A good mini-game should hook you in right from the start with a suitably wacky premise, simple controls and the kind of gratifying gameplay that will keep you coming back for just one more go, regardless of the effects on your work and social life. With series like WarioWare, Nintendo is the undisputed king of such mini-games, while Sony looks forlornly on with only Ape Escape and Xplosiv's critically-panned KAZook to try and tempt gamers over to the PSP side of the street.
Codemasters has tried to come to the rescue with Bliss Island, but it's abundantly clear from the start that this just doesn't have the magic ingredients that will keep you addicted to its charms. Developer Pompom Software can't escape its Flash game design roots and, while that could have been a good thing (some of those online titles can be pretty hard to put down), experienced players expect more from a full price title than this small collection of half-baked mini-games that you are unlikely to return to once completed.
Amazingly, there is a story of sorts. Bliss Island's star is Hoshi the Zwooph, a hairy little fellow who works diligently to bring beautiful white clouds to the sky by puffing air from his trunk - well, it probably beats stacking shelves in the island's supermarket. On Friday, he gets a day off and joins his pals in completing a series of frantic events that pretty much all rely on the ability to accurately time the blowing of air (so it's not much of a break for poor Hoshi). An Adventure mode challenges you to complete each mini-game in order and once finished these are unlocked for you to then play at your leisure, to try and win medals or get higher scores. There are also four unique games for two players to compete head-to-head on, including Fluffy Football, where the Zwoophs have to dribble around obstacles to score, which should add to the appeal for pals with PSPs.
Bliss Island may lack the peerless, innovative graphic design of WarioWare, but it's still an attractive game, filled with imaginative characters and eye-catching backgrounds that fans of cutesy titles will feel right at home with. The sound is mainly limited to a few essential blips, but a lively calypso beat greets you every time you switch on, which adds to the jaunty nature of the experience. To be honest, the presentation is perfectly acceptable for a handheld game, so it's disappointing that the gameplay frequently frustrates rather than entertains.
The mini-games, which rely on perfect timing and basic physics knowledge to keep the Zwoophs bouncing or blowing at the right time, just aren't that much fun and the difficulty ramps up pretty fast each time - meaning progression mainly relies on infinite patience and perseverance to proceed through the adventure, rather than skill and mastery of each challenge. One level, where you have to destroy advancing coloured blocks in the correct order, becomes so difficult that you wonder if it's even possible to complete. The agonising part is that once you fail you have to restart the level from scratch, rather than from the last stage you reached. It's a cruel piece of gameplay design that really just makes you want to reach for the off switch.
To be fair, some of the games are relatively enjoyable, like bashing singing cave slugs, playing billiards and collecting gems with a fart-propelled Zwooph (seriously), but they are hardly groundbreaking stuff. It's telling that the most addictive off the lot, where you have to feed a ravenous monster by blowing tumbling fruit into his mouth, is actually available as a free online PC game; something that makes a bit of a mockery of Bliss Island's £29.99 price tag.
While it can be sporadically entertaining in short bursts, unless you are the kind of person who just has to compulsively beat your highest score, it's unlikely you will preserve with the game for more than a few hours at the most. Maybe a sequel with more challenges and a fairer progression system will save this franchise from the video games graveyard but, like Hoshi, I wouldn't hold your breath.