In the real world, golf is not a sport for the impatient. One must be prepared to wait. Between holes. On the fairway. On the green. A few moments of action are spread out over hours of inaction. Video games, on the other hand, make golf more accessible for the antsy ? or at least they're supposed to. EA's PSP edition of Tiger allows you to either speed up the flight pattern of opponents' shots, or skip them altogether, which is nice -- instead of enduring the slow agony of watching foe Jack Nicklaus sniper a 6-iron within three inches of the cup, you can merely be informed of his impending birdie with a press of the circle button. It's when you finish a hole that the problem arises -- a "loading" time that's long enough to warrant alternating between your PSP and a good magazine. The agonizing waits -- between every hole -- take away from the fact that this is a well-done, relatively addictive game. You still end up logging more holes than you initially intended to play when powering up the system, trying to earn enough dough on the Legend Tour to outfit your customized player with $100,000 putters and fancy Foot Joys from the pro shop.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I liked this game, but the load times hold it back, as well as the swing process. There's still plenty of room for improvement here.
Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee (SONY)
After ejecting Tiger, I popped in this game, which offers a very different take on video golf -- a Japanese-style cartoon fantasyland, versus Woods' more realistic approach. In many ways, Hot Shots has the upper hand: It seems to pre-load its courses, so there's minimal pause between holes (take note, Tiger) and its shot function, albeit simple -- just three taps of the X button -- seems better suited to the joystick-less PSP. All in all this is the PSP's smoothest golf offering, but it still didn't win me over. It's almost too cute: The caddie audio so annoying that it demands muting, and it's difficult to dedicate yourself to improving your selected character when the prizes you win early on are so trivial (Trucker hats? New haircuts? C'mon.). Hot Shots also puts a great amount of emphasis put on something called the "Loyalty Meter" -- the more you play and win with your character, the more "loyal" they become. This is a strange way to chart one's progress. Should I really be concerned about how "loyal" my video golfer is to me? Am I supposed to get angry if this little cartoon duffer isn't loyal, and is say, sneaking around behind my back? It's all so confusing.
Rating: 8 out of 10
There's no denying that the actual golf section of Hot Shots is well done.
I understand the appeal of street basketball, but football? Making an "urban" NFL game was a logical step for EA, seeing that Madden NFL is the company's bestseller and the Street series it created for the NBA has been phenomenal. But just because the concept worked in hoops, does not mean it will work on the gridiron. Whereas I actually prefer NBA Street -- on the PSP and PS2 -- to any of the realistic 5-on-5 games, I can find no good reason to play NFL Street instead of Madden ? other than that Madden isn't out yet for the PSP. It's not as if Unleashed is a major step down from its PS2 sibling. The graphics are solid (if a little dark) and a few interesting mini-games have been added. It's just that the whole NFL Street concept wasn't a good idea in the first place; sacrificing football complexity and strategy for trick moves and thuggish animation doesn't make for a better gaming experience. So when host/narrator/rapper Xhibit asks you early on in Unleashed, "Sup dog! You lookin' to play a little ball?" your answer should be, "Sorry, dog. I'm gonna wait 'til Madden comes out."
Rating: 2.5 out of 10
Not only is the concept weak, but the games take forever to load and the rosters are outdated.
I have no problems with a no-frills basketball game if it's easy to control, quick to learn and fun to play. Thankfully, this game is all three. There are no complicated, flashy crossover moves to execute, but you do get all 30 NBA teams to choose from, with every player accounted for. There's no announcer commentary, except for announcements from an omniscient PA-like voice (which often gets the calls incorrectly), but that's fine -- it means fewer distractions. One of the most fun features in this game, believe it or not, is the practice mode: You can hone your shot in a pre-game shootaround simulation (right down to snazzy warm-up threads) while the rest of your starting five pops jumpers around you. You even have to chase down your own shanks. Another fun bonus: In addition to the NBA teams, this game also includes all six NBDL squads, so if you're feeling particularly vindictive, you can throw the smack down on the hapless Roanoke Dazzle. Or if it's international flair you're after, you can play as Team Euro, with a lineup of Tony Parker, Andrei Kirilenko, Peja Stojakovic, Dirk Nowitzki and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and get all continental in das haus.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Not flashy, but that's OK: A fun, easy-to-learn game that will fill the basic desires of an NBA gaming fan. Simple controls and real players and teams to boot.
NBA Street Showdown (EA)
The venerable Bobbito Garcia (a.k.a. DJ Cucumberslice) lays down color commentary for the PSP sibling of EA Big's tricked-out 3-on-3 hoops franchise, putting slam dunk calls such as, "There's no mercy on the streets! None!" into the palm of your hand. Garcia's one-liners, when they appeared on the PS2 versions of Street, were amusing enough coming out of the speakers of one's living room TV. But when you're in a packed NYC subway car and your PSP blares, "Money, money, chill! That was disrespectful what you did right there!" in the general direction of a crowd of irritable passengers, you have some quick explaining -- or running -- to do. So keep the sound turned down (or your headphones on), but by all means pick up this game. Arcade-style basketball is the gaming world's greatest two-player sport, and this is perhaps the cart that puts the PSP's head-to-head feature to best use. If this had been around while I was a teenager -- a modernized version of NBA Jam in lieu of crappy hand-helds like Konami Double Dribble -- I would've never complained on a car ride.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
The camera angles on the court leave a little to be desired (hence the 8.5), but this is a sick game.
Ahh, hockey on the PSP. Even if you've become bored of the professional game (when there actually is one), you always can count on satisfaction from a quick-paced, fun video game where you can throttle the computer by pumping in goal after goal while smashing you computer opponent's head to the ice. This game starts off easily enough -- pick your teams, master the classic-style controls (circle shoots, X passes, square checks). But as soon as the action gets underway, there's absolutely no way to figure out what on earth is happening. The action moves too fast (Is that possible with a sports game?) to the point where you have no idea who has the puck, much less where it actually is, nor which direction you even need to point your player. At that point, you have little interest in the so-called "Gretzky Challenges," where you try to match the Great One's records. It all adds up to getting fed up with the game so quickly, you may feel the need to dig up an old copy of EA Sports NHL from a decade ago -- at least you can make their heads bleed.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Nice graphics and simple controls, but the puck is hard to follow and your interest level will "Wayne" quickly.
Soccer fans, rejoice. The best video game the sport has ever seen has made its way onto the PSP's small screen without sacrificing any of its great attributes. The game play is crisp and quick to pick up, the live commentary adds to the action and the graphics are top-notch. This game clearly was produced by people who know and care about the sport -- at last, someone has the knowledge and courage to make David Beckham slow. There are more than 350 club and national teams to pick from and you can guide them each deep into a season or tournament. (Not that you'd want a Korean or Danish club team, but let's focus on what this game does right.) FIFA remains so engaging that you'll likely cheer when you score and groan when you hit the crossbar. The only oddity is that you have to control the action with the PSP's toggle stick, which takes some getting used to if you've mastered FIFA on a console's directional controller. But it's a light learning curve, and odds are you'll get completely engrossed in the game play -- even if you're not a huge soccer fan.
Rating: 9 out of 10
By far the best soccer game available for the PSP. Exhilarating action that's completely addictive and easy to learn.
World Tour Soccer (SONY)
Oh man, is this game really our only other fútbol option on PSP? Right off the bat, the name says you're not getting true World Cup-style soccer. To make matters worse, it's licensed only by FIFPro, the international players union. That means that while you get all the players, there are 250 generic teams. So instead of Arsenal vs. Juventus, for example, it's "Highbury" vs. "Turin J." That is, if you play long enough to earn the right to pick those squads -- you have to win enough games to "unlock" certain national and club teams. But who would want to be the national teams of, say, Barbados or Burkina Faso? There is a wealth of historical teams, though, so it is worth it to try to unlock the 1970s New York Cosmos for a chance to have Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer in your starting XI. The game action itself is nothing special. The perspective on the pitch is far too close -- great if you want a close-up of Ronaldinho's horse teeth, but not great if you need to spy your left midfielder making a dash to get open.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Game play is awkward and difficult to control. There are 250 teams, but you have to unlock most of them. And two stars for the U.S. team? C'mon!
Tony Womack batted .307 last season for the St. Louis Cardinals. What does this have to do with MLB for the PSP? Lots. You see, Womack is back to his old form this season for the Yankees, batting .241 with an on-base percentage of .274 and an abysmal slugging percentage of .264. Yet for some reason Yankees manager Joe Torre keeps putting Womack in the outfield, where power hitters are supposed to roam. If Womack can have one good season, then 989 Sports, the maker of this title, can come out with a decent sports title for once.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
If for some reason you have to have a handheld baseball title, this is the one to get.
MVP Baseball (EA)
If you've played the console version of this game, then you'll know what to expect. The look and feel are basically the same. What I want to know is, when am I supposed to swing? I set up the Home Run Derby mode, picked my favorite player -- Florida's Miguel Cabrera -- and proceeded to whiff on nearly every swing. The few times I made contact, the ball didn't leave the infield. Meanwhile, the CPU-controlled Albert Pujols was hitting the ball a country mile on every swing. Pujols is arguably the best hitter in baseball, but he's not that much better than Cabrera.
Perhaps the coolest thing about this title is the '80s arcade mini-game that keeps you occupied while the game loads. It took me 45 minutes just to get past it and start playing Ridge Racer itself. The key to enjoying this game is getting used to the the innovative "drift" system of turning. Whenever you reach a turn, your car turns sideways and you have to negotiate the turn by drifting. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to pass other cars while drifting. The more you drift, the more nitrous boost you accumulate. The graphics are pretty spot-on for the PSP, and make sure to look for the shout-outs to classic NAMCO games (i.e. Galaga, Pac-Man) on the billboards on the side of the road. On the downside, the races are way too long and there isn't enough variety with the tracks. The learning curve is fairly steep but enjoyable if you stick with it.
Rating: 8 out of 10
An immersive racing game with tight controls and excellent graphics.
ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails (SONY)
Let's get this out of the way immediately: ATV Offroad Fury may be the most difficult video game to control I have ever played. Whereas most motorsport games use one button to accelerate, one to brake and another to reverse, it's nowhere near as simple on Blazin' Trails, an offshoot of the ATV Offroad Fury series for console systems. Accelerating is fairly straightforward, but there are numerous ways to break, reversing is a confusing combination of tapping backward and steering, and nearly any obstacle you hit along the way will send your rider flying off his ATV like Derek Jeter sailing into the stands. If you finally can get the hang of the controls, this isn't a bad racing game -- the courses are fun to navigate and the graphics are decent. Once you're feeling comfortable, you even can pull off in-air tricks. But there is absolutely no margin for error when you're competing against other computer-run riders. They're better than you, and there's no way around it. And if your frustration gets the better of you, like it did me, it's easy to screw up and hit a tree, to less than comic results. If nothing else, the crashes are spectacular. Great fun for the masochistic gamer.
Rating: 5 out of 10
An extremely steep learning curve. The controls are difficult to get the hang of, and racing against competition is grueling.
Need for Speed Underground Rivals (EA)
E.T. for the Atari 2600 was so bad they had to bury a million unsold cartridges in a New Mexico desert. The same fate should befall this game, which I can't even refer to by name without breaking out into hives. First off, the graphics are horrendous, and if you're any sort of a graphics snob like me, then you know right away the game isn't going to cut it. You know how a good game is said to have "tight" controls? Well, you can't say that about this game. I've ridden elephants that have better handling than these cars. Supposedly you can upgrade your car and take part in one-on-one duels and all that other great Midnight Club II-type stuff, but I wouldn't know because I couldn't even win a single race.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Have you ever had a root canal? That's what playing this game feels like.