Top Ten of 2009 - Blast Off

I hadn't really given much thought to my PSP for most of its life. Mainly it was just something I had, that I occasionally played about with but generally regarded as a bit of a dead-end, games-wise. I'd paid even less attention to the minis lineup of downloadable games, believing some common consensus that they had little to offer and were regarded as something of an afterthought even by Sony itself.

Recently though, I've been finding an awful lot to like in that modestly-produced library (if this weren't strictly a list of new games from this year the sterling conversions of the Amiga classics Pinball Dreams and Pinball Fantasies would be included).

Blast Off presents a simple scenario: Astronauts are stranded in space, and the player has a rocket ready to launch with a limited amount of fuel in which to rescue them. The problem here is the presence of planets, asteroids and black holes - each exerting their various gravitational forces on the ship. Veer too close or choose the wrong angle - or indeed run out of fuel - and it's curtains. Skillful maneuvering and constant correction of thrust is required to navigate the obstacles, often using the pull of gravity to slingshot out to targets before heading for the safety of the warp gate home.

Each level has a minimum number of astronauts to rescue before the gate will open, with anything above that falling into the realm of bonus points. The levels are scored on that, plus remaining fuel and the astronauts' precious air. Beating the game minimally can be done quite quickly, but it's the prospect of those highscores and 100% completions that promise to bring the player back time and again. Things get quite fiendish towards the end, with multiple objects following intertwined orbits. Here the game manages to balance fun and frustration perfectly - in failure you're always certain the next attempt will be a success.

So we're dealing with spaceships, gravity and delicate controls. A simple setup, unfussy front-end and the very essence of one-more-go portable gameplay. It's handheld nirvana, quite frankly.

Blast Off takes me back. Back to the immediate thrills and fun of the arcade, back to the homebrewed sensibility of 8-bit computer games. And it cost about the same as a cup of coffee.

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