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Portable gaming holiday: What to take with you

If you own a portable game system, read up on the best handheld games to take along on a long winter's vacation.

As we approach the longest break we get here at CNET, I'm preparing to head off for my annual journey to England to stay with the in-laws. These trips are marked by long, quiet afternoons in the countryside, and it's usually when I break out some portable games I've been stowing away all year.

You may have recently gotten or are planning to get one of the three big handheld game systems: the Nintendo DS, the PSP, or an iPhone/iPod Touch (yes, it deserves to be called a game system now). You may be wondering about a few good games to take with you. Well, I happen to own all three, and these are my recommendations. Feel free to take this little cheat sheet along.


Nintendo DS
The DS actually comes in two versios: the DS Lite and the DSi. One has a Game Boy Advance cartridge slot, and the other can download minigames from Nintendo's DSiWare shop. Both can play Nintendo's tremendous collection of DS cartridges. For lovers of touch-screen puzzle games and lengthy adventures, or those who want family-friendly entertainment, the DS is perfect for you. Top games this holiday:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks or Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story: a new Zelda adventure that's perfect for fans of the series, and a Mario role-playing adventure with a goofy style. Either one is perfect for long plane rides and snowed-in cabins.
  • Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box: the Layton sequel has dozens of brainteasers and a relaxed pace.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: it came out back in March, but if you haven't played it, you must do so immediately. And, chances are, you still haven't unlocked everything in it yet.
  • Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes: we hadn't even heard of this game until recently, but if you loved Puzzle Quest or enjoy adventure games with puzzle strategy, get this.
  • If you have a DS Lite: save a few bucks and shop bargain bins for some used GBA titles like Super Mario 3.
  • If you have a DSi: download some of Nintendo's excellent Art Style puzzles, or try one of the bizarre Electroplankton musical art-toys.

Sony PSP
While Sony's handheld isn't nearly as family-friendly as the DS, it's perfect for fans of full-fledged console games on the go. It's also been a great holiday for PSP fans, as the launch of the PSP Go has inspired Sony to produce a bunch of notable titles.

If you have a PSP Go: Sony's new version of the PSP doesn't have a UMD drive, so you'll have to download games. Luckily, many of the most recent games are available on the PlayStation Store already, but you're likely out of luck on older games. Owners of a regular PSP can download games or play UMD games.

  • LittleBigPlanet: Sony's breakout Super Mario competitor for the PS3 is just as adorable and fun on the go, and can even download user-made levels over Wi-Fi.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars: same recommendation as for DS owners, but the PSP version has even better graphics.
  • Motorstorm: Arctic Edge: a surprisingly faithful recreation of the PS3 offroad racer, it has multipath tracks and online multiplayer, too.
  • Patapon 2: Forget Rock Band. Sony's rhythm-based warfare-strategy game is infectious and has plenty of addictive replayability as you level up.
  • Final Fantasy VII or Dino Crisis: make sure you check out the PlayStation Store's extensive collection of PS1 classic games, many available for around $5.99. And they have Dino Crisis!

Apple iPhone/iPod Touch
Apple's do-everything device is now a legitimate handheld game system, with thousands of titles and an unprecedented range of content. It's also the most portable way to play, since it also serves as your MP3 player/video player/e-mail/Web browser/etc./etc. Here are some great titles to stuff on your device before takeoff:

  • Dragon's Lair or Space Ace: accurate down to the last Don Bluth brushstroke, these animated masterpieces of yore also happen to be 80s arcade games. They're worth the trip down memory lane.
  • Modern Combat: Sandstorm: Modern Warfare 2 on the iPhone? Not exactly, but Gameloft's take on desert warfare has great graphics and online multiplayer.
  • Bejeweled 2: now that it includes Bejeweled Blitz as a free update, this is the most horribly addicting iPhone puzzle since Drop7 (which you should also buy).
  • Space Invaders Infinity Gene: Taito's reinvention of the classic arcade game is techno, minimalist, and has infinite levels generated from the music you play.
  • Bookworm/Peggle: PopCap's brilliance is perfect for smartphone gaming, and both the word-based Bookworm and the kinetic Peggle have infinite replay value.
  • Monkey Island: Special Edition: LucasArts' classic graphic adventure has been ported over with updated graphics and sound.
  • Skee-Ball: just trust us on this one.
  • Rolando 2: Tilt controls and roly-poly mascots combine in an infectious puzzle platformer with great music. Ngmoco's sequel is as good as the original.

Any other recommendations? What are you taking with you over your holiday vacation? Tell us in the comments. And happy holidays!