Top 10 Portable Nintendo Games of All-Time
By Daniel Lein
There’s something special about portable games. The ability to take your favorite characters on the go is nice, but for many of us our first portable console was was our own console. We didn’t have to share it with our siblings or stop playing it at a certain time. It was all ours. And sadly, dedicated handhelds might be going away. With the Nintendo Switch likely taking the place of Nintendo’s handheld line and no one else interested in the handheld market, that feeling of a truly personal console might be going away. So, in honor of all the good times we had on the go, here are the top 10 portable Nintendo games.
Super Mario Bros. DX
I know it’s a little cheap for the first game on my list to be a port of one of the most important games in the history of the medium, but hear me out. This remake of the NES classic differentiated itself from its predicessor with bonus game modes, various challenges, and even an unlockable second game. Known in the US as Super Mario Lost Levels, the unlockable stages in Super Mario Bros. DX were hard, like Mario Maker levels of hard. Having a perfect recreation of the original Super Mario Bros on the go is good enough, but with added game modes, challenges, and Lost Levels it turns out to be an amazing package that can’t be missed.
Metroid Zero Mission
The original Metroid, as revolutionary as it was, is pretty unplayable today. This is largely thanks to the nearly monochromatic art style and abysmal level design. The constant repetition of rooms didn’t help with the confusion either. But through that mess many people saw the innovations it was making in exploration, combat, and platforming. Innovations that would help shape the industry. From all the classics of the past, Metroid is probably the most worthy of a remake. And thankfully it got one, in Metroid Zero Mission. With much improved visuals, less repetitive level design, and A FREAKING MAP.
Resident Evil Revelations
Let me preface this with by saying that almost all Resident Evil stories are bad and ridiculous, and Revelations is no exception. That being said this 3rd person shooter for 3DS is wildly fun. Tight corridors and horrifying enemies blend with punchy and satisfying combat to deliver tense moment to moment gameplay. After you go through the mediocre story you get the opportunity to continue playing in survival mode, where you unlock new characters and face even more challenging monsters. It’s just straight up fun, and the fact that it’s such a complete shooter experience on the go doesn’t hurt either.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
I’ve enjoyed a lot of strategy RPGs since Fire Emblem introduced me to the genre, and out of all of them I can confidently say the Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is the most challenging. Every mission has a different winning objective as well as a map type that screws with your plans in a fresh and new way. Throw in the franchise’s infamous permadeath feature and you’ll be losing lovable and endearing friends at every step of the way, making the romance dialogue even more meaningful. In addition to the amazing tactical combat and charming characters, Conquest’s story also deals with various heavy themes of war, including PTSD, and whether or not you can be a hero in the conflict. Despite some of the flaws it has, like the unnecessary base building, Fire Emblem Fates Conquest is an amazing game.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS
I have spent over a hundred hours in this complete fighting game experience. The combat is as good as ever, but what makes it special is the various modes you can partake in, the challenges you can complete, and the trophies you can collect. In addition to all these great modes, the mobility of the game allows you to challenge friends and strangers wherever you are. This is probably the best example of mobile games growing up and challenging the magnitude and quality of their console counterparts by being portable.
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of the most beloved games of all time. With a wide world to explore, enemies to defeat, and puzzles to solve there’s no wonder why it’s so popular. If not for the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia this would be doubly so for Loz: A Link Between Worlds. Aside from mediocre graphics, LBW boasts better combat, more varied puzzles, the same open world, and much more interesting characters than its SNES predecessor. Whether you prefer LBW or LttP, there’s no arguing that the former is a modern classic.
Pokemon Red and Blue introduced us to collecting the lovable monsters and then subsequently pitting them against each other in vicious dog fights. This light JRPG is fun and an absolute classic in its own right. One of my favorite parts of the original Pokemon games was the Elite Four. A boss rush pitting your biggest and baddest Pokemon against other equally strong foes. It made for exciting battles where the outcome was never certain, and for most Pokemon games the Elite Four is the extent of this most exciting combat, but not Pokemon Crystal. In Pokemon Crystal (and its Johto Region counterparts) you get to face another eight gyms as well as a secret boss in addition to the elite four. All of which deliver that exciting, uncertain combat with high level Pokemon. Pokemon Crystal extends the best part of most Pokemon games for another ten plus hours, putting it head and shoulders above other games in the franchise.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Due to traditionally poor sales, Fire Emblem Awakening was meant to be the swansong for the franchise. Thankfully it was good enough and popular enough to continue the franchise for hopefully years to come. It accomplished this franchise saving feat by delivering brilliant tactical gameplay, an engaging and exciting plot, as well as a charming dating-sim feature. The three things mixed together to make the endearing characters feel like real people going through real struggles, and when the credits rolled, I was sorry to say good-bye.
Re-released as a pack-in game for the original Game Boy, Tetris was practically synonymous with Nintendo’s portable grey brick, despite not being developed by them. This stunning puzzle game about falling blocks was the first to broaden the term “gamer” beyond the confines of a “kid activity”. There is the classic image of the business man ranking in a high score on an airplane, and though that may not be true, I wouldn’t be surprised. Tetris is so simple to understand yet so hard to master. It is fun for nearly everyone and nearly everyone has played it. It is about as perfect as a videogame can get.
Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
The Legend of Zelda franchise is one of the best in gaming. Nearly every game in the series exhibits intelligent design. The daunting and monster filled dungeons. The tense and rewarding combat. The intriguing and fun puzzles. And, perhaps best of of all, the lovable characters. One thing Zelda games are not traditionally known for is their stories. They tend to involve saving a princess or the world from some impending doom, and though there is value to that, it gets old after the tenth telling. Link’s Awakening is different. Link’s Awakening is the only Zelda game where spoiling major plot points actually matters. Link’s Awakening is the only Zelda game where story comes first. And when you factor in the classic Zelda dungeons, clever puzzles, fun combat, and truly lovable characters you get a game that is not only one of the best in the series, but the best handheld game of all time.
Mario Kart DS
Animal Crossing New Leaf
Wario Ware Twisted
New Super Mario Bros.
So what do you think? Did I get it right? What games did I miss? Which are your favorites? Let me know in the comments and have a Merry Switchmas.