I’m not going to say 2009 has been dominated by the PSP, because it most certainly hasn’t. Sony kicked this year off with the same indifference it’s shown to its handheld platform throughout 2008, but as the iPhone rose to a position of portable political power it was very reassuring to see Sony answer that challenge.
The introduction of PSP Minis was definitely a highlight for the aging device, though the PSPgo was a bitter-tasting reminder of Sony’s dislocation from reality.
The push toward a more digital marketplace is what has really given us cause to celebrate the PSP in 2009, and most every one of its top titles has tipped its hat toward digital downloads.
Now if Sony can remember how competitive pricing works, 2010 could be a great year to own a PSP.
Top 10 best PSP games of 2009
Developer: Cowboy Rodeo
Let’s kick off the retrospective with something old skool. Pinball Fantasies is one of those retro titles that nailed its gameplay so accurately that it really doesn’t feel retro at all.
This Amiga pinball simulator saw a first class conversion to PSP, with the option to rotate the game into a portrait orientation allowing for a field of visibility the game has never before enjoyed.
The truth of the matter is that the Pinball Dreams series has seldom - if ever - been beaten in terms of pinball simulation, and the makers have offered it once again as a very affordable PSP Minis game with a pixel perfect port guaranteed it success.
Developer: Subatomic Studios
Publisher: Subatomic Studios
The thing that got us all excited about PSP Minis is the potential to create an App Store alternative for PSP, and several developers saw the opportunity to bring their games over from the iPhone.
Fieldrunners is part of a massively busy tower defence genre on its original platform, but PSP is somewhat lacking in this arena so its arrival was very warmly received.
The tactical depth and chaotic onslaught of enemies brings Fieldrunners a step closer to arcade action than most tower defence games can managed, which matches the PSP’s remit perfectly.
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Sony needed a flagship game to help it push the hardware-confused PSPgo, and Gran Turismo was a great choice. This racing title was one of the most anticipated PSP games since the console was first released, and your five year patience was rewarded with one of the best driving experiences the platform has ever seen.
The notion that the PSP is a handheld PS2 was conclusively proven by Gran Turismo, which offers 35 tracks and a mind-blowing 800 cars all crammed into one of the biggest racing games ever created.
Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny
I don’t much care what all the other genres are in this top 10 list, but I couldn’t comfortably lay awake at night knowing we didn’t have a good tooth-loosening beat-‘em-up or two in there.
2009 wasn’t looking too special on the fighting game front until Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny came along, but this portable spin-off from the PS2 franchise has held its own in the big boy’s arena admirably.
Chuck in a cameo from the God of War’s Kratos, and it’s blood, teeth and hair flying in all direction in this amazing looking and fast moving fighter.
Developer: Frima Studio
Strategy games don’t easily lend themselves to button controls, so the PSP is a bit lacking in this arena. But strategy games do work well when it comes to smaller, bite-sized titles, so Zombie Tycoon slotted into PSP Minis beautifully.
The bizarre plot puts you in control of an increasingly large horde of undead looking to besiege some well-armed survivors in a small town.
As always, destruction is much more fun than construction, and levelling the town while scoffing the brains of the living makes for a deliciously amusing distraction.
Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier
Developer: High Impact Games
The dynamic PS2 duo return to the PSP for a platforming romp that - on face value - doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of exciting new gameplay features, but instantly reminds you what a great story and a bucketfull of humour can do for a game.
The gameplay might be very recognisable, but the graphical polish is about as shiny as the PSP has ever seen. Add to that the superlative quality of the script and top notch banter between the boy and his... strange, small, wise-cracking rat-type-thing and Jak and Daxter’s latest adventure appears more and more vital to your 2009 collection.
Developer: Sony Bend
Despite being an inherently connected device, the PSP has never really enjoyed the multiplayer experience to any great degree, and certainly not this year.
Resistance: Retribution went some way toward resolving that oversight, by unifying all aspects of the game directly through the PlayStation Network.
Five different modes of online play make this one of the finest examples of online play - on this platform or any - and the game is packed with achievements and rewards that encourage players to keep hounding those buttons.
PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe
While tower defence is seeing a small resurgence thanks to Minis, the big brother of the genre on PSP is undoubtedly PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe.
This is one of the few examples of tower defence that still makes a sincere effort to provide a full and deep gaming experience, as you try to protect your village from wave upon wave of monsters.
The sad thing about this game is that huge levels of piracy have caused developer Q-Games to abandon the PSP after just one game release, so picking up PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe (legally) is doubly essential.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
The fastest selling game ever on the DS has proven itself to be entertaining regardless of platform, as the PSP version performs just as well - if not better - than its dual-screen counterpart.
What’s especially entertaining here is that the GTA franchise returns to its top-down roots but still manages to work in the sort of rich organised crime backstory that’s taken the living room consoles by storm.
All the violence and recklessness is present in droves, but so is the underlying salacious humour of the original game that was surgically removed from GTA III onward, and it’s this sense of humour that has made Chinatown Wars one of the PSP’s most essential games of all time.
Developer: Studio Liverpool
I still believe the entire purpose of LittleBigPlanet was a salvage operation for the woefully expensive and floundering PS3. And it worked. So when the PSPgo emerged with its wallet-smashing price tag, Sony knew just where to turn. And once again, it worked.
This is the game that reinvented the platform genre, which is no small task. Considering few games have done more for the genre since Mario first attempted to scale Donkey Kong’s girders, the brilliantly inventive design and mind-boggling vastness make LittleBigPlanet a marvel to behold.
It should be enough to say that this is the first time Pocket Gamer reviewer and media editor Fraser has ever given away a Platinum Award, and when you couple that with the game’s ability to sell the over-priced and under-equipped PSPgo, the importance and sheer entertainment value of LittleBigPlanet become clear. You simply have to own it.