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The coolest handhelds had at least one game fans couldn’t live without. We still remember the 1989 Game Boy launch and the frenzy that ensued the moment Nintendo releasedSuper Mario Land, and to a much greater extent, Tetris, the puzzle game that changed everything.
From there, both Nintendo and its rival, Sony, did whatever it took to make respective launch line-ups special, from delivering proven star power to experimenting with new and exciting titles that eventually blossomed into franchises.
Who benefited most? Clearly consumers, who couldn’t seem to buy one of these systems (be it Game Boy, DS or even the new PlayStation Vita) without tossing two or more games into their carts.
With that, we’re proud to present the 30 greatest launch games to appear on handheld systems.
30. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (3DS, 2011)
Although it didn’t receive as much attention as Super Street Fighter IV and Nintendogs + Cats, Shadow Wars managed to stand out amongst the crowded 3DS launch, offering turn-based play to help Nintendo supporters brave the barren months that followed, as they skillfully maneuvered six unique warriors into position to maximize each soldier’s strengths.
29. GT Advance Championship Racing (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
We’ll stop short of calling GT Advance the GBA’s Gran Turismo, but THQ and developer MTO still deserve credit for designing a similar experience, with 45 cars, 32 tracks and pseudo 3D graphics that turned plenty of heads in 2001. The only thing that lessened the game’s appeal was a password save THQ implemented to cut costs. Not a great idea.
28. Konami Krazy Racers (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
There was no Mario Kart at the Game Boy Advance launch, so Konami provided the next best thing. Krazy Racers mimicked Nintendo’s popular series, but included various characters from Konami history. Players competed with Dracula, squared off against Solid Snake and outgunned the Vic Viper. Definitely a nice surprise.
27. Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower (PlayStation Portable, 2005)
Despite the heavy emphasis on 3D graphics at the PSP launch, Capcom went a different route in bringing the 2D Darkstalkers series to Sony’s system, delivering an over the top beat-em-up starring the sexy Felicia and 17 other misfits. One of the more addictive modes, Chaos Tower, let players select three characters to see how high they could climb, earning each step by outlasting progressively difficult opponents.
26. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
Captain Falcon and Co. arrived on Game Boy Advance in grand fashion, in a game that managed to retain the critically acclaimed Mode-7 experience on Super Nintendo. Players guided hover cars around a variety of tracks, speeding past opponents in the Grand Prix, or linking up with three others in multiplayer.
25. Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
We had a blast with the Virtua Tennis series on PSP, and were pleased to discover the arcade style madness alive and well on the Vita, but with even more impressive visuals. Sega stumbled a bit with the touch screen controls and some camera shenanigans, but a deep World Tour mode and a super cool first person view that works in tandem with the gyroscope made up for those aforementioned shortcomings.
24. Nintendogs + Cats (3DS, 2011)
After achieving great success with the original Nintendogs on DS, Nintendo created something special for the 3DS debut, adding new accessories, breeds, Augmented Reality support and most importantly, furry felines that behave quite differently from their canine counterparts. Good luck getting them to fetch.
23. Ridge Racer 3D (3DS, 2011)
It wouldn’t be a system launch without Namco Bandai’s Ridge Racer series. Thankfully, the 3DS edition was worth the wait, with bright and colorful visuals, cool 3D effects, a plethora of cars, StreetPass support and proven arcade style racing that comes with a heavy emphasis on drifting and plenty of nitrous to spare.
22. Pilotwings Resort (3DS, 2011)
Most launch games challenge players to destroy things and outwit computer controlled enemies. With Pilotwings Resort, Nintendo simply wanted them to relax. While the game offers quite a challenge to earn medals, the Free Flight Mode lets users explore the tropical WuHu Island at their leisure while inside a plane, soaring with a hang glider or mastering a rocket belt. A guilty pleasure indeed.
21. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
2D fighting fanatics would be foolish to pass up BlazBlue on the Vita. The handheld beat-up-up supports cross platform play against PS3 players, 19 characters (including Relius Clover), four all-new stories and new/revised modes. Granted, things are a bit on the weird side, but you should be able to overlook this while throttling your adversaries.
20. Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Don’t let the adorable and clearly Japanese inspired characters fool you into thinking the latest Hot Shots Golf is a pushover. Sony’s PlayStation Vita launch game doesn’t have the backing of a major celebrity like Tiger Woods, or come branded with the PGA license, but the latest from Clap Hanz knows its way around the links, and will punish you for making the slightest mistake, even if it means restarting an entire tournament. Touch challenge aside, pretty courses, daily tournaments and online matches should keep you putting for months.
19. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Superheroes and villains collide in Capcom’s port of the console brawler, as players create three-person teams comprised of both Marvel and video game characters. While most of the content remains the same, touch screen controls help inexperienced gamers bust out 26-hit combos with several quick taps.
18. Super Stardust Delta (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Players can get their action fix in this intense dual stick shooter that tasks them with obliterating humongous asteroids and alien invaders, effortlessly switching between two different weapons to maximize the destruction. Just as good as the PS3 prequel, but with modes that put Vita’s touch features to decent use.
17. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
The Tony Hawk franchise is on life support, but was alive and well in 2001, when Activision released this Vicarious Visions developed GBA port that was far and away the most stunning launch title for the system, offering a near 3D experience with all the same tricks and challenges.
16. Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Say hello to the surprise game in the PlayStation Vita launch lineup. A delightful platform adventure, Mutant Blobs Attack sends gamers on a memorable journey through a series of imaginative stages, as the tiny blob consumes everything in sight while using different powers (rocket mode) to manipulate its surroundings. Quality game, no question.
15. Super Mario Advance (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
Mario celebrated the Game Boy Advance launch in this remake of the hit NES title, Super Mario Bros. 2. This time, though, Nintendo spruced up the graphics and added digitized voice. The result was a familiar yet entertaining game, one definitely worth playing.
14. Wipeout Pure (PlayStation Portable, 2005)
This PSP Wipeout is a pioneer, as it was the first game for the system to support downloadable content. Beyond that, Sony’s Studio Liverpool had us glued to our systems, as we blasted through a myriad of expertly designed tracks while annihilating opponents with a handful of weapons.
13. Super Mario Land (Game Boy, 1989)
Nintendo’s 1989 Game Boy launch was a big deal, so of course, a certain pasta eating plumber had to make an appearance. Super Mario Land, produced by Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi, was exactly what the portable needed, delivering a classic 2D side-scrolling experience, with goombas and mushrooms, along with plenty of new elements, like exploding turtle shells and the ability to pilot a plane and submarine. It pales in comparison to today’s Mario adventures, especially when it comes to length, but Super Mario Land fit perfectly into Nintendo’s portable strategy.
12. Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
In theory, Tecmo Koei’s Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus is the oldest PlayStation Vita launch game. It’s a port of a 2007 PS3 adventure, which is a port of a 2004 Xbox title, but here’s the thing. The original Ninja Gaiden currently enjoys high review averages on Metacritic and Gamerankings, so while it’s the grandpa of Vita’s lineup, it’s also one of the greatest video games ever made, filled with decapitations, cool acrobatics, ninja magic and tough boss fights.
11. Wipeout 2048 (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Sony’s Wipeout franchise shined on PSP, and the company was smart in creating a new entry just in time for PlayStation Vita’s launch. The result, Wipeout 2048, is one of the best titles available on this new and powerful system. A shift in style allowed the developers to merge futuristic vehicles with more modern track designs, and the inclusion of cross-platform play allows Vita and PS3 users to compete.
10. Super Mario 64 DS (DS, 2004)
To give players a taste of DS power, Nintendo ported the beloved N64 smash hit to the machine, but improved the resolution, added mini-games, the option to play as different characters and even multiplayer support. We just wish the system had an analog stick to avoid wrestling with the d-pad and the included/bizarre thumb strap. That aside, it was great to have Mario 64 on the go.
9. Lumines: Electronic Symphony (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
After wowing audiences with the original Lumines, Q Entertainment did so yet again withElectronic Symphony for the Vita. More of a return to form, the puzzle experience features a heavier emphasis on electronic music while delivering the same addictive block falling madness, along with power-ups.
8. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
New Game Boy Advance owners lined up to devour Konami’s thrilling Castlevania adventure that once again sent them through a monster filled fortress to battle Dracula. Old weapons, such as the whip, axe and Holy water made a triumphant return, while the Dual Set-up System let users cast magic, thanks to special cards named after gods and goddesses from Roman mythology.
The best part? There were even better Castlevania titles to come.
7. Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Hot off the success of Uncharted 3, Sony brought treasure hunter Nathan Drake to PlayStation Vita in this grand production that blends captivating visuals with death-defying play, complete with controls that take full advantage of the system’s touch screen, rear touch pad and gyroscope. Simply put, you cannot purchase a Vita without this game.
6. Ridge Racer (PSP, 2005)
The PSP launch may not have fared as well without Namco Bandai’s incredible racer. Not only did it move super fast, but the game also looked incredible stretched across the handheld’s gorgeous screen. Factor in super tight controls and a wealth of cars and tracks, and this is without question one of the greatest launch titles in history.
5. Lumines (PlayStation Portable, 2005)
For more than a decade, Tetris was the best handheld puzzler in town. That somewhat changed in 2004/2005, when Q Entertainment introduced the world to Lumines and its intoxicating blend of traditional block falling play and music. The resulting Puzzle Fusion tantalized gamers the world over, as they frantically manipulated colors to make 2X2 squares while nodding their heads to the beat.
4. FIFA Soccer (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
Say hello to the single best sports game to ever grace a launch lineup. Electronic Arts did masterful work bringing the PlayStation 3 FIFA experience to Vita, retaining the majority of modes, delightful commentary, crowd chants and realistic visuals, combined with furious gameplay that introduces touch screen passing and rear touch pad shooting.
3. Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition (3DS, 2011)
No 3DS launch game was more impressive than Capcom’s shockingly good beat-em-up. Featuring all of the characters from the console version, this pint-sized edition amazed players with cool 3D graphics, a new over the shoulder perspective, StreetPass battles and of course, online play.
2. Rayman Origins (PlayStation Vita, 2012)
We have no trouble with ports if they turn out like Rayman Origins. This beautiful platformer sends gamers on a wonderful journey through the imaginative Glade of Dreams, as Rayman battles monsters, rides a mosquito and investigates the kitchen to a Mexican restaurant while searching for hidden collectibles.
1. Tetris (Game Boy, 1989)
What is there that hasn’t already been said? Tetris has always been the coolest launch game in portable history, largely because Nintendo and Bullet-Proof Software did such an outstanding job translating Alexey Pajitnov’s award-winning puzzle game to the Game Boy. It was so good that it inspired non-gamers to purchase the system. Little did these people know they would become Tetris junkies, making off with their kids’ Game Boys when they fell asleep or simply buying their own. It’s so good, we bought it without hesitation when Nintendo re-released this 23-year-old sensation on the 3DS eShop in 2011, where it remains a personal favorite to this day.