Xbox 360 Reviews K-L

Kameo
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/2/25
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)

screenshotIt has a loyal base of fans, but I found Kameo to be about average in terms of action-adventures. The first stage is a "trial by fire" of sorts, as you're tossed into burning castle against an army of trolls. Kameo is a hottie elf decked out in a green mini-skirt, but by fiddling with the controls you can switch between her various "elemental forms", each of which offers its own set of powers. You can transform into a Venus Flytrap with a killer uppercut, a rolling boulder, a climbing yeti, or a fire-breathing dragon, just to name a few. That's the whole gimmick behind Kameo, and it's not a bad one. The main (A/B/X/Y) buttons are used to toggle your form, and the trigger buttons let you perform attacks and special moves. Kameo's graphics are surprisingly good - far better than the "demo stage" I tried out at the local Best Buy. At the center of the game is an enchanted kingdom that's so amazing to behold all I could do was stare in awe. The rolling green meadows, transparent waterfalls, and ornately crafted purple bridges look like something out of a dream. The forest, caves, and towns that make up most of the stages aren't nearly as detailed, but the scenery is always clean and well defined. Likewise, the various elemental forms you assume come to life with character and imagination. The dragon "Ash" looks especially impressive, and the way the light reflects off of his scales is amazing. Kameo also features a superb orchestrated musical score that makes the game feel more epic than it is. The gameplay involves fighting monsters and solving puzzles using combinations of your elemental abilities. You'll use the plant to burrow under gates, the boulder to roll over ramps, and the dragon to light torches. Sometimes you need to employ the talents of multiple elementals in rapid succession, and this can be problematic because the game doesn't always let you to switch quickly. Another issue is the trigger controls. Using one or the other is no problem, but it's sometimes hard to execute moves that require pulling both triggers at once - especially in the heat of battle. When trying to execute Kameo's jump-kick, I often inadvertently caused her to jump (right trigger) or hover (left trigger) instead, which was frustrating. The camerawork is decent overall, but I found it to be absolutely abysmal during the "shadow demon" battles, where the "negative exposure" visuals make it tough to tell what's going on in the first place. In general however, Kameo is pretty easy to play, and you can always consult a "Wotnot" talking book for advice by pressing the Start button. A two-player split-screen mode is also available. Kameo has nice production values and is well constructed, but I found its gameplay to be very predictable and not particularly memorable. As a bargain-priced title however, you might just find Kameo worth your while. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 

Kinect Adventures
Grade: C

screenshotSome call it a glorified tech demo (okay everybody does), but Kinect Adventures has its moments. It's five games in one, and each does a pretty good job of showing off the Kinect motion-capture capabilities. The first game, Rallyball, is one I recall seeing on Jimmy Fallon's late night show. It's a Breakout game where your body is the paddle. You'll scuttle from side-to-side while using your arms, legs, body, and head to deflect bouncing balls against blocks and targets. It's like nothing you've played before, and probably nothing you'll ever want to play again! The next game is 20,000 Leaks, and this one puts you into a virtual submerged glass box surrounded by deep blue water and colorful coral. Fish begin to poke holes in the glass and you'll have to reach out and step over to cover multiple leaks at a time. I have to admit it's pretty satisfying to magically plug them while contorting your body. In Space Pop you float around a space station, which sounds a lot more fun than it actually is. Your goal is to pop bubbles pushed out of the walls and floor, and it gets old in a hurry. In Reflex Ridge you stand on a train car moving over elevated tracks while side-stepping, ducking under, and jumping over padded obstacles. It's original, fast-paced, and physically demanding. It feels like you're on old wooden rollercoaster in the woods, and I love the sound of rumbling wheels over rickety wood emanating from my rear surround speakers. Last but not least is River Rush, which is like a white-water rafting ride where you grab coins along the way. Stepping side-to-side guides your raft, and jumping causes it to go airborne. The lush jungle scenery, pirate ships, and amazing water effects are fantastic and ideal for summer fun. I love how the splashing water washes over the lens of the camera. The only fishy thing about this game is how you can initiate jumps in mid-air. It doesn't feel natural and it really waters down the challenge. And don't bother with the two-player coop because coordinating your movements is more trouble than it's worth. Kinect Adventures lets you play events individually or in an increasingly difficult adventure mode. Navigating the menu screens using your hands is fun, but the load times are a little extreme. The games tend to be easy and forgiving, which compensates for the slight lag in the controls. After each event you're shown snapshots of yourself playing and encouraged to "share" these photographs. Who in their right mind would want to share these embarrassing pictures? Is there a destroy option?! The fun is fleeting but as a quality pack-in title, Kinect Adventures serves its purpose. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Kinect Sports
Grade: C+
Publisher: Microsoft (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/6/15
Rating: Everyone

screenshotKinect Sports contains more than six exciting events that are bound to get your heart racing. At the very least, it's one of the few Kinect titles that encourages head-to-head competition. The soccer game seems a bit contrived (you can't control the movement of your players), but I enjoyed passing the ball around and blocking goal kicks nonetheless. Bowling looks terrific but I have little faith in the controls. A lot of times I seem to apply a reverse-spin, something I could never do in real life. Track and Field is the most grueling sport, offering a series of five events: sprint, javelin, long jump, discus, and hurdles. Thank goodness the running events are short, because otherwise older gamers would be keeling over from heart attacks! Despite the ever-present specter of death however, it's hard to beat these for side-to-side competitive fun. Boxing has a leg-up on the Wii boxing because you don't have those pesky cords getting in the way. Ditto for Table Tennis. Volleyball is clearly the visual highlight with its amazing futuristic stadium. Unfortunately it's too easy, and my friend Steve and I were able to ascend the ranks against the CPU with relative ease. All of these games are very forgiving, and there were times when I returned the volleyball despite the fact that I clearly missed the thing. I wouldn't call any of the events great, but they are consistently good. High scores are saved for each player, and it's always fun to go for the world record. In addition to the normal events, a nice party mode throws together a series of short, random contests. The main problem with Kinect Sports is its unwieldy user interface. Selecting an event forces you to wade through what seems like a dozen menu and confirmation screens. My friends were like, "Didn't I just select this?! Do we ever actually get to play?" Silly cut-scenes and boring replays further delay the action, and the load screens are pretty long as well. It's fun when you're moving, but the cumbersome interface prevents Kinect Sports from fully hitting its stride. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Kinect Sports Season 2
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/4/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI was expecting Season 2 to take Kinect Sports to a whole new level, but it doesn't. In fact, some events feel like outtakes from the original game. Football is shallow entertainment. You don't play defense, and the offense is limited to passing plays. Still, it's fun to find an open receiver and run like hell after a catch. That ultra-modern stadium looks amazing. Darts is better than you might think. You have pretty good control over your aim and can toss using a natural motion. Golf is a lot like Hot Shots with its simplistic gameplay and beautiful rolling courses. It lacks the precision of a full-blown golf title, but it's still a good time. Skiing is more dumbed-down than I would have liked. Leaning moves you from side-to-side, but "rails" keep you on a narrow track. Tennis can be repetitive, and there are a lot of "that-ball-was-nowhere-near-the-racket" returns. Baseball is such a complete bust that my friend George proclaimed it "the worst baseball game of all time". Before each pitch you must select your throwing hand, and that's a real hassle with two players. At bat, the strength of your swing seems to have no bearing on how hard the ball is hit. Reaching for "catchable balls" in the outfield is mildly amusing. Each contest lasts only two innings, but they will be the two longest innings of your entire life. It's hard to get into a groove while playing Kinect Sports Season 2. Tutorials are often repeated, the constant replays are a bore, and "celebratory" screens are tiresome because you can't do much besides wave your arms. I did enjoy the after-game montages that show the players jumping around, and the soundtrack incorporates pop hits from all eras. Avoid the temptation to skip the tutorials the first time you play this! The controls are remarkably non-intuitive, and you'll never figure them out on your own. Certain actions are voice activated, but it's more of a gimmick than a useful feature. Kinect Sports Season 2 is an uneven effort, but there's fun to be had if you know where to look. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Kinect Star Wars
Grade: B-
Publisher: Microsoft (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/5/29
Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis hodgepodge of motion-controlled Star Wars games is often silly but mostly fun. The Kinect control is far from precise but the games compensate by being exceptionally forgiving. In Jedi Destiny you play role of a Jedi in an action-packed adventure that takes you from planet to planet. Your journey begins in Chewbacca's home world of Kashyyyk where you'll leap between platforms, duck under obstacles, ride speeder bikes, and slash foes with your light saber. Sorry, but the light saber controls are not the ones you've been dreaming of. You alternate between offense and defense, and blocking is actually more satisfying than hacking away at an opponent. Riding the bikes offer high-speed thrills as you weave around massive trees and skim over shimmering water surfaces. The shooting is less satisfying because the guns fire automatically, so you simply aim the reticule. The game will wear you out (there's a lot of jumping), but it makes you feel like an actor in the Star Wars universe, and that's pretty neat. Duels of Fate is similar except this mode is limited to a series of one-on-one light saber battles culminating in an encounter with Darth Vader. The Pod Racing game is my personal favorite. The motion controls feel silky smooth and it's great fun to explore the various landscapes seen in the films. There's even a split-screen mode that's actually playable. Rancor Rampage lets you unleash destruction as a hulking beast in the desert town of Mos Eisley. Leveling buildings and tossing people like rag dolls is fun in theory, but the erratic controls make it look as if you're having convulsions in front of the screen. Galactic Dance Off may be the goofiest thing ever seen in a star wars video game. It's basically a miniature version of Dance Central except the songs are pop anthems retrofitted with Star Wars lyrics. So instead of Hollaback Girl, it's Hologram Girl, and instead of Genie in a Bottle, it's Princess in a Battle. It's cheesy as hell, but the songs sound professional and watching Leia perform hip thrusts in her gold bikini made me feel kinda funny. There's another mode called M-Tag, but I couldn't figure it out, and there's no instruction manual to fall back on. The game's superb audio track features a triumphant musical score and familiar sound effects that are crystal clear. There are a ton of elaborate cut-scenes featuring classic characters with the actual voice actors. Surprisingly, the graphics aren't so hot. They look okay from a distance, but up close objects exhibit blurriness and pixelation. Kinect Star Wars isn't great, but it sure does feel good to play a brand new Star Wars title. There's a lot of content here to explore, and the game has a way of bringing out the little kid in you. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

King Kong
Grade: A-
Publisher: Ubisoft (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/4/2
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

screenshotNo other epic adventure blurs the line between video game and cinema like King Kong. The visuals are truly cutting-edge, with zero pixelation, a consistently smooth frame-rate, and incredible animation. From Kong's shiny fur coat to Naomi Watt's smooth skin complexion, the textures are also amazing. As you traverse stormy ocean waters, flame-lit ruins, damp caverns, murky swamps, and vertigo-inducing cliffs, you'll be completely immersed in your ominous surroundings. A first-rate orchestrated music score is complemented by expert voice acting (by the original cast), crisp sounds effects, and Kong's occasional earth-shaking roar. The first-person shooting action is satisfying and forgiving, with sniping playing a major role. Should you deplete your ammo supply (and you will), there's always a spear or sharp bone nearby that can be used to impale attackers. King Kong adds a number of innovations, including the ability to clear brush by setting it on fire, trade weapons with companions, and distract creatures by throwing baited spears. In certain scenes, you yourself must serve as bait for a rampaging "V-Rex" in order to buy time for your friends. But easily the most memorable stage is one where you careen down rapids on a raft with a pair of V-Rexes in hot pursuit on the riverbanks - it's not a scene I'll not soon forget. Dinosaurs dominate the game, and you'll contend with leaping raptors, stampeding Brontosaurus, and fearsome V-Rexes. Swamps are brimming with hideous underwater creatures, and the sound of scurrying giant millipede will make your skin crawl as you slosh through water-filled caves. The action is always intense, and sometimes relentlessly so. When I wasn't having a good time, it was only because I was scared to death! In one scene I found myself taking refuge from a V-Rex in some stone ruins, but just when I thought I could rest, the beast began demolishing it, and I just barely escaped as it came crashing down. While primarily a first-person shooter, the are also several opportunities to wreak havoc as the ape himself. As Kong, you can break through walls, swing from trees, climb cliffs, and wrestle dinosaurs. While these stages feel scripted, the simple controls make for a good time nevertheless. The B button allows Kong to pull off small creatures that latch onto him, and tapping A initiates a finishing move. When these gargantuan creatures lumber around and crash into each other, they convey a true sense of size and mass. The game also succeeds without the use of artificial constructs such as cut scenes, tutorials, screen indicators, maps, and recycled stage designs. Your companions carry on conversations, fight by your side, and keep you on course. The difficulty is perfectly tuned, and seems to adjust dynamically. Objectives are readily apparent, and even after losing a life, you always pick up very close to where you left off. The control scheme is so intuitive that I didn't even look at the manual. Stages are ideal in length, with minimal load times. While King Kong is nearly a perfect game, there is the occasional glitch of a creature becoming stuck in the scenery. Gamers with an aversion to first-person action may want to pass on this game, because the dark, rainy environments and frantic action can make it hard to get your bearings. Finally, after completing this harrowing journey it's unlikely you'll want to replay this game anytime soon, although it is possible to play individual stages for score. King Kong is one of the most immersive and memorable games I've experienced. Brilliant on the 360, I hear it's nearly as impressive on the Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

King of Fighters XII
Grade: B-
Publisher: SNK (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/10/13
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotWith this 12th edition (!) of the long-running 2D fighting franchise, SNK wisely decided to "reboot" the series. King of Fighters XII retains its classic gameplay and several old characters, yet feels remarkably fresh thanks to a brand-new high definition engine. The beautiful backgrounds look sharp, and the fighters are freakin' huge! The gameplay has been simplified somewhat, shedding many of the extraneous gauges and indicators that have crept into the series over the years (hooray!). The gameplay is easy to grasp and undeniably fun when played head-to-head. The animation is fluid, and subtle scaling effects ensure you get the closest possible view of the action. The eye-pleasing locales include a bright stadium (and a night version), an Egyptian stage, a Chinese marketplace, and a Christmas-themed Moscow. The vibrant colors are appealing, but these vast stages lack the intimate details that gave the old ones so much character. Some stages even feature lighting effects, and while that's certainly novel for a 2D fighter, it can make it hard to see what's going on. I don't mind having fewer fighters to select from, but why only five stages!? C'mon now! The arcade mode is disappointing because instead of competing for points, you try to complete five rounds in the least amount of time. Perhaps this was necessitated by the game's modest number of stages? In addition, the default "normal" CPU difficulty is far too easy for King of Fighters fans. SNK must have focused their efforts on the on-line mode, because the off-line content is positively skimpy. At its core, King of Fighters XII gets the job done, but I was expecting more. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Konami Classics Volume 1
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/1/25
Rating: Everyone to Teen

screenshotWith so many classic games at Konami's disposal, Konami Classics Volume 1 (KCV1) should have been a slam-dunk winner. Instead, it's a case study in bad design. Unlike most classic compilations which typically offer 20 titles or more, KCV1 clocks in at a paltry three games! The headliner is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and it's nothing to sneeze at. Originally released for the Playstation in 1997, this is widely considered to be the best Castlevania title of the entire series. On the strength of this title alone, KCV1 is well worth the price. An option is included to play with "enhanced" (smoothed out) graphics, but in my opinion the pixelated "classic" visuals have far more character. With its fluid animation, gothic scenery, and operatic score, the game plays like a symphony! It's sizeable in scope, and despite its frequent save points, the game is no pushover. The remaining two titles on the disk don't carry nearly as much weight. Super Contra is the arcade version of Super C (NES, 1990), and it provides challenging side-scrolling and overhead shooting action. The control takes a little getting used to, as I often found myself shooting downwards instead of assuming a prone position. The third title, Frogger, is a high-definition remake of the classic cross-the-road game. It pales to the original, suffering from a variety of technical ailments including unresponsive controls, poor collision detection, and even slow-down! It looks like a Flash game, and let's face it - that's a major turn-off. Fortunately, you can switch over to the "original mode", which looks and plays like the original arcade hit. The overall design of this package is poor. The games are treated just like downloaded titles, so you'll need to load them separately and re-sign into your profile each time. And while two of the games feature high score tables, high scores are not saved. I guess my 80 GB hard disk wasn't big enough for that! The navigational controls are confusing, often prompting you to press start when in fact you're required to press A. There seems to be an inordinate amount of loading and disk chugging considering how modest these games are. All game screens are cropped to preserve their original formats, with decorations used to fill out the wide screen. The disk contains no bonus materials at all, which is a shame considering the impressive pedigrees of these titles. Konami Classics Volume 1 is worthwhile on the strength of Symphony, but Konami's handling of these titles is shameful. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Konami Classics Volume 2
Grade: C-
Publisher: Konami (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/1/25
Rating: Everyone to Everyone 10+

screenshotThis review is killing me! I love old game compilations, but Konami is throwing these collections together with no regard whatsoever. As with the first volume, Konami Classics Volume 2 (KCV2) offers a mere three games. But unlike the first volume which contained one substantial title (Symphony of the Night), this one contains three oldies that couldn't be more than a few kilobytes each. Granted, the games aren't bad. Contra is the arcade version of the side-scrolling shooter most gamers remember from the NES. Heck, I didn't even know there was an arcade version! The 2D run-and-gun action is undeniably fun, although the 360 digital pad is inferior to the original NES controller. Rush N Attack provides a similar brand of one-man-army action, with tight controls and bright snowy scenery. You'll want to check out the "enhanced" graphic mode to enjoy some gorgeous mountain backdrops and gently falling snow. Rush N Attack seems simplistic at first as you stab everyone in the foot, but the ability to juggle weapons provides some strategy. Track and Field is the button-tapping Olympic game with a variety of events that support up to four players. Its controls are problematic however, because if you hit the wrong button (or touch the thumbstick), your athlete slows to a crawl. Your game ends abruptly if you don't qualify for an event, and it's hard to qualify. If a game ever needed a difficulty setting, it's this one, but it's nowhere to be found. KCV2 has a rather hostile user interface that requires each player to sign in, and then constantly reminds you that your high scores will not be saved. You can still unlock "accomplishments", but c'mon now - that's not how these games were meant to be played!! Upon exiting a game, instead of taking you to a main menu, it kicks you back to the 360 "game library" screen (ugh!). I love the idea of owning "hard copies" of classic games, but this deal is a little hard to swallow. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Kung-Fu High Impact
Grade: B-
Publisher: UTV True Games (2011)
Reviewed: 2013/3/17
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence, mild language, use of tobacco)

screenshotI'm surprised this game never blew up, because it's one of the more entertaining and imaginative uses I've seen for Kinect technology. Kung-Fu High Impact literally puts you in the middle of an old-school 2D fighting game. Before each stage the game prompts you to assume several goofy poses, which are then incorporated into comic book-style cut-scenes. The results are hilarious - pretty much worth the price of admission! When the action begins you'll see a live video image of you standing in a field. Depending on your proximity to the Kinect, your fighter may appear cut off below the knees, but that's okay. Skeletal monsters approach from both sides, and you'll fend them off using punches, kicks, ducks, flips, and even flying kicks! The stages take place in locations you'd find in an old-school brawler: docks, city streets, a swamp, and a laboratory. The collision detection is pretty good, and it's fun to battle spear-toting guys in masks, towering musclemen, flaming demons, and slimy swamp creatures. The fighting looks a little odd because you're staring at the screen instead of your enemies. One really clumsy aspect of the game is side-to-side movement. The back flip is effective (just throw your arms up), but most of the time you'll move by executing two-hand power punches (causing you to lunge forward). It's impossible to move with any precision, and blocking is equally difficult. The game doesn't really reward you for being adventurous. I did better when I stuck with normal punches than when I busted my ass trying to execute Van Damme-style roundhouse kicks. The difficulty is uneven, and I was stuck on stage two (the docks) until my friend Steve unleashed his inner ninja. Kung-Fu High Impact is unlike anything I've ever seen, and it will make you work up a sweat. The controls are a little rough, but they're good enough if you're in the mood for some goofy fun. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Left 4 Dead
Grade: B
Publisher: Valve (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/10/18
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

screenshotIf you're looking for a scary game to play around Halloween, this one would be a fine choice. Left 4 Dead is a first-person shooter with a survival horror theme, but its non-stop action and frantic pace takes the genre to a new level of intensity. You'll forge through spooky locations including apartments, woods, subways, and a train station. Four separate scenarios are available, and while each is unique, they often tend to reuse certain areas. Zombies roam everywhere, and your team is composed of four characters who must cooperate for the best chance of survival. Although designed for on-line co-op, a two-player split-screen mode is included, and you can also play solo, with the CPU controlling your teammates. As is the case with many modern zombie flicks, these zombies can run like freakin' Adrian Peterson. Every few minutes all hell breaks loose as a stampeding horde attacks from multiple directions. It's an alarming situation, but it's fun to gun down dozens of creeps at a time. Left 4 Dead has a number of innovative features. The silhouettes of your teammates are visible through walls, making it much easier to keep everybody together. Crouching improves your aim, and painkillers provide temporary health boosts. If you're incapacitated and being revived, you can still aim and shoot - a nice touch! All the weapons are all pretty effective, so you're never stuck with a worthless pea shooter. Between stages you'll take shelter in "safe houses" where you can heal and reload. While stages are loading, stats are displayed that rank players by categories like "least damage taken" and "headhunter". The zombies come in a remarkable variety, and there are a few super-creeps you'll recognize by their distinctive sound effects. A "boomer" is an overweight ghoul that explodes when shot, and a "hunter" can leap from great distances. A "smoker" will reel you in with its extended tongue, and the "tank" is just one big mountain of muscle. But the creature that will strike the most fear into your heart is "the witch". This emaciated female just wants to hide and weep, but if you accidentally stumble upon her, you're in for a serious hurting. You'll hear her weeping sounds accompanied by a haunting refrain when she's in close proximity, and together they will make your blood run cold. Left 4 Dead also features realistic natural sounds like rain and crickets, along with startling creaks and moans. Turn up your surround sound! Does the game have any shortcomings? Well, the environments are not destructible at all. The split-screen mode is hard to set up, and the single-player game offers achievements to unlock, but no scoring. Left 4 Dead does get monotonous after a while, since it's little more than non-stop shooting. It's pretty scary though, and you'll find yourself on edge the entire time. Left 4 Dead is a real treat and a welcome departure from the typical slow, methodical zombie shooters. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Left 4 Dead 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Valve (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/11/9
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)

screenshotZombie games are traditionally slow and methodical, but Left 4 Dead carved out its niche with a downright frantic brand of shooting action. This second edition offers more of the same with new weapons (an electric guitar), new creeps (the back-riding "Jockey"), and more ways to play ("realism mode"). Teamwork is key as you forge through a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, and if four players aren't available, the CPU will fill out the party. In addition to mowing down droves of sprinting zombies, you'll encounter specialized creatures like the "Spitter" who spews toxic green goo or the "Charger" who just plows into you. These super-monsters can be a real pain in the ass, yet it's always satisfying to rescue one of your teammates from one. The weeping "witches" are back, but instead of hiding they tend to be wandering out in the open. Try not to disturb them, because these chicks will go premenstrual on you! Left 4 Dead 2 is a fast-moving game, and when a horde converges there's gunfire in every direction. It's hard to avoid friendly fire and not uncommon to hear someone exclaim, "Stop shooting each other!" The interspersed voice dialogue adds flavor ("this is some crazy [expletive]") and is often informative ("we have some pipe bombs over here!") It's easy to heal your companions, and it's also critical to maximize your chances of reaching the next safe house. Between stages a series of "ranking" screens are displayed that add a competitive element. Technically, Left 4 Dead 2 has some issues. Whether you play split-screen or on-line, the controls are touchy, the collision detection is inexact, and the frame-rate can get a little rough. The graphics are mediocre, and certainly no better than the previous game. It's easy to lose your bearings and rarely obvious what direction you need to go. New locations include a mall, motel, rainy swamp, and carnival, but these are surprisingly bland. I did enjoy the rain effects however, and the New Orleans stage is quite original. If you're looking for some straight-up shooting action, Left 4 Dead 2 brings the heat. New modes include a versus mode where you play against player-controlled zombies, and a "realism" mode which removes all handholding for maximum difficulty. Does it get tiresome mowing down endless waves of rampaging undead? Yeah, but Left 4 Dead 2 has a nice pick-up-and-play quality that's satisfying in short spurts. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/11/27
Rating: Everyone (fantasy violence)

screenshotI wasn't particularly anxious to revisit the Spyro universe, but Dawn of the Dragon came with some high recommendations. The adventure gets off to a lively start as Spyro and his lady friend Cinder are released from a magical gem by a gang of trolls. The pair find themselves in a cavern fighting a huge lava beast that looks like something from Lord of the Rings. The production values are high, boasting the celebrity voices of Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, and Christina Ricci. There's one scene where you glide above a waterfall at night, and it may be the most beautiful sight I've ever witnessed in a video game. The elaborate underground tombs look impressive, but many locations (like the forest) are entirely too dark. The orchestrated music score fills the room, so crank up the stereo. Dawn of the Dragon emphasizes cooperative play in which both dragons are tethered together. It's a dubious design decision, calling to mind disasters from the past like Knuckles Chaotix (Sega 32X, 1995). Sure enough, my efforts to cooperate with a friend proved awkward and frustrating. Despite its emphasis on coop, the game is best played solo. Also off-putting is how these dragons fight, talk, and generally behave like humans. Spyro pounds his foes with combos, and can even grab and swing them around. At times I felt like I was playing a second-rate God of War clone. The game is at its best when Spyro utilizes his dragon qualities - namely the ability to fly and breathe fire. Incinerating goblins is probably the highlight of the entire game. The game is at its worst when you die and have to restart from a distant checkpoint. Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon excels in presentation but fails to establish an identity of its own. It feels like a mish-mash of other games - other games you'd rather be playing instead. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lego Batman
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/10/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf you really think about it, Batman offers the perfect theme for a Lego game. Not only does it provide a colorful assortment of villains and environments, but it's ideally suited for Lego's brand of two-player cooperative action. Helping me review this game was my longtime buddy Eric, who actually played a minor role in the most recent Batman film (The Dark Knight). Lego Batman is an eyeful with its dark cityscapes and colorful enemy lairs, which I found more compelling than the deserts of Indiana Jones Lego or the spaceships of Star Wars Lego. On rare occasions the camera pulls back far enough to expose a misty city skyline which looks amazing. The slick visuals are accompanied by a lush musical score lifted from the first Batman film (1989). Lego Batman's gameplay features simple combat, platform jumping, and a lot of not-so-obvious puzzles. The Batman and Robin characters can switch outfits during the course of the game, giving them new powers and allowing them to complete each stage in multiple ways. Batman's outfit selection includes suits for heat protection, demolition, and gliding. Robin's include a magnet suit, technology suit (for using robots), and attract suit (for sucking up small Lego pieces). The game's multiple storylines can be played through in parallel, and each has a unique set of villains. Lego Batman certainly delivers in terms of presentation, but the shallow Lego formula is beginning to wear thin. First of all, you get infinite lives, so where's the challenge? Some kind of scoring system or time limit might have made things more interesting. The fighting is very repetitive and you can hit your partner, which is sometimes hard to avoid in the heat of battle. Equally aggravating is how the fixed camera angles make it really hard to judge certain jumps. The driving stages look amazing, but are remarkably devoid of fun. Lego Batman also has its share of bugs, and it even locked up on me at one point. Finally, the game saves your progress not after you complete a stage, but after you select continue, which makes no sense. I like the premise behind Lego Batman, but the lack of tension and cookie-cutter design make it less than satisfying. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Grade: B
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/8/13
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotThis fine sequel is much better the original, offering imaginative stages, less repetitive fighting, and a lot more variety. You'll explore the sprawling city of Gotham including points of interest like the chemical factory, Arkham Asylum, the zoo, and an amusement park. You can drive vehicles to navigate between locations, and the rainy, gothic scenery looks sensational. The water effects alone are downright spectacular. The cut scenes now contain voice acting which adds a lot of good-natured humor. The jealousy Batman exhibits toward Superman is downright hilarious. The basic action is pretty much business-as-usual as you bash the scenery for cogs, pull levers to access new areas, and beat up goons. You can now alternate control of Batman and Robin instead of relying on the CPU to control your partner. The puzzles are satisfying, but there are times when you can't seem to pull a switch in plain view. Suits provide special powers like a hazard suit that lets Robin hose down hazardous waste and an electricity suit that lets Batman overcome electrified obstacles. The suits play a vital role but I hate how they can lose their "charge". The stages are really cool and you never spend too much time in any one place. The camera is fixed (in most cases) so sometimes it's hard to see doorways and objects in the shadows. The new save system seems like an improvement at first, but upon reloading you may find yourself in an unexpected location. Also, the game is not immune to locking up. As the title suggests, you'll get to use other DC characters although Batman is still the star of the show. A big game with a lot of play value, Lego Batman 2 is probably the best Lego title so far. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lego Lord of the Rings
Grade: C
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Reviewed: 2014/1/1
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence, comic mischief)

screenshotI enjoy the simple charm of these Lego adventures, but I guess the adage "if you've played one you've played them all" does tend to apply. Lego Lord of the Rings benefits from strong source material, and there's no shortage of that because the game covers the entire trilogy! That's a lot of content. The sound effects, musical score, and voice dialogue are lifted directly from the films. The cut-scenes convey the full narrative in a refreshingly succinct manner (like the original films, only this time with editing). The game cleverly reprises all of the memorable locations, characters, and plot twists. The stages where you evade the black rider in the woods do a fine job of conveying suspense as you methodically find ways to distract him. You toggle between several characters in each scene, each of which has a special ability (Sam can start a fire, Pippen can fish, etc). The "nobody throws a dwarf" joke gets a heck of a lot of mileage. The button-mashing combat is weak but the exploration element is interesting. Some stages are more "open" than others, allowing you to investigate branching paths and hidden areas. Lego Lord of the Rings is a likeable romp but a few issues keep the fun factor in check. Switching between the characters can be clumsy (especially in scenes with more than eight characters), and it's hard to tell the hobbits apart. In stages like the battle between Gandolf vs Saruman, you feel like you're just going through the motions. The cut-scenes graphics exhibit a surprising amount of jaggies. Upon completing a stage you are informed "there are new characters to buy!", but thank goodness it is not referring to DLC. The split-screen system could be a bit more polished, but I was amazed how both characters will sometimes play completely separate parallel storylines. I'm a little weary of Lego games, but I have to admit Lego Lord of the Rings is a well-crafted adventure that stays true to the spirit of the films. If you're a die-hard fan, bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Grade: B-

screenshotJust when I thought the Lego series had run its course, this new pirate edition reinvigorates the franchise. It may be most compelling Lego adventure yet, spanning all four of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies! The colorful cast of characters, exotic locations, and swashbuckling musical score are lifted straight from the films. I was bedazzled by the sunny tropical islands, the shadowy pubs, and the fireworks-lit Singapore village. The amazing water and fire effects made me glad I opted for the high-def 360 version. Each film consists of about five lengthy stages of intricate puzzles and shallow sword fighting. The puzzles require a lot of item manipulation and swapping between characters, and they are satisfying to solve. The fighting is weak and often confusing as you simply pound buttons in a mob of people. The difficulty is low thanks to constant clues and infinite lives, but some puzzles can be frustrating. Why is that crocodile not taking damage when I toss a bomb into his mouth?! The stages are held together by short cut-scenes which are condensed scenes from the films. Each stage features several characters, and you'll need to strategically switch between them to leverage their special abilities. By the end of each stage you may have six or more characters at your disposal, but it turns into a case of "too many chefs in the kitchen". The controls could be more intuitive, as holding in a button can have a different result than a simple press. The fixed camera angles can be a problem, and sometimes it's hard to see key items in cluttered areas. The two-player split-screen mode dynamically divides the screen based on the location of the characters, which is an interesting concept. Collecting Lego "cogs" is satisfying thanks to those "click" noises, and there's plenty of wanton destruction to be had as you bash crates and furniture, causing hidden cogs to spring forth. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean feels a little convoluted at times, but it's still good clean summertime fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Grade: B-
Publisher: LucasArts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/6/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Lego Star Wars met with a very warm reception from gamers, and this second edition is just as good if not better. This whimsical platformer has an old-school vibe to it, with simple gameplay, crisp controls, and charming, blocky graphics (intentionally blocky in this case). The game recreates the events of the original trilogy, but a few liberties have been taken. The story has been simplified, additional humor has been incorporated, and Mark Hamill's acting is much improved (sorry, I couldn't resist). Each stage is a nice combination of combat, exploration, and simple puzzles. There are a lot of items to collect, but gathering them up never feels tedious - partially because they gravitate towards you as you approach them. The environments are highly destructible, and the explosion effects are satisfying. It's also fun to unlock dozens of new controllable characters as the story progresses. You're not likely to get stuck in this game (at least not for long), because key items tend to glow, usually making it obvious what you need to do next. Heavy emphasis is placed on teamwork, so you'll often need to switch between characters in order to perform tasks like operating machinery, opening doors, or grappling to higher ledges. The two-player co-op mode is enjoyable, although the camera is sometimes an issue. One great new feature is the ability to construct things out of mounds of loose Legos by simply holding in the B button. The dramatic soundtrack is outstanding, with music taken directly from the films. So what's not to like? Well, the Hoth stages were disappointing with their closed-in snowspeeder stages and squirrelly controls. As you accumulate a group of characters in a stage, switching between them is problematic as they tend to bumble into each other. Finally, Luke's lightsaber isn't nearly as effective as it should be - he should be slicing through these guys like melted butter! Still, if you enjoyed the first game or you're just looking for a light-hearted platformer, Lego Star Wars II is a real treat. NOTE: The original Lego Star Wars game review is available in the Xbox section. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Limbo
Grade: C-
Publisher: PlayDead (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/9/29
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild violence)

screenshotThis downloadable title seduced impressionable critics on the strength of its surreal visuals, but guess what? Limbo is severely overrated. Its innovative graphic style employs hazy, black-and-white landscape that effectively conveys a foreboding atmosphere. With giant spiders, dead bodies, flooding chambers, and startling death traps, it looks like a childhood nightmare. The audio is understated so when music kicks in it heightens the tension. Limbo gets an A+ for style, but gameplay matters too! The action boils down to a linear series of 2D platform puzzles. Most require moving objects into place in a timed sequence, and you'll need to pay close attention for subtle visual clues. The puzzles are imaginative and clever, but solving them can be tedious and frustrating. It's all about trial-and-error, so if do don't execute a sequence of actions perfectly you'll need to start over. Cerebral gamers will be intrigued, but thrill-seekers will be bored. Would Limbo have been so well received had it been rendered with bright, colorful graphics? I suspect it would have been ignored, or worse yet panned by most critics. Limbo is well constructed and held my attention for a while, but it's not as fun as it looks. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 

London 2012
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/8/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter the recent Mario and Sonic Olympic debacle, it's good to see Sega redeem themselves with this strong effort. London 2012 packs an amazing cross-section of events including track and field, swimming, diving, shooting, archery, gymnastics, cycling, canoeing, rowing, table tennis, weightlifting, and beach volleyball. The events depicted here look very much like the ones I watched on TV. The venues are gorgeous with waving flags in the stadiums and inviting blue waters in the Aquatic Center. The athletes look sharp and exhibit a lot of subtle mannerisms. The camera angles are excellent, and the underwater view of the swimming competition looks amazing. The controls are nice approximation of the athletic movements employed in each sport. The schemes aren't too complex but not overly simple either. When running, you need to tap a button keep a meter in a "green zone" instead of mindlessly pounding it. With archery, you simply pull back, aim, and release the thumbsticks. Prior to each event you have the option of watching a tutorial which walks you through all the actions. As with any Olympic title worth its weight, up to four players can compete in a list of events of their choosing. For the single player, a rich campaign mode takes you through ten days of competition - also with selectable events. The campaign takes about two hours to complete, but the sheer variety kept me glued to the screen. Trying to put your country over the top in the medal count makes for a nice challenge. The only problem with the campaign is how you need to compete in qualifying rounds, which really drags things out. I could also live without the constant replays which nobody really needs to see. Certain events wear out their welcome because they have too many rounds. There are five rounds in archery, six in javelin, and eight lengthy rounds in skeet shooting. Three rounds each would be ideal, especially when competing against two or three friends. A few of the button prompts can get lost in the scenery, but in general London 2012 is very polished and playable. I love the music and the brief load screens are full of eye candy. As the spiritual descendant of Summer Games (1984), London 2012 is really one of the best games of its kind. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2010/3/27
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotBattle For Middle Earth is a real-time strategy (RTS) game characterized by organizing groups of soldiers and directing them against various invading enemies. You run the show from a high overhead vantage point, so the troops appear very tiny and are somewhat hard to discern. You can either play the role of the good guys (elves, dwarves, humans, ents) or bad guys (orcs, goblins, trolls, dragons). The diverse environments including snowy mountain passes, green pastures, and active volcanoes. The graphical detail is excellent, and it's fun to watch structures being systematically built (or destroyed for that matter). The user interface is simpler than most RTS games, and that's a good thing. Still, it can be a little awkward having to drag that cursor around with an analog stick. You select objects with the A button and the right trigger brings up your options. Many missions require you to set up a camp and train soldiers before initiating combat. That may seems a little tedious until you realize you'll often need to replenish your troops during course of a single mission. An ever-present map gives you a good perspective on the world, where you'll typically have to juggle several skirmishes at once. Your goal is to wipe out all enemies, but sometimes you're asked to perform special missions like saving an ally or destroying a key structure. Battle for Middle Earth is not without its flaws. The game never really explains the basic controls, so you'll need to consult the manual for the specifics about selecting troops. At one point I became frustrated when the game insisted that I "select a fortress build plot", and I had no idea what the hell it was talking about. The game also does a lousy job of conveying the concept of "command points", which are necessary to carry out certain actions. There are sporadic frame-rate issues which cause the action to stutter at times. Even so, Battle for Middle Earth is addictive, and I enjoyed sending groups of troops all over the place to do my bidding. The stages are reasonable in length (under an hour), and an easy difficulty option lets you progress with minimal pain. Battle For Middle Earth is a satisfying strategy game and a good choice for novice RTS gamers. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Lost Planet 2
Grade: F
Publisher: Capcom (2010)
Reviewed: 2013/7/30
Rating: Teen (Animated Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence)

screenshotThe first Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (Xbox 360, 2007) was an unexpected hit. Its standard third-person shooting was enhanced with awesome snow environments and an arcade sensibility. Lost Planet 2 replaces those gorgeous snow-scapes with hot, tropical environments. But that's not the only drastic change - the gameplay is now unbearable. My experience with the split-screen coop mode was so miserable that I ended up shelving the game for three years. Only recently did I summon the intestinal fortitude to try the single-player campaign, and the bad memories immediately flooded back. The scenery looks sharp, but it's surprisingly dark and hard to locate enemies. When a vicious plant beast is bearing down on your soldier, it appears transparent in the foreground, making it hard to tell what the [expletive] is going on! It's hard to locate enemies, or even determine what you're supposed to be shooting at! There are unsightly framerate issues and some of the water effects look terrible. I could accept the idea of constantly replenishing your thermal energy in the original game, but in the jungle heat?! I'm not buying it. The controls are an absolute nightmare. I've played a lot of shooters in my time, but I've never had so many issues equipping weapons, navigating terrain, or making sense of objectives. There were times when it was clearly impossible to complete a mission, yet the game dragged on nevertheless. The team system is hard to grasp, and I think that's because the game was designed for on-line play, with the campaign tossed in as an afterthought. The cut-scenes will get you psyched up with their fast action and bright orange explosions, but once you start playing you're in for a world of hurt. Lost World 2 is a truly wretched shooter that squanders what once seemed like a promising new franchise. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/2/11
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence)

screenshotI'm not sure what critics who panned Lost Planet were expecting, but this game delivered exactly what I was looking for: Large scale battles in expansive, snow-covered environments! The premise is familiar: Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, humans colonize bug-infested ice planet, boy is eaten by giant snow-worm. Playing the role of a soldier with only fragments of memory, you'll face off against snow pirates, mech robots, and enormous bugs with glowing orange "thermal cores". The graphics are sensational. The snowy terrain features fantastic city ruins, vast snowy plains, and majestic rivers of ice floes. Less impressive are the generic interior cave locations. Lost Planet is mainly a third-person shooter, with some weapons so large they need to be dragged along the ground! The rampaging bugs are awesome, and each variety exhibits a unique set of attacks. Some will attempt to steam-roll you, and others use their oversized front legs to pound you into oblivion. The glowing thermal cores give away their weak spots, but those spots aren't always easy to hit! Once dead, the bugs freeze solid, so your next shot shatters their carcass into a thousand pieces (sweet). High-jumping mechs also play a role in the action, and you'll man them as often as you'll battle them. I love the vibration effects of these things stomping in the snow. Unfortunately, the controls for these mechanical beasts are less than responsive, which is frustrating when you're getting pounded non-stop by rockets. Much has been made of the game's explosion effects, and they are in fact probably the best I've seen. Still, all that smoke and fire tends to obfuscate your vision, making it difficult to tell what's going on. Lost Planet incorporates a few other interesting elements like grappling hooks that pull you up to high ledges, and data posts that recharge your thermal energy and point you in the right direction. The main problem with the game is its wildly uneven difficulty. Some bosses are so relentlessly hard that you'll want to set the difficult to easy just to avoid the inevitable frustration. It doesn't help that the collision detection is spotty when facing some of these behemoths. And where's the split-screen action? Sorry, but if you want to play multi-player, you'll need to go on-line. Another issue is how you can only save after each mission. Call it frustrating, call it uneven, but you can't deny that Lost Planet is an exciting shooter. The non-stop action and sweeping musical score really got my blood pumping, and I couldn't wait to see what each new mission had in store. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


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