The handhelds are often shunned as kiddie or commuter devices. But truth be told, both the DS and the PSP sell by the droves and millions around the world can spend their time better in the train/bus/school/office/plane. It’s not just the portability though; both come with a line-up of fantastic games – some good enough to give their console counterparts a run for their money.
First up is Scribblenauts, with one of the most innovative gameplay designs in a long time. It breaks free from the shackles of linearity and set pieces and truly sets the player’s imagination free. You think of it, and it’s drawn on the screen. Not just that – but it behaves the way you think it would. Where else could you summon a Large Hadron Collider, which creates a black hole, or a biker who goes up against a raptor to save the model? It’s a shame that the controls were finicky and seemed to have a life of their own. Controls are not an issue for The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks though. Everything you expect in a Zelda game is there – fiendish puzzles, dungeons, and a certain hero with the stupidest costume since Peter Pan. Spirit Tracks improves on Phantom Hourglass by leaps and bounds, a tough task in itself, and presents one of the best Zelda adventures in years.
The PSP had a rough year on the hardware side, with the PSP Go not setting the cash registers ringing. But no worries for our nominees in this category. Resistance Retribution brought the frantic action and epic battles to the small screen, adding a successful third-person view and shooting mechanics which delivered a more engaging shooter experience on the handheld. Add to that James Grayson, who is more defined and a bigger badass than Nathan Hale. Motorstorm Arctic Edge continued the classic off road racing franchise, setting the action in Alaska. The PSP’s hardware is pushed to create lush destructible environments and the user can control some winterland-specific vehicles. Little Big Planet wowed us last year with its super cute Sackboy and excellent platforming. The same has been ported to the PSP this year, losing none of the charm or deep platforming elements of its big brother.
The standout entry is Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on both the DS and the PSP. It takes Liberty City and compresses it to bring a fully realized 3D environment on the small screen. The additional gameplay elements designed specifically for the handheld are a blast, and the gameplay controls are spot on for shooting and driving. GTA:CW combines an isometric view in a 3D environment to take the player across Liberty City to cause mayhem and rise through the Chinese underworld. The protagonist himself is completely unlike Niko Bellic; a spoilt brat who is thrown in the deep end (literally) at the start of the game. Special mention needs to be made of the drug dealing mini game; a mundane task of buying low and selling high can provide hours of entertainment, with none of the side effects of the real stuff. The DS has traditionally seen games meant for a much younger audience, and while GTA:CW numbers surely don’t match up to the Marios and Pokemons, it still proves that there is a market for mature games on the handhelds with good gameplay and storylines. Chinatown Wars gets both the IVG Handheld GOTY and the IVG Staff Pick.
IVG Staff Pick: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars