Version tested: PlayStation 3
So, we've been a bit slack in covering the PSone games that sporadically appear on the PlayStation Store. Sorry about that. In our defence, it's not like Sony has managed to build up much momentum with the European PSN offerings and also that business with the first batch of games being all broken meant we didn't dare download anything else in case our PS3 started shooting pins at our eyes from the USB port or something.
In the meantime, another ten titles from the 32-bit era have sashayed into the download chute, so to put things right here's the first of two apologetic catch-up roundups. All games are GBP 3.49 (or four and a bit Euros), which is less than it used to cost to buy the magazines you bought to read about these games in the first place.
Crash Team Racing
While sentimentality makes me hesitate to rank it above the original Super Mario Kart, ply me with enough booze and I'll happily tell anyone who'll listen that Crash Team Racing is vastly superior to any of the Mario Kart sequels. And then I'll be sick on them.
It's a beautifully designed kart game, offering ample incentives to replay courses and beat old times, while also boasting a well-paced tier system for unlocking new challenges and a fantastic multiplayer mode. The game is centred on a free-roaming hub area, where you're free to scoot about and enjoy the intuitive handling. Driving into various portals starts individual races, where victory earns you the crystals and cups needed to access new areas.
The tracks are plentiful and smartly designed, making good use of ramps and undulating scenery to keep you busy. The weapon-set - while predictably derivative of Mario's - takes many of the familiar Crash items and transfers them intelligently into the kart racing vocabulary. Aku Aku bestows invincibility, while TNT and Nitro crates are the equivalent of banana skins. That sort of thing.
Like all the best games, regardless of genre, you're always tempted to keep playing for a few more minutes to see what you can unlock next. It's all so natural and intuitive and shamelessly entertaining that it feels like Old Fashioned Fun must run-through its DNA.
The only slight word of caution is that I found it sometimes locked up when played on the PSP, but not having come across any similar reports on the internets I can only assume that's something special and unique to me and my PSP (which, admittedly, is just made from two Ryvita painted black and stuck together with jam). Other than that, this is one of the finest PlayStation games ever made, available for an insanely reasonable price. Go get it.
I've already owned up to my dubious Gabe Logan fetish, back when I reviewed his latest PS2 outing. Suffice to say that while I acknowledge that Metal Gear Solid is by far the better game, when I want pure gaming entertainment I'll take Logan's straight-to-video Steven Seagal silliness over Snake's turgid cyberpunk melodrama any day of the week.
Indeed, revisiting the original Syphon Filter was a slightly nerve-wracking experience, since I was uncomfortably aware that "dumb fun" is precisely the sort of entertainment criteria that can age horribly. Having braced myself for disappointment, I was pleased - nay, overjoyed - to discover that it's still a rollicking globe-trotting third-person action spectacular.
The largely nonsensical plot about a genetic virus is still a load of sub-Crichton hooey, but it's reason enough to whisk Gabe and his saucy female sidekick from snowy military bases to Washington DC parks to one of my favourite set-pieces, in a natural history museum. Oh, and the bit in the castle where you have to execute the scientists. Ruthless, man.
Gabe moves a little stiffly by today's standards, which takes some getting used to, but the rigid controls can also be a benefit. It's remarkably easy (some would say too easy) to score headshots since your crosshair always appears at perfect head height. With no analogue wobble to worry about, you can simply d-pad left and right to pick off enemies. That's not the only trick in Gabe's arsenal of course. His taser is a lot of fun, frying bad guys for those trying to conserve ammo, while the night-vision sniper rifle does what Splinter Cell did before Splinter Cell did it.
I won't pretend that Syphon Filter will change your world. It's clearly one of the lesser action franchises around, but is no less entertaining for its B-list status.
Syphon Filter 3
Well, this is weird. The Euro PlayStation Store has skipped Syphon Filter 2 and gone straight to part 3. The US PlayStation Store, meanwhile, gets Syphon Filter 2 but no Syphon Filter 3. It's especially strange since this chapter picks up immediately after the second game. Nobody really plays these games for the gripping storylines, but it still leads to some confusion at the start (and obviously rather spoils the ending of Syphon Filter 2 as well). It's like jumping to Return of the Jedi and not bothering with The Empire Strikes Back.
Yes, I know I just compared Syphon Filter to the Star Wars trilogy. It was an accident.
So, we're back in Logan land. Gameplay is much as it was in the first game, although a lot of this game takes place in flashback. This allows levels to ping pong from the present day (well, 2001) to South Africa, Afghanistan and Central America. You also get a fairly decent deathmatch multiplayer mode. It's nothing terribly special, even in comparison to games of a similar vintage, but it's decent enough that you'll enjoy trying out each of the maps at least once.
Playing both Syphon Filter games back to back, I can't help thinking that maybe if the series had done more to capitalise on its potential rather than rehashing the same material over and over, the series might not have been so eclipsed by its stealthier peers. That's not to say that part 3 is a bad game, it's just not as good as it should have been. But when you can pick up two sizable and enjoyable PlayStation action-adventures for the same price as one SNES game on Wii Virtual Console, such minor quibbles seem rather pointless.
Everybody's Golf 2
Golf and cute aren't two words you often see in close proximity, but this hardy perennial of the Japanese gaming scene pulls it off with aplomb. At the risk of sounding like the world's laziest games reviewer, it's simply a well-executed golf game livened up by bobble-headed anime characters.
As the title suggests, this is a golf game with deliberately broad appeal so those hoping for Tiger Woods-level technical play will be disappointed. Those looking for a game where anyone can give the ball a decent wallop and enjoy some cleverly designed courses will be more than happy.
At the risk of sounding like a terrible old fart, I'd even go so far as to suggest that most gamers would probably enjoy this just as much as the fun-but-not-vastly-different Everybody's Golf 5, the PS3 version of which costs significantly more than a few quid. If you've been tempted to buy the latest full price version, download this first and then spend the difference on cakes. That's my advice.
Although time has not been kind to the oblong-limbed snowboarders of this pioneering snowboarding game, and while it was soon overshadowed by the superior SSX series and 1080 Snowboarding, it's still easy to see why it was once considered one of the stalwart game franchises of the PSone years.
There are five mountain courses of increasing difficulty - three available from the start, with two more to earn through mad skillz - and you have three targets to choose from on each run. Beating the course speed record is an obvious one, while a rudimentary Tony Hawk-style stunt system allows you to aim for trick points as well. For those who are, like, totally awesome you can combine the two and try to be both quick and nimble.
Unlike many of its peers, Cool Boarders is starting to show its ragged edges in 2008 but is still more than worth the asking price. It's better than the supposedly "next-gen" Feel Ski, that's for sure.
In our next update: Destruction Derby! Populous! Big trucks! Balls!