Xbox 360 Reviews A-B

2006 FIFA World Cup
Grade: D
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/8/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotBeing the typical American sports fan, I have a healthy lack of appreciation for the sport of soccer. I can enjoy an arcade-style soccer game, but real soccer is about as tedious and boring as baseball (yikes!). My buddy Steve happens to be a "real" soccer player, and while he can vouch for the game's realism, even he has a hard time getting excited about FIFA World Cup. By making the game so damn realistic, EA has managed to suck every last ounce of fun out of it! There are a crazy number of options, including pages and pages of menus and about 5,000 actual teams to choose from (give or take). I prefer getting right down to business with the ever-popular "play now" mode. When selecting a team, I tend to stick with Brazil or Italy because they're supposed to kick ass, but you'd never know from this game. From what I understand it's possible to score in soccer, but most of the contests I've played ended in 0-0 ties. This game is difficult. Your player is rarely in position when you pass ahead, and when he is, it's too easy to inadvertently make an extra pass to no one. Getting off a decent shot on goal is nearly impossible. You'd think that holding down the shot button would result in a stronger kick, but instead it sends the ball flying high over the net! When playing with friends, prepare to spend the first three minutes or so just figuring out which color you are, because the game makes no effort to tell you beforehand. And even then it's hard to tell which player you're controlling because the colored arrows above the players' heads are so freakin' tiny! The default camera angle is extremely wide, giving you a good view but making the goals and players look incredibly small. The stadiums are fairly massive, and the blizzard of balloons and confetti coming from the stands looks great (I feel bad for the digitized groundskeepers who have to clean up all that stuff!). World Cup's commentary is exceptionally good, and I love it when they describe the ball as being "dispossessed". But there's really not much to like about World Cup. Whether you're a casual fan or a soccer maniac, I doubt you'll derive much enjoyment from this dull, dry soccer title. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
Grade: D+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/6/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWhat are the chances that EA has ruined yet another sport? Better than average! FIFA World Cup's colorful intro is an eyeful, but once you start playing, the players look positively tiny. I hope you have a big TV. The distant camera gives a good overview but hides the details, especially on the far side. Closer, more dynamic views are available in the single-player mode, but while playing with friends you don't have the option. Soccer demands precision passing, but the pass controls are problematic. The game "queues up" your button presses, resulting in a lot of unintentional extra passes - usually at the worst time. Also aggravating is how difficult it is to keep the ball in-bounds near the sidelines. Unlike classic soccer titles, the ball has no well-defined shadow so when it's in the air you'll need to look for a small yellow X to see where it's headed. The controls aren't properly explained, and it doesn't help that Electronic Arts continues to produce the worst manuals in the business. The complicated instructions for free kicks and penalty kicks are relegated to footnote status. Thank goodness a simplified control scheme is also available for those who happen to be mentally challenged or American. The shooting controls suck no matter what scheme you use. It's ridiculously hard to kick a shot low enough to enter the goal, much less aim your shot. Despite our frequent laments, my friends and I did play some pretty intense contests. Final scores tend to be 1-1 (or even 0-0), so each scoring opportunity is critical. After one scoreless game I asked Scott if it would help if we played on the same team. "Yeah, I think it will help the computer!" After each goal nifty replays are shown from every angle, but the manual replay system could not be more confusing. Throughout the game brief cut-scenes show deranged fans, players complaining about penalties, and coaches on the sideline. Speaking of coaches, these are the most miserable-looking bastards I've ever seen! Soccer fanatics are likely to appreciate the realism of FIFA and can probably bump up the grade by a letter. The rest of us however will find it hard to get excited about this lukewarm effort. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack
Grade: C-
Publisher: Harmonix (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/4/18
Rating: Teen (lyrics)

screenshotMy friend Jon picked this up for me at Walmart for five bucks. That's a pretty sweet deal for a game that lets you play 18 tracks from the legendary hard rockers from Down Under. AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack offers a metric ton of rock anthems like Highway to Hell, Back In Black, Hell's Bells, Dirty Deeds, and You Shook Me All Night Long. Even songs from the band's later years (Moneytalks, Thunderstruck) kick ass in a loud, three-chord kind of way. The best part about this "track pack" is how you really don't even need any of the other Rock Band games - this is a fully standalone title. You'll need at least one instrument of course, but both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero controllers will work. You can play through a solo tour or simply jam with friends over a few beers. I do have a few issues with this disc. First off, the songs are all live versions instead of the original recordings (hence the title). Live recordings rarely measure up to the studio versions, especially when the singers decide to get creative. Next, you won't hear original singer Bon Scott because he's dead and Brian Johnson does all the singing here. Finally, some songs are extended to torturous lengths. It doesn't help when you're playing with a bunch of drunks who are totally out of practice with music games (or so I have read). This track pack is no gem, but if you're an AC/DC fan it's probably money well spent. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

After Burner Climax
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Reviewed: 2012/2/17
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotMy friend Chris has been an After Burner fan since it first hit the arcades, and he describes Climax as "everything After Burner was ever meant to be". Indeed, this pushes the twitch-shooter formula to the limit. You get three different planes to choose from, and you can even select the soundtrack (including the classic After Burner II theme). You'll fly through a series of short stages that cover every climate from the polar ice caps to lush river valleys to volcanic mountains. The sprawling metropolis bathed in moonlight is simply jaw-dropping. There are even some stages where you fly through the tunnels of nuclear facilities, calling to mind Star Wars Arcade. The crisp scenery is a feast for the eyes and the sense of speed is exhilarating. I haven't seen such a degree of arcade spectacle since my Dreamcast days. The basic gameplay is typical After Burner which means chaos rules and luck plays a major role. Your machine guns can destroy enemies at close range but you'll mainly rely on your heat-seeking missiles. The new "climax" feature lets you slow down the action (a la "bullet time) to hone in on targets for a short period. The arcade mode's rank-in system lets you enter your initials, but only if you complete the game, which is slightly bogus. The score attack mode uses a global ranking system so you can have the satisfaction of being #28,543 in the world. Personally I wish this kick-ass shooter was available on disk, because it's a keeper. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Akai Katana
Grade: B
Publisher: Rising Star Games (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/6/26
Rating: Teen (blood, fantasy violence, mild language)

screenshotAs a fan of 2D shooters, I'm glad they are still selling games like this - on a disc no less! Although it falls squarely into the "bullet hell" category, Akai Katana is both beautiful and innovative. Your character is a flying woman surrounded by a shield who can unleash streams of rapid-fire missiles from several angles. You'll need to dodge waves of incoming projectiles, but while it may seem impossible at first glance, only the small gem in the center of your character is susceptible to harm. An interesting aspect of the game is the offensive and defensive modes. When holding in the fire button you move slower and destroyed enemies release energy icons. Tapping the fire button puts you in "defensive" mode, letting you move faster and retrieve "steel" icons from destroyed foes. After building up enough steel you can initiate your "phantom" which unleashes a barrage of giant katana swords, causing massive damage and producing big gold icons for points. If any of this makes sense, I'm probably not explaining it right. This game is crazy. I've played it dozens of times and I still don't quite get it. I think it helps if you're Japanese or on drugs, and preferably both. Even the tutorial is hard to comprehend. Fortunately the game is fun even when you don't know what the [expletive] you're doing. The stages are rendered in a Metal Slug style, and it's a shame that you can't enjoy the illustrated scenery which takes you over cities, snowy mountains, and underwater. The bosses are evil humans with the power to create portals. It's amazing to watch a massive locomotive travel from one portal to another - in the sky. You get unlimited continues but the game tracks your best score, which can be recorded to the off-line leader board (yes, they have uncovered the lost technology!). With its layers of complexity, destruction, and mystery, Akai Katana pushes 2D shooting to the limit. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Alan Wake
Grade: A-
Publisher: Microsoft (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/10/5
Rating: Teen (blood, language, violence, alcohol and tobacco)

screenshotCritics like to focus on its mind-bending storyline, but Alan Wake delivers pure survival horror not unlike Resident Evil and Silent Hill. You'll explore decrepit houses, collect items, solve puzzles, fend off monsters, and never ever relax until the music subsides. The story begins with writer Alan Wake taking his wife on vacation to a sparsely populated island covered with mountains and forests. After she suddenly disappears, Alan finds himself plunged into increasingly bizarre circumstances that have him struggling to grasp reality. This game oozes with atmosphere as you explore shadowy forests, abandoned farms, and creaky cabins. The lighting is effective and the natural (and unnatural) sounds are unsettling. Ethereal madmen frequently materialize out of the darkness armed with hatchets and chainsaws. The ensuing battles are intense as you use a flashlight to keep them at bay and conventional weapons to polish them off. Adding intrigue are poltergeists that toss everything from barrels to freight trains in your direction. Lighted areas are your safe haven, serving both as checkpoints and health stations. It's quite the adrenaline rush as you sprint for the light with several attackers in pursuit. To say Alan Wake maintained my undivided attention would be an understatement! Even so, I disliked being forced to change my flashlight batteries every 10 seconds during combat! It's bad enough I have to reload my weapon every two or three shots! I could also do without those annoying bird encounters. The game is divided into six "episodes", each beginning with a "previously on Alan Wake" recap - like a TV show. These lengthy episodes would keep me up way past my bedtime, but that's just a testament to the riveting gameplay. I often downplay the importance of storylines in a video game, but in this case the gripping narrative made the cut-scenes fun to watch. They feature superb voice acting, realistic facial expressions, likeable characters, and good humor. Sadly, the story eventually goes so far off the deep end that it becomes impossible to completely reconcile the madness. In the end you might find yourself wondering what the hell just happened. Regardless, Alan Wake is a spellbinding, adult-oriented thriller that will have you clutching the controller until your hands cramp in pain. And I mean that in a good way. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Alice: Madness Returns
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/9/5
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, violence)

screenshotAlice in Wonderland always gave me the creeps, so I was curious to see what the modern interpretation had in store. The fairytale world of Madness Returns is both beautiful and nightmarish. Populating its psychedelic dreamscapes are giant teakettles, animatronic animals, flying pig snouts, and misshapen creeps with doll faces. The human characters are arguably more grotesque than the monsters due to their extreme facial features. The game is unsettling at times, and I was surprised about the adult themes. Alice decapitates foes, smokes huge bongs, visits a whorehouse, and gets called a [expletive] [expletive]. The basic gameplay consists of platform jumping, mini-games, and combat. Alice filets goblins with a big knife and shoots down "samurai wasps" with a rapid-fire pepper grinder. A rich musical score heightens the intensity with pounding drums and nervous violins. Instead of collecting coins or stars from fallen foes you collect teeth. How demented is that? Each enemy has a particular weakness, but once you figure out the patterns the combat gets repetitive. Almost as repetitive as the platform jumping! The early stages are artistic, but they become increasingly generic as you progress. When you enter a new area and see floating platforms for as far as the eye can see, it's enough to make your stomach turn. The cliches reach alarming proportions as you float across fountains of air, activate pressure switches, shoot red targets, and break cracked walls with bombs. One original feature is how Alice can shrink at will, causing hidden platforms to become visible temporarily. Having to toggle between normal and small sizes can be a headache though, especially when you're trying to execute a series of tricky jumps. Mini-games add variety with slide-the-block puzzles, music games, and even a submarine shooter. But while they look like fun, they are not fun at all! What ultimately redeems Madness Returns is its forgiving nature. Instead of a double jump you get a triple jump, and even then you gently float down. When dashing and fighting, the game prevents you from accidentally falling off of your platform, thank goodness. And when you're down to your last sliver of health, Alice goes into a "rage mode" (also known as "buck-wild mode") which makes it easy to polish off remaining foes. The game auto-saves your progress and the checkpoints are frequent. The action is held together nicely by some dramatic cut-scenes and colorful dialogue. Alice Madness Return will wear on you with its repetition, but its haunted, twisted style makes it a trip worth taking. Note: This game also comes with a code that lets you download the original Alice game - a pretty substantial bonus! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Amped 3
Grade: C
Publisher: Take Two (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/2/25
Rating: Teen (crude humor, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotThis has got to be the weirdest snowboarding game I've ever played. Despite investing many hours in Amped 3 over the past year or so, the game remains an enigma. Its lack of coherent structure is confounding, and its humor is often more infantile than clever. Still, those wide-open whites slopes are inviting, the controls are easy enough, and the sheer variety of challenges will keep you coming back again and again. Amped 3 is distinguished by its free spirit and offbeat sense of humor. You can explore each mountain on your own or participate in any number of challenges available at a given time. There's a little bit of racing, but most of the emphasis is placed on performing tricks for points, or participating in odd mini-games like jumping through hoops or collecting Easter Eggs tumbling down the slopes. There's even some snowmobile and sledding action, but the snowmobile is hard to control and the sled looks like a picnic basket. When snowboarding the sense of speed is mediocre and the collision detection is so-so, but it's easy to execute crazy tricks - maybe too easy. Grinds are pretty much automatic, so all you need to do is maintain your balance. Likewise when you're floating through the air it's hard not to pull off a spectacular stunt. The game's sense of freedom provides for ample replay value, but new players will quickly find themselves bewildered, wondering what the heck they need to do to make progress. The map is a confusing hodge-podge of symbols, and you really need to experiment to determine the "method behind the madness". My friend Steve and I couldn't even locate the two-player co-op mode, much less play it. The graphics are perfectly decent but they don't try to push the envelope. Amped 3 incorporates a lot of wacky, psychedelic visuals (reminiscent of Yellow Submarine) and imaginative but often juvenile animated cinematics. A few poke fun at classic video games, and these are undeniably hilarious. The game's alternative music soundtrack has a nice edgy quality, and I especially dig that "Call Me A Crazy Monkey" song. Amped 3 comes off as disorganized and sloppy, but if you're the laid-back, earthy-type who enjoys games designed by people on drugs, this isn't a bad way to waste a few hours. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Backbreaker
Grade: D-
Publisher: 505 Games (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/9/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis may be the single weirdest football game I've ever played, and that's coming from a guy who reviewed Mutant League Football for the Sega Genesis! Adopting a close viewpoint and a unique control scheme, Backbreaker is a shock to the system for those schooled in Madden. Thanks to EA's monopoly you're forced to select from fictional teams like the Buffalo Beasts and the Boston Smugglers. That means smaller cities like Fresno, Little Rock, and Honolulu can get in on the act. I went with the Baltimore Cannons and their star cornerback S. Ralph (you may have heard of him - not!). Previews for this game have tried to downplay its arcade angle, but it certainly looks the part. The action is fluid and selected players glow like they're radioactive! Your play selection is extremely limited, offering generic options like "standard pass" on offense and "aggressive blitz" on defense. Prior to each snap you select a player and watch the action unfold from his vantage point. This makes you feel "in the play", and when you're running the ball or sacking the quarterback, it's interesting. But most of the time it's bewildering. While fading back as the quarterback, your narrow view makes it hard to scan the field and all but impossible to sense defenders closing in. On defense you'll usually select a player who's not even involved in the play. Yes, you can switch to the closest player at any time, but the abrupt camera change is disorienting as hell. One time I scooped up a loose fumble and had no idea which way to run! Backbreaker's bizarre control scheme makes the simple acts of juking and stiff-arming difficult to grasp. Selecting receivers is done by pushing the right stick sideways, which feels mushy and inexact. Glitches abound in the form of incomplete passes ruled as fumbles, receivers who ignore their routes, and passes intercepted after they clearly bounced on the turf. You have to tap buttons to "continue" after each play, and it's twice as annoying with two players. The commentary is limited to a generic PA announcer, and I hope you like "Here Comes the Boom" by P.O.D., because that song is absolutely beaten to death. The instant replay system is deplorable. Fast forwarding makes an irritating "tape reel" noise, and you can't even adjust the camera angle! Backbreaker does have its moments. When you pull down an interception or complete a long pass across the middle, it's satisfying. It provides a glimmer of hope that Backbreaker may one day evolve into something good. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Grade: B+
Publisher: Eidos Interactive (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/11/6
Rating: Teen (alcohol and tobacco, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotIt was dogged by months of delays, but it's hard to complain when the final product looks this good. The attention to detail, art direction, and sheer quality of Batman: Arkham Asylum is nothing short of spectacular. In the game's premise, the Joker has taken over the Arkham Asylum and turned the inmates into his henchmen. This Asylum is far more than just a building - it's an entire complex of buildings scattered over an island. The scope of the game is large, and the tone is surprisingly dark and sinister. The first-rate graphics boast some absolutely breathtaking scenery featuring water views and city skylines. Batman has no problem navigating the shadowy, gothic scenery, as he can grapple most ledges at the touch of a button. Exploring the surroundings is enjoyable, and some buildings even have funhouse/haunted house flavor. There's morgue area that's genuinely creepy in a Friday the 13th sort of way. The game's puzzles might be frustrating if not for the handy "detective mode" which highlights "points of interest" in the scenery. The fighting controls are perfectly suited to laying the smack-down on several foes in rapid succession, and each devastating blow is punctuated with exaggerated sounds and slow motion effects. If the crooks are armed however, it's best to use your stealth abilities for a "divide and conquer" approach. Batman: Arkham Asylum is brimming with style and has a flair for the dramatic. Brief cut-scenes are seamlessly intertwined with the action, and the Joker makes regular announcements over the monitors and intercoms. The voice acting is superb, and the language is pretty harsh for a superhero game. The music is restrained but effective, with a melancholy piano adding suspense during quiet moments. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game is its crisp, responsive controls. There are plenty of buttons to remember, but the game frequently reminds you how you perform key actions like activating the detective mode or executing a special take-down move. The game has more than its share of original gameplay elements like following a trail of fingerprints to locate a victim or picking electronic locks by maneuvering the controller thumbsticks. As great as it is, Arkham Asylum may be guilty of being too long. Certain stages feel very drawn out, and even when backtracking you're usually forced to clear out the thugs whether it's really necessary or not. The game has a knack for taking a perfectly good concept (like using vents to infiltrate locked rooms) and thoroughly beating it to death! If it were shorter and tighter, I think the game would feel more cohesive and satisfying. Even so, Batman Arkham Asylum is a work of art that will far exceed most gamers' expectations. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Batman: Arkham City
Grade: A
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/11/17
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, blood, mild language, suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)

screenshotThe predecessor to this, Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, 2009), was extremely well crafted but a little repetitive. Arkham City addresses that shortcoming by expanding the scope of the game considerably. This sequel takes place in a large section of Gotham that's been cordoned off for the lunatic fringe. It's an amazing sight to behold. Flooded in sections, the dank metropolis is a maze of shadowy alleyways, ominous industrial facilities, and soaring gothic architecture. The action takes place at night with snow flurries that create a chilling atmosphere. Batman can navigate the city with ease thanks to his handy grappling hook which extends a great distance, propelling you from building to building like Spiderman. Considering its expansive environment, it's amazing how the game always seems to guide you to the right place. Unlike Arkham Asylum, there's a wide range of villains including Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Ra's Al Ghul, Bane, and once again, the Clown Prince of Gotham, the Joker. The hulking Soloman Grundy is downright terrifying! The storyline is loaded with surprise twists and conveyed through dramatic cut-scenes that will thrill Batman fans. The basic gameplay is similar to the first game - a potent mix of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat. The "detective mode" highlights items of interest in the environment, and Batman frequently talks to himself to provide hints ("I think I can reach that switch with a remote-controlled batarang"). I'm not the biggest fan of stealth gameplay, but this game makes sneaking up on thugs interesting thanks to cool moves like the ability to reach through walls or perform a "double takedown". The combat system has been refined, and it seems like the more thugs you face, the more fun it is. Like a well-choreographed kung fu fight, the battles are poetry in motion. The control scheme isn't trivial and the moves can be hard to remember, but at least the game introduces them gradually. Your utility belt is loaded with cool devices that are fun to experiment with, and the boss battles let you to subdue your foe in a variety of ways. The musical score is pretty intense and the voice acting is handled well by veteran actors like Mark Hamill (The Joker) and Kevin Conroy (Batman). There are frequent checkpoints and a "Saving..." indicator that appears often. Arkham City is a tour de force of programming, clearly developed by the best in the industry. My only issue is the publisher's heavy-handed use of DLC. Each copy of the game contains a code for downloading Catwoman which can only be redeemed online. This apparent swipe at the used game market is being done at the expense of honest customers who paid full price. Other than that, Arkham City is the Batman game you've always dreamed of. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Bayonetta
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/4/25
Rating: Mature (blood, gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, suggestive themes)

screenshotWhen a game begins with credits that state "directed by [Japanese name]", you'll want to brace yourself for over-stylized cut-scenes, convoluted storylines, and longwinded exposition. These guys are such drama queens! If Bayonetta's first half hour has you wondering what the [expletive] is going on, get used to it! Playing the role of a witch schooled in magic and martial arts, you'll be tossed between locations and dimensions like a rag doll. You'll fight on airborne missiles, airplanes, and massive chunks of rock. You'll battle colossal behemoths that become happy meals for even larger behemoths. The chaos is punctuated by lengthy, often incomprehensible cut-scenes. If at any time Bayonetta actually begins to make sense to you, please seek counseling immediately! The cast is unappealing. Bayonetta is a leggy babe, but her stuffy English accent and thin glasses make her seem snotty. The supporting cast includes a lowlife gangster named Enzo and a Lawrence Fishbourne knock-off named Ronin. The dialogue can be a serious turn-off, especially when the main characters drop F-bombs around a four-year-old girl (not cool!). The game succeeds in spite of itself however, largely due to its tremendous production values. The visual artistry is off the charts, although it's hard to absorb amidst the whirlwind gameplay. There's a lot of content here. Each stage is absolutely epic, and just when you think things are winding down, the game just goes on and on. In an unusual twist, your enemies are spawned from heaven instead of hell! These imaginative, majestic creations combine elements of angels, statues, birds, cherubim, and dragons. The battles are chaotic, button-mashing slugfests, and if Bayonetta doesn't give the VGC carpal tunnel, nothing will! Air attacks are the order of the day as you jump around like a flea, launching at each foe like a heat-seeking missile! Bayonetta can fire pistols from her heels as well as her hands, and initiate slow-motion "witch time" by dodging an attack. The finishing moves are completely over-the-top as our heroine conjures guillotines, iron maidens, and chainsaws out of thin air. Even when you don't know what's going on, you'll be dazzled by the spectacle of it all. There's even a pulse-pounding motorcycle stage and a sweet Space Harrier homage. These are well done, but like the cut-scenes, they run around about three times longer than they should. It definitely suffers from the director's heavy-handed approach, but at least the game doesn't take itself very seriously. Bayonetta basks in its own absurdity, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Beatles Rock Band, The
Grade: A
Publisher: Harmonix (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/10/13
Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, tobacco reference)

screenshotRhythm games are only as good as their music, and it doesn't get any better than the Beatles. It's really a joy to play the guitar, bass, drum, and vocal parts of these timeless tunes. The Beatles experimented with such a remarkable range of styles in their ten years that the track listing has more variety than most music games. The song selection represents a perfect cross-section of the band's best guitar-driven hits. You get the pop brilliance of Twist and Shout and the psychedelic weirdness of I Am The Walrus. You get the bluesy guitar riffs of Get Back and the bone-jarring spectacle of Helter Skelter. I was especially pleased with the inclusion of lesser-known gems like Hey Bulldog and The End. The controls are very forgiving, and the new controllers look amazing. The plastic ridges on the guitar neck feel a little uncomfortable at first, but you get used to them. I noticed that the whammy bar does not affect the audio of the song, although it does register on the screen. I guess they didn't want to alter the songs due to licensing issues. I've heard gamers question the level of difficulty in Beatles Rock Band, but while I'll concede it's generally easier, that's actually a good thing. Heck, if you want a real challenge, why don't you sing while you play - like the Beatles did? The game also boasts excellent production values with a polished user interface and a sweet auto-calibrate feature. Between stages you'll enjoy brief montages depicting the band going through their various incarnations via vintage photographs and animated artwork. By the time you advance to the final rooftop concert, you'll feel sad that the Beatles had to come to an end. Of course, the fact that the game leaves you wanting more is a testament to its greatness. If you've never gone through a "Beatles phase", now might be a good time. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Beijing 2008
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/8/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSega produced outstanding Olympic games for the Saturn and Dreamcast, but with Beijing 2008 they've forsaken fun for realism. Reviewing this game was a veritable chore, with one event wearing out its welcome after the next. Beijing's graphics aren't bad, but the pacing is slow, the events are long, and the controls are counter-intuitive. The "Olympic mode" lets you play all 35 events(!), which could take longer than the real Olympic games! Not only do you have to qualify for each event (ugh!), but you constantly have to dole out "attribute points" for your team. Thank goodness for the "competition mode" which lets you create a customized schedule! I recommend selecting the shortest event from each discipline, and steering clear of novelty events like kayaking, judo, and table tennis. You can view a tutorial before each contest, but it's no longer available once you begin, which is dumb. Why couldn't Sega just post the instructions on those lengthy load screens instead? Some events support multiple control schemes, but that's more confusing than it is helpful. You're never told how many tries you're going to get in an event, and instead of seeing your results immediately after an attempt, there's an extended pause which is just unbearable. A bizarre new trigger mechanism is used to get off the starting blocks, and I screwed up about six events before finally figuring it out. In the discus throw, the controls are touchy to the point of being unplayable. The diving contests unfold in slow motion, needlessly dragging them out. I love how the game celebrated my 0.0 weightlifting score as a new "personal best". Events can't be skipped, so once you find yourself in a lengthy table tennis tournament, there's no escape. Each event is weighed down by pointless cut-scenes which train you to press A constantly. After the final event the game abruptly exits to the main screen without telling you who won. It's an unceremonious end to a wholly unsatisfying game. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Big Bumpin'
Grade: C-
Publisher: King Games (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/12/22
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

screenshotAs one of a trio of $3.99 Burger King (BK) games, Big Bumpin' places BK-related characters in a fun amusement park environment. Unlike the poorly maintained, accident-prone bumper car rides I grew up with however, these rides are "open air" with have impressive wooden backdrops including a fire-breathing dragon and pirate ship. I love how the bright neon lights reflect on the shiny arena surfaces. There are plenty of playing modes, but most aren't as fun as you might expect. The "last man standing" mode should be a blast, but its weak "bumps" aren't satisfying at all. Other modes let you play variations of hot potato or capture the flag, but they're equally lame. What truly saves the whole package is "Bumpin' Hockey" - the game's one shining moment. Played two-on-two, the action never lets up as you try to bang an oversized "puck" into your opposition's goal. If you can gather up three friends, you'll have an absolute blast with this. It would be nice if you could adjust the skill level of the CPU-controlled players, but as my friend Scott astutely pointed out, this isn't a $7.99 game! Big Bumpin' never lives up to its potential, but the hockey action makes it ideal for multiplayer mayhem. NOTE: This game also plays on a regular Xbox, with slightly degraded graphic quality. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Bioshock
Grade: A+
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/9/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotIf you thought the future of first-person shooters (FPS) was limited to strangers sniping at each other on-line, this amazing story-driven epic may alter your perspective. Bioshock does for FPS games what Resident Evil 4 did for survival horror, elevating the genre to the next level. It combines the dark, claustrophobic environments of Doom 3 with the twisted occult themes of Silent Hill, and throws in elements of "The Shining" to create a distinctive, unsettling style of its own. The undersea city of Rapture is part fun house and part haunted house, with bulletproof windows offering magnificent views of a submerged metropolis. Set in the year 1960, the vintage advertisements, neon lights, chrome moldings, and plush furniture call to mind a more elegant, wholesome era. No game has ever tackled this period before, but Bioshock succeeds in spectacular fashion due to its brilliant art direction and unflinching attention to detail. The story begins with a water plane crash, and early stages gradually usher you into the dark world of Rapture. The water effects are astonishing, and the deteriorating environments look properly damp and aged. Buildings are connected by glass walkways, allowing you to explore diverse facilities including a medical center, atrium, farmer's market, and lavish theater. Items and ammo are sprinkled throughout the rich scenery, and rifling through desks, trashcans, and file cabinets is fun and habit-forming. Your adversaries are masked lunatics disfigured by demented surgical procedures. Upon gunning one down, I was really impressed by how its body realistically slumped between two pieces of furniture. Completing each stage requires you to "save" or "harvest" infected little girls protected by imposing figures in deep-sea diving suits. The heavy footsteps and distinctive groans of these "big daddies" is enough to instill an overwhelming sense of fear. In addition to standard weaponry, you acquire injectable "plasmids" providing a wide range of unconventional powers, including telekinesis, lightning, incineration, and even the power to hypnotize big daddies! As a result, most challenges can be solved in a variety of ways. You have the option of "hacking" vending machines, safes, and attack droids by playing a frantic "connect the circuit" mini-game. Bioshock's audio is unnerving, with jarring noises, alarming footsteps, and muffled voices in distress. The storyline is convoluted and a bit over-the-top. Audio tape recordings enlighten you to the sordid history of Rapture, and some are rather disturbing, like when a surgeon muses "It's time we did something about symmetry" as his female patient screams in horror. The voice acting is convincing, and a sensational soundtrack incorporates vintage phonograph music. Thoughtfully designed and expertly programmed, Bioshock's developers skillfully side-step the pratfalls so many other FPS games fall into. You can save your progress or adjust the difficulty at any time, and there's even an auto-save in case you forget. An arrow keeps you headed in the proper direction, and hints are readily available. With its stunning originality, engrossing storyline, and fantastic production values, Bioshock practically defies criticism. Hours literally melt away as you become caught up its fantastic tale of an undersea utopia gone mad. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Bioshock 2
Grade: A
Publisher: 2K Games (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/3/14
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)

screenshotThe first Bioshock blew the first-person shooter genre clear out of the water with its innovative gameplay and bold retro-futuristic style. Obviously it would be hard for a sequel to duplicate that degree of shock and awe. If you've played through the original game, Bioshock 2's claustrophobic scenery and 1940's-era phonograph music might seem more familiar than creepy. Playing the role of hulking "big daddy" in an iron dive suit, few enemies will strike fear into your heart. You'll explore the undersea metropolis of Rapture in search of one very special "little sister" - your daughter. Like the first game, there's a convoluted storyline with multiple people communicating with you, and it's never clear whom you can trust. New locations include a museum, diner, and park, but there's nothing really spectacular. Sometimes you can walk along the sea floor, but the potential of these "outdoor" segments is never truly realized, as they tend to be short and linear. I would have liked to have seen more fantastic exterior views, especially while gazing out the large windows. Hacking machines plays an expanded role, and it's a lot easier to do this time. A new hacking mechanism forgoes puzzles in favor of a simple timed meter, which is both quicker and more fun. Not only can you hack guard robots into your allies, but you can even hack them from a distance using special darts. New foes include hulking "brute" splicers and annoying "houdini" splicers which teleport all over the place. But your most vicious enemies are "big sisters", which are skinnier, agile, plasmid-wielding versions of big daddies. You can now wield both weapons and plasmids at the same time, allowing you to effectively deal twice the destruction. Your massive drill is an effective weapon, especially when used in conjunction with a devastating dash move. Plasmids allow to you to incinerate or freeze enemies, but if you're killing them all yourself, you're doing things the hard way. The new general-purpose "hypnotize" plasmid pits your enemies against each other, making your life a lot easier. Bioshock 2 presents the player with a series of moral decisions throughout the game, and these determine how the story ultimately plays out. The pacing is brisk as a handy arrow always points the way, and you can save at any time. The game is well constructed but not bug-free. My telekinesis power was erratic, and there were times when I could not pull up my plasmid screen. I'm also starting to think this game would be better without all the profanity. Still, this is one of the few games that had me riveted from start to finish. Bioshock 2 may look a lot like the original Bioshock, but with its improved pacing and streamlined controls, it's arguably a better game. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Bioshock Infinite
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Games (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/4/7
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, language, mild sexual themes, use of alcohol and tobacco

screenshotThe first two Bioshock games were first-person shooters set in the fantastic undersea world of Rapture. Bioshock Infinite goes to the opposite extreme, taking you to a bright, expansive floating city in the sky called Columbia. Set in 1912, it was the era of blimps, silent movies, and lots of clunky mechanical gadgets. You play a guy named Booker Dewitt who's trying to settle his debt by acquiring a girl named Elizabeth. She's been imprisoned in a tower in Columbia because of her ability to create portals to other dimensions. Columbia is ruled by a despot named Comstock who espouses ultra-conservative (and racist) values. At first I got the uneasy feeling that this was going to be a bad exercise in social commentary, but the story has so many twists and turns that by the end it's hard to say who's good and who's bad. In addition to standard weapons you are empowered with "vigor" powers fueled by salt. One type of vigor turns enemies into allies, another washes away foes with a wave of water, and another sends a flock of attacking ravens - reminiscent of the film "The Birds". Vigors add some much-needed spice to battles, which tend to feature generic enemies in wide-open areas. It's hard to tell who's firing at you due to the bright scenery and multi-level battlegrounds. The hulking "boss" characters (like the "Handyman") are unceremoniously introduced, lessening their impact. Both you and Elizabeth have the ability to "create" allies, and while I love the concept it's hard to tell friend from foe in the chaos. To say Elizabeth comes in handy would be an understatement. She provides health, salt, money, and ammo when you desperately need it. She can pick any lock in two seconds, and even can materialize cannons and stockpiles of ammo. Did I mention she revives you when you die? The city of Columbia offers some pretty sights, but when fighting in dusty streets lined with buildings you might as well be in the Wild West. I never felt a burning desire to explore and there is so much stuff to loot I got tired of picking up everything. One original feature is your ability to travel rails between floating islands. It's like riding a rollercoaster, and forgiving controls make it easy to latch on and dismount. In terms of graphics, Bioshock's engine is showing its age, with objects that look good from a distance but appear angular and blurry up close. I found myself getting caught up in the story and enjoyed the funny self-referential lines of dialogue. Elizabeth is a strong character and I was curious to see what her fate would be. Still, for a game about moralizing you don't get to make many choices. Bioshock Infinite isn't as intense as its predecessors, but the game is polished and you have to give the developers credit for taking the series in a new direction. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Black College Football: The Xperience - The Doug Williams Edition
Grade: D+
Publisher: Aspyr (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/9/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI may not fall within its target audience, but I'm always eager to embrace any football game not made by Electronic Arts. Black College Football Xperience (BCFX) is rough around the edges but that doesn't mean there's no fun to be had. The game offers 35 teams from HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), but I was disappointed that none of them were from Maryland. Where's Morgan State? Where's Coppin State? Each contest begins with some pageantry as a band and cheerleaders march onto the field. The stadiums and turf look good. The player models compare favorably with the EA games, and they even get muddy in rainy weather. The animation is far less impressive however, and the erratic frame-rate makes it hard to tell who caught the ball at times. BCFX does display a few nifty moves like quarterbacks who duck under diving tacklers, and defenders who horse-collar receivers to the ground. On offense there's a nice balance of running and passing, even if too many easy passes are dropped. The defense definitely has the advantage, administering sacks early and often. The playbook is deep, and there's even an "ask Doug [Williams]" feature that dispenses advice from the former Super Bowl MVP himself. Unfortunately, Doug has frequent lapses in judgment, prompting my friend Scott to remark, "You'd be better off asking your wife for a play!" The user interface could use some work too, as some menus are hard to read. The constant automatic replays interrupt the flow of the game, and there's no way to manually initiate an instant replay. Each quarter runs for an extra second after the clock ticks to zero, and I once witnessed the CPU successfully call a timeout with zero seconds remaining. The commentators aren't very insightful and often hard to hear. For fans who lament the lack of half-time shows in EA games, rest assured BCFX delivers the mother of all halftime shows. The band sounds great, incorporating classic R&B tunes like "Rock Steady" "Can't Let Go", and "Word Up". Not only can you watch the show, but you can actually participate via a Guitar Hero-style mini game! It's a neat idea but the show runs too long and ultimately wears out its welcome. BCFX isn't particularly bad in any way, but it's not particularly good in any way either. The only thing that really stands out is that super long title. Damn! © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger
Grade: C-
Publisher: Aksys (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/10/13
Rating: Teen

screenshotBlazBlue is a 2D fighter from the good people who brought you Guilty Gear. For the first time, a new 2D fighter has leveraged high definition to take the artistry of the genre to the next level. BlazBlue is allegedly set in a futuristic world, yet its gothic characters would look perfectly at home in a Castlevania title. Despite a fresh set of faces, many of these fighters look awfully familiar. Ragna the BloodEdge reminds me of K' (of King of Fighters fame), and the cat-like Taokaka calls to mind Felicia from Darkstalkers. Rachel Alucard is a young vamp, and Carl Clover is a nerd with glasses and a top hat. Iron Tager looks like a giant red orc from Lord of the Rings, and Arakune is a masked shape-changer. The obligatory hotties include a blonde named Noel Vermillion with a sweet pair of pistols and a brunette named Litchi Faye-Ling armed with a bo staff. The fighting action is very much like Guilty Gear. Expect a lot of jumping and gaudy visual effects, resulting in scenes as chaotic as they are spectacular. I think they went a little overboard with the flying moves. One of the special moves is accompanied by Japanese singing, it's unintentionally hilarious. The fighting system introduces several new gauges and mechanisms, but these are mainly defensive in nature. Novice players and button-mashers will ignore them, but they do offer something for die-hards to sink their teeth into. There's no tutorial mode in BlazBlue, so you might want to read the instructions. My Street Fighter 4 arcade stick works like a champ with this game. Once I adopted a character and learned a few moves, I could hold my own, but I never really felt comfortable with this game. The high-resolution fantasy stages are an eyeful, but the scenery is too busy and confusing. The only stage that did catch my eye was "Halloween", with its orange lights, red roses, and looming mansion. The story mode is mostly text, and it bored me to tears. The arcade mode isn't very compelling with its endless continues, but I did enjoy the score attack mode. Your scores can be viewed from the leaderboard in the options menu, but man, they tend to be like 12 digits long! Playing a friend in the versus mode is your best bet. BlazBlue is a little too over-the-top for my taste, but hardcore fighting fans should appreciate the challenge and eye candy. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Borderlands 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: 2K Games (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/9/30
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol)

screenshotBorderlands 2 is a first-person shooter with a unique, cell-shaded visual style. It takes place on the post-apocalyptic planet of Pandora which has been overrun by a bunch of gun-toting, mask-wearing maniacs. A comical robot named Claptrap serves as your guide as you explore icy tundra, desert outposts, and dilapidated shantytowns. The environments tend to be wide open. In fact, it's impossible to open most doors. Vehicles let you travel great distances, but I'm not a fan of the Halo-style steering. You select from four characters, each with their own combat style. The shooting action is first-rate as you mow down bands of creeps and defeat bomb-tossing bosses. You can carry seven weapons at a time, which have imaginative names like "Evisceration Aegis" and "Binary Thunderball Fists". Some ignite or electrify your enemies, which means they keep on dealing damage well after the initial shot. That is awesome. Toss in a liberal supply of explosive barrels (some filled with acid) and the level of violence is off the hook! When about to die, you can kill an enemy to earn a "second wind", adding an element of sheer desperation. Borderland's graphics look a bit like a comic book, and I'm ambivalent about it. It can be really hard to spot enemies in the cluttered scenery. An edgy musical score complements the action and ratchets up the intensity. One annoying new trend in shooting games is rampant loot collecting, and Borderlands 2 is the poster child. Everywhere you go there are dozens of containers to open, but it becomes tiresome when you're collecting two or three bucks at a time. More often than not you can't even pick up the items because your inventory is full. I like the "destination markers" which keep you headed in the right direction, but the inventory system is bloated. My biggest beef is with the save system. Even when you "save and quit", you rarely find yourself anywhere near where you left off. Borderlands 2 has a demented sense of humor. The dialogue is extremely clever and Claptrap is an absolute riot. The game also boasts a terrific two-player split-screen coop mode that's far more enjoyable than the single player campaign. Borderlands 2 is annoying at times, but if you're in the mood to release some aggression you've come to the right place. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Bully Scholarship Edition
Grade: B
Publisher: Rockstar (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/3/20
Rating: Teen (animated blood, crude humor, language, sexual themes, violence, use of alcohol and tobacco)

screenshotThe thought of returning to high school may not sound appealing to most, but Bully lets you do the kind of stuff you wanted to do in school, like pick fights, play pranks, kiss girls, pull fire alarms, break into lockers, and simply be a major disruption. While similar in structure to the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games, Bully is actually better in many ways due to its smaller scale. It also happens to be less profane and not nearly as raunchy. This game received stellar reviews on the PS2 a few years back, and it gets a new lease on life on the 360 with extra missions, improved graphics, and two-player mini-games. Playing the role of a 15-year-old juvenile delinquent named Jimmy Hopkins (who looks closer to 50), you roam freely around an expansive virtual campus while embarking on various missions. The campus is an interesting place, and I was especially pleased to see the leaves change color with the seasons and decorations go up for holidays. Rule-enforcing prefects drag you to class when you're truant, but even the classes are fun! In English, you'll unscramble letters, and in chemistry you hit buttons as they scroll across the screen. Art is played like the old Qix arcade game, and biology walks you through a realistic frog dissection. As you might imagine, the dissection begs for motion controls. These mini-games are also available in the excellent two-player mode. Bully has its share of load screens, but they tend to be short and colorful. The action moves at a steady pace, and the story is conveyed through brief, well-crafted cut-scenes. The stiff character faces reveal the game's PS2 origins, but the stately brick buildings and their lavish interiors still look terrific. The excellent soundtrack strikes an irreverent tone, and the professional voice acting is quite convincing. My issues with Bully are similar to those I have with GTA games in general. The missions are fun at first but start to feel like errands after a while. Once the scope of the game extends to a nearby town, the fun factor takes a hit. The basic storyline is very linear, so until you complete a critical mission you're forced to keep replaying it. Bully never achieves true greatness, but with an original concept, clever design, and high production values, it comes admirably close. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Burnout Revenge
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/5/7
Rating: Everyone (violence)

screenshotHoly cow - it's yet another outstanding racer for the Xbox 360! Unlike most critics, I felt the previous edition of this popular racing series, Burnout 3, was highly overrated. It was too chaotic, the single player mode was too confusing, and the famous "Crash Mode" was a huge letdown. With Burnout Revenge however, the series has reached new heights, with an absolutely captivating single-player mode and hyper-competitive split screen action. The controls are dead-on as you blaze down gorgeous highways, weaving around oncoming traffic and rear-ending cars with reckless abandon. One great new feature is the ability to slam into cars going in the same direction, sending them flying all over the place. Just be sure not to hit anything head-on! "Taking down" an opponent usually just involves slamming into them from the side, sending them into a wall or an oncoming vehicle. The sense of speed is amazing, but like Burnout 3, the game is too generous with the turbo boost. In fact, in many instances you can practically use it for the duration of the race. The cars model damage, and by the end of a grinding race, your once-shiny sports car is unrecognizable. I absolutely love the scenic courses, which include seaside resorts, realistic alleyways, and wide-open highways. The majestic mountain stages stand head-and-shoulders above those "paper mache" mountains seen in Full Auto. A kick-ass soundtrack fuels the action, and thank God that annoying commentator has been canned. The single-player mode is expertly designed, providing a reasonable ramping difficulty and gradual unlocking of cars and tracks. But for all the accolades, there are a few problems. For one thing, the number of load screens and cinematic intermissions is gratuitous. You'll be pounding the start button and shouting "get on with it already!" Also, the crash modes originally made famous in Burnout 2 are a complete joke. After you smash into a vehicle, the ensuing "chain reaction" is totally over-the-top and unsatisfying. Thirty seconds after the initial collision, idiot cars are still appearing from out of nowhere and inexplicably ramming into the pile. Many even appear to speed up before hitting the smoldering mass. Millions of dollars of damage is tallied, but you never feel like you've earned any of it. Judged on its racing element however, Burnout Revenge is as polished and addictive as can be. If you crave arcade-style racing, look no further. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


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