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Latest Games Keep PSP Franchise Rolling

The PlayStation Portable has been around for three years, but the machine you might buy today is far different from the one you'd get in 2005.

Sony is continually tinkering with the thing in big ways (introducing a lighter, slimmer model in 2007) and small (any number of regularly issued firmware updates).

You can do a lot more on a PSP than just play games and movies.

You can make phone calls through the Skype service. You can access Web pages. You can listen to music, through downloads or Internet radio. You can connect to device to a TV in order to play games on a bigger screen. A GPS device is on the way.

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So the PSP is multitalented, but it doesn't do any one thing quite as well as dedicated devices do. It's still, first and foremost, a game machine. Its game library continues to grow, and while it doesn't have as many diverse a selection as the Nintendo DS, its AAA titles look spectacular.

—"Secret Agent Clank" (Sony, for the PSP, $39.99): Here's the second PSP spinoff of Sony's great "Ratchet & Clank" franchise, which the High Impact Games studio has successfully shrunk to fit a 4.3-inch screen.

Clank, the robot half of the duo, is the star this time, and his droll wit is as charming as ever.

Ratchet has been falsely imprisoned, so the tuxedo-clad Clank's on a solo mission to clear his pal's name.

As usual, there's a robust assortment of clever weapons and gadgets, like exploding cufflinks and bow-tie boomerangs. Some sequences reward stealth, but it's usually more fun to fight than sneak.

There are also sections where Clank dances, pilots a speedboat or tries to get the brain-dead Gadge-Bots to do his bidding, so there's plenty of variety.

The animation is very good, about even with the PlayStation 2 "R&C" games, and the story is endearingly silly.

I did miss the repartee between the two leads, but the cowardly Captain Qwark makes the most of his cameo.

"Secret Agent Clank" doesn't have the depth of its parent series, but its fast-paced levels are well suited for portable play. Three stars out of four.

—"Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2" (Sony, for the PSP, $29.99): With the "Hot Shots" series, developer Clap Hanz has turned the usually sluggish game of golf into one of the zippiest video-game sports.

The original "Open Tee" was the most addictive of the PSP's launch titles, and the follow-up is just as satisfying.

The ultra-simple swing system involves pressing the X button three times: once to start, once for power, once for accuracy.

You can learn more precise techniques as the game progresses, although I did miss the advanced swing mechanism introduced in "HSG: Out of Bounds" on the PlayStation 3.

You can also improve your power, accuracy and spin by completing tasks in the game's challenge mode.

Success also lets you unlock 12 courses and 12 characters, and there are dozens of items to collect as you roam the fairways.

You can finish nine holes in about 10 minutes, but you'll always be tempted to start just one more round as you search for an elusive accessory.

"Open Tee 2" is the best portable golf game on the market, and I suspect I'll be carrying my PSP around a lot more because of it. Three stars.

—"R-Type Command" (Atlus, for the PSP, $39.99): "R-Type" is one of the all-time great outer-space shoot-'em-ups, but this spinoff is a much more laid-back tactical game.

You start each level by placing an assortment of spaceships on a hex-filled grid; the objective, generally, is to reach a particular spot on the grid or to destroy your opponent's flagship.

Strategy lovers will eat this up, but others may find it baffling thanks to a complete lack of tutorials or any other onscreen help.

The battles are well-balanced, though, challenging yet fair, and patient players will come to appreciate the versatility of the spacecraft.

But patience is the key. "R-Type Command" moves very slowly, and battles take half-an-hour or more.

The levels do get repetitious, and the opponent's artificial intelligence sometimes takes forever to complete its turn.

If you're nostalgic for the frenzy of classic "R-Type," you'd be better off rejecting this "Command." Two stars.