A few weeks ago, I finally jumped on board the PSP train. Like with everything unfamiliar, there’s a learning process that takes a little time to get through. Until last week, I really didn’t know what the PSP minis were. This has changed thanks to SNK Playmore’s three recent PSP mini arcade game port releases. Going into the review process, I had no prior knowledge of Alpha Mission, T.N.K. 3, or Vanguard II. Which of the three titles overcame the lack of nostalgia? Lets break things down game-by-game.
Alpha Mission is a vertical-scrolling shmup along the lines of 1942, Ikaruga, or Triggerheart Excellica. you have a top-down perspective and fire at waves of enemies that enter and exit the screen in various patterns intended to keep the player on his or her toes. In addition to the traditional shooting, you also have missiles that are your only way strike ground (and by ground, I mean space platform) enemies. The game also has power-ups that are revealed after destroying ground targets. Some give you dual shot firing, while others can increase your ship’s movement speed from the crawl that you start out with. I’d explain what some of the other power-ups do, but the PSP mini version doesn’t have any sort of explanation as to which power-up does what.
Alpha Mission is painfully generic. Nothing about it is even remotely compelling. The enemy designs and attack patterns are flat-out dull and uninspired, much like the game’s meager audio offerings. Even bosses aren’t that interesting to either fight or look at. This is Alpha Mission‘s fatal flaw. Shmups live or die based on their gameplay design. People spend $70 or more to import Cave shooters because they usually sport great enemy designs, attack patterns, and bosses. Alpha Mission has none of those traits. Even at the sub-$3 price point, this one is for the nostalgic gamers who played this in the arcades growing up and few else.
Fairing a little better than Alpha Mission is T.N.K. III, a top-down action game where you take control of a tank and use it to take out enemy soldiers and, big surprise, enemy tanks. (Ed- NES veterans may be familiar with the title’s console adaptation- Iron Tank) The game begins with your tank being deployed on a beach. From there, you make your way across the game’s country, which is divided into stages. For you to make your way forward, you’ll have to deal with both enemy forces and the environment. Stages aren’t wide open spaces with a few obstacles peppered in for good measure. Buildings, bridges, trees and more are used to shape and form the battlefield’s kill zones.
The PSP mini version of T.N.K. III surprised me in two ways. For starters, the ability to move backwards towards the bottom of the screen. Most arcade games of this era never allowed you to retreat to previously-explored territory. This can really come in handy when things get a little too intense. The other pleasant surprise is that the game permits the changing of the tank’s turret controls. By default, you control the tank with the d-pad or control stick and use the L and R buttons to rotate the turret to face one of eight directions. This setup can be a bit awkward to use during a tense firefight. By opening the mini version’s menu (by pressing select), you can change the tank’s control style to have the turret always face forward. I have no idea if this control style was available in the original arcade version, but if not, it was a great addition to the mini version.
At $2.99 (or less for Plus members), I’m comfortable recommending it to people looking for a good pick-up-and-play war game. It’s enjoyable in quick spurts, but isn’t going to scratch the itch of people looking for a more drawn out battle on-the-go. If you’re looking for a dose of retro arcade war action, T.N.K. III fits the bill. Recommended.
Playing like a top-down All-Range mode from Star Fox 64 and its new 3D remake, Vanguard II has you flying around a space station with the goal of destroying a certain number of power pods. Once you have taken out the specified number of pods, you commence your attack on the core. These cores pack a lot of firepower and to make matters worse, the game features one-hit kills. In the PSP mini version, you can “fix” this problem by enabling immortality, which defeats the purpose of playing the game to begin with.
Like Alpha Mission, you have one weapon for ship-to-ship fighting and one for taking out the power pods and other land targets. Displayed in front of your ship is a crosshair. This is where your ground target round will hit. It sounds simple enough, but it isn’t. Because of the game using only eight directions, the ship moves sharply when the direction is altered. This makes lining up both power pod and standard shots more of a hassle than a challenge. With quick deaths resulting in quick game overs, I found that I had to hold myself back from tinkering with the settings to make the game a more worthy use of my time. Even if you’re open to the idea of using the immortal option the game provides, you’ll still be faced with the challenge of actually having to play the game, something you’re probably better off not doing to begin with.
With all three games, original cabinet or promo artwork is displayed on the loading screen, as well as on the sides of the screen where the gameplay window doesn’t stretch when playing with the original aspect ratio. The games have the ability to save your place in the game. However, you must manually load the save states after the game itself has loaded. This is not the save data loaded when the game is launched. None of the games have digital instruction manuals with them. All three are playable on both the PSP and PS3.