Review: Koloomn (PSP)

koloomn-1Platform(s): PSP (Reviewed), Arcade (as ‘Kollon’)
Year: 2006 (Europe)
Developer: MagicPot
Publisher: 505 Gamestreet (Europe)
Genre: Puzzle

The PSP, like any other respectable handheld, has no shortage of puzzle games. It’s also no stranger to block-based puzzlers, as the mighty Lumines can testify. But, also like any respectable handheld, the PSP hosted enough puzzle games that some inevitably got forgotten. Take MagicPot’s Koloomn for example: a block-based puzzle game that is just as addictive as any other.

Originally released as an arcade game called Kollon in Japan, Koloomn found a more natural home on Sony’s debut handheld in 2005. The Western PSP translation of Kollon is, in fact, an enhanced edition of an earlier Japan-only PSP port of the arcade game. Confused? Well, to muddy the waters just a little more, North America received the game under another name: Ultimate Block Party. Being completely unbiased, I have to say that I prefer the ‘Koloomn’ name and the box art we received here in Europe. It just looks more Japanese.

Does any of this nerdy, anorak stuff matter though? Absolutely not. All that matters is that Koloomn/Ultimate Block Party/Kollon is a cracking puzzle game.

Stack ’em up(wards)

Unlike many other block-based puzzlers, the blocks in Koloomn rise up from the bottom of the screen but the aim is still the same: to prevent the advancing ranks of blocks from touching the top of the play area OR, in multi-player/versus, to brick up your opponent’s screen. Blocks are cleared by forming links of four of the same colour. So far, so simple.

You re-position the blocks with a square 2×2 cursor, rotating them about until you can place four matching ones together. You are relatively free when it comes to shuffling the blocks about, moving them all around the play area by rotating them out of rows/columns into adjacent ones. That’s the basics. You’ll need to think bigger however if you want to create large combos or put an opponent under pressure.

Y’see, a group of four matching blocks is just the minimum requirement. Any number of blocks can be chained beyond that provided that the colours match. A formation takes a few seconds to disappear and, in that time, you can rotate other matching blocks to join said formation. Get smart – and quick on the controls – and you can link up multiple clusters on the playing field to clear a fat amount of blocks all at once. This is called a ‘Pop’ and, proving that size sometimes DOES matter, the bigger the Pop, the better. You can also forcibly advance the blocks with a press of the ‘R’ button and flirt with danger by filling the screen to give you more blocks to play with.

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Additionally – as per Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity – the vacuum left behind by eliminated blocks causes everything above to tumble south and fill the void(s), potentially linking up for more Pops. These are called ‘Chains’. Chains are vital for earning big points and making ‘magic’ blocks appear. Arrow blocks, for example, will turn every other block in the arrow’s direction into the same colour and eliminate them. Tactical positioning of arrow blocks can really help clear the screen when the pressure is on.

Bomb blocks turn all adjacent blocks into the same colour for an easy, instant nine-block Pop at the bare minimum. Then there are the Wave blocks that eradicate all blocks of the same colour, no matter where they are on the screen. You’ll only get one of these for making a chain of four though, so you you’ll need to be very good or (more likely) incredibly lucky.

Block Party

Multi-player is – as you’d expect – a frantic exercise in managing your own ever-filling play area whilst also dishing out the pain to your opponent. There are several different attacks or temporary status effects that you can hit your opponent with and BE the victim of such as being lumbered with inverted controls (ugh…), having giant blocks dropped onto the field or having the size of the cursor increased, severely hampering precision.

One glaring problem with playing Koloomn in 2020 is that this all-important multi-player aspect is obviously dead, unless you have seriously cool friends who still play multi-player PSP games. So that’s about three people worldwide, then. Sarcasm aside, there are at least Arcade and Campaign modes (confusingly hidden in the Multi-Play menu…) where you can play against the CPU and still enjoy the competitive side of the game. These two modes are pretty much the same with the only differences being that Campaign forces you to play as the main character, Kollon, and you have some humourous cut-scenes before each round.

Single player mode is your standard solo play where you attempt to survive for as long as possible, each successive level increasing the speed that the blocks rise up from the screen’s bottom.

That’s pretty much it. The game does at least store your high scores and rankings but there’s precious little to do once you remove the multi-player side of Koloomn and that’s the game’s only real weakness.

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You can’t help but be won over by the presentation, however. Koloomn has a really bright and bouncy cartoon aesthetic that I immediately fell in love with. From the comic-book style menus to the chibi characters with their bold outlines, it’s attractive stuff. The characters are nicely animated and full of personality and a humurous, playful vibe permeates everything. Even the blocks are smiling! The music is upbeat and dangerously catchy too. This isn’t necessarily the sort of game that you would think began life in an arcade cabinet but then again, I can totally picture the lively characters, vibrant colours and jaunty music being perfectly at home in a buzzing Japanese Game Centre.

Conclusion

Yes, Koloomn is lacking in content and, yes, it might have disappointed as a full-price release back in its day for that very same reason but that’s kind of missing the point. After all, Tetris didn’t have a whole lot going on but it still managed to charm a generation without being criticised for a lack of value. No, the value in Koloomn – as with Tetris – is in its addictive nature. It’s one of those puzzle games that’s easy to understand but takes some playing with to get proficient at. Once you’ve had some practice, however, Koloomn becomes like any other good puzzle game and hooks you with that ruthlessly effective “just one more go…” drug. Once that’s happened, you will only need the few modes to have a whole lot of fun. The fact that it looks fantastic and costs next-to-nothing to pick up today are just added bonuses.

Nintendo Switch Lite thoughts

Nintendo have surprised everybody nobody at all by releasing a ‘Lite’ version of their Switch console. The Switch Lite is billed as a “compact, lightweight addition to the Nintendo Switch family, with integrated controls.” They also say that it is “dedicated to handheld play.”

In normal speak, this means a portable-only version of the Switch with joycons that can’t be removed and no TV output. So why would you even want to give a shit? Surely going backwards is a bad idea? Well, that’s what many said about the 2DS and look at how successful that was for Nintendo. In fairness however, the USP for the 3DS (it’s 3D effect) was increasingly under-utilised by developers and had always been divisive given how it gave some gamers negative side effects while others felt that 3D didn’t add much to the games so left it switched off anyway. In short, the 2DS had less to lose.

The Switch Lite however, loses some of the major selling points of the standard Switch (which will still be available to buy). You won’t be able to hook it up to a television for example so no more switching (hur, hur…get it? I’ll get my coat…) between the big and small screens. You also won’t be able to detach the controls for multiplayer. As far as I’m aware, both of these features have been a success with the Switch, unlike the 3DS’ 3D effect which wasn’t such a major loss when the 2DS hit stores. What’s more, an updated model of the standard Switch has apparently been released that improves battery life by upwards of 50% (depending on how you use the thing). This is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the Switch Lite before it has even been released.

Switch-7
[Source]
So, er…why would you bother with the Lite? Well, it’s cheaper for starters. About $100 cheaper in North America. It’s also looking to be bang on £100 cheaper here in the UK too. That makes no sense when you consider exchange rates and values of currency but we’ll just ignore that. Obviously, you could pick up a used Switch unit bundled with games and accessories for the same price (or cheaper) than a brand-new equivalent so there is that to consider but not everybody wants to go for used hardware that other people’s kids have had their grubby mitts all over. Also, the Lite is meant to be more comfortable to hold and there is that added assurance of durability with integrated controllers that can’t be worn out or damaged by constantly removing/replacing them.

All of that said, I would buy a Switch Lite. “Why?” I don’t hear you asking. Because:

  1. I’ve never owned a regular Switch so this wouldn’t be a downgrade
  2. I have no room beneath/next to my TV for more consoles or docks. When you’ve been gaming for many years and like to keep older machines and games, you tend to run short on space pretty quickly. I have no more connections TO the TV left anyway…
  3. I’m not likely to bother with local multi-player as I’m more or less a solo gamer these days
  4. £200 for a brand-new example of a current-gen system appeals to me.

Now that that’s out in the open, I feel that I have to address my previous posts on the Switch because when the console was much younger, I made a series of posts about why I – as a Wii-U owner – wasn’t interested in upgrading to the (then) new Nintendo hardware. If you missed these three posts then here are some quick links to them:

One of my major gripes was to do with feeling shafted as a Wii-U adopter/supporter. After all, I’d bought into the weird console which turned out to be a massive flop that could have tanked Nintendo. I’d put money into buying the top-spec variant of the machine and multiple games. Then it was killed off fairly quickly for reasons that I completely understand and agree with. What I was more aggrieved by was the arrival of the ports – specifically upgraded ports of Wii-U games. These were games that I had already purchased and spent money buying the DLC for and now they were being re-released as “new” titles for a new audience who possibly didn’t realise that, for gamers like me, they were a “been there, done that” deal.

The second sting in the tail was that it reduced my desire to buy into the Switch when the best games were just rehashes. Again, I can understand why Nintendo did this because games like Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament were fantastic games that deserved to sell more copies but their success had been restricted by the Wii-U’s limited appeal and tiny ownership. But the Switch also played host to a bunch of third-party ports of games that were available at a budget price on the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One, but were selling for £40 on the Switch. More old games that were of no interest to a cross-platform gamer such as myself.

Thankfully, we are now out of that period and the Switch has since come into it’s own as a worthy platform in its own right. I can now honestly say that there is enough exclusive or original stuff available to make the Switch a viable purchase for me. Obviously, I haven’t kept up fully with the releases so there will be things that I have yet to discover but off the top of my head, these are a few games that sell the system to me. Note: I’m not including the obvious Marios and Zeldas etc. because those go without saying!

SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy

Switch-1Yes, the game was widely received as fanservice rather than a “serious” fighting game but even so, I still want to play this since I am a big SNK fan. Also, the game wasn’t granted a physical release on the PS4 and since I am loathe to download full games from PSN (due to HDD space, uncompetitive pricing and my crappy internet speed), the Switch retail copy is something I’d like to pick up.

 

 

 

Blade Strangers

Switch-2Another fighting game that didn’t get a physical release on the PS4 and one that I was looking forward to for a long time. It has all the elements that appeal to me: 2D-style presentation, Kinu Nishimura art and characters from the 3DS’ Code of Princess. Again, I would prefer to have this on the Switch for the same reasons as SNK Heroines. Previously, it frustrated me deeply that games like this were denied disc releases on the PS4 (because I didn’t own a Switch!) but the cheaper entry point of the Lite changes all that up (or should I say ‘Switches’ it all up? No? Oh…).

 

Smash Bros. Ultimate

Switch-3I’ve been ploughing hours into the Smash Bros. series ever since Melee on the Gamecube and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the entries in the series. The Wii-U game was one of the best things on the console and so the Ultimate follow-up for the Switch looked mighty appealing, especially given that it really does live up to its title with all of those characters. I can’t say I’ve ever really been into the online or super-competitive sides of the game but I’m confident that I would be able to extract more than enough single-player entertainment from the game to make the purchase worthwhile.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Switch-4I’ve fell out with Fire Emblem in the not-too-distant past. Awakening on the 3DS was a fantastic game that finally achieved the unthinkable and dragged the series into a more mainstream light. However, I did not enjoy Fates (a.k.a Camilla’s Breasts: The Game) at all. From how impossible the special edition (with the all-in-one cartridge) was to get here in the UK, to how I felt like I was playing a waifu simulator with an inferior visual design to what had gone before, I sacked the game off pretty early on. Three Houses is getting a good reception however and so it would the perfect chance to give FE another shot.

 

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3

Switch-5I’ve always enjoyed these games, regardless of what the critics say. I already have the Asian-English variants on the PS4 and Vita but this is an updated edition that I could take advantage of with the Switch’s region-free nature. Nintendo not region-locking the Switch was a shocker in itself but even more shocking is their relaxed policy towards censorship compared to Sony who have decided to clamp down on it. This means that the Switch is the best place to play Xtreme 3 and that’s not something I ever imagined me saying when the console first launched.

 

Ultra Street Fighter II

Switch-6Granted, I wasn’t kind to this game when I wrote those original Switch articles. I said that it was an old game that Capcom had simply tarted up and added two new characters to before releasing it at full-price. I don’t support that kind of thing and never will. But I really enjoyed the original HD Remix (which Ultra is an upgraded version of) and if I could buy a used copy of this on the cheap then I certainly would. To be honest, it would be worth it just to play it on a handheld, wherever I am sitting because the OG HD Remix is sat on my PS3’s HDD.

 

So there you have it…I’ve more or less been converted to the idea of buying a Switch. I agree with all of the criticism that the Lite has received but at the end of the day, I think decisions like this have to be made on an individual basis. If, for example, I needed that TV Output or was looking to play a lot of local multiplayer then the Lite wouldn’t even be on my radar. However, it ticks a lot of my boxes and I think that £199.99 price point is quite attractive, especially now that I know I’d have more than enough games to get stuck into and make the purchase worthwhile.

Watch this space.

Atari Retro Handheld Review

Things that have aged well: The Jaguar E-Type, malt whiskeys, Anthea Turner.

Things that have NOT aged well: The UK’s post-apocalyptic road surfaces, casual racism, many, many Atari 2600 games.

Now you might be considering me a blasphemous fool if you worship the altar of Atari. You might even consider me an unqualified fool who “wasn’t there” when I drop a further bombshell and remind you that I was born in 1990 and so don’t have any first-hand experience of 2600 (or VCS) gaming to fall back on. Thing is though, despite starting my gaming journey with Sega’s Mega Drive, I’m not the sort of gamer to instantly dismiss older stuff from the 70’s/80’s based on it’s age. After all, without the flashy graphics and sophisticated technology that came later, games from this era had to rely on raw gameplay and that crack-like “just one more go” pull to get arcade goers to part with their coins and – subsequently – their folding paper money for home versions.

In short, I have big respect for the past and am always prepared to give something a go which is why I have been playing on this ‘Retro Handheld Console’ by Blaze featuring fifty Atari games. The problem is that the box craftily refers to the built-in titles as simply “Atari games” which might lead you into expecting the presence of some arcade classics. These are 2600 games though and without the benefit of rose-tinted vision, I struggled to muster up the enthusiasm to play many of these for an extended period of time. 2600 conversions were undoubtedly a big deal back in the day and the height of what a gamer could reasonably expect given the host hardware but in 2019, I have to say that most of what is on this handheld device is simply no fun to spend time with.

I will return to my gripes with the games in a moment. First though, I want to have a quick look at the device itself.

Atari1

I really like the design. The faux wood effect and grooved black plastic are a nice throwback to the 1977 original and if the Atari logo was to be removed, there would still be no doubt as to what this is. It’s such an iconic and nostalgic look. Furthermore, the red buttons are immediately reminiscent of the single red button featured on the famous 2600 joystick. Happily, the build quality on this thing does actually feel quite solid. It’s sturdy and the buttons don’t feel too cheap. The handheld takes four AAA batteries and comes with a standard headphone jack as well as an AV-Out port on the top edge.

My only criticisms of the hardware itself is the small screen (initially difficult to adjust to after years of huge, high quality smartphone and handheld console displays) and the fact that the sound isn’t that beefy through the headphones even with the volume wheel spun up to the max. I wanna hear those awesome Atari explosions damn it!

On the whole though, I was impressed with the overall finish and sturdiness of the handheld. As many retro gamers will be aware, a lot of these devices are hit-and-miss when it comes to construction quality and Blaze themselves have put their name to some poor efforts in the past. Not so here though – it’s a firm thumbs-up from me. I just wish that some kind of instructions came in the box because as it is, you are directed to an online site for the manual. The console doesn’t have built-in instructions for the games so some are pretty much impossible to fathom out without directions.

Let’s get back to those pesky games though and the first big issue: the lack of any third-party games. There’s none of Activision’s enduring classics present on the device for example and things get worse when you realise that a great many other essential games (third AND first party) don’t feature. Games such as Ms Pacman, Berzerk, Kaboom, Battlezone, Defender II and Jungle Hunt would have made this device a nice little pick-up-and-play distraction for example. Instead, the list of games is padded out with filler crap such as Fun With Numbers, 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Video Checkers and a collection of hopelessly antiquated sports titles…the usual stuff that has been wasting space on Atari Flashback devices for years.

FwN-1
Isn’t it about time that this ‘game’ stopped appearing on Atari compilations and retro gadgets?

There are a few redundant and unenjoyable ports such as Tempest and also some extremely abstract role-playing games like Adventure and the Swordquest series – games that were fun back when you had no choice but to use your imagination while moving simplistic squares about but not so much in 2019. If you were there when these games were new however then you might be able to extract some nostalgia-fuelled enjoyment from them. Additionally, there are several games on the handheld that make no sense in the single-player environment such as Air-Sea Battle (ignore the second gun and play with yourself) and Pong. Playing Pong alone against the computer is a bleak experience that could well send you down a nihilistic route in life.

So are there any games worth buying the device for? Obviously there is an element of personal taste involved (as with anything in the field of entertainment) but these are the games – based on previous experience as well as with this device – that I will definitely be giving more attention to:

  • Asteroids
  • Gravitar
  • Crystal Castles
  • Millipede
  • Missile Command
  • Off The Wall
  • Radar Lock
  • Yar’s Revenge

Eight games out of fifty isn’t what I would consider a strong strike ratio however. Granted, I have eliminated the rest based on the fact that I personally have no nostalgia for the games or because I genuinely believe that they are creaky and no fun to play. If you grew up with the 2600/VCS then I would implore you to check out the full game list because this handheld may well speak to you a little more than it did to me. For younger gamers or Atari virgins however, I can’t recommend this product.

missilecommand2600-1
Missile Command is a classic that plays well for a 2600 conversion but this device needed more games of this quality to qualify as an essential purchase.

You want to be playing the arcade versions of games like Tempest and seeing what the 2600 was really capable of by digging into the Activision support, not playing Pong by your lonesome or something like Video Chess. The problem is that far stronger compilations of games have been released across various consoles over the last fifteen years or so. Emulation is also a thing as is Activision Hits Remixed for the PSP.

I wanted to like this because the device itself is pretty cool and surprisingly well put together but it could have been so much better. If you can find one dirt cheap or you receive it as a gift (like I did) then sure but otherwise, it’s just another underwhelming retro device that doesn’t stand out for any reason.

Sprung: The Dating Game [DS]

Note: This review is part of a series I am going to call “Resurrected Reviews”, essentially stuff that I wrote for previous (now deceased) blogs and review topics on various gaming forums over the years. I have dragged them kicking-and-a-screaming into the harsh light of the present day and revamped them where necessary. Some may say “Rehash” but I say “Recycling”.

Sprung-DS-1
If the back of the game’s box doesn’t make you question your life decisions i.e. buying this game then not much else will, I’m afraid to say.

If the recent coverage of relatively mainstream games on this blog has failed to ignite your interest then I sincerely hope that this review of Sprung: The Dating Game for the DS will go some way to making amends. To the gentleman sitting in the back corner of the room there: recoiling in horror was indeed the correct response. We’re heading a bit further off the beaten track this time and we may find ourselves in the tangled undergrowth where anything could be lying in wait; woeful software for handheld gaming devices for instance.

A few important side notes before we continue:

1. People handed over £25-£30 of their hard earned cash for this at the DS launch!

2. Some people out there (they won’t show their faces for the shame) would have bought this back in April 2005 instead of the likes of Mario 64 DS or Warioware Touched. Christ. I mean…I’m all about personal tastes and all that but still…Christ.

I’m not going to pull any punches here; this game is crap. However, I’m a reasonable chappie capable of spotting redeeming qualities in most games and I firmly believe that too many gamers these days rush to use the “worst game ever” judgement. In my experience, most disagreeable games are merely average or flawed with merit-worthy aspects. I’ve played hundreds of different games across many consoles and I can honestly say that I could count the truly awful ones on less than ten fingers. They simply don’t exist in the quantities that are made out. Unfortunately for Sprung, it easily manages to make it onto my Worst Games I’ve Ever Played roll-call.

Sprung-DS-2
You know what to do here. Get her [edited for obscenities]
Without a doubt, this should be the undisputed worst game in the DS’ European launch line-up but it is spared that accolade due to the existence of Ping Pals, a title that was nothing more than a tarted up version of FREE software built into the DS from day one yet PP was expected to sell to customers for real money (lolz etc.).

Now I don’t have anything against dating games per se as there have been some really quirky and interesting examples produced in Japan (such as Konami’s Toki Meki Memorial series) that I’d love to play but the language barrier is a big problem. More recent examples have been a bit too much for our Western tastes which simply (and rightly so) do not gel with the concept of chatting up digital schoolgirls with obscenely voluminous water balloon knockers but there are alternatives that won’t have you checking the skies for black helicopters. If Sprung was intended to be the Western response to the Japanese games however then the developers failed and I’m going to explain why.

To start with, the story is a load of stereotypical rubbish about a group of college friends going off to a ski resort to have a good time. You can choose to play as either a boy or a girl and the entire game from there on in is literally just a series of conversations with other people on the mountain. Most of these exchanges involve you trying to chat somebody up in a park, club or bar but others are supposed to be humorous and some are just downright bizarre. ‘Gameplay’ boils down to choosing from a preset selection of lines on the touch screen and trying to say the right things to advance the conversation in the correct direction. Remember when you bought your shiny new DS for those revolutionary new ways of interacting with your games and all the innovative possibilities that the touch-screen might offer? Yeah – I do too.

Sprung-DS-3
Decisions, decisions…

There are so many problems with this basic game premise that it’s difficult to know where to start. First up, it’s a bit boring isn’t it? Sitting there and just tapping away at lines of wordzzzzz..zzzz…The boredom is also complimented by infuriating frustration as it quickly becomes apparent that the ‘right’ things to say to NPC characters are the things that you’d never expect and when most of the conversations are so bloody weird in the first place, selecting the correct options is a lottery. Additionally you can only get so far with making the wrong decisions before you fail the chapter and have to start all over again. ‘Miserable’ and ‘brain-rotting’ are apt descriptions for the typical mental state that Sprung will induce after just a short while with the game. You start to analyse this software a little too deeply i.e. is Sprung telling me that I should tell a woman whatever it is they want to hear in order to stop them slamming their legs shut? (protip: don’t use this game as any form of ‘training’)

There are also various items that you can use at key moments but you’d have more luck cracking a combination safe than deciphering when to use them and with which NPC. Just in case you needed an extra layer of cryptic obscurity of course. But the worst is still to come, oh yes it is.

The game throws you a lifeline by offering checkpoints which, on paper, is a great idea. Some of the chapters are very long so not having to re-do the entire thing over due to an inevitable error should be a relief but in practice these checkpoints have a downright sinister side. You see, saying the wrong thing sometimes means that certain text selections don’t pop up further on in the chapter. This is already bad enough because you will unwittingly play on, unaware that an earlier mistake has made it impossible to complete a chapter and so you proceed until its Game Over. Huzzah for checkpoints then eh? You wish…

Sprung-DS-4
Let’s be honest: this guy looks like a jerk without Becky having to say it.

In a heinous turn of events, making that critical mistake before a checkpoint means that you can return to that checkpoint as many times as you like but it will be impossible to correct said error and you will always be left with the same strand of dud responses post-checkpoint. You can’t backtrack because you are locked into restarting from the checkpoint and you can’t talk your way out of it because every available line will only lead to dating doom since the options you need won’t appear due to that mistake before the checkpoint. Did anybody test this bullshit? Clearly not.

Are there any positives? Well, the cartoon-like character art is pretty good but otherwise…no! The “gameplay” is about as inspiring as an empty void, the DS’ unique features are all wasted and the humour is as funny as a funeral on a rainy day. It all adds up to a nasty maelstrom of frustration and tedium that must be binned off with all haste to preserve one’s sanity. Sprung’s tag-line is “The game where everybody scores” but it seems to me that they forgot to add “an all-expenses paid trip to the sanatorium”. It must have not fitted on the box.

Why would anybody play this shit instead of doing the real thing? Who was it aimed at? At least Japanese dating sims have an anime charm and far eastern weirdness that makes them appealing for us Western gamers. Sprung on the other hand has literally nothing to offer apart from negative vibes and a guaranteed bad mood when you finally switch the console off (hopefully after no more than five minutes of suffering and even that would be showing the game some saintly generosity…). It may seem like I’ve barely described this game but that’s because there’s nothing to discuss. You click on lines of text and stare at character portraits hoping that something, anything else will happen but it never does.

If you see Sprung on the pre-owned shelves for a few quid and are curious then don’t be. They say that curiosity killed the cat and if you were to compare yourself to that proverbial cat then you’d be sprawled in an upsetting heap in some gutter after being hit by a bus at 50mph should you give in to curiosity. I paid five English pounds for this game to see what it was like and that was embarrassing enough but if I’d paid £25 on release? I would have killed myself as a bare minimum response to such epic masochism and stupidity.

Overall Thoughts

Playing Sprung is like taking a hot date to bed then discovering that you’ve contracted a multitude of STD’s. Heed this public service announcement and avoid, avoid, avoid.

Lumines [PSP] & Lumines Plus [PS2]

When Lumines first arrived for the PSP back in 2004 (2005 for Western territories), did the gaming landscape really need another puzzler based around clearing rows of blocks? Arguably not but somebody decided that we did and so a brand-new puzzle series kicked off in earnest.

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Yes, the object is to clear the screen of blocks and yes, it’s game over if they reach the top of the play area but thankfully, Lumines is a bit more than “been there, done that, got the T-shirt”. Blocks always come in two different colours and are cleared in 2×2 squares (as opposed to complete rows as in Tetris) for starters. Not crazy enough? Formations of the same colour can be linked together to clear lots of blocks at the same time and there is also a special block that – when forming part of a 2×2 – clears every single block of the same colour that is linked to that 2×2. As you can imagine, there are some huge scores to be had by strategically filling half of the screen with carefully linked blocks and then deleting the whole lot in one go with the special block, leading to everything else crashing down and forming loads more links for even more clearance and mega points.

But even that sounds fairly pedestrian and I’d totally forgive you for asking why you should even care about any of this. Thankfully, Lumines has a secret weapon and it’s the power of music.

Lumines-PSP-1
The Time Line is your best friend and – sometimes – also your greatest foe.

The game sports a soundtrack largely comprising of the House and Electronica styles of music and each stage (known as “skins” in Lumines) that you play on has its own unique track. Score enough points and the stage will transition into a new one with a new skin and a new track. This keeps things fresh and interesting but the music is much more than that in Lumines. The ‘Time Line’ bar constantly scrolling from left-to-right changes speed based on the tempo of the music and only blocks arranged ahead of the bar will be cleared once it reaches the other side of the screen. This can either lead to a race against time to get your combos set up before the Time Line gets there or, when the screen is perilously full on a more sedately-paced skin, you will be willing the bar to get a damn move on and clear some space before waiting blocks overload the play area.

The sound effects for blocks dropping into place and being cleared are also unique for each skin and team up with the music to form an ever-evolving audio experience for the ears. When you are really in the zone and nailing massive combo after massive combo while the music ramps up, then Lumines totally clicks and it comes into its own as a unique puzzle game.

Honestly, the only reason I can see somebody not enjoying Lumines to any degree would purely be down to the type of music involved not being to their tastes. I described it above as House and Electronica in style so if you aren’t a fan then you may struggle to ‘get’ it. Otherwise, it’s a very addictive puzzler that actually offers a decent challenge and I always have the itch for “one more go” to see if I can get further in the single-player challenge mode and see some new skins. Better still, the game was a launch title for the PSP and as such is common-as-muck and easy to pick up for a few pounds. Bargain!

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Versus mode (against CPU or a friend) is interesting. Clearing blocks pushes the boundary towards the opponent and reduces their playing area, applying serious pressure.

Fast forward a few years and Lumines Plus was released for the Playstation 2. Billed as an expanded version of the original, the game is already on the back foot purely for not being on a handheld. Lumines was a perfect fit for the PSP and on-the-move gaming…not so much for a home system. It might sound lazy but let’s face it, waiting for the disc to load up on the PS2 and then being tied to your sofa with a wired pad in hand doesn’t feel as “right”. Still, it doesn’t affect the quality of the original game and having a bigger display and (depending on your set-up) more capable speakers is an advantage for the Plus edition.

The main selling point of the PS2 version was the inclusion of a handful of new skins so in theory, Lumines Plus should be a definitive edition of the original game. Unfortunately, I noticed a few small niggles when moving from the PSP version to Plus. Firstly, there seems to be a brief two-three second pause during the transition of skins which leaves you in silence and interrupts the flow. Not ideal for a music-based game! Also – for whatever reason – the cool robotic voice that announces the name of the track as the music switches over, is completely missing from this version. Otherwise the game is a straight port with extremely minimal differences which I found to be a bit of a letdown. Even the menus and front end are indentical.

Ultimately though it’s the lack of portability that scuppers the Plus edition. If you don’t have access to a PSP then Lumines Plus for the PS2 is perfectly serviceable and still a great puzzle game. Otherwise, I don’t consider the additional skins to be a worthwhile trade-off for not having Lumines in its more fitting, handheld environment. Owning both versions is completely unnecessary and I only do so because I am some sort of batshit weird hoarder/magpie.

Overall Thoughts…

If you enjoy puzzle games (especially of the falling tile/block persuasion) or games with a heavy infusion of music then Lumines is a no-brainer. For the pitiful amount of currency that a used copy trades hands for these days, the risk to your wallet barely registers. Only bother with the Plus edition for PS2 if you don’t have a PSP or if you absolutely HAVE to play it on the big screen but you know, that’s kind of what those PSP-TV cables were designed for?

DS90 Plays: Crash Bandicoot [Playstation]

…or to be more precise, I’ve been playing Crash on my Vita but before I get into the game itself, I feel a mini rant coming on that needs to be vented and said rant regards the mess that is the Playstation Store. I already have Crash Bandicoot 2 on my Vita and I know that Crash 3 and CTR are also both available to download but the original? I had to find the game on the website version of the store (where it is marked up as only being compatible with the PSP and PS3), pay for it then dump it on my Vita by accessing my download list from the Vita. What a ball ache! So not only does the game not show up on the Vita version of the Store but it also doesn’t list the Vita as a compatible platform (when it is). I had to go through the exact same process to download Medievil to my Vita and it highlights how poorly organised the store is. In fairness, it does serve the PS3, PS4, PSP (through no longer directly) and the Vita but the whole thing needs updating and putting into some kind of order without the need for the daft download methods I have had to endure simply to get hold of an old PS1 game.

The positive side is that the store does at least still have all of these crusty old games to download unlike Nintendo’s versions of their e-shop which eventually get removed from existence once a superceded console is no longer worth supporting in the eyes of its creator. Plus, I have read that US gamers can’t even get the original Crash via the workaround (due to licensing issues) so as a British gamer, I must count myself lucky in that respect.

But anyway: Crash Bandicoot!

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I did of course play this game (as well as the sequels) back in the day so me downloading the original to my Vita was because I fancied a nostalgia trip. I’d already downloaded Crash 2 for convenience’s sake and completed it but I no longer have my original copy of the first game so it was a case of necessity rather than convenience this time. Plus it was £3.99 which is a complete steal versus the price of used physical copies of Crash Bandicoot. I do always prefer an original hard copy (as my physical PS1 collection amassed over the last twenty years affirms) but I’m also no longer so snooty about going digital when I feel like it.

The biggest thing that my modern-day play-through of Crash Bandicoot has revealed however is that this game is tough! I certainly didn’t remember it to be so unforgiving but compared to the sequels, the original Crash is definitely a much crueler game that often demands the sort of platforming skills of a player that 8 and 16-bit games in the genre did. Most of the time though, I would say that losing lives is entirely avoidable and purely the player’s fault. In this respect, I’ve cursed at the screen and gritted my teeth on many occasions but I’ve also known that failures are my fault and not due to cheap game design. This is what the Mario games do so well and we can rage about how demanding old games are/were but this is what we were used to at the time. Games have become – to an extent – very easy and hand-holdy with safety nets everywhere, greater concern being shown to keeping the player happy rather than giving them a challenge. Both approaches to entertaining a gamer are valid (because sometimes I don’t want an aldrenalin-fuelled experience after a long day at work) but I do sometimes lament the loss of actual, fairly-weighted challenge in games.

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The opening jungle levels are perhaps the most iconic in the first two Crash games. General gameplay mechanics are introduced at a reasonable pace.

The most prominent issue relating to the difficulty is the game’s save system. You can only save your progress by reaching the end of the bonus round (which you have to access from within a stage by collecting a set of three pick-ups from crates) or by breaking every crate in a stage and collecting a silver gem as a reward. The game also features a password system because this was an early Playstation release that didn’t demand the ownership of a memory card but even so, you can’t retrieve a password without actually reaching save point in the first place. What this means is that failing on a bonus stage puts a fair bit of pressure on the player to ensure that they reach the next one and don’t screw up a second time. If you are attempting to smash all of the crates within said bonus rounds then plummeting to your doom is easily done and you only have one shot of clearing a bonus round so there is a distinct lack of forgiveness.

As for genuinely unfair game design, it only really rears its head on the warthog stages where Crash leaps stop said beast and you have to steer them through all obstacles in your way. I say that these stages can be unfair because there is some trial-and-error involved with the timing of some of the moving obstacles and it can take a few failed runs before you know in advance whether to move left/right or jump/duck out of the way of something. The stages where Crash must run towards the screen with a giant Indiana Jones-style boulder of doom in hot pursuit are similar but I managed to clear them pretty easily with reflexes alone.

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These levels (with their distinct lack of footing!) will really test your reflexes…

Otherwise this is just pure platforming action that tests reflexes, timing and accuracy. The controls are spot-on so it’s all down to the player to get right. The game does a very good job of introducing new forms of hazards and giving the player a fair chance to see how they work before gradually throwing more and more for them to deal with. For example, you won’t be expected to jump across three flaming torches in a row without first being given one to handle on its own with lenient timing between the flame switching on and off. The same goes for rolling millstones, falling platforms and all manner of hazards. This is why the game is – aside from the few bits I previously picked out – completely fair: it introduces new obstacles and gradually ramps up the quantity that you must deal with in one go or the strictness of any timing involved.

It’s also worth mentioning that Crash’s reportoire of moves is much more limited here than in the sequels so there’s no sliding or belly-slamming – just jumping. This makes for a very pure platforming experience that blended (at the time) the old-school 2D traits that we’d just left behind with a fresh, into-the-screen 3D perspective. There are many 2D stages however which betray the transitional period between the 2D and 3D eras of gaming but the mix of both styles helps keep things varied. The only negative aspect of the 2D sections in my opinion is the fact that Crash isn’t ‘locked’ to the ground so despite being asked to walk left/right, you can still slip on the controls and end up walking over the edges. This is especially frustrating in the bonus stages where you are desperate not to fall! Thankfully (in this specific case) the game doesn’t support analogue control so if you are careful and stick to the left/right buttons on the d-pad then you should be safe.

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Slippery ramps, spikes, elevators…what could possibly go wrong?

What I really enjoy about the original Crash Bandicoot is the sense of achievement (and relief!) upon clearing a stage, especially with all crates smashed which is a pretty smug moment. I also really enjoy the challenge of the later levels where checkpoints are spread out further, one mistake = doom and you feel as if you are being pushed to your limits of endurance and reflexes with some of the stages and what they demand of you. But getting through these stages after many attempts (and much swearing) is what makes that sense of achievement all the sweeter. After all, isn’t it better to really earn something than have it given to you?

It would also be a sin for me to wrap up this review without mentioning another of Crash Bandicoot‘s defining characteristics: the humour. From Crash’s facial expressions to the general cartoon-like vibe of the game, everything feels fun and playful even when the difficulty is up and the stages do their best to appear dark and menacing later on. The audio is simple but classic with funky backing music and charming sound effects that are unmistakably from a Crash game. This is also one of those rare 32-bit games that has clearly aged but done so with grace. Like with the Spyro games, Crash Bandicoot didn’t push for realistic graphics and so the exaggerated cartoon-like approach still looks great today and pretty sharp. Contemporaries from the same period that tried to look “real” can often be shocking to behold in retrospective with jagged edges, awful smudgy textures and laughable (by today’s standards) attempts to get near photo-realism. Not so here.

Overall, I have very much enjoyed returning to Crash Bandicoot. It’s probably my least-played of the original Naughty Dog-developed games so there’s the added bonus of not being overly-familiar with it. It’s also a perfect fit for the Vita so if you are able to get it on there then I highly recommend doing so. PS4 remasters next?

Crystal Dreams

This last week saw me finally polish off the e-shop download of Pokemon Silver Version for 3DS. I ended up spending around 60hrs with the game and in truth, that figure could have easily been shaved by a considerable amount had I not spent ages hunting out my favourite monsters and training them up even though I had no space for them in my final/ideal team. I felt like a bit of a boss taking a Lv60+ team of Lugia, Typhlosion, Tyranitar, Dragonite, Raikou and Gyarados into the final showdown with Red (I would have also taken Ho-Oh but I needed Gyarados as my ‘HM slave’ to navigate Silver Cave) and I managed to beat the toughest trainer in the game on my first attempt. That Snorlax that bothered me so much back in the day? No problem! Typhlosion ended that sucker with a few Dynamic Punches. Yeah!

It was a very nostalgic experience overall and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the classic sound effects, sprites and simpler Pokemon mechanics that I’d been missing with the newer games. Despite the amount of hours I invested into Silver, I’m still keenly waiting for January 26th and the next classic re-release that I’d been hoping for…

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Pokemon Crystal Version was the edition that everybody had really been clamouring for when the Gold/Silver re-releases were initially announced and I can only presume that Nintendo held it back on account of it being so similar to G/S that nobody would buy either of those versions. This way, gamers like me will double-dip and I can’t deny that I have fallen for their nefarious marketing tactics! Yellow Version was re-released alongside Red/Blue but that was likely a different scenario given how Yellow had quite a lot of differences compared to the games it was updating and was changed-up to follow the TV show more closely.

Crystal is more of a subtle update over its direct predecessors but is – in my opinion anyway –  the definitive edition of the second generation of games. When this game was originally released, the introduction of animated sprites was incredibly special for example. The first iteration of the Battle Tower debuted in Crystal too (and boy was it brutal!) and a slightly tweaked storyline put Suicune into a position of prominence, allowing the player to eventually battle the legendary Pokemon without worrying about it fleeing as it, Raikou and Entei would immediately do in Gold/Silver.

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Gotta love those old sprites!

Crystal is – like most of the early Pokemon games – quite nostalgic for me as I clearly remember receiving it for Christmas on the year of release along with a brand spanking new Gameboy Advance. How ironic that the first game I played on a new system was one via the backwards compatibility! The more advanced (see what I did there?) aesthetics of those shiny new GBA titles didn’t deter me from embarking on a second tour of Johto however and in 2018, history is set to repeat itself. I really cannot wait and I’m fortunate enough to have received a £15 e-shop voucher from my sister at Christmas so I’m saving that for the 26th!

It’s also worth mentioning that Nintendo have slightly tweaked this version of Crystal in a rather special way. Aside from Pokemon Bank compatibility, they have also included a way to battle and capture Celebi without the need for any sort of special ‘event’! Wow! Celebi has long been one of those Pokemon that has been impossible to capture without being fortunate enough to attend a special event and outside of said event for Gold/Silver/Crystal (or the Japanese bonus disc for Pokemon Colosseum), I don’t believe Celebi has been made available since.

Roll on the 26th!

Digital: Pokemon Silver Version (3DS e-shop)

Recently I have had serious trouble finding the time to sit down and really get stuck into a home console game. I have various titles on the go for different machines but work and life in general keep getting in way. Enter the saviour that is handheld gaming. So far on this blog, I have talked about the PSP quite a bit but I owe my interest in handheld gaming to the Gameboy Colour which was my very first machine (discounting the Playstation in the house which wasn’t my own console). As with a lot of people my age, I received the GBC as a Christmas gift purely because I wanted to play Pokemon like all of my friends at school were doing. Red Version was where it all began but it would be the follow-ups, Pokemon Gold/Silver, that would really impress…

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This moody title screen was impressive for an 8-Bit handheld…

I can distinctly remember being given some sort of really thick, unofficial Pokemon magazine by my Gran which had loads of information on the upcoming sequels. The magazine mapped out the initial few towns/routes, showed all of the new monsters (with Japanese names) and detailed new features to the series such as berries, the Poke-Gear and the introduction of Dark and Steel types. I absolutely pored over this magazine which was bringing us the latest information straight from Japan and the sequels simply could not come soon enough. I saved money bit by bit (money being difficult to come across as a child!) until I had the required £29.99 put aside in advance and I’ll be completely honest: I miss those days. Being so impressed and excited for a videogame as well as slowly but surely scraping the money together to buy it…so much better than the present day me who thinks “meh” to most game announcements and could afford any new release immediately if I was feeling irresponsible enough to casually drop £40-£50 on a PS4 game (which I very rarely do).

The very best part though was that the game lived up to all the expectations I had and then completely surpassed them. I opted for the Silver version since a) Lugia looked cooler than Ho-oh and b) there was this strange, unspoken sureness that the Gold version would be better because the word ‘Gold’ sounds more impressive than ‘Silver’. This meant that more people at school owned Gold Version and so having the opposite meant that I would be a more attractive trading partner. On a side note, this amusing little quirk also happened with Ruby/Sapphire on the GBA but since then, I think Nintendo haven’t produced a duo of Pokemon games with one version sounding better than the other.

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Colour! This was a huge deal back on release.

Fast forward to 2017 and I have just downloaded the digital re-release of the game from Nintendo’s 3DS e-shop service. Initially I’d been intending to pick up the re-release of Red/Blue that has been available for some time now but I’d completely forgotten that Gold/Silver had also been slated for a re-release so when I saw these little beauties were available…well, I HAD to skip a generation unfortunately because Johto was calling and I didn’t have enough shop credit for both. These games retail for £8.99 by the way which is expensive for a digital download of a retro game but I personally think that the price is extremely fair for the size and depth of the games. Don’t forget that original cartridges have shot up in value over the years and that it is depressingly easy to end up with a bootleg copy or a genuine cart with a dead battery that needs replacing. These 3DS downloads bypass all of that and are so convenient. The 3DS’ rubbish battery life also does a great job of emulating the Gameboy Colour gobbling up those AA batteries!

Understandably, I was a little dubious about returning to one of my all-time favourite games in case I’d been looking back through rose-tinted specs all of these years. Thankfully this wasn’t the case and I am happy to say that I am utterly in love with this game all over again. Going so far backwards in a series that has evolved (get it?) so much over the years takes a bit of getting used to, mind. I’ve ploughed hundreds of hours into the GBA games and first generation of DS games (Diamond/Pearl) for example and so returning to a time where there were no passive Pokemon powers, no animated sprites, no weather effects and no many other things takes some getting used to. I keep expecting to be paralysed when hitting an electric type with a physical attack for instance. I imagine it would be even tougher for anybody who has played the DS remakes or the newer 3DS installments, doubly so if they are a younger gamer who only started playing Pokemon with the latest games.

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Night-time was another “wow” moment in 2001

Maybe I AM blinded by nostalgia but I personally prefer the older games like this. The more primitive sound effects and old-school sprites invoke a warm fuzziness inside – sights and sounds of a simpler time. I find a lot more charm in these things anyway (regardless of the reason) and also happen to enjoy the more stripped-back simplicity of the game with knocking over the game’s gyms, trashing the Elite Four and swiping as many different Pokemon as possible being your only objectives. Obviously there were a few new distractions added to the second generation of Pokemon games and a lot of these relied on the game’s in-built date/time facility which dictated when certain events such as the bug-catching contest would occur. Other nice touches included trainers calling you on the phone (with pretty terrible conversation it has to be said!), being able to use the radio and different Pokemon appearing depending on whether it was day or night. At the time, these additions were incredible despite how trivial they may seem today. I’ve not played any of the 3DS generations of the games so I imagine that there is so much to do in those versions but I’m in no rush to find out. My Pokemon obsession ended with Diamond so while I am interested in catching up, I would still rather go back to a more focused and ‘innocent’ period in the series’ life such as Silver Version.

My current play-through is going very well and I’ve found myself using Pokemon in my team that I would never have previously even considered such as Slowpoke, Exeggcute and Zubat (mostly all evolved and nicely levelled by now of course). Revisiting all of the old towns and hearing that fantastic 8-Bit music again has been a lovely experience so far but I’m only around halfway through what the game has to offer with one final Johto gym standing in my way. Catching Lugia is my first priority however but the initial attempt didn’t go very well! I completely forgot about how Lugia makes the battle so annoying with its ‘Recover’ move as well as how higher level monsters in these older games simply refuse to be captured, even when at the lowest HP point and hit with a status effect. All good fun though!

So would I recommend this download? Whole heartedly. As I said earlier, the price may look steep for a retro download but considering all that you avoid by not trying to buy a working, genuine original copy then it’s fantastic value and having the game on your 3DS memory card with all of your other stuff is just so convenient and perfect for taking on the move – in perfect keeping with the spirit of the original releases and their pocket nature. I really hope that they also offer Crystal at some point since the remixed storyline, introduction of Pokemon animations and other little tweaks made it an update worth playing through all over again way back when and I’d happily do the same again today. Make it happen Nintendo!.

PSPick-ups

If you’ve read my very first, popping-of-the-Wordpress-cherry feature here on Darkstalker90 Gaming then you will know that I am a big fan of the PSP and believe it has a very underrated (and often written-off) library. Naturally, the token ports of bigger brother home console games didn’t do the platform much justice but the exclusive stuff? Now we’re talking. Unless a downsized conversion is actually worth buying then I tend to stick to exclusives that made the PSP worth owning alongside its contemporary home console peers and that’s fine because there are more than a few. Anyway, I recently added a few new bits to my collection courtesy of an online buddy who was getting rid of some things and did me a great deal.

Fate/EXTRA Collector’s Edition

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This is the European collector’s edition of Fate/EXTRA published over here by Ghostlight. Annoyingly, I used to own this exact set a while ago but I sold it off along with a lot of other stuff to create space and cut down on games that I’d never play. The set has increased in value since then thanks to the collector’s side of the PSP market but I’d always wondered whether I’d missed out on anything by not playing before selling. The box includes a nice artbook + soundtrack CD combo:

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Echochrome

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If there’s one thing that the PSP was a standout platform for then it was puzzle games. I have quite a few already but there always seems to be more that I didn’t know about. Echochrome is a game that I’d heard of in name but knew nothing of. I’ve probably seen this knocking around on pre-owned shelves for a few pounds in the past and ignored it but now I have a copy. It certainly looks unique from the back of the box so I’m looking forward to seeing what’s what.

Everybody’s Golf

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Confession time: despite being a Sony/Playstation fanboy, I have not yet played an Everybody’s Golf game – not even one of the PS1 versions despite being aware of how enjoyable they are meant to be. I guess I will now be able to rectify that particular sin.

Twinbee Portable

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Another genre that the PSP excels in? Retro compilations. Unfortunately, many of the best didn’t leave Japan but that’s okay when the PSP is region-free. Twinbee is a series of cute and colourful arcade shooters by Konami (remember when they used to make actual interesting games?) and this pack collects together Twinbee, Detana!! Twinbee, Pop’n Twinbee, Twinbee Yahho and a remake of the Gameboy’s Twinbee Da! I’m really looking forward to playing this as Konami used to be a major force in gaming, developing awesome games as well bright, arcade hits that everybody can enjoy. It’s a shame that they appeared to have almost flushed themselves completely down the crapper but at least we can relive the good times with compilations like this.

So that’s what I gone bought for my tower of PSP shame. In complete honesty (and contrast to this post), I haven’t bought many games at all for ages. I am genuinely trying to downsize my collection and save some money by not buying up anything and everything that interests me because there isn’t enough time to play all of these damn games and eventually you realise that these masses of plastic actually hold a lot of monetary value – incredibly hard to hold onto when you have other hobbies and interests that need financing. However, when you get offered a good deal on some uncommon games from a friend then it’s usually not wise to pass it up, especially when PSP software is generally steadily increasing in value for the good stuff.

The PSP: Not Just an Emu Machine

Welcome to my first ever post on this blog and to kick things off, I thought I’d have a little discussion on a console that I have a lot of affection for: Sony’s PSP.

“The…PSP?” I hear you say. Yes; you remember the first Playstation-branded portable console that valiantly attempted (and utterly failed) to break Nintendo’s vice-like grip on the handheld market? It was a great piece of kit at the time of release and in fairness, held it’s own for long enough to spawn four hardware revisions and boat-loads of software.  There are many factors that contributed to the PSP’s relative failure but the big elephant in the room is Custom Firmware or ‘CFW’ for short. Hacking the PSP was a constantly evolving process that initially required certain UMD discs and permanent hardware modifications that posed the serious risk of “bricking” your system if you didn’t know what you were doing. Sony fought back again and again with firmware updates but new CFW versions kept on coming until it was possible to run the naughty stuff straight from the memory card.

Running CFW was desirable because it allowed for the use of emulators on a console that proved to be bloody good at being a portable Mega Drive/SNES/GBA etc. It also allowed people to download isos of PS1 software to run directly from the card rather than buying from the PS Store. Most of this could be passed off as harmless but what wasn’t harmless was the way on which CFW allowed gamers to download retail PSP games rather than purchasing the physical UMD. Software sales were damaged as a result (several of Square’s Final Fantasy games reportedly suffered heavily for example) and the end of the PSP was nigh.

Now that I’ve given a quick history lesson, let me continue by stating that I’m not here to argue the morality of hacking consoles and downloading software (that’s a discussion in its own right). I’m here to defend the PSP as a genuine platform for great games – many of the exclusives – that should be recognised for more than simply a big screen and buttons to hack as quickly as possible and fill up with teh romz.

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Holy shit: REAL games? Am I a madman?

The PSP has a ridiculous number of quality titles across all genres and many types of games work a lot better than you may think given the lack of shoulder buttons and that (admittedly) annoying, slidey analogue stub. There are a few kings amongst the genres though, types of games that received more support than others and were thus reasons to own a PSP. The most suited genres were:

  • RPG’s
  • Puzzle Games
  • Retro/Arcade compilations

If those types of games float your boat then a PSP is a must-have console in your collection. The fact is though that even the lesser-supported genres received some absolutely stunning games. Don’t forget that the PSP was a lot more powerful than its rival, the Nintendo DS, and had the benefit of more adult-orientated games and the kind of stuff that Playstation owners had been used to playing on their home consoles for years now. Witnessing a fully-fledged 3D Grand Theft Auto on a portable blew my mind for example, especially given that both of the “Stories” games were visually superior to GTAIII and Vice City on the PSP as well as more expansive. Then there was Tekken, God of War, Gran Turismo…the list goes on. Of course, the price to pay for this greatness was a woefully short battery life but you had to take the rough with the smooth as with most rewarding things in life.

But going back to what the PSP did especially well and it’s impossible to not start with the RPG’s. Square in particular really loved the PSP bringing upgraded ports of Final Fantasy I-IV, both Star Ocean‘s, Final Fantasy Tactics, Valkyrie Profile as well as brand-new software in the shape of The Third Birthday (aka Parasite Eve III), Tactics Ogre and Dissidia. Capcom contributed Breath of Fire, Atlus offered up enhanced remakes of Persona 1 & 2 plus a portable edition of the mighty Persona 3, Nippon Ichi made Disgaea go portable (twice!) and a whole host of other publishers pitched in with the likes of Riviera, Valkyria Chronicles, Gungnir, Jeanne D’Arc and much more.

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Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII proved to be massively popular on PSP.

Fighting games were also well catered for with Namco’s mastery of the host hardware blessing owners with Tekken: Dark Resurrection and Soul Calibur Broken Destiny – portable versions of their major home console fighters which looked incredible, played just as smoothly and packed in plenty of content (Tekken 6 also received a PSP port later on). Fans of the traditional 2D front were amply supplied to thanks to Capcom porting sublime updates of Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Darkstalkers. Crisp visuals, smooth animation and all of their bigger brothers’ content made it feel like you had somehow managed to ram an arcade cab in your pocket. Guilty Gear and new kid on the block, Blazblue, also rocked up to the party (with varying results it must be said).

Quick-fire puzzle gameplay was another of the PSP’s important cornerstones with so many to choose from. In fact, I’m still discovering new stuff to this day when browsing for new titles to add to my PSP collection! If a puzzle series exists then chances are, there was a PSP version. Lumines, Puzzle Quest, Puyo Puyo, Bust-a-Move, Mercury and Puzzle Fighter were merely the tip of an enormous iceberg.

And if you’re an old fart at heart (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it etc…) then the retro vibes that the PSP exuded would have been most welcome. Taito, Capcom and Midway all published multiple collections absolutely rammed with classic arcade titles while SNK gave us compilations for Metal Slug, King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown (though admittedly, these can be difficult to find due to being published in tiny quantities).

All of this and I feel as though I’ve barely touched on what makes the PSP great. The import scene for example is especially strong thanks to the console’s lack of a region lock and as you may expect, the PSP soldiered on for much longer in its homeland playing host to a wealth of amazing and quirky software that didn’t cross the water. If you have a PSP or intend to pick one up then it’s well worth investigating what didn’t leave Japan. I live in the UK and so there were also many games that the US got and we didn’t so the import pool is even bigger for us Europeans.

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My own trusty PSP-3000 rocking a naughty Ayane wallpaper…

What I’m saying is, forget about the CFW, roms and emulators for a moment. Take the time to appreciate the PSP for what it offered in stock form and you might just be surprised at how versatile and impressive both the hardware and games were. I DO run CFW myself – a non-permanent version sitting on my memory card that can be switched on and off at will. I don’t use it for emulation or downloading PSP roms however because I much prefer to have a physical copy of a game as I find that tracking a game down and giving it a proper go is more satisfying than simply downloading a large package of soulless roms. I’m a hoarder by nature anyway and so nothing but the actual box in my hand will do! I use CFW simply to create ISO copies of UMD’s I actually own so that I can play the games directly from the memory stick to improve loading/battery life and save wear on the UMD drive. This has meant seeking out larger storage than Sony’s propiertary Pro Duo format offers so I’m currently rocking a 64GB micro SD card in a Pro Duo adaptor.

There’s far too much goodness to go through here so I will probably feature some of the best games in their own dedicated posts to highlight the gems that the PSP has to offer. With this post, I just wanted to big up the PSP for doing what it does without the aid of modifications. I really find it a shame that such a proper gamers console can’t be talked about without somebody replying “Get it flashed asap, bruv” or “U got CFW on it yet, mate?”. What do these people know? Nothing – clearly.