Sunday, December 13, 2015

PSP, Done Dirt Cheap

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to stumble across a cache of PSP games for a couple of bucks each. I also found a copy of Tomba! for the same price, but I'd already complained about- er, reviewed that in a past blog entry, so let's just talk about the PSP games. As an added bonus, I'll throw in a review of Tron: Evolution, which was recently offered on the Playstation Store for five dollars. (And really, really isn't as good as it should have been. Why is it so hard for developers to make a video game that takes place inside a video game, anyway? That should be money in the bank. But I digress...)



Simple but attractive scenery is commonplace
in the PSP port of Ape Escape.
Ape Escape was designed as an introduction to the Dual Shock, giving the player all kinds of novel ways to familiarize themselves with the controller's twin thumbsticks. So naturally, the game was a perfect fit for the PSP, which has... um, just one analog stick. Sony found a way to make the game work, but you'll frequently feel the pinch of the less precise control when you swing your time net and catch air instead of the monkeys hiding in each stage. Generally speaking, Ape Escape is more kludgy here than it was on the Playstation, and the (slightly) enhanced graphics and improved voice overs don't really make up for it. Even with the hobbled control, it's an entertaining throwback to the late 1990s, with larger, more creatively designed levels than you'd expect from a PSOne platformer.

Bandai-Namco (Dimps)

"Here's something for YOU!"
A better game, hopefully.
Dragonball Evolution was pilloried by gaming critics around the world, but like Street Fighter: The Movie, it really isn't so bad if you can ignore its ties to the wrongheaded film that spawned it. It seems to borrow the same engine as Dimps' previous Dragonball Z games, replacing its cartoony cast with a whiter, fatter Goku and a Piccolo apparently plucked from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Luckily the gameplay is, in a refreshing departure from most film-licensed games, fast and tightly responsive, with the fighters darting around the playfield, trading blows and charging up special attacks. There's not much to the action beyond getting in your opponent's face and mashing the attack button, but Dragonball Evolution is not quite as awful as you've been lead to believe. Just try not to dwell on whoever or whatever the hell Fu-Lum is.

Crave (Farsight)

Pin-Bot: The lurid science-fiction book cover
turned into a pinball game.
Farsight Technologies, creators of the incredibly awful Action 52 collection for the Sega Genesis, abandoned their filthy kusoge-making ways and have worked hard to establish themselves as a developer of faithful pinball simulations. The tables in Pinball Hall of Fame are based on a dozen games manufactured by Williams in the 20th century, and closely mimic their real-life counterparts with convincing physics and a camera that trails your ball as it bounces around the playfield. The attention to detail is commendable, but the question must nevertheless be asked... is hyper-realism really the way to go when video games can transcend the limitations of real life and evolve the pinball experience? Personally, I'd much rather play Devil's Crush or Metroid Prime Pinball, but if you want your pinball strictly by the book, this is as good as you're gonna get on the PSP.

Sony (Eidectic)

Not the easiest game to play on the PSP,
but certainly one of the prettiest.
I didn't even want to play this game at first, but it was popular with the critics, and hey, why waste the two dollars it cost? So I sat down and forced myself through most of the tutorial and one of the stages. Luckily, Dark Mirror has an easy difficulty setting, and isn't above a little friendly hand-holding to help newcomers get started. That came as a huge relief, because the game requires both stealth and expert marksmanship, and neither come naturally with the perplexing control. The analog thumbstick guides Gabe Logan through each mission, while the action buttons adjust the camera. The shoulder buttons aim and fire your weapon, while the D-pad along with the action buttons let you select from a wide assortment of visors and firearms. It's daunting, especially when your partner tells you to press left to select your infrared goggles and you tap the left shoulder button repeatedly, waiting in vain for something to happen. Playing Dark Mirror sometimes feels like juggling with oven mitts, but it's worth the frustration if you're a fan of tactical espionage. It looks spectacular on the PSP- the snapshot I've provided says it all- and the arsenal of weapons you're given grants you the freedom to take down soldiers as quietly- or as loudly and messily- as you please.

Disney (SuperVillain)

Oh how I wish this game
were as good as it looks.
(Image from
This game makes a strong first impression, with a camera sweeping into Flynn's gorgeously rendered arcade and voice overs from Jeff Bridges and Tron himself, Bruce Boxleitner. However, the excitement is short-lived, as the focus quickly shifts to a random program fighting his way through what's best described as a digital Olympics. You get the impression the developers were attempting a sequel to the Tron arcade game from the early 1980s, except this time, most of the events just aren't much fun to play. The light cycle battles are now seen from a behind the back perspective, leaving the player blasting pixelated puke with every disorienting 90 degree turn, and there are dull action sequences with simple puzzles to solve and legions of cheap enemies to fight. The game picks up a little during the death matches, with players scurrying around an arena, grabbing life-saving power ups and nailing each other with glowing frisbees, but it's just not enough to save Tron Evolution from the gaping maw of the Recycle Bin. Shame too, as the game looks gorgeous, with the same stark scenery and eerie phosphorescent lines as the film.

The guy in the Hawaiian shirt looks
kinda like my cousin...

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