I know that there are a lot of hardcore PSP fans out there, and for the life of me, I really wanted to give the PSP some love on this list, but when I got to thinking about all the games I played on mine, they were all big titles from Sony's flagship franchises like God of War and Metal Gear Solid. I even did a Google search and read several forum threads trying to find a hidden gem on the PSP that I had played, or for that matter, heard of. I'm really sorry, guys. And I should go ahead and let you know that if you're expecting things like Jeanne d'Arc or Valkyrie Profile Lenneth to be on this list, then you should probably go ahead and hit the back button on your web browser.
Don't take that to mean that I didn't love my PSP, because I really did. But the niche titles you find on the PSP (and on the Vita today), just aren't my thing. The Nintendo DS, however, was totally my thing, and I found so many hidden gems that this was a hard one to whittle down, but I managed to do it, and here are my choices:
Elite Beat Agents is probably one of my top 10 Nintendo DS games, period. So why wouldn't I put it high up on this list? Because everyone lists EBA as a hidden gem on the DS, to the point that it's really not that hidden anymore. EBA is one of the most addicting games that the system has to offer, and several times I would accidentally-on-purpose keep myself awake in bed, saying that I was only going to play a song or two, knowing good and well that I was going to wind up playing for over an hour.
The game is quirky, and has a decent song selection if you like pop music. All I know is that it has both a Queen song and "September" from Earth, Wind, and Fire (which is one of my favorite songs ever, not even kidding), and those two songs alone made up for every time I had to play the levels with Hoobastank, Good Charlotte, and Avril Lavigne songs. It was one of the early games on the DS that justified the need for the second screen, and to this day is one of the best rhythm games you can find.
I really wanted Retro City Rampage to do to me the same thing that Retro Game Challenge did, and that is to make me feel like a kid again. Now, I'm not here to debate the value of Retro City Rampage, but I'll just say that I personally wasn't a fan. Few games are able to capture the same nostalgic lightning-in-a-bottle that Retro Game Challenge did so brilliantly. Everything from sitting in front of a television with your friends, to yelling at your mom to leave you alone, to thumbing through game magazines to find secrets are all beautifully replicated here.
The worst part about Retro Game Challenge is that it was given a sequel that was only released in Japan due to the original's poor North American sales. Retro Game Challenge is much more than meets the eye. Like the recent NES Remix releases, you're given specific challenges in 8 different games inspired by early NES/Famicom games. But the big difference here is that instead of just getting challenges, all 8 of those games are full games that can be unlocked in free play and played to your heart's content. You have a Galaga-like shooter, a vertical-scrolling space shooter, a series of three platformers (the first two being sort of like the original Mario Bros., and the third looking and playing very similarly to Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi), two racing games that are a cross between R.C. Pro Am and Super Off-Road, and a full-blown RPG akin to 8-bit Final Fantasy and Dragon's Quest games.
You can still find RGC used for around $20, but that little cartridge packs a big punch, and is well worth the cost for my fellow retro-enthusiasts.
I understand why this game came under some heat when it was released. Yes, you basically use Princess Peach's PMS as a way to progress in the world. I completely understand why that upsets some people, and I respect everyones opinion who was. But at the end of the day, I don't play games for their political correctness; I play them to have fun, and Super Princess Peach is a ton of fun. Despite the controversy, it's still a very well made game and, in my opinion, the best platformer that Nintendo released on the DS.
My only real complaint about Super Princess Peach is the same complaint I had with Kirby Mass Attack: mandatory collection. Every level has 3 Toads for you to find, and if you get to the final castle and didn't collect every single one, then you aren't getting into that castle. When games do that, I get to the final level, discover that I can't play it, and say "Well, I guess I just beat the game." I seriously hate collection as a progression mechanic.
Even though this game also appears on other platforms, the definitive way to play it is on the Nintendo DS. If I remember correctly, the game was only $20 at launch, which I'm pretty sure is the only reason I decided to buy it in the first place. But I'm glad I decided to take that chance. The game is a puzzle RPG, and you wind up playing as five different heroes over the course of your adventure. I'm not even going to try and explain the story. For one, most stories in fantasy settings bore me to tears, but also because the game takes place between two other Might and Magic games, which is a series that I've had zero experience with before or since I played this game.
The gameplay is somewhat tricky to explain, so I'll just leave this video here for you to watch at your own discretion.
It may seem complicated at first, but there's something extremely satisfying about making one move and causing a chain of several of your units to link together for extreme damage. The final area does boost the difficulty quite a bit, almost do an unfair degree, so I would suggest leveling up your characters to the max in each section before advancing. You're going to get at least 20 hours of gameplay regardless of how many side quests and bounties you do, so you more than get your moneys worth.
I'm very thankful that my friend Luke was a diehard Nintendo DS fan, and had a goal of collecting and playing every single game released for it. If it weren't for him, I would have completely overlooked Ninjatown. Going based on the cover art, it's hard to imagine it being anything but a kids game, but once you start playing, you realize right off the bat that it's much more than that. It may look cute, but don't take that the wrong way, the game definitely has some pretty difficult sections.
When Luke told me I should play it, I was expecting some sort of action-platformer, but what I got instead was a tower defense game. I've never been a big fan of tower defense, but Ninjatown just did it for me. There are modifiers for your ninja huts, special abilities to help aide you when the going gets tough, and tokens that can be collected and used to summon special ninja classes in dire situations.
The game has a great sense of humor, an adorable yet simple art style, and is just a joy to play. Even in the harder levels, I never got to the point that I wasn't having fun, which is sometimes a hard thing to pull off.
Again, thankful for Luke on this one. I love a good story in a game just as much as anyone, but I would prefer if that awesome story also had some compelling gameplay to go along with it, which is why I've never minded the length of Metal Gear Solid cutscenes. 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (999, for short) is in the visual novel category, and there's little in the way of gameplay outside of some rudimentary puzzle sequences. While the puzzles may not be difficult, they're little more than a small distraction before letting you get to the piece of dialogue that will hopefully let you in on just what is going on.
So what's so good about the story? While I won't give spoilers because it's something you need to experience for yourself and also because there isn't enough time in the day to properly explain it, think of it like a Saw movie, except the twists are actually really good. There are a total of six endings, and you can skip any section of the game you've already experienced. Over the course of your six playthroughs, details slowly unravel themselves and knowledge about your fellow prisoners is revealed. The true ending is pretty mindblowing, and while the game does have a "true" ending, all of the endings actually take place, which is even more of a noodle-scratcher. There is a sequel on the 3DS and Vita called Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, which takes the story in even more outlandish directions. The story is still incomplete, however, and development on the final game has been halted due to the poor sales of the other two games, but I'm still holding on to hope that we will one day find out how this story ends.
Even though I kind of hate the term 'metroidvania,' I must accept that it's not going anywhere. But I also can't deny that it's probably my favorite genre of game. One of the greatest tragedies about the Nintendo DS is that we didn't get a 2D Metroid game, but that doesn't mean we didn't get a ton of great metroidvanias. The three Castlevania games are all excellent and receive my highest recommendation. But where else can you go to get your metroidvania fix on the DS after you've blown through those? The answer is simple, you go to the company that has mastered 2D games in the past decade: WayForward. While the company has had some duds in the past, it doesn't take away from how great their games are when they're firing on all cylinders. That brings us to Aliens Infestation.
I had actually never seen an Alien film prior to playing this game (I've seen both Alien and Aliens since then), but that wound up not mattering at all, the game is simply outstanding and I enjoyed every second of it. And after seeing the movies, I was able to go back and appreciate it even more. The game is fairly short, I wound up beating it in under 5 hours, but it's the kind of game that you could restart as soon as you finish it, which is exactly what I did. At the time, this was easily the best game based on the franchise, and even though Alien Isolation gives it a run for its money, I still prefer Infestation. While it's not a straight up survival horror game, there are definitely some good jump scares, especially considering that you'll be playing on a Nintendo DS and likely have the screen closer than you would a television.
While you do have a limited number of Colonial Marines to choose from, and you can wind up losing them all and having to start the game over, the game was never too difficult that I was worried about that actually happening. You can find new marines to recruit, as well as saving some that had been previously defeated, so you usually have a pretty good stock. Overall, Aliens Infestation was probably the kind of game that you looked at and thought "meh," but I would encourage you to give it a shot if you are a fan of Aliens or the metroidvania genre.