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Hands-On With Sony’s PSP Launch Lineup

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a small event where I was able to spend two hours with Sony’s first-party PSP launch lineup. The games were: NBA, MLB, Gretzky NHL, World Tour Soccer, Twisted Metal: Head On, ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin’ Trails, Ape Escape: On the Loose, Wipeout Pure, and even though it’s not first party game, Lumines.

Two hours may seem like a long time to sit and play the PSP, with that many games, it’s just enough time to get a quick sampling of each title. Since there were multiple systems on hand, we were able to test Wi-Fi gameplay on a couple of games and it was absolutely flawless. None of the games were reviewable, and several of the builds were a month old, so a few of the games needed a bit of work, but as a whole, things are looking to be shaping up pretty nicely for the PSP. Below are quick impressions of all the games I was able to get my hands on.

Wipeout Pure
There’s no question about it; this is the gem of Sony’s PSP launch lineup. From the smooth FMV intro that shows the creation of a vehicle, to the slick menus, and polished gameplay, everything here is fantastic. There were four courses unlocked, each with varying difficulty, and all featuring the classic Wipeout design. I thought the controls felt a bit “floaty”, but other than that, the racing was fantastic. There are plenty of speed boosts and weapons around each track, and no matter how fast you’re going, the framerate remains perfectly smooth. Sometimes the Wipeout sense of speed wasn’t there, but I did hit more than my fair share of walls, which isn’t good for your top speed in most games.

Setting up a game for multi-player is a snap, and the interface is thoughtfully designed and easy to use. Setting up Wi-Fi games might intimidate some people, especially after navigating some of the PS2’s cumbersome online games, but after starting up one game on any of the PSP titles, any concerns will vanish. After selecting different race options, you are taken to a lobby where you simply await the arrival of whomever you’re playing. It’s that easy. Once the race starts, it feels no different than a single-player, and there is no lag to speak of. One nice feature is the display over each car that lets you know who you are chasing down, allowing you to taunt them from across the room as you pass them.

I spent the most time with Wipeout, and would have loved to play more of it. If you’re a fan of the series, there’s no doubt that this game should be on top of your list.

Twisted Metal: Head On The first thing that struck me about TM:HO was the FMV intro at the beginning of the game. Not only was it gorgeous, but its unique visual style shows off a slightly lighter theme than the very dark Twisted Metal: Black. All of the usual suspects are back, including everyone’s favorite ice cream truck, Sweet Tooth. There were only a few arenas available to play (most were locked) but I did play a level that took place in a stadium, as well as one that was loosely based on Hollywood. The level of visual detail in the environments were a little less than what I was expecting, but there were plenty special effects for the cars, and the framerate was solid even when thing got hectic. The button layout was a little tough to get used to, if only because square was used for acceleration, and most games use the X button.

TM:HO supports Wi-Fi as well as play over the internet, but we only played Wi-Fi yesterday. Just like Wipeout, setting up a game was a breeze, and the interface was outstanding. Also like Wipeout, there was no lag to be found, and the gameplay was no different than single-player.

World Tour Soccer 989 shrinks down the World Tour Soccer series for the PSP, and it doesn’t lose a heck of a lot in translation. There are tons of teams available, eight different stadiums, and tons of real players. The gameplay is fast-paced, and the combination of the widescreen and a distant camera shows you a good portion of the field, allowing you to better plan your attack. This does make the players look a bit tiny, but it’s a small price to pay for actually being able to see so much of the field. Even the players you can’t see are marked by small arrows at the edge of the screen, which is a tremendous help when trying to push the ball upfield quickly.

MLB The first thing I noticed about MLB was how huge the players were, and how great they looked. Every stadium is included in the game, and they too are quite detailed and impressive. This one doesn’t seem to have lost much in translation as the batting and pitching interfaces both are responsive, and will feel familiar to anyone that has played MLB 2006. There was no commentary in the build I played, save for an introduction at the beginning of each game, but it was an early build, so hopefully full commentary will make it into the finished product.

NBA Like MLB, the player models in NBA are quite impressive. They are shown off in detail, when after a big play, the camera zooms in on a player, and the game highlights them and displays their name. All of the NBA teams are included, and the rosters seemed very up to date, with accurate All-Star rosters included. On the court, the action is smooth, but there was still a bit of tweaking that needed to be done.

In addition to playing five on five, you can take part in the three-point shootout, skills competition, and a game called paint. In “paint” you go head to head against another player, and the floor is divided into zones that turn your color when you hit a shot from there. Points are awarded based on how far away from the hoop the zone is, and the goal is to have the most points at the end of the time limit. It was a lot of fun, and the ability to steal the other player’s ball instead of chasing yours down is a great twist.

Gretzky NHL
I was actually quite a bit impressed with the PSP version of Gretzky NHL. From the intro that kicks off each game, to the fast play during it, this version doesn’t lose a thing in translation. The controls were very tight, and the button layout manages to allow you to perform moves with ease, and remain easy to use at the same time. It features all the NHL teams, as well as their stadiums, though it’s not like baseball where the different stadiums add to the gameplay. This one’s going to help all those poor hockey fans that are left without a season make it through to the next. I’m saying all these good things and I got waxed by the computer, so you know it’s pretty good.

Ape Escape
I didn’t get to do much with this game, but I can tell you that yes, it’s classic Ape Escape. The story makes no sense, and you run around levels trying to catch monkeys in your net – what else do you need? Since the original game allowed you to swing your net by pressing the right analog stick, the difficulty of catching those pesky primates by using a face button really stands out here, but it’s not anything that you can’t overcome.

ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin’ Trails
Like Ape Escape, this was one of those games that I just wasn’t able to spend enough time with. From what I did play, I can tell you that fans of the series will be more than happy with this game. There were tons of tracks, the riders and their vehicles were all large and colorful, and the game looked crisp. Another impressive thing, especially for anyone that has been stuck with lousy GBA music the last few years is that this game features 35 different songs, which is an incredible number. I didn’t like the unresponsive controls, and the lack of time you have to get back on the track was frustrating, but both of those things could easily have been addressed by now.

This game’s from Ubisoft, and not Sony, but it’s great, so I was happy to see it playable at the event. The only thing anyone wants to know about this game is if they changed the music or not, and I’m happy to report that it’s all the same. It looks like the only thing that has been done to the game since its Japanese release is the load times have been improved and the menus changed to English. If you’re a puzzle fan, check out our review of the import, and then prepare to lose hours of your life to Lumines.

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