We're well used to Japanese video games sporting titles seemingly picked at random from an English dictionary to bear little to no relation to the contents within. Quite how developer Arc Systems decided Guilty Gear was the perfect combination of words to sum up its particular style of 2D fast-paced beat-'em-up mechanics is anybody's guess. Still, having already proclaimed the 'Guilty' verdict, it seems a little superfluous to add 'Judgment' to the title for this latest iteration, the first in the series for the PSP platform.
Nevertheless, the 'Judgment' part of the title refers to just half of this generous package, which includes two games for the price of one. See, Guilty Gear Judgment is a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the classic style of, say, Golden Axe, Final Fight and Street of Rage, while the second game, Guilty Gear X2 #Reload is a classic 2D one-on-one fighting game following the rhythm and style PSP users will have encountered in Darkstalkers and Street Fighter Alpha.
The Guilty Gear games are known for their pin-sharp 2D artwork and the style comes across very well on the PSP's screen. Everything about both games is ridiculously bombastic, with crazed characters sporting improbably large and rampant haircuts, along with weapons that defy the laws of physics and taste. Screeching heavy metal guitar solos soundtrack both games, raising the player's heart rate and establishing, in no uncertain terms, the hyperactive rhythm of gameplay.
The Guilty Gear X2 #Reload segment has been specifically designed for the PSP, but its modes are just limited to Arcade and Survival (so there's no story here to work through for each of the characters, for example). The gameplay is fast and furious, let down a little by the imprecision of the hardware's buttons (although this might be less of an issue once the PSP Lite is released later this month given its allegedly improved D-pad). As a result, some of the more complex special moves prove difficult to execute. Perhaps for this reason, this game feels a little tacked on to the main attraction, the side-scrolling beat-'em-up.
While built upon ancient and simple mechanics (run to the right, taking on a succession of weak baddies before facing up to a end-of-level boss), the developer has sought to introduce a little added complexity to the formula. You can play though the game with a small number of different characters and, as you encounter more members of the cast through the story, these become unlocked to play through with, too.
Each character boasts some simple offensive and defensive moves, as well as a variety of unique special moves with which to dispatch the wide variety of enemies and monsters that try to put a stop to your journey. Boss fights punctuate each section of the game and these are largely interesting and successful.
It's a long game (unusually so for a game in this genre) but when you run out of lives you can restart the most recent stage, so it's possible to dip in and out of play without needing to experience the whole thing in one protracted sitting. It's also possible to enjoy the game in ad-hoc co-op mode although doing so sees all of the story sequences ripped out. However, this will seem insignificant when you realise that in co-op it's not necessary for both players to be on the same screen at once – a welcome innovation for the tired genre.
It's one of noticeably few novel touches in an otherwise predictable yet well-rounded and generous package for the fighting fan. Sure, it's hardly the most cerebral of challenges (particularly the Judgment part of the game) but if you've worked your way through the previously available PSP beat-'em-ups, this should prove perfect for those times when all you're after is some light-fisted entertainment.