Samantha Xu reviews PSP versions of ''Ape Escape'' and ''Katamari''; plus: Paul Katz on Xbox's ''Driver: Parallel Lines''

By EW Staff
Updated January 03, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

New PSP titles: Good things in small packages?

Me and My Katamari
(Namco, Everyone, PSP)
Ape Escape Academy
(Sony Computer Entertainment, Everyone, PSP)
Both of these titles for Sony’s handheld PSP are based on head-scratchingly absurd games that first appeared on the PS2. In Me and My Katamari, your goal is to roll up Katamaris — those super-sticky balls that pick up any and all stray items in their path — to make island homes for some cute animals after the King of All Cosmos goes on a bender and creates a tsunami while splashing on the beach. (See? Head-scratchingly absurd.) Many of the cherished Katamari staples are here — including random gifts, multiplayer levels, and, of course, the tough-loving sexy King (sashaying in a bulging unitard). But some things were lost due to shrinkage: Levels are smaller and are recycled later, as are the many songs from previous versions. And mastering the controls on the PSP will take some getting used to (there’s just one analog stick, so players must use buttons to roll the Katamari around properly). Even though the drawbacks make for a shorter game overall, in the end, Me and My Katamari continues the already brilliant kookiness of the series, delivering a quick portable ball-rollin’ fix.

If you’ve been secretly rooting for the silly simians in the Ape Escape series, Ape Escape Academy lets you experience the monkey-training regimen through a series of minigames, which run from the practical (”Monkey Watching”) to the whimsical (”Roshambo,” a giant rock-paper-scissors contest set in outer space) to the just plain strange and difficult (”Monkey Juggler”). Most of these minigames are fun and challenging, but the lack of a plot can leave you wondering just where you’re going with the gameplay — and some become insanely hard after a couple starter rounds. While it’s not a solid stand-alone game, Ape Escape Academy is a diverting sideshow game for fans of the series who think nothing is funnier than a barrel of you-know-whats.
Me and My Katamari B+
Ape Escape Academy C+
Samantha Xu

Driver: Parallel Lines
(Atari; Mature; PS2, Xbox)
There’s something about New York City that makes it the perfect locale for virtual mayhem — it’s an iconic urban landscape that rewards activities that are illegal, illicit, and ill-advised. It’s this nefariously rotten Apple that is embraced in the fourth installment of the Driver series, in which gamers are sent careening through the five boroughs in pimped-out whips. The plot is fairly irrelevant — you play a wheel man for hire in 1978, and then the same character 20 years later, following a long stint in the pokey — but what’s groovy is having razor-sharp control over every stolen ride and the flexibility in deciding which missions to accept. Even routine treks across the city (while keeping an eye out for The Man) fly by, thanks to a soundtrack featuring tons of killer music from Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, David Bowie, Blondie, Iggy Pop, Funkadelic, and Marvin Gaye. The game is actually better to listen to than play, but the point still is: Don’t come a knockin’ if this game is rockin’. BPaul Katz