FEATURE

The Century's Top 50 Handheld Games

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By Edge Staff

August 2, 2006

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40.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Sep ’03
Estimated Sales: 660,000
Revenues: $22 Million
Game ranking: 88.2%

There’s a large contingency of gamers that reveres the original PlayStation Final Fantasy Tactics for its long political story and incredibly deep mechanics. That game was years old when the GBA entry in the series was announced, and at that time just the idea that Final Fantasy Tactics could be a series was enough to excite that fan base. That it lived up to its predecessor in graphics, gameplay, and story was more than enough to catapult it to one of the favorites in the handheld’s library.

 

39.
Spyro 2: Season of Flame
Publisher: Vivendi Games
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Sep ’02
Estimated Sales: 670,000
Revenues: $15 Million
Game ranking: 77.5%

By the time Spyro got to this millennium, he was a haggard shade of his old self – his original creators had abandoned him after all, and his first current-gen console entry was, to put it plainly, broken. His handheld games have fared better in terms of both quality and sales though, and considering the size of the GBA’s child market, perhaps that’s the best way to orient the effort. Spyro 2 represents the apex of said effort.

 

38.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: May ‘01
Estimated Sales: 680,000
Revenues: $24 Million
Game ranking: 90.0%

In 2001 the Tony Hawk series was so well-loved it was very nearly sacred – a testament to how much better it was than any other game in its genre, or perhaps any game at all. But few were prepared for the level of fidelity the handheld port would offer, especially given the Game Boy Advance’s inability to render 3D. As this game proved however, a little bit of game mechanic ingenuity can look to all the world like a miracle, and this will reflect in your pocketbook.

 

37.
The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Flagship
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Jan ’05
Estimated Sales: 680,000
Revenues: $21 Million
Game ranking: 90.6%

There’s nothing wrong with 3D Zelda games; they’re quite magnificent, actually. But the 2D games are just as wonderful and an even rarer breed – the last really full-fledged overhead Zelda being released in 1991 (Link’s Awakening and the Oracle series being given to the vagaries of their underpowered systems like they were). The Minish Cap felt like the first game to mix fully modernized technology with classic Zelda style – and hey, who doesn’t love classic Zelda?

 

36.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Griptonite Games
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Nov ’01
Estimated Sales: 690,000
Revenues: $26 Million
Game ranking: 62.4%

It’s difficult to conceive of a time when a Harry Potter-licensed product wouldn’t sell. With Sorcerer’s Stone, a kid-friendly licensed game selling on a kid-friendly handheld right at the beginning of said handheld’s life, it’s even more difficult to figure for failure. This one didn’t fail, but with such a strong license, it should have done better. And as we’ll see, as the franchise improves its game quality it does.

 

35.
Shrek 2
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: May ’04
Estimated Sales: 700,000
Revenues: $18 Million
Game ranking: 72.2%

Do you remember the phenomenon that was Shrek 2? The ogre was an omnipresent being in the summer of 2004, hocking everything from mediocre licensed platform games to a particularly nasty brand of Pop Rock-filled ice cream. Of course all of it sold – it all had to, given the weight of the marketing – but at least the GBA game wasn’t offensive.

 

34.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Oct ’03
Estimated Sales: 710,000
Revenues: $20 Million
Game ranking: 66.9%

At this point it’s hard to find a young child who doesn’t like SpongeBob – his show is a hit, his licensed products are a hit, and his videogames are perennial assured successes. This is particularly true on Game Boy Advance, where the games are cheaper earlier and children represent a large percentage of the installed base.

 

33.
Wario Land 4
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Nov ’01
Estimated Sales: 720,000
Revenues: $20 Million
Game ranking: 85.3%

Most people remember the launch of the Game Boy Advance as one of the good ones, disregarding one major flaw – for a system that was clearly very good at 2D platformers, all of the best ones in the first year were ports. Wario Land 4 was one of the first entirely original games in this genre from Nintendo, and was praised and sold appropriately considering that pedigree. It’s a bit of a forgotten gem today, but considering its stable mates it must be hard to get attention.

 

32.
Nintendogs: Dachshund & Friends
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Released: Aug ’05
Estimated Sales: 730,000
Revenues: $22 Million
Game ranking: 84.1%

The most popular version of Nintendogs probably sold best due to its inclusion of favorite breeds like the Golden Retriever and the Pug. Differentiating between versions isn’t a particularly practical use of time, though (for the record, all Nintendog SKUs combined would be #5 on this list) – Nintendogs sold because it appealed to neither a gamer nor a non-gamer audience, but a puppy-loving audience. This inclusive strategy ensured all fans of cute fluff balls would want in on Nintendo’s new idea.

 

31.
SpongeBob SquarePants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Released: Sep ’02
Estimated Sales: 740,000
Revenues: $19 Million
Game ranking: 75.3%
 
It’s SpongeBob again, with yet another mediocre game that sold brilliantly because of the sponge on its cover. Most major review outlets don’t even cover these games as they know their opinion won’t matter, and they’re right – this game knew exactly where its audience was, and delivered right to them.