PS3 Essentials: The Best Downloadable Games Available on PSN

As more gamers finally have the increased hard drive space for downloadable titles and more developers move away from on-disc games to broadband delivery (further hinting that discs will soon go the way of the VHS tape), it’s created a traffic jam on the PlayStation Network with exclusive games available in the store nearly every week and little way to determine what’s worth your time. No one has the drive space for every downloadable game, and the sad fact is that a vast majority aren’t even a deal at their low price point (typically $4.99-$14.99). So how do you know what to pick up and what to avoid? Let us guide the way.



Company: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date
: 11/28/2007
: $9.99

From stopping lemmings from jumping off a cliff to jumping barrels to reach a killer monkey, gaming has a long history of addictive games that could correctly be called “silly.” While some of the most essential downloadable games have challenged both the heart and the mind, Pain is definitely not one of them. No, this clever title falls into the so-ridiculous-it’s-fun category as the player literally hurls human beings into the sky with a giant slingshot – crashing, banging, falling, and bouncing around an arcade landscape. Finding new ways to hurt your character and destroy the skyline at the same time became one of the first PS3 addictions, and Sony smartly used the title (sometimes even bundled in with PS3 systems) as an introduction to its new million-dollar industry in the costly world that terrifies every parent – add-ons in the form of new characters, new modes, and new levels. If you’re one of the people who spent $0.99 just so you could throw an animated Andy Dick around an amusement park, you know how essential Pain is for everything PS3.



Company: Hothead Games, Inc.
Release Date: 11/11/2009
Price: $14.99

Arguably the most breakthrough title in the history of downloadable games, Braid made a number of top ten lists and won awards alongside more high-profile titles on every platform for which it was released. This ingenious time-twister proves that genre is only as limiting as the developer’s imagination. The puzzle genre has never been big on storytelling, but Hothead Games proved that the structure could be used in a new way. Braid is the story of a character that can reverse time and must do so to proceed from level to level. The concept of time-reversal to correct past errors adds emotional and even philosophical depth where such things are usually never even a consideration. Braid became legendary in some circles and, to be fair, it was first released on every platform but the PS3, but just being late to the party doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games on the PSN. Heck, Braid should be considered for any list of the best games of the last few years, with or without a disc and an instruction booklet.


Madden NFL Arcade
Madden NFL Arcade.

Company: Electronic Arts Inc.
Release Date: 11/23/2009
Price: $9.99

Most gamers with even a passing interest in sports games know the Madden NFL brand. We may even be close to the point where a generation of gamers will think that John Madden was a video game developer and have no concept of his actual football history. While nothing downloadable could ever fully replace the depth of the on-disc experience of our annual Madden addiction, this arcade version is one of the best sports games for the casual player. The deep customization and attention to detail in most modern sports games have drained them of that pick-up-and-play aspect that we used to love about games like Tecmo Bowl and RBI Baseball. Madden NFL Arcade keeps it simple, stripping the game down to its basics and matching fans up online. If you only have 10 minutes and you want a quick game with limited playbooks and even a few special powers, you can’t do better than this option.



Company: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date
: 2/11/2009
: $9.99

Flower shows gamers the true potential depth of downloadable games by introducing them to a gaming style that is like no other. In a world dominated by shooters and increasingly-violent titles, Flower is all about peace. It proves that downloadable games don’t have to just be arcade replications or small versions of what players are accustomed to in their store-bought games. They can be something completely new. Flower is a lyrical, poetic experience in which the gamer enters the “mind” of a plant in a gray world with little light or nature. What would a flower dream about? Using the SIXAXIS controller to control a swaying group of flower petals around a gorgeous landscape, the world literally comes to life. Swirling wind, beautifully detailed blades of grass, a gorgeous score, Flower becomes nearly a zen-like experience, completely defying the typical action-centric expectations of the modern gaming world.


Marvel Pinball
Marvel Pinball.

Company: Zen Studios
Release Date
: 12/13/2010
: $9.99

Developed by the same team that made the almost-as-essential Zen Pinball, this comic-centric game perfectly blends the nostalgic experience of pinball and the golden age of comic books. The game comes with tables inspired by Spider-Man, Iron Man, Blade, and Wolverine, while tables based on The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Hulk, and a pack called "Vengeance and Virtue" (featuring four tables with Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Thor, and X-Men) have all been released as add-on content. Every single table has value as they’ve all been designed expertly for both the casual players and the pinball nuts who are willing to tilt over and over again just to get every possible point. It’s as addictive as any game released in the last several years.



Company: Playdead
Release Date
: 7/18/2011
: $14.99

Like Braid, Limbo may not have started life as a PSN title, but it’s available there now and is quite simply one of the most beautiful games ever made. Playdead proves that graphics need not be overly complicated to be gorgeous. Limbo is a tale told in black-and-white with a shadowy young boy trapped in a dangerous world that’s seen almost entirely in shadows. It’s a typical 2D platforming game, however, unlike most 2D adventures, it hits players with imagery that will haunt them like a barely-remembered nightmare. It’s a little lighter on story than Braid, but it’s similar in the sense that it challenges what people should expect from a downloadable platformer, finding emotional chords in places that so many other developers refuse to even look.

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