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About Rainier

PC gamer, WorthPlaying EIC, globe-trotting couch potato, patriot, '80s headbanger, movie watcher, music lover, foodie and man in black -- squirrel!

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'WorthPlaying's Top Games of 2008' - Handhelds and Downloadables

by Rainier on Dec. 31, 2008 @ 6:28 a.m. PST

Yesterday we revealed the honorable mentions, and today we're announcing the top handheld and downloadable titles. Check us out later for the top console/PC offerings. Once that's out of the way, we'll start the countdown of the top 20 titles, including what WP considers to be the best game of 2008. Read more for the results!

PSP

5. Star Ocean: First Departure

If you own a PSP and you're a fan of J-RPG, you'll pick up Star Ocean: First Departure, with little doubt. The story is good. Refreshingly, the plot and voice acting are better than the same elements in quite a few much-hyped, non-RPG titles of the powerful HD console generation. If you're a post-office-queue sort of portable gamer but you enjoy the occasional J-RPG, you should recall this caveat: Due to the number of medium-length cut scenes, including that marathon whopper fairly early on, and also numerous interstitial in-game scenes of scant interactivity — during which you cannot save the game, only "suspend" your PSP's state with the power switch — Star Ocean: First Departure is much better suited to a fortnight of vacation or lengthy swathes of unadulterated time on daily commutes via train or bus. If you don't like RPGs in general and haven't enjoyed at least a few traditional J-RPGs from previous console generations, your chances of finding much to like in Star Ocean: First Departure are slim. Otherwise, First Departure is a very nice reworking of a classic Japanese role-playing title for today's convenient handheld gaming.

4. echochrome

echochrome is a very unusual creation, seemingly meant to explore an idea more than to be a perfect game. It takes its premise to an imperfect but logical conclusion, producing something meant to be explored more as art than as a game. There is no shortage of people who will love the game for that premise, and its innovation is real and not easily imitated. Among typical gamers, though, the primary audience is going to consist of those who like something very strange to look at while hopped up on psychotropic drugs, or want to try and understand the minds of those who are hopped up. This is not to say that echochrome is bad, uninteresting or anything of the sort — only that it is very, very different from what usually suits most puzzle gamers' sensibilities. Give the free demo a go, and grab it if you liked the PS3 version because the puzzles for each system are completely different in many subtle but intriguing aspects. Even if echochrome doesn't turn out a commercial success, it shows that there is a lot more creativity in Sony than some may think.

3. Patapon

Patapon, much likes its spiritual brothers Katamari Damacy and Loco Roco, isn't going to appeal to everyone. It's strange, quirky, and unlike any other game on the market. It's also incredibly fun. The unusual mix of rhythm and strategy gameplay blends together surprisingly well, and it isn't strange to look up from a session of Patapon only to realize that you've lost a few hours when you only intended to play for five minutes. It isn't a flawless game, and the slight focus on grinding up your Patapons and sometimes difficult-to-understand objectives may turn off some gamers, but if you actually find yourself enjoying Patapon, those will be incredibly minor issues. At the surprising budget price of only $20, Patapon is the sort of game that all PSP owners owe it to themselves to at least try.

2. God of War: Chains of Olympus

Players of the original God of War titles will find the PSP version to be scaled-down and lacking in new features. However, if you enjoy the God of War series, you'll gain some satisfaction in owning a portable version of the game. There is very little I didn't like about Chains of Olympus; I would've liked to have more camera control, and although I didn't care for the controlled Quick Time Event attacks, I'll readily admit that they offered a more cinematic experience when you're fighting the bosses. Parents should keep in mind that the game is rated "Mature" for gore, violence, nudity and sexual content. God of War: Chains of Olympus is an extremely entertaining action title that's certainly worth adding to your PSP library.

1. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

It's hard to find any reason not to recommend Crisis Core to RPG fans in general and FF VII fans in particular. The lack of an overworld map and button-mashing combat may be off-putting for some, but these are really only minor blemishes in an otherwise flawless package. Just like saying you wouldn't date Cindy Crawford because of her mole, refusing to play Crisis Core based on these small issues amounts to simply being overly nitpicky. More than just recommending the game, Crisis Core is a genuinely great reason to buy a PSP. If you've been on the fence about grabbing Sony's handheld, then go ahead and pick it up and make this your first software purchase. You'll be truly glad that you did.

NDS

5. TIE — Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

All told, Chrono Trigger DS is easily one of the best video games I've played in the recent past, and I've played quite a few of them. Whether or not you're a fan of consoled-based role-playing games, you owe it to yourself to try this one; it might just change your opinion of them. RPG fans should consider this one required reading, and even Chrono Trigger fans will find that the DS offering is sufficiently different and improved from the previous offerings so that it's well worth the price of admission. Make time for this one!

The gameplay is solid as ever, the visuals and music are well worth a look, and Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is a very solid game for anyone in need of a Final Fantasy or turn-based strategy fix on the go. It even allows for mid-battle saves, so you have no excuse not to whoop some tail on the ride to work. The sometimes-uneven difficulty and unclear objectives, as well as the underwhelming stylus functionality mar it slightly, but as ambitious as it is, it's hard to knock them for it. Taking a lovable loser and building a clan around him, and then staking claim to various territories and developing your mini-army through a deep system of customization and abilities is not for the meek, but for those with the chops and interest, it's a very worthwhile experience. It's not the second coming of the gritty and emotional original FFT, but RPG and TBS fans still have much reason to rejoice with A2.

4. Dragon Quest IV: The Chapters of the Chosen

All in all, Dragon Quest IV is an excellent addition (or duplicate) to any RPG fan's collection. I recommend checking it out if you missed it the first couple of times as it'll keep you busy until the brand new Dragon Quest IX releases later next year.

3. Final Fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV was one of the best games on the SNES, and not much has changed on the DS. The updated graphics and visual flair may make it more appealing to new gamers, but it retains enough of the old game to warm SNES gamers' nostalgic hearts. The new Augment-focused combat system takes a bit of getting used to, and I'm a bit saddened that it takes away from the uniqueness of each character. It made up for that by Augments being limited, which means you're given a lot more customization options with your characters while ensuring that each one retains hiso r her own niche. Final Fantasy IV is a great title, and certainly one worth owning, even if you've already played through the game before on the SNES, Playstation or GBA. If you're willing to deal with a Final Fantasy that actually challenges you to use all of your resources, you'll find Final Fantasy IV to be quite a fun game indeed.

2. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Order of Ecclesia is a top-notch Castlevania game. It has a few problems with linearity and length, but the flaws are few and far between. The gameplay is incredibly fun, the animations are lovely, and the overall enemy design is some of the best we've seen from recent Castlevania titles. If you're a Castlevania fan, or even just a fan of good action-RPGs, you owe it to yourself to pick up Order of Ecclesia.

1. The World Ends With You

The World Ends with You is a game that every RPG fan who owns a DS needs to have. Jupiter and Square-Enix have done almost everything right in this game to create a solid, fun experience. While the game seems overly complex at times and requires a lot of personal investment from the player, if you stick with it, you'll find one of the best experiences on the DS system. From the terrific soundtrack and visual style to the great story and unique combat system, there's more than enough to make any DS owner proud to add TWEwY to his or her collection.

WiiWare/PSN/XBLA

5. Braid (XBLA)

So there you have it. I don't want to ruin the story for anyone who hasn't played Braid yet, but it's really worth playing. It's not perfect, but for every bad lock puzzle and oddly written narrative, the "a-ha" moment of solving a tricky puzzle makes up for it. The music is great, the art and design are unique, and the whole scope of the game is something to which independent developers and XBLA programmers can aspire. Hopefully, we'll see a Braid II out of this, or perhaps it'll spark other designers to follow suit with some original and imaginative content.

4. Rez HD (XBLA)

It's hard to really come up with any reasons to not recommend Rez HD to anyone with $10 and a penchant for fun, unique games. The premise and presentation may be a bit too "out there" for some, but those who aren't afraid to try something new will likely be pleasantly surprised. Furthermore, given the fact that there's a lot of junk polluting the gaming atmosphere, it's always good to support one of the truly innovative titles that actually manage to see the light of day. If you're on the fence about this one, then do yourself a favor and go ahead and take the plunge. You'll likely be glad you did.

3. Bionic Commando Rearmed (PSN/XBLA/PC)

Bionic Commando Rearmed is easily a strong enough title to go for $30 on the PSP, and it's definitely a worthy PlayStation Network/Live Arcade title at $10. The graphics overhaul, improved boss battles, hacking mini-game, new weapons and bionic arm abilities, multiplayer support and additional content will provide immense replay value. Existing and future fans of the series should grab it and hope that the next-gen offering can compete when it's released later this year. It's going to be tough to top this.

2. Castle Crashers (XBLA)

If you've never liked side-scrolling brawlers in the vein of Golden Axe and Double Dragon, then feel free to move on because the neat little additions and charming art style of Castle Crashers will do nothing to win you over. If your eyes fill with tears of nostalgia at their very mention, though, then don't be put off by the price of 1,200 MS points because it's worth every penny if you have the friends with whom to enjoy it. The demo will tell you everything you need to know, so if you like that, you'll love the finished product. Castle Crashers has been a long time in the making, but truly worth it: It's one of the strongest downloads on XBLA and a genuine labor of love.

1. Mega Man 9 (WiiWare/PSN/XBLA)

As far as level design and overall game quality go, Mega Man 9 is one of the better downloadable titles. The difficulty curve is fairly solid, although gamers who aren't used to the unforgiving quirks of NES-era gameplay may end up wanting to throw their controllers a few times. It is fun and challenging enough that you'll end up replaying it over and over, especially with the addition of challenges and Downloadable Content. Mega Man 9 isn't just a cheap attempt to cash in on nostalgia … it is a new Mega Man game, and one can only hope that Capcom's inevitable future attempts at 8-bit revivals are even half as successful. If you've got any of the three next-generation systems and a fondness in your heart for Mega Man, there is absolutely no reason not to spend the $10 for this game. Your inner child will thank you.

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