#10: Ghostbusters II (GB)
In 1989, Activision licensed the second Ghostbusters film to create a broken, wretched mess of an NES game. Salvation came when HAL was contracted to develop a better title based on the same movie. In Europe and Japan, this game was called "NEW Ghostbusters II." In North America, however, all we knew was that Activision's "Ghostbusters II" NES game was terrible, but its Game Boy game of the same name was shockingly fantastic. 25 years later, this is still one of the best games to be based on the Ghostbusters license. I only feel the need to put it this low on the list because it's a totally distinct title in Europe and Japan.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu was a fairly standard top-down beat-'em-up on the PS2, Xbox and GameCube. It was repetitive, it was shallow, but it was fun in multiplayer. The GBA adaption is single-player only, but you won't miss your friends. As far as Batman-based side-scrollers goes, this is easily one of the best. The stage backgrounds repeat a little too often, but that doesn't overshadow the timing-based combat, skill-based platforming and beautiful character animation.
#8: TMNT (GBA)
On consoles, the adaption of the 2008 TMNT movie was a simplified Prince of Persia-style action-platformer. On the DS, janky jumping controls soured a similar experience. And on the GBA, it was a throwback to the excellent Konami arcade games based on the classic property. It's a bit easy, but the quality that shines through every part of this brief adventure makes it stand apart. If only it had a multiplayer mode...
Released more than three years after the arthouse movie hit that inspired it, Crouching Tiger was always a weird choice for a game adaption. No wonder that it resulted in a pretty weird, clunky game on the PS2 and Xbox. The GBA version is strangely beautiful, however - much like the sad story of the film that it draws from. The floaty mechanics of the player character echo the movements of the combatants in the film, but they never detract from the player's sense of control. Background details such as the slight bending of thin reeds and trees show how much care went into crafting this platformer, and the game even gives you the chance to provide the characters with a happier ending than the one the movie concluded on.
After the great Hulk games that we got during the PS2/GameCube/Xbox era, I can't really say this is the best Hulk adventure ever made. If not for those, though, it'd take the title for sure. Not only do the controls feel perfect, this game also makes you really feel the power of the Hulk. The tile-based level-destruction lets you destroy EVERYTHING you come across, and you never feel like you're hammering away hopelessly on overpowered opponents (something that even "Ultimate Destruction" was guilty of). Even walking across the screen devastates the path behind you, and the feeling of trashing a helicopter never gets old.
The Atelier series of games is somewhat obscure even among many JRPG fans, but the fact that developer Gust successfully ported these PS3-quality titles to the Vita with no noticeable losses deserves recognition. Of course, Atelier Meruru Plus isn't just a straight port. The Vita version rebalanced the difficulty, added a buildable costume store, threw in new areas and enemies, and even provided new story scenes along the way. It's the definitive way to play the game.
Batman Returns adaptions were everywhere back in 1992, and Sega produced games that tied in with the movie on all three of its major platforms at the time. The Genesis/Mega Drive got one, the Master System got one, and the Game Gear got one. The Master System and Game Gear games, despite being housed on the lesser technology compared to their 16-bit big brother, far outshone the Genesis game. This 8-bit adventure was a top-notch platformer with an excellent grappling hook mechanic and beautifully catchy music that made it one of the best of the early Batman titles. Although the Master System and Game Gear releases initially appear identical, Batman dies with just one touch by default in the Master System version. In the Game Gear release, he always gets a proper life bar.
For the most part, Street Fighter x Tekken is the same game you can buy on the PS3 and 360. You still get the same complexities of the gem system, the graphics are still gorgeous (albeit slightly less so than the console versions), and the combat is still tight and satisfying for fighting fans. You also get the three Sony-exclusive characters that the 360 doesn't have: Cole McGrath from Infamous, "Bad Box Art" Mega Man, and Namco's Pac-Man. But this version even trumps the PS3 incarnation, because it automatically includes a whopping 12 (!) additional characters that could only be purchased as DLC on the PS3 and 360.
In a truly surprising turn of events, here's a major multi-platform release that was hyped all year long, only for its portable sideshow to be the true star attraction. Whereas the Xbox/PS2/GameCube versions of Pandora Tomorrow introduced a bunch of problematic mechanics that would be removed or refined with later sequels, this little cartridge takes the awkward attempt at 2D stealth that was the first Splinter Cell GBA title and refines it into a sharp, beautiful package of tension and smarts. This is 2D stealth perfected to its greatest level, with a lot of skill required to make it to the end of the campaign. You won't mind going back to an earlier checkpoint, though, when you see how awesome this pixel-based Sam Fisher looks and feels thanks to some of the GBA's highest production values.
Of all the movie tie-in games that Sega published through their partnership with Marvel Studios, this is the best. WayForward Technologies - the modern masters of 2D gaming - took the same storyline as the console titles and gave Thor an incredible mix of excellent side-scrolling beat-'em-up play with Castlevania-style epic boss encounters. Thor: God of Thunder exists somewhere between Streets of Rage and Symphony of the Night. Like all the best experiences, it's over too soon, but always worth the journey. The gap in quality between this and the horrid PS3/360 game is truly staggering. Is it the best game on this list? Maybe, but maybe not. Either way, it still deserves number one for being such a massive leap in quality over the console games that share its title. No other game on this list provides such a huge difference when you play it on a handheld screen.
It should come as no surprise that the majority of these games are licensed properties. Licensed games are often produced quickly in order to capitalize on the release of a movie or a new season of a TV show. The greater and more complex technology becomes, the harder it is for developers to produce a quality product in such a short amount of time. Luckily, the lower-end tech of portables can be there to pick up the slack and give us the gameplay experiences that consoles fail to deliver. Regardless of whether a game is licensed or not, however, there's one lesson that needs to be taken from this: Never assume that a portable adaption is automatically a lesser game because its tech is "weaker."
List by Cypher (10/25/2013)
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