Last year was the greatest 365 days in handheld gaming history. Yes, I said it, and I will stand by it. Now, I don’t mean to say that 2013 was the greatest milestone ever achieved in handheld gaming history, because there are obviously more substantial benchmarks in handheld gaming’s ever-expanding timeline. I also don’t mean to say that 2013 filled me with the greatest amount of pocket-able excitement, wonder, or pixelated joy either, because my childhood years and Pokemon Red still hold a fierce monopoly on that award. I mean to say that 2013 provided the world with the greatest number of quality, original, and worthwhile games on a single platform, and that platform was the Nintendo 3DS. If you’re a naysayer, let’s take a look at what Nintendo (and some third party developers) gave to the world this past year.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Nintendo started their remarkable year with the 3DS on February 4 with the launch of the next iteration in a series that typically did not fare very well in the western market.
What a letdown, right?
Fire Emblem: Awakening received critical acclaim as soon as game reviewers got it into their hands, and it only snowballed from there. The handheld turn-based strategy game took the 3DS market by storm, and breathed new life into the genre. With both accessible and unforgiving difficulty options, a 50 hour main story that encourages multiple playthroughs and character branching, beautiful graphics with stunning battles, and worthwhile DLC, Awakening cemented itself as the best entry in the series to date. Interest in the game grew so fast that Nintendo initially struggled with keeping the game on store shelves for its first few months of release.
While gamers were still engaging in epic feudal skirmishes, the western market finally saw the release of a game that Capcom kept very quiet about when asked if it would ever come stateside. On March 19 it made its debut.
Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate
Hey, isn’t that the series that lacked local multiplayer on the Wii? I mean, a couple of my friends liked it, but that game’s been out in Japan for years already. Surely it did not have even close to enough buzz to catch on in America.
Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate, the elongated, graphically revisited, and content packed reiteration of the series’ third main entry, released simultaneously on the 3DS and Wii U, and immediately gained a ton of well-deserved attention. Aside from the mountains of armor and weaponry to be unlocked, local multiplayer, blood-boiling fun boss battles, and everything else that made many gamers fall in love with the series in the first place, MH3U is also the first game to offer true cross-play between a Nintendo home console and handheld system. Players can seamlessly transfer their data between both copies of the game and continue bashing creatures with hammers and axes even while on the go. It’s not something that Sony hasn’t already introduced on the Vita, but it gave 3DS gamers a glimpse of the future now that we are nearing the age of near flawless ports on handhelds.
So, it’s been less than two months and we’ve already got two massive RPGs offering hundreds of hours of content. Nintendo changed the pace a bit when they released a game on March 28; a title that 3DS enthusiasts had been waiting for since it was announced alongside the 3DS itself at E3 2010.
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
A sequel to that launch game on the Gamecube? Okay, I get that there’s some nostalgic fans out there, but the game was short and not extremely memorable. Did we really need a sequel?
It wouldn’t be doing the game justice to just call Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon a sequel, because in reality it heavily reshaped the series into a more fleshed out, guided, and overall more enjoyable experience. The original’s short length was put to rest by Dark Moon’s nearly 15 hour story mode. The limited environments were countered by five unique mansions to explore rather than just one. The somewhat unfocused nature of the original was replaced by a mission structure, which also scatters collectibles throughout levels and ranks players on a scale of 1-3 stars based on how well they perform. What about the lovable humor and unique environment interactions that made the first stick out, you ask? Those remain intact, and have only been improved upon. If Fire Emblem wasn’t enough, Dark Moon further proved Nintendo’s ability to revisit a good franchise and make it great; all on a handheld system, nonetheless.
it heavily reshaped the series into a more fleshed out, guided, and overall more enjoyable experience.”
With two major first party games already hitting market in the first three months of the year, Nintendo took a step back at this point and allowed for third party developers to share the spotlight of this promising year.
Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan + Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers
Woah, woah, woah! Hold it! Two JRPGs from the same developer within months of each other? Were either of them possibly any good?
Yes they were!
Both games, developed by Atlus and released in February and April respectively, were overall high quality and worthwhile experiences. They did not “change the game” in 2013 as much as Nintendo’s first party exclusives may have, but they did prove that third party developers had enough interest in the handheld system to provide great games in the genres that Nintendo might miss.
With the western market waiting eagerly for the release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Nintendo opted to serve up a ported version of a popular Wii game to satiate 3DS palettes during the month of May.
Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D
You’re not telling me that you actually believe a cheap port of a recent game is worth making this list, are you?
Indeed I am!
Released on May 24, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D proved the hypothesis that Monster Hunter 3: Ultimate proposed; nearly flawless versions of console games could be ported to the 3DS and play as smoothly as their predecessors. This time we saw it in the form of one of the best 2D platformers in the last five years. Now, unlike Monster Hunter which allowed for cross-play, thus giving gamers a reason to own both the home and handheld version of the game, DKR3D did not boast any particularly exciting new features. This was reflected, however, in its $29.99 price tag; only 3/4 of the price of most new 3DS titles. That’s not a bad price for a brilliant game that can easily stand on its own two legs.
With 2013 heading into June, the time was finally upon millions of western 3DS owners who had been eagerly waiting for a certain game since its announcement in 2010. The game released on June 9, and has since sold over one million units in America.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I’ve got nothing to say. That game was great.
You’re damn right it was!
I’ve got a personal nostalgic soft spot for the series, and briefly feared I was buying into the hype of a game that had the potential to ultimately be more of the same. Instead, I was presented with almost unarguably the best game in the series and one of the greatest handheld experiences I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. New Leaf sits atop its predecessors because of its graphical improvements, loads of new content, more stream-lined and flowing gameplay, and online interactivity in the form of downloadable QR codes. The series is as charming as ever, and for the first time offers players a truly new experience in the form of playing the role of mayor in their town. Animal Crossing is not the simplest entity to explain to a casual gamer, but I always tell those interested in New Leaf the same thing; it still finds new ways to make me smile over half a year later.
I always tell those interested in New Leaf the same thing; it still finds new ways to make me smile over half a year later. “
As 3DS owners just began to settle down from the onslaught of brilliant software gracing their handheld screens over the summer, Nintendo and Gamefreak once more delivered a colossal smash hit that sent many 3DS systems flying off of shelves in October. This one needs no introduction.
Pokemon X + Y
Let me guess- another stale and uninspired entry to the overhyped franchise, right?
Pokemon X and Y, announced on January 8 of last year and released globally on October 12, managed to rejuvenate the series while maintaining its core mechanics and foundations. For the first time, gamers gazed in wonder at full 3D pokemon models and environments produced. Beautiful cinematics and cutscenes changed what the world thought it knew about catching them all. Online multiplayer and trading was streamlined, making it as accessible as possible. Perhaps most impressive is X and Y’s reproach to the competitive scene, which for the first time makes raising a feasible competitive team achievable within a matter of days; a task which traditionally took weeks or even months. There are so many little details that by themselves don’t hold all that much weight, but collectively prove Gamefreak did its absolute best to ensure that gamers were receiving something truly new and special, while still doing what they’ve done best for the past 15 years.
And that was 2013 on the Nintendo 3DS. I told you it was mind boggling. There was not a title we didn’t see that could have made it a more impressive and historic year.
Oh, that’s right. There was one teensy, tiny little game that Nintendo squeezed out in time for the holiday season. What was the name of it again?
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
But you just said there was nothing that could have made 2013 a better year for the 3DS…
I was wrong!
Released on November 22, LoZ:ALBW managed to amaze just about everyone who got their hands on it, including myself; a 20-year-old who feared he had seen the limits of 2D Zelda experiences. Instead, I can honestly say what I was presented with was the greatest gameplay experience and production value in a Zelda game I have ever seen. The game oozes fan service, but not in an obnoxious or gimmicky sense. Little details scattered throughout the lively world pay heavy homage to the first game on Nintendo Entertainment System that started it all, such as giving names to the enemies Link has been fighting since the late 80’s. The game’s reproach to dungeon structure and item acquisition allows for a greater sense of exploration and freedom, while still never making the player feel lost or intimidated. Coupled with a clever plane-shifting mechanic and mostly intuitive puzzle designs, ALBW feels like the first 2D Zelda game in years that comes from a genuine act of love, rather than the financial quota for another portable entry in the series.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the single most impressive year a portable gaming platform has ever seen. I dare you to try and prove me wrong, because you will never find a more extravagant 12 months. Period. End of story. End of article.