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Manhunt 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Rockstar (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/11/23
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)

screenshotThis portable edition of Manhunt 2 is arguably better than the console versions. Graphics that look modest on the Playstation 2 look really good on the PSP, and the high-contrast PSP screen makes the environments look extra dark and gritty. The controls are identical to the PS2 version, except you have to hold in L and R to target an enemy (instead of just holding the left trigger). Manhunt 2 isn't as involved or tedious as most stealth games, and unlike real life, it's fun to visit sleazy, red light districts of town. Playing a prisoner on the run, you'll turn the tables on your pursuers using axes, clubs, needles, grocery bags, and whatever else is lying around. The key to the game is sneaking up on victims and methodically executing them one by one. Much has been made of the game's brutal violence, but rapid-fire camera angles and seizure-inducing flashing effects ensure you'll never get a good look at your own handiwork. The gurgling and crunching audio effects are probably the grossest aspect of the game. I really like how this portable version automatically saves your progress when you reach a checkpoint, unlike console versions where you have to save from a menu. With its short missions, simple controls, and handy auto-save, Manhunt 2 is ideal for killing on the go. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Mega Man Powered Up
Grade: D
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/6/14
Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)

screenshotI find it curious how many critics regard this as one of the best titles for the PSP. Such sad, misguided souls they are. Mega Man Powered Up attempts to "update" the original Mega Man (NES, 1987), retaining the 2D style of play but rendering the objects in 3D. The original game was a groundbreaking platformer, where the main character could select his stage and accumulate weapons from bosses he defeated. Powered Up has two modes: "new style" and "old style". The new style mixes things up a bit and offers new bosses and stages. I like how you can select your difficulty level at the beginning of each stage. Progressing through the game, Mega Man accumulates powers like the ability to slow time, throw bombs, and freeze opponents. You can toggle between these and even use them in conjunction with each other. Unfortunately, although Powered Up tries to emulate the classic gameplay that made the franchise famous, this actually has a very different feel - and it's not necessarily better. The fact that the objects are much larger changes the dynamics quite a bit, making it easier to run out of real estate on the screen. There's a surprising amount of slowdown, which is unforgivable for a game that requires such precise timing. The control is also very suspect at times. Defeating a boss not only awards you his weapon, but also allows you to replay the game using that boss. But will you really want to replay it? I doubt it. Powered Up's graphics are sharp and colorful, but lack personality. While the stages each contain a new set of hazards and enemies, they all play pretty much the same. Some new additions are actually detrimental, like the superfluous cut-scenes and childish dialogue. You can't "kill" a boss in this politically correct age, so Mega Man always has to ask his defeated foe, "Are you okay?" I think I'm going to throw up. The game's auto save mechanism proved problematic, so I was forced to save manually after each stage. Even the "old style" mode is disappointing. Instead of presenting the game in its original glory, Capcom used the "updated" graphics, which is a shame. Then again, had Capcom included the actual original game, it may have exposed the mediocrity that is Mega Man Powered Up. I know PSP gamers are desperate for some fun 2D action (and rightly so), but let's not kid ourselves here. Mega Man Powered Up is hardly anything to get excited about. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Metal Gear Acid
Grade: F
Publisher: Konami (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/6/13
Rating: Mature (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotFor a game that so many critics liked, I'm amazed at how badly this sucks. Konami took the tried-and-true stealth gameplay of its popular Metal Gear series, and turned it into a turned-based card game. This had to be Konami's idea, because no gamer in his right mind would ever request something like this! To understand how Acid plays, first consider everything you hate about the "normal" Metal Gear Solid games: slow pacing, tedious item management, lengthy cut-scenes, and far-fetched plot twists (to name a few). Multiply that by two, add an extra layer of complexity and confusion, and you get Metal Gear Acid. There are so many issues with this that I don't even know where to start. First, Acid is not the ideal portable gaming experience - just the opposite! The learning curve is outrageously steep; you'll need to invest a lot of time just learning how the game works. I can't speak for everyone, but when I play a portable game, I prefer to cut to the chase! Even after hours of play I'm still struggling to grasp some of the more basic concepts. Acid's bizarre storyline is conveyed through lengthy cut-scenes containing excruciating exposition and endless scrolling text. Your radio commander is such a blabbermouth that even our hero Snake frequently voices his displeasure by shouting "Enough of the lectures!" and "Get on with it!" Note to Konami: Feel free to display more than five words on the screen at once - it will save us all a lot of valuable time! The user interface is counter-intuitive, and even when you get the hang of it, Acid never makes a lot of sense. The guards are complete idiots, heading in random directions even after detecting your presence. You can shoot one guard and another standing just a few feet away will seem completely oblivious. Gunfights at point-blank range are borderline hilarious, as half of the bullets go flying off in random directions! In one stage, I accidentally sat on a grenade, yet still survived to complete the level successfully! Acid's graphics are decent, but I struggled with the camera angles. The strongest aspect of the game is its synthesized soundtrack. Reviewing Metal Gear Acid was a real chore, especially when I was forced to revisit previous areas. I'm sure there are some patient souls out there who will master Acid's complexity, appreciate its nostalgic references, and perhaps even derive some enjoyment. But I think most gamers will agree that Metal Gear Acid is the type of misguided experiment that gives the PSP a bad name. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Metal Slug XX
Grade: A-
Publisher: Atlus (2010)
Reviewed: 2013/2/24
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

screenshotThis game is actually Metal Slug 7 - the same one that appeared on the Nintendo DS. Of course, it looks a heck of lot sweeter on the sharp, wide PSP screen. There's no shortage of frantic 2D mayhem as you forge through beaches, caves, and waterfalls while knifing soldiers and blowing up tanks. The rapid-fire shooting and auto-fire feature is a match made in heaven. The explosions are incredible, so it's extra satisfying to reduce a tower to rubble or blast helicopters out of the sky. There are some imaginative weapons like "iron lizards" which race across the ground and the "Zantetsu Sword" that makes enemy fire disappear. You now have the ability to collect two weapons at a time and toggle between them via the shoulder buttons. Metal Slug's comical style is totally over-the-top, and in one stage tanks literally rain from the sky. At first I was bummed out by the unlimited continues and the way your score doesn't reset. Then a helpful reader pointed out that the last digit of your score indicates the number of continues used, so at least you have that to go by. All Metal Slug games are fun, but this isn't the best in terms of stage design. Most of the scenery is subterranean, and the mine cart area gets on my nerves. Still, Metal Slug XX is pure arcade fun and frankly there are few games I'd rather play on my PSP. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Midnight Club: LA Remix
Grade: B+
Publisher: Rockstar (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/1/1
Rating: Teen (mild suggestive themes, mild violence, strong lyrics)

screenshotI heaped praise upon Midnight Club for the 360 and PS3, but can this portable edition deliver the same brand of high-speed thrills? Not quite, but it comes admirably close. LA Remix lets you cruise freely around Los Angeles (and later Tokyo) while entering races and challenging other drivers on the road. The races take you all over town, but your path is usually clearly designated by tall yellow plumes of smoke. This means less peeking at the map, and more weaving through traffic while keeping an eye out for shortcuts. The smooth graphics are about PS2 quality, allowing you to see a good distance with minimal draw-in. Some of the colorful sunsets are absolutely spectacular. Since the city itself has been scaled down, many races are run over laps instead of one long stretch. The scenery looks realistic but isn't sharp enough to distract you from the racing action. One big drawback to the smaller screen is that it's harder to see turns and on-coming cars, especially when you kick in your turbo. I experienced a few head-on collisions I did not see coming at all. In addition to turbo boosts, LA Remix also let you initiate "special abilities" like slow-motion (that's "bullet time" in shooters) or "agro" so you can plow through traffic without missing a beat. The game's audio is surprisingly good. Not only did I like the soundtrack, but it's interesting to hear the crystal clear voices of your competitors in the midst of a heated race. The constant saving and loading is aggravating, but otherwise you'll be hard-pressed to find a better racer for the PSP. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Mortal Kombat Unchained
Grade: D-
Publisher: Midway (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/2
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotI'm not sure what I was expecting from Mortal Kombat Unchained, but it gave me the worst case of deja-vu ever. The opening cinematic looked awesome, but I could have sworn I had seen it before. By the time it ended it became clear that I was watching the opening to Mortal Kombat Deception. In case you didn't know, Deception was the previous edition of Mortal Kombat released two years ago on the PS2 and Xbox! By the time I reached the main screen, I realized I had purchased an overpriced, scaled-down version of a game I already owned. This game should have been called Deception, because that's exactly what it is! Granted, there are six additional fighters and a new Endurance mode, but who cares? The graphics and general gameplay is okay, but I found performing throws difficult. I do like how you can kick your foes off platforms, watching them flail wildly as they fall hundreds of feet to their death (although in some cases, they get up and resume fighting). A few of the fighters are pretty cheap, especially the Noob/Smoke tag team with their teleporting and invisibility powers. But the worst aspect of Unchained is how you're forced to put up with excruciating load screens (with incessant disk grinding) before and after every match. I never had to put up with that on my Xbox! At least the long load screens gave my poor thumb time to recuperate, as the hard PSP buttons are ill-suited for constant mashing. Unchain's Chess and Puzzle modes also suffer under the new portable format. It's hard to make out the tiny characters in the Chess mode, and with so much loading between confrontations, a match could take all day! Even the Puzzle mode seems less exciting. Mortal Kombat has slowly been losing its mystique over the years, and with this questionable "new" edition, its integrity is now at risk as well. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NCAA 07 Football
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2011/11/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis old PSP football title is a lot better than you might think. The graphics look terrific, and the small screen nicely hides any imperfections that may exist in the player models. NCAA Football makes excellent use of the screen real estate, packing each edge and corner with information pertinent to the game in progress. The two-man commentator team is lively and does a good job of staying on top of the action. The controls are set up like any Madden-style game, and while I expected using the right trigger (for sprint) would be problematic, it's not bad at all. Still, it was wise of EA to move the lateral control from the left trigger to the triangle (for option plays). The action on the field is hard-hitting, but the runningbacks are hard to take down, bouncing off tacklers like a pinball! The kicking game is the worst aspect of the game as the awkward camera angle makes it difficult to aim your kicks. I do like the "alternate defensive view" which provides a nice perspective when attempting to block field goals. The CPU shows some imagination in its play-calling, sometimes even pulling out trick plays like the flea-flicker. The play selection mechanism is easy to use, but where are the blitz plays on defense? The on-field action is solid, but there's little in the way of college pageantry aside from the sound of the marching band. The game offers a nice selection of modes including a dynasty mode and a head-to-head wi-fi option. If you're into college football and want to play it on the go, NCAA 07 has everything you need. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Parodius Portable Collection (Japan)
Grade: B
Publisher: Konami (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/7/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI first heard about Parodius in the mid-90's while reading the "International News" section of a video game magazine. I couldn't wait for this zany take-off of the space shooter genre to hit the shores of America. Well, I'm still waiting, so I had to import Parodius Portable Collection from Japan. Parodius is based on Gradius (NES, 1986), a game that helped mold the shooter genre by incorporating so many familiar elements like end-of-stage bosses and selectable power-ups. Parodius adopts the same side-scrolling gameplay but substitutes generic cannons and ships with cuddly critters, clowns, and scantily clad ladies. The colossal bosses include a panda in a tutu, a dancing showgirl, and a nefarious ear of corn. There are some outrageous sights, and it's fun to see what each stage has in store. Each of the five games is high quality, but they all look and play nearly the same. One drawback to playing them on the PSP is that it's hard to make out what some of the smaller objects are supposed to be. The power-up system lets you trade in pods for power-ups on-the-fly, and I love the auto-fire/auto-power-up option (just hold the triangle button!). The gorgeous stages include bright flowery meadows, pirate ships, and neon-lit city skylines complete with fireworks. The games have a carnival flavor, and the soundtrack incorporates many familiar jingles (some of which are annoying). Parodius is much easier than Gradius, with less intense crossfire and more forgiving collision detection. Once you load up on weapons you're nearly unstoppable, although after taking a hit you lose everything. High scores are recorded, but be sure to enable the autosave. With its wacky enemies and random environments, Parodius doesn't make any sense, and maybe Konami didn't think Americans would "get it". Well, there's nothing to "get", so just sit back and enjoy the sheer madness of it all. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Patapon
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sony (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/10/25
Rating: Everyone

screenshotPatapon has an intriguing premise, but the execution leaves much to be desired, especially for a portable title. Patapon marries rhythmic music action with real-time strategy as you command cartoon armies by pressing button sequences with precise timing. The concept is original and clever, brought to life with humorous yet artistic visuals. The action is purely 2D as you forge ahead on a side-scrolling screen where you engage other armies or large creatures. Your warriors look like little eyeballs with arms and legs, and they sing along to your "notes" in high-pitched voices. It's endearing when you're doing well, but irritating when things start to go south. Patapon has a pretty steep learning curve, and that's a shame. The interface is confusing and it's hard to figure out how to make progress. The little guidance you get tends to be cryptic, often in the form of riddles. It took me a while to discover that collecting items was key to building armies, and it's essential to replay old stages in order to accumulate these. I must have failed level two a dozen times before realizing this! Even when you get the basics down however, Patapon isn't particularly enjoyable. The simple button sequences are not hard to memorize individually, but switching between them can be a bit taxing on the cranium. It's especially hard to maintain your rhythm during a battle while you're trying to determine your next move. Patapon has a lot going for it, but fun gameplay is not one of them. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Pursuit Force
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sony (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/10/3
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotI was really rooting for Pursuit Force, if only because it's exactly what the PSP needed - a fun, arcade-style title made exclusively for the system. Like many PSP gamers, I'm tired of second-rate ports! Pursuit Force may be a one-trick pony of sorts, but you can't deny its original gameplay and top-notch production values. With slick sports cars and soaring city skylines, the gorgeous graphics have that certain polish that really makes an impression. Likewise, the first-rate audio track features plenty of funny dialogue ("We're takin' you to the slaughterhouse, pig!"). Pursuit Force's gameplay is like every car chase you've ever seen in any action movie. As you weave through traffic in pursuit of the crooks, you can ram them, fire out your car window, or commandeer other vehicles. When in close proximity, you can leap onto the bad guys' car and pump lead right down their throats! The controls are surprisingly straightforward, and there's even on-screen prompts to help you out. In addition to cars, you can man other vehicles including speedboats and motorcycles, and sometimes even run around on foot. You'd expect the steering controls to be ideal for the PSP's analog nub, but in fact I felt much more comfortable with the digital pad. Pursuit Force is an action packed, but it wasn't the addictive joyride I was hoping for. The missions are hit and miss, and despite the game's admirable attempt to mix things up, the action feels repetitive after a while. The highways are wide open, but you're often asked to make awkward, tight turns onto narrow streets. Pursuit Force won't set the world on fire, but it does take a unique concept and get a lot of mileage out of it. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


R-Type Command
Grade: C-
Publisher: Irem (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/2/24
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe name "R-Type" is synonymous with intense side-scrolling shooting, but like Metal Gear Acid (PSP, 2005), this fabled franchise arrives on the PSP as a turn-based strategy game. Who in their right mind actually asked for this?! As ill-advised as it may seem however, Irem almost pulls it off. The idea is to navigate a squadron of ships around a hexagonal space map while trying to take out the CPU's flagship (before it can eliminate yours). You'll outfit your squadron with a variety of fighters, but they all tend to look very similar. The well-designed interface makes it easy to move and attack, but the myriad of options can be overwhelming. There are some interesting strategic possibilities, like the ability to deploy decoy ships - and detonate them. Certain ships can resupply others, and "force units" can combine with other ships to augment their power. The graphics are sharp but extremely tiny, and I had to use my reading glasses to discern the text. The battles are peppered with action-packed cut-scenes, but waiting for them to load bog things down, so eventually you'll disable them. R-Type Command is not a bad game once you get a feel for it, but R-Type fans really should know what they're getting themselves into. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Ridge Racer
Grade: B-
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/10/23
Rating: Everyone (suggestive themes)

screenshotI've been a fan of Ridge Racer since it was the "pack-in game" for the Playstation One. But like so many PSP launch titles, this one has "retread" written all over it. It basically repackages tracks from previous Ridge Racer games (some enhanced), adds some cars, and incorporates wireless play. To newcomers, it's a good deal, but for Ridge Racer veterans, it feels awfully familiar. At the very least, Namco could have tossed in a few original courses (throw me a frickin' bone!). Still, this certainly beats the stuffing out of that lame DS version. Embracing an arcade sensibility, Ridge Racer employs heavy drifting to provide pinpoint steering, and turbo boosts are earned in the process. This is one of the few PSP titles where I felt completely comfortable using the analog nub over the digital pad. The heart of the game lies in its "Tour" mode, which offers a series of challenges of increasing difficulty. But as fun as Ridge Racer is on the console machines, it proves to be a less-than-ideal portable experience. The races tend to run too long, and many require you to finish in first place. There's a truckload of loading screens and menus to page through before each race - hardly ideal for gaming on the go! The rear-view mirror is visible in the first-person view, but not in the more playable third-person view. Why? And while the graphics are generally above reproach, cars in the distance tend to bleed in an unsightly manner. The turbo boost effect is little more than a blur, and the Rally-X-style "status updates" are just distracting. The music generally sucks, and the commentator ("Awesome baby! Keep it up!") has got to go. If you're brand new to the Ridge Racer series, bump up the grade by a letter. Ridge Racer vets can knock it down a grade. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


Rock Band Unplugged
Grade: A-
Publisher: Harmonix (2009)
Reviewed: 2011/1/6
Rating: Teen (lyrics, suggestive themes)

screenshotWhen I think of playing Rock Band on the PSP, I envision someone trying to stick a square peg into a round hole. How in the heck are you supposed to play one musical instrument on the PSP, much less a four-piece band? Well, Harmonix got creative and took a very innovative approach. The screen consists of four side-by-side "tracks" of moving notes, representing guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. You only play one at a time, and tapping the shoulder buttons let you switch between them. Upon successfully completing a section of notes your current instrument temporarily goes into an auto-play mode, giving you the opportunity to take over another instrument. It's a juggling act of sorts, but it feels satisfying as you gradually fill in the missing sounds. Each instrument works the same as you hit four buttons in rhythmic time with colored notes moving down the track. The four buttons are mapped to left, up, triangle, and circle, and if you look at a PSP you'll see that this is a very symmetrical and intuitive configuration. The game's biggest flaw has more to do with poor hardware design than the game itself. The shoulder buttons are really awkward to tap quickly, and it tends to throw off your playing. Even so, Unplugged is surprisingly fun, offering a musical experience that's both unique and gratifying. The track listing is exceptionally strong, serving up first-rate tunes like Buddy Holly (Weezer), Today (Smashing Pumpkins), White Wedding (Billy Idol), and Living on a Prayer (Bon Jovi). The music sounds crystal clear, so you'll want to crank up your headphones. It seemed like a long shot, but Rock Band Unplugged proves that a square peg can fit into a round hole after all. Go figure. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Sid Meier's Pirates
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/6/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI've always been fond of pirate games, and this good-looking port of the Xbox action/strategy title is more than respectable. You assume the role of a pirate captain (who looks far too clean cut in my opinion) out to avenge the kidnapping of his family ten years before. As you visit ports in the Caribbean you gather information and piece together clues and treasure maps. Action sequences let you fight naval battles, engage in land skirmishes, and sneak through townships. While fun for a while, these sequences do get repetitive. The sword fighting sequences look great, but the controls are pretty loose and you'll watch the same animations over and over. Even the taverns all look exactly the same! The weirdest aspect of Pirates is a mini-game that lets you dance with the governor's daughter (who in the hell asked for that?) Pirates is a good portable title because you can play for just a few minutes at a time and still make progress. The game gives you a lot of freedom to explore, but it can get confusing as you forge multiple alliances and accumulate clues and new quests. Sometimes it feels like you're on a wild goose chase as you pursue some wretched bastard from one town to the next. Navigating the waters seems slightly less tedious than the Xbox version because your ship moves a little faster - sometimes too fast (where are the brakes on this thing?!) Unlike the Xbox version however there's no handy map overlay to help gauge your position, and I found myself having to consult the map screen a lot. Load screens are frequent but brief, and you can save your progress to any number of slots. The musical score is quite good, with stringed instruments playing rollicking melodies appropriate for the 1600's. Pirates begins to feel bit by-the-numbers after extended play, but it's still a well-crafted game that captures the spirit of the time. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Sonic Rivals
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/23

screenshotWhy has it become so hard for Sega to make a decent Sonic game? Rivals beats the heck out of the Xbox 360 Sonic, but it doesn't even compare to the 16-bit Sonics that graced the Genesis so long ago. What's particularly heartbreaking is that Sega almost got it right this time! Rivals features vibrant, lush 3D stages, but wisely kept the action restricted to a 2D plane. In theory, this would allow for a "classic" style of play without compromising the graphic capabilities of the system. Unfortunately, Sega opted for a completely different approach, making each stage a break-neck "race to the finish" between two characters. Clearly Sega has been reading too much of its own press, believing the key to any good Sonic game is pure velocity. Sure, Sonic's speed is fine in moderation, but one of the best parts of the old Sonics was being able to explore their imaginative, exotic stages. In Rivals, you're reduced to holding the directional pad right as Sonic automatically turbo-boosts around loops, corkscrews, and off trampolines. Occasionally you're prompted to hit a button, but the pace is too hectic to take in the scenery or employ any degree of strategy. Sega needs to realize that gamers in 2006 1) prefer to know what the hell's going on in a game, and 2) like to exert some influence on the events in the game! The CPU keeps each race artificially close, making a win even less satisfying. You're constantly unlocking items, but it's always something inconsequential like a new "skin" (wow) or outfit (pinch me). You can play as multiple characters including Shadow and Knuckles, but it's the same experience with each one. Sonic Rivals effectively transformed me into the Video Game Zombie (VGZ) as I mindlessly whizzed through one flashy stage after the next, until I was finally snapped from my coma by the message "Sonic Loses". Don't we all. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 2 players 


Sonic Rivals 2
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/2/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Sonic Rivals was a fairly pointless game, giving the player little control over the speedy blue hedgehog in a series of one-on-one "races". This sequel addresses that flaw to some extent by allowing the player to have some bearing on events, but it doesn't go far enough. Sonic Rivals 2 still boils down to a series of lengthy races, but this time Sonic must hop around platforms, swing from ropes, climb vines, and interact with other objects to maintain his momentum. It's refreshing to do something besides holding the directional pad right, but there are still long stretches where Sonic zips around out of your control. Characters can employ power-ups to gain an advantage over their rival, but some of these things are ridiculously cheap. In one race I was just about to cross the finish line when "Silver Sonic" used his "psychic control", causing me to turn around and run in the opposite direction! Sonic Rivals 2 also incorporates ill-conceived "battle" stages where you beat down a foe on an elaborate set of platforms. Since there's really only one attack button, these stages tend to be as shallow as they are unpleasant. The boss stages are so chaotic that even when you do succeed, you'll still wonder what the hell just happened! To be honest, I didn't enjoy any of the stages until I reached the "time attack" challenge of the Neon Palace zone. Completing the course in 2 minutes and 40 seconds is tough but addicting. If the entire game was nothing but time attack stages, it might have been respectable. Sonic Rival 2's lush graphics look great at first glance, but closer inspection reveals unsightly angular edges. The audio features some of the most annoying dialogue and voice acting ever recorded, with that annoying sissy Tails being the main offender. All in all, Sonic Rivals 2 represents both a step forward and backward for this floundering series. By the time Sega gets it right, I doubt anyone will even be paying attention anymore. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Space Invaders Extreme
Grade: C+
Publisher: Taito (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/7/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis game marks the 30th anniversary of the original Space Invaders, a landmark title that ushered in a golden age of video games with its cannon-versus-alien-armada theme. I still recall watching an alarming 1978 television news report suggesting video games might actually be addictive (*gasp*). Well, duh! They're supposed to be!! Space Invaders Extreme lives up to its name, spicing up the original formula with devastating power-ups, frantic pacing, and crazy eye candy. It seems like no two waves are the same! To be honest, I had no idea what the heck was going on the first time I played this. There's far too much activity on the screen, and too many gauges lining the sides. Waves are constantly interrupted by bonus rounds with fuzzy objectives. Extreme's gameplay seems tailored to those with extremely short attention spans, and its psychedelic visuals remind me of Tempest 2000 (Jaguar, 1995). Ultra-powerful weapons make it easy to tear apart each quick wave. I like how the aliens sport that classic pixilated look, making them easy to see in the midst of the chaos. Once you get a feel for it, Extreme is good but not great. The fact that you need to read the manual to figure out what's going on doesn't bode well for a Space Invaders title. You'll breeze through most waves with little resistance, and then face a boss who quickly depletes your reserves. I really dislike the bonus rounds. Not only do they disrupt the flow of the game, but they're generally a lot less fun that the normal waves! Extreme does have some innovative audio effects. Pleasant tones are played as you shoot each alien, creating a little song in the process! High scores are saved, but since "continuing" retains your previous score, it's rather confusing. I'm really not sure what to make of this game. Space Invaders Extreme lives up to its name, but it really lacks focus and left me feeling unsatisfied. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Star Soldier (Japan)
Grade: A-
Publisher: Hudson (2008)
Reviewed: 2011/4/4

screenshotLike most PSP systems, mine collects dust on the shelf because there are no good games for it. Actually, there are good PSP games but you need to import them from Japan. Who are these douche bag executives blocking quality titles like this from reaching America? They really suck. Star Soldier is a vertical 2D shooter not unlike those that use to grace the Saturn and Dreamcast. The fact that it's developed by Hudson should carry some weight with classic gaming fans. Star Soldier uses a vertical screen configuration so you'll need to turn your PSP 90 degrees so the buttons are on top. It's a little awkward but a small price to pay. You can select from three ships, and novice players will probably favor the default model which fires missiles in six directions (when fully powered up). Personally I prefer the second ship which concentrates your fire forward, usually showing bosses a quick exit. Only gluttons for punishment will opt for the third ship, which concentrates your fire backwards. Star Soldier's rapid-fire shooting is pure fun as you blast formations of dancing alien ships. The expansive space stations tend to have grids of small targets, and it's really satisfying to strafe these and see them go up in flames. The stages are ideal in length and the bosses are reasonable in difficulty. I really love that Terminator head and the explosions that burst from its eyes when you defeat it. Upon taking a hit you drop a weapon level instead of blowing up, and I like that. The control scheme has a second button but I have no idea what it does because the instruction manual is in Japanese (duh!). Still, this game has universal appeal. The visuals are understated, but the soundtrack features high-energy electronic tunes. I love how an electric guitar kicks in when your weapon achieves full power. Continues are available and the game saves your highest score. Despite the fact that I don't completely understand it, Star Solider is the most fun I've had with my PSP for years. Maybe ever. It's perfect for a quick fix, and isn't that what portable gaming is all about? © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron
Grade: D
Publisher: LucasArts (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/2/5
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotRenegade Squadron suffers from the same malady that plagues so many other PSP games - it feels like a scaled down, half-hearted version of a console game. In this case, that game would be Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (Xbox, 2005) - a game that never really set the world on fire in the first place. As a result, I found it really hard to get excited about Renegade Squadron. Like previous Battlefronts, the main idea of this third-person shooter is to battle armies of the Empire in order to secure all of the "outposts" in the game. A nifty new targeting system lets you hone in on an enemy by keeping him near your reticule and holding the R button. Throughout various missions you'll run around on foot, ride vehicles, and even fly starships between locations. Realizing that landing in hangar bays might be too tricky, the developers included an "auto land" option, which almost makes it too easy to fly from ship to ship. The single-player Campaign mode features a number of familiar Star Wars characters including Han Solo, Boba Fett, and IG-88, but the cut-scenes are just a series of illustrations, making it hard to connect with the story. The Campaign mode is pretty ho-hum, and I felt as if the storyline was driving me, and not vice versa. Occasionally you'll have the opportunity to play the role of a "main character" like Luke or Darth Vader, but their appearances seem very arbitrary, as if the game was desperately trying to inject some artificial excitement. The new Galactic Conquest mode tries to incorporate an additional layer of strategy by letting you shuffle troops between planets on a galactic map before engaging in combat. It's about as fun as it sounds. Renegade Squadron's graphics are good by PSP standards but not exceptional. As you would expect from a Star Wars title, the musical score and audio effects are beyond reproach. Multiplayer on-lines modes are also available, but Battlefront's formula is getting stale. There are endless customization options, but what's the point? If you've played the previous Battlefronts, Renegade doesn't even feel like more of the same - it feels like much less. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 16 players 


Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2009/1/1
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotThe original Street Fighter 2 (1991) was phenomenal, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max (SFA3M) is like a "turbo charged, super-sized, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" edition of that game. We're talking about 2D fighting at its finest, with frantic action, intuitive controls, and some serious eye candy. SFA3M's customizable combo system means the game can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Beginners can execute "super combos" at the touch of a button, and experts can execute creative custom combos. Street Fighter games are designed for six buttons (three punch, three kick), but the PSP shoulder buttons aren't well suited for a button-masher like this. I recommend setting the medium and hard blows to the four "face" buttons, leaving the "light" blows to the shoulder buttons. SFA3M's crisp 2D graphics look absolutely amazing on the PSP, with vibrant colors that practically leap off the screen. The fighters look sharp, but the elaborate, exotic background scenery isn't nearly as impressive on a portable. The flashy screens that introduce each match are a feast for the eyes, and the load times between matches are practically zero. The huge roster of 30+ characters includes four new entries: Eagle, Ingrid, Yun, and Maki (pretty hot). SFA3M's audio is not so impressive. The soundtrack isn't the least bit memorable, and when that annoying announcer yells "It's showtime!" or "You can't give it up!" you just want to tell him to shut the [expletive] up. SFA3M offers plenty of extraneous modes, but most are throwaway tag-team or survival variations. The 2-on-1 match-ups are mildly entertaining at first, but it's hard to tell who you're fighting half the time. Just stick with the arcade mode. Despite its cumbersome title, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max is a very comprehensive package that will thrill 2D fighting fans. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Tekken: Dark Resurrection
Grade: B-
Publisher: Namco (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/2
Rating: Teen (crude humor, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotDark Resurrection is a first-rate, 3D, one-on-one fighter for the PSP, but if you've played any of the other Tekkens, you've already played this one. It kicks off with an impressive opening cinematic culminating with Heihachi rising from his grave. Resurrection boasts an unprecedented number of fighters (37 in all), and thankfully they're all available immediately. All the classic Tekken characters are included, including oddities such as the wooden man and polar bear. Thanks to the small but sharp PSP screen, the characters look as crisp and detailed as they did on the PS2. Stages like the vertigo-inducing space station look great, but like the music tracks, most of the stages are surprisingly understated. Tekken Resurrection's controls are quite good, with excellent digital pad control and responsive buttons. Even pulling off throws (by hitting two buttons at once) works like a charm. For better or worse, there are a lot of combos and air-juggles. I really like how the game tracks each character's stats, but with so many characters to keep straight, I wish they'd keep the names displayed on the screen during battle. In addition to story and arcade modes, there's an "attack mode" that lets you unlock mini-games. The new "Dojo" mode lets you take a fighter and ascend the ranks, but I found it confusing and somewhat pointless. Let's face it - these modes are all just slight variations on the basic arcade mode. Dark Resurrection is a quality title, but it left me with a "been there done that" feeling. It's just the same old Tekken we've played a hundred times before, and without a graphical upgrade. If you're already burnt out on Tekken you'll want to knock the grade down by one letter. If you're new to the series however, feel free to bump it up by one letter. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Twisted Metal Head-On
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/11/21
Rating: Teen (violence, drug reference)

screenshotMost early PSP titles were uninspired ports of old Playstation games, and this Twisted Metal incarnation is a prime example. Head On looks like a rehash of the original games that appeared on the Playstation One, only with worse controls and half of the fun. The stages are definitely stale, offering familiar locations like a baseball stadium, the streets of Paris, and the freeways of LA (yawn). There's still all the frantic car combat action we've come to expect, but this time it's too chaotic, and most of the vehicles handle poorly. There are far too many "portals" integrated into the oversized stages, making it easy to get lost. For all of its faults however, Head On does do a few things right. The machines guns are more effective than in previous games, and there are some enjoyable "crash-up-derby" bonus stages. But in general, Head On will probably not hold your interest for long, and series veterans will feel like they've "been there, done that." © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 6 players 


Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins
Grade: C
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/10/3
Rating: Everyone (animated blood, fantasy violence)

screenshotAs a longtime fan of the Ghosts 'N Goblins (G&G) games, I've anxiously awaited this "Ultimate" edition for months on end. For the uninitiated, G&G is a classic side-scroller starring a knight forging his way through graveyards, burning villages, and caves while battling monsters and avoiding traps. This Ultimate version perfectly captures the visual and aural splendor of the series, with lush, gorgeous graphics and a first-rate orchestrated soundtrack. I'm grateful that Capcom retained the classic side-scrolling 2D style. For my money, this game looks better than just about any 3D game on the market. The action never lets up as you're constantly ambushed by monsters, including ephemeral ghosts, club-wielding trolls, giant spiders, and man-eating plants. Yet in the G&G tradition, nothing appears without some kind of warning. It sounds like a dream come true, but don't ditch your Sega Genesis Ghouls and Ghosts game just yet! The number of objects attacking at any given time can be pretty insane, and I would question the designer's "more is better" approach. Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins doesn't play nearly as well as it looks, mainly due to its abysmal controls. The old G&G games were always known for their extreme difficulty, but you could never blame the controls. In this edition, our hero takes long leaps instead of short hops, which is probably the worst idea since the New Coke. It's frustratingly hard to gauge your jumps, and you often leap right over the object you wish to land on - like the gravestone that's right in front of you! The situation is further exacerbated by the painfully stiff PSP controls. It's really heart-breaking when you consider how much this game had going for it. Not only is it substantially longer than its predecessors, but you can save your progress between stages and there are tons of weapons, items, and secrets to uncover. Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins is still playable and very easy on the eyes, but sadly, it's not nearly as fun as it should have been. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sony (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/10/24
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotThis PSP launch game is now a "greatest hits" title, yet Untold Legends has always seemed to remain under the radar. This overhead dungeon-crawler won't blow you away with its graphics, but it plays well and has an interesting storyline to boot. The action gets off to a slow start with a really mediocre first mission that sends you into a series of spider-infested catacombs. A game like this really needs to make a better first impression if it wants to draw the player in. Once you get beyond the spiders however, Untold Legends delivers a pretty satisfying adventure. The battles offer a nice balance of magic, melee, and shooting attacks. You'll learn to draw foes out one at a time to avoid getting stuck in the middle of their gangs. An ever-present map in the corner of the screen makes it easy to navigate the dungeons, and your health meter reconstitutes when you remain out of harm's way for about 10 seconds (like Halo). The item management screens are extremely well designed, making it fun to juggle, combine, and upgrade items. The graphics are so-so, with repetitive dungeons and minimally destructive environments. It's hard to make out the skeletons, and their lengthy death animations, although worthy of an Academy Award, really tend to confuse the action. If you wear headphones, Legends treats you to an ominous musical score and some fantastic audio effects. You can hear the ground crunching under your feet, monsters breathing down your neck, and the directional crackling of fire. Skeletons unleash blood-curling screams upon their demise, and their bones crunch as they fall to the ground. One issue I have with the game is the way monsters regenerate when you turn to old dungeons - I hate that. Also, although some monsters are very slow by nature, they tend to become world-class sprinters when you try to flee from them! One excellent feature is your ability to save your progress at any time. It's hardly Legendary, but Untold Legends is not a bad way to pass the time on your PSP. Maybe it's time we told somebody about it! © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Wipeout Pulse
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sony (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/7/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI raved about the first PSP Wipeout, Wipeout Pure (Sony, 2005) but despite making a grand first impression Pulse lost me somewhere down the line. The game exudes raw style with its crisp techno beats, sleek hovercraft, and clean futuristic environments. In terms of gameplay, Pulse picks up where Pure left off with exciting races around twisting tracks that will make you forget which way is up (does it even matter?). The single player mode has a nifty new "grid format", which offers a group of challenges to complete in any order. In addition to normal races, there are a lot of solo challenges. Some are of the standard "time trial" variety, but in the "speed zone" you try to survive as long as you can in a constantly accelerating vehicle. The controls are very nice, and although the analog works fine, I still feel more comfortable with the digital control. That's probably because that low analog nub causes my thumb to cramp up. The shoulder buttons allow you to "lean" into turns, and they work well. Learning the tracks is key, and you'll find yourself memorizing them after a few failed runs. Pulse is madly addiction at first, but stumbles due to its emphasis on weapons in later stages. Weapons played a minor role in Pure, but here you'll be lucky to make it around the track in one piece! It's really hard to avoid incoming rockets and missiles, and those tiny mines are hard to see. Dishing out the pain is equally problematic, since most weapons require you to aim, which really throws off your steering. Other issues include substantial load times and in-game instructions that forget to explain the controls. Wipeout Pulse is a great looking game, but it suffers in comparison to the original. Let's face it - sometimes a sequel has no place to go but down. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Wipeout Pure
Grade: A
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/1/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotTo be completely honest, I wasn't too keen on buying another version of Wipeout, considering I've played so many on my Playstation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. But Wipeout Pure is the real deal. This isn't just a scaled-down version of an old Playstation title, like the PSP editions of Ridge Racer and Twisted Metal. No, Pure truly elevates the Wipeout series with awe-inspiring visuals, first-rate audio, and finely-tuned gameplay. For those new to the series, Wipeout is a futuristic racer with vehicles that hover over gorgeous, winding courses. The tracks are wonderfully immersive, as you'll witness when you glide down the tropical track that plunges under the surface of the sea. Wipeout's weapons and power-ups are well balanced, and I especially love the "auto pilot" item that lets you effortlessly navigate the trickiest sections of the track. Though equipped with a shield, it is possible for your vehicle to be destroyed. This adds tension, especially when you're running low on shields in the final lap. Pure's audio features a lively techno soundtrack and a pleasant female voice that alerts you to upcoming hazards. The button configuration takes some getting used to (you need to release the accelerator to fire a weapon), and I'd definitely recommend the directional pad over the overly-sensitive analog nub. Wipeout Pure is easily one of the more addictive games for the system, and a true showcase of the PSP's power. It's just a shame Sony set the bar so high with this excellent launch title, because few PSP titles can even hope to match it. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 



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