PSP Reviews A-C

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/7/11
Rating: Everyone


screenshotYou might expect this PSP edition to play second fiddle to the console game, but I actually prefer this portable version of 2010 World Cup South Africa. You may recall that the console version employed a distant "spectator view" that made the players look downright microscopic. That's not the case here, as a closer, more optimal camera angle is used to good effect. Your main passing routes are easy to spot, so you'll rarely have to glance at the radar display at the bottom of the screen. The matches are briskly paced and quite realistic despite their abbreviated length.

The controls could be better. You're forced to use the analog nub (no digital support) and it's easy to make an accidental extra pass. The steal button on defense is the shot button on offense, resulting in some unintentional long-range shots. Also annoying is how while defending penalty kicks your view is from behind the net. You can barely see through that thing!

The audio is high in quality thanks to a wonderfully diverse soundtrack and excellent commentators. They're English, so obviously they know what they're talking about. I love when they say stuff like, "C'mon referee, you must see that!" When you see blown calls in a FIFA game, that's a sure sign of realism! You can vaguely hear the drone of vuvuzela horns in the background (I think), but they aren't as obnoxious as they are during telecasts. My overall experience with FIFA 2010 was pretty average, but if you're in the mood for soccer, this will do just fine. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception
Grade: C
Publisher: Namco (2006)
Reviewed: 2012/9/29
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, mild language, violence)

screenshotAce Combat is an airplane franchise as old as the first Playstation. It's a first-person jet fighter with arcade flair and a glossy presentation. You'll unleash guns, bombs, and missiles as you methodically destroy ships at sea, squadrons in the air, and factories on land. One look at the screen makes it clear that this is more simulation than arcade.

Your elaborate HUD (heads-up display) is loaded with symbols and gauges, and a handy arrow directs you to your next target. The level of detail is impressive and the scenery looks very realistic. Each target is outlined with a square, and its distance is also indicated. You'll need to accelerate to get a target in range, but take care not to speed right past it.

As with many PSP titles, Air Combat X feels obligated to incorporate some kind of unnecessary storyline. The still pictures and pages of dialogue are boring, so you'll be glad you can hit the Start button to skip it. The missions seem pretty simple at first (take out four bombers, for example), but as unforeseen events unfold, you end up doing a lot more.

Your missions are timed, so you don't want to dawdle. Frankly I didn't know exactly what was going on much of the time, but I did feel as if I was immersed in a dangerous war zone. There's a lot of chatter over your radio, and it took me a while to figure out most of it was coming from my enemies.

Ace Combat X plays pretty well. Your handy target arrow keeps you busy, and it's always satisfying to go in for the kill, even if it means firing a pair of missiles from a safe distance. I even found myself applying "body english" when trying to track down an elusive target. Dramatic music plays in the background which helps maintain the level of intensity. There's nothing extraordinary about Ace Combat X, but this is a competent jet shooter for your PSP. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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After Burner: Black Falcon
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2007)
Reviewed: 2012/9/29
Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)


screenshotI've been a fan of After Burner's brand of intense jet fighter action since the early 90's. Its "twitch" gameplay has always been shallow, but its fast action and eye candy are hard to resist. Arcade-style titles are hard to come by on the PSP, so I was hoping Black Falcon might fill the void. The first thing I noticed was how Black Falcon has more depth (and length) than your garden variety After Burner. You begin by selecting a character, and just my luck the "top aviator in the Navy" happens to be a drop-dead gorgeous chick. What are the odds?

Your missions take place over oceans, rocky deserts, and arctic ice flows as you destroy targets in air, land, and sea. Each mission has a main goal with a few bonus objectives. You can select from about a dozen planes, and upgrades are available if you have the cash. The controls let you fire missiles (for air targets) and rockets (for ground targets) in addition to your trusty machine gun.

Unlike most After Burner titles your guns are highly effective, probably because enemy planes like to fly right in front of you. Your missiles tend to lock onto targets long before they are visible, causing small circles to appear on the horizon. Just press the missile button for each blue circle (air target) and the rocket button for each green circle (land target). You view the action from behind your plane, and your depth perception isn't so hot when weaving around rocky cliffs. Fortunately the collision detection is very forgiving.

Black Falcon sounds good on paper but it lacks arcade appeal. The missions drag on for too long, and the mission details get lost as you just mindlessly blow everything up. The graphics are average (at best) and most of the scenery gets blown up before you have a chance to see it. There's a lot of draw-in and the lack of detail makes the bridge look more like toys. Black Falcon introduces new concepts like mission details and plane customizations, but it feels like the fun factor was an afterthought. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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Atari Classics Evolved
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/2/5
Rating: Everyone


screenshotTossing together a collection of emulated old games should be easy money for game companies, but time after time I see these compilations botched in every conceivable way. Atari Classics contains some of the greatest arcade games ever made, including Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede, Warlords, Tempest, and Battlezone. Less great, and somewhat lame, are Pong, Breakout, and Lunar Lander.

None of these games are perfectly emulated (some of the sound effects are noticeably off), but by and large they look and play just like the originals. Control is an issue however, because most of these games were designed to be played with track-balls or paddles. I had never been sold on the PSP analog "nub", and Atari Classics really makes it obvious how worthless that thing really is. You don't get anywhere near the same degree of control.

Updated versions of each game are also included, incorporating fancy graphic effects and sophisticated music while remaining faithful in terms of gameplay. Few games benefit from the overhaul, with the exception of Warlords which offers a fascinating futuristic interpretation of the classic four-player battle game, with an edgy soundtrack to boot. The new particle effects that adorn games like Asteroids, Centipede and Missile Command only serve to clutter up the screen, making it harder to tell what's going on.

The tiny screens don't help matters. Instead of these games being reformatted to PSP proportions, the playing fields have been cropped! Many objects are downright miniscule, and you can barely even make out the letters on the Asteroids high score screen! And despite the modest technical requirements of these games, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time staring at load and save screens. Why does it take 15 seconds to save a high score? That's five digits people!! What the hell?

Finally, although there's a slew of Atari 2600 games to unlock, you'll need to complete all of the pre-defined objectives for each arcade game to do so. That's asking a lot, especially when playing games like Lunar Lander and Pong are such a chore. At its core Atari Classics is solid gold, but as usual, this package fails to do the games justice. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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Bigs, The
Grade: A-
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/8/2
Rating: Everyone


screenshotAs a fast-paced baseball game with simple controls, The Bigs is an ideal sports title for a portable system. With its five-inning games, you can bang out a contest in about 20 minutes, in contrast to other baseball games that drag on until you fall asleep. The Bigs is a decidedly arcade experience, with acrobatic catches, flaming fastballs, scoreboard-smashing homers, and jarring collisions at home plate.

Simple to play and addictive, The Bigs is for gamers who prefer to get right down to business without all the tedious delays and pauses associated with real baseball. I love how the runners move automatically, eliminating the baserunning confusion all too common in most baseball games. The only thing I really don't like is the predictable "power blast" power-up, which always results in a spectacular homerun.

The game's brisk pacing is commendable, but you will have to watch the 2K logo spin for a second or two between batters. The teams, players, and stadiums are totally real and they look great. The graphics are scaled back a bit from the PS3 version, but on the small screen you'll barely even notice.

The commentator does a fair job, but his play-by-play can become fragmented at times. The "rookie challenge" mode will keep solo gamers occupied, and you can play a friend via wi-fi. A lukewarm "home run derby" mode is included, but sadly, innovative "baseball pinball" mode did not make it onto the PSP. Still, it's highly unlikely you'll find a more enjoyable baseball game for your PSP. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Capcom Classics Remixed
Grade: A
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/6/13
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)

screenshotNot to be confused with the PS2 Capcom Collection, Remixed offers a new set of 20 arcade-perfect games from the late 80's and early 90's. There are a few big names and a lot of hidden gems. All of the games include a two-player mode. 1941 (released in 1990, grade A-) is actually a sequel to 1943, offering the same great WWII plane shooting action, but with more advanced graphics and audio. It's one of several games that's best played holding your PSP vertically.

Avengers (1987, F) is an outrageously bad fighter where you kick and punch thugs from an overhead point of view. In the mega-hard Bionic Commando (1987, B), our hero uses a grappling hook to navigate platforms instead of jumping. Black Tiger (1987, B+) is a hectic but engaging side-scroller similar to Ghouls and Ghosts. Block Block (1991, A-) is a Breakout clone with helpful power-ups and bricks that are spaced further apart to facilitate crazy chain reactions. Despite lacking the fine-tuned control of a paddle, it's still one of the more addictive games in this collection.

Final Fight (1991, A) is the original classic side-scrolling brawler, and Captain Commando (1991, A-) is its futuristic cousin. In Forgotten Worlds (1988, B+) you hover and rotate in a jetpack, blasting hoards of robots and lizard men in a post-apocalyptic world. Last Duel (1988, B-) plays like a futuristic Bump N Jump at times, but also contains more conventional vertical shooting stages. Legendary Wings (1986, C) alternates between vertical shooting and platform action, but much of its graphical detail is lost on the small screen.

Magic Sword (1990, B+) is an absolutely frenetic medieval hack-n-slash adventure with phenomenal graphics. Mega Twins (1990, C) is similar but with more whimsical graphics and less intuitive controls. Quiz and Dragons (1992, B) is a strangely compelling quiz game with a medieval theme. Just to give you an idea, imagine encountering a goblin in the woods and having him ask you the name Ron Wood's former band, or Fred Astaire's dance partner.

Section Z (1995, C-) is a lousy side-scrolling shooter with little to offer, but Side Arms (1986, B) features sharp graphics and absolutely crazy firepower. Speed Rumbler (1986, D) is an odd little bumper-car shooter with tiny vehicles and miniscule people. Street Fighter (1987, C) is interesting for historical reasons, but not so hot in terms of gameplay. Strider (1989, A) is the excellent (and surprisingly gory) hack-n-slash adventure set in exotic lands.

Three Wonders (1991, B+) offers a trio of unique games (platform shooter, flying shooter, puzzle), each being good enough to stand on its own. Varth (1992, A) rounds out the collection as a chaotic vertical airplane shooter similar to 1941. Capcom Classics Remixed automatically saves high scores, and each game includes unlockable history, tips, art, and music. With so much quality gameplay, this is really the only disk you need for your PSP. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Grade: A
Publisher: Konami (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/11/23
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotI had expected last year's Ultimate Ghouls and Ghosts to be the definitive PSP game, but that one let me down. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, however, is the real deal. This is easily the best reason yet to own a PSP. The original Dracula X was released in Japan for the PC Engine (Turbo Duo compatible) in 1993, and hardcore gamers have long regarded this Japanese import as the best Castlevania game ever made. With Chronicles, now everybody can see what all the fuss was about (well, PSP owners at least).

Dracula X Chronicles is a remake of Dracula X, spicing up its classic 2D gameplay with stylish 3D (yet unobtrusive) visuals and enhanced cinematics. The controls are fairly simplistic (the lack of a dash move is glaring), but you can't question the addictive gameplay and superb stage designs. Unlike the endless labyrinths of the newer Castlevania titles, Dracula X is more linear but brimming with distinctive locations and memorable sequences.

Enemies include floating eyeballs (with tails of course), miniature hunchbacks, medusa heads, and skeletal dragons. Bosses you'll encounter include a leaping werewolf, a massive minotaur, and a headless horseman. This updated Dracula X alone would be enough to justify a purchase, but wait - there's more.

The original Dracula X is an unlockable, along with the critically acclaimed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Playstation, 1997)! Question: Why in the [expletive] are these awesome games locked? I mean, you paid for the [expletive] things, and they're featured on the [expletive] box, and now you need to unlock them? I'm sorry Konami, but that was a real bonehead move. Even so, I can't let an idiotic decision like that rain on the parade, because Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles may be the best hand-held game you'll ever play. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Arcade Museum