Guilty Gear follows in the footsteps of Darkstalkers, Street Fighter Alpha, and Tekken as the latest fighting game series to successfully touch down on the PSP, in spite of the system's portable form factor. Confusingly, this package includes two different games, but shares its name with one of them in particular. The game titled Guilty Gear Judgment is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up inspired by classics like Final Fight and Golden Axe, and while it's repetitive and mostly mindless, it's pretty fun. But you also get Guilty Gear X2 #Reload, a pure one-on-one 2D fighting game. The latter is the more complex, more interesting game, but it's also missing some key features found in previous versions and is harder to play using the PSP's somewhat imprecise controls. Other than that, both games share the sharply drawn 2D artwork, rocking guitar riffs, and wild character designs that the Guilty Gear series is known for, and both support local two-player action over a Wi-Fi connection. It's a solid package for fans of the series or of fighting games in general.
The beat-'em-up is a never-before-released game, but the fighting game is based on a version of the Guilty Gear series from a few years ago. Unfortunately, it's missing some of the best single-player modes found in previous versions of that game. Specifically, the story mode and mission mode aren't in here, so you'll have to settle for a conventional arcade mode and survival mode (plus the weird "master of medals" mode, which isn't much different from survival mode). The underlying gameplay itself is still good, but difficult to control with finesse using the PSP's D pad and buttons. Many of the more sophisticated techniques and combos require you to press multiple buttons simultaneously while quickly entering in fairly complex commands on the D pad, and it's very difficult to pull off this type of stuff on the PSP, more so than usual. The graphics also appear to be scaled down somewhat, so while they're as colorful as ever, they look blockier than you may remember. There's still a lot of depth to explore, and the action is fast and intense; but given that this game really isn't a great fit for the PSP's limitations, it's little wonder why the other game in the package is given emphasis.
Guilty Gear Judgment, the side-scroller, builds off of the "boost mode" first seen in the unsuccessful experiment that was Guilty Gear Isuka. That game threw together a basic Final Fight clone that allowed the Guilty Gear cast to run toward the right while beating up tons of generic thugs. Guilty Gear Judgment builds on this by offering up a customized, simplified control scheme that fits with the formula, a good amount of original content including several impressive new boss opponents, and a structure that encourages you to play through using different characters. At the core, though, this is still a simple beat-'em-up in which you'll spend most of your time pounding groups of monsters into submission using a handful of moves. It's a straightforward but fairly satisfying format that once was extremely popular in video arcades, but naturally died out as more complex, more interesting games emerged. So Guilty Gear Judgment pretty much requires you to have some of those classic beat-'em-ups as a frame of reference if you're going to fully appreciate it.
Initially there are only a handful of characters available, but each one runs into some of the other members of the Guilty Gear cast during the course of the game, who then become unlocked. Characters can use a variety of normal and special moves to deal damage to all kinds of weird monsters, mannequins, and other threats, and the game is divided into a bunch of relatively brief stages that are all at least slightly different. The action starts off very easy, but Guilty Gear Judgment is fairly long for a beat-'em-up, so you're going to run out of health and lives after some number of stages. You can then restart on the last stage you visited, and it'll only be a matter of time before you reach the final boss--which, predictably, is by far the toughest fight in the game. It takes a good several hours to finish the game for the first time, and it's worth replaying as different characters or with a friend in the co-op mode. The full character roster is automatically available when playing in co-op, and the brief story sequences get stripped away in favor of completely nonstop brawling. Interestingly, both players aren't limited to having to fight on the same screen, but other than that, the co-op mode is what you'd expect. You can't hurt your companion, so you gain the advantages of double the firepower at the expense of having to share the number of remaining lives.
Guilty Gear's slick, well-animated 2D graphics and head-banging guitar rock soundtrack translate well to the PSP, and even though Guilty Gear Judgment recycles all the main character graphics from its fighting game counterparts, the enemies and background stages are all new. Also, support for wireless two-player co-op in Judgment and head-to-head fighting in #Reload can sweeten the deal substantially if you've got a friend nearby with similar taste for this sort of thing. Ultimately, this package is fairly well suited to the PSP, as the beat-'em-up game is ideal for quick sessions of straight mayhem, while the fighting game--while tougher to control--can keep you busy trying to master a variety of tough combos. Chances are you're already a fan of the Guilty Gear series if you're interested in this game, and if that's the case, you'll probably like this latest installment too.