What makes a good PSP game?

The PSP. It’s a powerful, well distributed little beast. With a good couple of hours’ battery life, its own memory card, good media support, an easy interface, wireless connectivity, USB connectivity and a nice wide screen (while being totally pocket-sized) it has a lot of potential. So why have we seen so many cheap PS2 knockoffs with no thought to maximising the PSP’s unique qualities?

Part of the problem appears to be that it’s thought that making a game for the PSP is simple.

Step 1: Take parts of an existing well-liked distributed franchise and either port them directly or rehash them then port them, or tack a bit on then port them (Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, and Prince of Persia respectively).

Step 2: When you’ve managed to compile them successfully, plunge the graphics and animations quality until the framerate rises to a barely acceptable level.

Step 3: Ship the game. Yes it looks tacky and is buggy and frustrating, but so are all games for the PSP so who cares?

The consumer does. And since it’s our money, we’re going to spend it on games that have been designed, and implemented from the ground up for the console. Silent Hill: Origins is such a game. Without doubt the best lighting we’ve seen on the PSP, and it can rival plenty of XBox 360 games. It can be noticed best when you’re wearing a torch on your chest and swinging your fists around: it looks incredible. Climax Studios has successfully managed to reproduce the defining gritty horror of the series and has brought it all to the smallest screen. The only problem is that the Silent Hill series is the sort of thing that you play alone at night in a dark room with the sound turned up for hours on end (as they recommend before the opening title screen that this game should be played). And most of my PSP gaming happens on a brightly lit bus while I’m trying to ignore screaming children, and screaming adults, come to that.

The best games for the PSP are “pick up and play” ones. The sort where you can make progress, or have a complete game, within 5 minutes, or at most under 10 minutes. The Burnout series is a great example of this. I know that Burnout Legends and Burnout Revenge use pretty much the same engine, and EA didn’t even try to make a pretence about Burnout Dominator (which was shipped under the same name for both PS2 and PSP!) but Burnout is perfect for this sort of thing: there is progress (so something to look forward to on those commutes) but short bursts of gameplay keep it fresh and entertaining and playable in short stretches. The same cannot be said of Dungeon Siege – imagine Diablo on the PSP – that had lots of progress but horrible story, and dialogue and graphics, and…

So far the best PSP game that I’ve had in terms of how addictive and entertaining it is while being able to play in short bursts is Worms Open Warfare 2. Maybe not only because Worms really uses the wide screen that the PSP provides, perhaps because it’s really easy to control and perhaps because it’s a low-tech game (so it doesn’t require development time to be spent on high-detail 3D graphics and animations which would be better spent on improving gameplay and fixing bugs), but this game alone is worth having a PSP for. I was in the middle of a really exciting match today, my third attempt against an enemy team on Hard difficulty setting, and I’d just used the Ninja rope to swing in over the opponent’s last worm and…

My PSP ran out of batteries.

- John

About John

INX's resident professional games designer!
This entry was posted in Game Reviews, John. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>