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

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