Since Nintendo Inc. upped the ante by bringing Wi-Fi to its dual-screen handheld, it has opened the game system up to a new world of gameplay.
The more grown-up PSP has also taken the limelight with its multimedia functions and wide array of more realistic, sophisticated gameplay.
Still, while both systems have not produced as many titles in comparison to console and PC games, that doesn't mean the offerings are as dry as some holiday fruitcakes.
If you are still feeling snowed under by what titles to buy gamers for either of these two handhelds, here are six that are sure to be hits for the holidays.
— "SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo" (Rated M, PSP, $39.99, Sony Computer Entertainment).
If there's one title that should be in every gamer's stocking, it's the handheld version of Sony Computer Entertainment's SOCOM series. This military game puts you on the front line as a U.S. Navy SEAL, taking you through tactical missions while using the most high-tech weaponry. "Fireteam Bravo" shines in online multiplayer mode. The PSP's wireless connection lets you pit your skills against players. Any given night there are upward of 25,000 users playing. Multiplayer missions take on a completely different tone than single-player mode by playing with other humans, rather than a computer. The new PSP headset is a must for multiplayer. For $20, the headset lets you communicate with other players to coordinate objectives. Four out of four stars.
— "Madden NFL 06" (Rated E, PSP, $49.99, Electronic Arts).
This holiday, give your gamer the universal symbol of love — football. Although the NFL season ends about a month after the holidays, this handheld version of the "Madden" franchise is sure to keep the touchdowns coming. Aside from the usual team gameplay, players can take part in mini-games, testing the kicking, passing, and running abilities of some of the league's most talented players. Go head-to-head in multiplayer mode, and move up the ranks with EA Nation's leaderboard. Three and a half stars.
— "Need for Speed: Most Wanted 5-1-0" (Rated E-10, PSP, $49.99, Electronic Arts).
Some of the coolest cars can be bought, souped up and raced in the newest installment of the "Need for Speed" series. Although there hasn't been much groundbreaking in the recent rash of racing games, "Most Wanted," like its console cousin, puts a twist on the classic model. Not only are you racing to the finish line at speeds over 150 mph, you are eluding the law. And, the faster and more reckless your driving, the more intense the chase gets. You can also reverse roles and bust some illegal street racers in your police cruiser. This title takes advantage of the PSP's Wi-Fi connection. Two and a half stars.
— "Mario Kart DS" (Rated E, Nintendo DS, $34.99, Nintendo).
Fans of earlier incarnations of "Mario Kart" will be very pleased with the new handheld version. Like the others in the series, the Nintendo DS version combines Nintendo's cast of recurring characters into a fun-filled racing game. While it doesn't take full advantage of the features that the game system offers, the game uses the bottom screen as a map of each course. In multiplayer mode, players can use the new Nintendo DS Wi-Fi capability to race against players all over the world. Four stars.
— "Tony Hawk's American Sk8land" (Rated E, Nintendo DS, $39.99, Activision).
Skating fans can now take Tony Hawk with them everywhere they go, thanks to the Nintendo DS. Just make sure your favorite gamer doesn't try playing and skating at the same time. While the graphics aren't as good as the console and PSP Tony Hawk franchises, "American Sk8land" is a fun, never-ending landscape of skating, biking and inevitable crashing. Two and a half stars.
— "Sonic Rush" (Rated E, Nintendo DS, $34.99, Sega).
Sega has done it again, bringing the blue dude with a 'tude to the Nintendo DS. The newest version maximizes gameplay by using the system's dual screens. Much like the original Sega Genesis games featuring Sonic the Hedgehog, "Sonic Rush," lets players roll, bounce and swing through multiple stages, while collecting coins and tracking down the evil Dr. Eggman — this time with an even more evil clone. The game also brings Sonic and his enemies into the three-dimensional world with enhanced graphics. While the game doesn't tap into the system's Wi-Fi mode, it is sure to please. Three and a half stars.