Version tested: PlayStation 3
The PlayStation Network may not have hit the ground running, and the European updates are a sparse affair compared to our American and Asian cousins, but there's still much to praise. Quality over quantity seems to be the mantra, with few games troubling the lower regions of the score table, and the utterly reasonable price structure certainly helps in that regard. Pitched at the perfect "impulse purchase" pocket money level, even a forgettable mid-range offering can be bearable for the same price as a Happy Meal.
And with that, let's bite into the second part of the dangerously hot apple pie that is our PlayStation Store PSone roundup. Part one lives over there.
Popular upon its launch for the concept of actually encouraging you to smash up other racers, Reflections' debut PlayStation offering was an impressive calling card for both console and developer. Then best known for the pretty vacant Shadow of the Beast platform series on the Amiga, Destruction Derby realigned Reflections as the home of physics-based fender-crunching car action, niftily setting the scene for Driver three years later.
It's not exactly generous in the options department - only a handful of cars and tracks, with little in the way of unlockables - but with twenty cars roaring around at the same time, battering each other into scrap, it's clear that variety was never going to be the game's main draw. For those who prefer straight racing, you can opt for Stock Car mode in which taking pole position is the key to victory, but most will understandably choose Destruction Derby mode. You still race around the same tracks but now earn points by inflicting damage on other cars. Wreckin' Racing is a combination of the two, with points for both position and damage caused.
Much like its descendant, Flatout, the most fun can be had in the free-for-all festival of carnage that is The Bowl, where cars simply speed around an open arena and try to be the last one unwrecked. Making good on the promise of simple, accessible vehicular violence, even the chunky graphics and clunky AI can't take the shine off such an immediately appealing concept.
Destruction Derby hasn't aged as well as I'd hoped - shrewd players will soon figure out the exploits to easily beat the CPU racers - but smashing cars never seems to get old. Certainly a game you'll be happy to have on your hard drive for those cathartic ten-minute gaming blasts.
Not, as you might think, a theme park game endorsed by briefly-famous posh rock combo Kula Shaker but a puzzle game in the rolling-a-ball-around sub-genre. In fact, it's pretty much a dead ringer for Marble Blast Ultra and Switchball on Xbox Live Arcade, only with less swanky physics to muck about with.
My memory tells me (and Wikipedia reassures me) that it was also one of the first games to make use of that quaint old rumble feature. But who cares about Olde Worlde rubbish like that, eh?
You roll a beach ball around a series of increasingly mind-bending aerial mazes, balancing along thin blocks, rolling around to the other side in order to reach new power-ups and items, before trundling to the exit. Hazards along the way threaten to burst or otherwise deflate your progress.
There's also a two-player option, with a fairly bog standard time trial and the rather amusing Simon Says silliness of Copycat mode. That's pretty much it, but then simplicity in a puzzle game is usually a sign of greatness.
Okay, it's not quite greatness in this case, but this is still a fine and oft-overlooked gem from the dustier corners of the PSone cupboard. For the price, it's well worth a look.
Populous: The Beginning
The God-bothering strategy of Populous never really took off on consoles, despite this third entry in the series receiving some fairly major concessions to what was presumably meant to be a faster-paced experience than the land-levelling of old.
In this version you exert your control via a shamanic character that bosses all the other Populous people about on your behalf, and direct click-drag interaction. The aim is to ultimately ascend to divine status, but the shift in perspective does make the central appeal of the series - namely being a god - rather too abstract.
Much like the wonderful and frequently forgotten Bullfrog classic Powermonger, the little people now lead fairly autonomous lives and are pretty smart to boot. Often you only need to give them a nudge to get them building the things you need and producing the right resources before you launch an all-out assault on the rival tribe.
And if that doesn't sound a lot like the Populous you remember, you'd be right. This is much more like a combat-focused RTS, with some pretty blatant inspiration from the original Warcraft games, although the ability to unleash natural disasters is thankfully still a core part of the gameplay.
The full 3D graphics were a first for the series, though they won't impress today, but the main problem is that the game is a clumsy fit on a joypad. It's functional, certainly, but as one of the early attempts to develop across console and PC at the same time, its shortcomings are more obvious with hindsight.
With that grumble in mind, Populous: The Beginning does at least offer something new to the PlayStation Store and is hopefully a sign that some of the ol' PSone's more thoughtful games will be joining us in the golden glow of the next generation.
And so we come to the most recent additions to the Store. While it would be premature to start worrying about slipping standards on the basis of one update, this predictable racer from the Gremlin archives (arriving via Sheffield descendant Zoo Digital) certainly feels like something of a placeholder upload.
As the name suggests, 4x4 racing is what's on offer - though it's neither hardcore nor off-road. Well, it is off-road, but you're still hemmed into a traditional track by insurmountable sheer walls. So it might as well be a road racer. The only difference is the lurching bumps and dips, and the creaking, springing suspension of the trucks. Not that the tracks take much advantage of the arcade potential of such vehicles. Course designs are painfully generic, with little to challenge or excite even an inexperienced gamer.
The same holds true for the available game modes - single race, championship and time trial are all as you'd expect, while the variable weather simply utilises cheap fogging effects to obscure your vision. You can't even race against a friend.
With WipEout and Crash Team Racing already available from the PlayStation Store, this is a curious choice for the first "proper" vehicle racing game on the service. There are dozens of other driving games that would make for a more compelling download than this. Wait for those.
The second of Zoo Digital's additions to the Store is a much more enjoyable offering. As it involves rotating your craft around the screen and blasting enemies as they approach up a psychedelic tunnel, all to pounding dance music courtesy of big beat pioneers The Crystal Method, it's hard not to use the word Tempest. So there you are.
Except it's obviously not exactly like that venerable old granddaddy, and those who still live in fear of Space Giraffe can be reassured that for all its trippy trappings N20 is a thoroughly accessible abstract shooter.
It's a handy reference point though, and if you like your arcade games twitchy and hypnotic, you'll find much to enjoy here. Personally I found it played better on the PSP, purely because the chunkiness of the blown-up pixel graphics on an HDTV detracted slightly from the immersive experience, even with smoothing switched on.
With over 40 levels and split-screen multiplayer, N20 is a lot like Kula World - not a game many people will remember, but well worth rediscovering all the same.