It’s been ten years since the PSP was at the top of its game, a handheld that doesn’t get enough credit for managing to hold its own for several years against the juggernaut that was the Nintendo DS. And although a lot of the better games for the system are now either available on PSN or in some other form elsewhere, there are a number of great PSP games that still remain strictly tied to the system and its ill-fated UMD format. Below is my list of the five best games that have thus far only ever been released as a physical PSP game.
5 – Downstream Panic!
Following in the tradition of visually arresting PSP games like LocoRoco and physics-based puzzlers like World of Goo, DownSteam Panic! is a charming title that tasks you with guiding schools of fish down maze-like levels via the game’s realistic water physics system. Considering that this game is so obscure it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page, the chances of anyone bothering to put it on PSN are slim to none. That’s too bad, as Downstream was that rare game that showed that the PSP’s library wasn’t just for PS2 ports and “edgy” games but could be just as fun and quirky as anything on the DS.
4 – Mega Man Powered Up
This was one of Capcom’s last attempts at doing anything significant with the Mega Man brand, and its poor sales probably didn’t help convince the company that the embattled franchise was worth doing much with anymore. It’s too bad, because Powered Up is a really great re-imagining of the first Mega Man title. It probably wasn’t quite meaty enough to be a full-priced PSP release, especially on a system that was developing a reputation for generous retro compilations with dozens of games. Had Powered Up been released a few years later as a $10 PSN or XBLA game, I’m confident it would’ve been a huge hit. And its absence from PSN is all the more baffling considering its counterpart, Mega Man Maverick Hunter X, is available for download.
3 – Metal Gear Acid 2
I could’ve easily picked either Acid game, but the sequel was slightly better so it’s here representing both games. Developers weren’t quite confident at first in bringing their big AAA 3D franchises to the PSP intact, so they would rework them into more handheld-friendly genres. In the case of Metal Gear, the stealth-action series became a card-based strategy series, and a really good one at that. Seeing beloved MGS characters (and great newcomers like Venus) in cel-shading was another neat bonus of the series, as was cranking up the subtle humor of the core series into being more overtly silly. Peacewalker is a fantastic game and the ultimate portable MGS game, no doubt about it–but for my money, I’ll take either of the Acid games over the slightly disappointing (and cumbersome to play) Portable Ops.
2 – Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception
Even the big-name franchises that had full-fledged PSP installments–God of War, Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto, Ratchet & Clank et al–typically had the distinct feeling that the PSP entries were more “side games” than true core entries in the series. Not so with Ace Combat X, that not only very much felt like a core entry in the series but it ended up being one of the franchise’s best games. The fast-paced aerial action of the AC series was a perfect fit for the PSP, handling all of the franchise’s signature gameplay with ease and looking fantastic while doing it. Not needing a second “camera stick” in a flight game certainly helped, as that was always one of the PSP’s biggest weaknesses. If any PSP game deserves to not only be on PSN but have a full HD remake, ACX is it.
1 – Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
It finally happened: Something with the FFVII named attached to it besides the original game that was actually worthy of such a legendary title. Telling the story that directly precedes the events of FFVII and starring Cloud’s predecessor rather than Cloud himself was exactly what a FFVII follow-up needed in order to succeed, and the streamlined, short-burst combat was perfect for a handheld system. And yet, this surprising gem continues to be relegated to only being playable via a dead media format on a dead handheld–while Square-Enix pours expense and effort into HD remakes of far lesser PSP games (Final Fantasy Type-O? Yawn). Don’t get me wrong, I love that the PSP still has a few games that uniquely belong to it that people who either didn’t bother to buy a PSP or were quick to abandon it don’t get to play. But a game this good deserves to be played by as many people as possible, especially when it’s probably the best we’ll ever see of the Final Fantasy VII world in 3D (yep, I said it).
“But wait, what about…!?”
Well, before you comment with the games I missed, I would like to explain my criteria. I considered only games that are exclusive to the PSP and not only aren’t currently available on PSN, but haven’t been brought to another platform in any way. So I didn’t count games that were ported to PS2 (or any other system), games that were remakes of games from previous systems (so calm down, Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean fans), or games that have since been remade in some fashion (like Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep‘s HD remake being included in the Kingdom Hearts 2.5D Remix collection). Taking all that into account, if I still having any glaring omissions, please let me know!