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The Shrinking Game 

Game On

Old game franchises don't fade away. They just get smaller.

As portable gaming consoles have become more powerful, they have also turned into a home for wayward console games.

"Sid Meier's Pirates!" and "Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters" on Sony's PSP and "Diddy Kong Racing" on the Nintendo DS have taken games we've seen before, trimmed them down to portable size and sent them back out to spread some of their original fun.

While none of these games counts as a port - a copy of an original on a new game system - each sticks to the formula laid out by its predecessor, creating a fraternal twin that, while not identical, is unmistakably in the family. If you loved the parent, you'll enjoy the offspring.

The move from consoles to portables seems like a craven effort by publishers to squeeze as many extra pennies as they can out of their intellectual properties and gamers' interest. But they also offer a convenient way to keep a popular set of game characters and settings alive as technology advances.

When "Ratchet" first hit the Play-Station 2, it featured graphics and game play as good as the system could offer. These days, compared with the power of the PS3, the original "Ratchet" runs a little clanky. Shrunk down for the PSP, the missing detail and polish disappear, and the original glee of smashing waves of enemies with an arsenal of crazy weapons comes gushing back out.

Similarly, "Pirates" was revolutionary when it sailed onto the PC in 1987. A major overhaul of the game in 2004 for the Xbox helped bring it up to current standards. Still, its mini-game format seemed to be from a different era. Brought to the portable, the idea of short and simple interactive activities makes sense again. From "Tetris" to "WarioWare," portable gaming has always thrived on bite-sized fun.

"Diddy Kong Racing" on the Nintendo 64 was an effort to pump a little more life into the console by spinning off one of the best party games created - "Mario Kart." For 10 years, Diddy would pop up in various titles, but never in a starring role. With the return of his racing game, it's like having an old friend over for a visit.

For each of these games, all the trimming-down required to fit a console game onto a handheld platform come at a price. The fluid, run-and-gun style of play on "Ratchet" becomes somewhat awkward on the PSP, and the endless pauses to load data on "Pirtes" slow down the action. Even the classic fun of "Diddy" feels pinched on the small screen.

Sometimes, you have to give a little to get something little.

Who's It For: If you liked a game on the console, chances are you'll enjoy the same stuff when it's pocket-size.

If You Like This, Try That: "Jak and Daxter" made the move from PS2 to PSP long before "Rachet," but offers a similar level of quality and action. "New Super Mario Bros." for the DS remains one of the best transfers of a console game to the handheld market.

Best Part: "Ratchet & Clank," "Pirates" and "Diddy Kong" each offer networked play. Shooting, sinking and racing your friends and anonymous network opponents make sitting at the bus stop a lot more enjoyable.


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David Thomas


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