Category Archives: Handheld gaming Reviews

This Is Football Management – PSP Mini

By Neil McCormick

A football management game on a psp, this was something I had to try. Like it or loathe it, if you are a fan of football, at some point when you watch your team on a Saturday you will become an armchair coach, saying you could do a better job, the manager’s choice of tactics or Squad are wrong. For a number of years, you have been able to manage your team all be it virtually on a football management game. Sometimes you even read on football team forums that the manager of such and such a team should sign player x, just because he played a blinder in the poster’s Championship manager side.

If you have ever played a football game you will know that to be able to use actual team names and player names, game developers have to pay a costly licence fee. To get round this, developers will instead use a name that you can work out who they are. For Example Merseyside Reds = Liverpool. TIFM employs such a method, but handily provides an editor, which if you have the time and inclination means you can edit all the team and player names to their actual counterpart. Because the names look so similar, I do not think you really will benefit from changing the names, but at least its an option.

More important than having a correct name is that the stats for that player is as valid as what the player exhibits on the real pitch. TIFM’s developers seem to have gone to painstakingly great lengths to ensure they do correspond. The Gerrard character, plays with the same tenacity scoring those oh so vital goals at the crucial moment.

So the game starts, the first thing you must do is choose the team you want to manage. There may not be as much choice as in Championship manager of leagues to compete in, but I was impressed that they had managed to be able to offer 92 teams from the four English leagues ie Premiership right down to the Championship League 2 onto a psp. Once you have chosen your team as is typical of all management games, success is measured by results. If your team fails to meet the expectations of the Board, you will receive that dreaded vote of confidence and shown the exit gate. It was interesting to note that the Board’s expectations differed depending on the prestige of the club.

Now it is down to how you want to play the game, you can literally tailor it to meet your requirements. For any true football fan, you will want to get your sleeves rolled up and micro-manage all parts of the game from training to squad selection, to getting those all important tactics set up just how you want it. But maybe you are a more casual armchair fan, this sort of thing you want to leave to the experts. Not a problem, you can simply access the squad menu, press the square button and the “Coach” will automatically do all that for you. The question then I have to ask, is why are you playing a football management game when you want the Coach do all the fun stuff!

So Squad and tactics chosen, it now time for your team to let their football boots do the talking, When you start a match, you see an Intro screen giving a brief , now you have a choice, you can choose to either watch the match by pressing X, or skip all of that and press circle to go directly to the results. By doing so, of course, you lose any chance of affecting the result with real time substitutions or maybe the opportunity to react if you see that the tactics you chose are wrong.

As one might expect, the graphics are not the most complex, you do not even see any players, just a ball bobbing about from side of the screen to the other. To compensate, TIFM has a text update, describing the events on the pitch. The text describing the actions of the two teams is colour-coded, and the play-by-play descriptions are very neatly written so it’s easy to follow the action. You can also control the speed of the text by pressing L to slow it down and R to speed it up.

As you watch the events of the match unfold, you can press Start to call up the Match Menu, which enables you to tinker with many different aspects of the current game, such as changing the match view. You can also access the Team submenu to bring substitutes on and make any necessary tactical changes. In between matches you can get down to the general day-to-day business of running a team, including buying and selling players during the transfer window.

However there in lies a problem, this game is really only going to cater for sports management fans, there are far too many screens and stats for the armchair fan to get to grips with, it could feel quite bewildering. I certainly cannot recommend it over the pc versions of say championship manager, they are a far more complete experience. However if you are heading away on a holiday, and want something to do while relaxing, it would be perfect, or to fill in a boring train journey. I actually find it very impressive how much detail and depth of game play Sports Director has managed to cram into TIFM.

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PSP Mini Games Review Round Up

By Guest writer – Daniel Lipscombe

PSP Minis are basically iPhone games, but for the PSP. Minis use a very similar mechanic to its touch screen competitor, simple, quick and easy games to play in bite size chunks. They’re perfect for bus journeys, bhttps://neilmc74.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpack of the car or even bathroom breaks. With the Minis range only recently starting out, some games can be very hit and miss, Electro-Candy are bringing you a breakdown of ten current Minis available; to help you choose what you should be playing on your PSP.

Pinball Dreams

Pinball Dreams is the classic 1992 Amiga game converted for PSP, featuring four tables there is a selection of which table you want to prove yourself on. Unfortunately Pinball Dreams is very basic compared to newer pinball, each of the tables plain and simple, two flippers, a few bumpers and a couple of ramps. This means that despite the hook of High Score leaderboards, it’s likely you’ll get bored of the selection before blistering your thumbs. The best feature however is the ability to switch to a larger view and rotate the PSP lengthwise and using the face buttons to flipper rather than the shoulders.

While Pinball Dreams is great to relive the past, it’s far too basic to enjoy over longer periods of time, ideal for that short bus ride, but I think even then it may struggle to hold your attention.

Fortix


Fortix is a remake of Qix, a game that requires you to fill in a screen by controlling a knight and revealing a picture, in this instance that picture is the kingdom that you’re tasked with protecting and liberating. As you move your knight around the kingdom you will pick up power ups that aid you, moving faster or spawning cannons that take out enemies like dragons and blood bats. The ultimate goal is to capture the fort in the picture; this can be particularly tricky due to fast moving enemies and a time limit.

Fortix has a simple premise but is a very challenging game with plenty of features and a fully fledged story to experience. The biggest problem with Fortix is how tough it can be, your cannons that you capture in the kingdom can be very slow to fire so can feel very unhelpful. Frustration sets in quickly and you can find yourself reaching for the HOME button.

DynoGems

DynoGems is a classic puzzler that will hook you from its opening screen. You’re given a cute Dinosaur who looks down a playing field at a descending stack of coloured bricks, quite a simple challenge; keep matching four bricks of the same colour until you reach the target score for that level. The beauty of this title is its simplicity, some of the best games in the puzzle genre are a success because they build on the block matching system and DynoGems does it very well.

There are a plethora of power ups to use, from lightning bolts that wipe out full columns of blocks to items that remove all of the blocks on screen giving you a fresh layout, this helps if you’re stuck. DynoGems is a great game and it has that “just one more go” feel about it, a great addition to the Minis range.

BreakQuest

You may have noticed by now that there is a trend with PSP Minis, most of them are older games rehashed for the portable and BreakQuest is no different. BreakQuest is basically Breakout or Arkanoid, you control a paddle at the edge of the screen and bounce a ball around destroying blocks. There is, however, a twist here and that is the ability to guide the ball around, much like in Shatter – another PSN title – with the shoulder buttons. This allows you to curve the ball around objects and get out of tight spots easily.

You start off by choosing your ship and starting the level, all sounds very simple and it is, but the actual game itself is quite tough, even on easy. I found myself dying repeatedly and succumbing to frustration. The levels are brilliantly designed with bright colours and off the wall quirks and the sound is fantastic, very tuneful and reminiscent of arcades, much like other games in this style there are power ups and also power downs so achieving that high score may be tricky. While BreakQuest is an interesting take on the Arkanoid concept, it falls short on its appeal to a more casual gamer due to its difficulty.


Blast Off

Blast Off is the ‘Trials HD’ of the PSP. You control a rocket that has to fly around in space picking up stranded astronauts and avoiding smashing into a planet. The analogue nub controls the angle of your ship while the X button is your blast off and thrust, this control system means that steering your ship is much like controlling a drunken deer on ice. You will constantly find yourself tapping the left bumper, which happens to be your restart button, after gliding off course or missing an astronaut before zooming off to the next level.

Blast Off is incredibly well designed, very tricky in places but with a quick restart button it’s easy to just keep trying to get that perfect score. Finding the paths through the obstacles, picking up the space dwellers and slingshotting into your final goal is thrilling and enjoyable. Just keep an eye on your fuel and air consumption; it’s not just about the journey. A must have for PSP owners.

Heracles Chariot Racing

Heracles poses a problem, who would we rather be a Greek muscle-bound hero or a fat Italian plumber? The reason for this speculation is that Heracles Chariot Racing is a Mario Kart copy. As Heracles you must please the Gods by holding chariot racing tournaments and of course, win them. Your winning is aided by helpful weapons being strewn around the track, speed boost pads, in fact everything that you would come to find in a Mario Kart clone.

But that doesn’t stop this game from being fun; sure it’s copying a classic and well known game, but then who hasn’t? Heracles has ten courses to race and nine characters to use, so there’s plenty of variety in how you play. Heracles is just pure fun, it doesn’t have the charm of other Kart racers but it’s enjoyable while it lasts. The only major drawback is that it can be quite easy, so fans of the genre will likely finish it and move on quickly.

Dracula – Undead Awakening

This game was originally called iDracula, I’m sure you can figure out why. iDracula was and is a very popular twin stick shooter on the iPhone, it’s very intuitive on that system and plays very well, I only wish I could say the same about this version. On the iPhone version, the touch screen forms two sticks in order to control our hero, one to move and one to shoot, this is of course impossible on the PSP due to only having one analogue nub. This means playing Dracula means moving with the nub and shooting in only eight different directions by using the face buttons.

This ruins the game instantly, it doesn’t matter how many modes there are and how could they can be, it doesn’t matter about the power ups, what matters is playing this game is very awkward. There is no simple way of playing and enjoying the game to its fullest, walking into monsters because you’re fiddling with the face buttons to shoot, is not fun. Perhaps this time Dracula should have stayed dead.

Fieldrunners

It’s safe to say that the PSP Minis range will soon be awash with iPhone games readjusted for the PSP controls and coming up fast behind Dracula is Fieldrunners. Fieldrunners is one of /the/ most popular games on the iPhone for its simplicity, a tower defence game where you must control a battlefield and halt the approaching army. I came into this game after Dracula and was very sceptical, I was pleasantly surprised however. The controls are marvellous; in fact I would go so far to say they are better than the iPhone.

Whereas on the iPhone version you would tap the square to place a unit and then tap the unit to upgrade it, the controls are set to the D-Pad here with the nub controlling the zoom and X as your use button. This is a very fluid system that allows for quick unit placement and upgrades are done by selecting and pressing right on the D-Pad to select the upgrade, you could also press left, if you wanted to sell said unit.

Otherwise the game hasn’t changed, it’s still wonderful to play, and it retains its various maps and difficulties from the original version. This is a game every PSP owner should buy.

Kahoots

Kahoots is reminiscent of lemmings, your Kahoot wanders back and forth along a platform waiting for you to guide him to his goal. You have to manipulate his environment to help him avoid enemies and pitfalls on his way to the end of the level. This is done by moving the blocks that he walks on, you can only slide them from side to side and some can’t be moved, or indeed, moved past at all. You can pause time to think ahead but a lot of the game requires split second thinking and movement. The way to move our little kahoot friend is to utilise trapdoors, springboards and the world itself to move from platform to platform and find his way out.

Kahoots is a great puzzle game that seems to have been influenced in looks by LittleBigPlanet and it will keep anyone going for ages. Bonuses can be achieved by picking cakes before you exit the level so finding the best route is always key. As the levels progress you are taught how to play by the peg monster, a bizarre monster made of wool with a clothes peg for a mouth, he sings to you in the most hilarious way and has to be the highlight of the game. Kahoots is amazingly great fun.

Let’s Golf

Let’s Golf is easily the best game of this bunch of Minis, another iPhone game brought over to the Sony handheld, but this is truly a gem. A golf game very similar to big hitter, Everybody’s Golf, also available on Sony consoles, let’s Golf is instantly playable and simple to pick up and enjoy. Choose your cute character and adventure off onto the links for exhibition matches, tournaments and hot seat mode – which is a pass the PSP mode. The visuals are fantastic and really appeal to any gamer; the music is peaceful and melodic whilst playing which allows you to relax your shots.

Using a three touch system to control the power of your swing, there’s no need for fiddly nub pushing only to see your ball hit a tree, this control method means that anyone can play well. There are several courses and difficulties to play through and each is very well designed. The appeal of Let’s Golf is how simple it is to play, long shots can be played beautifully and fill you with pride and those tricky putts, once mastered, are incredibly satisfying. The only difficulty you’ll have with this game is putting it down.

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Pixeljunk Shooter – Playstation Network – PSP

By Special Guest Writer Dan Lipscombe


Pixeljunk Shooter may just look like another twin stick shooter, but under the surface of simple controls lays a deviously intricate game involving puzzles, combat and secrets. As with any Pixeljunk game, Shooter is addictive and beautiful, carrying its own sense of style.

To divulge just how wonderful this game is, perhaps we need to get down to basics and explain how the game actually works. Taking control of your ship, the left stick moves the ship and the right stick rotates it, leaving a shoulder button for shooting and another for using your grappling hook. The mission is simple; explore caves and chasms to find a mining crew that has lost its way. But it doesn’t end there; the best feature is the fluid control.

Throughout the game you will have to watch for elemental changes, your ship after all is exploring the core of a planet, so expect plenty of lava and later on Ice and oil. Each of these affects your ship in different ways, but ultimately they do you damage. Lava will cause your ship to overheat and crash meaning if you see the heat meter rise, you’d best dip your ship in nearby water. In order to move through the levels you’re given upgrades now and then which allow you to turn the lava into rock, melt ice with lava, later on there’s even an upgrade that lets you dive into the molten rocks. Using this mechanic allows for some ingenious puzzles, moments of near disaster and at points frantic gameplay.

Shooter does still rely on regular layouts for twin stick adventures, there are plenty of enemies and although they are as imaginative as you would expect from Q, they are repeated often and by the end they’re the same bad guys in different skins, a real shame considering the thought that has gone into the bosses. At the end of each episode you will encounter a different boss, each one elaborate and well designed. The only downside to these bosses is their ability to kill you in just one hit, leading to frustration. In one encounter with a boss I’d managed to reduce his health to only a fraction when he killed me in one hit meaning taking on the fight again.

While on the subject of frustrations, many Pixeljunk fans new and old will be disappointed in the length of the game, with only three episodes each contained a handful of levels the game could be over very quickly. You do have the opportunity to grab a friend and play two player or look for hidden rooms and secrets but it will still only last so long, and certainly not as long as the developers past games.

Despite these minor flaws Shooter is a well accomplished game and it certainly pleases on an aesthetic level. With cartoon like visuals that have a cel shaded style Shooter is very easy on the eye, using this engine also means that the flow of water and lava or the crack of ice looks a treat and at times you may find yourself stopping to appreciate what they’ve achieved. Similar compliments can be levelled at the soundtrack too, with a wonderful mixture of subtle ambiance or pulsing trancelike tracks the overall presentation is worth the price alone.

Shooter relies on a subtlety which forces you to keep on your toes, while dodging the obvious like lava and water, you must watch for steam which /slowly/ heats your ship and in fact even your own weapon can cause you to overheat and explode, particularly if you hold the fire button and produce missiles rather than small projectiles. Shooter constantly keeps you thinking, if I zoom in and pick up that miner will I overheat from the lava next to him? If I blow that rock will the lava trickle the right way and avoid the miners and my exit? Always thinking and always careful of the physics.

Shooter isn’t all zooming there, pick that up, fly there, and avoid that. There’s plenty of exploration too, trying to find hidden areas that may contain treasure or special miners and of course if you miss any you can go back and try to find them. You can always, like other Q games, upload your score to worldwide leaderboards and see how you fair against everyone else. You can also play remotely on your PSP although after trying it, it does lack the same appeal as playing on the home console in Hi-Definition.

While Shooter doesn’t perhaps have the same flair as the other Pixeljunk games it does have undeniable charm. It may not last forever but it’s fun while it lasts, an unconventional ‘shooter’ that teases the mind and the collector inside you will have a field day with treasure to collect and items for PlayStation Home to unlock. A wonderful addition to the franchise and PSN, well done Q for another great game.

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Gravity Crash – Playstation Network – PSP

By Daniel Lipscombe

Gravity Crash

There are many reasons as to why Gravity Crash should be a great game. You fly a spaceship, everyone likes spaceships, it has bright neon graphics much like Geometry Wars, and it plays much like games of old, very reminiscent of the 16-bit days.

At first glance Gravity Crash is an intelligent shooter, it gives you the options of using twin sticks, or stick and buttons if you prefer. There’s a variety of special weapons from the off and after glancing over the menu, there’s an editor and multiplayer too. This good feeling keeps on giving as you start up the training missions; everything is wonderfully presented, vibrant and colourful, the soundtrack thumps through your brain and then the happiness abruptly ends as you pilot your little ship.

The reason that these twin stick style shooters work is the movement, the ability to flow in and out of dangerous situations and weave between enemies as you blow them to kingdom come. Gravity Crash lacks this essential quality. You remember that scene in Bambi where he steps on to the ice and all hell breaks loose? Controlling your ship is a little like that, no matter how hard you try steering that little spaceship is like trying to keep hold of a wet bar of soap. It squirms everywhere except where you want it to go, bumping into walls and inevitably draining your shield allowing you to explode on the pointy rocks.

After the graceful movement of games like Riff and Geometry Wars, Gravity Crash is awkward and clumsy. Obviously this uncertainty in movement is passed over to the shooting, concentrating so hard on where you’re meant to be flying, you invariably end up spraying bullets everywhere in the hope that they connect with something, anything.

The layout of the game itself harks back to old school shooters, flying over bases and destroying them, landing to pick up stranded astronauts – as long as you can prevent your ship from bouncing like a pinball – and collecting gems around space. There are of course many enemies to dispatch that vary in shape and size, working your way through each solar system will end in a boss fight, each of which are actually very well staged and fun to play through.

If you can master the controls the levels can be balletic in movement as the opening demo shows, but playing with this skill will take much time. Unfortunately playing this way is needed if you want to break the time records set on each level. I consider myself to be good at shooters like this and I struggled to get close to the times and after a few attempts became bored and moved onto the next level. But then even that didn’t always help, while the visuals are impressive upon first look, the levels become stagnant after time and offer little in variety compared to other shooters on the market.

With Gravity Crash does come with a level designer however, so if you have managed to plough through the campaign then you can dip your toe in the creative pool online. There are some cracking levels from the community so far and the game has barely taken its first breath, my only concern is that any game that features level design and shares a console with LittleBigPlanet is going to be in trouble and this is. With little in the way of tutorials, the editor is just a grid with shapes to layout and for anyone with little time it is something that will be passed over.

One of the main reasons that Gravity Crash will struggle is the wealth of other shooters that are undeniably better, on the PS3 alone. Riff: Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust HD, Shatter, even Burn Zombie Burn, these are all superior games with a lot more to offer. Gravity Crash is fun its own bonkers way, but with PixelJunk Shooter round the corner, it’s hard to see the appeal.

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Echoes – PSP – Playstation Network

By Special Guest Writer: Daniel Lipscombe


The problem with Echoes is that it’s a mini and not a fully fledged PSN title, allow me to divulge. Echoes is a puzzle game in which you move a girl around mazes and pathways to collect gems, however as you pick up a gem you leave behind an echo of yourself, bumping into these echoes hurts you and takes a life away. It’s a simple premise and one that works well in its application; however it’s all a bit too simple.

The gameplay itself is structured well, bringing in items that help you clear echoes in the immediate area or freeze time momentarily among other things, offering many different level layouts to keep your grey matter ticking over and there are even awards for doing well. It’s a perfect game for snatching five minutes at the bus stop or during an advert break but it strangely leaves you wanting more.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to do, there are other modes besides the arcade mode. Jackpot mode asks you to get the highest score in 60 seconds, survival sees how long you can last without dying and clockwork allows you to control time and the movement of the echoes so you’ll need to rely on thinking two steps ahead at all times. The latter mode is perhaps the most interesting and easily the mode I spent most time with, as rather than relying on instinct it requires a lot more planning.

The reason that Echoes leaves you wanting more though is that it’s actually a remarkable game, but presented quite poorly. This is obviously due to the Mini format, but it could be so much more. The visuals borrow heavily from games like Braid, although it is played in a top down view, which means all you can see is the top of a hat. Halfbrick, the developers, may as well have lost the loose and rather plain story and opted for something more interesting to look at that inspires rather than bores.

However the visuals are probably the lowest point, the soundtrack is an ambient mix of trance like tunes and it fits the idea of a dreamworld very well, you won’t be missing anything if you don’t listen, but it does finish the experience well.

Echoes is a lovely little game perhaps spoiled by what could have been. On its own it works very well and will keep you occupied in short bursts. Don’t expect it to last you forever though, it’s not an overly long game, but striving for awards or perfect scores may keep you going for a little longer. If Halfbrick can optimise the game and extend it to publish it as a PSN game rather than a mini then they will have a winner on their hands.

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Review: Little Big Planet (PSP, PSP Go) – Sony Entertainment Europe

By Special Guest writer – Daniel Lipscombe

ggn_little_big_planet_psp_cover
From the moment the dulcet tones of Mr Stephen Fry fall upon your ears, much like the PS3 version, this is going to be something very special. A game renowned for using your imagination and transporting you to a wonderful land where anything can be made and adventure is everywhere. Taking control of Sackboy, or Sackgirl if you’re of the fairer species, you must make your way through many strange worlds in order to collect the creators of each world and join them together at a carnival and celebrate LittleBigPlanet.

With so many environments to explore there’s plenty to play through. From an Australasian starting point, through the Arctic and even to Hollywood, each level is well designed and will bring a smile to even the most disgruntled person. The levels are full of charm and inspiration, from the rocks that are made of suede to the cardboard clouds that hang from an invisible ceiling with rope. Each and every detail is like a marvellous dream world where you can explore many areas and smile along the entire journey. This was the feeling that the original Ps3 version gave and I never thought that this game would be possible on Sony’s handheld, let alone look and play so well.

lbp 1Visually the game isn’t too far from the home console, except of course from the Hi-Def resolution, but everything else is there. Admittedly there are a few jagged edges here and there and when bringing up the poppit menu some of the icons are muddy and a bit ugly, but these can be overlooked as the levels themselves are lush to look at and quite honestly jaw dropping. The same high quality opinions can be applied to the audio, as each soundtrack to a level helps to sweep you away into the dream land that Media Molecule created and SCE Studio Cambridge brought to the PSP. Of course it helps that Mr Fry deals out linguistic wit that has you hanging on every word as he describes the next world that you’re approaching.

LittleBigPlanet__PSP__screenshot10The game doesn’t stop giving though as with each level you get a well designed romp through a platforming adventure that Mario himself would be jealous of. Each jump is calculated perfectly so that your timing needs to be on the mark for fear of plummeting to your death and respawning to try again. Luckily there is no number of lives, like the PS3 version, as this game can become very tough towards the end. Starting pretty smoothly, running and jumping with confidence, most obstacles are a breeze, but reach the later worlds and you’ll be respawning often and frustration will increase.

However if the difficulty gets on top of you, you can always create your own level or download other peoples creations. Yes, that’s right, even the create a level mode has been squashed into the handheld, and it’s as authentic as the original. Take a blank canvas a let your imagination run free, use the items and stickers that you’ve collected throughout the story levels and build just what /you/ want to see and play. Then when you’ve finished, share it with your friends or publish it and let the world judge your creation and test it to its limits.

LittleBigPlanet__PSP__screenshot1If you’re a bit shy and lack confidence in building your own playground, don’t you worry, let everyone else do the work and download some great levels. At the moment the choice is limited as the servers are quiet, but once the masters of level building come over from the PS3 and dabble with the handheld partner there will be some amazing content.

As with the whole game, there are plenty of tutorials to learn how to traverse levels, dress your sackperson and create masterpieces to rival the developers. This makes it easier for anyone to pick up the game and have fun with it, whether you’ve played a platformer or not. Its simplicity is key, with no more control than jumping or grabbing objects, a child, a parent or a grandparent can join in and play. Even creating a level takes no more than a few button presses to place your objects and move them around.

LittleBigPlanet-Coming-To-The-PSPThe scale of this game is shown by the ambition of the developers; the only thing missing from this handheld version is online play and teaming up with a buddy. Not much of a problem when everything else is here. If you’re a fan of the console version or not you will love LittleBigPlanet on PSP, it’s hard to believe that the game arrived intact and wasn’t a dumbed down version as it could so easily have been. Get out there, collect the items, collect the stickers and build your dreams.

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