When Sony's PlayStation Portable debuted in 2005, it was expected to challenge Nintendo's long-held dominance in handheld games.
But Nintendo's DS has become a worldwide phenomenon. Not only has the dual-screen DS been a success with diehard gamers, it has attracted new audiences with off-the-wall hits like "Nintendogs," "Brain Age" and "Elite Beat Agents."
The PSP has been relatively stodgy. Almost all the games for the system are rehashes of popular PlayStation 2 franchises like "Grand Theft Auto" or "SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs." Genuine originals like last year's "LocoRoco" are few and far between.
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Still, a rehash isn't necessarily a bad thing. Here's one of the best PSP games yet, along with a couple of mediocrities that will appeal mainly to fans of their full-sized forebears.
— "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops" (Konami, $39.99): The two previous PSP "Metal Gear" titles have been puzzling affairs, mixing the franchise's cloak-and-dagger plots with a collectible card game. "Portable Ops" finally ditches the cards in favor of all-out stealth action.
A direct sequel to 2004's "Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater," it begins in 1970. As surly superspy Naked Snake, you discover a group of disgruntled soldiers who are plotting attacks on both the United States and the Soviet Union.
To sabotage their plans, you have to be sneaky — you can't just run through the enemy base with guns blazing.
"Portable Ops" adds one nifty feature: After you knock out enemies, you can abduct them and then convert them to your cause.
Recruits have different talents: They may be medics, mechanical wizards, spies or snipers, and you have to figure out which abilities you'll need for each mission.
The recruiting strategy adds an entirely new dimension to the "Metal Gear" series, making "Portable Ops" one of the most robust games on the PSP.
Three and a half stars out of four.
—"Brothers in Arms: D-Day" (Ubisoft, $39.99): Any game that asks players to slog through World War II once again had better be pretty special. "Brothers in Arms: D-Day" isn't.
Fans of the previous "BIA" titles will be especially disappointed, since "D-Day" is little more than a remix of missions from those two games, "Road to Hill 30" and "Earned in Blood."
The earlier titles added something fresh to the WWII formula, mixing a first-person shooter with a tactical strategy game — in other words, you shoot Nazis, and tell other people to shoot Nazis.
That combination of genres is particularly ill-suited to the PSP, which doesn't have enough buttons to handle both chores.
Shooting games are hard enough on the PSP anyway, and trying to give commands while you're shooting is nearly impossible.
Add choppy graphics, glitchy audio and yet another pretentious orchestral score (the official soundtrack of WWII since "Saving Private Ryan") and you have one exasperating package.
One and a half stars.
—"Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony" (2K Games, $39.99): We still haven't seen a first-rate role-playing game for the PSP, but "Throne of Agony" comes close. (Love the subtitle, which sounds like a good name for a death-metal band.)
It fits into the "hack-and-slash" subgenre, in which each mission basically involves exploring a dungeon and killing everything that moves.
With more than 100 different monsters and dozens of missions, there's plenty to do here, and the action is fast-paced and addictive. But like the PC series that spawned it, "Throne of Agony" may be too simple for its own good, and experienced RPG fans will eventually get bored.
More damaging are software hiccups that either paralyze your character or, worse, freeze up the game entirely. Such glitches don't ruin the fun entirely, but they're inexcusable from an experienced publisher like 2K.