This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Launched in 2004, Sony’s PlayStation Portable attempted to upstage its competitors through sheer firepower: with its 32-bit processor and crisp display, it was capable of running games closer to a home console than a typical handheld. And while the Nintendo DS wound up selling more units, the PSP was also a great success, with about 80 million systems sold between its launch and its demise in 2014.
Over that time, the PSP garnered an impressive library of over 1300 games. According to VGChartz’s data, many of these were ports or spin-offs from franchises on the PSP’s big sister, the PlayStation 3. If you own a PSP, you’ve more than likely played such titles as Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (which sold 7.6 million copies, fact fans), Gran Turismo (3.2 million copies) or God of War: Chains of Olympus (3.1 million). Not all games can create such a dent in the market, though, and of those hundreds of games in the PSP’s history, there are dozens that slipped by largely unnoticed.
The following list is devoted to highlighting some of our favorite underrated games. Some are ports of great games from other systems; others are stand-alone titles that you won’t find anywhere else. But whether you’re into racing, action, or RPGs, we’re pretty sure you’ll find something of interest on this list of hidden classics…
25. Mega Man Powered Up
Although the lion’s share of Mega Man titles came out on Nintendo systems, the Blue Bomber also made a notable appearance on the PSP. In essence, Powered Up is a remake of the original Mega Man from 1987, but the completely reworked polygon graphics, cutscenes, and full voice-acting give this release its own look and feel. The 2D action is fast and smooth, and all the original Robot Masters are present and correct. The remake’s joined by the original NES version, plus the welcome addition of a level editor – meaning that Mega Man beat Mario Maker to the punch by about a decade. At one stage, Capcom was planning to make an entire series of Mega Man remakes. Sadly, the commercial disappointment of this first outing nipped all that in the bud.
24. Gradius Collection
Collecting together five of Konami’s classic 2D shooters on one tiny disc, the Gradius Collection‘s fairly self-explanatory. Here you’ll find the first four arcade games, all emulated pretty much perfectly on the PSP’s pin-sharp screen – and we have to say, if you love space ship shooters, the Gradius games work on the handheld extremely well. What makes the Gradius Collection a must-have, though, is its inclusion of Gradius Gaiden – Konami’s PlayStation-exclusive spin-off that appeared in 1997. Released solely in Japan, Gradius Gaiden‘s an overlooked classic all by itself – a superb mix of traditional shooting action, great 2D sprites and 3D graphics, and a firm-but fair difficulty curve.
23. Patapon 3
Released relatively late in the PSP’s life, Patapon 3 isn’t quite as well known as the previous entries, but it’s another delightfully odd rhythm-action game. Lead your army of creatures to victory through a mix of expertly timed button presses and canny strategic decisions – and prepare to have the infuriatingly catchy music trapped in your head for days.
22. Loco Roco 2
Although it offers more of the same world-tilting, rolling action as its predecessor, Loco Roco 2 offers a wealth of new abilities (including the ability to venture underwater), catchy tunes, and adorable moments of cartoon whimsy. If you’ve had a long day at work, the Loco Roco games are a great way to unwind. Relaxing and funny, they never fail to lift the spirits.
It’s a relic from the Amiga era, but Lemmings feels right at home on the PSP. Its bite-sized levels and fast-paced problem-solving remain as charming in handheld form as they ever were. The PSP version of Lemmings contains updated graphics and new levels to solve, while the ability to zoom in and out of the action makes the task of selecting icons and applying them to individual lemmings a simple enough task. The basic gameplay remains the same as always: guide those mindless critters from entrance to exit without letting too many of them die. With over a 150 new stages and a level editor, though, this is arguably one of the most polished and complete versions of Lemmings made so far.
20. Hammerin’ Hero
Although it dates back to the ’80s, this action franchise has always been a bit obscure, perhaps because its design feels so distinctly Japanese. Like earlier entries, Hammerin’ Hero is simple stuff: you play a little guy with a big temper and an even bigger hammer. Dashing through a range of 2D stages, Harry (or Gen as he’s known in Japan) specializes in bashing everyone and everything into oblivion. He’s a bit like Thor, but without the mullet and grandiose vocabulary.
A simple yet hugely entertaining game, Hammerin’ Hero‘s enlivened further by its very odd sense of humor: one boss is essentially a huge inflatable dinosaur, while the plot involves Harry rushing around Japan and solving people’s problems with his hammer. Assuming you don’t expect too much in the way of depth, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with Hammerin’ Hero.
19. Parodius Portable
As a venue for handheld versions of old arcade classics, the PSP was pretty much unmatched until the Nintendo Switch came along. Like the Gradius Collection before it, this release gathers together five of Konami’s ’80s and ’90s shooters, which serve as a kind of demented spin-off from the main Gradius series. And while the games on here were ported to other consoles in the past, most of them were Japan-only releases, so Parodius Portable is a relatively affordable way of getting them all on one disc.
The collection also contains a bonus you won’t find anywhere else: a remastered version of the original MSX Parodius from 1988, which cleans up the 8-bit edition’s jerky scrolling. If you’re a fan of the series, Parodius Portable‘s pretty much unmissable – as are Konami’s other collections for the PSP, which focus on the Twinbee, Castlevania, and Salamander franchises. Bear in mind, though, that they’re getting quite rare and expensive to pick up these days.
18. OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast
OutRun 2 and OutRun 2006 received glowing reviews on home consoles, but the handheld port may have been overlooked in the rush of other titles released at the time. Certainly, copies of the PSP edition can be picked up cheaply and readily these days, which makes it one of the system’s best bargains – particularly when you consider the wealth of modes on the disc. As well as Coast 2 Coast, there’s also a conversion of the arcade hit, OutRun 2 SP. Both are polished and superb-looking arcade racers that contain a wealth of unlockable cars and plenty of challenge.
17. Bust-A-Move Deluxe
If you’ve played one Bust-A-Move game, you’ve pretty much played them all, but the series’ combination of good timing and careful aim makes it a perennially fun experience, especially on a handheld. Besides, Bust-A-Move Deluxe has some really good additional ideas that, to the best of our knowledge, weren’t used before this release – our favorites are the levels where, if you don’t burst the bubbles evenly on each side of the screen, the whole play area wobbles, lists to one side, and falls over. Couple this with Taito’s typically loveable presentation, and you have another puzzler that’s perfect for the PSP. We still don’t know why it didn’t keep its proper name in the west, though – for us, it’ll always be called Puzzle Bobble.
16. R-Type Tactics
Irem ended its 2D shooting series with R-Type Final in 2003, but the property’s true swansong was this curio, released five years later. R-Type Tactics (also known as R-Type Command) is a turn-based strategy game that sees you moving your earthly fighter ships into position against the Bydo Empire’s army of bio-mechanical monsters. The challenge is pretty steep, making this a title for a seasoned strategy enthusiast rather than a new-comer, but the presence of all those cool ship and creature designs from the older R-Type games makes R-Type Tactics well worth getting to grips with.
15. Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins
Capcom’s Ghosts N Goblins series reached the peak of its fame in the early ’90s, so you’d be forgiven for missing out on this PSP exclusive, which is as much a sequel to the earlier games as a remake. Once again, you play the brave knight Arthur, who runs and blasts his way through a moonlit landscape of supernatural creatures. Although its action is firmly in the 2D retro mold of its predecessors, Ultimate Ghouls N Ghosts mixes 2D sprites with 3D polygon graphics, turning into a really colorful and fresh-looking run-and-gunner with some huge and imaginative area bosses. Aside from a couple of mobile titles on iOS, Ultimate Ghosts N Goblins was Capcom’s last release in the long-running series, which suggests that sales had been on a downward trajectory for a while. But with the project directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, who made the original Ghosts N Goblins, at least Ultimate saw the series go out on a real high.
14. Taito Legends Power-Up
Yes, it’s another retro collection, but it’s a great one: a selection of aging hits from Taito’s ’70s and ’80s back catalog. Admittedly, you can skip at least a couple of them (Crazy Balloon and Balloon Bomber are about as scintillating as the titles imply), but there are still some real gems on here. The NewZealand Story‘s an adorable run-and-gunner from Taito’s silver age; Rastan Saga‘s one of the best unofficial Conan the Barbarian video game adaptations of its day (and there were a lot back then), while Phoenix is an addictive spin on the old Space Invaders theme. Oh, and the additional remake of Legend of Kage – a kind of proto Shinobi – is well worth a look.
13. Metal Slug XX
The Metal Slug series has far outlasted the original Neo Geo hardware on which it first appeared, and Metal Slug XX – a reworking of the seventh game in the series – fits nicely on the PSP. Like the previous entries, this is a military run-and-gun game with explosive action and generous helpings of black humor. In many respects, Metal Slug XX is business as usual, but visually, it arguably represents the pinnacle of what can be done with hand-drawn sprites. It’s a superb-looking game and positively sparkles on the PSP’s screen.
12. Taiko no Tatsujin Portable
This rhythm-action game, based on traditional Japanese drumming, is a national institution in the land of the rising sun, and it deserves far more attention in the west. Inevitably, this portable version does away with the drum peripherals, and so you don’t get the full percussive effect of the arcade and console versions, but there’s still something hugely appealing about Taiko no Tatsujin Portable; maybe it’s the sense of celebration you get when you chain enough perfectly-timed button presses together and trigger a fireworks display of color and smiling cartoon characters. Or maybe it’s the appeal of the soundtracks, which range from J-pop to classical etudes to anime theme tunes. Put all that together, and you have an irresistible combination.
11. Umihara Kawase Portable
Here’s a 2D platform game with a difference. A new edition of a relatively obscure title for the Japanese Super Nintendo, Umihara Kawase has platforms, ladders, lots of hopping about – and a fishing rod. The young heroine uses her handy hook and line to move between platforms and catch the fish floating about on each level. It’s a surreal yet surprisingly absorbing game, with the process of swinging and climbing between platforms and collecting fish proving oddly addictive – and the fiendish level designs add an incredibly challenging puzzle element.
10. Lumines: Puzzle Fusion
At first glance, Lumines might look like any other match-three puzzle game. But the difference here is its use of sound and hypnotic visuals, which turn this into a game that’s as much about timing as it is about clearing blocks to score points. There’s a good reason for Lumines‘ trippy music and visuals: it’s designed by Testuya Mizuguchi, the creator of similarly ethereal classics like Rez and Child of Eden. Both this and its sequel are among the very best puzzle games available for the PSP, and best of all, they can be picked up for very little money online.
9. Space Invaders Extreme
You may have played this spin-off from the old arcade classic on Xbox Live Arcade or something like that, but Space Invaders Extreme arguably makes more sense on a console like the PSP. Not only does the system have the technical grunt to handle its wild dervish of graphics and techno music, but its quick-fix action also feels perfect for the handheld. Turning the old coin-op into something akin to a rhythm action game like Rez, Space Invaders Extreme is, for our money, one of the most addictive blasters ever made.
8. Macross: Ace Frontier
If you love Robotech or Macross, you’ll feel immediately at home with this sci-fi action game. You take control of your transforming Veritech fighter and take to the skies in a pitched battle against alien invaders. The mix of aerial ship combat and ground-based hand-to-hand and shooting encounters is fairly simple, arcade-style stuff, but the ability to unlock mods for your ship adds to the replay value. It’s a superb-looking game, too, with the mecha and characters from the original anime recreated in glorious 3D.
7. Me & My Katamari
That the PSP’s lack of twin sticks might make the attempt to port Katamari to the handheld sound like a fool’s errand. But while Me & My Katamari inevitably feels different from its console brethren, it still works surprisingly well, and the central premise – rolling a sticky ball around a level to collect as many objects as you can – still feels as fun as ever. Full of color and catchy music, Me & My Katamari‘s a quirky, addictive delight.
6. Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?
A spin-off from the Disgaea series, Prinny gives the brave blue penguin an adventure of his own. In essence, it’s a side-scrolling platform game, but it also contains light RPG elements – making it feel like a combination of Disgaea‘s distinctive art style and something like Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Your mileage may vary with the English translation – namely its repetitive use of the word “dood” – but the rest of the game’s packed with charm. If you like this one, the sequel, which adds the rather iffy-sounding subtitle Dawn of Operation Panties, is also worth a look.
5. Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower
It’s a one-on-one fighting game from Capcom, which is really all you need to know about Darkstalkers Chronicle in terms of its sheer quality. Compared to some of Capcom’s other games in the genre, though, Darkstalkers Chronicle‘s a bit of an unknown quantity in the west – which is a real shame, because there are plenty of things that make this fighter stand out from the pack. For one thing, its anime-style character designs and backgrounds are imaginative and fluidly animated, while the fighting mechanics allow for plenty of strategies and winning combos. The Chaos Tower also adds all the characters and moves from previous games in the series (known as Vampire Chronicle in Japan), making the PSP version pretty much definitive.
4. Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure
Yes, it’s a port of a PC title, but this 3D action RPG feels right at home on the PSP. Gurumin is a cute-looking adventure about a little girl who runs and bashes her way through a fantasy world full of stumpy, adorable-looking monsters. The RPG elements – collecting new abilities, loot, and so forth – add a welcome splash of depth. Don’t let the whimsical aesthetic fool you – Gurumin‘s from Ys developers Nihon Falcom, so there’s far more breadth and challenge here than first appears.
Released in 2010, Split/Second was something of a commercial disappointment, in part because it was released at the same time as at least two other, similar arcade racers. Dig out a copy of Split/Second, though, and you’ll find one of the most exhilarating and balanced racers on any console. The tracks are varied and full of thrilling set-pieces (one of the game’s main mechanics involves triggering and avoiding massive explosions and other calamities), and the handling feels perfectly tuned to the PSP’s controls. Like OutRun 2006, this is another one of those games you can pick up on the cheap, making it not only an underrated classic but also a real bargain to boot.
2. Half-Minute Hero
There are plenty of RPGs on the PSP that are perfectly suited to the hardcore fan, including some cracking Final Fantasy, Disgaea, and Ys entries. But what if you want an epic adventure that still feels right for short journeys? Half Minute Hero’s the perfect answer – a top-down, 16-bit RPG where, as the title implies, you have precisely 30 seconds to save the world. The missions are bite-sized, and remarkably, Half-Minute Hero manages to pack all the meat of your typical multi-hour epic into a tiny, approachable package. Even if RPGs aren’t typically your thing, this is one indie title worth tracking down.
1. Jeanne D’Arc
We first learned of this JRPG thanks to YouTuber Metal Jesus, so we have him to thank for bringing such an underrated game to wider attention. It’s from developer Level 5, who made, among other things, the superb Ni No Kuni and its sequel – and in many ways, this feels like a handheld dry run for those games. The fantasy story and its accompanying world are richly drawn and immersive, while the animated cutscenes give Jeanne D’Arc a big-budget, epic feel. All in all, this is a must-have edition for any PSP fan’s library.