Xbox 360 Reviews D-E

Dance Central
Grade: B+
Publisher: Harmonix (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/6/15
Rating: Teen (lyrics)

screenshotI think it's safe to say that this is the best dance video game ever made - at least from a technical point of view. Dance Central not only makes it easy to bust a groove, but it makes you perform real dance moves. As soon as you fire up the game you're presented with an impressive set list with bouncy songs like Poker Face, Just Dance, and Evacuate the Dance Floor. Contemporary hits include Maneater, Down, Can't Get You Out of My Head, and C'mon Ride the Train. Old-school rap music gets plenty of love with Rump Shaker, Push It, Bust a Move, and Don't Sweat the Technique. There are even a few classic R&B jams like Brickhouse, Funky Town, and Jungle Boogie. Unlike most music games, the good stuff is unlocked from the outset. What makes Dance Central work is how it breaks down each routine into a series of manageable parts that you can practice individually. Some of these moves may challenge your masculinity, but at least the hip-hop tunes use tough, streetwise moves like the homeboy, fist-pump, and "the hoodie". Unlike Guitar Hero you don't get booed off the stage in disgrace if you're lurching around like Elaine Benes. As your skills improve you can try your hand at higher difficulty levels and compete in challenges. The only thing that annoys me is the "freestyle" portion of each song where you dance freely as the game flashes psychedelic graphics and snaps pictures. You can always goof off, but it doesn't add anything to the gameplay and comes off as a cheap gimmick. Some may be disappointed to hear that the game is one-player at a time, but when you see how much room some of the moves require, it's understandable. The characters shown on the screen are goofy caricatures but I really like the cool urban backgrounds which include a rooftop bar and a suspension bridge. Dance Central isn't exactly a "pick up and play" title, but it helps you learn and becomes more enjoyable as your skills improve. It's a far cry from the Dance Dance Revolution days of people spazzing out on a floor mat. Dance Central is a well-constructed game, and Harmonix is probably the first third-party publisher to effectively harness the Kinect technology. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dance Central 2
Grade: B+
Publisher: Harmonix (2011)
Reviewed: 2013/7/20
Rating: Teen (lyrics)

screenshotAfter the first Dance Central (Xbox 360, 2010) I figured my disco days were over, but it's hard to keep a good man down. Dance Central 2 reinvigorates the series with an impressive new 44-song track list. Selections includes Bulletproof (La Roux), Grenade (Bruno Mars), What is Love? (Haddaway), Sexy Chick (David Guetta), Bad Romance (Lady Gaga) and my personal favorite Yeah! (Usher). Much respect is given to the "old school" with classic jams like Real Love (Mary J. Blidge), My Prerogative (Bobby Brown), The Breaks (Kurtis Blow), and the Humpty Dance (Digital Underground). I noticed Toxic is listed as "made famous by Britney Spears", indicating she didn't perform this version. Unlike the first game, none of these songs are too hard to stomach, although any guy attempting the effeminate moves of Oops Oh My (Tweet feat. Missy Elliott) should do so at his own risk. DC2's gameplay is very forgiving and the screen clearly indicates specifically what you're doing wrong. You can "break down" each song to practice, and the game will even suggest which moves to focus on based on your performance. What's really great about these Dance Central games is how they feature real dance moves. You will perform the same moves as the music videos, you will get better as you play, and you'll get a decent workout as a nice bonus. When you get into a zone, psychedelic "movement streaks" appear as the screen darkens, and I like that. Dance Central 2 builds on the experience of the first game. I like how it now gracefully leads you in and out of the "freestyle intermissions" so you're not just standing around wondering what to do. The game also includes a two-player head-to-head dance mode. Unfortunately the set-up is confusing (damn profiles!) and you will bump into the other person. I'm also not a fan of being awarded "gems" for making progress, preferring the "level up" system of the original game. Dance Central 2 encourages you to use voice commands, but these are silly and unnecessary. The innovations of Dance Central 2 are a little off target, but fun gameplay and a killer track list make this sequel hard to resist. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Darkness II, The
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Games (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/2/17
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content)

screenshotThe first Darkness (2007) had a dark, brooding premise that probably wasn't fully appreciated at the time. In this sequel you play a mob boss possessed by demons in the form of black snakes growing out of your back. These are used to destroy doors, throw heavy objects, and dismember henchmen. You reconstitute health by eating hearts ripped from the chests of your enemies. Packing an excessive amount of gore and profanity, Darkness II is mature with a capital "M". The action begins as you sit down to eat at an Italian restaurant and several vehicles come crashing through the walls. In the frantic gunfight that follows you learn how to properly harness your dark powers. Each shoulder button controls a limb so you can unleash a world of hurt with just a few quick taps. Not only are you armed to the teeth with dual-wield weapons, but you can rip enemies apart from 20 feet away with your snakes. Did I mention you have a demonic monkey sidekick? No question about it, unbridled destruction is the main selling point of The Darkness II. Of course, every power has its limitations and in this case you'll need to stay out of the light. Shooting light bulbs is effective at first, but soon the bad guys catch on and start carrying high-powered lamps (ugh!). There's nothing more frustrating that to having your life drained and not being able to tell where that damned light is coming from! The graphics have a semi-realistic, painted look with a lot crisp lines and vivid details. The city skyline seen from your headquarters building is an eyeful and the dilapidated amusement park is very creepy. There's even a ride-through haunted house! The acting is exceptionally good but the dialogue gets a little wordy and you can't really skip it. The story plays mind games as you drift between realities, but since the "the darkness" makes you invincible the suspense is minimal. Heck, it seems like your character is getting killed in every other scene! The Darkness II has its flaws, but it manages to stand out from other first-person shooters, and there's something to be said for that. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Darkness, The
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/7/25
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, suggestive themes, strong language)

screenshotMy eyes tend to roll when I see a new first-person shooter (FPS), but The Darkness dishes out enough profanity, violence, and original elements to make it worthy of consideration. You play a hit man named Jackie who's supposed to be 21 but looks like the villain from The Crow, who was much older. On the run from the mafia, you suddenly find yourself possessed by a twisted demonic force. One minor side-effect of the possession are huge Alien-like snakes that protrude from your back (by the way, they'll never go away if you don't stop picking on them!). The action gets off to a wild start with a semi-interactive car chase through a New York City tunnel. Depicted with cinematic flair and an alarming sense of speed, it's probably the most remarkable intro I've ever witnessed in a game. In lieu of hackneyed cut-scenes, the Darkness conveys its dramatic storyline through conversations, television news briefs, and even ghostly apparitions. Shooting out lights in games is always fun, and in the Darkness, it actually serves a purpose since you are empowered by the dark. In addition to the standard-issue FPS firearms, your demonic possession provides you with a few unconventional attack options. Your snakes can lash out against foes and rip out their hearts at the touch of a button. It's brutal, gory, and habit-forming! The snakes also give you the ability to slither through tiny openings, but the first-person view employed by these sequences is awful. You tend to stick to every wall and ceiling, and it's disconcerting as hell. More fun is your ability to summon demonic minions from glowing portals. These comical little gremlins include bloodthirsty "berserkers", well-armed "gunners", and "kamikaze" bombers. It's great to send them off to do your dirty work, although directing them can be tricky since your enemies need to be in sight. The game's visuals are first-rate, and if I hadn't played Condemned (Sega, 2006) last year, I would have been blown away by the gritty, realistic urban environments. Unfortunately, I could never quite navigate the streets and alleys without getting lost and going in circles. Also, you tend to move rather slowly, and I often found myself checking to make sure I wasn't crouching! This Xbox 360 version is superior to its PS3 cousin, thanks to its effective vibration feature and load screens that are completely disguised (no meters). The Darkness held my attention like few first-person shooters can, with an edgy brand of demonic carnage you just don't see everyday. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Dead Island
Grade: C
Publisher: Silver (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/9/30
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of alcohol)

screenshotHere's a zombie game you can even enjoy guilt-free in the summer months. Dead Island takes place on a tropical resort with white sands, palm trees, airy bungalows, and breathtaking views. Unfortunately everyone has transformed into a zombie, so you'll need to band together with other survivors to escape. The gameplay seems to boil down to running a series of errands - often in parallel. You'll break into a lifeguard station, save people under attack, and search for critical items. Everybody and their mother wants a favor, so it's easy to get sidetracked. Fortunately a dotted line on your radar keeps you headed in the right direction. The sunny scenery is striking, punctuated by the sound of sea gulls, wind, and distant thunder. Wading through a pool of crystal blue water is relaxing - until someone takes a bite out of you. There are plenty of makeshift weapons like oars, crowbars, and butcher knives. You can also construct your own weapons out of miscellaneous objects, but you need to obtain a blueprint first. Bludgeoning zombies is habit-forming, especially with all the splattering blood, flying limbs, and bloodcurdling screams. The first-person view is disorienting when fighting multiple zombies, but driving around the island running over zombies is one of the simple joys of life. Some first-person games make me a little queasy over time, and Dead Island definitely falls into that category. There are always plenty of suitcases, trashcans, and corpses to search for cash and knickknacks. You might only be finding $5 at a time, but it adds up. You'll need it because it can cost hundreds of dollars to cobble together weapons. The zombies can run like track stars. They tend to approach quickly, often catching you completely by surprise. No question about it - this game will make you jump out of your seat. The user interface could use some work though. The menu system is counter-intuitive and manipulating your inventory is awkward. I was psyched about the four-player co-op, until I discovered it was on-line only. That sucks, but playing solo is enjoyable enough. The auto-save kicks in at a regular basis and the checkpoints are frequent. Dead Island feels like a cookie-cutter effort, but the refreshing scenery and rampant violence makes it worthwhile. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Dead Rising
Grade: D+
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/10/28
Rating: Mature

screenshotObviously inspired by the classic zombie flick "Dawn of the Dead", Dead Rising places you in the role of a "hard edged" photojournalist spending three days in a zombie-infested mall. As you fly into town via helicopter, a semi-interactive stage sets the mood perfectly as you survey the devastation. Upon arriving at the mall, a number of supporting characters are introduced, including a few curvaceous babes. The people are realistically animated, but their faces appear to be full of Botox! They also seem strangely oblivious to the dangers around them. The zombies come in a remarkable variety, and while slow and dumb, they're still dangerous due to their sheer numbers - just like in real life! Exploring the expansive mall is fun, and there's also a scenic park, a grocery store, and outdoor shopping areas. But what's most satisfying is how you can beat zombies into bloody pulps using whatever you can get your hands on, including trash cans, benches, steel racks, baseball bats, chainsaws, flower pots, and baguettes. Locate the katana and you can even slice up those creeps "Kill Bill style". Most objects can be used as projectiles as well. It's a blast to mow down zombies en masse with a lawnmower, or kick a soccer ball into a crowd and watch it ping around. Experimenting is really half the fun. Guns are available as well, but ammo is limited and the aiming mechanism isn't so hot. Dead Rising maintains a clever sense of humor, evident in the ability to don silly items like a dress or a Mega Man mask. But despite its awesome concept, Dead Rising manages to shoot itself in the foot in the most unlikely ways. First and foremost, the save system has been universally hailed as the worst ever devised. There's only one save slot, and you can only save your place in rest rooms, which are not ideally spaced. After you die, you're presented with two options: "Load from Last Save" and "Save Status and Exit". Although the second option might seem reasonable, in fact it forces you to restart the game from the beginning! Someone in Capcom's quality control department didn't do a very good job. I also take issue with the insanely hard "bosses". You'll endlessly pump ammo into these freaks, and then they'll turn around and kill you with one hit! The game also suffers from an excessive number of loading screens, and the font used to display dialogue is incredibly tiny. Finally, the missions can be tedious at times, forcing you to backtrack all over God's creation while your annoying cell phone rings off the hook. Dead Rising is definitely a crowd-pleaser, offering ample eye candy and an unsurpassed degree of instant gratification. But those who play the entire game will almost certainly develop a love/hate relationship with it somewhere along the line. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Dead Rising 2
Grade: C-
Publisher: Capcom (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/11/8
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, use of alcohol, intense violence, language, sexual themes)

screenshotThe original Dead Rising gave us survival horror in a zombie-infested mall - an interactive Dawn of the Dead movie. Unfortunately its awesome premise was squandered by the worst save system ever devised. Dead Rising 2 is set in Fortune City, which is clearly modeled after Las Vegas with its glitzy scenery and numerous entertainment attractions. The story kicks off with an interesting "Running Man" intro but then settles into the familiar formula of beating down zombies in a mall while escorting survivors to safety. The zombie hordes tend to congregate in groups so you can often weave through them without confrontation. I like how they shamble slowly in your general direction before suddenly lunging toward you - just like real zombies do! Bludgeoning undead has never been more fun thanks to "combo weapons" that scatter bodies like Sauron from Lord of the Rings. The action can be pretty intense, especially when you need to fight through a mob while low on health. The arrow at the top of the screen keeps you headed in the right direction, and the story would be nicely paced if not for the constant (and lengthy) load screens. The save system is better than the first game, but you can only save in pre-defined places (restrooms), so when you die you typically lose quite a bit of progress. The controls are less than intuitive, and during one battle I accidentally exchanged my baseball bat for one of those foam "#1" hands - not cool! It's necessary to periodically return to the safe house at 7 AM to provide your little girl with "Zombrex", which makes no sense. The escort missions subject you to lots of backtracking and pesky cell phone messages. Sorry, but cell phone calls and schedules are things I play video games to escape from. I was hoping the cooperative mode would be better, but discovered both players had to be on-line, which royally sucks. Dead Rising 2 is an improvement over the original but too often the game feels like a chore to play. Note: Capcom recently released a new version of this game called Dead Rising 2: Off the Record. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player local, 2-4 players online 

Dead Space 3
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/3/12
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotI took a pass on Dead Space 2, but when I heard the third one had snow, I was powerless to resist. Playing Dead Space 3 helped me recall the cool features that turned me on to this franchise. First and foremost, Dead Space conveys an eerie atmosphere with its dark hallways, ominous music, and screeching monsters with long, pointy limbs. When they scurry in your direction, it's alarming. Those screaming skeletal things are creepy to-the-max! One truly disgusting creature is a crawling head that searches for dead bodies to reanimate. The snowy outdoor environments provide a nice contrast to the dark, gritty corridors of the ships, and the mammoth "snow spiders" look like something from Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360, 2007). The weapons are designed to shoot off limbs, and stomping creatures on the ground is effective. Not only is it a devastating finishing move, it usually rewards you with an item. There's no shortage of gore and you can hardly take a step without kicking a body part. Dead Space also gives you "stasis powers" that let you manipulate large objects or slow their motion. As you can imagine, these allow for some interesting puzzles. Other puzzles require you to manipulate both thumbsticks to connect circuits, and it's fun. Your ability to jet through space allows you to freely travel between ships. Pressing in the right stick displays your "way point", keeping you headed in the right direction. That's important because there's little sense of geography in this game. As you move between small areas connected by elevators, it's hard to tell if you're backtracking or not. It's hard to tell if you're indoors or out, and at one point I swear it was snowing inside. I like how the contraptions in Dead Space 3 tend to pop up, fold out, and whirl around until they form some kind of cool device. One such device is the workbench which lets you construct new weapons from parts and blueprints. Yes it can be tedious, but it certainly adds depth. The voice acting is decent but it's hard to tell when your character is speaking because his face is usually covered. The single player mode is entertaining, but the coop mode is on-line only, and that's too bad. The game auto-saves frequently, making Dead Space 3 the kind of adventure you can enjoy in small doses. That's good because the repetition does get to you after a while. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Dead or Alive 4
Grade: B
Publisher: Tecmo (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/7/26
Rating: Mature (blood, violence, sexual themes, partial nudity)

screenshotI always love a good 3D fighter, but Dead or Alive 4 (DOA 4) gave me a serious case of Deja vu. After first playing Dead or Alive 3 (Xbox, 2001) as a basis for comparison, I can tell you that there's really not much difference between the two. Sure, the graphics in DOA4 are slightly better (the edges are softer), but it could still easily be mistaken for DAO3. At the very least, I was expecting more realistic hair textures, but they're still a bit chunky. Even the gameplay feels the same, although some fancy new maneuvers have been added. There are plenty "juggling" combos, obstacles to get tossed into (like a fruit stand), and high cliffs to fall from (before resuming battle). I'm glad Microsoft included a directional pad on their 360 controller, because you really need it for a game like this. The expanded roster of characters includes Ryu from Ninja Gaiden and the guy from Halo, but I wish they had included more stages instead. Attractive but unspectacular, the locales include a Japanese temple in the mountains, a rope bridge over a jungle river, a Greek village by the sea, and a rowdy wrestling venue. You'd think at least the prehistoric dinosaur stage would be interesting, but even that comes off rather ho-hum. In addition to versus and on-line modes, the one-player story mode is fun and some of its endings are quite suggestive. Dead or Alive 4 is a good all-around fighter with no major flaws, but you'd think a next generation system would have more to offer. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dead or Alive 5
Grade: B+
Publisher: Tecmo (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/1/23
Rating: Mature (partial nudity, sexual themes, violence)

screenshotThe Dead or Alive franchise has always specialized in eye candy and instant gratification, and this fifth edition continues that tradition. This is the best looking and smoothest-playing 3D fighter around. Yes, it provides the same basic button-mashing mayhem as other 3D fighters, but Dead or Alive 5 (DoA5) has an arcade sensibility the others lack. Let's take the story mode for example. In other games you watch boring text crawl over some illustration between bouts. In DoA5 you watch short, fully-animated cut-scenes that never take themselves too seriously. The silly story, tongue-in-cheek dialogue, and outrageous outfits all add to the fun. It still boils down to a series of fights, but there are bonus objectives to spice things up. Dead or Alive 5 is extremely easy on the eyes. Not only are there a lot of hot babes with heaving bosoms, but the arenas are highly imaginative. You'll fight in a circus with prowling tigers, a jungle with monkey spectators, and a city rooftop that collapses during the fight. The frenetic gameplay is a button-masher's dream, and a player armed with an arcade-style joystick has a huge advantage. The controls are super responsive and chained moves look very natural. Best of all, you can really feel the devastating impact of each hit. In addition to the story and on-line modes, there are a number of single-player modes including arcade, time attack, and survival. These record your high scores, but the arcade score is only recorded if you finish it. It hardly breaks new ground, but Dead or Alive 5 is a polished fighter that packs a bigger punch than most. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Dead or Alive Xtreme 2
Grade: F
Publisher: Tecmo (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/8/14
Rating: Mature (partial nudity, sexual themes, simulated gambling)

screenshotOkay, now this is just embarrassing. Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 is a collection of lame mini-games loosely tied together with voyeuristic cut-scenes of young babes frolicking in string bikinis. At least the first Dead or Alive Xtreme (Xbox 2003) offered a decent game of beach volleyball, but this one can't even do that right! Perhaps Tecmo believed the ample eye candy could substitute for quality gameplay, but they were sadly mistaken. Xtreme 2 forces you to play a ridiculous story mode that begins with your chick arriving at a tropical island full of other hot babes. The "game" (and I use the word loosely) takes place over a number of days, and places an unhealthy emphasis on shopping and exchanging gifts with other girls. Since I'm a guy, I really don't give a [expletive] about any of that. Volleyball is still the main event, but its gameplay is laughably bad, with a ground-level camera angle that makes impossible to judge where the ball will land. Worse yet, there's no multiplayer option unless you go on-line! I don't know about you, but I wouldn't even want anybody seeing me playing this on-line! I was hoping the new jet-ski games would redeem the package, but these just play like a third-rate Wave Race, with sparkling water that looks awfully fake. Xtreme 2's miscellaneous "pool games" are equally worthless, although the casino games are fairly well done (hurrah). The remainder of the game amounts to watching girls lounging by the pool in suggestive positions. Man did this game make me feel like a pervert! There's an uptempo soundtrack that's appropriately bouncy, but Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 is all style and no substance. I have no problem with hot babes and lush tropical environments, but this is one peep-show in dire need of a video game! © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm
Grade: F
Publisher: Discover (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/6/9
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, crude humor, mild language, mild violence)

screenshotDeadliest Catch is more of a simulation than a video game, so if you're expecting a rip-roaring good time on the high seas, think again. The career mode lets you experience the life of a fisherman with all the tedium and boredom it entails. Only the most dedicated fans of the show will be able to stomach this for any period of time. The mission mode tries to cut to the chase, letting you navigate through rough weathers, dock the boat, drop pots, and collect pots. These activities are very time-consuming and repetitive, and all the loud, dramatic guitar music can't hide that fact. Even the so-called "races" are agonizingly slow. Deadliest Catch is less about action and more about managing your crew and resources. It's kind of like a baseball game where you're the general manager and don't actually play. The game does its best to ease the pain with helpful tutorials, an autopilot mode, and a mechanism to speed up time. The production values aren't bad either. There are videos starring fishermen from the show and the soundtrack includes Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive". The graphics are decent but the shoddy frame-rate is far more nauseating than the stormy seas. I roped a few friends into helping me review this, and it came to be known as "the game where you parallel park a boat". Even fans of the show will struggle to derive much enjoyment out of this. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Deadliest Warrior: The Game
Grade: C
Publisher: 345 Games (2011)
Reviewed: 2013/1/25
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotI was expecting a Mortal Kombat knock-off, but this one-on-one fighter is actually a spin-off of a television program. In fact, this game includes an extra DVD containing six episodes of the Deadliest Warrior TV show! The show explored what would happen if warriors from throughout the ages met in combat, using "21st century science" to determine who would prevail. For example, who would win if a Spartan fought a ninja? As in the show, the game tries to maintain a certain degree of realism. The fighters are equipped with the actual armor and weapons they would have used in real life. If you get cut, you'll bleed, and if someone hacks your leg off, you'll be hopping around. There's no shortage of gore, but the graphics are muddy and sub-par for the 360. The character selection includes an Apache Indian, a Roman centurion, a knight, a pirate, a Viking, and a ninja (among others). The arenas are spacious and fighters can roam freely. In addition to low/medium/high attacks, you get a projectile attack that's effective from a distance. The controls are a little rough, but there's strategy involved as you maneuver around the battlefield. The battles tend to be brief, and one solid attack combination is often enough to incapacitate (read: kill) your opponent. What I really like about Deadliest Warrior is how it's so different from other 3D fighters. The disc also contains the sequel and all the associated DLC. Deadliest Warriors 2 lets you play as specific historic figures like Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, and Shaka Zulu. There's even a "Generals" mode that plays like a strategy board game. And I can't forget the hilarious zombie mode that lets you keep fighting long after being dismembered. My friend Steve calls it the "Black Knight" mode (it's just a flesh wound!). Deadliest Warrior may not be very polished but it's an original twist on a tired genre. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Deathsmiles
Grade: A-
Publisher: Aksys (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/9/4
Rating: Teen (animated blood, fantasy violence, mild language, mild suggestive themes, partial nudity)

screenshotWow. This is one of the best 2D shooters I've ever played, and almost certainly the best looking. Several versions of the game come on the disk, including the Japanese arcade original and a 360 edition that leverages the system's HD graphics. Deathsmiles is a potent combination of flashy visuals and old-school fun. You select between four different flying chicks equipped with crazy firepower. Before each game you have the option of watching a brief tutorial that explains the subtle nuances of the controls. There are two fire buttons that let you to shoot either left or right. Enemies converge from all directions, but the game is considerate enough to alert you when danger approaches from behind. You can hold down a fire button to initiate rapid-fire, which has the side effect of slowing your movement. Defeated foes drop "point items", and collecting 1000 points let you temporarily initiate maximum firepower. I love the layered stages with their vivid colors and fine details. There are six to select from including a port, a haunted forest, a murky swamp, a spooky graveyard, and an active volcano. The port stage is not only festively decorated for Halloween (!), but it contains massive pirate ships! That made me giddy as a schoolgirl, and I'm not just saying that because I was playing as one! Your foes include old standards like dragons, grim reapers, cyclops, and hellhounds, but you'll also encounter quirky characters like pigs armed with butcher knives! The bosses range from whimsical "giant cow" to an absolutely hideous face tied down in the graveyard. Unlike most modern shooters, the bosses never wear out their welcome. Deathsmiles may be whimsical in tone, but its shooting action is no joke. Two players can cooperate, and it's actually quite playable despite the added chaos. High scores are saved along with initials, but the confusing interface makes it a little hard to peruse these rankings. The "score attack" mode is only available on-line. Deathsmiles is the kind of game you rarely see for the Xbox 360, and it feels like a breath of fresh air. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Devil May Cry 4
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/12/8
Rating: Mature (blood, language, sexual themes, violence)

screenshotThe first Devil May Cry (PS2, 2001) won over gamers with its frantic hack-n-slash action, hellish creeps, and magnificent gothic scenery. Like a 3D Castlevania, it was easy to play and the eye candy was off the charts. Its first two sequels were uneven, but Devil May Cry 4 (DMC4) really executes the original formula to perfection. The opening sequence features a woman on stage singing a mournful song as our hero Nero lays waste to peg-legged creeps in the streets outside. While poetic, it's also indicative of DMC4's overdone cinematics. The first stage is dominated by two dudes engaging in a mid-air battle so over-the-top that even Matrix fans will be rolling their eyes. Since both fighters have white hair and red coats, it's hard to tell them apart. Oh I see - Dante has a five o'clock shadow! At the fight's conclusion, Dante is impaled against a wall, pulls the sword out of his own chest, and merrily heads off. It's totally dumb but the game still succeeds despite its ridiculous theatrics. The pacing is swift as you move from one location to the next, dishing out stylish combos while laying waste to winged knights and spinning jesters. Some of the more imaginative creeps include shark-like creatures that glide through solid floors, and specters in flowing robes (which are revealed to be scrawny bugs). I really like those spinning "gyro blades" which can be used to both solve puzzles and slice up enemies. The first boss is a massive fiery centaur, and while the battle is epic, the crazy camera makes it hard to tell what's happening. In general however the fighting action is fun and the puzzles are reasonable. I really like the fact that there's an "easy" difficulty option. You can save after each chapter, and the chapters vary wildly in terms of length and difficulty. From coalmines to a sprawling cathedral to a lush forest, the game offers a diverse assortment of really gorgeous locations. The cinematography and art direction is first rate, but the cut scenes often border on cringe-worthy. Nero is unlikable as the cocky pretty-boy who tosses out one-liners under the most dire of circumstances. When a female character in an outrageous outfit enters the fold, expect to see plenty of gratuitous boob and crotch shots. I'm pretty sure a 15-year-old boy directed this! Devil May Cry 4 loses points for its contrived style, but ultimately triumphs thanks to its nonstop action and awe-inspiring visuals. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Dirt 2
Grade: C
Publisher: Codemasters (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/11/10
Rating: Everyone


screenshotIt's hard to tell if Dirt 2 is realistic to a fault, or just not very fun. I'm no stranger to rally racing games, having acquired a taste for them back in the days of Sega Rally Championship (Saturn, 1996). I can appreciate the subtle nuances involved with off-road racing, like anticipating turns, executing precision power slides, and leaning into other cars to cut corners. So why did Dirt 2's first race take me about 20 [expletive] tries to place in the top 3? Playing on the "casual" difficulty no less!! The learning curve is steep thanks to brakes that demand a soft touch. Holding the hand brake for a split-second too long will send you into an uncontrollable slide that won't end until you're facing in the wrong direction. Ugh! It's easy to catch an edge of a wall, and the jarring effects that ensue are disorienting. That said, once I cleared that first track, things got much easier and new tracks, cars, and accessories began unlocking at a brisk pace. The graphics are excellent, especially with regard to the shiny cars that convincingly model damage. Speaking of which, I hate to break it to you guys, but damage modeling is a lot sexier on paper than it is in an actual game. When you're puttering toward the finish line with a smoking engine, dragging fender, and your steering is pulling to one side, it's kind of aggravating! The tracks feature a lot of dusty, off-road circuits, and there's really not much to see. Hell, even Tokyo looks dull! I do like how the tracks tend to be short, and the number of laps is restrained. Dirt 2 tries to offer some variety, offering special challenges like "gate-crasher" courses and "last man standing" contests in addition to normal races. Most of the time you're up against a crowded field, but sometimes you'll race solo against the clock. There's a lot of edgy guitar music, and the load screens are nicely disguised by colorful montages previewing the race ahead. Still, there's nothing really exceptional about Dirt 2. The controls are hard to grasp, and you'll be hitting restart a lot. The "flashback" option lets you "rewind" a race to correct a mistake, but this feature is both cheap and poorly explained. There's no split-screen option. The game also places too much emphasis on superfluous unlockables like liveries and dashboard toys. Who gives a [expletive]? All in all, Dirt 2 is a serviceable rally racer that fails to stand out from the crowd. Casual gamers need not apply. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Dodonpachi Resurrection
Grade: C+
Publisher: Red Star Games (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/3/17

screenshotDodonpachi is a big name for gamers who collect import shooters, but I was shocked to see it available on disc for the Xbox 360. It begins with a stern warning that this game is for use in all countries except Japan. Is this really a big deal? It's a Japanese game for Pete's sake. That's like telling people they can eat crab cakes in any state except Maryland. Anyway, this is one of those chaotic vertical shooters where the screen is almost always teeming with missiles and explosions. I tend to enjoy "bullet hell" games, but Dodonpachi Resurrection nearly made my head explode. The game only consumes the middle third of the screen, but there's a lot going on. First of all, your ship's default weapon consumes most of the screen. As waves of tanks, robots, and aircraft approach, it's hard not to obliterate everything as you methodically "wipe" the screen from side-to-side. Hundreds of projectiles rain down upon you, but it doesn't seem to matter, because when you get hit, all of your enemies blow up instead. Apparently that's the result of the auto-bomb mechanism, which is disconcerting at first but a nice luxury once you realize what the [expletive] is going on. The scoring system is equally over-the-top, and it's not unusual to rack up 300-hit combos. Basically it's impossible to score less than a gazillion points. When your combo meter fills up, your firepower goes from insane to downright apocalyptic! The stages look lovely for the first few seconds, but once the mayhem begins you can't really see much scenery. The game offers several modes and play styles, but I think you need to be Japanese to comprehend how they all work (I stick with the defaults). Score Attack mode lets you compete for score on Xbox Live, and local high scores are also saved to a confusing set of top-10 boards. Dodonpachi Resurrection is a psychotic game, so make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. If this game were your girlfriend, you would definitely need to break up with it. Note: This is a region-free disc. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Double Dragon Neon
Grade: B-
Publisher: Majesco (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/5/19
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, partial nudity, suggestive themes)

screenshotAs a dead-on tribute to the 2D side-scrolling brawlers of old, Double Dragon Neon will freak out classic gamers with its clever sense of nostalgia and wicked humor. The game takes the classic, side-scrolling jump/kick/punch formula and gives it a glossy, high-def makeover. It borrows liberally from many old favorites, but most notably Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991). The action begins with a thug walking up to your girlfriend, punching her in the gut, and carrying her off. As you sashay down the street, gangs of stereotypical thugs accost you. True to the genre, there are only a few types of enemies but they tend to show up in different colored outfits. I love the one who somersaults into the fray while shouting "gymnastics!" Bonehead baddies will smack you with a baseball bat and yell "touchdown!" The females all look like dominatrix with perfect bodies, and some of their lines are hilarious ("Time for some discipline!"). Defeated bad guys drop cassette tapes and huge wads of cash. The fighting incorporates plenty of fancy moves (like spinning kicks) and you can even punch a guy while he's down. Partners can be revived by mashing the B button, at which time a cassette tape is shown being wound with a pencil (awesome). Double Dragon Neon has style to burn but its fighting action could use some work. Thugs require too many hits, especially in the early going. Enemies tend to overlap with you, and sometimes you can't even touch them. Neon employs fluorescent colors and its catchy soundtrack is straight from an 80's dance club. The game is appealing but it misses a few opportunities. The scenery is surprisingly dull, and where's the obligatory city skyline? A branching path option would have provided a lot more replay value. The further I progressed, the less I enjoyed the game. Double Dragon Neon is a hilarious homage, but after a while it starts feeling like a novelty item. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Earth Defense Force 2017
Grade: A-
Publisher: D3Publisher (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/5/8
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)

screenshotEarth Defense Force 2017 (EDF) is the 3D equivalent of those Dreamcast-era 2D shooters - the ones with frantic rapid-fire action and projectiles that flood the screen. The familiar premise has an armada of alien ships invading Earth, deploying towering robots and giant rampaging insects. Played from a third-person view, you are an infantryman fighting alongside dozens of other soldiers. The controls are refreshingly simple, mainly limited to the shoulder buttons, and even reloading is automatic! Selecting weapons between stages is key, and there's plenty of big guns to choose from. Typically you'll want one assault weapon for close-range combat, and some kind of rocket launcher for the big jobs. Green blood splashes all over as you employ the standard "strafe and shoot" tactics on the swarms of marauding ants and spiders. The alien bugs look remarkably lifelike, and the cool, retro-futuristic robots lumber around with an alarming sense of mass. The endless blasting is fun, but it's the quality of the visual effects that really caught me off guard. The buildings are the largest I've seen in any game, and when they collapse, it's astonishing. Equally impressive are the enormous alien ships that settle over the landscape and dispatch aliens into the city. What makes the graphics so effective is the fact that you can see very far into the distance, giving the carnage an impressive sense of scale. While running amidst the chaos, you'll want to keep an eye out for pixelated icons to regenerate shields, regain health, and acquire new weapons. There are even opportunities to man vehicles like tanks and helicopters, although the controls for these are less than intuitive. I love the unapologetic B-movie quality EDF exudes, with cheesy radio announcements and gung-ho soldiers that call to mind Starship Troopers (not that I would ever condone that awful film). You can select your difficulty for each stage and even cooperate with a partner on a split screen. My friends absolutely love this game, and often find themselves shouting "holy [expletive]!" in response to the relentless destruction. Only the occasional glitch will remind you that EDF is a budget title. In one instance, a bug was hiding under an overpass, but you could see parts of its body jutting through the road above. Another time my soldier appeared to inexplicably take flight, when in fact he was swimming (with the camera situated underneath). It may be a little rough around the edges, but Earth Defense Force is still exceptional. Incorporating simple controls, substantial firepower, and amazing eye candy, this is a break-through shooter for the 360. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
Grade: C-
Publisher: D3Publisher (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/8/31
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotEarth Defense Force is the kind of game you want to like, but it makes it so hard. The original EDF was a refreshingly straightforward third-person shooter with an unapologetic B-movie theme. It was great how you could team up with a friend to defend earth via split-screen. At first glance this sequel looks like the same game! Much of the action is set in the war-ravaged "New Detroit" where giant ants emerge from holes, alien ships terrorize from above, and hulking robots tower over you. You can toggle between two weapons (like a machine gun and a rocket launcher), and there's a nifty quick-reload mechanism borrowed from Gears of War. I love how the ships in the sky rotate into position before unleashing their deadly lasers, and I was surprised when I realized I could take them out with normal bullets! It's fun to see them come crashing down all around you, and excellent surround sound envelops you in the carnage. The giant humanoid robots look scary in a 1950's comic book kind of way, and their synthesized roars will strike fear into your heart. Taking down these behemoths is satisfying thanks to the awesome manner in which they collapse and explode. Despite the extensive mayhem, Insect Armageddon lacks the sense of awe of the original game. Blasting ants and spiders is fun for a while, but there are too many, so it becomes tiresome. Some enemies are just plain irritating, like those giant "ticks" that latch onto your back. The jet packs are fun to use, but the plodding mechs are boring. A female radio voice keeps you posted on your current objective and a map in the corner indicates your next destination. You'd think that would be enough to keep you informed, but the game is confusing! The symbols on the map are tiny and hard to discern. At one point you're told to move out of the "blast radius" but you have no clue where that is. Often you'll find yourself shooting at regenerating monsters for extended periods of time, wondering if there's something else you're supposed to be doing. The game has an auto-save between chapters, but there's no save indicator and the stage selection screen is confusing. But Armageddon's biggest sin is its lack of restraint. There are simply too many enemies and the battles drag on for so long you just become weary and want it to end. It'll take 15 minutes to take down a mothership, and then you enter the next area and there are three more! The visuals have a hard time keeping up with the chaos, leading to some unsightly glitches and slow-down. Insect Armageddon is fun in concept, but "more of everything" isn't necessarily a recipe for success. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Eschatos (Japan)
Grade: C+
Publisher: Qute (2011)
Reviewed: 2013/11/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotRegion-free shooters from Japan fill a narrow niche, but when enjoyed properly they can deliver simple, unadulterated joy. Eschatos has old-school written all over it. Its gameplay is mainly the old-school 2D vertical format, but the viewing angle occasionally swings in a vertigo-inducing manner. Enemies assume odd geometric shapes (including tripods and pinecones), and flying saucers are everywhere. The pacing is brisk. Scenery whizzes past you almost too fast to comprehend, and enemies and missiles converge on you quickly. You have two rapid-fire weapons: one that shoots straight and one that fires diagonally (both sides). A shield is initiated using the right trigger. Eschatos will keep you on your toes but doesn't feel nearly as overwhelming as similar games. Certain enemies absorb a frustrating number of shots, but touching floating smart bomb canisters help clear the screen. You get one continue, which is fair. The graphics are unspectacular but clean, and the upbeat soundtrack sounds like something from a Sonic the Hedgehog game. Earning a high score is what it's all about, and thankfully Eschatos offers a local high score screen for you to enter your initials. Multiple versions of the game are included (original, advanced, and score attack) along with two old-school bonus games. Judgement Silversword (2001) is clearly the spiritual predecessor of Eschantos, featuring similar gameplay with what appear to be 8-bit graphics. Cardinal Sins (2004) is an odd variation that features one stage per "sin" (greed, envy, wrath, etc). The difficulty is high, but the bonus ships keep coming, and it's possible to "save" a kidnapped ship (ala Galaga). Eschatos feels like it's from another era, and I guess that's what I like about it. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Espgaluda II (Japan)
Grade: B
Publisher: Cave (2010)
Reviewed: 2013/6/9

screenshotIf you have a thing for these crazy Japanese shooters, this one really hits the sweet spot between projectile insanity and shooting oblivion. Like many of its ilk, you control a spritely chick that fires magic beams and missiles to destroy enemies in air, land, and sea. Espagaluda (roughly translates to "chicken butt") has a few elements that put it a notch above your garden-variety Japanese vertical shooter. The artistry and detail of the stages is absolutely spectacular. You'll fly over quaint townships with clock towers, scenic gardens, and cobblestone roads. The game has a retro-futuristic style with steel structures and detailed ornamentation (think Naboo from Star Wars). Even the tanks look gorgeous with their shiny gold plating. It's hard to take in the scenery however when the action only consumes one-third of your screen. The gameplay itself is deep, as evident by the 18 lessons in the tutorial mode (all in Japanese). Of course, trying to figure out "the angles" for yourself is half the fun. Espgaluda II is a bit more forgiving than similar games, partly due to a handy shield that consumes incoming missiles before releasing a massive blast. When you destroy an enemy its missiles are neutralized, and in advanced stages they actually turn in bonus points. It's pretty exhilarating when you're about to be overrun by a torrent of missiles, only to have the screen suddenly awash in bonus points. If you find yourself in a situation with no escape, hang back and hope for the best. One thing that's kind of cheap is how you get a "maximum firepower" icon when you use a continue. This disc comes with five versions of the game: arcade, 360, arrange, novice, and black label. Each will save your high scores locally, which is pretty sweet. Japanese shooters tend to be an acquired taste, but if you're into this kind of thing, Espgaluda II is a nice addition to the collection. Note: This is a region-free disc. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


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