It is time…
Tiny Cartridge’s favorite Tiny Cartridges of 2012!
This year was a crucial one for handheld game systems, a statement year even. Tablets and smartphones continued to make their case as the rightful successors to the portable gaming throne, and so the onus was on handhelds to argue their relevance in this mobile era, if not through sales (real talk, PS Vita’s hardware numbers aren’t going to get it done), then through the quality of their software.
It wasn’t enough for the 3DS and PS Vita to deliver enjoyable games in 2012; this new handheld generation needed to separate itself from the last, setting new standards in their visuals, online services, and concepts’ creativity. Fortunately for us, portable game developers met that challenge, and gave us a year of platform-defining titles — even the ports kicked the butts of their big-screen counterparts.
Below you’ll find our favorite 3DS, eShop, PS Vita, and PSN games that helped make 2012 a killer year for handheld fans (presumably you’re one of those fans, since you follow this site). Oh, and we have plenty of GIFs too, of course! I say “of course” because a lizard hijacked this Tumblr, and threatened to blow it up if we don’t meet a weekly quota of animated images. Please excuse the loading time!
2012’s best handheld games
5. Gravity Rush (SCE Japan Studio) - We’ve long since finished this gravity-bending action game, but it’s still fun to fly around its intricate city, taking in the atmosphere, searching for upgrade gems on the underside of its enormous floating islands, and using my gravity powers to chuck bystanders around. Hopefully the first of many extraordinary original IPs to debut on PS Vita.
4. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (Indies Zero) - Try not to think too much about the overpriced iOS scheme. The important thing about Theatrhythm is its loving treatment of Final Fantasy music, paired with the most adorable art style for the series’ characters we’ve ever seen. You’ll have a favorite Final Fantasy song after playing this sweet but often challenging rhythm game, even if you’ve never played any of the RPGs.
3. Persona 4 Golden (Atlus) - This technically came out on PlayStation 2 several years ago, but it belongs on handhelds, with its gameplay divided up into in-game “days” that make it perfect for short sessions. Even if you aren’t feeling RPGs right now, you should absolutely check this out and experience a unique combination of anime storytelling, visual novel, dating sim, and dungeon RPG.
2. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (Chunsoft) - Writer and director Kotaro Uchikoshi killed it with this 3DS/Vita sequel’s script, putting together a suspenseful story that’s just as engaging as 999. Chunsoft murdered it when it came to improving on the original with the terrific voice acting and streamlined replays. And then Aksys iced the localization by packing it with enough humor to fill several weeks’ worth of Tiny Cartridge posts. Good people die, and Virtue’s Last Reward made sure they went out in a spectacular fashion.
1. Kid Icarus: Uprising (Project Sora, Sora Ltd.) - The voice acting, customization options, and amount and variety of content in Kid Icarus: Uprising embarrasses almost any other portable game. And then there’s the witty dialogue, constant plot twists, numerous easter eggs, weird enemies like the Tempura Wizard (pictured), clever AR card features, and stellar music — Masahiro Sakurai went HAM with this one, and we ate it up to the bone.
And, jeezy creezy, the online versus mode! Has there ever been a more fun portable game to play online? Our elite gaming clan Garfield & Friends ruled over Light vs. Dark multiplayer this year, brandishing our Gaol Blades, Beam Claws, and Eggplant Bombs menacingly at the sight of every threat. And then dying.
Shout outs to: Kingdom Hearts 3D, Adventure Time, motherfuckin’ Style Savvy, and Pokemon Black/White 2. We also gotta mention our Mare Odomo X Tiny Cartridge games — we ain’t forget you, Kissing Party. We love you, boo.
2012’s best handheld digital games
5. Retro City Rampage (Vblank Entertainment) - Start with Grand Theft Auto, remove all the dumb story stuff, any semblance of reality forcing you to feel whatever moral ambiguity, and the 3D camera. Then add a power-up that lets you stomp on things like Mario, and about a million jokes aimed at kids who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s.
4. The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave (Genius Sonority) - RPGs often have great battle systems, but are usually a million hours long and full of complex stories. The Denpa Men proves those aren’t necessary (though they’re welcome, of course -– see Persona 4 Golden), providing a stripped-down dungeon crawler that focuses entirely on dungeons and character building. What text is there is hella adorable!
3. NightSky (Nicklas Nygren, Nicalis) - This is the Journey of handheld games, a wordless, serene trip through a beautiful, ethereal world. Though it released for Steam some time ago, NightSky was meant to be played in bed, with the lights off and headphones plugged in for maximum immersion.
2. Sound Shapes (Queasy Games, SCE Santa Monica Studio) - Everything about this game is beautiful, elegant, minimal, and above all, musical. We dream of a future in which we can inhabit every new Beck album as a series of platforming challenges.
1. Sakura Samurai (Grounding Inc.) - “[It’s] an eShop game about timing, about knowing the right moment to dodge and riposte, like Punch-Out!! but set in feudal Japan, yes, but it’s also about patience and gambling, sometimes literally with the coins you’ve pocketed from making short work out of enemies that have no business holding a katana, and other times with your life as you push your luck to see how long your sense of timing will keep you alive.”
Props to: Level-5 for bringing almost the entire Guild01 compilation the West as individual eShop releases, even if they were more curiosities than must-have titles. We also have to tip our hats to other slick digital releases we enjoyed like Colors, Crashmo, and Zen Pinball 3D. Uh, and I guess there were maybe some decent things that released on iOS (lol*)?
So, those are our picks! Let us know which ones we missed, and why we are terrible people for failing to include them in our personal favorites. Thanks for following us in 2012, and for caring about what games and other nonsense have caught our attention!
*Nah, iOS is cool