2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
You 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 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.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception
Publisher: Namco (2006)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, mild language, violence)
Ace 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.
After Burner: Black Falcon
Publisher: Sega (2007)
Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
I'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.
Atari Classics Evolved
Publisher: Atari (2007)
Tossing 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.
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive (2007)
As 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 "homerun 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.
Capcom Classics Remixed
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)
Not 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 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.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Publisher: Konami (2007)
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, mild suggestive themes, violence)
I 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.
Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower
Publisher: Capcom (2004)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, sexual themes, violence)
Considering Sony's historical resistance to 2D games, Darkstalkers Chronicle seems an odd choice for a PSP launch title. But even Sony would have to admit that this one-on-one, 2D fighter does a good job of showing off the sharp graphics and vibrant colors of the PSP display. A short video introduces all of the characters, and it's a lot of fun to watch! In addition to a vampire, werewolf, and Frankenstein monster, there are a number of unconventional characters including a girl dressed as a bee and a samurai with a face in his chest. The Darkstalkers brand of gameplay is a slugfest that borrows liberally from the Street Fighter 2 formula. The basic moves consist of three punches and three kicks, but there are plenty of special moves - mostly magical in nature. One of my longtime criticisms of the series is how certain characters (like the mummy) change their shape to inflict a lot of cheap hits. That's still the case, but you have to love the game's responsive controls, fast pacing, and ample eye candy. The backgrounds tend to be dark and imaginative, although subtle details tend to get lost on the small screen. When this title was first released for the PSP, critics complained about the controls, but I suspect that had more to do with the stiff thumbpad on the original PSP. Playing the game on the later models presents no problems at all. Another criticism I recall is the load times, but waiting 10 seconds between matches didn't seem so bad to me. Before you play however, you may want to consider bumping up the difficulty via the options screen. At the default level, I breezed through the entire arcade mode without losing one match! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2006)
Rating: Everyone (animated blood, cartoon violence, crude humor, mild language)
To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for Daxter. I suspected this was a cheap knock-off of the Jak and Daxter series, which has been in decline for years. I was wrong. This is one of the best-looking, best-playing 3D platformers I can remember. And that means something coming from a jaded critic like myself. Beautiful to behold and thoughtfully constructed, Daxter's gameplay is surprisingly fresh and infused with good humor. Although somewhat irritating as Jak's sidekick, Daxter comes across here as quite funny and endearing. His squirrel-like appearance makes him appear soft and cuddly, and his animations are always a hoot. As a diminutive exterminator in a futuristic world, Daxter embarks on various missions to swat and spray an array of colorful creeps in lush meadows, subway stations, and construction sites, just to name a few locations. The controls are tailor-made for the PSP, and the analog nub works especially well. Daxter is a nimble little fellow, able to crawl through pipes, climb, and slide down poles and wires. His pesticide gun lets him to stun bugs from a distance, and by pointing it downward he can use it to hover. It's amazing how each stage offers something new so the action never becomes repetitive. As icing on the cake there are Matrix-inspired fight sequences that are an absolute joy to play. Daxter's gorgeous graphics look clean and crisp, sporting color combinations that are oh-so pleasing to the eyes. The audio is equally outstanding, thanks to its elegant orchestrated music soundtrack. It's usually quite easy to determine where to go next (look for the spotlight), checkpoints are spaced appropriately, and you can save your place at any time. There are some minor camera issues, and a few "what to do now" moments, but overall Daxter delivers outstanding 3D platform action. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: D3Publisher (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, strong language)
This budget title is a pretty run-of-the-mill by PSP standards, following in the footsteps of morbid platformers like Death Jr. and Medievil. You control a reanimated corpse on a quest for revenge, with the main gimmick being your ability to swap heads on the fly. You have several to choose from at a given time, each with their own powers. One lets you jump high, another lets you suck in liquids, another makes you stronger, etc. We've all seen this type of thing before. The game gets off to a questionable start with a lengthy introduction that concludes with the lead character dropping the F-bomb. The animation is nice, but the scenery features a lot of non-descript hallways and plain-looking rooms. Dead Head Fred incorporates hand-to-hand combat, puzzle solving, and platform jumping. It isn't terribly original, but the pacing is good and the effective musical score often mixes a playful piano with more ominous tones. You can save your progress at any time. The game seems playable enough at first, but you end up struggling with an unruly camera and some terribly unforgiving platform jumping. In one stage you need to jump across a series of sinking lily pads, and the degree of frustration is almost enough to award the game an instant F. A minor title like this does not merit that degree of aggravation. Even at a budget price, I'd have a hard time recommending Dead Head Fred to anybody. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2005)
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, language, violence)
Death Jr. offends my video game sensibilities in so many ways I don't even know where to start. It stars a diminutive skull-headed kid battling his way through a series of uninspired stages to save his friends. Death Jr. tries to convey an off-kilter sense of humor, but the dialogue comes off flat, and Jr's freaky "friends" are more disturbing than comical. The action consists of the mindless shooting and hacking of regenerating creeps while trekking through angular, banal locales including a museum and a school (snore). I still
don't know what "Meat World" is supposed to be, but it sure is boring! Ghouls relentlessly pummel you with projectiles, and these monsters are so poorly rendered that you can't even tell what they're supposed to be! But the game's main offense is how poorly it plays. The targeting system wreaks havoc on the framerate, adjusting the camera is a constant struggle, and the clipping problems are unforgivable. I can't tell you the number of times I was able to see past (or move through) "broken" walls. The minor-key musical score isn't bad, and you can save anytime, but these bells and whistles can't make up for the atrocious gameplay. I would have given Death Jr. points for originality, but then I remembered there was a Medi-Evil game for the PSP, and that has
to be better than this. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony
Publisher: 2K Games (2006)
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, violence)
You don't normally catch the VGC reviewing RPG-style adventures, but Dungeon Siege packs enough raw action to maintain even the shortest attention spans. Like most Diablo-style games, you'll explore towns, forests, caves, and ruins, battle monsters using melee and spells, collect treasure, and gradually grow more powerful. The Lord of the Rings (LotR) influence is evident, especially when you encounter the scrawny, fishing-eating "Scuttles". Dungeon's graphics are outstanding, with rich scenery and a tilted overhead camera that always zooms in as tight as possible. Monsters are highlighted and labeled, so it's easy to tell whom you're up against at any given time. The combat relies heavily on button-pounding, but that just adds a nice retro flavor (think Golden Axe). You only control one character directly, but a small sidekick who resembles a pet Balrog (the lava demon from LotR) fights by your side. Throughout your journey you may accumulate a number of concurrent quests, but these are easily referenced from the handy status screen (via the Select button). Unfortunately, some of the more tedious quests will have you backtracking all over the place to locate a specific item or person. The combat aspect is satisfying, and I like how you battle substantial creatures from the start - there's no bunny-killing nonsense in this game. Upon defeating a creature, gold coins and "loot" scatter about. By using the game's handy "item compare" mechanism (R button), it's actually fun
to size up new weapons and armor. I also found the process of upgrading abilities and learning new skills to be fast and intuitive. Dungeon Siege boasts an outstanding orchestrated musical score, and you can save your place at any time. The load screens are kept to a minimum, but their meters are the annoying kind where the last 10 percent is 90 percent of the wait. Still, Dungeon Siege has managed to maintain my attention for several weeks, and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface. This is one easy-to-play adventure that even casual warriors can appreciate. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Games (2006)
Rating: Mature (mature humor, partial nudity, violence)
The same game is available for both the Playstation 2 and Xbox, but oddly enough Family Guy shines brightest on the PSP. The cell-shaded graphics look exceptionally vibrant and clean, and the wide angle provides an optimal view of each stage without having to fiddle with clumsy camera controls. Throughout the game you'll play as three characters, including an obese father, brainy white dog, and infant genius. Peppered with clever dialogue, Family Guy exudes an offbeat brand of humor more sophisticated than the Simpsons or South Park. There are pop references galore, although some are rather obscure. Family Guy's gameplay is a virtual smorgasbord of styles. There's platform-jumping, target shooting, puzzle-solving, and even hand-to-hand combat. You'll beat the donuts out of cops (literally), and jump on the bellies of pregnant women in a hospital ward, launching babies (and other things) in the process. It's completely over-the-top, but I never found Family Guy to be crude or offensive. The short stages and auto-save are perfect for short gaming sessions, although the obligatory "stealth" stages certainly tried my patience. The controls are terrific, and I actually prefer them to the console versions. Though not a fan of the television series, I still found Family Guy to be an entertaining little romp. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake
Publisher: Sony (2012)
Rating: Teen (blood, cartoon violence)
I was feeling lukewarm about this one based on several reviews I had read, but when its price fell below ten bucks I couldn't resist. Fat Princess is a real-time strategy title pitting a red team against a blue one. The object is to rescue your princess and return her to the throne room in your castle. In the process you'll engage in melee combat, help secure bases, and manage resources. There are several classes of characters you can generate via "hat machines", including workers, warriors, mages, and priests. The game is played from an overhead view as your little character can freely scamper around an expansive landscape with mountains, bridges, islands, and water you can swim through. The one-player mode offers a series of missions that gradually introduce new elements, and I hated it. It seems like you always need to slowly haul something across the map while enemies relentlessly beat the living crap
out of you. Fat Princess was the first download-only title for the PSP, and it was clearly designed to facilitate multiplayer action for the system. But the game feels contrived, as if it was designed in a boardroom by a bunch of executives. It tries to use whimsical style and humor to hide its lack of original ideas. The one original element is the ability to feed cake to a princess, making her fat and more difficult for the other team to carry off. Good strategy games are more than the sum of their parts, but Fat Princess is far less. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
FlatOut: Head On
Publisher: Empire (2008)
Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, violence)
Flat Out has never gotten much respect from the gaming community. Is it because the game lets you catapult your driver hundreds of feet through the air and into a wall? Is it because you can bounce him into a set giant bowling pins? Probably!
I wasn't expecting much from FlatOut, but I got more than I bargained for. Considering its value price, this is one heck of a racer. What makes it fun are the satisfying wrecks and the way it encourages risk-taking. If you run into a tree headfirst or go the wrong way, no problem - you just need to hit the triangle button and you're back on track and up to speed. The CPU racers are aggressive, often hitting each other and setting up opportunities for you to T-bone an opponent for big points. Tracks tend to run through rural and industrial areas, and the scenery looks realistic. In fact, the sharp graphics gave me renewed appreciation for the PSP display. The handbrake control makes it easy to power slide, and the right trigger kicks in the turbo. The career mode is okay, but like other racers it takes time to work your way up to a decent vehicle. What separates FlatOut from other racers is its over-the-top "carnage mode", which is an action-packed collection of mini-games you play for score. These include one of the most satisfying crash-up-derby games I've ever played. There are plenty of other cars to plow into, and the crunching collisions are sweet. Some of the mini-games are downright wacky (like the bowling) but it's all in good fun. The one aspect I didn't care for was the audio. There's a lot of really abrasive guitar music that I found headache-inducing after a while. The load times are reasonable (for the PSP), and the load screens offer useful tips. FlatOut is one of the few games that attempts to straddle the line between arcade and realism, and it largely succeeds on both counts. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Are you ready for pain
? Ghost Rider was playable on the PS2, but its demanding controls effectively transform your PSP into a medieval torture device
. This is the first PSP game I've encountered that's required me to hold in the shoulder buttons while pounding the front buttons, and my contorted hands paid a hefty price. A combination beat-em-up/motorcycle racer, Ghost Rider stars a dude with a flaming skull wielding a chain and a shotgun. The first stage is set in Hell, and I'm glad, because I've always wondered what Hell actually looks
like. And wouldn't you know - it's exactly
as I envisioned, with fire everywhere, brimstone, bottomless pits, and crumbling ruins. Yes sir, it is awesome
! Those highways threw me for a loop, but hey - I guess demons need to commute too. The vibrant reds and yellows look absolutely gorgeous on the PSP's high contrast screen, and the comic-book style intermissions are pure eye candy. Sadly, most of the action boils down to mindless hack-n-slash combat against regenerating demons, although the ensuing pyrotechnic effects look pretty wild. It's mildly amusing for a while, but I really hate the demons surrounded by shields - they take forever
to wear down. There are subtle differences between this and the PS2 edition of Ghost Rider. Instead of moving between contiguous areas, magic portals teleport you between locations, which is pretty lame! The motorcycle stages are a nice change of pace, letting you plow through creatures in the road, whip other riders, and jump across massive chasms. Unfortunately, the physical discomfort inflicted upon your hands from playing this game for more than 15 minutes cannot be overstated. I hate to blame 2K for the PSP's button layout, but hey, it's all part of the package. The analog nub doesn't do you any favors either when it comes to oversteering your bike. The story mode can be considered a bust, but the racing-only "challenge" mode is decent and less taxing on your hands. Don't expect a demonic version of Mario Kart though. The carnival and Daily Planet tracks convey atmosphere, but you'll be annoyed to no end by weapons that black out your vision, mess with the controls, or flip the screen. You'll need to be a real die-hard Ghost Rider fanatic to appreciate this PSP title. More casual fans should check out the PS2 edition first. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Publisher: Sony (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual content)
This PSP edition of Gods of War offers the exact
same brand of Greek-mythology-meets-Mortal-Kombat action that graced the PS2. You play the role of Kratos, a one-man-wrecking crew who whips around blades on chains to devastating effect. This game's production values are superb, offering rich graphics, fine voice acting, and an epic orchestrated score. And if that's not enough, the game even has boobs!
What more could you ask for? Chains of Olympus takes place in ancient Greece at a time when the Gods seem to be having more personal problems than usual. Specifically, the sun has fallen from the sky and all hell is breaking loose. As with all God of War titles, the gameplay consists of bloody hack-n-slash action, simple puzzles, and dramatic battles with super-sized bosses. Some of the more elaborate sequences are punctuated by "quick-time" actions, prompting you to immediately hit specific buttons - often culminating in some very gory fatalities. Kratos can scale cliffs by plunging his daggers into its rocky walls, and that's pretty cool. The gameplay is forgiving, so you can't fall from ledges and when swimming you can't run out of air. The visuals are on par with the PS2 God of War games, and if there's any downgrade at all, you really can't tell on the small screen. There are some breathtaking views, and those shiny marble floors look amazing. One notable difference between this and the PS2 games is more frequent save points - very appropriate for a portable title. Chains of Olympus plays well, but it really doesn't benefit from the PSP platform. In fact, there were times when I wish I were playing it on a PS2 instead so I could savor more of the graphical details. Even so, God of War is probably the most playable and polished title you'll ever play on your PSP. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2006)
Okay, now it's time for the Nintendo DS
fans to be envious for a change! Gradius Collection contains five arcade-perfect 2D side-scrolling shooters released throughout the late 80's and early 90's. Asking a classic gamer if he likes Gradius is like asking him if he enjoys breathing air. Gradius set the standard for 2D shooters with its twitch gameplay and innovative weapon selection. On the surface, it looks pretty generic as you fly through caverns, blasting oncoming ships while dropping bombs onto stationary cannons. What's unique is how you collect pods and redeem them for power-ups. The longer you last, the more weapons you amass, although you lose them with your ship. Despite the incremental graphic improvements of each game iteration, the core gameplay has always remained the same. The first Gradius is so fun and addictive that in of itself practically justifies this disk. The second and third iterations incorporated some vertical scrolling, along with those trademark "sand lions" and flaming serpents. After watching Terminator 2 one too many times, the programmers made everything in the fourth edition look like liquid metal. The previously unreleased Gradius Gaiden offers more ship customizations, better explosions, and more "interactive" environments, like walls of falling ice. All of these games look terrific and feature well-orchestrated music scores. One trademark of Gradius has always been its insane difficulty, but this collection caters more to the casual gamer. The triangle button provides rapid-fire shooting and constant bomb dropping, saving your hands a lot of wear and tear. Upon losing a ship, you'll resume mid-stage instead of starting over from the beginning. The default difficulty is easy - too easy in fact. I recommend bumping it up to at least normal. There's even an option to adjust the collision detection, so minor scrapes no longer have to be fatal. Despite being very similar to each other, all five games are extremely fun and endlessly replayable. High scores are automatically saved. It's becoming crystal clear that the PSP is ideally suited to old school 2D action, so let's hope there's plenty more on the way. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: X-Seed (2009)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood, language, mild fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes)
My limited attention span has prevented me from reviewing many RPG (role-playing games), but Half-Minute Hero lets me enjoy the genre without the extensive time investment. This bizarre title offers a series of missions which challenge you to save the world in 30 seconds. Well, that's not exactly true. When you stop in townships to speak to people or buy items, the timer stops. Also, you can pray to statues to buy yourself an extra 30 seconds. Heck, many missions have a longer time limit than 30 seconds to begin with. That said, the missions still tend to be short and sweet. Half-Minute Hero has a deliberate old-school look with 2D graphics and intentionally pixelated characters. Likewise the music and audio effects sounds like something from the 16-bit era. Each mission begins with the tale of an evil being that's casting a spell that will destroy the world in 30 seconds - unless you can stop it. The game has a tongue-in-cheek style with a lot of cute dialogue that pokes fun at the RPG genre whenever it can. Each mission takes place in a "world" just a few screens wide, and juggling your resources is key to victory. You earn gold in battle to buy weapons, armor, and food from the townships. There is a "grind" element but it's relatively painless because the battles are quick and automatic as you simply plow through enemies that appear at random. Townsfolk provide you with hints on how to reach your destination and what critical item you'll need to defeat the villain. There's a lot of trial and error involved but you can usually finish a mission in a few minutes. Half-Minute Hero is engaging but it shoots itself in the foot with its time-consuming intermissions and verbose dialogue. For a game that prides itself on being fast, why break up the action with so many delays? Each mission begins with an extended introduction. It's necessary to talk to townsfolk, but they won't shut up! After every mission a full set of credits roll
for Pete's sake! You can skip this stuff via the Start button, but it's still annoying. Otherwise the game is fun and inventive, and there are even extra modes which provide real-time strategy and high-speed shooting games. For portable systems like the PSP I'm always looking for fun and original titles that I can't find on a normal console, and Half-Minute Hero is a shining example. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, suggestive themes)
Initially, I wrote off Hot Shots for the PSP as yet another PS2 rehash - a second-rate port with nothing new to offer. I guess I was wrong, because now it's my favorite PSP game! Simple put, this is a joy to play. I already own the four previous Hot Shots games, but there's something about viewing those deep blue skies and lush green hills on the PSP's wide screen. If there's one game that shows off that beautifully crisp screen, it's this. But Hot Shots is more than just a pretty face. Unlike previous versions, this one is specifically geared toward the single-player experience. It grabs your attention with its easy, fast gameplay, and then strings you along with enticing challenges and bundles of rewards in the form of new courses, characters, medals, ability boosts, promotions, and various whimsical accessories. A single round only takes a few minutes to play, making Open Tee ideal for gaming "on the go". The three-press swing meter beats the hell out of Tiger Wood's analog swing mechanism, and excellent camera angles make it easy to judge your shots. I only wish the overhead view was assigned to a different button besides the tiny "Start" button, since I use that a lot. The characters look pretty familiar, but the multi-tiered courses with multiple paths seem fresh and imaginative. Hot Shots gets the details right too, auto-saving your statistics, marking long shots, and featuring varying weather conditions. As an indicator of how much I enjoyed the game, it's the one PSP title I've played where the batteries keep dying on me! Previous Hot Shot games were always fun to play against friends, but thanks to this slick portable edition, you don't even need friends anymore! © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip
Publisher: Sony (2010)
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild suggestive themes)
It's a little cheesy, but Hot Shots Tennis: Get a Grip is one of the more enjoyable games I've played on my PSP. Driving the game is a story mode that slowly ramps up in difficulty while introducing new opponents and locations. As in Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee
(PSP, 2005) the characters are rendered in a cartoonish, anime style. Scrolling through dialogue between matches can be a little tedious, but at least the conversations tend to be short. In the first stage several kids discuss how it's important to exercise to avoid getting fat! I'm not sure if that's wildly politically-incorrect, socially responsible, or both.
The matches are short, sweet, and fun. If you're used to playing Virtua Tennis
(Dreamcast, 2000) the controls will take some getting used to. Instead of "winding up" for shots, it's all about timing. Cute icons indicate if you've hit the ball late (tortoise), early (hare), or just right (music note). It's possible to hit the ball out of bounds, into the net, or off the net. There's plenty of technique involved, with lobs and smashes being particularly effective. If you smash a ball into your opponent's face, you can knock him out cold! If it seems like your player is diving too much, you'll want to focus on proper positioning. If you line up directly in the ball's path, it will actually hit you! The difficulty is low but I enjoyed unlocking new locations like a college campus and television studio. Some tennis courts even have obstacles. You're constantly unlocking whimsical bonus items like sunglasses, a pink afro, and santa suit. The general look of the game is very busy. The set-up screens are brimming with meters, icons, stats, and control options. That's okay, because Hot Shots Tennis is pure arcade fun. And with quick matches and frequent autosaves, it's also perfect for gaming on the go. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Majesco (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, intense violence)
Infected didn't make much noise in the media, but I found this to be a surprisingly enjoyable zombie shooter. Each stage is only a few minutes in length, with your goal being to clear out ghouls in a certain part of a city. Viewing the action from behind your character, you "wear down" oncoming undead with conventional firearms before finishing them off with your "viral" gun (insert joke here). Zombies at full strength are surrounded by a yellow glow, and weak ones glow red. It's especially satisfying to score "combos" by splattering several weak zombies at a time. Infected has a real arcade flavor, with brief stages and plenty of frenetic strafing action. You'll acquire better weapons and abilities as you advance, although the controls for switching weapons are needlessly confusing. But that didn't bother me as much as the lowbrow humor. As you receive audible status information between stages from police radios and news telecasts, the game too often resorts to juvenile humor and gratuitous profanity. It makes an otherwise enjoyable little shooter feel like a tawdry affair. Infected's graphics won't turn any heads (the characters look like cardboard cut-outs), but the urban scenery looks pretty good. Despite its flaws, Infected managed to get under my skin. It certainly excels in the instant gratification department, making it ideal for portable gaming. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2006)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, violence)
One reader characterized Killzone: Liberation as an "old-school" overhead shooter, and that's not far from the truth. This amazing game is one of the few truly addictive titles for the PSP system. Its stages would suggest a first-person war shooter, but Killzone is played from a third-person, high-angled view. On one hand, everything looks very small and it's hard to discern enemies and hazards in the grungy scenery. On the other hand, you get an optimal view of your surroundings, allowing you to see what's coming and plan a strategy. It's a good trade-off, and I wish more
console games would adopt this approach. The missions typically involve infiltrating enemy hideouts, knocking out weapons systems, or rescuing hostages. The visual style adopts a dark, gritty look, rendering everything in shades of gray. While this certainly adds authenticity, it also makes the landscapes look bland and unappealing. That's what realism gets you! Another consequence is that critical elements like barriers and supply boxes tend to blend into the backgrounds. Killzone's control scheme is excellent. The right shoulder button is used to take cover, and it's effective to peek and shoot between enemy reloads. For throwing grenades, pressing the circle button brings up a dotted-line trajectory arc which you can easily adjust. The X button is used for basic interactions like disabling traps and breaking crates. The game demands a thoughtful, deliberate approach to each new area, some of which have multiple paths. In addition to enemy soldiers, you'll fend off attack dogs and dangerous "spider robots" which function like crawling land mines. Whenever you hear the clickety-clack of one approaching, it's pretty alarming! The checkpoints are generally frequent, but not always optimally placed. Sometimes you'll make slow, steady progress in an area, only to be instantly killed by a heat-seeking rocket. It's frustrating at times, but Killzone: Liberation keeps you coming back - like any good portable game should. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2006)
It's ironic how the PSP finally
gets a critically-acclaimed title that's both 2D and completely original, and what happens? It doesn't sell. But truth be told, LocoRoco isn't nearly as great as other critics might have you believe. I've noticed that many reviewers become so charmed by a game's originality that they can no longer objectively judge its gameplay. But not this critic. LocoRoco is attractive, quirky, and kid-friendly, but it's no Katamari Damacy
(PS2, 2004). Loco's gameplay involves tilting the screen to make the cute, round "LocoRoco" roll and jump through a world of bouncy flowerbeds, winding tunnels, and streams of wind. As you traverse each course you'll want to avoid the nasty black "Mojas" and gather berries that allow you to grow. Using the circle button, you can either merge your Locos into one slow, large blob, or divide them into a collection of smaller Locos (which are easier to lose). The colorful 2D graphics are inviting, and the worlds are uniquely soft and squishy. Tilting the screen involves holding in the shoulder buttons, and I couldn't help but think how much better this game would be had the PSP contained some sort of tilt-detecting mechanism. Jumping involves holding in and releasing both shoulder buttons at once. The gameplay seems compelling for a while, but despite its thoughtful stage designs, Loco Roco gradually becomes monotonous and I found myself struggling to maintain interest. The music is entirely in Japanese, much of it sung by a whiney chorus of kids. Not only are these tunes extremely corny, but they'll really
get on your nerves. I hate to rain on the parade, but this isn't the "must-have" title PSP fans have been waiting for. LocoRoco is just medio-co. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2005)
Okay, let me get this straight. This
is the title early PSP adopters were hanging their hats on? This
is puzzle game an EGM reviewer recently described as "revolutionary"? Give me a [expletive] break! Had the original PSP game selection not been so lackluster, this Tetris knock-off would have received little or no attention. Lumines features colored blocks falling from the top of the screen that can be arranged into square clusters of various sizes. A visible line constantly scans the screen to clear out the squares, allowing you to rack up points and combos. Lumines is easy to learn, but I didn't find its gameplay particularly addictive. The main "challenge" mode runs too long and wears out its welcome. Sure you can win "skins" - but who gives a [expletive]? The timed modes are seriously lame and the puzzle mode is absolutely unbearable. Thankfully, the "CPU Versus" mode saves the day by offering short, competitive contests. Played on a vertical split screen, you land combos to "squeeze" your opponent's area, and I like the concept. The Lumines faithful love to rave about the slick visuals and trendy soundtrack, but truth be told, they're so not hot. For each attractive "skin" there's a hideously ugly one, and the techno music is a mixed bag. Some of the songs feature high-pitched voice samples that are downright annoying. Lumines isn't bad but it's not great either. It's just one of the most overhyped PSP titles. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.