In our second article about the Sony PlayStation Portable we take a look at some of the launch games and see if Sony ahs put enough power behind the hood.
In my previous article, I told you all about the cool new portable console from Sony, the Sony PlayStation Portable. Even though it handles music and video very well, it is a gaming console, and thus its gaming capabilities are the most important. This last part in our Sony PSP coverage will focus on the games.
Since we are talking about games, it is only natural to once again look at some of the technical specifications of the Sony PSP:
Approximately 6.7 in (W) x 2.9 in (H) x .9 in (D)
Approximately 280g / .62 lbs (including battery)
PSP CPU (System clock frequency 1 – 333MHz)
4.3 inch, 16:9 Wide screen TFT LCD
Built-in stereo speakers
If these tell you nothing, let me just assure you that what it means is that the Sony PSP has some serious horsepower behind the hood as well as a kick-ass screen to display it on. The Sony PSP has been described as being able to deliver something between PS1 and PS2 graphics, and from the looks of it, it should be about right.
Games come on UMD-discs. These discs look a bit like mini-discs in size. The disc is contained in a plastic shell, but strangely enough the hole where the disc is read is open and has no protection when it is not in the PSP. Thus, I would not let UMD-discs lay around in the bag without something to protect them.
Disc-based media means loading times, and this is just as true for the PSP. Since spinning the disc all the time wastes battery time, the PSP needs to spin up the disc from time to time during gameplay, which means loading times. This isn’t anything unusual if you are used to a console like the PS2 or the Xbox, but if you are used to the Nintendo GBA SP or the Nintendo DS, you will notice a big difference.
The loading time also depends on the game. The game Apes Escape: Academy for instance has long loading times while other games like Lumines has less loading times.
Saving the Game
To save any game progress you need a memorystick Duo or Duo pro. Most gamesaves are around 200-600 KB so even the 32 MB memorystick Duo that comes with the US PSP will be enough for quite a few gamesaves. You can easily back up your savegames on your computer and transfer them back later.
When the PSP was released in Japan, not many understood what this feature would do. No games seemed to support it and there were even reports that developers didn’t know what to do with it. In the end, it turns out this is the same type of feature that allows the Nintendo DS to share parts of a game wireless to another Nintendo DS. Games that support Gameshare allow you to ‘beam’ over parts of the game to a friends PSP where he/she can play the game as long as the PSP is turned on. So far no US-released games support this feature but as far as I know the title Namco Museum, which is a collection of old Namnco classics, supports the feature.
We all know the feeling. You are standing on the train. You are playing on your portable console/phone and have finally managed to beat that hard level and on the way for a new highscore. Suddenly the trains stops and you realise you need to get off the train. No worries with the PSP. Sony has implemented a cool feature that allows you to put the PSP into sleepmode in an instant so that you can continue your game later. When you turn on the PSP again you are back in the game exactly at the same place as you were when you turned it off. One of my best Lumines games was played over the course of three days.
I’m in control
While Nintendo choose to give the Nintendo DS an unusual type of control (touch screen) in addition to the D-pad Sony choose a more traditionally route. The PSP controls are a close mimic of the Dual-Shock controls with the expeption of just 2 shoulder buttons and just 1 analog “stick”. The stick is in fact just a disc that hovers just above the surface of the PSP. Everyone who has been waiting for a true analog control on a portable can rest easy now. The disc works very well as an analog control device.
The PSP supports wireless multiplayer through the built-in WIFI support. You can either put the WIFI in ad-hoc mode, which means it will connect directly to any PSP close by or you can use the Infrastructure mode and connect through a wireless router or hotspot. Some games already support gaming over the internet (Twisted Metal is one of them).
Now that we are done with the basics it is time to look at some of the games you can play on the PSP. Most are the Japanese versions, which still should be comparable to the US version, and in the case of Wipe Out Pure I’ve played the US version.
Ridge Racer is a series that has been around since the original Sony PlayStation. We’ve seen versions of Ridge Racer both for the PS1 and the PS2 and it is hardly a surprise that we get to play a Ridge Racer game on the PSP.
While Namco could have play it safe and release a port of one of their old Ridge Racer games they choose to do something else. You could call the game Ridge Racers a “best of collection”. They’ve taken both the best cars, tracks and music from the other games and created a game that every PSP-owner should own.
The game of course is about driving cars fast around tracks. Not only do you have to drive fast, you should drift as much as possible around the curves since it fills up your nitro-canisters, something new for this game. You can then use the nitro to get some extra speed.
The game consists of approximately 24 tracks that can be played in 40 so-called ‘tours’. Each tour consists of 2-4 races where you have to finish better than a specific place and if you finish a tour you unlock cars, tracks and new classes with even more tours.
In addition to the carrier mode you can race single races, race time attacks as well as play against other gamers through the ad-hoc WIFI mode. The program Xlink kai even lets you play over the internet.
The control is best handled by the analog disc and is very good. It is very easy to learn and master and you will be drifting through curves in no time.
The graphics in Ridge Racers are very good. The game is a good game to get if you want to show the PSP off for your friends. The framerate never stutters and while I won’t claim that it is 30 or 60 fps it is rock solid and everything is smooth like a babies bottom.
Sound also is top-notch. Namco have included tons of music from the various games and while some are horrible others are very good.
The game certainly has some contenders but so far I think it is one of the first must-have games for any PSP-owner unless he/she hates racing games.
A picture tells more than 1000 words and thus a movie will say even more. Above is a movie that I recorded for a Swedish website I write for which shows various tracks and cars in the game.
The games – continued
Wipe Out Pure
Yet another racer and yet another great game. After playing Ridge Racers and Wipe Out Pure it is clear that the PSP is very well suited to play fast-moving 3D-racers.
WipeOut Pure is yet again a game that takes a bit of everything from older games in the series and makes a great game out of it.
Any WipeOut fans knows the game is about racing around tight tracks in hovercrafts, picking up weapons, and trying to not crash into the walls to much (or get blown out of the track).
You got 19 tracks and lots of hovercraft that all have their positive and negative sides and as you progress in the game you get to access more and faster crafts.
The tracks are really fun and feature a lot of hair-pin curves. It took me a while to realise that you needed to learn to master the airbrakes to turn in those curves without slamming into the walls (this slows you down). I guess reading the manual might actually be a good idea sometimes.
The game supports tournament mode, single racers, time trials as well as free-play modes. One mode you undoubtedly will play a lot is the zone mode. In this mode your craft keeps speeding up faster and faster and the game ends when you blow up after slamming into the wall to many times. Absolutely brilliant!
The graphics are, if possible, even better than Ridge Racers. There’s a lot happening on the screen and the only real complaint is that the framerate drops a tad when there’s a lot going on. It’s not really fair to compare to Ridge Racers steady framerate since you rarely see more than 2-3 cars at a time on the screen in that game.
Controls are handled by the analog disc (D-pad can be used) and the other buttons and takes a bit to get used to. It is pretty important to learn to master then otherwise you will keep slamming into the wall and loose the races.
The game does not support gaming over the internet, just gaming with other PSP close by, but it does support downloadable material from Sony. If you connect the PSP to a wireless router or hotspot you can open up a browser in the game that right now displays a “Coming soon” page. On a side note already some crafty hackers have managed to use this browser to access other pages on the net.
Since I haven’t had this game that long it is possible it becomes boring after a while. Right now I’m just as excited about the game as I am about Ridge Racers. It’s just a very good game, which shows off the PSP very well.
The Games – continued
“What? A puzzle game? Not interested in that!” Wait! Don’t switch page yet. This is yet another of the great launch games for the PSP and a game most will love.
As much as I like the other games I have for my PSP this is the game that continues getting the most gameplay. It’s an addictive puzzle game that simply puts an addictive gameplay together with some nice music.
While it is simple to call Lumines a Tetris-clone it isn’t exactly fair. Lumines is much more than that.
In Lumines the aim is to put together blocks of the same colour, making them disappear. During the game small squares made up of 4 smaller blocks, which can be of two different colours, fall down from the top of the screen. Your aim is to rotate them and make then fit together with other blocks so that they form larger solid-coloured areas of at least 2 by 2 blocks. Sounds simple? Well, the solid area won’t disappear until a line sweeps over it. This line goes from left to right continuously and if you want to master the game you need to make sure you time your blocks right so that you remove larger chunks of colours while it travels from left to right.
The game can be played in various different ways. The challenge mode lets you play through a series of screens and simply try to score as high as possible before the blocks reach the top of the screen. I the Puzzle-mode you have to create patterns out of the blocks that fall down. Timeattack allows you to play on an unlocked screen trying to score as high as possible. Last but not least you can play against another player, either on the PSP or over WIFI. You can also play against the PSP in this mode. The screen will then be split in 2 halves. As the game progresses you and your opponent tries to clear as much as possible and move the divider towards the opponent making it harder for her/him to place the falling blocks.
Lumines might not look at hot and sexy as the other games but it still has some very good visuals. Some of the later screens have moving backgrounds and each screen has its own theme.
The music however is what sets this game apart from many other puzzle-games. It is integral tied together with the graphics and gameplay. As blocks disappear they emit a sound that fits perfectly into the tune played at the moment. Depending on how good you play you can even speed up/slow down the music.
This is a game that is pretty simple to pick up and play but harder to master. It is very hard to let go when you are on a roll and I am very happy Sony built in a good sleep-mode in the PSP so I can keep playing the same gamesession over the course of several days.
If you are even remotely interested in puzzle games I suggest you take a close look at this game and then buy it.
The Games – continued
Minna No Golf (Everybody’s golf)
If the previous games were ‘new’ games this game is a port of a PS2 game, at least that is what I have been told.
The game is a ‘cute’ golf game that balances between being a serious golf game and a not-so-serious golf game. You control a ‘cute’ Japanese looking character and quite simply play golf.
The game offers a variety of gameplays including challenge golf, challenge putting and multiplayer. The multiplayer mode however only works over WIFI so there’s no way to play more than one player on a single PSP.
Underneath the cute look you will find a pretty good golf game that doesn’t feel arcadey at all in the beginning. To shoot the ball you first click to start, then to select the power and last to select the accuracy. You also can apply spin to the ball. Putting takes place on a grid that helps you judge the slope. Unfortunately it still is pretty hard to judge the slope, especially at longer distances. The putting challenge do help you to learn the grid and I suggest taking those pretty early.
In the challenge mode you play either one-on-one or against a bunch of virtual no-faced opponents. As you win you earn money and items that can be used on your character. I must admit though it feels a bit odd to sit and try to decide which glasses and which hat looks the best on my player.
In the beginning you have access to just one course and while it looks great I felt the progress of unlocking more courses was way to slow.
The graphics are good. It does its job without excelling. Occasionally you see seems popping up between polygons but overall it looks good.
The sound is not as good. The soundeffects are ok but the music is the same over and over again on the same course. Since you spend a lot of time on each course you quickly get tired of it.
Even with the minor negative issues with this game I like it and it definitely fits well on a portable console. It is easy to pick up and play a game while waiting for the bus or the train. I might not play this game every day but I am pretty sure I still occasionally will be playing it in a years time.
This was just a small selection of games that I’ve played so far but I am already impressed of the capabilities that the Sony PSP has in the gaming area. Sony has provided the game developers with some kickass hardware and now it is up to them to bring us the games that use it to its fullest potential. We can either get lazy ports or inspiring new versions of our favourite games, uninspired generic formulaic games or new exciting innovating gameplay – whatever the developers give us one thing is for sure, they cannot blame the hardware for crappy games.
You can look forward to more PSP game reviews in the future since I plan on importing more games (remember I am in Sweden).