Many moons ago I used to commute to work via buses and trains. Depending on my mood and exhaustion I may put on a podcast or play a game. The handheld market has changed a lot since then. Especially with the release of the Nintendo Switch. The console that both the Wii U and PS Vita wanted to be.
Unlike previous generations of Nintendo Handhelds, there is very little competition. That will change soon depending on how well the Steam Deck sells. It can only be a good thing for existing owners of the Switch. More competition often results in cheaper games. But what of now? What is worth playing? Here are my top 10 games to play handheld.
1. Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley is a gaming game. Less of a sim. You pack in your inner-city office job and move to a farm. To get away from the strains of everyday life. Unfortunately, in the real world, we can’t do this. Once you’ve got the farm you are tasked with restoring it. Since its release, the developer, Eric Barone, has added more types of farms. A farming day consists of watering, planting, and harvesting crops.
Going to the village to buy seeds, tool upgrades and chatting with the residents. Like Harvest Moon, you build relationships with the whacky characters. Eventually building up your relationship to make them a spouse. Relationship building is very simple. Just give them a gift a day. On their birthday you can give them two gifts. Along the way, you build up the old town hall and explore the mine. The mine brings with it a simplistic combat system not dissimilar to older Zelda games.
There is also an RPG element where you gain levels of certain aspects of farm life. These unlock new recipes for crafting. So, you are always finding new ways to manage your farm. For example, levelling up your crop skill unlocks sprinklers. Sprinklers water surrounding crops. Which saves you one task in the day at the cost of resources and one crop square.
It’s an easy to play farming title which you’ll find easy to play for hours. I’m finding myself revisiting and seeing how much further I can get with rebuilding the town hall. Since there isn’t a story, it’s easy to pick up and play. It’s very difficult to mess up so bad that you can’t do anything. Especially since if you run out of money and crops, you can venture into the dungeon. Or even scrounge around for plants in the town and sell them. The only time-sensitive aspect is that most crops only grow in one season. Plant them too late they will disappear once the seasons change. A great tip I found is to buy up all that seasons seeds at the end of the month. Store them and when you go back to that season you have seeds to plant on the first day.
2. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Unlike many of the titles, I’m looking at, I’m only including one game from this franchise. You can get most of the Metal Gear series on PS Vita. But they are not enjoyable to play on such a small screen. Peace Walker however was made for small screens and limited buttons. You play as Big Boss, hero of MGS3. Disenfranchised about his country and the lies. He sets out to create a haven for all mercenaries. Big Boss is led to believe his master, Boss, is still alive. Since a recording of her voice is shown by Ramon Galvez Mena and Paz. Mena tasks Big Boss to help the local rebel force take on the invaders. To sweeten the deal, Mena provides a base of operations that Big Boss can keep.
Throughout the game, you sneak around taking out or avoiding soldiers to get to a destination. Sometimes you’ll come up against tanks, helicopters, and various other futuristic weaponry. All the while trying to take down the invaders and finding out if Boss is alive.
The best part is managing the MSF (Big Boss’s army). During missions, you can futon-recover knocked out enemies back to your base. They can then be assigned to different departments of your base. They are R&D, Cantina, Intel, Medical and Combat. Each soldier has their own stats which are rated using the grading system (A*-E). By assigning them to the department, they may increase the department level. This in turn unlocks more subjects to research. Once researched, they can be used while on a mission.
Unlike the main titles in the series, it is easy to jump in and complete a mission in under ten minutes. You can grind missions to find better soldiers for your base. This is because there is a limit to how many you can have in each department. This is the title I always go back to. I wish it could be released on mobile or the Switch which may be a possibility now.
3. The Witcher 3
A winner of many awards and boosted CD Projekt Red’s reputation in the gaming world. I bought the game on Xbox One but couldn’t get into it. There were so many side quests, and the Combat was much harder than expected. I also didn’t understand the lore.
Fast forward to this year, I’ve read one of the books and watched the series. This whetted my appetite for the game. It was a toss-up between getting the PC or the Switch version. I’m glad I went with the Switch version.
You play as Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. On the hunt for Yennifer a long-lost love of his. A Witcher is a hunter of monsters who works for coins. They own two swords, a steel one for men and a silver sword for monsters. He can use magical signs that provide either defensive or offensive abilities. He is also a master at crafting potions and oils.
Once you get past the intro it is very easy to pick up and play. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can do a side quest or three. On top of that, you can grind out levels or gather ingredients. The crafting mechanic is varied and interesting. Using alchemy, you can brew potions as well as oils that can be used on your sword. You gain more recipes through exploration and quests. And to top it all off a great story. I’ll complete a more thorough review once I’ve completed the main quest.
4. Pokémon Games
I’m not going to mention Sword and Shield. To me, they were a let-down in the series. But any other Pokémon game from previous generations I would recommend. My first game was Ruby. I missed out on earlier generations as I had never had a Gameboy and didn’t want to get one. The Gameboy Advance was amazing, and I loved every minute of playing that title.
These games are aimed at children, yet if you ever want to get into RPGs this is the perfect jumping-on point. There are also hidden mechanics in the game that make the game far more interesting.
The main hidden mechanic is called Effort Values. Each Pokémon you defeat gives your Pokémon an EV point. This EV point is then added to a particular stat. Get enough EV points and when your Pokémon next levels up that stat will rise higher than it would without. Once you understand this. You can start power levelling your Pokémon so that their stats are at optimal strength.
The games follow the same pattern. Raise your Pokémon levels and battle gym leaders. Once you’ve beaten all gym leaders you go on to battle the Elite Four and then the champion. After beating the champion, you can then explore the land to capture all Pokémon.
5. Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate
Monster Hunter has always been a great handheld game. Even though most quests have a time limit of fifty minutes, you can complete them in ten. There isn’t a story that you need to invest much time in. You can go out their hunt and carve monsters. Using the carves you can craft better equipment. Then you can battle stronger monsters. This is the circle the game follows throughout.
I chose Generation Ultimate because this is the cumulation of all the best bits of the ‘old’ series into one game. There are many monsters to battle. And felt very fleshed out with a lot of content. Unlike Rise, which felt lacklustre content-wise. Even so, if you have never played a Monster Hunter game, Rise is a fun entry point.
Once you’ve completed the village quests you can then go on to the guild quests. These are harder than their village counterparts. Because they are for groups of four people. You can play with randoms or friends. It’s far easier to complete with friends since you can communicate better. But if that isn’t an option you can still complete the quest with random people. It won’t be as fun.
6. Borderlands Series
The Borderlands series is a loot-and-shoot game. It plays like any other RPG, except it is a first-person shooter. Enemies drop loot, which can range from money and ammo to guns and artefacts. You get to choose a class, and that class will have a special ability that they can unleash in combat. Each class has its own skill tree which focuses on the different strengths of that class. Unlike other RPGsyetr, you can still use any weapon that you pick up if you meet the level requirements.
Borderlands 2 is the pinnacle of the series. It is available on most modern consoles. It’s available on PS Vita and Switch. Avoid the PS Vita version at all costs. It is very buggy, and the combat lags a lot. The Switch version yet performs as well as the console version. This title also has the best antagonist in the character of Handsome Jack. An egomaniac with too much money to his name.
The Pre-Sequel is also worth playing but it feels like something is missing. The first title in the series also doesn’t play as well as its sequel. But they are both well worth playing and you don’t need to complete them to understand the story. Borderlands 3 isn’t available on handhelds and it’s the worst in the series and panned by the series’ fans.
7. Final Fantasy Series
If you have access to a PS Vita and a Switch you can play almost all the titles in the Final Fantasy series. I’ve done a review on the second one which you can read here. They are suited to handheld consoles. Especially if you have them on PS Vita or Switch as you can put the handheld into sleep mode.
Final Fantasy X has always been my favourite game of all time. Being able to play the game on the go was a huge bonus. Beating Sin while on the train. Ending Seymour on a bus. I never thought in a million years I would be able to play this title on the go. Especially with enhanced graphics.
I’m still making my way through the other entries in the series. Once completed I will release reviews on them. But the stories are always interesting. Each entry has a unique feature that the other titles don’t have. The music is well orchestrated, and the cut scenes are beautiful yet brutal at times. Give them a go!
Minecraft…Minecraft, what can I say about it. No storyline, no limits. Just you and a huge world to explore. Mine, craft and build your way to survive the harsh nights. There is also a creative mode where you have unlimited resources to build and craft what you want. I usually do this when I want to build a landmark or an interesting build.
Easy to pick up and play. The game holds your hand at the start but is in no way easy. If you don’t build a hut before nightfall, you are at risk of being attacked by skeletons, spiders, and creepers. You can hide from spiders and skeletons. But creepers explode in proximity to the player, destroying all your hard work in the process.
On top of the vanilla game, you can buy various DLC. Which can change the look and feel of the game, as well as skins for your character. The true fun of the game is only limited by your own imagination oh and your patience with the game. Since its start, various other games have tried to emulate it with varying degrees of success. But this is still the best title of its type that you can play on a handheld.
9. Legend of Zelda Series
So, the obvious game to pick out of this series is Breath of the Wild. The perfect open-world adventure. You play as Link, a boy that has been in hibernation for 100 years after the great calamity. Gannon, the series main antagonist, had destroyed most of Hyrule. Leaving Princess Zelda using her magic to keep him contained in Hyrule castle.
Unlike other titles in the series, you can start the final boss fight as soon as you complete the intro. Yet, this isn’t recommended since you won’t have decent weapons and clothing to take him on. There are four dungeons and four bosses, which will weaken Gannon as you beat them. It is a masterpiece of gaming. I enjoyed every minute of it. I haven’t played it on the Harder Master mode, but I will aim to. Once completed I may even do a review or a guide on it.
Another great entry to the series that I played on a handheld was a Link to the Past. A 2D top-down view and pixel art style graphics. I played this on the GBA and enjoyed having a Zelda game in my pocket before we ever got the Nintendo Switch. There was even a sequel made to this title on the 3DS which I have yet to play.
10. Persona Series
I was going to mention Persona 4 Golden as its own entry instead of the series. But, I have recently played Persona 3 and I loved it just a little less than Persona 4. Its premise is very similar. You play as a high school student by day and at night you battle demons using Personas. Personas are spirits that give your characters skills and stats during battle. The only stats the Persona doesn’t affect is HP and SP (Skill Points).
The player character has a special ability. Unlike the others, the Player character can hold more than one persona in his heart. Allowing him a wider range of attacks. It also allows the party to cover any weaknesses that the party members may have.
The games differ in where the monster appears from. In 3, they appear during the 25th hour of the day. While in Persona 4, the characters go through TVs to visit them. Persona 3 is more violent. Characters have to shoot themselves with a gun to summon the Persona’s skills. With Persona 4 they are ready when you battle.
Try Persona 4 first and see how you like it. It has one of the best stories on the PS Vita.
Handheld Wishful Thinking
With the Steam Deck coming out soon. This opens the possibility of playing so many different games and genres that are currently not out on a handheld console.
One such genre which is missing is racing. There are various racing games available on the Switch and PS Vita but none of them stands out. Steam Deck has the advantage of having access to the Steam library which has many great racing games. Here’s hoping that it can run these titles.
Like I said before, the Steam Deck can only do good for players. Nintendo may have to sweeten the pot if they want to still have a hold of the handheld market. They may even lower their prices.
Handheld Final Thoughts
So these are my favourite games so far when playing handheld. I’ll keep updating this when more games catch my eye and I can get a Steam Deck and add its own games to this list.
Here’s another list of games for PS Vita