[ Release: 2005 - Company: Sony - Genre: Sports ]
Despite being a tragically bad sports game that fails on every level, there's something I like about NBA. It must be the game's honesty. Sony isn't trying to mislead you. They didn't even add the year, as if to tell you that they know this series isn't going to last very long. The title suggests that this will be the lone NBA game, renamed next year when Sony gets their act together. Even though I joke, I suspect I'm not far from the truth. NBA is an abject failure, easily one of the worst sports games to hit the PSP. The shooting system is hard to use, animations look bad, the graphics are a mixed bag and nothing about the controls feels natural. It demonstrates every sign of being rushed for launch. But even with a few extra months, I doubt NBA would have won over many fans. NBA teaches us an important rule: Never buy a game with only three letters!
NFL Street 2 Unleashed
[ Release: 2005 - Company: Electronic Arts - Genre: Sports ]
NFL Street 2 Unleashed should have been the first sign that Electronic Arts was not going to take the PSP seriously. Instead of come up with brand new content, EA fell back on their recent console releases. NFL Street 2 is just one of the examples of mindless ports, something that would ultimately be used against the fledgling PSP. As a port, NFL Street 2 isn't bad. The console game was fun, but not deep enough to be a real contender. This PSP port is equally shallow, but works better in short doses. The game's load times and fidgety controls ultimately keep me from recommending an otherwise solid port. On the plus side, I did have fun with the mini-games. Though, I'm sure I could have done without the dance competition. No, seriously. It's a shame Electronic Arts decided not to focus their attention on something more original. This is a company that played it safe and suffered because of it.
Need for Speed Underground Rivals
[ Release: 2005 - Company: Electronic Arts - Genre: Racing ]
Don't focus too much of your attention on Electronic Arts' cynical attempt to cash in at the PSP's launch. Much like NFL Street 2 Unleashed, Need for Speed Underground Rivals is a slightly updated version of a PlayStation 2 game. I wasn't a big fan of the console counterpart, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with this PSP port. It's easy to jump right into an event, which is perfect for a portable system. Plus, everything you do gives you points towards unlocking new upgrades. Gone is all of the useless padding that made the console games such a grind, Need for Speed Underground Rivals is at its best on the PSP. Unfortunately, it's also the worst of the three launch day racing games. Both wipEout and Ridge Racer feel faster and control better. Plus, neither of those racing games make you suffer through annoying rift challenges. I still give Electronic Arts points for improving on an otherwise mediocre racing game.
Critics may call it Tetris with a techno sound track, but anybody that plays Lumines knows better. This is a masterpiece, arguably the single best game released in the PlayStation Portable's first year. The idea is as simple as matching colors and waiting for a beat marker to come by and erase them from the screen. What sets this game apart is the varying speed and the learning curve. The gameplay may be a simple variation on Puyo Puyo, but it offers enough original ideas to make fans spend countless rounds relearning the ropes. In most puzzle games the beat gets faster and faster, making it hard for you to quickly maneuver the falling pieces into place. That is not the case with Lumines. The game's tempo changes with each level; you'll find yourself going from fast to slow to everything in between. Believe it or not, the very act of slowing the tempo down can really screw up your game, turning the conventions of Tetris on its head. The game does suffer from two problems: There is no way to play random levels (it's always the same songs in the same order) and the game caps your score, giving expert players no incentive to keep going. Even with these minor complaints, Lumines was just the kind of masterpiece the PSP needed on day one.
At one time you would be forgiven for thinking that Ridge Racer was the PlayStation's most important launch game. After all, the first Ridge Racer (the one people affectionately mock as "Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiidge Racer") proved that the original PlayStation wasn't messing around. Unfortunately, as Sony started adding numbers to their consoles, Namco's venerable race franchise started to lose a lot of its luster. Thankfully that's not the case with the confusingly titled PSP release. There are more than three tracks in this best-of release. In fact, the game has a ton of content, much more than you expect from a Ridge Racer release. It combines the best courses and cars from the first few Ridge Racer games, updating the graphics and remixing the music. Best of all, thanks to the power of swapping discs, it's easy to play multiplayer with only one UMD. The game sharing isn't as user friendly as Nintendo DS games of the time, but it's still a great way to go head-to-head in the PSP's second best racing game at launch.
When it came to early sales, Sony was banking on the star power of Spider-Man 2. As added incentive, early PSP adopters were given the Spider-Man 2 movie on UMD. Apparently Sony wasn't the only company looking to capitalize on the success of Sam Raimi's movie, because here comes the Spider-Man 2 game from Activision. Although it comes with a familiar name, at least Activision decided to make a brand new game for the PSP (that's more than I can say about Electronic Arts). Spider-Man 2 looks good and is a solid enough action game, but the whole experience is over too quickly. The game also sucks out the emotional core of the film, leaving us with nothing but a bunch of good looking set pieces. Like a lot of middling software in the PSP line-up, Spider-Man 2 was too expensive at launch. These days you can find this game for pennies, which makes this action game a lot more tempting.