The Best (And Worst) Of PSP Minis

Are you looking to buy some Minis now that they’re playable on the PS3? Or, at least, will be very soon?  Don’t know where to start?  How about our massive guide to the best and worst PSP Minis, then?  Good, eh?

Blast Off (£2.49/€2.99)

I don’t have time to get addicted to videogames – most of the time I’ll pick one up, play through it, review it and then never touch it again.  This won’t be the case with Blast Off because it’s so compulsively entertaining that Halfbrick’s second mini is almost impossible to put down.

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The idea, like all great games, is deceptively simple: you must blast off from your launch planet, pick up a few stragglers floating in space, and fly through the landing platform in order to beat each level.  Controls, too, are child’s play: hold down X to build up launch pressure, aim with the d-pad, release X and then make adjustments to your flight path with the same buttons.  Of course, other planets and various hazards soon make their way into the levels, causing gravity issues amongst others.

The simpler levels play out the best, with the best score (the game offers a challenging set of score levels for every mission) usually achieved with pixel perfect aim and launch build-up – if you can collect all the spacemen and land on the pad without using extra fuel or turning too much your score will be much higher than if you had to correct yourself and re-aim mid-flight.  Getting gold is easy, ‘Brick’ scores are for the hardcore.

Blast Off, then, plays on your desire to better yourself.  There’s loads of levels, but I have some kind of self destructive urge to not only get the Brick score for everything before moving on, but also beating it by as big a margin as possible.  Sounds like a great title for a TSA Challenge, then: 8/10 [AC]

Hero of Sparta (£3.99/€4.99)

A God of War-a-like title for £3.49 doesn’t sound too bad, and considering its price, you do get 8 levels and about 4 – 5 hours of gameplay. In Hero of Sparta you play a rather angry leftover from the film 300, hacking and slashing your way through mythical creatures. Square and triangle are your main attacks and for bigger beasts there are quick time events just like Kratos’. So far, so expected, and it sounds like a good Mini, right? Well, no. The sound is awful, the fighting is incredibly repetitive (no combos, just mash square and triangle) and worst of all, it’s very glitchy: on one occasion I got near the end of a level, only to actually get stuck in the graphics. I had to restart the whole level (not even from the last checkpoint), which was bad enough, but then, second time through, an enemy I needed to kill in order to progress managed to get stuck himeself and I couldn’t kill it. Again, I had to start all over again. Glitches like this seriously hinder a game that could have been a mini GoW or Onimusha. 5/10 [TL]

Tetris (£3.99/€4.99)

Well, what can be said about this? It everyone’s favourite block-busting game, Tetris, on the PSP. I think most people have a place in their heart for Tetris (it was my first ever computer game) and know how it plays. This is totally as you expect. Being a “new” version though means bright colours and a remixed soundtrack (one that’s not as good as the original) and you can’t help the feeling that some things have been tinkered with for no reason other than it’s now 2009 and not the 1980s. Neatly, you can watch replays of expert Tetris players which really show the depth of such a seemingly simple game and makes you wonder if they actually do anything else with their lives. Extremely addictive it may be, but it doesn’t move the game on in terms of originality or push the limits of what can be achieved with PSP Minis, instead, Tetris just plays safe. 7/10 [TL]

Brainpipe (£3.99/€4.99)

Essentially, Brainpipe is like being inside Boris Johnson’s mind. Well, I hope not, but I imagine what goes through his brain while being the Mayor of London must be pretty similar. Practically impossible to describe, the only thing I can think of that bears any similarity is when you boot up a game by UbiSoft and you travel through the purple UbiSoft logo, like a time-warp – or even better, the opening credits of Dr. Who. You control what seems to be the inside of an eye (looking outwards) down some sort of wormhole which is coloured in all sorts of trippy shades.

You move the nub (or d-pad) in order to collect objects that come your way, or avoid ones that you don’t want. As your progress through a level, the speed at which you travel increases, but you can use the x button to slow it down a bit. There is no tutorial or instructions, just complete bewilderment. Oh, and an extremely creepy soundtrack. Brainpipe is difficult to grasp and will almost certainly not appeal to everyone, but it is completely and utterly original and unbelievable addictive. 8/10 [TL]

Alien Havoc (£3.99/€4.99)

In Alien Havoc, you play a little 2D alien, who has crash-landed on earth. You then need to capture cows and bring them back to your ship. Odd premise aside, it’s a pretty enjoyable game. As you run around the level trying to find a cow, there are farmers. The aim is to avoid being captured by a farmer and still manage to carry the cow back to the UFO. You can throw a rock to daze a farmer or crouch in long grass to hide. The basic retro gameplay is simply enough, but the later levels are very difficult as they are littered with rival farmers and the distance you have to travel increases. If you fail 3 times, it’s game over and you have to start from the very beginning. Alien Havoc is a real blast from the past and is designed to be played in short 10 minutes bursts, which is ideal for a PSP Minis game. There are only 20 levels, it can get repetitive repeating levels over and over again and because there are no save points it can be extremely challenging – still, great fun. 7/10 [TL]

Fieldrunners (£3.99/€4.99)

The darling of the early iPhone gaming scene, Fieldrunners is a masterful Tower Defense-style game expertly converted to the PSP platform with a few extra bells and whistles.  The analog stick zooms, the d-pad moves around the playing field and the triggers are used to select your various towers, of which there are plenty enough to portray a deep set of gameplay mechanics.  Yes, we’ve all played TD games before (and PixelJunk Monsters turned the whole thing around anyway) but Fieldrunners is a supreme example of how to make a PSP Minis game – for £4 you get a massive amount of game here, with loads of levels, near endless replayability and some fantastic graphics (although on full zoom they lack a little sharpness).  Absolutely the best of the launch titles in our opinion, and one that should be right at the top of the list for anyone wanting to see what all the fuss is about.  Lets hope multiplayer gets patched in at some point, even if we have to pay for it.  9/10 [AC]

Fortix (£3.49/€3.99)

I really wanted to like Fortix – I’m a big fan of the Qix inspired gameplay, for sure, but Nemesys have struggled with keeping the mechanics in this PSP minis title to the bare minimum required. Essentially an RPG-lite version of the classic template, your quest is to cover the targets by tracing out square shapes left by trails from your character, supposedly a knight. Connect up a square (made from other previously constructed lines or the edges of the map) and that area becomes yours, destroying anything within in. Fortix complicates this by introducing lots of cannons and dragons, both of which prove to be a hindrance rather than a clever way of building the difficulty curve. The graphics are basic, the load times are too long and the game needs a fair amount of balancing – an update could make it much better: 5/10 [AC]

BreakQuest (£2.49/€2.99)

BreakQuest is hampered only by the PSP’s hardware – the analog controls just aren’t precise enough to enable smooth, quick movement for your bat in this refreshing take on the classic bat and ball gameplay. True, it’s possible to use the d-pad but the game’s built-in acceleration is a little unpredictable and BreakQuest actually seems to be aware of the host’s shortcomings by giving you a rather generous (but slightly buggy) second chance if you manage to just throw the bat sideways at the last second, normally sending the ball directly vertical. Still, with 100 levels and some cool physics (everything seems to have some sense of weight and collision) it’s a fun, but tough diversion for PSP fans. The presentation’s nice and there’s certainly a lot of ‘game’ for your money: 7/10 [AC]

Vempire (£3.99/€4.99)

Vempire offers a nice twist on the ‘match 4’ mechanic by introducing a few Puzzle Quest-esque role playing elements to bump up the strategy. Although you’re limited to just using the d-pad and triggers to rotate any set of four squares on the playing field by playing through the game (and in particular, the bonus levels) you’ll accumulate cash which you can spend on various luck and attribute boosters, alongside other twists such as obtaining assistants to give you a hand on the battlefield should you be skilled enough to summon them. Vempire’s strategy comes in the way you set up combos, much like any other game, but the time limit and the omnipresent threat of a boss enemy coming to mess up your level gives the game some urgency. Great presentation and plenty to unlock makes Vempire highly recommended: 8/10 [AC]

Bloons (£3.49/€3.99)

Yup, a port to PSP of a free flash game playable online (or on the iPhone for 59p). Only Bloons is so addictive and challenging that within 10 minutes, I have all but forgotten about the price (£3.49). The premise is very simple; there are balloons and you have to pop them with a dart-like object, adjusting its trajectory. As you progress through the game, the positioning of the balloons becomes even trickier and obstacles block your way. There are also bombs strategically placed within the balloons and even a level editor to boot. The game strikes that difficult balance between too hard that you give up but not too easy that you get bored easily. Some later levels do get incredibly frustrating, but there’s just something about it that makes you carry on. It ultimately lacks the shear addictiveness of other web-based games or minis titles, but proof that sometimes the best things in life are the simplest: 7/10 [TL]

Pinball Fantasies (£3.99/€4.99)

By being called Pinball Fantasies, this minis title promises both a little and a lot. The very nature of the game is pinball and really it is as simple as that. You use the x button to start the action and use L and R for the representative flippers. It’s accompanied by a zany soundtrack and a flashing score board. So it’s nothing really new. But fantasies? Really? Well, perhaps if you are a big pinball game fan or remember playing the 1992 original. But despite it’s lack of fantasies, it is an entertaining game. Minis are primarily designed to be fun in short blasts and for £3.99, Pinball Fantasies offer up doses of small fun to help reduce boredom on the train to work. Sure, it doesn’t look particularly good nowadays and lacks longevity, but that’s missing the point somewhat: 7/10 [TL]

Pinball Dreams (£3.99/€4.99)

I’ll be honest, I think of the two current Amiga Pinball ports available on the PSP Minis platform, ‘Fantasies’ is the better game – the boards are richer, there’s more strategy and subgames and the third flipper adds a smart new dimension. However, ‘Dreams’ is still the stunning example of pure gameplay that it always was, and holds a special place in my memories and me and my old man used to play the hell out of Ignition, the first table, back in 1992. The other reason why I’m so keen on recommending this game (and Fantasies, of course) is that if enough people buy them maybe Cowboy Rodeo will port Pinball Illusions, too, and – hey – maybe they can get get their hands on even more Amiga games… Regardless, this is great fun – a quid too expensive at a pound per table, perhaps, but still decent value for money and a pixel perfect port – get the set: 7/10 [AC]

D-Cube Planet (£2.49/€2.99)

An interesting one, this – the presentation is poor, the pace far too sluggish and the visuals could have been much, much stronger but the actual game is pretty good when it finally finds its feet. The premise is simple, even if the ‘story’ isn’t, you simply need to guide your little alien dude to whatever piece of spaceship you’ve lost.

In the way, of course, are lots of cubes, and it’s your task as the player to shift them around to make a path for your rather tardy green blob. The art style’s terrible, and it seems to take ages for anything to actually move on the board, but once the puzzles get tricky the game actually starts to shine, and for the price of a pint of Skol you really can’t go wrong if you’re prepared to put aside the fact that the game could really have been much better in simple top-down 2D and a better aesthetic. Interesting enough: 5/10 [AC]

Dracula: Undead Awakening (£3.99/€4.99)

I found Dracula, a port of the hit iPhone game, a little disappointing on PSP.  Sure, it looks great, the menus are slick and professional and the graphics in-game are great, despite being 2D sprites, but unfortunately there’s little here not found in the iPhone version and I’ve always found the gameplay to be rather throwaway and mostly devoid of any deep tactics.

The principle of the player versus thousands of undead as they horde towards you isn’t a new one, there’s already lots of similar games around that do this sort of thing (and better) but when there’s really nothing to do except continously fire and walk backwards you do can’t help but get slightly bored, even when the difficult starts to ramp up considerably.  Yes, there’s four different modes (Survival, Super Survival, Rush and Wave Attack) but they all play almost identically and the three environments to battle in don’t really offer any distinct gameplay styles despite looking rather lovely.

The problem with Dracula is that there’s little risk/reward and unlike titles like Burn Zombie Burn, which had the cool ‘fire’ modifier system to spice things up the only things that ever change in Dracula: Undead Awakening are the guns and the legions of nicely drawn zombie creatures.  A simple ‘perk’ system tries to liven things up a little with some cool extra skills but doesn’t do much to break up the monotony.  You’ll get more out of the game the more you put in, and there’s some challenge here for the dedicated, but if forced I’d rather stick to the iPhone version which is far cheaper: 5/10 [AC]

Kahoots (£2.49/€2.99)

Kahoots is something of a cult hit for Honeyslug – the visuals might appeal to the younger PSP gamers but the gameplay is somewhere nearer old-school hits like Lemmings – you have no control over the cute little thing walking back and forth on each level, nor any explanation as to why he’s doing what he’s doing, but you can switch around the blocks on which he walks. By doing this, you can position jumping blocks next to spikes to avert a nasty end, or near the edge of a platform to force him to jump down a level. It obviously starts off rather simply before ramping up the difficulty pretty quickly with bolted down blocks and other characters, but the level design is smart enough to carry off any frustration that comes in later sections, which can be pretty tough. Even better is the look of the game, which is all plasticine blobs and imperfect textures which actually works really well and the various songs performed by the main protagonist are easily worth the £2.49 – striking stuff: 7/10 [AC]

Mahjongg Artifacts 2 (£3.49/€3.99)

I actually really enjoy Mahjong games, even when they’re spelt with two Gs, and this new PSP Minis game is one of the best – the idea is simple: just match up similar tiles on the board that aren’t blocked in on either side and they disappear. But why is Artifacts 2 such a good game?

Well, for starters, there’s a nice globespanning ‘Quest’ mode with lots of missions to play through and a comic book look and feel; there’s a smart ‘auto zoom’ function which keeps the game screen locked around the remaining tiles and a ‘free tile only’ view which dims out the tiles that you can’t pick up. Because of all this, Artifacts is actually a rather accessible introduction to Mahjong but also offers a decent difficultly curve if you turn off the tips. The graphics are rather typical for a game of this style, the controls are a bit iffy when you’re trying to navigate towards a specific tile with just the d-pad, but it’s nice to have a mahjong game readily available on the XMB and this is as good as you’ll need: 8/10 [AC]

Yummy Yummy Cooking Jam (£3.99/€4.99)

This is an odd game. Basically, working in one of four eating establishments, you’ve got to serve up food to waiting customers. The viewpoint is that of the server, rather than the top-down view you’ll have seen in other similar games, and thus you have to work out what each customer wants and then serve up the required goods, putting together the more complicated food stuffs from various ingredients. In principle, it’s actually a pretty good game but it’s let down by one fundamental problem – the game feels like it was tested with a mouse and then shoehorned onto the PSP’s analog nub at the last second. Rather than simply moving between the various icons as you tap a direction, you actually control the on-screen pointer with the nub much like you did with the joystick in old Amiga games like North and South. It’s a bizarre choice, and hurts the game when the action hots up – patch this out and we’ll take another look, but as it stands there’s little reason to stick with the game despite some great visuals: 4/10 [AC]

Puzzle Scape Mini (£2.49/€2.99)

Puzzle Scape might have been one of the first Minis off the production line, but when the development standards are as strong as they are here it’s not surprising that Farmind’s brilliant game was previously published as a ‘full’ PSP title, complete with multiplayer.

A bright, nicely done menu boosts your confidence right from the off and a quick scroll through the initially locked ‘scenes’ suggests there’s stacks of value here for your £2.49.  Once in the game and past the high score tables (in either of the two distinct gameplay modes) Puzzle Scape plays out like a block matching genre mashup combining the best of Lumines and Puzzle-de-pon as you switch around couplets of coloured blocks in order to create squares of four blocks or more.

At the right hand side of the screen in Architect mode are the current colours you’re supposed to aim for but the main portion of the game is taken up with the actual gameplay block and whatever fancy graphics are spinning away in the background.   Artist mode is slightly slower paced, but both involve the same principles and mechanics and both have the pressure of additional falling blocks to content with.

With loads to do, decent music and high production values, the game’s an absolute bargain, and given the current licensing issues Q’s having with the digital format it’s as close to Lumines as Go owners are going to get.  Great stuff:  8/10 [AC]

Echoes (£2.49/€2.99)

I’ve mentioned Echoes, the Australian developed arcade puzzler before, mainly on the virtue of its wickedly clever built-in trophy system, but on further play it’s clear the game holds up on its own as a unique PSP mini for anyone looking for something a little bit different.

It’s certainly that, offering up something akin to a top down blend of the core elements of Echochrome and Braid with your character having to collect objects whilst avoiding her echoes – her earlier paths.  The echoes effectively follow your last point to each crystal as you pick them up, so the game quickly becomes a test of both dexterity and memory before ultimately being more about forward planning.

It’s all quite good looking too – the individual graphics aren’t particularly stunning by any standards but the art style itself is great, all pastel shades and thick brush strokes and the menu system (and the aforementioned trophies) help to give the game its own place in the current minis line-up.  Despite the game playing most of its cards far too early (and never really going anywhere new in later levels) Halfbrick’s biggest issue is the copy for the game on the Store which doesn’t begin to describe the mechanics properly: 7/10 [AC]

Thanks to Tom for his assistance with this article.

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