Konami wants you not to litter. That's the message that comes across in the opening minutes of this latest Yu-Gi-Oh game, at least, as your speechless, anonymous hero meets up with all the major characters of the most recent Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon series -- but doesn't talk to any of them. Instead, he busies himself with picking up the various Duel Monsters cards scattered about on the ground around them, then walks away without a word. So the message I get, from that, is that Konami just wants you not to litter.
It's an odd start to a storyline, but it's where Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Tag Force 4 begins -- and, conveniently enough, all those random cards your hero acquires through his selfless streetcleaning just so happen to come together to form a cohesive, well-balanced starting deck. You then take up your garbage stack of discards and begin the Yu-Gi-Oh routine in earnest -- walking around challenging everyone you meet to Duel Monsters duels, earning notoriety, cash and more cards every step of the way.
It's a formula we've seen three times before on the PSP, as Tag Force has become a once-a-year sub-franchise for the greater Yu-Gi-Oh brand -- and it works well enough. The interface here is slick and easy to navigate, with a full view of the Duel Monsters playing field taking up the right side of the screen while the complete text for the card your cursor is currently hovering over shows up over on the left. You can move through each match pretty fluidly, just as you were able to in Tag Force 1
from '06, '07 and '08.
The key difference for '09 then, since the core gameplay is the same as before, is Tag Force 4's alignment with the newest Yu-Gi-Oh animated series. This is the first PSP Yu-Gi-Oh title to feature the characters and settings of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, including Yusei Fudo, Jack Atlas, the Satellite District and all the rest from the series currently airing on Cartoon Network here in America.
That's got to be a positive for fans of the show, but it also leads to some disappointment as the characters seem to be mostly window dressing. Because your hero seems to stay silent and anonymous throughout the story mode, Yusei, Jack and all the rest of the major players from the cartoon just feel like they're there for show -- not really all that interactive. Which is a further disappointment, later on, when you're trying to recruit one of these heavy hitters to be your tag-dueling partner.
The extra gameplay hook that makes "Tag Force" an appropriate subtitle is that you'll occasionally engage in two-on-two team matches instead of just the normal one-on-one fare -- and during your journey around town picking up old cards off the pavement and dueling everyone in sight, you're supposed to be building a rapport with the duelists you'd most like to partner up with in these inevitable four-person challenges. It's just hard to feel too connected to any of them, though, when your hero's just some average guy with a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes -- an inconsequential nobody in the greater Yu-Gi-Oh story.
I personally prefer the story mode approach featured in a different recent Yu-Gi-Oh release -- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Stardust Accelerator World Championship 2009
on the DS. Its single-player adventure wasn't the greatest thing ever either, but it went several steps beyond what Konami's still offering PSP players here -- it was fully 3D, had an actual storyline to explore and puzzles to solve, and a mystery to unravel about the true identity of who your player character really was. It was more engaging, and made me want to play more of the game. So it's disappointing that the PSP, with its more powerful hardware that could more easily handle a fully 3D adventure, is still stuck with the 2006 Tag Force style of super-deformed 2D character sprites walking around mostly flat environments.
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