Video-game companies are always trying to impress us with flashier graphics. As game consoles grow more sophisticated, designers are always finding new ways to make the virtual world look more like the real world — and make virtual characters look more human.
That's great for an immersive role-playing epic like "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" or a dramatic war game like "Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter."
But a lot of our favorite games are completely unrealistic and manage to be enormously entertaining despite less than state-of-the-art graphics.
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Who needs a finely detailed human avatar when you can have just as much fun with a low-res cartoon like Mario? Who says a hero has to be humanoid at all?
There's a lot of fun to be had at the low end of the evolutionary scale, and some of these blobs have more personality than most people you see in video games.
— "LocoRoco" (Sony, for the PlayStation Portable, $39.99): Here's a real rarity for the PSP, a system that has been overly dependent on portable translations of PlayStation games. "LocoRoco" is utterly original, a hallucinatory 2D puzzle game that radiates the kind of charm we've come to expect from Nintendo, not Sony.
The title characters are ever-smiling blobs that start small but can grow larger as they eat fruit. For most of the game, you don't actually control the LocoRoco — instead, you tilt the landscape so the creature will roll in the desired direction.
You can jump a short distance and, occasionally, you'll find yourself too large to get through an area, in which case you'll need to split into a dozen or so tinier blobs.
That's really all there is to the controls, so it's easy for anyone to learn. All the ingenuity is found in the design of the games' 40-plus levels, which are continually offering new obstacles to overcome and new contraptions to help you get to the finish.
With its overall cheeriness and engagingly weird soundtrack (the best of its type since "Katamari Damacy"), "LocoRoco" will appeal to even the most cynical gamer. Three-and-a-half stars.
— "Mercury Meltdown" (Ignition, for the PlayStation Portable, $39.99): The "protagonist" of "Mercury Meltdown" doesn't have the charm of "LocoRoco"; it's just a blob of mercury. But it does look cool, and it's been plopped in a variety of lively, colorful mazes that will look familiar to fans of "Super Monkey Ball" or "Marble Madness."
The mercury oozes, divides and recombines, and if you can get just one percent of it to the finish line you've succeeded. (The more mercury you retain, the more progress you make toward opening up future levels.)
"Meltdown" answers the main complaint about 2005's "Archer MacLean's Mercury" — namely, its insane level of difficulty. While going somewhat easier on newbies, "Meltdown" still offers plenty of tough-to-achieve incentives for experts.
With plenty of new gimmicks and enemies and over 160 levels, this is a really good deal for fans of clever portable puzzles. Three stars.
— "Bubble Bobble Revolution" (Codemasters, for the Nintendo DS, $29.99): Bub and Bob, stars of the 1986 arcade classic "Bubble Bobble," are two of the original "what-the-heck-are-they?" characters. They look like fat, squat dinosaurs, and they defeat monsters by trapping them in bubbles and then popping them.
"Revolution" includes the original "Bubble Bobble," and it's nice that the old chestnut still holds up (although you can find plenty of cheaper versions online).
Too bad the "New Age" remake here is so awful, one of the ugliest games to appear on the DS. It promises 100 levels of bubble-bobbling action, but the early ones are so bug-riddled (in some cases dropping you on screens with no monsters at all) that you won't get very far.
And you won't care. One star.