15. La Mulana EX
The PS Vita's legacy will be as the premiere home for independently developed games during the 2010s. Steam and the App Store may have given small developers a venue bigger than any they'd ever had, but it was PS Vita that put hundreds of great indie games in people's pockets with perfect traditional controls.
La Mulana, Nigoro's tribute to Konami's 8-bit exploration games on NES and MSX, is precisely the sort of game that would have stayed trapped and non-portable on PC forever if not for PS Vita. This upgraded version from Nicalis is the best way to play through the viciously difficult platformer. All its secrets, all its bosses, all its maddening puzzles, all in the palm of your hand.
14. Velocity 2X
Want to feel like a god of the analog sticks? Look no further than Velocity 2X, Futurlab’s ultra fast side-scrolling actioner meets top down shooter. One minute you’re listening to the booming electronic soundtrack with Lieutenant Kai Tana hurtling sideways through platforming challenges, teleporting through walls and dodging enemy attacks, and the next, you’re back controlling her ship in a traditional top down shooter.
The controls match across both sequences so whether you’re killing enemies by magically appearing behind them or zooming through another wall to save civilians, there’s a glorious effortlessness to every action. More and more moves unlock as you progress, meaning the action never gets tired and you gradually turn teleportation into an art as you quest for the speediest times. The kind of game that Vita was made for, it’s a perfect portable addiction and a great excuse to crank up the volume on your headphones.
There are games that seem perfect for the PS Vita, and then there are games that couldn't exist without the PS Vita. Media Molecule's post-LittleBigPlanet effort falls into the latter camp, bringing an original and innovative adventure game that showcases the handheld's many strengths. It helps that Tearaway has a bit of LittleBigPlanet in its DNA. Like Sackboy's adventure, the messenger's letter-delivery quest is brimming with charm, experimental design, and playfulness.
Its papercraft world is ripe for exploration, and the ability to affect its landscape and its characters through touch-screen controls and the PS Vita's camera makes you feel like you're an honored citizen of the messenger's world, rather than a passing tourist. In many respects, Tearaway is the PS Vita game that should have been a mascot for the system at launch, and it's unfortunate its taken so long for it to assume that role. The PS4 remake simply can't match the original's ingenious use of hardware.
Guacamelee may look like your everyday Mexican-farmer-finds-magical-luchador-mask-&-journeys-to-the-land-of-the-dead-for-love story, but the beauty of JuiceBox's brilliant 2D platformer is that there's so much stirring beneath its surface. Blending finely tuned platforming, simple-yet-rewarding combat, and a 2D land teeming with personality, Guacamelee is a Metroidvania game that begs to be mined for all its secrets.
From sun-soaked desserts to cloud-covered fortresses, underground tunnels to quaint Mexican villages, Guacamelee whisks you through the land of the living and the dead in an adventure spiced with tons of secrets, hidden challenges, memorable characters, and inspired video-game references. There's just so much to take in (and break, and collect, and pile-drive, etc.) during Juan Aguacate's journey, you'll have no trouble clicking new game to see it all again.
11. Odin Sphere Leifthraiser
Odin Sphere Leifthraiser could have just been a simple HD port of the original PS2 action RPG and still have been an excellent PS Vita game. It is far more than a remaster, though, with every aspect of the action RPG overhauled to the point of making it feel like an entirely new game.
Combat is smoother, faster, and easier to learn compared to the somewhat awkward pace of its original incarnation. Even navigating the unusual circular environments is less confusing thanks to a new map system. Before Leifthraiser, Odin Sphere was a beautiful, flawed story about gorgeously drawn Norse folk figures with some novel RPG systems. On PS Vita, it's a revelation.
10. Dragon Quest Builders
Building games don't connect with everyone. While the freedom to remake a game world in your image can be liberating in Minecraft or Terraria, it can also be crippling for the player who wants a little direction. Dragon Quest Builders is the answer to the problem, a building role-playing game that melds the accessible crafting of Minecraft with the simple storytelling, lush art and good humor of Dragon Quest.
Whereas other building games just set you out into the world, Builders' slowly introduces you to more and more complex projects as you push the story forward, giving you concrete goals but still leaving room for self-expression. Given how putting your perfect fantasy kingdom together can take many hours, the PS Vita version gets a leg up over its PS4 sibling; the PS4 version has prettier lighting but you can play the Vita version in bed.
9. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
A group of elite students find themselves locked in a high school with a homicidal mechanical bear who presents them with a chilling ultimatum: if they ever want to leave, they'll have to kill each other. Just committing murder isn't enough, though; they have to pull off the crime without getting caught by the survivors. If they're found out, they're executed, but if they succeed, everyone *else* is killed.
Danganronpa is a strange blend of murder mystery, courtroom drama, and visual novel that sounds far more gruesome than it actually is. Oh, there are deaths aplenty, don't get me wrong, but it's all so over the top that it never strays into bleak territory. There's much more afoot than just a bear with a hankering for homicide, though, and while the courtroom minigames can be tiresome, they're well worth enduring for the engaging story.
8. Sound Shapes
Sometimes it's the oddballs that stand out, and Sound Shapes is a sterling example. Part music-maker, part platformer, and all parts groovy, Sounds Shapes stars a simple blob that must navigate 20-odd levels collecting notes that build upon each world's soundtrack, provided by artists like Beck and Deadmau5.
Completing Sound Shapes is just the beginning. The real fun begins after the campaign when the level editor unlocks and all its music-making tools become available for you to craft your own levels and share them with the Sound Shapes community. Mix this with developer Queasy Games' steady stream of DLC and the almost impossible Death Mode, and the result is a game that always has something new cued up.
7. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
As a direct sequel to Aksys Games' 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors; Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward holds on to everything that made the original interactive novel a cult hit while branching out and atoning for 999's (few) shortcomings. Like the original, Virtue's Last Reward presents an interactive story; this time revolving around nine kidnapped strangers who must contend with puzzles and interpersonal conflicts to escape an unknown facility.
In an improvement over 999, you can use the FLOW system to replay key events and achieve new results, rather than having to play the entire game again. This, combined with a fresh 3D presentation, full voice acting, and cutscenes lifts the series from its static DS roots into a lively and compelling (virtual) page-turner.
6. Dragon's Crown
The arcade-style beat 'em up has enjoyed a second renaissance in the 21st century, but no brawler has more effectively or more beautifully modernized the form than Dragon's Crown. Vanillaware took the mold of Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara-a vintage example of the '80s/'90s game where a crew of warriors walk through stages punching monsters in flashy ways-and perfectly re-imagined it for lengthy play sessions on a high-definition machine.
The lengthy campaign teaches you a character's insides and outs before opening up online play where a vast loot system opens up to encourage replaying levels. George Kamitani's art is gluttonous, from its wildly proportioned heroes to the drawings of hot food you feed your companions between stages. The Vita version is perfect thanks to its portability and the original model's gorgeous OLED screen.
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