To help launch the PSP, Sony reached into their back pocket and pulled out a classic.  Twisted Metal first debuted on the first Playstation, and as we move towards the launch of the Playstation 3 we are treated to Twisted Metal: Head On for the Playstation Portable.  How the console world has changed since the first title, lets see how well nostalgia fits Sony’s new platform.

Incognito Entertainment kicks off the title with a cutscene – the perfect way to show off the power of the PSP.  Quite a few of the twisted troupe present since the series inception have returned for this title giving you a list of 14 vehicles to use including Sweet Tooth, Spectre, and Shadow just to name some of the greats. 

Twisted Metal: Head On looks fantastic for a handheld title.  The games graphics are a mixture of Twisted Metal 2s vibrant colors and that of Twisted Metal Black.  With an excellent custom graphic engine the game features a rarely-shaken framerate with zero pop-in.  Unlike many titles, this also holds true when the game is played in multiplayer. 

What you might not expect in a handheld is that the vehicles begin to smoke and come apart eventually catching fire and exploding.  It’s a level of detail we’ve not seen in a handheld before and is a welcome sight given how many terrible and pathetic excuses we’ve seen for “explosions” on previous portable games.  Given that the game had to be moved to a small screen-format there is almost the same level of character detail as the console version. The environments are well detailed and occasionally populated by cars, park benches, and other various filler elements. The only problem is that it is hard to see all that detail at the speed this game runs, but more on that later.

Incognito pulled out all the stops to pry as much detail as possible into this title and the fact that it works is surprising.  Well done!

With a name like Twisted Metal it is not hard to figure out that this game will be a Rock-and-Roll-filled soundtrack.  The soundtrack has some voice tracks but most of the tracks are background filler that match the area you are in.  The same could be said for the sound effects on the title – for the most part they are standard fare.  You’ll get a sound effect for your character’s special attack – my favorite is Spectres laughing flaming skull.  The surprising thing is the amount of rumble with certain vehicles as you can almost feel the power of the engine. 

There are a few cutscenes in the game where you get some voice-over work.  These are well done, albeit corny at times. 

The game controls are laid out in a simple but awkward fashion.  The gas is the square button, the triangle is weapon select, X is brake, and O allows for a high speed turn.  The left shoulder fires your special weapons, and the right trigger is the machine guns.  You can also drop certain items with a button press combination if you find Napalm bomb to be as useless as much as I do.

Controlling the characters can be accomplished with the D-Pad or with the Analog stick.  The D-Pad provides tight controls but the analog is certainly flawed in this area.  It may be because the Analog is quite a bit smaller than the PS2 equivalent, but either way you slice it, the Analog is just out when you have to face off against the harder opponents. You’ll need a little more twitch speed than the analog stick can offer.  The fact that one option of control is just crippled hurts quite a bit.

Pay attention other development companies:

If you are not a fan of the oddly-configured default controls, you can remap them.  I can’t think of too many handhelds that have offered this option, but I was quite happy to see it.  A quick few remaps and I was tearing up Sweet Tooth with the best of them.

The single player game is simple enough and those who have played the previous games will know what to expect.  Drive around in varied environments fighting against other characters from the series using your basic guns and various power-ups until you are the last one standing.  After a few levels you’ll face off against a boss of some type. As before the objective is to battle your way to the top for the ultimate prize – a single wish.  After several titles, this storyline is a tad on the stale side, but I don’t think anyone is playing Twisted Metal for the story.

You’ll pick your character and almost immediately begin chasing your opponents around the arena environments.  The environments are as varied as they are large with locations including Paris as it was introduced in Twisted Metal 2. There are 10 arenas to play in including L.A. Wood, Rome, Egypt, Tokyo, Greece, and the aforementioned Paris. You’ll speed around in circles or through city streets to track down your enemies blasting them with machine guns, rockets, napalm, homing missiles, dumb-fire missiles, mines, dynamite, and more. As with the console titles, some of the environments can be destroyed or used as weapons. It’s not rocket-surgery, but it works until you meet the bosses.

The bosses in this game are obscenely difficult in relation to the rest of the game.  Those who have not played the previous titles can easily plow through to the first boss without an incredible amount of strategy or skill, but that is where your luck runs out.  This first boss drops four unfriendly fellows on Quad Runners to cause you grief.  The same run-and-gun methods will easily take them out, but the hillbilly bread-van is nigh-impossible to destroy.  The hillbillies fire from all sides and that truck moves almost as fast as any vehicle in the game.  This introduces some serious frustration factor to the game, but pales in comparison to the final boss. This game is pure deathmatch and the bosses are just damned hard – if you are easily frustrated, you may want to look at the rent option.

It is also worth noting that this game moves very quickly, something fairly foreign to a handheld.  Using your primary guns takes a bit of practice and some high-speed reflexes as well as a bit of practice.  Given that speed, it will certainly take practice to ever hope of hitting anything with the Napalm bomb. I never really got the hang of it myself. 

Obviously if it was pure deathmatch punctuated only by high-speed boss battles you’d be tired of deathmatching fairly soon.  There are 10 mini-games which include a few target practice games and even some platform-style jumping puzzles.  These will sharpen your skills for some of the challenges you will face later in the game and provide a break from the fast and furious gameplay. 

The biggest hook is also the biggest pain for this title – there just isn’t anything new here. The gameplay is the same as it was in the 90s, but so many games have moved on.  The nostalgia is great but you might be longing for a more complete battle title after a few rounds, I recommend Twisted Metal: Head On in small doses.

The multiplayer in this game is not just tacked on.  You can play against 5 other players in the aptly named “Head-On” mode.  Additionally, you can play through the story mode in a cooperative fashion with a friend.  There is even a challenge and endurance mode, but after playing the Single-Player game I think you’ll walk through the endurance mode in your sleep. 

Like several other PSP titles, you can play in either WiFi infrastructure mode or with your friends in the immediate area (Ad-Hoc).  The interface is simple and slick and you’ll be online shortly if you have some sort of networking appliance at home.  Once you get online you’ll be treated to several modes including deathmatch(shocking I know), last man standing, tag, collector, and team-based versions of the same.  Like many online titles you can set up certain conditions such as time limits, health, and whether or not the super-weapons will spawn or not. 

Overall the online mode is stable, if a bit sparcely populated.  A few times I kicked up my feet on my couch and readied myself for some online mayhem only to not be able to find a game.  I didn’t know anyone with a PSP and a copy of the game to test Ad-Hoc but based on other titles on the PSP I imagine it’ll work within a reasonable distance.  If you sit down in the quad at a University, there is good chance somebody there needs a good beat-down.