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Five puzzlingly good portable games

By Scott Steinberg, Special to CNN
In "Professor Layton and the Unwound Future" players have access to new logic, math and spatial brainteasers.
In "Professor Layton and the Unwound Future" players have access to new logic, math and spatial brainteasers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The iPhone offers more titles than any other platform at a greater range of prices
  • Nintendo DSi is cheaper, but built to withstand the rigors of playground life
  • Sony's PSP delivers advanced 3-D and online multiplayer-enabled games
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Editor's note: Scott Steinberg is the head of technology and video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global, as well as the founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV. The creator and host of online video series Game Theory, he frequently appears as an on-air technology analyst for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and CNN.

(CNN) -- With all the talk about new motion-control accessories and supporting games for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it bears remembering that handheld systems aren't sitting idly by either.

While none offer hands-free gaming or full-body active play, they are more kid-friendly, easier to pack in a carry-on and sure to get just as much, if not more, attention this holiday season.

Tops for software selection, the iPhone offers more titles than any other platform at a greater range of prices. All of them are downloadable on demand, including hundreds of free casual electronic games.

The Nintendo DSi isn't nearly as expensive, is built to withstand the rigors of playground life and also offers deeper, more complex experiences in a wider range of established genres.

Similarly, Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP), though light on new releases and meant for older audiences, delivers advanced 3-D and online multiplayer-enabled outings geared toward more diehard gaming fans.

Whichever you choose, all promise endless hours of entertainment throughout the fall and winter. Following are five games worth packing on any vacation or extended layover.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (Nintendo, Nintendo DS)

Beyond the catchy Victorian-era "steampunk" cartoon aesthetic, there's much to enjoy in the latest installment of the popular puzzle game series.

Players not only get to fiddle with new logic, math and spatial brainteasers, but can also access mini-games and more in-depth hints when stumped. A quirky cast of characters and memorable selection of conundrums help it leave a lasting impression.

Osmos (Hemisphere Games, iPhone/iPad/PC)

Experience evolution at its finest as you guide an amoeba-like creature to grow by gobbling up smaller organisms while avoiding being devoured yourself.

Perfectly suited to a touchscreen interface, the game lets you simply tap to hurtle forward or speed away from danger (which also makes you shrink). Bigger is definitely better here, with the game delivering surprisingly large entertainment value on a microscopic scale.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (Square-Enix, PSP)

This fantasy dungeon hack marries signature Disney characters and worlds with detailed role-playing elements and a colorful anime aesthetic. A prequel to the original adventure, the game offers an epic storyline and an intricate battle system that will captivate kids and adults alike as they explore universes inspired by Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty. Just beware, as it's a major time sink.

Super Scribblenauts (WB Games, Nintendo DS)

Solve puzzles by writing in words (e.g. "ladder," "cow," or "moon"), which are then transformed into corresponding on-screen objects. You can even modify creations using 10,000 adjectives to make them smaller, add wings, equip them with swords, etc.

The title's freestyle approach to play will impress almost as much as such technical trickery, with random experimentation just as fun as actually making forward progress. You never know what will happen next.

Angry Birds (Rovio, iPhone)

Downloaded nearly 7 million times and being shopped around for movie, TV and toy deals, this simple-to-learn, tough-to-master arcade puzzler pits cartoon birds against egg-stealing pigs.

Use your slingshot to launch the birds or simply point and shoot to send them flying into structures that collapse atop the poor swine in a heap of animated rubble. At 99 cents, it's cheap -- and instantly gratifying -- fun for all.