PSP Combo Review: Everyday Shooter and Super Stardust Portable

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Recently Sony released two digital downloads for the PSP – Everyday Shooter and Super Stardust Portable. Each is a revamped version of an offering on the Playstation Network for the PS3, and each can trace its’ lineage to the Asteroids games. To say that both of these games were successful on the PS3 is an understatement – they were critically acclaimed and loved by fans; so I was thrilled at the opportunity to try them on my PSP-3000 which hasn’t seen many good new games since I got it a few months ago. But rather than have separate reviews that end up comparing back and forth incessantly, I am going to review both together! Of course each will get appraised and scored separately at the end.

PSN Store

One of the cooler things that has come along recently for the PSP is access to the PlayStation store directly from the PSP. Of course, it is also something that has been delayed time and again, but no matter – it is here now and will change how you work with your PSP. Originally, the store was only available to PS3 owners, and you had to connect your PSP to a PS3 to access content. Given that the PS3 is by far the lowest selling console available … that seems like a somewhat daft marketing position. Quite a bit later they delivered the PC Store, which allowed you to download demos and buy PSX games and download them via the USB connection. That was pretty solid and worked quite well, but given the hardware of the PSP, felt like an unneeded compromise. So it was great when the store finally arrived on the PSP – now you can easily connect and grab the latest demo, or buy cool games such as Everyday Shooter or Super Stardust Portable.

When I got my PSP-3000 it came with a download code for Echochrome, and I remember being bemused for a while about how to use it (yes, I know, reading the card might have helped!). I went to the Playstation Store on my PC to see if that was the way, and seeing nothing I loaded it up on my PSP, eventually finding a tiny icon in the upper corner. From there a few more annoyances hit – as I entered the code, I had to keep resetting my keyboard selection for each new field. Once I was all set, I was dumped to a list that included every download I’ve ever done through the store, fortunately with the current selection on top. The download went very slow – I’m not sure if it is the PSP or the Sony site, but for comparison I downloaded Disciples 2 Gold (1.7GB) through GoodOldGames in the same time it took me to get the ~70MB Everyday Shooter PSP game. Regardless, when I approached getting these games, I knew what to expect and things went smoothly – but still rather slowly.

The Legacy of Vector Graphics

I remember the arrival of Asteroids well. While it was before I had my own license, it was well after I was using my own money for entertainment and able to go out alone with friends – usually taking the bus to one of the two malls located one town to either side. We would watch movies, get pizza, and play arcade games and pinball – after all, there were only a couple of video games back then. An amazing thing about Asteroids – I have always loved it despite not being very good. I loved it in the arcade, loving the vector graphics a few years before I would be tasked to recreate such things for engineering studies. I have loved it subsequently in every form I could grab it: indeed, Ambrosia Software’s Maelstrom from about 20 years ago is probably my favorite Mac game ever. Yet, as I say, I was never all that good at it. I have largely missed out on the majority of the Asteroid-inspired shooters through the years, but I always love them when I get the chance.

My latest experience with a game in this style was Geometry Wars for the Nintendo DS. By then pretty much all shooters adopted the 360 degree shooting style similar to the arcade game Robotron, which makes fast-paced action easier to sustain. Geometry Wars was a blast that I once again did poorly playing, yet continue to beat my head against when I have the chance.

I was going to save my negative comments about these games to the end, but after playing them both for an additional few hours I realized that the worst of all problems was common to both and so fore-front in my mind that it needed to be stated upfront.

The Fundamental Problem With Both Games

Despite looking great, sounding great, and having intensively addictive gameplay, both games suffer a fundamental flaw that caused my opinion to plummet from ‘Buy It’ to ‘Skip It’ for both – these games are made for dual analog control, and anything less is a frustrating compromise that takes away from the gameplay experience in a very significant way.

Anyone who has played a FPS on the PSP knows that the use of the face buttons for looking around is very limited compared to a mouse or second analog stick. However, many games have adjusted their pacing to make it work pretty well. However, the functionality of the buttons in those games is less critical than in these two – in the PSP FPS games you have ‘aim assist’. Here you choose either to move or shoot at 90 degree angles while getting full freedom of motion with the other. Both of these games just *scream* for dual analog sticks to complement the frenetic action. And you will be fighting the fact that the hardware lacks a second stick for the entire time you play.

Everyday Shooter

Everyday Shooter started life as a small pet project by Jonothan Mak, shown off at an independent developers conference, and was picked up by Sony for publication as a downloadable game on their PSN arcade service. It was an immediate hit, with fans loving the rather hardcore difficulty and the home-grown guitar soundtrack. The way the music and visuals combine and work together to provide a sort of trippy ambiance is stunning, and led to many hours lost in front of the TV for gamers.

In the port to the PSP, the aspect ratio was changed, but you can alter it so it plays like the original. You will definitely notice that everything is smaller, to the point where some things are hard to make out in the mess of action on-screen at any given time. Button mapping can be changed around, but basically you will be using the analog stick and face buttons to move and/or shoot. The shoulder buttons and arrow keys give you special controls that are used less often such as bombing and boosting and so on.

Too often ports from HD games to the PSP lose a great deal in translation – fortunately that isn’t the case here. You will find yourself constantly increasing the volume to maximize the experience of the integration of the guitar and background graphics. There are still eight ‘songs’ you play through, each wildly different from the next. Each different area comes with different enemies and chaining systems and so on. Yep – only eight stages and that is it. They are fun enough that you will want to play them again … well, except for that little ‘terrible controls’ thing.

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Pros:
+ Wonderful Soundtrack
+ Addictive gameplay
+ Hypnotic graphics

Cons:
– Lousy controls
– Limited content
– ‘Take it or leave it’ difficulty

Game Info
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Queasy Games / Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: 12/04/08
Genre: Action, Shooter
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1

Super Stardust Portable

Super Stardust Portable has an interesting lineage – it is a port of the PS3 downloadable Super Stardust HD, which in turn is based on Super Stardust, a 1995 Amiga game, which is the sequel to a 1993 Asteroids clone for the Atari called Stardust.

In contrast to Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust Portable has a very ‘over the top’ presentation style where everything is highly detailed with saturated colors. The core goals remain to destroy everything in sight and grab any power-ups that appear. Your ship has three infinite ammo weapons, each of which is strong against a certain type of enemy, and a limited arsenal of bombs which can be augmented by grabbing power-ups.

The presentation doesn’t suffer a bit being scaled to the smaller screen – at least in terms of what is in your face. The PS3 game required you to take a somewhat larger view of things, but with the PSP, just dealing with the enemies on-screen works fine.

A bone of contention has sprung up around this game: some of the game modes listed on Sony’s site, including Endless, Survival and Bomber modes. They are apparently going to be offered in the future as a downloadable patch.

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Pros:
+ Wonderful Soundtrack
+ Addictive gameplay
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Nice difficulty levels

Cons:
– Lousy controls
– Missing modes

Game Info:
Platform: PSP
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Housemarque
Release Date: 12/04/08
Genre: Action, Shooter
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1

The Bottom Line

Boy did I ever want to love these games … I have heard so many times how wonderful these games are, and my first impressions were completely positive. Indeed, at first I was having a hard time, playing bits of each one and then switching to the other. But soon the glow wore off and the reality of the abysmal controls sank in. I wrestled with how to address that for a while, but as I sat playing a game on the PC it occurred to me – if I was playing a FPS on the PC that forced me to use the arrow keys rather than the mouse to look and aim, with no possibility to remap, I would eviscerate the game. Because the experience would be compromised to the point that whatever quality existed would be lost in the wake of the bad controls. That is how these games play – you can choose fast movement and inadequate shooting, or inadequate movement and fast shooting … but not both. And that is what sadly makes it impossible for me to recommend either of these games.

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!