|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Irem||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Majesco||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 26, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-16||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
Over the last decade or so popular board games have found new life beyond their traditional releases; Monopoly offers countless special editions based on specific properties, including a successful version built around the enormously popular Star Wars franchise. Similarly, Scrabble has a Disney-based edition to make the spelling game more appealing to the little ones. The combining of popular licenses in this way is nothing new, and many of these hybrids make it to retail as old school board games as well as new-fangled video games.
I offer this brief background to highlight just how bizarre this most recent board-game-meets-license offering is; Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship takes the addictive strategy-based tile board game (which, by the way, has won tons of toy awards) and the obscure fantasy RPG video game series, and tosses them in the mixer. Unless there's a demographic I'm totally unaware of--hardcore Steambot fans that also love Blokus--then this pairing seems like an especially odd one.
Odd, however, doesn't necessarily mean bad. Hell, we all thought the pairing of Disney and Final Fantasy characters was weird until we got our hands on Kingdom Hearts. While Blokus doesn't quite live up to that excellent pairing, it's still an addictive little puzzler that should appeal to fans of the popular board game or anyone who enjoys an easy to learn but hard to master strategy game. The basics, for the uninitiated, go like this: playing on a board not unlike the tile-based Scrabble setting, participants place various shaped blocks, similar looking to Tetris pieces, strategically on the playing field. The sides of the blocks cannot touch each other, as only their corners are allowed to meet. The goal is to get rid of all your pieces while tying up the board, therefore making it difficult for competitors to place their tiles. The player with the least tiles in the end wins. Sounds simple enough, but like any strategy game, from Connect Four to Chess, Blokus is all about thinking ahead, possibly forgoing the quick and easy short-term move for a more complex forward-thinking approach.
Blokus on the PSP, while not nearly as engaging as the original board game, does manage to capture most of the addictive strategizing, especially when playing against real people. Challenging the A.I. is also fun at first, but grows tiresome a bit too quickly. Things are also broken up a bit by the Steambot paint job, as your in-game avatar can stroll through an inn based on the anime-inspired RPG with a variety of too-cute characters. Additionally, by winning A.I. matches you can unlock new Steambot players as well as clothes and accessories to pimp them out a bit. The thing is that most of the Steambot flavor--aside from the background art on the game boards--takes place outside of the actual gameplay. Unless you're the hardest of hardcore Steambot fans, the ones who must own everything Steambot-related--and I'm sure there's some of you out there--then you'll probably want to pass on this one if you're not into Blokus at all. Just to be clear for the serious Steambotters, this game in no way stands on its own as a Steambot title
Blokus fans, on the other hand, should get their money's worth, even if they don't know what the heck's up with the cutsey, cartoony characters. Again, if possible, you'll want to play with real people as the solo experience is short lived, and waiting for your computer-controlled opponent to make a move can take an annoyingly long time. If you can find 15 other PSP and Blokus owners, then you're in for a real treat as the title's big ad hoc matches are a blast, providing plenty of bragging-right opportunities for the most skilled Blokus champs. Unfortunately, this opportunity will be rare unless you know of some sort of Blokus convention where folks share a similar passion for PSP puzzlers. If not, playing with up to three Blokus buddies on just one UMD through the PSP's game sharing mode is more doable and still tons of fun. Sure, you may wonder, "Why not just break out the actual board game if you've got three friends handy?" But the real beauty of portable game sharing Blokus style is discovered when you're in a cramped space; playing in the back seat of car, at Starbucks or in an airport terminal are fine examples of situations where you wouldn't wanna break out a full-on board game.
As a video game, Blokus is pretty stripped down in the audio and visual departments. It looks and sounds okay, but don't expect to be wowed by any particular part of the presentation. Steambot fans may disagree slightly, as they'll be able to relate to the familiar characters and settings, but for the rest of us Blokus is pretty bare bones beyond its gameplay. If you're a fan of the board game or even strategic puzzlers, then you'll enjoy this one, especially with a few friends. And, at twenty dollars, it's a decent deal for a PSP title. Even as a modest fan of the Steambot series, I did find its inclusion here a bit odd. However, it didn't detract from the tile-fueled fun one bit. Check out Blokus for the strategic gameplay not the Steambot style.
CCC Freelance Writer