When Sony finally took the wraps off the ludicrously powerful Next Generation Portable, it obviously wanted to show off its capacity to run full-blown console epics. By the looks of things, it should be able to do that extremely well.
But are full-fat home videogames the kind of things that sell portable games consoles, and are we willing to pay full-price to play them on a handheld device? Maybe - but with strings attached.
If only Sony could adopt a unified cross-platform approach to its games. I'm fairly certain many gamers would happily shell out for the hardware if they knew they could play the same title on both their PS3 and their NGP. It would give Sony the kind of convenient USP far beyond anything offered by its rivals.
Ring-fence gamers into buying full-price NGP-only software every time, though, and the 'proposition', as Sony's Andrew House would say, looks altogether less tempting.
Anyway, there's still a while to go till NGP launches, so here's a look at some games which could keep you occupied in the meantime.
- Mac - App Store - £11.99, Steam - £16.99
- PC - Steam - £16.99, Get Games - £7.49.
- PSN - £7.99
You might remember that we rather enjoyed Trine when it first came out on PC and PSN back in the summer of 2009. Now available on Mac, Frozenbyte's gorgeous side-scrolling platform puzzler throws a wizard, a thief and a knight together, and tasks you with utilising their unique abilities to traverse a series of challenging fantasy environments.
You'll find yourself battling off vicious skeletons with the burly knight one minute and switching to the thief to grapple across a pit of spikes the next, before hastily clambering up a box that's been conjured by the wizard. Think of it as the sane man's Ghosts 'n' Goblins crossed with The Lost Vikings.
If you've got a pad or two to spare, you can also take advantage of the strangely unheralded drop-in co-op mode and work out elaborate solutions together. Or be rubbish together, no one's looking.
Ok, so this will be old news for some of you, but those of you only just getting into this download lark, Trine is yet another recent platform offering to disprove the myth that they don't make them like they used to.
- PSN Minis - £3.49
- :Shift: and :Shift 2: previously released on iOS - £0.59 each.
Yeah, we know this has been out on iDevices for ages, and uh-huh, we do realise it's much cheaper. In Shift: Extended's defence, though, this isn't your average lifeless port, but a new version boasting a few more features for your cash.
As usual, you have to guide a generic test subject trapped in a two-tone fashion experiment. Fed up with endless Ska revivals, he vows to escape to a world of colour by flipping his test chambers between black and white.
In his world, switching between the two amounts to changing between solid ground and air, so you quickly slip between dimensions to find a route to the exit. But with 120 chambers to negotiate before freedom awaits, victory is a long way off.
Once the basics are established the game throws up plenty of additional hazards to factor in, such as insta-death spikes, chequered areas, converters and trapdoors. With the usual plethora of switches to activate and keys to collect, it soon becomes an all-consuming affair that's mightily tough to put down.
Shift: Extended also has one of those insidious background tunes that probably provide a soundtrack to your dreams for the next 17 years. Just don't play it on the train without headphones - you don't want innocent bystanders suffering the same fate.
Modern Combat: Domination
- PSN - £6.29
In case the world doesn't have enough multiplayer military shooters in it, Gameloft has elected to fill that yawning gulf in our empty lives. Lucky us.
Sadly for fans of weary cynicism, the hilariously generic-sounding Modern Combat is far more credible than you might imagine. For less than the price of a posh burger you can tuck into 16-player matches across five maps, over six modes, comprised of the usual Deathmatch, Demolition, Capture and Escort styles we all know and love.
If you battle the tumbleweed and can actually get an online match going then there's plenty to unlock, with a level cap of 72, and 13 weapons and the usual assortment of attachments. Bot matches provide a bit of competition if you can't make up the numbers, or you can slope off and learn the maps in the meantime. And guess what? It's pretty solid stuff. Apparently budget shooters don't have to be terrible.
The biggest shock, though, is the standard of visuals, with detailed maps, decent animation and respectable character models that more than hold their own against full price titles - never mind bargain basement offerings. Don't bother with Move controls, though, unless you enjoy a feeling like you're playing with your feet.
Apart from offering about as much innovation as a can of beans, Modern Combat does a perfectly good job of providing a no-frills alternative. A few more of these and the big boys will be casting a few nervous glances in the direction of the download sector.
A.R.E.S.: Extinction Agenda
Up until about 1994 you could barely move for games like A.R.E.S. You'd wake up and there they were, hogging the duvet. It didn't matter if you were the piratey Amiga type or a high-rolling SNES or Mega Drive owner, the side-scrolling platform shooter was king. And then the PlayStation came along, turned everyones heads with its fancy-pants 3D and kicked games like Turrican and Metroid to the kerb.
In these more confusing times, it's like the last 16 years never happened. The Tories are back in power, Take That are ruling the charts and developers like Extend can slap down its pollution-ridden vision of the late 21st Century. And no one bats an eyelid.
A.R.E.S. envisions a world (one that exists exactly 100 years after the release of Super Metroid, appropriately) in which we rely on funky robots who take style tips from Samus, and still have time to save mankind from its own stupidity. What this means for the more grizzled gamer is, hopefully, a beautiful retread of past glories - but the game doesn't quite shower us in retro-flavoured joy.
It starts off impressively with beautifully rendered backdrops, stirring soundtrack, suitably chunky weapons and screen-filling bosses. But the game quickly undoes all of its good work with a hopelessly pernickety jump system that turns routine platforming negotiation into a tiresome war of attrition. What a shame.
If the team can perhaps fix a few niggling issues via an update A.R.E.S. will be well worth a look, but until then this is a case of try before you buy.
Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology
By the time you get to the end of Jason Rohrer three game 'anthology', you almost expect him to lovingly serenade you in the style of a pixellated Julio Iglesias. Sadly, there's just the confused silence of an experimental purchase gone bad.
Some commentators have heralded some of Rohrer's work as an artistic statement, beautifully expressed. Take 'Passage', a five minute journey, where you essentially guide a super-pixellated man through a journey around a narrow top-down environment. You meet a girl, she follows you around for a while, you click on things. You get old. She dies. You die. The end. Ah.
It's an artistic statement alright. It's slightly touching if you've got the January blues. But is it worth paying money for? Hardly.
'Gravitation' is similarly thought-provoking by design, but only slightly more interested in being a videogame. This time, you start off playing ball with a child (Rohrer's kid, apparently), and once there's enough love between you your hair bursts into flames.
At that point, the playing area expands and you're able to soar into the sky and collect stars, before limply coming back down to earth to push the stars into some sort of furnace. And so it goes on. Regardless of whether you buy into the work/life metaphor, it's just not especially engaging.
The third and final title, 'Between', is equally uncompromising, and even demands a second DS is connected wirelessly before you can get started. Once hooked up with a partner, you're greeted with a tower made of coloured blocks, and have the ability to select and shift small coloured blocks into a construction area.
What you're supposed to construct, or why you're constructing it, or what effect you have on the other player's tower isn't apparent: you just have to stick with it. Experiment, mix colours up, compose a jazz flute symphony in your head and see what happens. If patience is eventually rewarded, I'm not sure how.
I'm all for artistic-minded developers that push the boundaries of convention and dare to try new things - I just want to be entertained along the way. Is that too much to ask?