A Trio of Titles for the Small Screen

Friday, August 1, 2008

The PlayStation Portable has been around for three years, but the machine today is far different from the one in 2005. Sony is continually tinkering in big ways (introducing a lighter, slimmer model in 2007) and small (any number of regularly issued firmware updates). Its game library continues to grow, and although it doesn't have as diverse a selection as the Nintendo DS, its blockbuster titles look spectacular.

Secret Agent Clank (Everyone 10+; PSP, $39.99; Sony) This is the second PSP spinoff of Sony's great Ratchet & Clank franchise, which the High Impact Games studio has successfully shrunk to a 4.3-inch screen. Clank, the robot half of the duo, is the star this time, and his droll wit is as charming as ever. Ratchet has been falsely imprisoned, so the tuxedo-clad Clank is on a solo mission to clear his pal's name. As usual, there's a robust assortment of clever weapons and gadgets, such as exploding cufflinks and bow-tie boomerangs. Some sequences reward stealth, but it's usually more fun to fight than to sneak. The animation is very good, and the story is endearingly silly. Secret Agent Clank doesn't have the depth of its parent series, but its fast-paced levels are well suited for portable play.

Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2 (Everyone; PSP, $29.99; Sony) With the Hot Shots series, developer Clap Hanz has turned the usually sluggish game of golf into one of the zippiest video-game sports. The original Open Tee was the most addictive of the PSP's launch titles, and the follow-up is just as satisfying. The ultra-simple swing system involves pressing the X button three times: once to start, once for power and once for accuracy. You can learn more precise techniques as the game progresses, although I did miss the advanced swing mechanism introduced in HSG: Out of Bounds on the PlayStation 3. You can also improve your power, accuracy and spin by completing tasks in the game's challenge mode. Success also lets you unlock 12 courses and 12 characters, and there are dozens of items to collect as you roam the fairways. You can finish nine holes in about 10 minutes, but you'll always be tempted to start just one more round as you search for an elusive accessory. This is the best portable golf game on the market, and I suspect I'll be carrying my PSP around a lot more because of it.

R-Type Command (Everyone 10+; PSP, $39.99; Atlus) R-Type is one of the all-time great outer-space shoot-'em-ups, but this spinoff is a much more laid-back tactical game. You start each level by placing an assortment of spaceships on a hex-filled grid, and the objective, generally, is to reach a particular spot on the grid or to destroy your opponent's flagship. Strategy lovers will eat this up, but others might find it baffling thanks to a complete lack of tutorials or other on-screen help. The battles are well balanced, though, challenging yet fair, and patient players will come to appreciate the versatility of the spacecraft. But patience is key. The game moves very slowly, with battles taking 30 minutes or more. The levels get repetitious, and the opponent's artificial intelligence can take forever to complete its turn. If you're nostalgic for the frenzy of classic R-Type, you'd be better off rejecting this Command.

-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press

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