Version tested: PSP
Rainbow Six Vegas
Time was, people used to scoff that you couldn't do first-person shooters on a console. TimeSplitters and Halo disproved that notion, no matter what some musty old PC obsessives would have you believe, and so now we move to a new battlefield: you can't do first-person shooters on a handheld.
I'd love to say that the PSP version of Ubisoft's latest Tom Clancy terrorist slayathon is the one to help tip the balance of popular opinion but, sadly, it's more than a little poopy. Even though the game is set in Vegas, the paltry spread of levels all take place in anonymous villas and caves, so the opening animation of heavily armed mayhem reflected in a roulette wheel proves cheekily misleading. Good start.
Movement is on the analogue nub, camera controls on the face buttons. It's a system that has worked okay for other PSP shooters, but there's a stiffness here that makes it feel more like Super Treacle Squad than a simulation of impeccably-trained Special Ops. You can switch to third-person when pressed up against a wall, to peer around corners, but just getting into this position is a hit-or-miss affair and the enemies aren't smart enough to make such stealth necessary. More shockingly, the whole game stops with a juddering pause when you shoot a bad guy, while the game loads his death animation from the UMD.
There's not even any tactical element - you only have two characters, and swap between them when the game says so, shooting terrorists up close with a sniper rifle rather than using the ineffectual pistols. That's the sort of lack of attention to detail that should make Tom Clancy fans burst with anger. You do get a laggy multiplayer mode to stretch things out a bit more, and the laughably titled "Terro Hunt" mode, but with its slender features and half-arsed presentation you're better off sticking with SOCOM, Metal Gear or Syphon Filter for your vicarious "echo tango bravo GO GO GO TARGET DOWN!" thrills. You big butch thing, you.
Capcom Puzzle World
Just as its Classics Collections scoured the Capcom archives for gamey nuggets from yesteryear, so this rather more slender compilation rounds up nuggets of a more puzzley flavour.
The important thing - possibly the most important thing in the whole world ever - is that we finally have Super Puzzle Fighter Turbo II in a glorious handheld format, and for that alone I sink to my knees and sob in gratitude. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest games ever made and a permanent fixture in my all-time top 10. At first glance it may look like a cheesy Tetris clone wearing Street Fighter clothes, but it's - oh! - so much more.
The idea is to build huge blocks of coloured gems from the pairs that fall from the top of the screen. When shattered these blocks dump an equivalent number of Counter Gems on your opponent, in different patterns for each character, and if your side of the screen gets filled to the brim, it's Game Over. Counter Gems don't turn into solid smashable colours for five turns, so it's easy to get swamped if you don't fight back.
Like all the best games, there's a whole world of subtle strategy beneath this simple concept and the Street Fighter branding is cleverly used. See, this really is more like a fighting game than a puzzle game. By learning the Counter Gem patterns it's possible to build your gem patterns in such a way that you turn your opponents attacks against them, you can define your own Counter Gem patterns and - if you're bold enough - even use the countdown to set up enormous blocks to shatter five turns later. Block, countermove, finishing flourish. You're just using gems instead of fists. And... ooh, I love it. You should too.
The collection also features three Buster Bros games (or Pang as it's better known) and Block Block, a bat-and-ball game that's already graced the Classics Collections. None of these are puzzle games by any yardstick I know of, but why argue? They're mere appetisers for the main dish. Super Puzzle Fighter Turbo II. On the PSP. Sweet mercy.
(Editor's note: Unfortunately, much as we love Capcom Puzzle World, it does suffer from quite a serious problem relating to firmware version 3.5/3.51, which you should be aware of if you're inclined to throw down some cash.)
I don't like getting hung up on originality, since it's never been the games industry's strongest suit. Even so, there are moments when you want to slap some faces and scream "Couldn't you at least try to disguise your larcenous ways?"
Case in point: the current explosion of mental exercise games. I suppose you could call it "brain training". Oh, wait, someone already did. The woolly concept this time around is that the cleverer you get, the hotter your brain becomes. Hmm. To help achieve this painful sounding goal, you play through the expected rounds of logic puzzles, observation tests and mathematical hatred.
Judged solely as a collection of such textbook tasks Hot Brain is passable enough, but it pales alongside the original Brain Training. Not only is the DS infinitely better suited to this sort of thing, with its stylus and fold open book-style presentation, but there's just a greater sense of cohesion and structure to Dr Kawashima's unlikely hit. Hot Brain, by comparison, reveals its true nature as a hurried me-too title filled with uninspired challenges.
The only real highlight is the presentation, with lots of great CGI animation and a ker-azy doctor character voiced by Anchorman star, Fred Willard. But even he's not as funny as you'd expect. Of course, as it's already been reduced to less than a tenner by some retailers, the only thing you have to lose is your precious time.
SBK-07: Superbike World Championship
Motorbike games have a reputation for being strictly for the hardcore. Much like Formula 1 games, they're almost always technically detailed titles with little time for brainless weekend gamers who just wanna make stuff go fast and hurr hurr hurr.
With Sony's Moto GP failing to impress on the PSP, there's certainly a gap in the market and Black Bean's more down and dirty take on the world of Superbikes may have come along at the right time. It's an almost exact port of the PS2 version, which crossed the line with a decent 7/10 back in May. The number of racers on the track has dipped from 22 to just 14, but considering they're all based on real Superbike riders that's still not too shabby.
The game has even retained the numerous game modes, including the lairy weekend events which aim to simulate the cider-and-leather ambience of a full-on biker meet. That'll be why you can unlock photos of pouting "umbrella girls" then. You can also join up to four players in wireless races, though you'll have to supply your own faint smell of vomit, petrol and stale smoke.
Personally, I found the handling a touch too heavy for my tastes, with accurate cornering a skill that needs more practice than most fair-weather fans will want to bother with. Committed bike nuts, however, will be in hog heaven. That's hog as in "bike", obviously, not "bacon makers".
If you claim to know what's going on here then you're either lying, seven-years-old or very, very creepy. It's yet another anime-flavoured TV spin-off, presumably from some incomprehensible show that's on fifty times a day on Cartoon Network or Fox Kids. Or Jetix. Whatever they call it these days.
Anyway, whatever its genesis, Xiaolin Showdown is a simple four-way melee game, with the aim being to grab as many Shen Gong Wu (power-ups, basically) before the other players. There are also bad guys (Jack Spicer and Chase Young, apparently) who are trying to stop you. Story missions - and I use both words loosely - segue into showdown arenas where everyone jumps around and kicks each other senseless. Again.
Shrill and confusing, it's clearly aimed at those who appreciate the TV show but I suspect even they'd be left wanting by the flimsy "run around and grab stuff" gameplay and muddled graphics here. During the showdown levels, your character can be only a few pixels high, for God's sake. It may not have the playground kudos of being based on a Japanese TV show, but Power Stone already has a lovely PSP version and the added advantage of being bloody great. Buy that instead. Little Timmy might grumble at first, but it's for his own good.