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TGS 08 hands-on: Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce

When we first heard of Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce (back then it was known by its Asian version name Multi Raid) we didn't think it would be coming over to Western shores. So, it was a nice surprise to see a little press release letting us know that the PSP exclusive will in fact be making a North American and European debut in 2009. Armed with that knowledge, we decided it might be worthwhile checking out the game on the show floor.

We picked up the playable demo. There were three characters available for play: Xiahou Dun, Zhao Yun and Sun Shang Xiang; they were all dressed up in their Dynasty Warriors 6 outfits. We chose to play as Zhao Yun and then picked out a map. The load time was fairly tolerable not taking more than a few seconds. Once the stage loaded up, we noticed that the graphics were not that much different from previous DW games on PSP; the character models look actually slightly blockier though.

Gallery: Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Yggdra Union

Wow, Yggdra Union is tough. That's probably the first thing you'll say after getting through a few matches of Atlus' upcoming PSP SRPG. It'll take a few battles to wrap your head around the unique mechanics of the card game, and although the game does an excellent job of holding your hand, don't expect an easy romp, even in the second battle in the game.

Yggdra Union is a tactical card RPG that will test your tactical capabilities through and through -- there's no grinding here to be found. Battles are typically multi-tiered: just when you think you're done with a level, a new set of increasingly difficult reinforcements appear. However, because your character's morale (essentially, their HP) carries over from battle to battle, across every level, each battle is decisive. If you make too many mistakes with one character, you'll notice that they'll be at a serious disadvantage in upcoming battles. And don't think about grinding to level up your characters: you can't. The story moves at such a brisk pace that your success depends solely on your ability to choose the right cards, and decide exactly how to move your characters through the map.

The basics of battle are easy to explain, but the full ramifications won't truly make sense until you get the game in your hands. Before each conflict, players can choose a certain number of cards. Cards will grant players special abilities, but also have important stats like number of spaces players can move, card strength and weapon affinity. Quite possibly the most important thing to pay attention to is the weapon affinity: certain weapons are stronger than others, and these will be one of the primary factors of a battle's success. For example, swords are stronger than axes, but axes are stronger than spears. Spears, on the other hand, are stronger than swords. This circle gets more complicated with the introduction of magic users and archers.

Gallery: Yggdra Union

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Fading Shadows

When Agetec announced they were going to release Fading Shadows in the US, they invited us to their NYC offices to try the game. We spent a good deal of time with the game -- over 10 levels -- and thoroughly enjoyed this excellent addition to the PSP library.

Yes, one of the game's leading charms is its story. To sum things up shortly, the player becomes a magical beam of light and must direct a girl who's transformed into a magical orb through a series of puzzles. It's strange, we know, but we wouldn't have it any other way. The nonsensical premise is what spurs a mellow, easy-to-understand puzzle adventure game, that's oozing with style.

The interplay between the light and the orb is well constructed. The orb is attracted to the light, and cannot move without it. At first, the light is used simply to get the orb from point A to point B. However, the game becomes more complex. The orb can transform into a variety of elements: wood, glass and metal. In its metal form, it can jump when a strong beam of light is placed on it. Wood can float across water, and glass can traverse its depths. However, players must be careful: overexposure to strong light will burn wood, and shatter glass.

Gallery: Fading Shadows

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: flOw

Within the PlayStation Lounge at GDC, we were able to try out the upcoming PSP version of flOw. The game starts with an interesting attempt to connect to the Network. Interestingly, this is done outside of the usual PSP Network interface. We can only hypothesize that the PSP is looking for other systems to play with, if any happen to be nearby. Unfortunately, no one was able to comment.

From the very get-go, one will see the seriously toned-down graphics. The screenshots initially released don't accurately convey how poorly the transition to PSP has affected the visual presentation. Pixelation is very present, and in spite of the small screen of the PSP, nothing looks very sharp. The framerate didn't seem silky smooth like the PS3 original, either. It doesn't look bad per se, but we were rather disappointed.

Gallery: flOw

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: God of War Chains of Olympus

How long does it take to get to a sex scene with two women? About ten minutes or so. We've playing through God of War: Chains of Olympus, and we are thoroughly impressed. The game starts with a bang -- an incredible cinematic introduction that prepares you for the adventure ahead. Make no mistakes; this is a big-budget affair. Linda Hunt's narration returns for this handheld adventure, and it makes everything feel appropriately epic. Then, the game begins with the same beachfront attack we've all seen in the demo disc.

Although the content is the same, there are a few things we happened to notice. For example, the graphics have managed to get even better. There's much more blood, and lighting seems to have improved quite a bit since we saw it last. Even better, the Efreet magic Kratos learns after beating the first real boss has been made much more brutal: using it sets enemies aflame, and you can hear their pained screams as they flail around helplessly. Awesome.

Gallery: God of War: Chains of Olympus

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: N+

N+ is one of the most stressful games ever made. Its simple exterior hides some of the most gruesome platforming challenges we've ever had to face. There are so many ways to die: fall from to far a height, you die. Get hit by lasers, homing rockets, bombs, mines, flying orbs -- you name it, and it will kill you. Even the most skilled gamer will find themselves getting completely destroyed by each of the game's 200 (!) levels.

While there were clear moments where we felt like simply throwing our PSP systems on the ground, we couldn't help but continue trekking onward. Strangely, you do feel like a ninja while playing the game, and when you're able to successfully complete an episode (which contains multiple levels), you feel truly accomplished. Like any good ninja, your character will be able to make some truly spectacular jumps. Over time, you'll learn how to exploit the wall jump and fly long distances like a pro.

Gallery: N+

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Patapon

Beneath its charming exterior is a complex, deep game. Patapon is not as simple as its childish graphics may lead on. The dying tribe of the Patapon need their God to command them, and after a mysterious absence, you are ready to return to their lives and lead them.

We've been spending some time with a localized near-final version of this PSP exclusive, and we have to say we're impressed. We wouldn't expect any less from the team that brought us LocoRoco. It's hard to pinpoint a genre to this innovative title, as it fuses elements from the music and strategy genre. At its core, it's a rhythm title, as you're required to input commands using various drums at your disposal. At first, you only have two: the Pata and the Pon drums. By inputting notes on the beat, players will be able to command their growing Patapon army. For example, by pressing Pata-Pata-Pata-Pon, the creatures will advance forwards. Then, attacks can be executed by inputting Pon-Pon-Pata-Pon.

There are a number of drum entires possible, and we've yet to learn them all. Eventually, you'll be able to tell the Patapon to hold, or retreat. We're certain that more advanced moves will be unearthed when we unlock the other drums. (Each drum is assigned to a face button, for four drums in all.) Crucial to successful gameplay is keeping with the beat. As you input commands in sequence, the combo meter increases. When a 10 combo is reached, the Patapon enter Fever mode, which greatly increases their killing power. The spears they throw, for example, can traverse from one side of the screen to the other (as seen in the image above). Timing is crucial, as telling the Patapon to advance at the inopportune moment can lead to a number of unfortunate deaths.

Gallery: Patapon

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice

Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice has everything we look for in a handheld title. Its bite-sized missions allow for the game to be picked up and put down at any time, while the tongue-in-cheek story and fun characters make even the exposition entertaining. While the game isn't anything particularly astounding, it has its moments of excellence and is fun throughout.

This is mostly due to the nature of the gameplay - with each new level you may be expected to perform on foot, in a car, a hovercraft or in control of a heavy machine gun. This removes any chance of the game getting monotonous, though if there's a particular mission type you prefer then you may find yourself getting bored waiting for it to come up again. Pursuit Force really shines during car chase missions, when you can jump from car to car popping baddies in the head and ramming into other vehicles on the road. Not only is it great fun, but it looks pretty good too.

Gallery: Pursuit Force Extreme Justice

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PSP Fanboy hands-on: Wipeout Pulse

What could possibly be better than Wipeout Pure? Simple: a sequel. It may be hard to tell from the videos, but Pulse is a vastly improved sequel in almost every way possible. Visually, the graphics have come quite a long way. With the full 333MHz of PSP's power unlocked, it appears Studio Liverpool has doubled the framerate. Yes, Pulse appears to run at a silky smooth 60fps. This is almost unprecedented in a handheld game, especially one that looks as good as this.

The new HUD and announcer is intense, adding a lot of tension to the already-exhilarating gameplay. Weapons are much more important in this iteration of the franchise, as it appears that ships are far less durable than before. Just after a few nicks on the wall, you'll see significant damage accumulate on your shields. Thankfully, you can absorb items by pressing O. We expect the increased power of the weapons to cause far more ships to explode during a race -- and that's just cool.

Another significant change is the way ships control. Even though we're familiar with the teams from Pulse, we were surprised to see how differently they control in this sequel. The ships are much more responsive, and the over-compensation we typically used in the previous game actually had us crashing into walls more often. Obviously, the easier controls will be better for those that found Pure a bit too difficult.

With better graphics, better presentation, better controls, a brand new screenshot mode that lets you capture images in-game all add up to an experience that betters its predecessors in every possible way. We're insanely jealous of our European friends that can play the game now. For the rest of us, we'll have to wait until next year.

Gallery: Wipeout Pulse

PSP Fanboy hands-on: Logan's Shadow

Watch out. Logan's Shadow will redefine what gamers should expect from the Syphon Filter series. No, it will change what people should expect from handheld games in whole. The long-running franchise hits its peak in the upcoming PSP-exclusive Logan's Shadow and provides one of the most intense and immersive handheld experiences ever made. What makes Logan's Shadow so successful is its incredible production values. The graphics take full advantage of the PSP's true power. RUnning at 333MHz, the game outputs some of the system's best graphics, only falling shy of the upcoming SOCOM: Tactical Strike. The graphics found in the game best many PS2 games, with superior interactive water, beautiful volumetric smoke, and intense particle and shader effects. In addition, detailed animation and real-time physics bring the world to life.

The core of Logan's Shadow's success comes in its unrelenting pursuit of bringing a true console experience to the handheld. This is easily the most advanced Syphon Filter yet, allowing players to perform a variety of moves that establishes Gabe Logan as a true badass. Logan has a variety of moves at his disposal: stealth moves allow the player to grapple enemies and dispose of them in unique context-sensitive ways. Sneaking around, taking cover, peeking and blindfiring will be familiar to those that have played Gears of War, and its impressive that the controls translate so well on the PSP's admittedly limited interface. There are so many "wow" moments in the game that handheld gamers would never have expected. For example, in one of Logan's misadventures, he'll have to fight a submarine underwater. Given complete 360 degree freedom whilst fighting enemies underwater and figuring out how to defeat a submarine is one of the most epic experiences I've seen in all of handheld gaming ... and that's just one of the many brilliant set pieces to be found in Logan's Shadow.

There's a lot to rave about the game, but we're not allowed to talk about the game's latter half, which features some truly spectacular moments. Rest assured, it appears that Logan's Shadow will be the single best game ever made for PSP, provided you're a real hardcore gamer. Casual players will be offput by the complex controls and somewhat daunting difficulty level. The incredibly long levels also do the game some harm: gamers will have to devote a hefty amount of time to each level, with each individual level taking upwards of thirty minutes of continuous play. However, with a compelling story, great graphics, and exciting gameplay, you'll want to devote a lot of time to the game. Expect the full review soon.

Gallery: Syphon Filter: Logan's Shadow

PSP Fanboy hands-on: PaRappa the Rapper

PaRappa the Rapper used to be the coolest kid on the block when he came out ten years ago. Although this game was the pioneer of a genre ten years ago, our recent hands-on with the upcoming PSP version has left us underwhelmed. PaRappa is back, but he's just not as cool as you remember him. Like parachute pants, PaRappa hasn't aged very well.

The greatest flaw we see with the game so far is its awkward input mechanism. Sure, music games have always been about pressing buttons at the right time. The problem with PaRappa is that its hard to tell if you're doing well or not ... until it's too late. In Dance Dance Revolution, for example, one would receive a confirmation of a "Great!" or a "Bad" immediately after pressing the button. Without an instant response, its hard to tell how you're performing ... and how to improve yourself.

Also, navigating the menus is a chore, and it's far from intuitive. We're also disappointed to see that the cinematic sequences in the game are bordered horribly: where's our full-screen video? There's still a lot of potential in the game: the game is charming, moves at a brisk pace, and the downloadable content will be available immediately at game's launch. We still have to play through the game some more, but our initial impressions are far from glowing. Stay tuned for more. Until then, check out new images in our gallery.

Gallery: PaRappa the Rapper

PSP Fanboy hands-on: Cube

We've spent a lot of time with D3 Publisher's upcoming action puzzle game, Cube. The basic premise of the game is quite simple: get your cube to the exit. Of course, as is the case with all puzzle games, it's not going to be that easy: you'll have to avoid various traps along the way, lest you meet a blocky death. There are a few elements that spice things up along the way. Firstly, your cube can stick onto any side of the platforms. The game encourages you to traverse through levels any way you want: upside-down, on its side, right-side up. The three dimensionality of the game is interesting, and it opens up a lot of gameplay possibilities.

There are quite a large number of puzzles to tackle in the game, which is a huge plus. Also, there's a level editor so that you can create and share your own puzzles. Our early build doesn't have it, but the final retail version will also have Game Sharing, so you can play with other PSP owners that don't have the game. Considering its budget price ($20), there's a great amount of content, making Cube easily one of PSP's greatest values. However, we're a little concerned about a few presentation issues. It feels like everything is a bit too sluggish: the controls feel a little too slow, and the load times seem a bit too long for a game with such minimalistic graphics. Most annoyingly, you must reload the entire level when replaying it--this will prove to be quite frustrating in the more difficult levels.

Hopefully, these quirks will be ironed out before the game's official release on April 24th. Expect more coverage on PSP Fanboy closer to the game's release.

PSP Fanboy hands-on: Ratchet & Clank

Sony recently sent me a copy of Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters to try out, and so far, I have to say I'm quite impressed. While you'll have to wait until our full review on February 13th to get all the gory details, I'll briefly describe the time I've spent in single player so far. Firstly, the game is quite a visual stunner, especially with the character models. Both Ratchet and Clank are nicely detailed, and they're animated stupendously. There's full voice acting in all the cutscenes which is a nice plus.

The levels themselves are fairly nice looking, and the framerate is very smooth. However, many areas feature some pretty bland textures. Ready at Dawn's Daxter seems to have better graphics, but that game didn't throw as many enemies and particles at you as this does.

The controls are easy to pick up, and although the camera system isn't the most intelligent, it gets the job done. Moving Ratchet around in the environment is easy enough, with the analog nub used for general movement, and the D-Pad used for strafing. You'll frequently switch between these two inputs during battle: it works very well, but may be counter-intuitive for some.

While the missions are a bit too long for my taste, the varied weapons, satisfying power-ups, terrific graphics, and quick load times are making Ratchet and Clank a winner so far. The game seems to feature a lengthy and varied single player experience and I can't wait to get through it all. Of course, the game includes online Infrastructure multiplayer as well.

Expect a full review closer to the game's release.

See also:
Ratchet & Clank multiplayer beta hands-on

PSP Fanboy hands-on: Ratchet & Clank

Did you successfully get into the Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters beta test? The packages have been going out to the lucky GAP members that were fast enough to get into this very exclusive group (only 2000 people were allowed to sign up!). I've been playing a few rounds online, and it's been an overwhelmingly positive experience so far. The graphics are smooth, and the controls are pretty solid. It's been very easy to jump into a game, and the network connection has been fantastic, with lag not noticeable at all.

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