Portable gaming has long been Nintendo’s domain but no company has come closer to effectively competing than Sony. Nintendo had long established its place at the top by the time Sony’s PlayStation Portable first hit retail shelves, which only made the portable market more spectacular as the two companies went head to head.
It also just so happened that Sony couldn’t have picked a better time to release its handheld.
Nintendo was still releasing games for the “core” gaming audience but its eyes were especially focused on anyone that wasn’t already playing games. This gave the PlayStation Portable the perfect window to captivate players with big-budget graphics and sequels to big console franchises like Metal Gear and Final Fantasy. Though there were successes, in the end, the Nintendo DS was unstoppable. But the PSP still had some truly remarkable titles and hidden gems that remain essential almost twenty years later.
Here are just a few of the PSP’s hidden gems that you should play the next time you’re looking for something special or different.
MediEvil: Resurrection is an interesting game. It’s a re-imagining of the PlayStation version of MediEvil. It was released five years after the original version and came at a time when remakes and remasters were less common. The story of its existence is short but fascinating nonetheless.
The PlayStation Portable was releasing soon and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe commissioned SCE Cambridge Studio to create a launch title for the system but with a massive catch. The team would only have one year to develop and complete the game. It probably would have been a more reasonable amount of time for a less capable handheld, like the Game Boy Advance but expectations for the PSP were high. It was the first real competitor to Nintendo in ages. The last “big” challenger was Nokia’s N-Gage, which I really want to talk about, but in a dedicated article where we can really dive into that thing. The system and its marketing were worse than the Wii U.
Anyways, Sony on the other hand had proven to be a capable player in the video game industry. Sony’s first system was incredibly successful and included several impressive first-party titles. The PlayStation 2 was the same story but on a far grander scale shattering sales records and establishing itself as one of the greatest consoles of all time. PlayStation promised the future with the PSP but it’s also what everyone would have expected at that time anyway.
Part of the PSP’s promise was power and games on a similar scale and style to console titles. MediEvil: Resurrection was the perfect choice for a PSP launch title. It was the perfect foundation to build the PlayStation Portable’s future on top of. MediEvil has (unfortunately) always been a lesser-known property compared to the rest of PlayStation’s properties, but that it’s still proven to be successful with two console games. Taking what the first game did and trying to make it better for a portable system was brilliant. Fans of the original could play a definitive version in their hands and everyone would be able to see the improvements in the newer version. Nintendo did this with Ocarina of Time 3D on the company’s 3DS years later. Seeing a better version of a console game on a new handheld just works. It probably didn’t work as well with MediEvil: Resurrection but I mean come on, it’s Ocarina of Time, so let’s all be nice to Sir Daniel Fortesque!
MediEvil: Resurrection received mixed reviews when it came out but mostly due to “lack of innovation” and its camera controls. I really don’t think we were as equipped to review and analyze remasters in the mid-2000s. They just weren’t as common and while “this feels like an old game” is a fair point, it’s also just kind of a given, right? Anyway, the camera controls are rough on the PS1 game and they’re no better on the PSP, thanks to Sony’s bizarre decision to give the PSP a single analog stick. (Even though the DualShock was everyone’s favorite controller at the time …)
MediEvil is an action-adventure game with hack and slash combat. It’s set in a spooky but weirdly humorous world. And it always feels like it’s Halloween. It’s not a musical though.
The soundtrack is legitimately one of my favorite video game soundtracks. It’s emotionally stirring whether you’ve been before or not. It’s just good. The game follows Sir Daniel Fortesque as he attempts to stop the evil sorcerer Zarok. Did I mention this is after Sir Dan already died?
Yeah, he’s brought back to life after being the first to fall a hundred years prior, and by Zarok’s doing both times no less. Sir Dan received high honors in his last life despite having no accomplishments beyond dying first in the battle against Zarok in 1286.
Zarok re-emerges a hundred years later, raising an undead army and bringing any he can persuade to aid him in his plot to overtake the realm of Gallowmere. It’s a super fun game with a lot of heart. It’s an older game but you’re already cool with older games, aren’t you?
The PS4 version is probably the best version of MediEvil but this remake is the best version of the original game. The remake looks better but Resurrection carries the original spirit of the PS1 classic with some fun additions and extra content. Don’t you dare live your life without hearing this soundtrack.
Split/Second is a fast-paced and action-packed racing game that’s wrapped around a futuristic reality show premise. Participants race for money and fame but the races can also be their end. As you build up your power meter by drifting and performing stunts (think Crazy Taxi and Crash Team Racing), you’ll gain the ability to unleash different attacks and environmental traps on opponents.
It feels like a kart racer but with a more grim edge and setting. It still feels like an arcade racer but much more attention and focus is paid to physics. The PSP version is actually the best version of this game and it’s in part due to it having more enhanced physics than the other versions of the game. The PSP version of Split/Second also has one more track than the console/PC version. Split/Second is definitely a title every PSP owner should play at least once.
Lord of Arcana
Lord of Arcana has some rough camera spots just like MediEvil: Resurrection but it’s still pretty fun. The combat isn’t overly complicated, which is perfect for short bursts of game time, and you get to fight demons and monsters. It’s fun to play and move around in the world, despite the lack of a second stick on the PSP. Lord of Arcana isn’t perfect but it’s still a fun little game that every PSP owner should have in their collection.
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception strikes a good balance in its gameplay and style. It has semi-realistic flight sim gameplay but it isn’t too realistic. It’s right in the middle so fans of flight sims and Star Fox alike should be able to have a good time. I usually crash when I fly things in games but I was able to make it through the game’s entire main mode. The story is either forgettable or I lost interest and couldn’t pay attention. But whatever, it took me about six hours to finish it and I had fun almost the entire time. I played on the easiest difficulty for maximum fun levels and you can too.
Tenchu Shadow Assassins
Tenchu Shadow Assassins might sound familiar. It was also released for the Nintendo Wii. This version of the stealth/action title doesn’t require motion controls though and plays a lot better in my opinion. Stealth is the main focus of the game but there’s a fun catch when you get caught. The game has a first-person sword sequence that’s like a little rhythm game that plays out during combat. It’s the right balance between engagement and difficulty. It reminds me of BioShock’s hacking mini-game but I don’t think I’d ever get tired of this. I was definitely rolling with auto-hack tools by the last third of BioShock. Tenchu Shadow Assassins has really great graphics for a portable title from its time as well.
Jeanne d’Arc is a super neat game that everyone should at least be aware of. It’s such a unique and creative title. Jeanne d’Arc is loosely based on the life of Joan of Arc with some changes thrown in as well. It’s a nice blend of fantasy action and history, along with some supernatural elements thrown in as well.
It does get pretty difficult, which should please the majority of the target audience. It’s a strategy tactics game and should appeal to most fans of Final Fantasy Tactics, as well as the Fire Emblem and Advance Wars franchises. I tend to end up needing a guide once I get far enough into SRPGs but you may be better at video games than I am.
If you’re interested in the story but less interested in directly controlling the gameplay then a No-Commentary Playthrough might be a good alternative. Jeanne d’Arc is a unique title that could only come from Level 5.
Sid Meier’s Pirates
Sid Meier’s Pirates is an updated and largely improved version of the original game, which was originally released on the Commodore 64. I haven’t played the Commodore 64 but have put a significant amount of time into the PSP version over the years. This version has treasure hunting that’s new and exclusive to this version.
You can go on voyages and all sorts of pirate adventures. Gameplay includes sailing, ship battles, interacting at ports, exploring, and more. It’s a great title and an especially good portable game. It’s also probably the only way to experience this classic title if you didn’t play a Commodore 64 when it was new. There are more than twenty years between the two versions and it shows, for better or worse.
The original game was probably really immersive and exciting but our expectations change as technology progresses and it’s progressed a lot since 1987. Not necessarily for the better because of the, you know what? Let’s pretend the world is fine for ten more minutes and talk about video games. We’re all going to be fine. I just know it. Pirate games are fun and we need more of them immediately, in case humans don’t make it or whatever.
Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice
Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played but I would very much like to play more games like it. You basically play as an A-team type person of sorts. You need to take down the biggest gangs in the Capital State area, and there are several of these games. You need to take out enemies and eliminate the boss of each gang.
Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice is filled with action and it’s fun to play and control. Most of the game consists of shooting and destroying enemy vehicles — and then quickly jumping to another enemy vehicle to keep moving. Jumping to different vehicles seconds before they explode while killing enemies is pretty fun. It almost feels like an action rhythm game.
This seems like a cheap pick but I genuinely can’t imagine the PlayStation Portable without emulation. It was released when I was in high school and I saw so many other kids experience iconic titles like E.V.O.: Search for Eden and smash hits like Super Mario 64. Games they otherwise may have missed since time sadly isn’t friendly to games or the preservation of art in general. And it was a hidden “feature” too since the PSP definitely didn’t play Power Quest out of the box.
If you had a PSP, you most certainly played stuff like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Pokémon Silver Version on it. Sony made it more difficult to mod the system with later revisions but the determination to make the PlayStation Portable the only thing they needed in their pocket kept the modding and hacking community moving. And it helped keep the PlayStation Portable alive. It would have survived with the ability to use emulators and play pirated movies but would it have lived?
PlayStation’s handheld future remains uncertain, especially after how the PlayStation Vita was handled by Sony. The successor to the PSP received modest first-party support at first but Sony’s focus steadily shifted from the Vita to the PS4 as time went on. It’s sad too. PlayStation’s handheld legacy is a short tale but some of the most passionate people in the world are living their best lives on Vita Island.