Hot Potato is a classic story of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy stands around in street and promptly gets pelted by girls. But with spuds. There's some kind of vague story about an inundation of crazy space spuds from Mars mentioned in the manual, but what it all boils down to is a puzzle game that lands somewhere between Tetris and Bust-A-Move.
Chip Off The Old Block
Your rescue mission involves matching up the spuds in the street with another one of the same colour, at which point the pair of them run off together. If you get it wrong both spuds will continue to stand around in the road, and a collision with your spud-firing "bus" will cost you a life. The good news is that the spuds only come in two colours, red and blue (here's a tip - don't eat the blue ones). The bad news is that you fire three spuds at a time, which leads to all kinds of frantic button-hammering as you rotate and flip the two rows of spuds in your tray to get the three that you want to the front of the bus ready to fire.
The first few levels are fairly easy, but as you progress through the game you will find the streets becoming increasingly crowded. Speed markers at the end of each block allow you to choose how fast your bus moves, and act as a kind of ersatz difficulty setting. The higher the speed the higher your score will be, but go too fast and things can rapidly get overwhelming. Meanwhile obstacles can make the street narrower, leaving you frantically veering your bus from side to side across the screen.
Other street furniture includes bonus mats, which will give you an extra life or score bonus if you can clear all the potatoes off them. Your bonus can be increased still further by rescuing multiplier potatoes, which multiply the number of points that you earn from the next bonus mat by whatever number is printed on the sign they wave above their head.
The psychotic little green potatoes which occassionally show up in your bus can also be useful. Fire one of these and it will run off down the screen clubbing any potato it meets with a rolling pin, clearing an entire column of spuds for you. All of which is particularly important in the Score mode, in which you must get a certain number of points to progress to the next level.
The game also features a Mission mode with its own set of levels, in which you must save several "special spuds" of a particular type to continue. The special types include munchers, singers, workers and bouncers, each of which has its own amusing little animation, ranging from gobbling down food or reading a newspaper to bouncing its own eyeball around on the street surface.
It all sounds very stupid, and indeed it is. But it's also curiously amusing, from the cute cartoon graphics and funny little sound effects to the frenetic spud-smashing gameplay. The inclusion of a proper save game system and good old fashioned high score tables also gives it some extra longevity. Finishing each mode's seven levels is relatively easy and will probably only take you a few hours, but it's enjoyable enough that you may want to go back and try to beat your own scores or see if you can finish the entire game without dying.
Hot Potato is not as addictive as Kurukuru Kururin (the GBA's other puzzle game), but it's still a lot of fun for kids and not-so-grown-ups alike.
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