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PSP Minis Review Round-up 4

Our fourth look at PSP Minis, with some real crackers this time.

Independent developers are flocking to the Minis platform, one of the many great things to come to the PSP this year, and if the quality of the games continues to ramp up we’ll be happy bunnies.  This fourth edition of our PSP Minis Review Round-ups includes both Halfbrick games (Echoes and Blast Off), the recent Dracula: Undead Awakening and the launch title Puzzle Scape Mini.  Enjoy.

Puzzle Scape Mini (Farmind Ltd, £2.49)

Puzzle Scape might have been one of the first Minis off the production line, but when the development standards are as strong as they are here it’s not surprising that Farmind’s brilliant game was previously published as a ‘full’ PSP title, complete with multiplayer.

A bright, nicely done menu boosts your confidence right from the off and a quick scroll through the initially locked ‘scenes’ suggests there’s stacks of value here for your £2.49.  Once in the game and past the high score tables (in either of the two distinct gameplay modes) Puzzle Scape plays out like a block matching genre mashup combining the best of Lumines and Puzzle-de-pon as you switch around couplets of coloured blocks in order to create squares of four blocks or more.

At the right hand side of the screen in Architect mode are the current colours you’re supposed to aim for but the main portion of the game is taken up with the actual gameplay block and whatever fancy graphics are spinning away in the background.   Artist mode is slightly slower paced, but both involve the same principles and mechanics and both have the pressure of additional falling blocks to content with.

With loads to do, decent music and high production values, the game’s an absolute bargain, and given the current licensing issues Q’s having with the digital format it’s as close to Lumines as Go owners are going to get.  Great stuff:  8/10 [AC]

Dracula: Undead Awakening (Chillingo, £3.99)

I found Dracula, a port of the hit iPhone game, a little disappointing on PSP.  Sure, it looks great, the menus are slick and professional and the graphics in-game are great, despite being 2D sprites, but unfortunately there’s little here not found in the iPhone version and I’ve always found the gameplay to be rather throwaway and mostly devoid of any deep tactics.

The principle of the player versus thousands of undead as they horde towards you isn’t a new one, there’s already lots of similar games around that do this sort of thing (and better) but when there’s really nothing to do except continously fire and walk backwards you do can’t help but get slightly bored, even when the difficult starts to ramp up considerably.  Yes, there’s four different modes (Survival, Super Survival, Rush and Wave Attack) but they all play almost identically and the three environments to battle in don’t really offer any distinct gameplay styles despite looking rather lovely.

The problem with Dracula is that there’s little risk/reward and unlike titles like Burn Zombie Burn, which had the cool ‘fire’ modifier system to spice things up the only things that ever change in Dracula: Undead Awakening are the guns and the legions of nicely drawn zombie creatures.  A simple ‘perk’ system tries to liven things up a little with some cool extra skills but doesn’t do much to break up the monotony.  You’ll get more out of the game the more you put in, and there’s some challenge here for the dedicated, but if forced I’d rather stick to the iPhone version which is far cheaper: 5/10 [AC]

Echoes (Halfbrick, £2.49)

I’ve mentioned Echoes, the Australian developed arcade puzzler before, mainly on the virtue of its wickedly clever built-in trophy system, but on further play it’s clear the game holds up on its own as a unique PSP mini for anyone looking for something a little bit different.

It’s certainly that, offering up something akin to a top down blend of the core elements of Echochrome and Braid with your character having to collect objects whilst avoiding her echoes – her earlier paths.  The echoes effectively follow your last point to each crystal as you pick them up, so the game quickly becomes a test of both dexterity and memory before ultimately being more about forward planning.

It’s all quite good looking too – the individual graphics aren’t particularly stunning by any standards but the art style itself is great, all pastel shades and thick brush strokes and the menu system (and the aforementioned trophies) help to give the game its own place in the current minis line-up.  Despite the game playing most of its cards far too early (and never really going anywhere new in later levels) Halfbrick’s biggest issue is the copy for the game on the Store which doesn’t begin to describe the mechanics properly: 7/10 [AC]

Blast Off (Halfbrick, £2.49)

I don’t have time to get addicted to videogames – most of the time I’ll pick one up, play through it, review it and then never touch it again.  This won’t be the case with Blast Off because it’s so compulsively entertaining that Halfbrick’s second mini is almost impossible to put down.

The idea, like all great games, is deceptively simple: you must blast off from your launch planet, pick up a few stragglers floating in space, and fly through the landing platform in order to beat each level.  Controls, too, are child’s play: hold down X to build up launch pressure, aim with the d-pad, release X and then make adjustments to your flight path with the same buttons.  Of course, other planets and various hazards soon make their way into the levels, causing gravity issues amongst others.

The simpler levels play out the best, with the best score (the game offers a challenging set of score levels for every mission) usually achieved with pixel perfect aim and launch build-up – if you can collect all the spacemen and land on the pad without using extra fuel or turning too much your score will be much higher than if you had to correct yourself and re-aim mid-flight.  Getting gold is easy, ‘Brick’ scores are for the hardcore.

Blast Off, then, plays on your desire to better yourself.  There’s loads of levels, but I have some kind of self destructive urge to not only get the Brick score for everything before moving on, but also beating it by as big a margin as possible.  Sounds like a great title for a TSA Challenge, then: 8/10 [AC]

In case you missed any of our earlier Minis round-ups, here’s the list of other games in their entirety along with the scores we’ve given them.

Alien Havoc (7)
Brainpipe (8)
Breakquest (7)
Bloons (7)
D-Cube Planet (5)
Fieldrunners (9)
Fortix (5)
Hero of Sparta (5)
Kahoots (7)
Mahjongg Artifacts 2 (8)
Pinball Dreams (7)
Pinball Fantasies (7)
Tetris (7)
Vempire (8)
Yummy Yummy Cooking Jam (4)

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