The PSP has had a funny week. On the one hand, there's been Logitech, a peripheral company which is rumored to be working on an external UMD drive for use with the PSPgo. Then, just a day later, Jon Burton of Traveller's Tales piped up to say that the PSPgo will die if Sony doesn't make the digital versions of its games cheaper than they currently are.
It seems the PSP's long running identity crisis is about to rear its sleekly redesigned head yet again. Which is a shame, because while the industry busies itself with discussions about the manner in which PSP software should be delivered and consumed, the software itself is of a higher quality now than it has been for much of the PSP's life.
We all know how fantastic LittleBigPlanet is (and if you haven't bought it yet, you're officially not allowed to bemoan the PSP's Xmas line-up), but one title that might have slipped past your collective radars is Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier.
The Lost Frontier is not original. It's not in the least inventive, and it doesn't even have an online mode. None of this matters, however, because what The Lost Frontier lacks in modern day bells and whistles, it more than makes up for by being exquisitely crafted.
The Lost Frontier is the animated kids film with annoying talking animals that you grudgingly go to see with a son/daughter/younger sibling, only to find yourself gripped, roaring with laughter and clearing your calendar for the DVD release date so you can bag your own copy on day one. To say that it defies expectations is an understatement.
It's probably wise to resist film comparisons when talking about games, but it's hard to imagine The Lost Frontier's elevator pitch could have been anything other than Pirates of the Caribbean meets Top Gun.
Like both of those films (which coincidentally share the same producer, Jerry Bruckheimer), The Lost Frontier mixes deliberate self-parody and swaggering self-confidence to tremendous effect. Not only that, but it shares a similar footloose and fancy free approach to grabbing ideas from any genre it pleases, while miraculously managing to make it feel not just appropriate but heart-stoppingly, retina-poppingly exciting.
In the current handheld climate, it's hard to imagine that many publishers would go near a game like The Lost Frontier for the PSP. For a start, from within the clinical confines of a paper design document it mixes 3D platforming, third-person shooting, aerial combat, RPG-like ability leveling, and a semi-open game world. Not exactly Fieldrunners.
This is expensive, production-rich gaming, far more typical of a PS3 or Xbox 360 release than a handheld, where quirky and consumable are currently king. And yet, this SCEE published member of the PSP's Christmas line-up, is exactly the sort of confident, complete and expertly balanced title that could only exist on a platform that's been in the hands of developers for several years.
And that's what makes it so special. With the PSP no closer to finding its niche now than when it first hit store shelves, it seems likely that The Lost Frontier, amazingly executed though it is, may well be one of the last of what is almost certainly a dying breed of games on the PSP.
But we can all be glad at least that Sony has been prescient enough to design a handheld that, though seemingly unable to decide what to wear to the ball, is socially adroit enough to move with whichever crowd comes its way. It will be fascinating to see which circles it's moving in this time next year.
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