PLAYSTATION IN YOUR POCKET
Portable gaming is hotter than ever, especially now that Nintendo and Sony are supporting our favorite on-the-go pastime with new hardware and games. Sadly, Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) is often overshadowed by Nintendo’s handheld behemoth, the Nintendo DS. Don’t get us wrong: with its touch-screen functionality, innovative games, and stylish design, the DS has more than earned its spot among the best portables, but the PSP shouldn’t be counted out just yet. As a matter of fact, Sony’s sexy system is finally coming into its own with a bevy of recently released must-play games and a future lineup that’s as bright as the PSP’s crystal clear wide-screen display. This week, we review two new titles that prove the PSP is a portable force with which to be reckoned.
SID MEIER’S PIRATES! (2K Games)
3.5 stars (out of 5)
This PC pirating classic lands on the PSP with an addictive translation that’s a perfect fit for the platform. Pirates! brilliantly blends what is essentially a variety of mini-games into a much deeper strategic adventure. The open-ended nature of the game allows you to live out your very own swashbuckling dream while focusing on a pirating path of your choosing. A Jack Sparrow-wannabe might recklessly pillage and plunder every ship and town he comes across, a womanizing buccaneer might woo the Governor’s daughter on the dance floor in every port of call, and a pirate with a taste for the high seas will likely take on any challenge his sea-faring foes have to offer. Individual games and quests include land and sea battles, sword fights, dancing, treasure hunting, and stealth-based missions. Depending on your path and how you tread it, you can become the greatest pirate that has ever lived, or just a plank-walking scallywag.
Pirates! is not perfect. Its visuals are not the PSP’s best, and you will occasionally struggle with the camera and controls. That being said, you won’t find a better game that captures the pirate’s-life-for-me feeling, and the mini-game structure makes it perfect for portable play sessions. This is truly a game whose sum is greater than its individual parts. And in Pirates!, that sum equals a yo ho ho and a bottle of fun.
RATCHET AND CLANK: SIZE MATTERS (Sony Computer Entertainment)
4.5 stars (out of 5)
Ratchet and Clank might be familiar to PlayStation 2 owners. The unlikely heroic pair have starred in multiple games on the console, delivering hours of platforming, shooting, puzzle-solving, and off-the-wall humor to legions of faithful fans. Now the fearless feline (we think he’s a cat) and his tiny robo-sidekick star in an all-new PSP-based adventure that’s as good—and in some cases better—than their PS2 outings. The series calling card has always been its variety of imaginative weapons and gear, and Size Matters hits this mark spot-on with an unforgettable arsenal of goofy goodies and ferocious firepower. You can keep it simple and to the point with powerful death-dealers such as the plasma-shooting Lacerator or the shotgun-like Concussion Gun, or get more creative and equip the Acid Bomb Glove that hurls a deadly pool of enemy-eating ooze. Even better, you can strap on our personal favorite, the Bee Mine Glove, and unleash a swarm of stinging pests. You’ll also acquire nifty gadgets such as the Sprout-O-Matic that’ll turn plants into helpful items such as ladders and Ratchet-launching slingshots.
In addition to cool guns and gadgets, Ratchet can also collect upgradeable armor that actually changes his on-screen appearance with every equipped piece—a nice visual touch. Ratchet isn’t the only star here, though, as Clank also takes center stage with a variety of missions and mini-games that find him in Robot Wars-esque demolitions and commanding small armies of Lemmings-like mini-bots.
Size Matters packs plenty of other surprises that we won’t spoil for you. From the platforming and the shooting, to the mini-games and the replay-stretching multiplayer options, the game offers a polished experience supported by PS2-level visuals and the series trademark quirky humor. The only thing keeping Size Matters from a perfect score is the camera control; while it’s some of the best we’ve experienced on the single-sticked PSP, it still can’t match the dual-analog stick functionality of a gamepad. Get passed this simple obstacle—and you definitely will—and you’ve got yourself one of the best games to grace Sony’s slick portable platform.