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

PSP Reviews S

SNK Arcade Classics 0 (Japan)
Grade: C
Publisher: SNK Playmore (2011)
Posted: 2015/3/24

screenshotClassic compilations like this are usually a great value. It's like having an arcade in your pocket! The 20 titles in SNK Arcade Classics 0 span the decade of the 80's and are presented in chronological order. This collection takes you back to SNK's humble beginnings, and if you assumed SNK games always kicked ass, you're in for a surprise. Half of the games are marginal at best, and a few are just dreadful.

It's amazing how many of these rudimentary shooters blatantly rip-off the overhead shoot-and-bomb gameplay of Xevious. Don't let the title "Vanguard 2" get you excited, because it's just another unplayable Xevious knock-off. The overhead shooting of Tank will tie your fingers in knots, and Marvin's Maze is an ill-advised 3D Pac-Man clone.

Bermuda Triangle is a vertical shooter with impressively large sprites but you spend half the time flying backwards. Athena is a whimsical side-scroller starring a chick who beats up teddy bears with maracas. The same girl stars in Psycho Soldier, a game with a pop soundtrack that's nearly as inappropriate as its title.

The collection gains traction when you start getting into its one-man-army titles. All three Ikari Warrior games are included, and they are tough! POW is a side-scrolling brawler that lets you pick up and use machine guns to mow down enemies. A few quirky sports games are sprinkled in like the unintentionally funny Touchdown Fever ("next down!").

Super Champion Baseball lets you relive classic match-ups like the Kansas City Raspberries against the New York Yellows. Gold Medalist is a summer Olympics title that's so fun and pleasing to the eye I wish I could play it with my friends. The scoreboard implores athletes to "aim at a gold medal" and "use force!!" Prehistoric Isle sounds intriguing but this side-scrolling dinosaur shooter is too chaotic for its own good.

Each game lets you load and save your progress and high scores, but the process is cumbersome. It's a shame I can't read Japanese because the manual is chock-full of colorful artwork and background material within its 65 pages. SNK Classics 0 is mainly for completists. It's interesting to sample these relics from the past but unlikely you'll fall in love with any of them. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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

screenshotI've always been fond of pirate games, and this good-looking port of the Xbox action/strategy title is more than respectable. You assume the role of a pirate captain (who looks far too clean cut in my opinion) out to avenge the kidnapping of his family ten years before. As you visit ports in the Caribbean you gather information and piece together clues and treasure maps. Action sequences let you fight naval battles, engage in land skirmishes, and sneak through townships.

While fun for a while, these sequences do get repetitive. The sword fighting sequences look great, but the controls are pretty loose and you'll watch the same animations over and over. Even the taverns all look exactly the same! The weirdest aspect of Pirates is a mini-game that lets you dance with the governor's daughter (who in the hell asked for that?)

Pirates is a good portable title because you can play for just a few minutes at a time and still make progress. The game gives you a lot of freedom to explore, but it can get confusing as you forge multiple alliances and accumulate clues and new quests. Sometimes it feels like you're on a wild goose chase as you pursue some wretched bastard from one town to the next. Navigating the waters seems slightly less tedious than the Xbox version because your ship moves a little faster - sometimes too fast (where are the brakes on this thing?!)

Unlike the Xbox version however there's no handy map overlay to help gauge your position, and I found myself having to consult the map screen a lot. Load screens are frequent but brief, and you can save your progress to any number of slots. The musical score is quite good, with stringed instruments playing rollicking melodies appropriate for the 1600's. Pirates begins to feel bit by-the-numbers after extended play, but it's still a well-crafted game that captures the spirit of the time. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

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

screenshotWhy has it become so hard for Sega to make a decent Sonic game? Rivals beats the heck out of the Xbox 360 Sonic, but it doesn't even compare to the 16-bit Sonics that graced the Genesis so long ago. What's particularly heartbreaking is that Sega almost got it right this time! Rivals features vibrant, lush 3D stages, but wisely kept the action restricted to a 2D plane. In theory, this would allow for a "classic" style of play without compromising the graphic capabilities of the system.

Unfortunately, Sega opted for a completely different approach, making each stage a break-neck "race to the finish" between two characters. Clearly Sega has been reading too much of its own press, believing the key to any good Sonic game is pure velocity. Sure, Sonic's speed is fine in moderation, but one of the best parts of the old Sonics was being able to explore their imaginative, exotic stages.

In Rivals, you're reduced to holding the directional pad right as Sonic automatically turbo-boosts around loops, corkscrews, and off trampolines. Occasionally you're prompted to hit a button, but the pace is too hectic to take in the scenery or employ any degree of strategy. Sega needs to realize that gamers in 2006 1) prefer to know what the hell's going on in a game, and 2) like to exert some influence on the events in the game!

The CPU keeps each race artificially close, making a win even less satisfying. You're constantly unlocking items, but it's always something inconsequential like a new "skin" (wow) or outfit (pinch me). You can play as multiple characters including Shadow and Knuckles, but it's the same experience with each one.

Sonic Rivals effectively transformed me into the Video Game Zombie (VGZ) as I mindlessly whizzed through one flashy stage after the next, until I was finally snapped from my coma by the message "Sonic Loses". Don't we all. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 2 players 

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

screenshotThe first Sonic Rivals was a fairly pointless game, giving the player little control over the speedy blue hedgehog in a series of one-on-one "races". This sequel addresses that flaw to some extent by allowing the player to have some bearing on events, but it doesn't go far enough.

Sonic Rivals 2 still boils down to a series of lengthy races, but this time Sonic must hop around platforms, swing from ropes, climb vines, and interact with other objects to maintain his momentum. It's refreshing to do something besides holding the directional pad right, but there are still long stretches where Sonic zips around out of your control.

Characters can employ power-ups to gain an advantage over their rival, but some of these things are ridiculously cheap. In one race I was just about to cross the finish line when "Silver Sonic" used his "psychic control", causing me to turn around and run in the opposite direction!

Sonic Rivals 2 also incorporates ill-conceived "battle" stages where you beat down a foe on an elaborate set of platforms. Since there's really only one attack button, these stages tend to be as shallow as they are unpleasant. The boss stages are so chaotic that even when you do succeed, you'll still wonder what the hell just happened!

To be honest, I didn't enjoy any of the stages until I reached the "time attack" challenge of the Neon Palace zone. Completing the course in 2 minutes and 40 seconds is tough but addicting. If the entire game was nothing but time attack stages, it might have been respectable.

Sonic Rival 2's lush graphics look great at first glance, but closer inspection reveals unsightly angular edges. The audio features some of the most annoying dialogue and voice acting ever recorded, with that annoying sissy Tails being the main offender. All in all, Sonic Rivals 2 represents both a step forward and backward for this floundering franchise. By the time Sega gets it right, I doubt anyone will even be paying attention anymore. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

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

screenshotThis game marks the 30th anniversary of the original Space Invaders, a landmark title that ushered in a golden age of video games with its cannon-versus-alien-armada theme. I still recall watching an alarming 1978 television news report suggesting video games might actually be addictive (*gasp*). Well, duh! They're supposed to be!!

Space Invaders Extreme lives up to its name, spicing up the original formula with devastating power-ups, frantic pacing, and crazy eye candy. It seems like no two waves are the same! To be honest, I had no idea what the heck was going on the first time I played this. There's far too much activity on the screen, and too many gauges lining the sides. Waves are constantly interrupted by bonus rounds with fuzzy objectives.

Extreme's gameplay seems tailored to those with extremely short attention spans, and its psychedelic visuals remind me of Tempest 2000 (Jaguar, 1995). Ultra-powerful weapons make it easy to tear apart each quick wave. I like how the aliens sport that classic pixelated look, making them easy to see in the midst of the chaos. Once you get a feel for it, Extreme is good but not great. The fact that you need to read the manual to figure out what's going on doesn't bode well for a Space Invaders title.

You'll breeze through most waves with little resistance, and then face a boss who quickly depletes your reserves. I really dislike the bonus rounds. Not only do they disrupt the flow of the game, but they're generally a lot less fun that the normal waves! Extreme does have some innovative audio effects.

Pleasant tones are played as you shoot each alien, creating a little song in the process! High scores are saved, but since "continuing" retains your previous score, it's rather confusing. I'm really not sure what to make of this game. Space Invaders Extreme lives up to its name, but it really lacks focus and left me feeling unsatisfied. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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

screenshotLike most PSP systems, mine collects dust on the shelf because there are no good games for it. Actually, there are good PSP games but you need to import them from Japan. Who are these douche bag executives blocking quality titles like this from reaching America? They really suck. Star Soldier is a vertical 2D shooter not unlike those that used to grace the Saturn and Dreamcast. The fact that it's developed by Hudson should carry some weight with classic gaming fans.

Star Soldier uses a vertical screen configuration so you'll need to turn your PSP 90 degrees so the buttons are on top. It's a little awkward but a small price to pay. You can select from three ships, and novice players will probably favor the default model which fires missiles in six directions (when fully powered up). Personally I prefer the second ship which concentrates your fire forward, usually showing bosses a quick exit. Only gluttons for punishment will opt for the third ship, which concentrates your fire backwards.

Star Soldier's rapid-fire shooting is pure fun as you blast formations of dancing alien ships. The expansive space stations tend to have grids of small targets, and it's really satisfying to strafe these and see them go up in flames. The stages are ideal in length and the bosses are reasonable in difficulty. I really love that Terminator head and the explosions that burst from its eyes when you defeat it. Upon taking a hit you drop a weapon level instead of blowing up, and I like that. The control scheme has a second button but I have no idea what it does because the instruction manual is in Japanese (duh!).

Still, this game has universal appeal. The visuals are understated, but the soundtrack features high-energy electronic tunes. I love how an electric guitar kicks in when your weapon achieves full power. Continues are available and the game saves your highest score. Despite the fact that I don't completely understand it, Star Soldier is the most fun I've had with my PSP for years. Maybe ever. It's perfect for a quick fix, and isn't that what portable gaming is all about? © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

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

screenshotRenegade Squadron suffers from the same malady that plagues so many other PSP games - it feels like a scaled down, half-hearted version of a console game. In this case, that game would be Star Wars: Battlefront 2 (Xbox, 2005) - a game that never really set the world on fire in the first place. As a result, I found it really hard to get excited about Renegade Squadron.

Like previous Battlefronts, the main idea of this third-person shooter is to battle armies of the Empire in order to secure all of the "outposts" in the game. A nifty new targeting system lets you home in on an enemy by keeping him near your reticle and holding the R button. Throughout various missions you'll run around on foot, ride vehicles, and even fly starships between locations. Realizing that landing in hangar bays might be too tricky, the developers included an "auto land" option, which almost makes it too easy to fly from ship to ship.

The single-player Campaign mode features a number of familiar Star Wars characters including Han Solo, Boba Fett, and IG-88, but the cut-scenes are just a series of illustrations, making it hard to connect with the story. The Campaign mode is pretty ho-hum, and I felt as if the storyline was driving me, and not vice versa. Occasionally you'll have the opportunity to play the role of a "main character" like Luke or Darth Vader, but their appearances seem very arbitrary, as if the game was desperately trying to inject some artificial excitement.

The new Galactic Conquest mode tries to incorporate an additional layer of strategy by letting you shuffle troops between planets on a galactic map before engaging in combat. It's about as fun as it sounds. Renegade Squadron's graphics are good by PSP standards but not exceptional. As you would expect from a Star Wars title, the musical score and audio effects are beyond reproach.

Multiplayer on-lines modes are also available, but Battlefront's formula is getting stale. There are endless customization options, but what's the point? If you've played the previous Battlefronts, Renegade doesn't even feel like more of the same - it feels like much less. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 16 players 

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

screenshotThe original Street Fighter 2 (1991) was phenomenal, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max (SFA3M) is like a "turbo charged, super-sized, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" edition of that game. We're talking about 2D fighting at its finest, with frantic action, intuitive controls, and some serious eye candy. SFA3M's customizable combo system means the game can be as simple or complex as you want it to be.

Beginners can execute "super combos" at the touch of a button, and experts can execute creative custom combos. Street Fighter games are designed for six buttons (three punch, three kick), but the PSP shoulder buttons aren't well suited for a button-masher like this. I recommend setting the medium and hard blows to the four "face" buttons, leaving the "light" blows to the shoulder buttons.

SFA3M's crisp 2D graphics look absolutely amazing on the PSP, with vibrant colors that practically leap off the screen. The fighters look sharp, but the elaborate, exotic background scenery isn't nearly as impressive on a portable. The flashy screens that introduce each match are a feast for the eyes, and the load times between matches are practically zero.

The huge roster of 30+ characters includes four new entries: Eagle, Ingrid, Yun, and Maki (pretty hot). SFA3M's audio is not so impressive. The soundtrack isn't the least bit memorable, and when that annoying announcer yells "It's showtime!" or "You can't give it up!" you just want to tell him to shut the [expletive] up.

SFA3M offers plenty of extraneous modes, but most are throwaway tag-team or survival variations. The 2-on-1 match-ups are mildly entertaining at first, but it's hard to tell who you're fighting half the time. Just stick with the arcade mode. Despite its cumbersome title, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max is a very comprehensive package that will thrill 2D fighting fans. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Arcade Museum