- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at video games for the entire family.

PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe (from Sony Computer Entertainment America, reviewed for the PlayStation Portable, $19.99) — A fantastic tower defense game has been upgraded from its PlayStation 3 roots to become the ultimate downloadable edition for Sony’s handheld system.

The highly addictive challenge includes the two previous PixelJunk games and another map that is broken up within three islands and almost 50 levels.

The action requires a player direct a tiki-style doll figure to build defensive structures along paths to automatically shoot and destroy enemies that pass by.

Waves of foes (at least 10 per level), ranging from speedy spiders to lumbering rock giants and even creatures hanging from balloons, attempt to get past the towers and kill a set number of bulbous, blanketed villagers huddled in a cave.

If a bad guy dies, he unloads gold coins and gems that the tiki dude must grab. The coins can buy different types of towers, such as cannon- and arrow-loaded structures, while the gems can upgrade the towers or unlock more types of towers, including ones that electrify with a tripwire.

If all the villagers perish, it’s time to grit one’s teeth and try again — a common occurrence in the later stages, by the way.

After a while, the battles get a bit repetitive, but the addition of extra challenges, such as completing a level with a specific number of gems to unlock bonus content, keeps things fresh. A hut is also added to store and view the multimedia swag.

The multiplayer online cooperative mode seals the deal for excellence as a pair of defenders in the same room or in the broadband universe work together. The duo can send cute glyph messages to chat, share coins and dance around towers to upgrade them more quickly.

PixelJunk Monsters Deluxe really feels at home on the portable handheld with the hand-drawn 2-D art that never needs a high-definition presentation. It offers a level of frustrating addiction that will give players another reason to carry around that PSP.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (from Square Enix, reviewed for the DS, $34.99) — An action-themed role-playing game continues its epic story on Nintendo’s handheld system, revealing the secrets of Organization XIII and its struggles with its Heartless brethren.

As in all of the Kingdom Hearts games, a mix of Final Fantasy-style characters and Disney legends offers quite the jolt of pop culture to unsuspecting players.

This story in the saga focuses on Roxas, a doppelganger of usual hero Sora, as he becomes part of the Organization and uses his swordlike keyblade to banish the bad guys and collect hearts.

Another member from the Organization often accompanies Roxas on missions that will take him to Twilight Town, Aladdin’s Agrabah, Beast’s Castle, Halloween Town and Wonderland.

A generous supply of cut scenes and character conversations might bore some players looking to quickly pick a fight, but the plodding story does pay off for those willing to stick around to the end.

As required with the role-playing game, a player manages collected resources, interacts with characters, and uses magic, weapons and potion mixtures to battle foes.

Also, a panel menu system makes it easy to enact attacks and use items while a lengthy supply of tutorials and even a character/creature encyclopedia helps younger players dive into the action.

Unfortunately, there’s not much use for the DS touch screen here, other than for some optional menu navigation and camera movements. The majority of actions use the directional pad and buttons.

The latest Kingdom Hearts game is a time-consuming adventure backed with a rich story and top-notch production values. It will keep DS owners occupied for lengthy sittings, especially if they have a keen interest in the overall franchise.

Additionally, a first for the Kingdom Hearts series is the cooperative multiplayer mode. Up to four adventurers in the same room (each with a game cartridge) choose from members of Organization XIII and some others cartoon stars, including Mickey, to join up for already-unlocked missions.

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