3. TxK (Llamasoft)
Jeff Minter and Llamasoft's lifelong quest to perfect the concept from Tempest came a little closer to its ultimate goal as the addictive, pulsating handheld gem TxK saw release on PS Vita early in the year. There is something appealing in that. This being the fourth time Llamasoft take on Dave Theurer's classic concept, adding small improvements and refinements while remaining true to the original experience.
Much can be said of the music, and paired with the psychedelic visuals it puts the player in what can be described as a trance (or gaming zen if you will) where all that matters is your crab, making your shots and timing that superzapper perfectly.
The game is a great fit on PS Vita as it offers precise controls and it looks sharp on the crisp screen of Sony's handheld. It's the kind of game you may think you're going to spend a few minutes with before you go to bed, but you end up spending an hour on without really knowing where the time went.
2. FTL: Faster Than Light - Advanced Edition (Subset Games)
It wasn't a huge surprise that FTL turned out to be a great fit on iPad, and as Subset Games launched the Advanced Edition of the game in the spring of 2014 they also launched one of the very best handheld games of the year. While mouse and keyboard is great, the touch controls of the iPad version may be even more intuitive and might also be a better representation of managing the systems of a space ship (we think).
Hugely addictive, the game offers a top-down chance to live the starship captain fantasy. Keeping your ship in one piece and your crew alive through waves of enemy attacks, scavenging and trading for resources to upgrade your ship in order to make it through the various procedurally generated dangers; this roguelite space strategy gem has it all. It offers a great challenge and the kind of nerve-tingling randomness that will make you dread and second guess every single decision you make. There's always a small Admiral Ackbar in the back of your mind yelling out "It's a trap!" whenever a distress call turns into an ambush.
The new Advanced Edition content offers greater variation and more story bits that make up the quilt that is your unique space adventure with FTL. It's the best version of the game thanks to the increased variety, and the touch controls work like a charm.
1. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Blizzard)
It's almost a little unfair for other handheld titles to compete against the behemoth that is Blizzard, but truth be told, Hearthstone is the best handheld game to come out in 2014. Launching on iOS last spring and on Android in December, the collectible trading card game is as addictive as they come. With a universe deep enough to play host to three lore heavy RTS titles and an MMORPG that has been fleshed out and expanded over the course of more than a decade, there is a story behind each card. This backstory that each and every card oozes with makes for something that's more captivating and engaging than your standard card duelling game.
During the year, Blizzard also launched the single-player expansion, Curse of Naxxramas, and a card expansion called Goblins vs. Gnomes. It may have come as a surprise to some, but Hearthstone managed to become a highly competitive game that spawned an e-sport scene of its own.
It may very well be that in spite of having seen World of Warcraft just close out its first decade and having the original Starcraft hang around as a mainstay on the Korean e-sports scene for well over a decade, Hearthstone will go down in history as the Blizzard game with the longest lifespan. There's tremendous potential here, and it's already an excellent game.