Reviewed: March 17, 2008
Released: February 26, 2008
Iíve never really been a huge fan of puzzle games on handheld devices like the DS or PSP, but that all changed when I picked up Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship for the PlayStation Portable. If you are person that plays board games then the name Blokus should ring a bell.
Yes it is the one and the same strategy game that has graced millions of tables worldwide. Blokus has won over 26 prestigious toy awards and now takes its magic to a whole new audience.
You play as a newcomer to the sport that is known as the Steambot Championship. Now if you are familiar with Iremís sandbox title ďSteambot ChroniclesĒ, then the characters that you face in Blokus Portable will be very familiar. However instead of fighting with Steambots youíre battling it out with Blokus tiles.
The gameplay of Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship is pretty straight forward. There are no complicated menus, no confusing storylines to deal with. Just good old fashioned fun is all you will find here. I will admit that if you have never played the actual board game then the rules will take some time to get used to. I however fell into the original gameís phenomenon and I personally own two of the versions available on the market, so the rules are no stranger to me in this versionís gameplay.
In Blokus Portable, you are invited to the Lobster Inn to attend the Championship. Get used to it though because youíre going to be spending your entire visit here. The Lobster Inn has 6 levels, each one with two rooms each. There are however only 6 rooms of the 10 that are the important ones in your quest to be the Blokus Championship.
In each of the 6 main rooms there are 3 opponents that you must face. Each room also costs a certain number of dollarinos to enter with the exception of the Blue Room on the 2nd floor and the Online room on the 3rd floor.
Gameplay takes place on a square board that looks like a much like a Scrabble board. Each player has a different color tile set: blue, yellow red and green. The order that each color plays in is the same as written in the previous sentence. The title does a nice job of mixing up the order in which you and your opponents play in by utilizing a ďpick-a-cardĒ feature. If youíre lucky you will come out being the first player, but sometimes itís not always good to be the first in line.
The objective of Blokus is very simple. Use as many of your pieces as possible while at the same time preventing your opponents from scoring. The match will continue until all possible pieces have been played and no one can move. While this sounds easy, it is actually a difficult task. In this title it is not about making the fastest or the best move possible at the time. It is about constantly planning for the move after that. There is a reason that this game has done so well on the board game level. Its fun and one of the most strategic and competitive games I have ever played. Well next to Sorry! That is.
The tricky part about Blokus is that you can only have pieces connecting by the corners. The sides of the pieces cannot touch each other in any way. You start out each match with 21 pieces and each one is comprised of 1 to 5 blocks. Your first piece you play must also be placed on one corner of the board.
When no one else can move the match is over and the score is tallied up. Each player receives Ė 1 point for each unused block of an unused piece. If you use all your pieces you receive 15 points and an extra 5 points if you finish with the 1X1 piece.
If the match results in a tie, the player with the fewest unused pieces wins. If this is also a tie, the player with the unused pieces with the fewest number of blocks wins. And once again it that is a tie then the player with the later turn wins. Wow, what a mouth full. Now that I have you are probably reeling from all the rules on to the easy parts.
You will have to flip, rotate and place your pieces on the board. Sometimes I often think Iím playing Tetris with my pieces. Only with no time limit. By pressing the Square and Triangle buttons you can flip the pieces horizontally and vertically, while rotating the pieces with the Left and Right buttons.
There is one thing that I noticed while playing that may drive people nuts though. The farther you go up the floors of the Inn; the time it takes a NPC to select and play their pieces is increased by a lot. You will see this when the screen flashesĒThinkingĒ at the bottom of the screen. I personally didnít have any problems with this since I spent it planning my next couple moves.
The main thing I do like about this title involves two of the other 4 rooms. When you donít feel like beating the main rooms you can try the Open Match rooms. These are then broken down into Blokus and Blokus Travel/Duo. The same rules apply in both modes with one major exception.
In Blokus Travel/Duo you can only play with one other person or character and your pieces are orange and purple accordingly. Also instead of starting from a corner you must start in the designated area. You also get to pick you opponents in both modes.
Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship also has two multiplayer modes. These are essentially the Open Match modes with real people. Up to 16 people can connect their systems and duel it out in puzzle combat in regular Blokus mode. There can only be four players per board and every player must have their own copy of the game. You can also do Travel Duo the same way.
But the one thing that drawled my attention was that fact that Blokus potable: Steambot Championship actually uses the Game Sharing technology that is available on the PSP. You and 3 of your friends can actually play a game of regular Blokus with only one UMD disc. This is impressive since this feature is more commonly seen on the DS.
As this is a puzzle game, the graphics of Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship is not overly the best. The board game part of it looks really good for no more than is on the screen. The 18 characters that consist the title consist of are basically hand drawn images and to be honest thatís all that is really needed. This is a puzzle game for crying out loud, not Final Fantasy. When you complete each room for the first time you unlock simple little illustration that shows the characters by themselves or in a scene of some sort.
When you are not in a match you can wonder the 6 story inn and look around. Not that there is anything to see really but you can. The graphics here do remind me of early Final Fantasy titles, but then again this isnít title isnít really about the graphics.
There is however an option to dress-up your character via hair and outfits so you are not stuck looking at the same old character the entire time. This is a nice feature, especially for those people who like the board game and plan on playing this title for a while. I know I will be.
Blokus Portable isnít going to blow you away with a powerful score like Final Fantasy titles will, but again it doesnít need to. There are a couple different tunes to be heard while you play. These are mainly low-key soothing melodies. Not that they will put you to sleep but itís a welcome change to the upbeat anime style especially since half the title is based off of the popular anime series.
In the time that I have been playing this title, I have found that this makes for an awesome way to kill a lunch hour or avoid a boring road trip. The ability to play with up to 16 players via Ad-Hoc and to game share with 1 UMD disc is pretty cool.
This may not be a title that is for everyone, since some may consider this title a little skimpy on the extras. I honestly could care less on this title. If you want more features look somewhere else. This is one of the most addictive PSP titles Iíve played since Iíve owned my system. Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship is well worth the $20 dollar price tag.
This is by far one of the neatest titles that has ever graced the PSP. I have a feeling that this will be a big hit of fans of the original board game and even to people looking for something to pass the time with. I highly recommend Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship to anyone looking for something new and to all those fans of the original classic.