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DS and PSP Christmas Guide

Handheld picks and festive treats

It's Christmas time, which means plenty of hours to devote to eating, watching festive films and playing games. In the case of the great games that follow, you can even play them while watching hours of monotonous television with the family, thanks to them all being handheld games. It has been an interesting 2009 for both the PSP and DS, so it's time to delve further into just what games are well worth a look this season.

PSP

The PSP is swiftly reaching its fifth birthday and it has certainly had an interesting past year. 2009 kicked off with the launch of Remote Play enabling PSP gamers to play PS1 classics and certain PSN downloadable games via their PS3 and Wi-Fi Connections. The PSP Go came out in October 2009 to some very mixed reviews due to its removal of the UMD drive and a strong focus on downloadable games, not forgetting the arrival of PSP Minis: bite-sized downloadable games. The PSP has had a great year overall still when it comes to games with some very memorable experiences appearing on the system in recent months.

FIFA 10

It's a perennial feature in many gamers diaries and the latest FIFA game has excelled itself yet again. Everything has been improved since FIFA 09 with Be A Pro being the best of the many modes available. Finally you can live your childhood dream of leading your favourite team to victory. Once you've sated those needs, Challenge Mode offers you the chance of changing history with numerous challenges involving winning games by certain margins. The challenges are all short but fun making it an ideal mode to drop in and out of. There's also more of the traditional Manager mode and Season mode which always provides plenty of longevity for the game. FIFA 10 is a football fan's dream come true.

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Arguably the most outright enjoyable Grand Theft Auto game of recent years, Chinatown Wars exploded onto our PSPs with style. Although initially a DS exclusive, it was this version which was definitive. Offering more missions than ever and some stunning dynamic real-time lighting effects for the system, Chinatown Wars had it all. One of the best things about Chinatown Wars was its return to the top-down perspective that the first two Grand Theft Autos enjoyed; it was a wonderfully nostalgic change. The 70 or so story missions were varied and there was still plenty to do thanks to the many side quests on offer. The best was yet to come with the drug dealing mini-game which was as addictive as the rest of the game put together. Truly one of the real greats on the PSP, easily rivalling previous handheld GTA titles.

Gran Turismo

We've waited long enough for its release but Gran Turismo PSP turned out to be just what we wanted. Offering 35 tracks and over 800 cars there was certainly plenty to do even if there was no sign of a structured career mode. As is always the way with Gran Turismo games, it's all about starting at the bottom and working your way up, and this is still the case thanks to modes such as Single Race and Drift Trial still offering up credits for good victories. Just when you thought you were done, the urge to race one more event to be able to buy 'just' one more car was always there and kept us hooked to our PSPs. Gran Turismo might not have been quite as complete a package as we hoped but it's still the best, realistic racer on the PSP and deserving of a place in your collection.

LittleBigPlanet

It was a brilliantly inventive game on the PS3 upon first release in 2008, but there were some reservations as to just how well it would work on the smaller screen. Fortunately the PSP conversion of LittleBigPlanet happily holds its own. The single player mode is compelling as ever. At times it might infuriate you but never unfairly so thanks to its well balanced difficulty level. The level creator on offer is as complex and as detailed as the PS3 equivalent and the ability to upload your creations is great. LittleBigPlanet harks back to the days of the 2D platformer and is the kind of game that will keep you grinning from ear to ear.

Motorstorm: Arctic Edge

A different type of racer to Gran Turismo, Motorstorm: Arctic Edge is all about off road arcade action. It might not be as pretty as its PS3 predecessors but it retains their fun, frantic nature perfectly. It does everything just right with tons of variety thanks to over 100 tracks and an array of vehicles all with their own unique handling. All of the tracks come with various shortcuts and alternate routes ensuring that races never get dull. The career mode is comprehensive with a great difficulty curve and the online functionality truly is the cherry on top, making Motorstorm: Arctic Edge a brilliantly well rounded arcade racer.

DS

At the time of writing, the Nintendo DS has just passed 10 million sales in the UK making it the best ever selling console in UK history. When you consider that means one in six people in the country own a DS and the console has only been available for just under five years, it's astonishingly impressive. There's good reason behind this though, the DS continues to innovate with its games. Just looking at the selection of games below shows just what a wide variety of titles are available for the system. 2009 was also the year which the Nintendo DSi was released offering various hardware upgrades and most notably the DSi store where gamers can buy DSi exclusive games and applications.

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

It was about time that a new great Zelda game came out and Spirit Tracks has done a fantastic job of proving just how great Nintendo really can still be. At first glance it looks like it's just Phantom Hourglass all over again, which it is in a way, but that's really no bad thing at all. The storyline is neatly woven into one of the best Zelda related stories in years. The puzzles are sublime and the ability to toggle between Zelda and Link is extremely welcome with dialogue between the two frequently humorous. Boss battles truly push the DS' graphical capabilities to the limit and are superb, showing that there is still some more left to the hardware. It might not technically be a true evolution from Phantom Hourglass but it is terrific fun, which is surely all that really matters.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

A true triumph of action/RPG cross over gaming, Bowser's Inside Story is fantastic and an unmissable title for DS owners even if it does involve spending time in Bowser's digestive system. The real hook to this game is that you don't just play Mario and Luigi; you also play Bowser as he tries to save his castle from the evil Lord Fawful. It actually feels like two games in one and it works great. The turn based combat system never gets dull thanks to well-timed button presses being frequently useful. Much like LittleBigPlanet for the PSP, Bowser's Inside Story brings ridiculous levels of fun to the DS, and surely there's no better recommendation than that?

Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics

It's not often that the DS version of a game is better than the Wii version but in the case of Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics, it couldn't be more true. Avoiding my initial hesitation at seeing Mario and Sonic in the same game, this really is excellent fun, plus it feels 'Christmassy'. The real joy of the game is in the Adventure Tours mode, unseen in the Wii version, which offers a full plotline and character interaction as well as all the events of the Winter Olympics. Along the way are various challenges which once completed unlock other characters from the game each with their own ability to help complete the Tour. Sure Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics might not be ideal for those after multiplayer action but for single player fun, this really is worth checking out.

Professor Layton and Pandora's Box

Professor Layton and the Curious Village was a huge hit last Christmas with both casual and hardcore gamers, and for good reason. No one can resist a brainteaser. We might not care too much about the plotline of the games but the various puzzles on offer are more than enough reason to keep you hooked. Some of them may be straight forward but the memorable ones are the ones that trick you into thinking they're more complicated than they actually are. You may feel annoyed at times but you'll always go back, determined not to be beaten by the game. Perhaps the best part though is the fact that the family can gather around the small screen at Christmas and try to determine just what needs to be done together, making it a surprisingly social game.

Scribblenauts

Hugely ambitious and innovative, Scribblenauts is a huge breath of fresh air. It looks fairly innocuous, a simple looking side scrolling adventure game with an array of puzzles in your path. The key to the magic however is Scribblenauts' comprehensive dictionary. You see, you can draw anything to solve the puzzle. Anything. Let that sink in for a little while then you'll realise the true potential here. You can add zombies to the game, dinosaurs, random three legged dogs, anything. All in the name of trying to figure out a puzzle. The real trick to enjoying this game is to try to think outside the box. Sure you could just draw a ladder to climb up something but that's far too easy, think a bit longer. Draw a dinosaur. You know you want to. Perfect fun for all the family.

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