Sunday, April 17, 2016

Twisted Metal: Head-On (PSP) Retro Review

It's Sunday night here at SuperPhillip Central, and my weekend was spent working on my game (I moonlight as a game developer) and playing some games, too. One of these titles was a game in my PSP backlog, Twisted Metal: Head-On, my first foray into the franchise. For those that don't get the review tagline, here's a commercial to get you up to speed.

Head-On: Apply directly to the forehead?


Twisted Metal was a series I had rested on for a long time. There was something about the grim, dark, and edgy setting that just didn't appeal to me. However, when I had the chance to pick up the PSP installment of the series, Twisted Metal: Head-On, I jumped on it, as the game was incredibly inexpensive. Though the online servers are long gone, this first introduction to the Twisted Metal series for me has me already scouring eBay for other games with the Twisted Metal. Head-On was just that enjoyable. See why with my review.

Doing some research on the Twisted Metal franchise, I've learned that the main theme of each game has one of a wide cast of characters each with their own motivations for joining the Twisted Metal competition, a destruction derby of doom where opponents blast one another with high powered weaponry until there's one vehicle left remaining. A man named Calypso runs the competition, and he gives the winner of every year's Twisted Metal anything they wish for. However, as all of the endings of each participant show, these wishes are granted in a monkey paw style way. For instance, to spoil one of the dozen or so character endings, one character wishes for Calypso to bring back her sister. Calypso agrees, but the sister is brought back as a reanimated corpse, which horrifies the other sister.

The opening arena of Twisted Metal: Head-On, Big Blue Stadium. (No relation to F-Zero, of course.)
The main mode of Twisted Metal: Head-On is the story mode. This pits your chosen character (each with their own vehicle stats like handling and armor) through eleven levels of destruction derby delight, aiming to destroy your opponents before your three lives run out. Sprinkled throughout the traditional levels are three boss encounters that shake things up considerably.

Levels in Head-On are sprawling environments peppered with hidden areas, usually found by destroying a destructible wall. In this globe-trotting competition, you and your competitors will be blasting one another from Greece to Roman Ruins, the ancient pyramids of Egypt to sky high Tokyo rooftops.

Each level aside from boss stages hide one secret teleporter that takes you to a bonus mini-game. These mini-games house a multitude of varying challenge types like ramming into a bunch of taxis to destroy them, a platforming obstacle course where careful use of your vehicle's jumping ability is required, and a two-lap affair where you drive in oncoming traffic, needing to avoid passing cars in order to stay alive. The catch with these mini-games is that in order to unlock content like new characters and deathmatch arenas, you need to beat them under a specific target time.

The arenas are full of places to have epic showdowns and have plentiful hidden places.
As stated, Twisted Metal is a competition where you man a vehicle and aim to destroy every other competitor before they can destroy you. You do this by driving around expansive arenas, picking up weapons that lay about the environments, and shooting them at foes.

There are a great variety of , weapons, such as homing missiles, napalm bombs that are launched in an arc to land on top of foes with their blast radius, and ricocheting discs that bounce off walls, to name a few. Each item you pick up has a limited amount of ammo, so you'll need to constantly scrounge around each arena to get more to use on foes. Health pick-ups are important to remember the locations of in order to heal yourself when you take a lot of damage. All of these sub-weapons are used by pressing the L button while you can whittle away a competitor's vehicle with the R button's machine gun, which every vehicle has.

Nothing like glorious destruction to help wind down one's Sunday evening!
Depending on your character, each vehicle has a special move that is exclusive to that vehicle. For instance, the Twister conveniently enough unleashes a tornado that consumes all nearby racers, while the Roadkill can launch a powerful boomerang that returns to its users, as boomerangs tend to do. Unlike regular sub-weapons, special weapons regenerate over a short period of time automatically.

Sweet Tooth unleashes his special weapon, a deadly scoop of ice cream.
A lot of game series from the original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 don't hold up as well control-wise when they're placed on the PSP. This is because the PSP lacks a second set of shoulder buttons and most importantly a second analog stick (or in this case, a second nub). However, the Twisted Metal series doesn't suffer like so many other franchises given a portable entry. Driving the massive number of vehicles in Twisted Metal: Head-On feels and plays great. You use either the d-pad or the analog nub to move and accelerate, holding up to drive forward, back to go in reverse. Double taps of the X button results in your vehicle jumping, while a double tap of the Square button performs a nitro boost for getting away from problematic predicaments. I never had any trouble with the controls of Twisted Metal on PSP, and I was initially worried that I would because of the history of other PlayStation franchises moved to the PSP.

Early on in my review I mentioned how the online servers are no longer up for Head-On. However, if you have friends or family with an extra PSP and a copy of the game, you can still play Ad Hoc. However, if you're really looking for the best version of multiplayer for Twisted Metal: Head-On, check out the PlayStation 2 port of the game. It not only has two-player split-screen, but you can play multiplayer without multiple copies of the game (and the need for only one system). It's a much more affordable way to enjoy Head-On.

You may not be able to play Head-On's multiplayer online, but Ad Hoc is still available for local matches.
However, since Twisted Metal: Head-On's PSP version is so cheap to buy nowadays, it's more than worth getting for its single player modes. Sure, single player can become repetitive if you want to earn all of the entertaining character endings, and there may be dust on the fenders and a lot of tread on the tires, but overall, Twisted Metal: Head-On was a fantastic introduction to the series for me. I can't wait to get to experience more titles in this destruction derby lover's dream.

[SPC Says: B-]

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