VGB 2007 Holiday Gift Guide: PlayStation Portable

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If you STILL don’t own a PSP, you’re missing out on a great deal, especially now that it’s at an affordable base price point of $169.99 and comes in two loaded bundles running $199.99, including the Daxter pack containing a copy of said game, an Ice Silver-colored PSP and other goodies, and the Star Wars Battlefront pack containing a special edition Ceramic White PSP imprinted with Darth Vader’s mug on the back and a copy of Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron. There are quite a few excellent first-party games that more than justify picking up the handheld and the unit makes a fine multimedia player that happens to have excellent connectivity functions with the PlayStation 3. Not only that, the unit has been redesigned into a slimmer, lighter unit that, thanks to the new video-out port, can play all your favorite media (and PSP games) on your TV! That alone is reason enough to stay home and blow all your holiday cash on the following titles:

ratchet n clank size matters.JPGRatchet & Clank: Size Matters (E 10+) – Shrinking the popular franchise down onto the PSP in no way lessens its impact and Size Matters manages to look and feel like a PS2 game from start to finish. Fantastic graphics, about a dozen or so hours of solid gameplay and plenty of trademark R + C humor abound throughout this blast of platforming and action that’s easily one of the best games on the handheld. Weapons galore, as usual and for those of you who crave multiplayer action, you’ll get some run & gun stuff to sate your deathmatch needs just fine.

dead head fred.JPGDead Head Fred (M) – D3Publisher’s US arm has been taking some fun chances with a wild assortment of PSP releases mixed in with some quirky console stuff. This action adventure, an all-new IP, features a mix of horror, humor and film noir aesthetics and hours of gameplay that’s pretty decent on the handheld. As Fred, a guy who’s lost his head to a crime boss, you’re set on revenge (with 9 interchangeable heads!) in this supernatural action game. Definitely geared toward the more mature gamer, as there’s some gore and a few M-rated swear words sprinkled liberally throughout the adventure.

gurumin.JPGGurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (E 10+) – One of the best PSP games, period. A fun story, super cute 3D graphics, fast-paced monster smashing gameplay and some wacky costume changes highlight this action/RPG from legendary developer Falcom. The sound production, voice acting and superbly charming score are home console quality, which makes me wonder if we’ll see this game show up on the PS2 at some point before that console gives up the ghost. By the way, the replay value here is off the charts, as the game coughs up tons of bonus content!

metal slug anthology.JPGMetal Slug Anthology (T) – SNK’s super smash arcade series gets the PSP treatment with pretty solid results. Seven great Metal Slug games packed onto this UMD guaranteed endless replay value for a surprisingly low price point. The games all look great in the new widescreen format and a re as tough to beat as ever. Some very brief moments of loading during gameplay aside, the conversions are superb and a great way for SNK fans to take these 2D classics on the road anytime they need a fix.

AfterBurner.jpgAfter Burner: Black Falcon (T) – No-frills, balls-to-the-wall flight combat is what this bad boy is all about. With Black Falcon, Sega has modernized the After Burner franchise to take full advantage of the PSP hardware, while remaining faithful to the series’ arcade roots with pulse-pounding, tough-as-nails on-rails aerial warfare that’s sure to leave any action junkie creaming in their underpants well into the New Year.

MACH.jpgM.A.C.H. Modified Air Combat Heroes (E 10+) – Combining lightning-fast, Mario Kart-style jet racing and intense aerial dogfighting, M.A.C.H. is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. Graphically, it’s among the top showpieces of the PSP’s technical might, while its intuitive, action-packed gameplay will have you grinning from ear to ear as you soar past rival jets or smoke them out of the sky (or both!) It’s just a shame the mode lineup is so thin…

burnout dominator.JPGBurnout Dominator (E 10+) – While it’s not as smashing-looking as its console counterparts, the wickedly fast drive ‘n smash car action Dominator provides will get your adrenaline pumping each and every time you hop into a single or ad hoc multiplayer game mode. Slick controls and a great soundtrack add to the immersion factor while making up a bit for the occasional tough to see traffic off in the distance. Definitely one of the more thrilling ways to liven up an otherwise dull commute to work or school, that’s for sure…

SmashCourtTennis3.jpgSmash Court Tennis 3 (E) – Surpassing Virtua Tennis as the king of the court, Namco Bandai’s third Smash Court Tennis installment is as good as tennis gaming gets on the PSP right now. VT still has a slight edge in terms of sheer accessibility, but SCT3 dominates overall with greater realism, deeper gameplay, crisper visuals and a fuller mode count, including a collection of fun mini-games inspired by old Namco arcade favorites like Pac-Man and Galaga. PSP’s sports game of the year if you ask me.

sid meiers pirates.JPGSid Meier’s Pirates! (E 10+) – Yo, ho, ho, and a barrel of fun (or something like that), this great conversion of 2004’s hit PC game comes off even better than the Xbox version by a mile plus tax. Less loading times than the console build (shocking!), and tailored to fit the PSP’s control setup, once you start playing, you’ll find it ridiculously hard to stop. The mini-game structure is perfect for commutes and when playing this in public, you’ll probably not only miss your bus or train stop, you’ll more than likely come across someone who remembers playing the original game to death way back when. Just let them know that the PSP is a mere $169.99 now before you dip your head back down to play some more…

StarWarsBattlefront.jpgStar Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron (T) – A huge improvement over the last PSP Battlefront entry, the new single player campaign features an actual storyline that keeps things percolating throughout. Of course, the meat of the game is in the deep customization and multiplayer action, which has been kicked up to eight players this time via ad hoc or 16 online. Definitely a great thing when you find yourself facing off against a bunch of like-minded Star Wars fans… all you need to do is look for those limited edition white PSP’s with Darth Vader’s mug on the back.

silent hill origins.JPGSilent Hill Origins (M) – The game that put psychological survival horror on the landscape for console owners finally creeps onto the PSP with this prequel that’s surprisingly as dark and terrifying as a Silent Hill fans should expect. As Travis Grady, a trucker that ends up in the not-so-quaint town while making a delivery stop, you’ll face off against his fears and a disturbing collection of freakish monsters the franchise is known for. Phenomenal lighting effects, nicely rendered characters and environments make up for the occasional control quirks. Play this one on the bus or subway and you’ll not only freak out anyone who’s looking over your shoulder, if you happen to be wearing headphones, you’ll come away with a few white hairs yourself thanks to the spine-chilling audio and haunting soundtrack.

castlevania the dracula x chronicles.JPGCastlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (M) – Finally, after far too long as an exorbitantly priced Japan-only exclusive for the long defunct PC-Engine, we get the Castlevania game fans have clamored for in two different styles. The original game (Dracula X: Rondo of Blood) has been tweaked with voice acting and a great full English dub, but you’ll need to unlock it by playing the stellar remake. Not a bad trade off at all, as the remake’s beautiful graphics along with more balanced controls make an excellent companion piece that shows how well the game has held up over time. You’ll also get the stellar sequel to Rondo, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as a second unlockable, this time with a new translation and re-recorded voice acting plus a few more touches that make the game even better than the original. Definitely worth buying a PSP for if you’re a hardcore Belmont fan.

JeanneDArc.jpgJeanne d’Arc (T) – Surprise, surprise. Level-5’s latest RPG is yet another classic. This historically-inspired strategy-RPG draws from the legend of Joan of Arc and infuses the timeless tale with magical armlets, demons, cutesy big-headed characters and colorful cel-shaded art. It’s an odd mix, but it all meshes beautifully to form a 30-plus-hour portable epic that’ll suck your attention away from any other game until the end. Best of all, it’s fast pacing and intuitive command interface make it far more accessible than most turn-based strategy games.

FinalFantasyTactics.jpgFinal Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (T) – Whereas Jeanne d’Arc is the go-to choice for the RPGer searching for something a bit easier to pick up and play without a daunting learning curve, The War of the Lions is the game to get for the strategy-RPG veteran who loves a stiff tactical challenge to grind away at for hour after hour after hour. This remake of the all-time classic PSOne hit is nothing short of remarkable, keeping the tough, thought-provoking battles, insanely deep and customizable job system, memorable characters and plot and sweeping music of the original fully intact while revitalizing the experience anew with voice acting, gorgeous CG cinematics, extra jobs, missions and hidden characters, and both competitive and cooperative Ad Hoc multiplayer. Need I say more?

disgaea afternoon of darkness.JPGDisgaea: Afternoon of Darkness (T) – Taking the original game and adding some great new PSP exclusive content, Afternoon of Darkness is a must-buy for strategy RPG fans, no questions asked. Funny as hell, often downright bizarre and supremely addictive right from the first battle, the tale of Laharl, Etna and their assorted foes and allies will have you cracking up as your armies of custom troops are cracking skulls. You’ll probably want to buy an extra PSP rechargeable battery or two, as the game has the possibility of hundreds of hours of play for the truly dedicated. Pick this one up and tell the person it’s for to call in sick for about a week or two… or maybe a whole month – the game is that good.

dungeon maker.JPGDungeon Maker: Hunting Ground (T) – While not as deep as most other RPGs on the system, Dungeon Maker is endless fun for hack & slash fans with a creative side. The ability to make your own nicely sized dungeons and attract a wide assortment of beasties to bash is certainly fun and while the graphics aren’t super flashy by any means, they get the job doe just fine. This one should appeal to both fans of PC and console style role-playing thanks to the edit function and a nice assortment of genre staples that are part and parcel of he genre. The ability to share dungeons via Ad Hoc mode is a great touch, as it’s a safe bet that no two monster-packed keeps will exactly be the same. Someone needs to bring this one to home consoles in some form, as the possibilities for some great fan-created dungeons available for download is an exciting option that could extend this franchise indefinitely.

brave story.JPGBrave Story: New Traveler (T) – When your girlfriend vanishes into thin air while you two are enjoying a day in the park and you find yourself going after her into a wild fantasy world, what’s there to do but grab a sword and team up with a sexy cat-gal and burly lizard man to get her back? Brave Story takes its standard console RPG formula and wraps it up in absolutely gorgeous graphics and great production values. Battles are random, combat is full of cool special moves and yup, there’s even an animal raising/fighting side quest that’s good for a diversion from the main quest. Stuffy types might find the game too shallow on the surface, but there’s some fine writing here as you get deeper into the game. True fans of the genre will eat up what’s here like a plate of freshly-baked cookies and come back for more again and again.

Sonic Rivals 2.jpgSonic Rivals 2 (E) – Sega sends Sonic soaring in this super sequel that feels more like the classic Sonic we all know and love from the Genesis days. “2.5 D” style straightforward run to the finish action with your favorites and a few new faces along for the ride. Excellent pick up & play non-stop action highlights this entry and the wonderful graphics and music do their thing as the game sucks you in for level after level of ring collecting, boss-battling goodness. Welcome back, Sonic!

tales of the world.JPGTales of the World: Radiant Mythology (T) – Geared toward the hardcore fans of the Tales series, this one is packed to the gills with in-jokes, cameos, and cross references to other games in the long-running franchise. That means new players will be lost unless they can play along until they start to get things, but those of you who know what’s what should be pleased. The combat is still fast paced real time button killing stuff, scaled down a bit more for the PSP. Tons of side quests, an often funny script and a lighter feeling than many other doom and gloom games the genre is packed with help this one become the perfect traveling companion for stress-free play.

Riviera_PSP.JPGRiviera: the Promised Land (T) – As always, Atlus simply rocks when it comes to bringing out some solid RPGs and here’s one of the better releases. If you missed out on the Game Boy Advance version of this beautiful and surprisingly well-written RPG experience, definitely seek out the PSP update. Additional content, redrawn art that makes excellent use of the PSP widescreen, a lovely score and of course, great gameplay round out a fantastic purchase. There’s even a bit of dating simulation happening here as you travel throughout the game, but it’s both amusing and sweet simultaneously, so it never feels like it’s interfering with the overall plot.

FinalFantasy.jpgFinal Fantasy Anniversary Edition (E 10+) – Square Enix celebrated the 20th anniversary of its flagship Final Fantasy franchise this year and to commemorate the grand occasion released a duo of anniversary remakes exclusively for the PSP, starting with the NES classic that started it all oh so many years ago. This enhanced port sports sharper visuals, widescreen presentation and a brand new dungeon to conquer, but beyond that remains the same Final Fantasy experience we all fondly remember. Surprisingly, the basic, dated gameplay mechanics hold their own remarkably well and are perfectly suited for on-the-go grind sessions through the game’s deadly dungeons and frequent random encounters. Should you own any one of the previous remakes (or better yet the original version), there’s not much reason to buy it again, but for new PSP owners this is a solid starter RPG.

FinalFantasyII.jpgFinal Fantasy II Anniversary Edition (T) – Like the Final Fantasy anniversary edition, Final Fantasy II is a revamped port featuring a shiny new coat of smoother sprites, redrawn art, updated cut scenes and modernized music, with its original gameplay composition left fully intact. FFII is one of the more obscure and debated entries in the series — mostly due to its unique level progression structure — and as such has more of a niche appeal essentially limited to collectors and old-school RPG enthusiasts only.

Syphon Filter Logans Shadow.jpgSyphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow (T) – As unbelievable as it may sound, Sony Bend has taken Dark Mirror, last year’s instant-classic Syphon Filter PSP debut, and ratcheted everything up one more notch, and the result is the even-more-impressive Logan’s Shadow. Narrative intrigue, stealth, run-and-gun action, intense cover-based gunplay, smooth controls, impeccable system-pushing graphics and physics, fully-featured online play – this game has it all, and then some. Quite frankly, it’s the best PSP game of the year, so make sure to beg Santa real good for this one…

MonsterHunterFreedom2.jpgMonster Hunter Freedom 2 (T) – Over in Japan, gamers eat up Monster Hunter titles like the games’ massive monsters gobble up their beast-slaying avatars, but here stateside they aren’t received as highly. To be honest, Monster Hunter Freedom 2 isn’t going to change that, sadly, but for fans of this ambitious action/adventure series it delivers another knockout performance in its second PSP outing. As Capcom puts it, MHF2 is overflowing with a 50% increase in content since the last game, including over 250 new quests, eight new maps, 70 creatures, 700 weapons, 1,400 armor pieces and much, much more. But where it matters most – the gameplay – there are no grand changes or improvements, so like past Monster Hunters you’ll either love it or hate it.

Crush.jpgCrush (E 10+) – It’s quite the rare occurrence when a game comes along with true innovation and originality in all facets of its design, but with their platform-puzzler Crush, Sega and Zoe Mode have managed to do just that. A true gem in the PSP’s star-studded 2007 lineup, Crush stands out for its revolutionary “crushing” mechanic that enables you to change the game world from 3D to 2D and back again in the blink of an eye completely in real-time. In an age where most games retread and expand upon old concepts, this little beauty challenges you to look at level design in a refreshing new way and think outside the box to solve its mind-bending environmental puzzles. Oh, and did I mention it has an awesome story and super-stylized graphics?

CallOfDutyRoadsToVictory.jpgCall of Duty: Roads to Victory (T) – Bringing the Call of Duty series to the PSP for the first time, Activision and Amaze Entertainment have delivered a real winner here. First-person shooters on handheld systems are tricky to pull off, but with its quick-snapping targeting system and signature Call of Duty production values, Roads to Victory manages to succeed where many before it have failed. It’s not without a fair share of flaws – the brief campaign and lack of online multiplayer being the most pronounced – but ultimately the fun factor is enough to lead this shooter onward to victory.

MGSPOPlus.jpgMetal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus (T) – Portable Ops Plus, being the expansion pack that it is, won’t do you any good by itself. Pair it with last year’s award-winning original Portable Ops, though, and you get a whole lotta new content for an attractive $19.99 price tag. Extra multiplayer maps, playable characters, gameplay modes, tutorials and enhanced in-game support are all packed onto this must-have UMD. And if you don’t own Portable Ops already, add that to your list too and make it an extra-jolly Christmas of portable Metal Gear Solid espionage goodness.

monster kingdom.JPGMonster Kingdom: Jewel Summoner (T) – Cozy Okada (the Shin Megami Tensei series) and his team take a break from teen angst in apocalyptic Japan to bring you this slightly more fantasy-based RPG. While it might look and play a tad like Pokemon for the older crowd, this monster capturing and battling game has a richer overall storyline and is yet another entertaining RPG from Atlus. Featuring excellent visuals and music along with a well-implemented battle system and some interesting characters, this is one of those nice surprises RPG fans can count on for hours and hours of entertainment.

tomb raider anniversary.JPGTomb Raider Anniversary (T) – Crystal Dynamics does it again, this time with a portable port of the awesome remake of the 1996 action adventure that brought Lara Croft to the gaming scene. The redesigned stages make the whole thing seem fresh and despite a few issues with the controls and frame rate on the PSP , the game is just as challenging and intense as the home console versions. Sorry Angelina, but the team here does a much better Lara then you ever could, but hell, video game movies are never going to be better than the source material because the folks who make the games put all the best stuff in playable form.

Naruto.jpgNaruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes (T) – As good as the PS2 version was, the PSP kicks its ass down up and down the block from a technical standpoint. Levels that are larger than the console version, some with an additional plane for fighters to hop to and from, wickdly fast controls and tons of content to please even the most hardcore Naruto fan. This is no mere button masher either, as you’ll need to pay attention to thrown objects, which plane your opponent is on and when to utilize your stored charge moves. Sure, it’s not Virtua Fighter 5 (hell, what is?), but if you come into the game looking for a quickie kiddie beat ’em up, your fingers will be as black and blue as your on screen avatar is.

test drive unlimited.JPGTest Drive Unlimited (E) – One of the best “hop in and go” driving games on next-gen comes to the PSP with absolutely surprising results. Surprising because all the single player content is here and the online modes run ridiculously smoothly despite the huge area you’re racing around in. Hit the beautiful island of Oahu and hit the road in a bevy of exotic cars and motorbikes as you race for cash, clothing coupons and glory. The game manages to not only look spectacular, it also controls great and feels right at home on the system. From a purely technical standpoint, this is a hallmark on the PSP, yet Atari didn’t hype this version as much as the Xbox 360 game, which is too bad. However, don’t pass it by when you see it, as it’s definitely the racing game you’ll get the most gameplay out of on a handheld until we see a Gran Turismo game come around.

– Guide co-written by Matt Litten and Greg Wilcox

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!