Yu-Gi-Oh! first burst onto the scene on a wave of Pokйmon enthusiasm around the turn of the century, and since then has managed to carve out a reputation as one of the most pervasive and successful brands with young fans around the world. There's been animй and manga, action figures and films, and even games. They've appeared on every major console save the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and on PSP there have been two games - GX Tag Force and a sequel, the imaginatively-named GX Tag Force 2.
Following on heels of the previous game, Tag Force 2 revolves around the renowned Duel Academy, where you pick a partner and learn how to fight, Yu-Gi-Oh! style. For the uninitiated, this involves choosing a companion who will guide you around the academy and teach you to engage in duels with fellow students.
The academy and world-exploration sections are pretty basic but, also, pretty well done. Viewed from an isometric angle, it will resonate well with the young gamers that this title is so obviously aimed toward - especially if they've played similarly-styled online games like Habbo Hotel. The graphics are simple but endearing, with the character models perhaps lacking the spark of the well-drawn manga and anime style storyboards that illustrate the plot between sections. The world around your characters - still recognisable despite the simplistic concessions given to them in these areas - is similarly minimalist, sometimes to the point of being too empty - sports fields are, literally, fields, with none of the pitch markings or grandstands that would bring the place alive.
Around the various environments are the cards that you use to fight battles. It's a useful system (and highlights how forgetful your peers are) that allows you to quickly amass a decent starting squad of cards with which to fight, just by travelling around the first location - your dorm - and picking up everyone else's leftovers. When compared to Pokйmon, though, Yu-Gi-Oh! loses a little ground - you're instantly given around 70 cards and the game loses a bit of the emphasis on collecting and improving that made the rival franchise so addictive.
In exchange for the simplicity of the walking and exploring sections are the mind-frazzlingly complicated battles that are the main meat of the game. Intended apparently, for Yu-Gi-Oh! veterans, they take place on the familiar battle board and revolve around various modes of battle that you can take part in. The problem is that the battles have so many different possible permutations that it often becomes impossible to follow at all, let alone plot any sort of conceivable tactic for defeating your adversary.
You get to most of the battles by entering dungeon-like environments scattered around the Duel Academy with your fellow pupils who, in a Harry Potter-like plot twist, have arrived from academies across the world to test their skills, although the story seems to become more and more blinkered and unnecessary as the game progresses. There's also no tutorial which, in a game as furiously deep and complex as this, is an absolute and total sin. Veterans of the first game will be able to pick it up quite easily, but anyone else will be lost, so the almost total lack of tutorial in the game will infuriate and confuse a new player.
Thankfully, there's a decent range of multiplayer options for seasoned players to take advantage of the PSP's capabilities. The UMD drive will read a movie and generate a random card from the data on the disc, and Wi-Fi battles are possible and add a welcome competitiveness to the game.
The myriad battle options take an age to learn and need serious dedication from even the youngest of fans before you get your head around it, though - so it's ideal to keep the kids quiet after a boisterous Christmas period, although they may lose interest before really starting to understand the complicated world of Yu-Gi-Oh! Despite having simple but decent graphics - they perk up in the battle screens and are relatively explosive - it takes serious time and dedication to really delve into the game and get the most out of it, and so it may lose the interest of many young fans before they really see the best of Tag Force 2.