SNOOPY VS THE RED BARON / Namco / Sony PSP
Snoopy vs the Red Baron is like taking the dogfight levels and big boss battles of Starfox 64 and giving them a Peanuts overcoat of paint. Is that awesome? As it turns out, yes, it's pretty awesome.
The game is surprising both in how much respect it treats the license with, and how it manages to mesh violent aerial combat with the sweet kid-friendly nature of the comics. The premise is centered around Snoopy's frequent fantasies about being a WWI dogfighter; the game opens with the kids wondering what he's dreaming about, and then we get to play out his career.
It's also suprising in just how solid, well-designed and fun it is. Most levels are kind of like the aforementioned Starfox 64 "free range" dogfights, just significantly larger in scale, and with varying objectives. Between levels you can use money earned (largely from completing optional side objectives) to buy new missile types, plane upgrades, and eventually unlock new characters.
Since the game is pitched primarily at kids, however, it's pretty easy across the board. "Realistic" physics aren't a consideration here, you don't have to worry about stalling when climbing, and hitting the ground or a solid object usually just results in you bouncing off them gently and taking a little damage. The game isn't entirely without challenge, however. You have to keep your plane upgraded to take on the later challenges, you won't be able to dole out or take enough damage if you don't stay on top of your upgrades. There's also a really sharp and unexpected difficulty spike a little over halfway through the game, with the boss of the mine level, who is more like something out of a Treasure game. Way more frustrating than anything that came before him, I found I actually had to grind money for a couple of upgrades, whereas I'd cleared every previous level and boss fairly easily on the first try.
It's really nice-looking (especially for a 2006 release), it's got a surprisingly great soundtrack, nice gameplay, nice map design, cute cutscenes in the Peanuts spirit, and a fair amount of playtime. This might just be the best sleeper/undiscovered game on the PSP. Oh, and it's also apparently a landmark for Peanuts fans - it's the only place the Peanuts estate has allowed the characters to be rendered in 3D. Only thing that might slow up a recommendation is that it also came out for PS2 and PC, those "big brother" versions are probably a little nicer-looking, as well as allowing you to use a comfier controller. There's certainly nothing wrong with this PSP version, however. Really neat game.