Review: Addictive Puzzle Games for PlayStation Portable

What do handheld video-game players want? Just smaller versions of games they've already enjoyed on their home systems?

Apparently that's the case with most PlayStation Portable owners, who have made best-sellers out of titles like "Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories" and "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops."

But if I'm going to dig into a large-scale adventure, I want to do it on my wide-screen TV at home. When I'm on the road, I like simpler games that I can play for a few minutes — or a few hours — at a time.

More than two years after its release, my favorite PSP title is still the elegant puzzle game "Lumines."

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Fortunately, more publishers are catching on. Puzzle addicts now have a growing number of options on Sony's portable — including one of the very best games yet released for the system.

—"Crush" (Sega, $29.99): "Crush" is a rarity in this genre — a puzzle game with a story.

You are Danny, a troubled insomniac who gets to explore his own twisted psyche via a mad scientist's virtual-reality computer. Each level of Danny's subconscious is a hallucinatory 3D maze; each puzzle solved gets him closer to a good night's sleep.

And, oh, what puzzles these are. They aren't your traditional mazes; rather, you'll often find yourself stuck on a floating platform, with a bottomless abyss yawning between you and the exit. To bridge the gap, you have to "crush" the maze from three dimensions to two, move to another platform, then "uncrush" the maze and see where you end up.

Nintendo's "Super Paper Mario" employed a similar gimmick, but not as thoroughly. Every move you make in "Crush" depends on your ability to switch back and forth between the 2D and 3D perspectives, and it's a surprisingly difficult cognitive challenge.

At times I felt like "Crush" was bending my brain in entirely new ways, and the rush from solving a particularly thorny maze was unusually satisfying.

Three-and-a-half stars out of four.

—"PQ2: Practical Intelligence Quotient 2" (D3, $29.99): Tiny D3 surprised a lot of gamers earlier this year with its innovative "Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords," an addictive mix of role playing and a "Bejeweled"-type puzzle game.

D3 has picked up on a strategy masterminded by "Bejeweled" publisher Popcap and other "casual" game purveyors: Even a low-budget developer can make a splash with well-conceived, simple software.

"PQ2" is the sequel to D3's 2006 "PQ," and the formula hasn't changed radically. Each level is a 3D maze, simpler than those in "Crush" but still studded with diabolical traps.

You may have to stack bricks to reach the exit, or figure out how to activate sliding doors or teleportation devices. Other levels are staffed by policemen who will stop you if they see you.

"PQ2" is a rock-solid maze game, addictive if not particularly innovative. I still don't buy D3's insistence that it will improve my "practical intelligence," but it did make me think.

Three stars.

—"Cube" (D3, $19.99): "Cube" is another simple yet absorbing collection of mazes from the D3 crew.

Here, the maze is a platform floating in space, and you can maneuver the titular cube around its top, bottom and sides to get from start to finish.

Obstacles include rotating blocks, one-way squares and quicksand traps, and as you advance you'll find yourself ducking spiked bombs while racing to meet cramped time limits.

You can rotate the mazes, but after a few spins you may have trouble remembering which way you're supposed to be heading.

More disorienting are the garish color schemes, which sometimes make it difficult to focus on the puzzles; one hot pink section is particularly hideous.

The levels also get a little repetitive, and the controls aren't as tight as they should be on a game this simple.

Two-and-a-half stars.