Did somebody special give you a new videogame system for the holidays? If so, you might be wondering what exactly you should do with it. Well, I mean, you play games on it. That should be obvious. But what games? What’s the first step you should take into the world of the PlayStation 4, or the first doodad you should doodle on the Wii U’s tablet? Over the next few days Paste will look at what games you should play first on all the latest systems, from last year’s PlayStation Vita and Wii U to the brand new Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The Vita might be the most underrated game system on the market right now. Sony’s handheld doesn’t have a deep library of exclusive games, but it does have some great ones, and between cross-play, remote play and Sony’s growing roster of fantastic indie games, there are many good console titles you can easily take on the road. Because that interactivity with Sony’s consoles is so crucial to the Vita’s appeal, this list will feature both Vita exclusives and a few console games that are even better on the handheld.
There had never really been a good first-person shooter on a handheld device until Killzone: Mercenary. Part of that was technical limitations—the Vita is the first handheld with two usable analogue joysticks—but more importantly most handheld shooters are poorly designed. They tend to feel like hamfisted rush jobs, usually playing off a popular name from the console world. Mercenary, which is an original game and not just a port of a preexisting Killzone, nails the controls of a shooter, but it’s a surprisingly smart and well-designed game. It’s not just the best handheld FPS—it’s the best Killzone.—Garrett Martin
Hotline Miami is another multiplatform game perfectly suited for the portability of the Vita. In Hotline Miami every “mission” begins in a squalid apartment with an answering machine message alluding to a target. The protagonist gets into his gull-wing car, puts on a rubber animal mask, and drives off to kill everybody he can. The developers, Denis Wedin and Jonatan Söderström, aren’t just offering hyperviolent escapism. Hotline Miami’s unsettling undercurrent is that it keeps indirectly asking, “Why are you doing this?”—Filipe Salgado
Before Journey, Thatgamecompany proved with Flower that games could have an emotional impact upon players, even if they didn’t necessarily look or feel like what we expect from a videogame. Many games gain something when they transition from a console to a handheld, but Flower actually feels slightly diminished on the smaller screen—its world is smaller and less luminous. It’s still a beautiful and powerful experience, though.— Garrett Martin
I never would’ve made it through a season of the last two MLB The Show games if they hadn’t been on the Vita. I could pick up the same season I was playing on the PS3 on my Vita and knock out a few games in bed at the end of the night or on a plane or car trip. The repetitive drills of the “Road to the Show” mode are more bearable when I’m snugly tucked in bed. The interaction between the Vita and the PlayStation3 and 4 is one of the chief selling points for the handheld, and MLB The Show exploits it brilliantly.—Garrett Martin
The Vita’s launch line-up was heavy on retreads and familiar names. The new Lumines was great and that Uncharted game was a fine tech demo but the first must-play game on the handheld was a little-touted downloadable sequel to an even more obscure PSN game. On the surface Mutant Blobs Attack is the sort of charming, pick-up-and-play trifle that works best on mobile platforms. It looks and feels like a top-notch iOS game. But instead of the ADHD blurts of a mobile game Mutant Blobs Attack reveals itself to be a fully-formed platformer, with fantastic level design and ingenious puzzles that illuminate the game’s mechanics in detail.—Garrett Martin
Little Big Planet is as charming (and British) as ever on the Vita, and it’s the kind of physics-y platformer that inherently works well on a portable platform. The Vita version might be the best for creating, though, which has always been a crucial aspect to the series. Between the two touch screens and the built-in camera it’s never been easier to design levels or create new stickers.—Garrett Martin
You might notice that most of the games on this list are portable versions of games for the PlayStation 3. That’s a major strength for the Vita, both the cross-play ability that lets you play the same game from your console on your handheld and the fact that the Vita is powerful enough to run relatively faithful new versions of games from a more powerful system. There are a few major original games for the Vita, though, and Gravity Rush is one of the best. Its gravity-flipping mechanic is a unique hook and the open-world design and RPG elements provide a bit of depth beneath the beautiful aesthetic. It’s a must-own for the Vita.—Garrett Martin
Sound Shapes twists the basic tenets of the classic side-scrolling platformer into a form of interactive music-making. Every element of the game serves a musical purpose. Coins aren’t just collectibles but musical notes that add new instruments and melodies to the level’s soundtrack. Platforms aren’t just bricks or elevators but words that move, twist and disappear according to a song’s lyrics. Instead of simple obstacles to avoid or monsters to dispatch enemies are drum machines that contribute to the beat. Sound Shapes surreptitiously teaches you how to build and arrange songs while enjoying a beautiful game, and the Vita version lets you experience that wherever you go.—Garrett Martin
Spelunky isn’t really about finishing. It’s about getting better. It’s about setting your own personal mark, either in the total value of gold and gems discovered, or how many levels you survived, and then besting that mark again and again. Although Spelunky has appeared on other platforms in the past, this handheld port is ideal, since the game’s transitory nature lends itself well to short bursts of play.—Garrett Martin
Tearaway has all the charm, artiness and mixed-media visual appeal of Media Molecule’s other platformer, Little Big Planet, but Tearaway is more enjoyable as a game because it focuses primarily on play instead of creation. It wants to get you interested in arts and crafts, and regularly asks you to draw new objects within the game and decorate various characters, but that’s all incorporated into the game’s story. Tearaway easily shoulders the burden of showing exactly what a Vita is capable of. This should be the first game everyone who gets a Vita plays from here on out.—Garrett Martin