Before launching in late 2004, the PlayStation Portable (PSP) was touted as the second coming of handheld gaming. The full-color, backlit, widescreen, 3D-rendering console was released to capitalize on the dominant success of the PlayStation 2. The PSP received boatloads of hype and, paired with an aggressive marketing campaign, was poised to surpass the Game Boy as the most popular mobile gaming brand, years before smartphones shifted the paradigm. Little of that happened, with the console instead being overshadowed by Nintendo’s DS.
The PSP still offers a slew of fun, unique games, as well as several handheld takes on already-popular franchises. If you’re a PSP owner, or if you’re thinking about picking one up — a used PSP in great condition is available on Amazon for $115 — we’ve picked out some of the best PSP games that we think are still worth your time and money.
Burnout: Legends takes the high-velocity racing of Burnout 3: Takedown and adds several tracks and gameplay modes from the first two Burnout titles to create a deep, extremely enjoyable package for racing fans. Legends brings back fan-favorite tracks and modes like Pursuit, where players can take control of a police car and try to take down illegal street racers before they escape.
All told, the game includes 95 unlockable cars, 18 distinct maps, and nine unique race types (including the ever-popular Crash, where you simply fly into intersections and try to rack up huge property damage bills). It’s enough to keep your thumbs busy for days.
Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood released in Japan in 1993 to critical acclaim, but an English version of the game was never made — well, until 2007, when Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles made its way to the PSP. Chronicles included both Rondo and its celebrated sequel, Castlevania: Symphony of Terror, in one incredible vampire-slaying package.
In Chronicles, you play as protagonists Richter Belmont and Alucard, and try to navigate perilous 2D, side-scrolling castles and dungeons in an effort to take down Dracula. Old-school Castlevania fans and newcomers alike should enjoy the game’s excellent soundtrack and updated visuals.
A mobile side-story set between Jak and Daxter and Jak II, one of the most iconic gaming franchises of all time, went mobile with this 2006 release, which brings the focus back to pure, unadulterated platforming. Daxter is a front-to-back romp full of personality and humor that perfectly complements the light, skill-based platforming that dominates the gameplay. The PSP’s visuals are a bit dated at this point, sure, but Daxter‘s vibrant colors and subtle details inject the game with a ton of flair. Add in some mini-games that lampoon popular movies, and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice handheld game.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Fans of the Final Fantasy series will feel right at home in this real-time action prequel to the original PlayStation classic FFVII. As protagonist Zack Fair, a member of Soldier and a minor character in FFVII, you’ll search for missing Soldiers Angeal and Genesis, and learn about the truth behind the Shinra corporation.
The game features real-time combat, creating a seamless experience, and emails that Zack receives throughout the game provide additional context and a greater sense of immersion. Crisis Core is built exclusively for gaming on the go, too, as dozens of short side quests provide entertainment for the bus or train ride home.
God of War: Chains of Olympus and God of War: Ghost of Sparta
Everyone’s favorite combo-droppin’, god-slayin’ combat machine returned for 2008’s God of War: Chains of Olympus and 2010’s God of War: Ghost of Sparta. Both games, made by developer Ready At Dawn, feature a clever adaptation of God of War‘s control scheme and are among the most visually impressive titles made for the console.
In Chains, we get to see Kratos during his 10-year service to the gods of Olympus, as he attempts to rescue Helios — who, ironically, he would later kill — and save the Greek pantheon from Morpheus, the god of dreams, and Persephone, the queen of the underworld. Ghost of Sparta follows Kratos after the events of the original God of War, as he searches for his lost brother Deimos and confronts Thanatos in his domain of Death. Steeped in Greek lore, Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta provide tons of insight into the life of Kratos before the events of God of War, making them must-plays for fans of the series.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
Just because you don’t have a car doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun on the road! Thanks to Rockstar Games, you can steal cars and stage epic shootouts with the police — all from the back seat of a public bus. Liberty City Stories, a prequel to Grand Theft Auto III, follows Antonio “Toni” Cipriani as ascends the ranks of the Italian mafia in Liberty City. Vice City Stories, a prequel to Vice City, centers around soldier Victor Vance as he builds a crime empire in Miami-esque Vice City.
Those familiar with Grand Theft Auto won’t see much difference from the console titles in terms of gameplay or features, though they play out on a smaller “portable” open world. The series’ distinctive charm still comes through, though, from the humorous cutscenes to cops that just don’t know when to quit. If you’re a fan of the franchise, you won’t want to miss out on these two PSP games.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Though we have now played Kingdom Hearts III — and even the massive expansion Kingdom Hearts III: ReMind — they were little more than a twinkle in Square Enix’ eye when Birth by Sleep came out in 2010. At the time, this PSP side-story gave fans of the series something to tide them over in the meantime — and some reassurance that the series was still alive and well.
Birth by Sleep brings back the popular combat system from Kingdom Hearts 2 with some welcome additions. Notably, the Command System allows players to customize a Command Deck for combat and a Focus bar that replaces the old MP (magic point) system. The plot follows Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, three apprentice Keyblade wielders, on their journey throughout several Disney environments.
Where the original Lumines captured audiences with its unique blend of rhythm and strategy, the follow-up brought big-name artists such as Gwen Stefani and Missy Elliott into the fray. This simple-yet-challenging puzzle game looks like Tetris at first glance but packs so much more into its sleek package. The player keeps their board clear by creating square shapes using solid colors; each stage has two sets of colorful blocks that drop in four-block-boxes with randomized patterns.
The game synchronizes a sweeping bar that moves across the screen from left to right with a number of musical tracks, composed of varying speeds. The speed of the beat determines the speed of the bar, which, in turn, determines how fast you’ll need to create your squares to keep the board clean. The game is set up so that you’ll need to complete tracks in a linear fashion to unlock the next track, which is an annoyance for some and an obsession for others. Either way, the game is perfectly suited to the short periods of play time that mobile gaming affords.
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters
Developer High Impact Games somehow found a way to take Sony’s beloved Ratchet and Clank franchise, and replicate it almost perfectly on the PSP. This time around, Ratchet and Clank set out to rescue a little girl named Luna from an ancient race called the Technomites and their leader, Otto Destruct.
The series’ signature charm returns, as does the explosive gameplay packed with unique weapons for Ratchet and engaging puzzle sequences for Clank. Skill points, titanium bolts, the R.Y.N.O., they all return triumphantly in Size Matters. Ironically, the title also turns out to be wrong in this case: Ratchet & Clank can be awesome on consoles of all shapes and sizes.
Secret Agent Clank
Another sidekick gets his own game! In the series’ third installment, Up Your Arsenal, Clank is seen filming a television series as Secret Agent Clank — something of a James Bond lampoon. When his Lombax companion gets thrown in jail (sound familiar?), Clank sets out to solve the mysterious theft of a gem known as the Eye of Infinity. Utilizing several gadgets — including the Tie-a-Rang, the Thunderstorm Umbrella, and the Cuff Link Bombs — he fights and platforms his way through a story that’s as humorous and cinematic as any other game in the series.
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