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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

PSP Reviews D-F

Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2004)
Posted: 2009/9/27
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, sexual themes, violence)

screenshotConsidering 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.

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1 to 4 players 

Grade: A-
Publisher: Sony (2006)
Posted: 2006/6/14
Rating: Everyone (animated blood, cartoon violence, crude humor, mild language)

screenshotTo 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 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.

Dead Head Fred
Grade: D
Publisher: D3Publisher (2007)
Posted: 2008/10/25
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, strong language)

screenshotThis 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.

1 player 

Death Jr.
Grade: F
Publisher: Konami (2005)
Posted: 2006/10/23
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, language, violence)

screenshotDeath 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.

1 player 

Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony
Grade: B+
Publisher: 2K Games (2006)
Posted: 2007/1/23
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotYou 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.

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1 player 

Family Guy
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Games (2006)
Posted: 2006/11/21
Rating: Mature (mature humor, partial nudity, violence)

screenshotThe 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.

1 player 

Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake
Grade: F
Publisher: Sony (2012)
Posted: 2013/2/24
Rating: Teen (blood, cartoon violence)

screenshotI 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.

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1 player 

FlatOut: Head On
Grade: B+
Publisher: Empire (2008)
Posted: 2011/11/11
Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, violence)

screenshotFlat 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 of 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.

1 player 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Arcade Museum