When I think about my favorite video games, they’re often less about some remotely objective measure of greatness and more about personal impact. It wasn’t easy to narrow down a list, but I think this runs the gamut of my experiences. I’ve never owned any non-Nintendo portable systems (not counting smartphones), so it’ll be skewed heavily in that direction.
Note that I am not including Nintendo Switch games because that’s a big ol’ can of worms.
In no particular order:
1. Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow
I love the Pokémon games in general, and each one has its own strengths. But for all its flaws, nothing is closer to my heart than the original. That sense of exploration, the thrill of meeting random people on the street and linking up (via cable!) for a battle, going online and discovering communities dedicated to both competition and general fandom—the only games that ever gave this sense of camaraderie were NiGHTS into dreams… (i.e. my favorite game ever) and the Super Smash Bros. franchise. Many of my faves from this generation are ones I love today: Chansey, Vileplume, and Mewtwo.
2. Super Mario Land
So much about this game is memorable. From using boulders as stepping stones to narrow the distance with an Easter Island-headed boss to frantically running from Chinese hopping ghosts to taking down Tatanga in a shoot ’em up finale, there’s so much I can look back on with fondness. But what sticks out most in my recollection is the fact that I actually beat this game for the first time while sitting on the toilet. That sort of experience doesn’t leave you.
3. Super Robot Wars R
This was my first Super Robot Wars game, and it was more than just some fun turn-based strategy. While I was a big mecha head long before I ever got this game, the easy access it gave me to discovering a plethora of big anime series, and the nitty gritty of their robots—Gear Fighter Dendoh, Daitarn 3, Voltes V, and more—only deepened my desire to explore the genre further. And while it’s considered a fairly easy SRW game, that made it all the better as I fumbled through the game with only the barest hint of Japanese literacy. I literally took 70% of the game to learn how to select “dodge!”
4. Metroid: Zero Mission
This is about as good as Metroid games get, and it’s a pretty flawless work in general. However, it means even more to me because when I studied abroad in Japan, it was pretty much the only game I had with me. So what’s a guy to do except play it over and over and over again? And given that I love boss fights (especially final bosses!), I had one save slot for Mother Brain and one for Mecha Ridley.
5. Ghost Trick
This is a certified masterpiece. The gameplay is ingenious and addictive, like a series of Rube Goldberg devices with an occult twist, and the story is charming and heartwarming. It also gave me plenty of reasons to cheer on my girl Lynne in WVGCW!
“Ha ha! I died again!”
6. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS
While inferior to its Wii U counterpart in almost every way, the fact that it made a portable, 60 fps Smash game possible with only a few compromises (no Ice Climbers) on an increasingly dated system is nothing short of incredible. Letting me play Mega Man in Smash Bros. for the first time ever is reason enough to get on this list.
7. Greenhouse (Game & Watch)
The first time I unlocked Mr. Game & Watch in Super Smash Bros. Melee, I was floored. My family had owned a few Game & Watch games over the years, and my favorite among them was Greenhouse. The first time I got over 999 points and caused the score to flip over back to 0 was an achievement for my young self, and the simple yet frantic fun of its dual-screen format made it an entertaining option even though the Game Boy was already a thing by the time I played it. In a way, it’s a timeless game.
8. Tetris (Game Boy)
C’mon, it’s Tetris. There’s no need to explain the appeal of this absolute classic, but the Game Boy’s A-theme is the definitive Tetris song, and that alone will keep it in my memories forever.
9. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The Ace Attorney games are so clever and full of personality, both in terms of characters and gameplay. It’s just a memorable series through and through, and the deduction-based system is both gripping and easy to get into without devoting much time. Of the iterations I’ve played, I still feel like I enjoy the first game most of all. Extra bonus points go to the DS version’s extra story, which introduces Ema and Lana Skye, my two favorite characters in the entire franchise.
10. Fire Emblem (aka Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade)
The first Fire Emblem game to hit the US is still my favorite of that franchise. The characters are amazing, and not even just the obvious ones—I’m currently playing Fire Emblem Heroes with Serra set as my favorite while I’m trying in vain to get a Ninian of any kind. The animations are so vibrant and seared into my brain. Who can forget seeing Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood using their sacred weapons for the first time? Even the gameplay is my favorite. Basically, what I’m saying is, bring back the ability for mounted units to carry other units!
Do you have any handheld games that are in your emotional pantheon? Let me know!
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