Ultimate Board Game Collection PSP Review

What you've got here are 24 simple classic games for your PSP enjoyment. Highlights include: Chess, Checkers, Sudoku, Anagrams, 3d-Tic-Tac-Toe, Battleship (ahem, excuse me, Naval Battle), and Mahjong. They all work. They load fast. They each feature some sorta multiplayer via wireless play or passing the PSP around. Some of the games are more fun than others. Only 5 of them feature game sharing (those being Chess, Checkers, Backgammon, Mahjong, and Sudoku.) And all the while there was a very specific term which came to mind when describing the meat of this collection.

bare bones

pl.n. Informal
The basic elements or essentials

The rest of these words will be a gravy of varying qualities and thickness.

Certainly this isn't the most exciting thing to come out on portables since ever, but one can see its potential value. Here you have a small ton of family friendly, multiplayer, low commitment entertainment at $29.99. If you're on the train and you've got five of your friends sitting around waiting to get from Poughkeepsie to Penn Station, certainly there would be worse ways to pass the time. And it's not as if you can break out the chess board or switch to a jigsaw puzzle while on the Chinatown Express to Boston.

But much like I believe you shouldn't give Oscars out to screenplays for Romeo and Juliet, you don't get many points just for making these games portable. They've got to work and they've got to work enjoyably well. And there are a number of factors which work against the collection's favor. One is that for some unholy reason, you're controlling most of the games with a mouse pointer moved with your analog nub. For a game like Sudoku, or even Chess, or in fact any of the games which play on a grid, I'd have given my two pinky fingers to simply use the d-pad. Two, is that many of the games are based solely on luck with dice rolls or wheel spinning. Taking the physicality out of rolling said dice or spinning said wheels further reduces those experiences to soulless number generating. Third, is that the entire presentation lacks any flair whatsoever. I've seen flash versions of these games with about the same amount of panache, or more. (And with a bit of PSP know how, you can put those flash games right onto your drive. Though that's a story for another time.)

I do love the very simple fact that it's the first PSP game I've seen which can play mp3s right from your music folder. Though the sound quality seems to suffer a little bit, the feature is welcome. However browsing through any more than a couple hundred songs in the games interface, which doesn't sort them according to your folder structure but drops them all in seemingly haphazardly, can be a pain. And then there's the jigsaw puzzle or concentration games which can use images right from your drive. It's cute for maybe about a minute. Then you realize it's a diversion at best.

And that can be said about most of the games on this collection. With a large number of them being luck based, the most criminal of these available being Snakes and Ladders, it can only go anywhere from utterly boring or soul crushing. Sorry, Snakes and Ladders fans, that game is entirely luck and a part of me died just waiting for the AI to win. Oh yes, the AI. I believe it's time to talk about him.

Certainly these games are best played with a friend or more, and they're simple enough that even the most gaming illiterate can pick up your PSP to join in a game of Anagrams. But if you're playing this by your lonesome, then you've got to deal with the AI. And that guy is a strange opponent who flexes his brainpower in inconsistent ways. Playing a game of Naval Battle, he'd hit a part of your ship and then on his next turn drop a bomb in a completely unrelated place. It seems like he's shooting about randomly up until you start sinking his fleet. That's when he grows a brain and finishes off those boats he'd simply grazed before. Testing the brain in Chess, I'd intentionally given him two of the most obvious potential checkmates in the history of all things chess which he proceeded to pass up and merely eat a pawn. He had only won when my King was the only piece I had left. Sure I was playing it on Easy, and sure I was just testing him, but this kind of disillusionment leads to a lack of any sense of accomplishment. There's a throwaway incorporation of trophies tracking your many great deeds, but it is a difficult thing to care about having no one to share those accomplishments with. There's an endurance mode, which runs you through a number of challenges in a row involving random games against the AI, but it'll take real endurance enjoying your way through all of it.

Alright, so with all these things going against this collection, why the third star? Lets go back to where I started here. It's a collection which includes Chess, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Go, Shogi, Angrams, Enigma, Sudoku (I LOVE Sudoku), Word Cubes, and more. They all work. They all load fast. They have multiplayer. And they're all in one set. I cannot fault this collection for having some games I could find boring. But I don't mind giving an average score to a collection which aimed only for the bare-bones of success.

What's Hot: A large number of games which all work; 6 Person Multiplayer; Custom soundtracks from your PSP.

What's Not: Distinctly soulless presentation; Analog nub is inexplicably used to control all games.