big gaming fun hits small screens

Posted by: Girlie

big gaming fun hits small screens - 09/22/05 04:47 AM

With the next-generation gaming console wars ready to kick off this Thanksgiving, it's easy to forget the battle for the portable player market currently raging between the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

Each offers users a different experience. The PSP boasts graphics and sound roughly equivalent to the current crop of home consoles. The DS packs less horsepower, but its dual-screen display and touch input open up new avenues of gameplay.

No matter which camp you find yourself in, an array of new portable titles on store shelves this summer brings original and entertaining content to the tiny handheld screens.

Death Jr.

The clever setup for this PSP third-person shooter sees the son of the Grim Reaper saving his buddies from a boxful of ghouls. To do that, he's got to retrieve pieces of their psyche from bizarre levels based around their brains. (If you think this sounds a little like Psychonauts, you're not alone.)

Though DJ wields a mini version of his father's signature scythe for close-up combat, you'll find that the tool is used mostly as a grappling hook in the game's frequent jumping puzzles. Death Jr. is a shooter at heart, with weapons ranging from the standard (twin pistols) to the macabre-goofy (explosive hamsters). Levels are split up by doors built out of massive, oozing eyeballs; you must defeat a certain number of enemies in each area before the eyedoors budge.

Death Jr. could have used a lot more work on its camera and aiming systems; you're supposed to be able to tap the R button to lock onto the nearest enemy, but this only works half the time. You can tap the L button to center the view behind DJ, but while you're getting him positioned, enemies tend to maul you.

Pac'N Roll

The ubiquitous yellow dot-eater made his Nintendo DS debut earlier this year with the innovative drawing puzzle game Pac-Pix. Now, in Pac'N Roll, he embarks on a full-length adventure that borrows a bit from the arcade classic Marble Madness.

The spherical Pac must spin, roll and bounce his way around. The DS' top screen shows Pac and the world full of obstacles and ghosts, and the lower screen is used as a sort of virtual trackball. Rubbing the stylus across the Pac-Man on the touch screen causes Pac to roll in that direction. A sharp stroke to the edge of the screen gives him a burst of speed to jump over chasms or burst open crates.

Much like Death Jr., the world of Pac'N Roll is guarded by animate doors that require a certain number of Pac-pellets as tribute before you can roll on through. And of course, levels are inhabited by ghosts. If they grab Pac-Man, you'll have to tap them on the touch screen until they float away.

Complete a level, and a time-trial challenge mode opens up, thus ensuring lots of replay value for even expert-level gamers. But casual players will appreciate the smooth difficulty curve and intuitive control schemes.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Another recent Nintendo DS title that should keep hard-core and casual gamers occupied on long car trips is Advance Wars: Dual Strike, the successor to the popular Game Boy Advance titles. Dual Strike keeps the same turn-based military strategy gameplay, but uses the touch screen to make control a breeze.

Instead of having to use the digital button inputs to select your soldiers and tanks, move them around the battle map and fire on enemy units, you can wage war using only the touch screen. Another major new feature in this version is the addition of a secondary front -- the air. While tanks and infantry mix it up on the ground, you'll use stealth fighter jets to drop missiles from above.

The series has always put a humorous, cartoonlike spin on military strategy, opening up a niche genre to a wide swath of players. This installment is no exception, so if you want to be entertained by well-written, family-friendly banter while you play armchair general, Dual Strike is your game.

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