Friday, April 15, 2016

Gunpei Yokoi Memorial Award for Handheld Gaming Excellence - 2015

The award for Handheld Gaming Excellence is an important award for many reasons. Those who participated in this award group felt that handheld gaming was not able to receive the focus it deserved in many mainstream awards. The larger awards typically had so much on their plate with console releases, we wanted to fill that void and create something to honor dedicated handhelds. From that the Gunpei Yokoi Memorial Handheld Gaming Awards were formed in honor of one of the most influential figures in handheld gaming history.

With that in mind, here are the top five examples of excellence in handheld gaming for 2015. A huge thanks to our 2015 Awards Committee.

Handheld Gaming

Winner: The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC
Dev: Nihon Falcom | Pub: XSEED Games

I'll spare you the history lesson that typically prefaces any piece of writing on The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky Second Chapter. Suffice it to say that this long-awaited sequel exceeded my expectations in delivering a satisfying finale to a tale four years in the making. Trails SC feels like a long-lost relic of the golden age of RPGs; like its cousins Grandia and Lunar: Silver Star Story, its charisma carries it far beyond a tepid premise. It speaks to a yearning for adventure, weaving an intricate web of characters together in a story that's heartfelt, dramatic, and humorous without pandering to the lowest common denominator. There's a little bit of magic in Trails SC that we don't often see in today's RPGs, and despite its age, it stands out as one of the best gaming experiences of 2015. - Derek Heemsbergen

While I really loved where the story went toward the end of the original Trails in the Sky, I felt like it just took way too long to get there. I was thrilled to find that The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC took everything I loved about the first game and brought it back while improving on all aspects that I found lacking. The storytelling was in your face right from the start. All of the game's characters have a place within the story, even tons of the NPCs who you could skip over if you're a monster. I felt like the gameplay was faster and tighter than the prior game as well, which helped immensely with the pacing. And the soundtrack is truly outstanding as well, adding even more personality to a game already loaded with it. Despite being a Japanese 2006 release, Trails in the Sky SC is one of the best English releases of 2015 and one of my new favorite RPGs of all-time. - Michael A Cunningham

Localizing a PSP title in 2015 surely deserves an award all on its own, but the fact that it was the followup to one of the best RPG's of 2011 does it one better. Trails in the Sky SC continues the exploits of Estelle and Joshua, finally bringing their story to a close while maintaining the quality writing and gameplay that made the original such a hit with fans. - Sean Madson

Chalk me up as one of the skeptics who thought we would never see this in English. I'm awfully glad we finally got it, though. If you love JRPGs, the Trails series is one of the safest bets out there, and at least for me, the Sky sub-series is a sentimental favorite. - Shaun Musgrave

While I hesitate to say the wait was worth it just in case it encourages that long a wait again, the joy of finally being able to get through the Second Chapter of Trails in the Sky in English is almost palpable. Able to pick up right where things left off, Trails SC is able to get going right from the outset in a twisting tale packed full of incredibly well developed characters. - Alex Fuller

2nd: Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate
Dev: Capcom | Pub: Capcom

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is arguably the best Monster Hunter game to date! The added jumping mechanic and varied terrain makes the fights even more dynamic, and Capcom's steps toward more comprehensive tutorials is especially welcome for newcomers. - Anne Lee

Every year there are a few games that baffle me because they run and play so great on the 3DS. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is one such game. It sucked me in and got me tons of co-op with friends across the world. - Mikhail Madnani

Monster Hunter is a series where any game can give you a ton of satisfaction, but finally getting a handheld version that supports online play without any extra hardware puts Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate over the top. Realistically, I could have been totally content playing MH4U and only MH4U all year. Especially as the post-release support was so wonderful. - Shaun Musgrave

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was the most fun I had all year playing games with others, and the game had a great single player mode to go along with it. Capcom did a tremendous job supporting the title with free content, and it had some of the most intense combat I've ever been a part of. - Donald Theriault

As if the slew of copycat games based on the franchise wasn't already an indication, Monster Hunter has always been the go to series for gathering a handful of friends together and slaying larger-than-life creatures. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate takes it a step further by being the most polished and accessible entry yet, opening itself up to new players without compromising the integrity of what makes it special in the first place. - Sean Madson

3rd: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
Dev: Nihon Falcom | Pub: XSEED Games

Discovering Falcom thanks to the Ys PSP games on Vita has been absolutely amazing. Their games are memorable, and the music is fantastic. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is one of my favourite games of all time, and I'd rank it lower than only Persona 4 Golden on the Vita. XSEED nailed it with the localization and voice acting as well. Bring on Cold Steel II. - Mikhail Madnani

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel shifts the focus from a party of bracers to a group of teens at a military academy. While that concept gets dangerously close to sounding derivative, the end result is anything but. You could give me six games in this franchise in the same year and I would gladly play them all if they were as good as this. - Sean Madson

Whoever would have thought that there would be a year where we get not one Trails game, but two? Trails of Cold Steel is a couple of years after the events Trails in the Sky, but with its own storyline that doesn't require knowledge of the others to enjoy (though you should play them anyway). Although its gameplay evolutions give it a step up on some front to its predecessors, Cold Steel never forgets what made those games so special. The character and world-building is again exemplary through another fascinating, winding tale, and now we all wait with bated breath for the next part to arrive in 2016. - Alex Fuller

4th: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker
Dev: Atlus | Pub: Atlus

Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is one of the best games on the 3DS and a vast improvement on Devil Survivor: Overclocked. The new content added is great, but the base game itself will stand the test of time as an SRPG great. Bonus points for some new music by Meguro. - Mikhail Madnani

The Devil Survivor games are secretly some of the best strategy RPGs on Nintendo's handhelds. Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker builds on the already-excellent foundation of the Nintendo DS original, making for the best installment yet. - Shaun Musgrave

As an overall package, Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is one of the best games on the Nintendo 3DS system in 2015. A hybrid of strategic structure and turn-based battles, Record Breaker offers a delightful and unique flair on the genre. More than a full game with robust gameplay, high replay value, and good presentation, it's an exceptionally satisfying title that strategy RPG fans should not miss out on. - Adam Vitale

I missed Devil Survivor 2 in its DS incarnation because I was all in on the 3DS, but Record Breaker gave me a 70 hour ride through a great strategy RPG and added great twists to the characters in a second quest on top of it. The soundtrack still runs through my head nearly a year later. - Donald Theriault

Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is far more than an improved version of the 2012 DS game. More than anything else, I feel like it's taking steps to make these types of games more accessible than ever before. With added difficulty options and free DLC that help to alleviate both the grind and the challenge for potential newcomers, this is definitely a game that's easy to recommend to everyone. And with an entirely new story that fleshes out already-developed characters even more, plus with one of the coolest last boss fights I've ever seen in a strategy RPG—it's easy to recommend to folks who played the original, too! - Jonathan Higgins

5th: Persona 4: Dancing All Night
Dev: Atlus | Pub: Atlus

After an enhanced port that was regarded by many as one of the main reasons to own a Vita, the Inaba Investigation Team is back for another portable outing. Persona 4: Dancing All Night highlights one of the best aspects of the game it was spun from, while still standing on its own as an engaging and addictive entry to the rhythm genre. You'll bear-ly have a reason to put it down. - Sean Madson

A tremendous send-off for the Persona 4 cast, Dancing All Night gave me a new appreciation for the music of a game I largely treated as a podcast game before. The story mode even taught me some things about the Japanese idol industry I never thought I would want to know. - Donald Theriault

Even for someone relatively unfamiliar with the Persona franchise, Persona 4: Dancing All Night still presents a toe-tapping rhythm game with colorful visuals and a catchy soundtrack. Fans of the series will surely love the story mode for the added time they get to spend with their favorite Persona 4 characters, too! - Anne Lee

The fantastic music and visuals of Persona 4: Dancing All Night go a long way toward making a mechanically unremarkable rhythm game worthwhile. As always with Persona games, there's a lot — a lot — of story in there too. - JC Fletcher

I'm not qualified to say whether Persona 4: Dancing All Night is among the pinnacle of rhythm games, but I can note it as an excellent gateway for many to try out the genre. Shoji Meguro's score already lends itself well to rhythm games, but the remixes from various artists help to give the game its own identity within the Persona 4 sub-series. Just like Persona 4 Arena, Dancing All Night offers the more than welcome chance to use the cast in a different aspect, and the characters are utilised well within the story, keeping them consistent with prior appearances. - Alex Fuller

While this may not be the best rhythm game, it is close to my favourite for a variety of reasons. Persona music has always pushed the bar, and most of the remixes available here are amazing. It isn't often I end up with three physical copies of the same soundtrack, but Persona 4: Dancing All Night with its plentiful content and great visuals has earned a permanent spot on my Vita memory card. - Mikhail Madnani

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gunpei Yokoi Memorial Award for Handheld Gaming Excellence - 2013

The award for Handheld Gaming Excellence is an important award for many reasons. Those who participated in this award group felt that handheld gaming was not able to receive the focus it deserved in many mainstream awards. The larger awards typically had so much on their plate with console releases, we wanted to fill that void and create something to honor dedicated handhelds. From that the Gunpei Yokoi Memorial Handheld Gaming Awards were formed in honor of one of the most influential figures in handheld gaming history. With that in mind, here are the top five examples of excellence in handheld gaming for 2013.

Handheld Gaming

Winner: Fire Emblem: Awakening
Dev: Intelligent Systems | Pub: Nintendo

Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of those rare games that has elements to appeal to a broad range of players. It's got dating sim/relationship mechanics to appeal to people like me who love nothing more than shipping characters, enjoyably satisfying character progression for the RPG buff, a decent story and, for people like my friend Mark who enjoy somewhat masochistic gameplay experiences, some of the most monstrously challenging difficulty options I think I've ever seen. You can truly make Fire Emblem what you want it to be, and that's why everyone should play it. - by Pete Davison

Nintendo brought the Fire Emblem franchise back in a big way. Addictive strategic elements mixed with numerous enjoyable characters and an excellent script, Fire Emblem: Awakening had a ton to offer to both old and new fans alike. Not only are the chapters well suited to a great experience on a handheld, but Fire Emblem: Awakening is easily one of the best overall games of 2013. - by Adam Vitale

Fire Emblem: Awakening is a masterpiece, from its colorful cast of characters to its impeccably paced strategic battles. What's amazing is how well it tied those elements together, allowing players to build rich character relationships that added both to the story and to gameplay by opening up new tangible strategic options. And with a quicksave that gave players the flexibility to grab a few quick turns on the bus or settle into a series of battles at home, Fire Emblem: Awakening made for the perfect handheld companion in 2013. - by Scott Nichols

The Fire Emblem series has always been great on handhelds, but Fire Emblem: Awakening really stood out above the rest. Gameplay was solid here, but the one aspect of this title that really went above and beyond is the writing. The localization team at 8-4 did a superb job making sure that each and every character was unique and interesting. The interactions between the cast were fantastic and something to look forward to between each battle. These characters were a highlight, and the localization made them shine. - by Michael A. Cunningham

Your movement might be locked to a grid, but Fire Emblem: Awakening has a flexibility to it that most SRPGs don't. You design the main character, you build your army's stats by playing matchmaker, and, most importantly, you get to choose the way you play. If you want to play with perma-death and kick-in-the-teeth difficulty, you can, but the ability to disable those finally provides the less-hardcore access to Nintendo's speedy and polished SRPG gameplay. - by Kris Knigge

2nd: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Dev: Nintendo EAD Group No. 3 | Pub: Nintendo

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds signals a sort of renaissance for the Zelda franchise. It manages to take familiar material and make something fresh, while not relying on gimmicky controls as a crutch in order to craft an original experience. Rather, it uses both the 3D capabilities and the touchscreen interface of the 3DS to enhance the core game, with the end result being one of the best and most open ended portable entries in the series. - by Sean Madson

Nintendo showed that it's still possible to do a Zelda game that throws you into the action and doesn't let up until the end with A Link Between Worlds. The controversial item rentals removed the shackles of world exploration, and it made things much more bearable as a result. Handheld gaming may have its greatest 3D game ever. - by Donald Theriault

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds could have been a game that simply capitalized on nostalgia to provide a perfunctory gaming experience. Luckily for gamers everywhere, it is far more: ALBW is one of the best Zelda games ever released, as well as an example of master-class game design. Every single one of its elements (pacing, control, freedom, music, 3D graphics) melds together in perfect harmony, making it not only one of the best handheld games released in 2013, but one of the year's best games period. - by Derek Heemsbergen

3rd: Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Dev: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 | Pub: Nintendo

Nothing really happens in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, at least by video game measures, but it's an endlessly expansive, endlessly fascinating nothing that I shared with friends online for way too long. Even now, hundreds of hours of civic improvement and idle fishing later, there's a list of things I'd like to add to my town, to make it the ideal place to relax. - by JC Fletcher

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of the most addictive games I've played on any handheld or console. Play it a few times a day, and you'll soon realize you've racked up over 300 hours in playtime. It's just that good. - by Giancarlo Saldana

4th: Tearaway
Dev: Media Molecule | Pub: Sony

Handheld gaming began as a black (or kind of green) and white, cut and dry experience that was limited by the power of its native hardware and the creator's vision. Tearaway is a shining example of just how far this experience has come. You're truly holding an entire world in your hands—all of its citizens rely upon and acknowledge you directly, and you can control the world itself as freely and as easily as you control the game's hero. Tearaway is a handheld game that goes beyond its creators, that epitomizes the vision of the player. - by Jonathan Higgins

5th: Guacamelee
Dev: Drinkbox Studios | Pub: Drinkbox Studios

Have you ever wondered what a Metroid-style game would be like if instead of being in space you were in Mexico? On top of that, what if instead of being Samus, you were a farmer who gets killed and becomes an undead luchador? And finally, can you imagine trading in your arm cannon for a pair of well-muscled arms? No? Me either, but thankfully the developers at Drinkbox Studios did and from that vision came Guacamelee, a fantastic action adventure game that towers over many others in the genre. Guacamelee takes this quirky setting and matches it with responsive controls, creative power ups, and challenging boss fights. This is a quality gaming experience that fits the PlayStation Vita perfectly. - by Michael A. Cunningham

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Most Creative Handheld Experience - 2013

The Most Creative Handheld Experience is an award for the game found to be remarkably innovative and fresh. For the inaugural award, we only accepted nominations for games that were new properties. While there were quite a few nominations, and the second place vote was very close, the winner of this award was very clear.

Most Creative
Handheld Experience

Winner: Tearaway
Dev: Media Molecule | Pub: Sony

Absolutely greater than the sum of its parts, Tearaway executes brilliantly on its "papercraft world" concept. Media Molecule poured immense effort into making a setting that brims with character and charm. Using the Vita's gyroscope, cameras, and touch input, MM quite literally immerses the player into the game to a degree that has never been achieved until now. Tearaway is a truly unique adventure that stands out as the most creative experience in 2013. - by Derek Heemsbergen

Runner-Up: Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale
Dev: Millennium Kitchen | Pub: Level-5

Attack of the Friday Monsters is a bold eShop release for a Western market. Not only is it unabashedly Japanese, but its focus on childhood and nostalgia makes it a refreshing experience that doesn't need lots of action or compelling gameplay to captivate. For me, the game's unique charm lay in its audio and visual ability to transport me back to my own childhood summers during its brief, four hour playtime. - by Anne Lee

Most Anticipated Handheld Games for 2014

While this is more hype than an actual award, the group wanted to start off this feature with a look toward the future. These games are the official "Team Handheld" Most Anticipated Handheld Games for 2014.

Most Anticipated
Handheld Game

Winner: Bravely Default
Dev: Silicon Studio | Pub: Nintendo/Square Enix | Release: 2/7/2014 (NA)

A Final Fantasy game in everything but name, Bravely Default is Silicon Studio's throwback to classic RPGs of an older era, but with modern touches. This title's attempt to recapture feelings of older days appears to be successful, at least from early impressions. Taking a note from Final Fantasy V, the job system returns in force to this story-focused RPG. The best part about the English release is that Square Enix made a number of updates from the original Japanese version, making this the best possible Bravely Default available.

When polled about our most wanted handheld games for the upcoming year, this panel offered up games from all across the board. Despite the diverse listing, Square Enix's latest IP stood out above the rest. The blending of the traditional Final Fantasy job system, loads of fixes from the initial release, and great social features help Bravely Default stand out as our most anticipated handheld game of 2014.

Runner-Up: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Dev: Spike Chunsoft | Pub: NIS America | Release: 2/11/2014 (NA)/2/14/2014 (EU)

The race for runner-up was much closer than it was for first place. While Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster was close, it was nudged out slightly by a handheld exclusive: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc from NIS America. This dark game blends the setting of Spike Chunsoft's 999 and Virtue's Last Reward with Ace Attorney's investigation and trial system. The combination is a wonderful experience that will leave players wondering who to trust and if they will ever be safe. Clearly handheld gamers are suckers for dark murder mysteries, and Danganronpa offers that and more.