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BEST of PlayStation Network Vol. 1
Score: 83%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: Various
Genre: Action/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
For some, price and media equate to quality – especially when it comes to games. I am always a bit surprised when I hear someone question the quality of downloadable games. Sure, there are some real stinkers out there, but the same could also be said of boxed retail as well. A bulk of my personal collection has become download-only, with a few larger retail releases hanging out on a small shelf, so I have long been converted to the faith. But, some are still in need of conversion.

BEST of PlayStation Network Vol. 1 is an on-disc collection featuring four of the better games available on PSN. While I stop short of saying these are the BEST ones available, they do a great job of showing the oddball, interesting releases only available in smaller, downloadable games.

Of course, four games also presents coverage difficulties. Do you cover all four individually, or as a package? As it turns out, the best approach is to combine the two, taking the package as a whole, while also pulling out some of the pros and cons of each release.

Each of the four games comes with visual and audio styling as unique as their gameplay. Tokyo Jungle edges towards realism, with dark, gritty, overgrown settings and animals everywhere. The look leaves a lot of be desired and ends up looking more awkward than awe-inspiring, but it also fits the gameplay’s off-center nature almost perfectly. Meanwhile, Sound Shapes takes a completely opposite approach. Visuals are more abstract and flat, allowing the music to step into the spotlight.

When Vikings Attack! and Fat Princess each take a more cartoon-like approach. The former goes for a more refined look with lots of clean lines, beautiful texture work and lots of little touches. The latter has a more rough-and-tumble approach. Clean lines and detail are eschewed in favor of what you would expect to see scribbled in the margins of a bored kid’s notebook.

BEST of PlayStation Network Vol. 1 is all about variety. All four games are wildly different offerings and unlike most of what you would normally expect to find on the shelf. Forget cookie cutter action games with brooding protagonists and by-the-bulletpoint shooters… everything here is uniquely its own thing.

For me, Tokyo Jungle is one of the best, and most interesting, games in the collection. It is sort of like The Last of Us, but if all of the bandits and Clickers were animals. An event has wiped out all humans, leaving what’s left of civilization to the animals. Beginning as either a Pomeranian or Sika deer, your only job is to survive the ruins of downtown Shibuya. You’ll need to hunt, fight for territory and make sure your lineage carries on to another generation.

Gameplay is split between two modes, Survival and Story. Most of the fun takes place in Survival Mode. Starting as either a Pomeranian or deer, you try to survive as long as possible by hunting and marking territory. Challenges pop up from time-to-time, offering alternate goals. These include simple things like killing a set number of animals to seeking out "boss" animals or extending your generation. New species are unlocked as you complete goals, offering new challenges and ways to play. Playing as a carnivore is much different than playing as a herbivore, obviously, but even playing as different dogs is unique.

Story Mode content is locked behind Survival Challenges. It’s an odd setup and one I didn’t particularly like. Story Mode is fun for filling in some story gaps, but compared to Survival, it is too basic. Unlike Survival, where you need to make decisions and are an active participant, Story just guides you along, reminding you every step of the way, "Hey, this is a game!"

Sound Shapes is outright brilliant. It is a typical platformer where you attempt to jump, climb, and run through various obstacles to get your blob to the end of the level. However, as you traverse peril, you’re also collecting notes, which build in the game’s amazing soundtrack. New notes fill in the overall score while interacting with other objects enhances the moody grooves even further. There’s even a bit of interplay between what you see on the screen and what you’re hearing. At times, it is an almost Zen experience – or at least it was for me.

The main mode lasts about five levels, but the experience carries over into two other modes. One, Death Mode, is an exercise in extreme platforming. You have to know what you’re doing if you want to collect everything and beat the clock. Beat School challenges you to listen to beats and try to match them. I’ve always enjoyed listening and trying to match rhythms (I was, after all, a drummer at one point in my life), so I got a lot out of this mode. Finally, there’s a level editor that I admittedly didn’t spend a lot of time with.

When Vikings Attack! is super simple, but surprisingly fun for what it offers. You control a group of civilians whose headcount grows and shrinks based on how much damage you’re doing to the Viking hordes. Gameplay is simple; you run around, grab whatever isn’t nailed to the ground and use it as a weapon. Projectiles range from cars to tables, with each causing more or less damage based on its size. In order to pick up large items, you need a larger group of civilians, so there are strategic considerations. Although gameplay suggests a massive item-tossing free-for-all, you have to keep track of several factors. Some items bounce and the Vikings can steal objects… there’s a lot happening at one time.

Unfortunately, throwing items at groups of Vikings is only fun for so long. Replay value is not the game's strong point. While you can play with a friend, you probably won't want to play for long stints of time.

I previously reviewed Fat Princess, so check the link for my impressions. My impressions haven’t changed much at all since I first reviewed the game years ago, though the play landscape is a bit different. Connecting to an online game wasn’t impossible, but challenging, which makes all of the difference considering it is built for multiplayer.

Nothing about BEST of PlayStation Network Vol. 1 is inaccessible, though each game does offer its own difficulty quirks.

Of the four, Sound Shapes is probably the more difficult game to really master. The game never stops to explain anything; instead presenting you with simple challenges that teach needed skills in a safe environment. Timing is key to everything, so if you’re not especially coordinated, you will have problems. The mechanics are simple enough that you will learn something the longer you play, so it is a rewarding experience in the long term.

The same can be said about Tokyo Jungle, though much of the difficulty isn’t so much by design, but due to archaic mechanics. A lot of the challenge seems to come from the same place as Dark Souls. Mechanical aspects aren’t "all there" and seem frozen in late 90’s philosophies. There’s nothing here you won’t be able to overcome with time and practice, but it has the potential to serve as a massive hurdle. With the quirks out of the way, challenge comes down to making the right decisions.

When Vikings Attack! is the most "pick-up and play" game in the set. Even with some of its more subtle mechanics, there isn’t much to the game. Anyone can pick up a controller and get the right to the heart of the experience quickly. The same goes for Fat Princess, though it all depends on your team.

Game Mechanics:
All four games are meant to provide short bursts of play rather than epically long sessions. Though I routinely spent 2 – 3 hours with Tokyo Jungle and Sound Shapes, I spent even less time with When Vikings Attack! and Fat Princess.

Though some may see this as a negative, I see it as a big positive. Rather than stuffing hours upon hours of content into the game and slowly rolling out mechanics, each immediately jumps into what makes the game fun. This is done with various degrees of success, as evident by the limited play value of When Vikings Attack!, but these are also games I found myself going to multiple times when I wanted to play something but didn’t have a large chunk of time available.

Even with the short and to the point mechanical layout, all four games do offer some subtleties to keep you hooked. Better yet, each does so in a completely different way. For instance, Sound Shapes manages to create some incredibly challenging situations out of a handful of easy-to-understand mechanics. Meanwhile, When Vikings Attack! aims for pure fun. There are considerations to be made for sure, such as deciding who to include in your group (altering the group’s abilities), but even those decisions are easy to make and don’t hamper the action.

Of the four, Tokyo Jungle runs into the most mechanical issues. Combat is clumsy and imprecise, often times breaking down into a button mash rather than the timing-based system it attempts to create. It is very much what you would expect to experience in a late PSOne era/ early PS2 era game. Still, there’s nothing here you can’t work through.

For $40, BEST of PlayStation Network Vol. 1 is a great value and the perfect Trojan Horse to get people interested in downloadable titles. Every game is incredibly unique and fun, making it a must buy for anyone wanting to try something new.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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