Strategy Games Fare Well on Portable, Home Consoles

There are two kinds of video war games: those in which you play a soldier ("Call of Duty 4," "Army of Two") and those in which you play a general.

The former, more action-oriented type is better-suited to video-game consoles; the latter, more cerebral type is more popular among computer gamers.

The strategic war game boils down to this: Invade or be invaded. It's a formula that's worked for chess all these centuries, and it's held up through great PC games like "Civilization," "Age of Empires" and this year's "Sins of a Solar Empire."

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Occasionally, a computer war game will make the transition to a console, as "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars" did last year on the Xbox 360. But most console war games are far less complicated than their PC counterparts.

That's not a criticism. Some of us prefer a quick skirmish to the hours-long battles that can keep PC players up all night.

— "Patapon" (Sony, for the PlayStation Portable, $19.99): This utterly unique charmer tells the tale of the fierce Patapon tribe — essentially, a bunch of eyeballs with arms and legs — and their battle to reclaim their homeland from the evil Zigoton.

Some Patapon are good hand-to-hand fighters, some fire spears and arrows, and others charge on horseback; before each level begins you have to assemble the most effective mix.

Thing is, the Patapon only respond to commands issued by war drum.

In the role of the "Almighty," you send them into the fray by pounding out rhythms on the PSP's buttons.

Different beats make the creatures march, attack, defend and so on, and if you keep a steady beat you can enter "fever mode," boosting your guys' battle and magic skills.

This unlikely mix of strategy and rhythm games works surprisingly well. Not only is the gameplay addictive, but the rhythms will worm their way into your brain.

And the graphics, by the French designer Rolito, are the freshest to appear in a video game since 2006's "LocoRoco."

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

— "Advance Wars: Days of Ruin" (Nintendo, for the DS, $34.99): Previous "Advance Wars" games have been kind of colorful and cute, certainly by war-game standards, but "Days of Ruin" tells a much darker story.

For starters, meteor strikes have wiped out 90 percent of humanity. (Yay!)

Your character joins an army that's trying to find survivors, and you'll have to do battle with roving bandits, mutating civilians and rival generals who are still nursing grudges from before the apocalypse.

You need to maneuver a variety of units, from humble infantrymen to high-tech air and naval machines, gathering resources and pounding the bad guys.

While the story is more interesting than usual, the gameplay hasn't changed much — but that's OK, because it's as much fun as ever.

Both sides take turns attacking and defending; most levels can be won by either destroying all the enemy units or by capturing your rival's headquarters.

You'll coast through the early battles, but the challenge builds up smoothly, always teasing you to take on just one more fight.

Three stars.

— "PixelJunk Monsters" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $7.99): One of the surprise Internet successes of 2007 was an unassuming little Flash game called "Desktop Tower Defense."

"PixelJunk Monsters" draws inspiration from that low-key hit, adding just enough flavor to make it worth an $8 download.

The premise couldn't be simpler: Monsters enter one side of the screen and you have to prevent them from reaching your village on the other side. Your only defense is a maze of trees that the monsters have to travel through.

Each tree, though, can be transformed into a tower that shoots different kinds of ammo, from arrows to cannonballs to laser beams.

Each monster you kill drops gold or jewels that you can use to upgrade your towers, which you'll need to do to defeat the boss monsters that emerge at the end of stages.

"PixelJunk Monsters" is addictive in that "just one more battle" way, and it's one of the niftier challenges to emerge from Sony's PlayStation Network.

Three stars.