The Sony PSP Launch Guide (Part 2)



Gretzky NHL

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Genre: Sports
Release: Launch Title

With the hockey season itself still in a will-they-won’t-they-play situation (except for the UK national league, which is still going song, and seeing a lot of big-mane talent coming over from the NHL in search of a game), it seems that the PSP is going to be the best bet for North American ice hockey fans. Making a sharp shift away from the more simulation-esqe aspects of some hockey games, Studio 44’s PSP offering plays in a far more arcade-y way, akin to EA’s NHL games. Lots of fast-paced passing and swift powerplays, though allegations of overly-harsh requirements to actually receive passes have been leveled at the game from some quarters. In keeping with the PSP’s high level of graphical quality, the interface, menus and in-game visuals are all top-notch, along with some very nice visual effects. Sound-wise, an apparent lack of commentary is offset by suitably intense sound effects.

All the usual tournament/season/versus (with the latter featuring wireless play) options are available, all of which sit alongside the Gretzky Challenge options, whereby completing certain records/objectives (goals scored in a season, completed passes, etc) earns points to unlock various Wayne-related goodness (including veteran teams that Wayne has played for in the past)

I’ll freely admit to never having *really* been into Ice Hockey, but Gretzky NHL looks like it might be the game to change my mind. All that remains is to wait and see how the final game measures up.

– Misha



Lumines

Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Puzzle-Action
Release: Launch Title

Lumines comes with the best pedigree of any PSP titles, seeing as motherf*cking Tetsuya Mizuguchi is behind it. You know who Mr. Mizuguchi is right? Only the mind behind Space Channel 5 and REZ, two of the very few games worth tracking down twice, once for the Dreamcast and once for the PS2. I don’t know what you think of those games, but I know that you can only be overwhelmed by his talents. That said, Lumines is the only truly intriguing game for the PSP, a music and puzzle game from one of gaming’s few iconoclasts.

Lumines is a simple but elegant puzzle drop game, although comparing it to Dr. Mario, Puyo Puyo, and Tetris is a bit misleading, since Lumines uses only rectangles and has a timeline and beat based mechanic. Hard to describe but easy to love, the secret to Lumines is that, unlike any other handheld game in history, it can boast of an awesome soundtrack by Mondo Grosso. Seriously, a handheld with good music? I’m almost intrigued. Now where’s that REZ follow up, Mr. Mizuguchi?

– Chuck Platt



Metal Gear Acid

Publisher: Konami
Genre: Action
Release: Launch Title

The storyline for Metal Gear Acid is the first thing that I heard about. A jet is highjacked by terrorists. One of the hostages is Senator Hach. The terrorists want something called Pythagoras.

The U.S. of course just wants their future president/Senator back. Well, it would also certainly be good to stop the terrorists from getting Pythagoras. What can the U.S. government due? Well un retire Solid Snake of course!

That description made me happy. I like Solid Snake. World travel, guns, hiding under boxes that never really work as disguises. Being sneaky et al. The story doesn’t matter all that much when you get right down to it. Metal Gear has always been about the gameplay.

Clearly someone had an aneurysm at some point along the line however. Someone had one of my favorite games. They had a storyline. Then in a fit of absurdity they wondered how to ruin it. How you ask?

Metal Gear Acid is not an action game. Metal Gear Acid is in fact a card game. So you have cards instead of the normal guns. You have cards instead of your abilities and strategies. Some people like cards. I very much do not like cards.

The game itself looks very nice. All the PSP games look pretty good when you get right down to it. The best graphics the world has ever seen is not something that I need in a hand held system though. I need excellent gameplay. Metal Gear Acid might surprise me on that front but I have doubts about it. These guys are going to have to impress the hell out of me with this card system though or I feel the game is going to disappoint me and a hell of a lot of other people. As always we’ll reserve judgement until our review, but this is a strange road to take the fans of the franchise down.

– Philippe



MLB

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Genre: Sports
Release: 04/04/05

Opening Day is approaching shortly, and baseball fans are salivating at the prospects of the upcoming season. Will the home team come charging out of the gate, or will it be another rebuilding season? In the PSP market, the home team is stepping up to the plate first with Sony’s own baseball title, called MLB.

While MLB is the offspring of the MLB series found on Playstation 2 (and Playstation 1), this MLB is actually a separate entity. Sony and 989 have taken great lengths to give MLB a fighting chance against the EA juggernaut, and with good reason.. since any future versions of MVP Baseball won’t feature real players or teams, Sony can make a killing if it can establish MLB as a top-tier title in its first year on the portable market.

Common sports game convention says this: If a game contains any sort of new feature, that feature should be given a snazzy title and should be hyped to the moon, no matter how useless it might be. Fortunately for gamers, MLB has a ton of new features that will be unveiled for the first time. Here are some of those features…

– Playmaker Fielding Marker (Your abilities and the skills of the player you’re controlling come together in defensive play. For example, a fly ball to Torii Hunter is easier to catch than a ball hit at an inferior outfielder.)
– Release Point Pitching (Your release point plays a critical role in whether your pitch lands in the dirt, behind the backstop, or right where you want it.)
– Confidence Meter (Your confidence level determines whether your on-the-corner pitches get called as balls or strikes.)
– Branch Point Technology (Enhanced fielding and base-running abilities.)
– Morale System (Within Career Mode, player morale is linked to virtually every possible category, adding a realistic element to making lineup and payroll decisions.)

Whether or not these features live up to the hype remain to be seen. What’s important is that Sony and 989 appear committed to spicing up their baseball offerings, meaning that future versions of the game will be tailored to be the best possible. The first edition of MLB hits the PSP right around Opening Day. Batter up!

– Bryan Berg



MVP Baseball

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Sports
Release: 04/25/05

If only Electronic Arts knew months ago what it knows now…

The PSP version of MVP Baseball had a lot of promise when it was announced. It would feature full commentary. It would take full advantage of the widescreen monitor by allowing players to see runners on first and third without the aid of goofy windows. It would be very faithful to the very successful home versions, with mini-games to boot.

All of these factors remain as selling points for MVP Baseball. However, with Take-Two and the MLB putting the kibosh on third-party games with the MLB license from 2006 onward, this will be the first and last MVP Baseball title for the PSP to feature real teams and players. Perhaps EA suspected this might happen, which would explain the lack of new features in the title.

However, that’s not to say that what’s here isn’t worth checking out. If you prefer the MVP engine to all others, this is the baseball game for you. A ton of features have found their way from the consoles to the PSP, with only Franchise Mode being absent from the handheld version. Aside from that, you have all the things that make the MVP franchise great… the Pure Swing System, the pitching control arc, the pressure-sensitive outfield controls, the EA Trax, and everything else you’d expect to find in an EA Sports baseball game.

The only problem is that to some people, the franchise as a whole might not be worth investing in. But to everyone else, especially fans of the home versions, you could do much worse than MVP Baseball for the PSP. Look for it in late April, when everyone’s a contender.

– Bryan Berg



NBA

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Genre: Sports
Release: Launch Title

As the NBA season comes to a frantic close during March and April, Sony intends to satisfy the basketball cravings of the PSP audience by releasing the simply-titled NBA for the PSP’s launch. The history of 989 Sports’ NBA Shootout franchise has been spotty at best, which could be the reason for the change in name. Regardless of how past projects have turned out, Sony and 989 have pulled out all the stops with NBA.

NBA features graphics that one would simply not expect to find on a handheld. The game’s visually stunning interface is accompanied by an innovative feature called the Clutch Shooting Mechanism. This allows gamers to see the perfect release point for a shot; the ball changes from green to red depending on how good or bad the shot’s chances are of going in. This feature helps establish a more realistic dimension to the game, which Sony helps will keep the game competitive with the more over-the-top NBA Street Showdown.

Like many other PSP games, 989 and Sony have loaded up NBA with mini-games to emphasize the system’s quick-fix abilities. NBA features its own version of All-Star Saturday with a three-point shootout as well as a skills competition, which should also serve to help players develop the skills necessary to excel in NBA’s Season Mode.

After a number of years off, 989 seems to have gotten their act together in a major way. NBA will definitely be a game to watch come launch time for the PSP.

– Bryan Berg