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.
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.
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.
Half-Minute Hero has a deliberate old-school look with 2D graphics and intentionally pixelated characters. Likewise the music and audio effects sound 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.
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.
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.
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 turns an otherwise enjoyable little shooter into 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.
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 fair 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.
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.
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.