vita)

Tearaway has all the charm, artiness and mixed-media visual appeal of Media Molecule’s other platformer, Little Big Planet, but Tearaway is more enjoyable as a game because it focuses primarily on play instead of creation. It wants to get you interested in arts and crafts, and regularly asks you to draw new objects within the game and decorate various characters, but that’s all incorporated into the game’s story. Tearaway also shoulders the burden of showing exactly what a Vita is capable of. This should be the first game everyone who gets a Vita plays from here on out.—GM

1. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (2DS/3DS)

For a game that glorifies life’s simplest pleasures, New Leaf is ambitiously, dreadfully massive. Your village is so changeable, thanks to “town ordinances” and “public works” projects, that possibilities can overwhelm. It never ends. It’s a trap. The experience is always evolving, always becoming impossibly more perfect. It’s your own private island paradise, and you can share what you like with whomever you want.—Jenn Frank

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