GC '09: Hands on with Kahoots on PSP Minis
So we’ve heard about all of the iPhone flavoured PSP Minis that are set to land on the PSP in October, but what of some bespoke PSP Minis games?

Enter Honeyslug, the developer behind the recently released iPhone effort Ric Ricoco: International Art Thief and soon to be PSP Minis vanguard with its new purpose built Minis title, Kahoots.

Kahoots is an interesting idea. It falls into the slightly nebulous platform-puzzler genre that seems to work so well in bitesize form. You command the safety of several Kahoots, which are cute little sofa dwelling mites. The aim of the game is to guide them towards the exits in each level, avoiding any evil Cardborgs on your way.

Each level is made up of a series of short platforms on which several Kahoots march back and forth. Each platform comprises several different types of block, each of which has a unique function.

You can move the blocks so that their unique qualities help the Kahoots make their way to the exit. So, for example, placing a jump block at the end of a platform will propel any Kahoot that walks over it onto the next platform.

The real master stroke, however, is the manner in which you can manipulate the play area in order to make the Cardborgs work to your advantage.

Because Cardborgs can destroy certain obstacles, you can use them to clear a path for the Kahoots. This means that nasties such as spike blocks can be systematically cleared using a Cardborg before you then manoeuvre the Cardborg into a situation that kills him off, leaving a hazard-free play area behind for you to steer the Kahoots through.

It’s a very clever play mechanic that, with incrementally introduced obstacles and increasingly complicated networks of platforms, makes for a challenge that forces you to think laterally. The dynamic between using enemies and positioning Kahoots often offers unexpected solutions and consequences that surprise and delight.

The game looks and feels very special, too. We got a chance to speak with one of the game’s developers, Mark Inman, at Sony’s booth, who described the way the game’s visual style was achieved: "We just sent one of our team down to the local textile shop to get some buttons and material - the whole thing cost us about £15”.

Much like LittleBigPlanet, Kahoots makes use of various scanned patterns, buttons and other haberdashery related knikknaks, to form a plush fabric game world that’s as garish and idiosynchratic as it is endearing. Inman went on, “creating new levels will be easy - we’ll just nip down to the textile shop down the road again with a fiver”.

A rare insight into the development process and a promising indication of the game’s potentially long-tailed support. But the visuals are not the only unique aspect of the design. The game’s music is an endearing mishmash of cutesy melodies and off-beat humour.

A particular highlight is the Peg Beast, which decorates the loading screen, rendering the waiting time almost completely invisible as it sings the tutorials to you. It’s strange, original and intoxicating and really hammers home the game’s design and personality.

As far as the PSP Minis launch line-up is concerned, Kahoots is without a doubt the most interesting we’ve seen. Sony, more than most, understands the importance of original IP.

Based on how polished, different and ultimately great Kahoots looks and plays so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if Sony is pinning its hopes on the game being an apt poster boy for establishing the PSP Minis as its own proposition, as opposed to a reaction to competing platforms.

We can’t wait for this one, so look out for a review as soon as the service goes live in October.
Fraser MacInnes 24/8/2009
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