Games 2/14/07: Sid Meier's Pirates! PSP, Capcom Puzzle World

Sid Meier’s Pirates!
For: PSP
From: Full Fat/Firaxis/2K games
Rating: Everyone 10+ (Mild Violence)

If the PSP must be a haven for downgraded ports of console games, they should at least be games that don’t choke on the system’s limitations and portable nature. That’s the case with “Sid Meier’s Pirates!,” which not only fits on the PSP but arguably belonged here all along.

“Pirates!” take a small but diverse collection of smaller games and melts them into one larger game, dutifully bridging the gap between mini-game collection and full-blown pirate simulator. What starts as a story of revenge eventually gives way to a free-roaming Caribbean adventure that you can enjoy on your terms and by any number of means — questing, assembling fleets, trading, taking out famed rivals, even dancing like no one’s watching.

Each action is executed as a mini-game, with “Pirates!” dabbling in rhythm, stealth, real-time (and turn-based) strategy and more. (“Resident Evil 4” fans will love the inclusion of quick timer moments when a rival crew’s ranks need thinning prior to a sword fight with the captain.)

The task of miniaturizing “Pirates!” fell into the laps of Full Fat, a developer with a bizarrely uneven track record. Fortunately, this one goes into the “win” column. It looks good, plays great, keeps the load times down, and makes the right moves to offset the PSP’s diminished control capabilities.

That’s good news for any port of any game, but it’s especially nice this time around. While “Pirates!” shined on the Xbox and PC, it also laid bare — like any other collection of mini-games — its susceptibility to repetition during long play sessions. But one platform’s problem is another’s selling point, and the ability to wake the PSP up, engage in a couple of small games, check on the status of your pirate empire and put it back to sleep, makes “Pirates!” an ideal and rewarding fit for a portable that can handle its ambition. Having almost every video game genre in your pocket isn’t too shabby, either.

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Capcom Puzzle World
For: PSP
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Everyone (Mild Violence)

“Capcom Puzzle World” isn’t so much a puzzle world as a small, out-of-the-way puzzle island. Where Capcom’s recent arcade compilations featured roughly 20 games each, “World” boasts only five.

It gets worse: Three of these five games are very similar variants of the same game, “Buster Bros.” So you really only get three games.

The capper? “Bros.” isn’t a puzzle game — at all. Neither is “Block Block,” an “Arkanoid” clone that already graced one of the arcade compilations. So now we’re left with one puzzle game, “Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.” If Pluto no longer qualifies for planetary status, what chance does this not-quite compendium have?

To its credit, “World” does present the best-to-date version of a game that’s impossible to find on the original Playstation and the victim of downgrading on the Game Boy Advance. “Puzzle Fighter” is yet another falling-block, color-matching puzzle game, but the unlikely infusion of the “Street Fighter” and “Darkstalkers” fighting franchises — and the means with which it combines combos and combat — add a frantic layer of originality to what otherwise might be just another [insert falling-block puzzle game here] knockoff. “World” produces a perfect emulation job and piles on some good features — wireless multiplayer, a combo/counter editor, a few new variants on the standard arcade mode — for good measure.

Whether that alone is worth $30 or not is a matter of taste. “Puzzle Fighter” has a small but frenzied following, and that following has waited years for a proper translation of a game that’s long been out of print. For these folks, “World’s” one puzzle game is plenty. But Capcom’s fear of releasing it on its own has resulted in a misleading compilation that’s bound to leave a few people confused and let down. Puzzle fanatics who excitedly buy this one blind may be pleased to discover “Puzzle Fighter,” but they’ll be just as disappointing when they discover that’s all there is.