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Last Updated: Friday, 7 July 2006, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
Mario Bros return in pocket form
The BBC's Neil McGreevey takes a look at some of the latest portable offerings for the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS (DS)

Mario
Look who's back: the world's most famous plumber

Mascot, icon, tradesman. Life is good for the world's most famous pixelated plumber.

Having conquered the platforming world since his first appearance in Donkey Kong, the moustachioed mushroom gobbler has come full circle with an incredible DS adventure that harks back to the series' 2D roots.

Despite the title, the first 2D Mario game in over a decade offers nothing new per se, looking and playing exactly like the NES fodder that devoured our lives in the 80s and 90s.

Shigeru Miyamoto's time-honoured plot remains intact, as once again Bowser kidnaps Princess Toadstool, prompting Mario to embark on a rescue mission across the Mushroom Kingdom.

As pure a game as you could wish for, Mario still offers frustration, addiction and adrenaline-pumping retro action, along with lashings of multiplayer mini-games.

It has been given a fresh lick of paint, with a pseudo 3D look and all-new mushrooms that turn our hero into a giant or midget, but that old Mario magic still sparkles over 80 spellbinding levels.

SUPER MONKEY BALL ADVENTURE (PSP)

Super Monkey Ball
More ball rolling fun in Super Monkey Ball

Sega's phenomenally successful Monkey Ball series has players rolling simians through their paces in a series of candy-coloured party games.

Despite attempting to expand the series, the "adventure" feels tacked on - in fact the bulk of the quest is monkey-business as usual, meaning more obstacle courses against the clock.

And while 50 new puzzle levels offer a hefty challenge, once again it's the party games that take centre stage, with three new additions including Monkey Tag, Monkey Bounce and Castle - a frantic four-player game of destruction.

Naturally, all are primed for wireless multiplayer.

But while this works a treat on the home consoles, the PSP hardware does not live up to the game's lofty intentions, rendering Monkey Ball virtually unplayable.

The series has always been based around precision analogue controls - something the PSP can never offer with a pathetic joystick.

So what should have been a cheeky mix of chimp-flavoured platforming and mini-games is, in the end, a load of Monkey balls.

TENCHU: TIME OF THE ASSASINS (PSP)

Tenchu
Japanese stealth action is guaranteed in Tenchu

Those who prefer stealth over action will enjoy Tenchu.

Creeping through feudal Japan, performing silent assassinations is all in a day's work for Rikimaru, Ayame, Rin and Tesshu, the four stars of Time of the Assassins.

The first portable outing for the classic ninja series mixes stealth, action and fountains of blood, with each character's unique storyline involving turning prey to sushi with a mix of classic ninja weapons.

The swish visuals capture the atmosphere perfectly - almost touching on PS2 quality, were it not for a dreaded fog making it rather like playing with sunglasses on.

Adding to the frustration are poor camera angles.

At least the stirring oriental soundtrack reeks of quality. If you're prepared to forgive its niggles, then Tenchu will be right up your dojo.




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