Sony's eagerly awaited PlayStation Portable (PSP) promised graphics to rival those of the PlayStation 2—but in a highly portable package you could (almost) put in your pocket. From my examination of five of the first game titles that Sony shipped for the PSP, as well as a viewing of the bundled Universal Media Disk (UMD)-based movie, Spider-Man 2, Sony's claims for the device appear to be borne out. However, not all these games are of high quality. As with any game system, there are some winners and some clunkers. Here are my impressions of some of the first PSP game titles.
World Tour Soccer
This faithful rendition of the popular European sport fits well in the PSP screen’s widescreen confines. World Tour Soccer features a staggering array of more than 200 teams to choose from and 8 stadiums. After some slow load times, the game commences and then never lets up, offering simple controls and addictive game play. Highly recommended for any sports fans, young or old.
A futuristic racing title ported from the consoles, Wipeout Pure takes the best of the Wipeout series—fast-paced racing through well-designed tracks—and removes all the stuff that would be lost on the PSP's small screen. What you're left with is a decent hovercraft racing title with stunning graphics and interesting power-ups. The menu system is overly complicated and even illogical in places (for example, after you select your Profile, your only choice is Back), but overall, this is one of the better-looking PSP titles I've tried, and it's sure to be a big hit among racing fans.
This well-done basketball title features all the current NBA teams and most stadiums, not that the latter really makes much of a difference visually or in terms of game play. There's just one problem: In a real NBA game, match-ups and floor position are important. But in PSP’s NBA, you can pretty much shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, and it will likely go in. I recently experimented with this anomaly by shooting only 3-pointers for an entire quarter, and my shooting percentage was 66 percent. Hmm.
Twisted Metal Head-On
Occupying a weird product category called "vehicular combat shooter," Twisted Metal Head-On is nonetheless an addictive and fun game that finds you traversing one of four battlegrounds—a stadium, Paris, whatever—with as many as five other contestants. Each player has a vehicle configured with guns, bombs, and other weapons. You race through the environment, picking up power-ups and attacking your enemies. It's basic mayhem, done attractively. I found the controls to be a bit hard to manipulate—both the directional pad (d-pad) and mini-joystick seemed ill-suited for my car's maneuvers—but the graphics are great, and my son thought it was fantastic and similar to other smash-em-up titles he's played on the PlayStation 2 (PS2) and Microsoft Xbox.
Ape Escape: On the Loose
Marred by amazingly slow load times and egregiously unnecessary cut scenes, Ape Escape: On the Loose is a Mario 3D-style game that mirrors the console-based Ape Escape 2. The game is aimed at kids and is actually pretty fun once you start playing. But have I mentioned the load times yet? My goodness. There hasn't been a game with this number of load times since the PS2-based Crash Bandicoot, and at least that was a killer title. Also, the controllers are sure to confuse the kids: With most titles, you can use the d-pad and mini-joystick interchangeably. But this title requires that you use the mini-joystick for movement and the d-pad solely for looking around the virtual 3D environment. A game console veteran, my 7-year-old wasn't impressed.