The world of handheld games seems to have been dominated by the relatively cute and casual in 2010. Whether we're talking Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, or Professor Layton, charming puzzle games have had no problem rocking the sales charts.
But where does a hardcore gamer go to get their fix? Thanks to Sony, the PlayStation Portable has remained a haven for traditional gamers in search of a deep, compelling adventure. Whether you're looking for a lengthy role playing experience, a challenging strategy title, or a hack'n'slash action game, the PSP had it covered in 2010.
Here are the best titles worth wishing you'll find in a stocking or under a tree. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
Taking place after the events of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Peace Walker continues to tell the story of how the series villain Big Boss evolved from the hero Snake. As usual, gameplay largely consists of stealth-based third-person action, where players sneak up on their prey and try to take them out without alerting other potential targets. It's a formula that's become old hat for veterans of Snake's previous adventures.
Fans of the long running tactical-espionage-action series have grown used to convoluted plot lines, eccentric boss fights, and cinematic cut scenes that seem to take upwards of an hour to watch. Surprisingly, Peace Walker has none of these, so it snaps along at a great pace, making it worth playing by anyone, not just the patient and the adoring.
Despite being a portable-only release, critics have been quick to praise Peace Walker as the biggest and possibly best game in the series to date. Featuring a compelling story, multiplayer co-op missions, and more than 100 additional challenges to play outside of the main campaign, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is the sort of game that you could easily sink months of your life into. Rated Teen (13+)God of War: Ghost of Sparta
When Sony released the first PSP God of War game in 2008, it was an instant hit and arguably the best game the PSP had to offer. Few believed that the frantic hack 'n' slash action of this franchise could translate well to a handheld, but Chains of Olympus quickly silenced any concerns. Flash forward two years later to today and Sony's second portable God of War game is even better than their first.
Bridging the gap between the original and its sequel, God of War: Ghost of Sparta tells the story of what happened to sword-flinging anti-hero Kratos after he defeated Ares and usurped the Olympian as Ancient Greece's God of War.
Featuring all the lavish set pieces gods, and monsters you'd expect to find in a Homer-like odyssey hopped up on steroids, Ghost of Sparta features the same polished gameplay and non-stop action that gamers have come to expect from the series, including quite a bit of era-appropriate nudity and eight scantily clad ladies that aren't there for the killing - note the game's Mature rating, people. There's a new storyline that helps fill in the blanks between God of War I and II. Yeah, like anyone plays it for "the story." Rated Mature (17+)Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Mixing Disney characters and Final Fantasy might sound like a crazy formula - one giant non sequitur for Mickey Mouse - but it's one that has proven to work time and time again over the last decade. That said, the franchise has been getting a little long in the tooth, and players have put out the call for a return to the action-based role-playing gameplay of the series' first outing. Now on its sixth installment, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep delivers just that.
Birth by Sleep acts as a prequel to the series and tells the story of the three "Keyblade Masters," a group of young knights who set off on an adventure that takes them through a variety of Disney worlds. Players can expect to do battle in Neverland, visit the mysterious tower from Fantasia, and even make their way into deep space with Stitch of "Lilo and" fame.
What really makes Birth by Sleep such a great title is the way in which the story unfolds. Each of the Keyblade Masters have their own campaign, requiring players to play through all three if they want to see the whole story. Playing them and watching how certain events play out differently for each character's perspective is an absolute treasure. Rated Everyone (10+)Valkyria Chronicles II
A sequel to a sleeper hit on the PlayStation3 console, Valkyria Chronicles II brings gamers back to the frontlines of a pastel-colored war. A perfect pick for the strategy gamer on your list, Valkyria Chronicles II combines tactical maneuvering with hands-on combat. Players can survey any given situation on the battlefield using an overhead map, and then take control of individual soldiers to play out the attack in real time.
While it might sound like a move from the lavishly endowed PS3 console to the impressive yet less powerful PSP would net a serious downgade to gameplay. Surprising, little was sacrificed in the transition to the handheld system; it looks great and plays deep. Better still, you don't have to be one of the cult of fans of the original to play the sequel. Seeking a larger audience, no doubt, Valkyria Chronicles II is accessible to newcomers but still wondrous and long-playing like a good follow-up ought to be. Rated Teen (13+)Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable
Transferring to a new school is never easy, but when everyone in your new community turns into coffins at midnight (yes, the boxes, not the corpses) while an evil tower filled with monsters appears over your school during "The Dark Hour," it's downright terrifying.
Players will adventure into the tower at night with a group of friends to slay monsters in menu-based combat, while during the day they'll attend classes and live out their days as normal high school students. In a unique twist, Persona 3 balances its monster-filled role playing elements with a teenage life simulation game.
Originally appearing on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 is largely considered one of the greatest Japanese role playing games of this generation, truly a benchmark for the genre and yet another example of why PSP is the portable platform of choice for serious gaming. It's the sort of game that you could easily sink 100 hours into, making it a good choice for a $40 gift that keeps on giving for at least a non-stop week, months if it's played sparingly. Rated Mature (17+)
Customize the PSP
Another great PSP gift idea is not a game but a skin for the device itself. You can personalize PSP hardware (and about a billion other devices) at www.MyTegos.com
by uploading your own images, artwork or photos and have them placed on a form-fitting decal. The custom "skins" are then mailed to you or the recipient of your choice.