Bizarre little creatures that look like walking eyeballs and a puzzle-cracking professor may not seem to have much in common at first glance.

But they are the stars of two new vastly different hand-held video games that are winning praise for the ways they combine different genres to produce quirky new experiences.

Patapon, out this week for Sony's PSP, is being hailed as one of the system's best games. It is perhaps best characterized as a rhythm-based, side-scrolling real-time strategy game.

Confused? Here's how it works.

You play the god-like leader of the Patapons, an oppressed race who just need a little rhythmic inspiration to help regain their former glory.

You must build up a Patapon army, which you then command by tapping buttons in time with a beat, pulling off different combinations to advance, attack and defend.

You'll collect resources like stone, iron and branches that can be used to create new soldiers or make your existing ones more powerful.

Patapons and other characters appear as black silhouettes against the game's vividly colored backgrounds, like paper cutouts held up to a light. The music is a wild mix of percussion, hypnotic chanting and Celtic influences.

Once you hear the chanting and the 'pata pata pata pon', it kind of gets in your head, said Christian Hinojosa-Miranda, a producer who worked on the U.S. version of the game.

'Patapon' really strikes to the heart of the PSP, which is simple, really addictive gameplay with awesome design, he added.

But it is a fairly tough game that rewards patience and attention to detail. There are few instructions, and it's often only through trial-and-error that players will advance through the game.

The game is very deep and sophisticated and if you let it sort of guide you, the experience is very rewarding, said Jennifer Tsao, group managing editor for the 1Up Network.


Professor Layton and the Curious Village, for Nintendo's DS handheld, is as friendly and welcoming a game as can be imagined.

But it, too, breaks traditional molds, melding a mystery story, point-and-click adventure, and brain teasers similar to those in Nintendo's hit Brain Age and Big Brain Academy franchises.

As you explore a town and its strange residents, you'll come across more than 130 puzzles including optical illusions, spatial problems, and geometry questions. If you get stuck, you can buy hints with coins found hidden throughout the town.

It's a game no one can feel bad about or condemn. It makes math fun, it makes word problems fun, it challenges you to think about problems in a new way. It's got a great story, lovely art, and nice voice acting, Tsao said.

That earnestly friendly approach has helped Nintendo win new customers among people who would never otherwise glance at a video game.

I'm not a core gamer myself but I'm rapidly becoming one with products like 'Professor Layton', Cammie Dunaway, the new executive vice president of sales and marketing for Nintendo's U.S. operations who joined the company last November.

I really think it has the potential to become a very, very nice franchise here in the U.S., with lots of appeal, Dunaway said in an interview.