Let's just address the elephant in the room here and get it out of the way.
Handheld gaming isn't treated with the respect it deserves. Not by the big gaming media outlets, and it's even disrespected by many gamers as some sideshow or kid's stuff. A lot of reviews feel like they're dumped on the interns and, meanwhile, so-called gamers annoyingly pan various games as "spin-offs." I understand the latter, its just jealousy, they want a game that isn't on their platform, so its importance must be diminished so they can continue to feel good about their other console purchases.
One of the things I like about Destructoid, though, is when it comes to handheld and even mobile game reviews, handheld games appear to be treated with the same respect as any console release would. When I read a DS or PSP review by one of the staff here, it feels like they take the responsibility of reviewing a handheld game seriously. Its a big reason why I stick around.
Not that I slavishly obey every review I read, mind you, its more that I just appreciate knowing someone played that game rather than got halfway through and decided it was time for a review.
Anyway, what blows my mind is that God of War: Ghost of Sparta seems to have grabbed the 2010 Handheld Game of the Year nod from many publications and I just don't see it. It almost feels like they just felt Kratos deserved something last year since God of War III didn't get the GOTY in general.
That's really a pathetic way of going about picking your GOTY when you think about it. What is this, a pity party for Kratos? There were a lot of great handheld games on DS and PSP, just like we had great games on consoles.
It seems like more proof that the mainstream gaming media is driven by pretty clueless people, because if Ghost of Sparta was your handheld GOTY, you didn't play squat.
I mean, sure, Ghost of Sparta is a good game, just like God of War III was. Technically impressive, plays as good as you'd expect a GoW title to be - but when stacked against so many great games on PSP or DS, this game plays it so safe that Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver looks risky and progressive. And that was a remake for crying out loud! Even then it had more new things to do.
Let's just go down the list, DS and PSP got a slew of great games, many of these I played into the ground this year, others are just highly respected games I'm still hoping to get around to:
Dragon Quest IX
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Golden Sun: Dark Dawn
Etrian Odyssey III(wow, got "odyssey" on the first try there)
Ys: Oath of Felghana
Valkyria Chronicles II
Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker
Persona 3 Portable
Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
Phantasy Star Portable 2
... and they picked God of War: Ghost of Sparta? Seriously? Kratos is all about overcoming insurmountable odds, but being in denial about reality seems a bit much.
Most of the games on that list would leave a notable impression. They'd remain memorable for years, even, while I'd just sweep Ghost of Sparta under the rug and forget it.
I consider Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker to be second only to MGS3 in the series. I never thought I'd find myself wanting to sink so many hours in MGS beyond the story campaign. I think Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is the brightest, most heartfelt game of its series and I'm not even sure I want to mention how much time I've invested in Pokemon or Dragon Quest IX.
Then you have Infinite Space and 999 scoring so many points for what they brought to the table. Fresh and unique games, those two, even if only on a cult level.
But if God or War: Ghost of Sparta was the best you could cull out of last year, you need to give your DS and PSP some serious attention. Even if you're a God of War fan, I think you could have done better.
I guess it just doesn't feel that much like a handheld game. Some would say that's a wonderful thing, but my opinion has always been you should consider the nature of handheld gaming before making a handheld game. Some games translate well to this, others don't. All of them need real replay value.
Ghost of Sparta just plugs away at being a console title, completely failing to conform to the platform its placed on.
Allow me to put it this way:
Tetris will forever be the quintessential example of a handheld game. Unending, unrelenting and there is always a reason to come back to play more or do better. Those simple block formations you use to clear lines are compelling enough to keep you coming back indefinitely. Were my old Game Boy still operable, I'd probably boot it up just for Tetris right now. Its magnetic. Tetris is good quick-fix game.
And its that aspect of Tetris that epitomizes the best of handheld gaming. Its not something you have to dedicate a few hours to at a time (though its not impossible, mind you), you just kinda come and go as you please. A lot of console games just aren't built that way, but all the best handheld games are designed for those short bursts of play.
I boot up my DS, I catch a pokemon. I've accomplished something. I can save and power down and can be content when I need to focus my attention elsewhere. I boot up MGS Peacewalker, do a couple quick stealth missions, gain new recruits, other spoils and then go back to doing something else.
Ghost of Sparta is over too fast. I've seen it all, done it all - why go back? Weren't there some weapons I could have crafted or armor to exchange with friends? Where are all the randomized dungeons and optional boss rush mode? There's just so much more you could do here and they didn't. Its kung fu is weak.
All it really fits into the handheld scheme is a proper allocation of save points. That's really nothing these days, though.
And its not so much about the length or time you could invest as it is the play value and content. There's so much that goes into an Etrian Odyssey game that I could restart after one campaign and have a totally different experience with the next team I built. In Dragon Quest IX, there are the downloadable quests online and maps you get from Tag Mode - and the reward for completing those maps? Another randomly generated map, full of surprises and new treasure. And I'll get a new map from that map. There's always another reason to keep coming back and playing for a bit.
Let's not even go to the "there's room enough for both approaches" argument, either. Its BS. All games can conform to a quick-fix structure, be it by "save anywhere" options or being built for quick sessions. People love to confuse sleep modes for aiding quick fix play, too, they're nice, but just look at GTA: Liberty City Stories. You sleep the game, come back, screw up and still have to start all over from where you saved. There's no substitute for good structured design. It wasn't until Chinatown Wars that Rockstar got it right.
With the right structure, you're getting that constant sense of achievement and progress without the "herpdederp Achievement Unlocked" nonsense.
A console experience that isn't going to lose anything in transition is a fighting game. Super Street Fighter IV will give up nothing to the 3DS because its arcade leanings are quick fix by nature. On the other hand, there's a whole host of changes that had to be made for a game like Persona 3 Portable, some of which changed how you accessed and were able to exit dungeon levels from the previous versions. Other gameplay elements were also tweaked to speed things along, too.
Ghost of Sparta doesn't really make any compromises or improvements for portable play. Its just God of War and that's it.
Ghost of Sparta is more like a quick fuck than a quick fix. You know what I mean. You got what you wanted, she didn't. The whole experience is over too fast. There's no mojo. Kratos can't go the distance. It makes me feel so... cheap. Might as well throw a twenty at me and leave to go drink with your friends.
There are so many games that treated me better than that last year on DS and PSP.
Really, if you picked Ghost of Sparta as your handheld GOTY, your 2010 really must have sucked. You're probably one of those people that "dusts off" your PSP or DS once a year. There's actually a lot of great stuff here if you bother to look. I have to wonder if the press even bothered - and they're supposed to be reviewing games for our benefit, yet it comes off so half-assed and dispassionate when I go to IGN or Game Informer these days. Some of the shit I read makes me wonder of they even played the game at all.
Thankfully, my 2010 was varied with rich handheld content and console content. I had a blast, wouldn't change anything. Now excuse me while I go check back on my Dragon Quest "spin off." I guess there's a "IX" on it for no good reason.
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