And now the continuation...
Sports! Both regular and extreme...
Well, it's clearly not "Everybody's Golf", or this wouldn't be the first time we've seen it in Europe since the original PlayStation One version. But we'll forgive it that, because, along with EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour effort, this ought to be a good reason for golf game fans to pay heed to the PSP - and gives us the option of EA's analogue swing approach or Sony's more traditional three-tap swing system.. Developed by the same team who worked on the previous titles, it features six new courses including some real ones, mini-golf, and power-ups to purchase with your winnings. It's also possible to customise golfers' attributes and appearance, which is something that EA's golf series has made a lot of money out of in recent years.
Multiplayer-wise, it'll support head-to-head Ad Hoc wireless for two players, as well as up to eight-player support, which will see all eight playing simultaneously before having their scores shown at the end of each round. Overall we're probably more likely to get on with EA's analogue-based system than we are this. It's not that it's a bad system per se; we just reckon it's been surpassed. Still, we'll be quite happy to sit back with this when it comes in for review, and reports that the interface is a bit jerky and load times are quite long are unlikely to dissuade golf game traditionalists.
This strikes us as the perfect game to go with elevenses. Why? Tee and biscuits of course. [If you *thwack* think *thump* that strikes you *clobber* just wait *thunk* until I finish *wham* this comment -humourless Ed] Anyway. Tiger Woods on the PSP ought to be a nice alternative to Sony's Everybody's Golf, offering around the same amount of content (give or take) but with an analogue control scheme equivalent to the console Tiger Woods and Links games in place of Sony's more traditional three-tap swing system. Word is that it works pretty well on the PSP now that EA's adjusted the sensitivity to compensate for the smaller stick, and if that's the case then this will be fun right from the off.
Better, it sounds like a compilation of all the best bits of past Tiger games, with 12 courses including Sherwood Country Club, Pebble Beach, Harbour Town and Paradise Cove, the usual array of match types including stroke and matchplay, and golfing legends like Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to play against. Or is it better? We wouldn't mind some new courses, really, but we can cope with rehashes.
Besides, we like the idea of wireless head-to-head multiplayer, with five game modes including newcomer Bingo Bango Bongo, where the object is to aim your shots at targets on a driving range as they pop up. We also like the sound of the four-player multiplayer "Party Play" aspect, where players pass the controller around for each shot. That ought to do well in pubs, we reckon - at least until the PSP winds up falling foul of someone's wayward pint of wifebeater... If we can save it from the drink though, we can imagine it enjoying a long and fruitful existence in our UMD slots.
We feel sorry for the chaps at Sony London. Every year they try harder and harder to bring This Is Football into line with the ridiculously good competition, and every year it seems the goalposts are moved further and further away. We feel doubly sorry in writing about the PSP version, because given that it's a Sony-made upstart platform and they're an internal division, you'd expect the TIF team to get a decent run at things uncontested by the heavyweights at Electronic Arts and Konami. And then both of them go and commit to making handheld versions of their games too. That said, we've heard whispers from our journo-buddies who've seen this in action that PSP TIF, or "Football" as it's rather bizarrely known at the moment, is actually looking rather playable compared to a lot of other largely conceptual PSP projects, and although a recent video didn't reveal too much of any great interest we're keen to see whether the boys in London taaaahn can do a Roy Carroll and haul this one back across the line to get an unlikely few points on the board. Stranger things have happened in football - Liverpool just signed Fernando Morientes for £300,000 more than Everton spent on James Beattie, after all...
"A great player needs a great first touch." True, but fortunately a great football game doesn't need a great first touch system, or FIFA Football 2005 would have wound up doing nothing at all for us with its a-bit-on-the-silly-side-but-at-least-we-can-trademark-it approach to moving off when the ball comes to you. As it was, we got past that and discovered a game of hidden depths - and one that proved a darn sight better than previous FIFAs, also distinguishing itself from the Konami-made opposition by being fairly accessible and comfortable to get involved in. If you needed proof of that, consider this: upon picking up a pad to tackle yours truly at Pro Evo for the first time in literally years, Kristan received an absolute drubbing and left very fed up. With the studded boot on the other foot, your humble correspondent picked up the pad to take the man on on his own FIFA 2005-shaped stomping ground, and between us we presided over some fairly tense and finely poised battles that threatened to spill off the screen and result in fisticuffs. Somewhat grudgingly, even this ardent PES fanatic had to admit it had a lot more going for it than ever before.
And now it seems we're going to get roughly the same thing on the PlayStation Portable, which is definitely A Good Thing(TM). Better, since it's out of sync with EA's usual annual updates, it's also going to include a Mid-Season Scenario Mode that allows you to pick up in the middle of the 04/05 season with the current real-time team standings - and presumably, since EA is always very good about this, with the results of the January transfer window firmly in place. As a Liverpool fan, the prospect of picking up EA's FIFA on the PSP with Baros and Morientes up front, backed up by a midfield consisting of a resurgent (and hopefully recovered) Kewell, Alonso, Gerrard and Luis Garcia, and a back line featuring the experience of Pellegrino in addition to the solidity of Carragher and the elbow-them-until-they-break qualities of Hyypia is distinctly more appealing than the alternative. Because you just know that Winning Eleven/Pro Evo for the PSP will be out of date in terms of player data a good three or four months before it even ships, and only the saintliest of fans can be bothered to go to all the trouble of changing everything to how it should be.
Okay, so, as a PES fanboy this writer will naturally wind up with both, but on the evidence of FIFA Football 2005 - and with the prospect of a Mid-Season Scenario Mode and the predicted wireless head-to-head with which to scythe through Kristan's Canaries over lunch in there - it'll be harder to pick between the two than ever before.
Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer (Konami)
European release date: TBC
Fortunately, the decision may be slightly easier to make considering Konami's reluctance to elaborate on this title's presence on the PSP developer list. If it manages to make it to market within a few months of FIFA and Sony's Football game we'll be extremely surprised.
On the other hand, we can't help but get slightly excited at the prospect of playing it when it actually does, because if it manages to keep up with Pro Evolution Soccer 4 (and perhaps tighten it up around the edges), it will elicit plenty of hallelujahs from those of us who worship at the church of PES - for many moons. Wireless multiplayer PES, with the right people, is something so close to our vision of heaven that the only thing to top it would be a newfound respect for getting the bloody stats right, however last minute. After all, it's all very well having a Michael Owen who looks like Michael Owen, moves like Michael Owen, runs and shoots like Michael Owen and works tirelessly like Michael Owen, ignoring provocation like Michael Owen, but if he's playing for the wrong team then what's the point?
We're extremely excited about the idea of a handheld PES game. Let's be clear about that. But in the face of heightened opposition from Electronic Arts, this needs to really work its guts out for the whole 90 minutes, and not just flake away around the 70-minute mark and start signalling to the bench.
Yo yo yo. Yo. Your boat gently down the stream. Said the primary school teacher with a mouthful of cotton wool.
NBA Street Showdown is yet another EA Sports franchise on its way to the PSP, and if it keeps up the standard set by previous instalments then it ought to be well worth any self-respecting ballers' wad of notes. The basic idea, for anybody who hasn't bothered in the past, is basketball with three men per side on a smaller street-court and ridiculous tricks and moves that would be largely impossible in reality but make for a hugely entertaining spectacle in a game. Think NBA Jam with PHAT BEATS and BITCHES. And, in the case of this PSP version, some mini-games that focus on shoot-outs, shot-blocking and the like, as well as wireless multiplayer head-to-head for a pair of players. All wrapped up in EA's trademark glossy presentation.
UK-based dev-crowd Blade Interactive's snooker series, which was pretty good last time out (before Codemasters dropped it and SEGA caught it on the bounce), is on its way to the PSP this year but we don't know a whole lot about it other than that. Obviously we can assume that it'll involve playing snooker in a realistic manner, since that's what the others were like, and since everything else supports WiFi multiplayer we'd be shocked if it didn't to some degree here too. But other than that, well. We're enthusiastic because we liked the other versions. However we also like the US GBA copy of Archer Maclean's 3D Pool we got over Christmas, and this has to beat that in order to impress. Ball's in your court, Blade. Be sure to polish it before you put it back.
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix (Activision/Shaba Games)
European release date: TBC - estimated spring (pre-order from Simply Games)
We liked THUG2. It did feel like it was getting on a bit, but we liked the way it gave you a choice of the first THUG game's story mode affair (heavily influenced by MTV's Jackass TV show this time out) and the arcade-hardcore against-the-clock approach of THPS 1-3. THUG2 Remix on the PSP will do the same thing. There are four never-before-seen city levels (Las Vegas, Atlanta, Kyoto and Santa Cruz) with original goals, level-changing events (presumably along the same lines as the big-console versions, so you'll topple a tower to open bits of the rooftops and the like) and unlockable characters, and you can play them in story mode, which revisits Tony Hawk and Bam Margera's "World Destruction Tour", or Classic mode, which gives you a two-minute timer and goals like collecting the C-O-M-B-O and S-K-A-T-E letters. Etcetera. With a wireless multiplayer mode in there as well, it'll almost certainly do for THPS fans exactly what they're used to. And if that's what you're after, then go for it. We'll probably stick to the Classic mode ourselves, but we're certainly looking forward to it all the same.
Lumines (Bandai/Q Entertainment in Japan, review)
European release date: TBC - estimated launch
There's something a bit special about Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The creator of Rez has a passion for sound, and a knack for weaving audio into his games so that it becomes an integral part of the experience rather than just passable background noise. Lumines is another example of his extraordinary craft at work - combining startlingly addictive puzzle-type gameplay with original music tracks by Japanese DJ acts Mondo Grosso and Eri Nobuchika, whose addictive sounds are augmented by your actions on screen. Yes, it's a falling blocks puzzle, but while some lesser beings might not be able to tell the difference between this and Tetris, it's actually refreshingly different to the various other games in this genre - and with wireless multiplayer, loads of audio "skins" to unlock and a vast set of fiendish challenges to beat as well as the ongoing drive to top your best score, Lumines has rapidly become one of our favourite games on the new handheld.
Puyo Pop Fever (SEGA/Sonic Team, screenshots)
European release date: TBC - estimated launch
In the early rounds of PSP vs. DS arguments, a lot of Nintendo fan(boys) decided that the PSP would try and carve an existence out of ports more than anything. In the end, "franchise updates" probably proved to be a better description, but there are still a few games that are straying pretty close to the dividing line, and SEGA's Puyo Pop Fever is one of them. From what we can make out, it's a damn-near-straight port of the console versions released last year, with the addition of wireless multiplayer (naturally) and a slightly unusual share-the-pad two-player option. Which means that what you can expect is more or less what you got if you were one of the few who bothered with the console version stretched out to 16:9. Not that that's a particularly bad thing, mind. Puyo Pop Fever was, after all, a really rather enjoyable example of the classic blobs-into-rectangular-play-area puzzle template, and the "Fever" idea gave things a slightly different dynamic. We'd still almost certainly go with Lumines for a proper PSP-issue puzzler, but it's nice to know there's another option.
Puzzle Bobble Pocket/Bust-A-Move Pocket (Taito)
European release date: TBC
And, indeed, another nother option. Again, this is more of a port than anything else (adding wireless multiplayer, as ever) but fundamentally it's still Puzzle Bobble, and Puzzle Bobble is a good thing. Or Bust-A-Move. You know. Hoy... So, what you do, right, is shoot blobs at blobs on the ceiling, trying to connect the blobs to make them go away, or else they'll crush you and your presumably ageing and near-decrepit blob-tossing device and the game will be over. Much like this description of it.
Of all the many tiles in the PSP's canon, none can boast the pure gameplay appeal of Archer Maclean's Mercury; a cunningly simple yet devious 3D puzzle game that grafts the best bits from Super Monkey Ball, Spindizzy and even Marble Madness to create the most unique title in the whole line-up.
Inspired by the sort of children's puzzle games that had you trying to guide multiple ball bearings into indentations, Mercury tasks you with guiding a blob of the self same liquid metal to a goal. But to get there takes all manner of colour changes, switch activations, blob divisions and enemy avoidance and it'll take the steadiest of hands and a smart mind to do so.
The game has been designed around a fantastically well-realised tilt control system so that your hands physically control the play area and allow you to make the finest adjustments possible. But at the time of writing it's not certain whether the hardware add-on will make it into the final package, although will be released at a later date - possibly with a future incarnation of the game. Even so, the controls are among the most delicious we've ever come across on a handheld, and truly represent a game of true craft and design nous.
True, the visuals may look simple enough, but seen running in the flesh the blob is the star of the show, with an incredibly lifelike property that will make you think there's a blob of mercury trapped under your PSP screen. And that was exactly the point.
The One That Doesn't Fit Anywhere Else
We've always had a soft spot for the crazy Ape Escape series, not least because it delivered a game in which your objective was to collect monkey pants with a vacuum cleaner - genius. Ape Academy, however, we're a little less sold on. It's funny, and it's got monkeys in it, but the mini-game focused gameplay actually doesn't suit the PSP very well thanks to the system's obscene loading times. That being said, it's a charming enough game and it's got a good variety things to see and do - it's just a shame that so much of your time will be spent seeing a loading screen, and doing nothing. If this problem can be ironed out a bit before the European launch (we're dubious, but you never know), this will be a far better game for it.