Publisher: Electronic Arts (2012)
I anxiously awaited this game all winter long, and was bummed when it didn't arrive until the end of March. I've always been a fan of the SSX brand of snowboarding action. On the surface this "reboot" looks like a dream with its inviting slopes and silky smooth frame-rate. The trails feature alternate routes, tunnels, gaping chasms, and rails that weave through the scenery like rollercoasters. New elements include a "squirrel suit" for gliding over chasms and "ice axes" for making sharp turns. The wide selection of locations include the Rockies, Alaska, the Alps, the Himalayas, New Zealand, Siberia, Patagonia, and Antarctica. I had read in previews that the game was going to focus on realism, but realized that wasn't the case the first time I grinded a flying helicopter
. The over-the-top courses are loaded with huge natural and man-made obstacles, and you quickly become desensitized to the spectacle of it all. The controls are problematic, beginning with the overly sensitive steering. The good news is that you can turn on a dime to avert going over a cliff. The bad news is, you'll often find yourself swerving from side-to-side. Fortunately the course navigation is extremely forgiving. You'll never lose your balance as you ride up walls, glance off cliffs, or bounce on bare rock. Only hitting a tree head-on will slow your momentum. The tricks are far too easy to perform. You catch ridiculous air with each jump, and you could tie your shoes, eat a sandwich, and call your mother before you finally land. By tapping buttons and moving sticks wildly you can perform outrageous combinations. Grinding is just a matter of holding in the left trigger - no balancing is involved. The general lack of challenge makes death-defying stunts - like grinding a railroad track over a bridge, seem almost boring. The only real challenge is the deadly drop-offs introduced in the advanced tracks. Unfortunately you often can't see them coming, and that "rewind" feature is little consolation. Previous SSX games allowed me to play my friends via the split-screen mode, but apparently EA has lost the technology
. I did enjoy the pulsating musical score and how you're constantly unlocking new stuff. The game suffers from the lack of a manual. I never understood the difference between the three main modes, and the objectives during each run are often unclear. Long on style and short on substance, SSX is far less than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Samurai Shodown Sen
Publisher: SNK (2010)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, mild sexual themes, violence)
I love me some SNK, but this may be the single most unsatisfying fighting game I've ever played. Sen attempts to bring SNK's venerable Samurai Shodown series into the 3D realm, much as Capcom did with Street Fighter 4. Needless to say, this is a lot
less successful! The intro is a remake of the classic opening from the original Samurai Shodown, but it's all downhill from there. You select between 24 weapon-equipped martial artists, including some new faces like a dwarf wielding an axe and a black guy wielding an Afro. The stages are 3D renderings of the tranquil scenes from old Shodown games, but they look bland. The story mode begins with painfully slow text crawl as a flashing prompt practically implores you
to "PRESS START. SKIP EVENT". The fighting engine is rough and feels very outdated compared to the latest crop of fighters. The animation is choppy and the fights lack a natural flow. The convoluted controls include a horizontal slash, vertical slash, kick, horizontal power slash, horizontal vertical slash, special action, and more
. As you can imagine, this set of moves doesn't map well to any
controller on this planet. A typical special move combination goes something like this: left-down, vertical slash, horizontal slash+vertical slash, special. Got that?
Each round's intro is needlessly long, and the replays shown afterwards are nothing you'd ever want to watch. There's minimal gore during the course of the battle, but the finishing moves are big on dismemberment followed by fountains of blood. Instead of a score, your performance is judged on how fast you finish the game.
The problem is, you probably won't be inclined to finish it. I could criticize Sen's replay value, but that would imply the game had any play value to begin with. SNK seems to have lost their way with regard to their classic franchises. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Interactive (2007)
As one of the few critics with an unexplainable appreciation for the full-motion video (FMV) "phase" of the early 90's gaming scene, I gravitated towards this oddball title. Scene It is a movie trivia game for up to four players. Each contest is a series of mini-games, and four small controllers are included to make it easy to answer the multiple-choice questions. At the top of the controller is a large "buzzer" which is rarely used and hardly necessary. Your controllers need to be in range of a sensor that runs from a USB port, and they can be flaky in terms of responsiveness. When the game begins you watch a short movie clip and answer questions related to it. In subsequent mini-games you'll identify a movie from a prop, an audio clip, or a partial movie poster. There are literally dozens of variations, and they vary dramatically in terms of entertainment value. Most are fairly enjoyable, but a few, like the one that asks you to unscramble movie names, are unspeakably
bad. Scene It's movie selection is respectable, covering all major genres from the black-and-white era to the present. Obviously you'll fare better with films you're familiar with, but sometimes you'll get stuck with an oldie. Unfortunately, after the first round you're penalized
for wrong answers, which takes the fun out of making educated guesses. The idiotic announcer is another liability, spewing corny lines like "I hope you have a good memory because mine is... um what was I just talking about??" Har dee har har har.
Worse yet, this jerk relentlessly ridicules players who are losing. He annoyed my wife so badly that she wanted to stop playing
half-way through the game!! By all means, be sure to turn that sorry bastard off
via the options menu. Even Scene It's scoring system is flawed. During the final round, the point values are multiplied
by each correct answer. If you're familiar with the movie in question, it's possible to score more points on one question than you earned in the entire game
! Bogus! Who was the bonehead who designed this thing anyway? There are some technical issues as well, like pause screens that won't let you select anything except "resume". As a movie lover, Scene It should have been a treat, but this botched title is more of a cautionary tale
. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Scene It Bright Lights Big Screen
Publisher: Warner Interactive (2009)
Unlike most critics who are bent on trashing the Scene It series, I like the concept of a movie trivia game and held out some hope for this "Bright Lights Big Screen" edition. The game has a glitzy game show format, allowing up to four players to participate in a series of rounds consisting of multiple-choice questions. The interface is very polished, and you're presented with clips from films like Evan Almighty, Cloverfield, Surf's Up, Uncle Buck, and the Karate Kid. There are no black-and-white oldies this time around. Scene It can be fun when movie buffs go head-to-head, but the game stumbles in the most confounding ways. Most of these clips aren't the least bit memorable, and the audio is entirely too low compared to the game's audio effects. It's critical to properly adjust the options. That means shutting off that irritating commentator and disabling the ill-conceived "star system" which tends to reward bad players. You'll also want to disable the negative points and set the game type to "short". Answering questions about movie clips is fun, but when the puzzles get creative things go south in a hurry. The anagrams and pictograms are headache inducing, as are the puzzles with pictures that materialize from liquid drops. Any puzzle that require players to "buzz in" is terrible. I hate how the game never bothers to tell you the name of the movie you just watched, and also fails to inform you of the correct answer when the players guess it wrong. Bright Lights Big Screen can be mildly competitive with some willing participants, but its high production values can't gloss over its many design flaws. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, cartoon violence, language, mild suggestive themes)
I wasn't too impressed the first time I played Scott Pilgrim, but after watching the excellent movie I just had to give it a second chance. Just as the film was loaded with old-school video game references, this game is a throwback to the 8 and 16-bit eras. It's a side-scrolling brawler along the lines of River City Ransom (NES, 1988) and Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991). It harkens back to a time when bad guys dropped giant coins and bosses blinked red when they were about to die. Up to four players assume the roles of Scott, Ramona, Kim, or Still, walking the streets of Toronto while beating up random hooligans. The first stage takes place on a city street at night in the snow, and the sheer artistry of the graphics is commendable. Despite being rendered in low-resolution, the color and attention to detail is a sight to behold. Likewise, the upbeat electronic music brings back memories of a time when video game music was simple, catchy, and fun (remember that?). The fighting action begins slowly. You don't have many moves to begin with and enemies tend to block a lot. There are tons of weapons but most aren't particularly useful. Quite often characters will overlap so neither one can make contact. The first stage drags on for an eternity, and the bonus stages are awful. With four players you tend to get lost in a swarm of generic characters - unable to tell the good guys from the bad. You can revive your friends, but my friend Chris found the action so repetitive he implored us not
to revive him! Even playing solo gets tiresome with its endless waves of clones and lengthy boss encounters. The game does gain a little traction as the characters level up and acquire new moves. I like how you revisit locations from the film including the playground, clubs, and the action movie set. The boss encounters are particularly interesting, as you must defeat Ramona's "seven ex's", each of which has different abilities. There's no score in the game, but your character retains his stats and moves when you continue. Scott Pilgrim isn't as fun as it could have been, but at least its heart is in the right place. Fans of the comic can bump up the grade by a letter because of its faithfulness to the source material, which is outstanding. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2007)
I've been a fan of the Sega Rally series since it debuted on the Saturn in 1996, and this third edition effectively resurrects the franchise from a long sleep. Revo offers addictive off-road racing in a series of exotic environments ranging from tropical, to desert, to snowy mountains. This game has an easy-to-play arcade look and feel you don't see very often anymore. Initially the steering seems tricky, but with a little practice you'll be power sliding around corners with ease. You might expect the brake to play a vital role in the slippery conditions, but it's usually more effective to simply let off the accelerator to initiate a slide. Hell, even bouncing off a guardrail
is better than using the brake! Like most arcade racers, an invisible wall prevents you from veering off the track, and you'll be grateful for it. Cars don't incur damage either, which is also a good thing. Mud and snow tends to get caked onto the bottom of your car, which looks cool. The left bumper of the controller lets you cycle between views, and although the "windshield" offers the most immersive vantage point, the "high" view is slightly easier. Vibration feedback also enhances the experience, along with the crisp sounds of gravel, mud, and snow under your tires. Your five fellow-racers are some sneaky bastards, trying to cut you off at every opportunity. As retribution, be sure to slam into them around sharp curves to minimize your turn radius. Sega Revo's scenery isn't spectacular, but the courses have a realistic quality that's appealing. They tend to be reasonably short so you can finish a race within five minutes. But my favorite aspect of the game is the snow. Not only do you plow through deep snow in the Arctic, but on Alpine tracks the snow becomes more treacherous as you climb a mountain, and gradually melts away as you approach lower elevations. Revo's packaging boasts about its "Geo-deformation" technology, but apparently that just means your tire tracks remain in the road over subsequent laps. They don't seem to affect your handling at all. Sega Rally Revo has an addictive single-player championship mode, despite an annoying number of menu screens that all look the same. The two two-player split-screen mode is exceptionally good. Sega Rally Revo is not great in any way, but very good in every
way, making it feel like more than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Sega Superstars Tennis
Publisher: Sega (2007)
I was disappointed with the Wii version of Sega Superstars Tennis, and disgusted
with this Xbox 360 edition. Superstars had a lot going for it, including loveable Sega characters, bright scenic courts, and familiar tunes from classic games. The action is fast and has an arcade quality. So why do I not
want to play this? Well, first of all the controls are terrible. The swing controls are erratic, and your character doesn't even make an effort
to hit a lot of balls that seem close enough. Two buttons are used to hit the ball (topspin and slice), but executing lobs or drop-shots requires you to hit combinations
of these. Hello? There are two unused buttons
on the controller! Poor AI is another problem. In the main "Superstar mode", the CPU is so unyielding that I couldn't even win the first match! It's impossible to get the ball past a speed demon like Sonic, so you only score when he inexplicably "gives up" on the shot! And couldn't Sega have programmed more than one
reaction per character? Talk about repetitive! The two-player mode is better, but still mediocre. The music tends to "cut out" between points, and it's really annoying. I was expecting Sega Superstars to be shallow, but I wasn't prepared for such a complete meltdown. If you want to know how far Sega has fallen, look no further than this game. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Shadows of the Damned
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
This demon shooter has an unorthodox "grind house" style that's appealing. Its crisp graphics, responsive controls, fast pacing, and over-the-top premise give the game an arcade flavor. The wisecracking anti-hero "Garcia Hotspur" (who resembles a young Benicio del Toro) literally
goes to hell to rescue his girlfriend! Hell looks a heck of a lot like Europe with its narrow streets winding through quaint townships. Garcia's sidekick is a flaming skull (with a British accent no less) who can morph into a motorcycle and a variety of weapons. The story is often silly and occasionally profane, but it's a wild ride. There's a lot of satisfaction to be derived from blowing off demon heads with shotguns. Shadows of the Damned doesn't water down the shooting with an auto-aim mechanism which has become all too common in today's shooters. It's tough to execute a headshot, but that makes it extra satisfying when you do so. On the flip side, it's frustratingly easy to miss
jumping enemies during shootouts in tight spaces. The game has a lot of fun little quirks, like the fact that your weapons shoot teeth
and health is replenished by drinking bottles of booze. There are even old-school collectibles like diamonds and strawberries. The game is linear in design and the save points are frequent. Sadly, Shadows sabotages itself by incorporating a "special type of darkness" which periodically enshrouds the area you're in. It slowly drains your life, and worse yet it drains the fun from the game
. To restore the light you'll need to find and shoot a mounted goat's head (no, that's not a typo). Being forced to find light sources adds a puzzle element and a sense of urgency, but it feels contrived and unnecessary. The endless boss battles also left a bitter taste in my mouth (a boss life meter would be helpful). As it is, Shadows of the Damned looks like a great game but doesn't play like one. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Shaun White Snowboarding
Publisher: Ubisoft (2008)
Rating: Teen (lyrics, mild suggestive themes, mild violence)
Unlike the Wii version of Shaun White Snowboarding, which was shallow but fun, the 360 edition tries to convey a more realistic snowboarding experience. You can toggle between four locations including Alaska, Europe, and Japan. The mountains and scenery look quite authentic, and you can even ride the lifts. You can hop off the lifts in motion
, or have a helicopter drop you off at strategic locations. Heck, you can even step off your snowboard and freely explore your surroundings. The sense of freedom is fine, but the game is missing one crucial ingredient, and that's speed
. Even when going full bore you feel as if you're just plodding along. After being awarded "speed demon" bonus points, I was like, "You've got
to be kidding me!" It's hard to accrue or maintain any kind of momentum, so stringing together tricks is a frustratingly proposition. The low camera angle doesn't help matters, making it hard to see upcoming cliffs and time your jumps accordingly. The controls are mainly limited to the thumbsticks and triggers, but the scheme is counter-intuitive and I never felt comfortable with it. Pushing up on the left stick increases your speed, but it also initiates a forward flip during jumps, and that's a problem. There are plenty of special challenges, and most involve performing tricks for points. The thing is, even when you do horrible
you tend to win a medal, and that's not satisfying at all. The game has a plethora of customization options, letting you personalize every detail including your boots, backpack, and goggles (does anybody care?). The graphics are okay, but the mountains fail to instill a sense of awe, and they all look pretty much the same. The game's lively soundtrack is great, including heavy-hitting rock tunes like Cult of Personality (Living Colour) and Barracuda (Heart). For patient gamers who value realism, Shaun White Snowboarding offers tremendous depth and replay value, but if you just want to have fun, stick with the Wii version. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Downpour
Publisher: Konami (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
I've been a huge fan of Silent Hill since day one (Playstation, 2000), but I'm feeling ambivalent about Downpour. The game has a lot of technical glitches and doesn't convey a proper sense of terror or suspense. You play a prisoner on the run after a bus accident, and initially you find yourself in a creepy wooded area reminiscent of Alan Wake (Xbox 360, 2010). It's fun to explore the dilapidated scenery, but the artificial boundaries can be frustrating. You'll spend a lot of time at an abandoned truck stop and in a deep mineshaft before finally arriving in Silent Hill. The town looks much like it did in previous games with foggy streets, trashy alleys, and boarded-up houses. The game is moderately fun as you collect items, solve easy puzzles, and bludgeon monsters. Your enemies include tall, lanky white freaks and psychotic young women straight out of The Grudge or The Ring. The idea of mannequins with invisible spirits probably looked better on paper than it does in the game. Silent Hill is a sprawling place, but the scenery is repetitive. Too often I was less interested in solving the mystery as I was in finding a good save point. If the designers were trying to keep the interface clean, it backfired big time. When you see a "pick up" prompt, you rarely know what the [expletive] you're about to pick up. That's a big deal, because if it's a weapon, you'll automatically swap it out
with whatever you're holding. The prompts can be terribly misleading. You'll often see an "unlock" prompt when in fact you can't unlock the door. There's a thrilling mine cart sequence but a slow-moving thumbstick animation belies the fact that you really need to shake that thing like mad. The right trigger is used to throw
your current weapon, making it really easy
to lose your weapon. One original control is the "look back" button, but who in his right mind would ever want to do that?!
The game has some scary moments, like when you see a hideous girl running up the street toward you, but it squanders many opportunities. It seems like when things are genuinely scary, there's no payoff. There are too many verbose documents to read, and the interface for reading them is poor. The game claims to "save" often, but it sometimes lies, leading to disappointment when you resume a game. Other technical issues include an erratic frame-rate and camera angles that can render you blind during a fight. Did anybody play-test this thing? Downpour feels like a by-the-numbers Silent Hill title, and an undercooked one at that. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Homecoming
Publisher: Konami (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes)
Homecoming ushers Silent Hill into the next generation with style, reinvigorating the franchise with a fresh new look and feel. Previous Silent Hills were consistently scary but tended to be slow, plodding, and difficult. I like how Homecoming picks up the tempo and is generally easier to play. The basic premise is unchanged as you search a foggy, deserted town for some bratty kid while fending off twisted, deformed creatures. Spine-tingling sound effects and limited visibility create an intense atmosphere, but Homecoming eschews the grainy visuals of past Silent Hills and looks crisp and clean by comparison. The unnerving background music ranges from alarming cacophonies to melancholy pianos. The game keeps you on edge as you creep through a cemetery, hotel, police station, and prison. Among the evil hordes are hellhounds, hammerhead goons, and some smoking hot
nurses (from the neck down, at least). Some of the more bizarre creatures have heads
protruding from their crotches! Isn't that nuts!? Homecoming has its share of memorable moments including a flooded basement encounter and a harrowing elevator ride. Your character is surprisingly mobile, dodging attacks with ease and moving between rooms without having to contend with load screens. Combat is more sophisticated than past Silent Hills but not complicated. Homecoming is well programmed but a few design issues had me scratching my head. The inventory system is confusing, especially when items you just picked up don't show up in your inventory! Certain puzzles don't make much sense, like when you "use" an empty gas can to obtain gas from a truck. The graphics are sharp but uneven in quality. The lighting is terrific and the decrepit graveyard looks properly weathered, but the grass looks flat and standing water looks more like glass. The distribution of health items and save points could also be better. Homecoming could use a bit of polish, but it proves this franchise can still deliver the spooky thrills. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Simpsons Game, The
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2007)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, crude humor, language, suggestive themes)
This game is a trip
! The Simpsons Game is the first I can recall to effectively break the "fourth wall". Not only does it constantly acknowledge the fact that it's a video game (and a TV show), but it mocks all of the standard video game conventions. There are breakable crates ("as seen in everything
"), exploding barrels, invisible walls, pressure pads, enemy-spawning portals, and dozens of other hackneyed concepts we've come to expect in our games. I love how the invading aliens debate about exposing the "weak spot" of their saucer after every four laser bursts. Although the hub of the game lets you freely roam Springfield, the stages take you to specific locations such as a lumber mill, an aquarium, and a natural history museum. Two characters embark on each mission, and since they need to work as a team, the game is much
more enjoyable when you play with a friend (via split screen). Each of the four main characters has special powers. Bart can transform into Bartman, Lisa can move items telepathically, Marge uses a megaphone to round up mobs to do her bidding, and Homer can assume odd forms like the destructive rolling "Homerball". Playing a game that pokes fun of every other video game
does have a drawback - it also plays
like every other video game! That means you'll engage in a lot of routine platform jumping, button-mashing fighting, tedious item collecting, and lever-pulling puzzles. Some stages, like the "Cheatrix", are almost unbearable
. Even so, the game's wicked sense of humor keeps it afloat. The jokes and quips come early and often, and the game is genuinely funny. In one scene the mayor decrees: "I have decided to ban the game Grand Theft Scratchy from minors - the only ones who want to play it!" Some of the best lines come from the aliens, who exclaim "Killing humans is like sex to us" and "I was Dick Cheney all along!" You'll also play Simpson-ized versions of many classic games including Joust, Gauntlet, Metal of Honor, Space Invaders, and Missile Command. One stage relentlessly mocks Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, effectively exposing that game for how ridiculous it really is. Unfortunately, while these send-offs are fiercely entertaining, they aren't particularly fun to play. The Simpsons also has its share of technical issues. The control scheme is surprising unintuitive
, although constant hints are provided to prod you along. The controls are erratic, which is truly evident in the Frogger stage, which should be simple but is absolutely frustrating. The camera often provides lousy angles and requires constant adjustment. There's lots of stuff to collect, but only specific characters can collect certain items, and that absolutely stinks. On the surface, the game looks absolutely beautiful, with crisp visuals, bright colors, and smooth animation. The Simpsons Game may be guilty of style over substance, but die-hard fans can probably bump up the grade by one letter. NOTE: I have been advised that the Xbox 360 version has better graphics and more content than the Wii version. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)
Giants is the follow-up to the original Skylanders, which pioneered the idea of pairing video games with collectable toys. Don't you wish you'd thought of it? It's also a spin-off of the Spyro the Dragon series, retaining the same visual style. The starter set comes with three figures and a portal device that magically teleports them into the game. The figures are well crafted, and sometimes parts of their bodies will illuminate when placed on the glowing portal. The game itself is little shallow but surprisingly fun! At its core, this is a simple platformer with stages set in picturesque, floating lands. You can swap out your character at any time, and certain classes of characters are required to access certain areas (translation: buy more figures). Unlike most platformers there is no jump control
. This turns out to be a refreshing change, and the well-designed stages are easy to navigate via steps, ramps, and walkways. Skylanders has a Gauntlet flavor, especially when played cooperatively. The simple controls (two buttons) make it fun to battle diminutive goblins, dogs, cyclops, and archers. Your dragon character can unleash branching lightning, and your ambling tree giant can pound the ground to devastate anything in the area. I love the giants' ability to unleash widespread destruction and chaos. Defeating enemies or opening chests cause sparkling treasures to spring forth, and it's satisfying to snatch them all up. The puzzles are very straightforward and the comical mini-games provide a nice change of pace. I especially enjoyed the Skystones card game - it's like a game within a game. The main story mode is easy, but the timed "challenge stages" will give you a run for the money. In the coop mode the players are tethered, which can be a pain. A battle mode includes an impressive set of two-player games, including a football variation. The characters exude a lot of personality there are some funny lines ("Worst carnival ever!
"). My main beef with the story mode is that there is entirely too much unskippable dialogue. My friend Scott said there was so much talking that he felt like he was in a relationship
. Still, the game is very polished and just because it's easy doesn't mean it's not fun. Skylanders Giants may be based on a gimmick, but the gimmick is pretty awesome. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls V
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks (2011)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, use of alcohol)
This sprawling, Nordic-themed RPG feels like an interactive Lord of Rings movie. Skyrim's attention to detail is amazing, especially when you consider its massive scale. The rugged wilderness looks very natural, and the towns, dungeons, relics, and characters all seem to have a purpose and back-story. You'll find entire books in this game that you can actually read!
The graphics have an illustrated quality, and the snowy scenery looks breathtaking when bathed in moonlight. As with most RPGs the focus is on exploration, resource management, character development, and an epic storyline. Skyrim held my attention longer than most because it's so accessible. In the early going you wield powerful weapons, cast spells, shoot arrows, pick locks, and battle dragons. I like how "time stops" when you access your inventory, allowing you to switch weapons or use a critical item. The main storyline is a series of quests, some of which require you to travel over huge expanses of land. The pace is plodding at times, but at least once you discover a place you can return to it quickly via a quick travel option. There are also dozens of side-quests to distract you at any given time. Skyrim is most exciting when you descend into a dungeon to fight giant spiders, skeletons, and wizards. Unfortunately the close combat is disorienting and it's hard if an enemy is within striking range. Aiming with your bow is less-than-exact and the enemy AI is quirky. Sometimes a creature will remain in the same place even after getting shot repeatedly. Everywhere you go there are dozens of objects lying around, and you'll waste a lot of time just scouring the scenery for valuables. You can only carry so much stuff however, so you'll constantly have to head back to town to sell off treasure. The townsfolk engage in a lot of wordy dialog, but I guess that just adds to the richness of the experience. You can save your progress from the pause menu and there's also an auto-save. Bethesda scores extra points for including a full-color manual and a map made of thick textured paper. Those who can curl up with a good novel will sink endless hours into Skyrim. Gamers like myself however (who wait for the movie) will only enjoy it in small doses. I didn't have the patience to figure out Skyrim's extracurricular activities like smithing, smelting, tanning, cooking, and alchemy. I guess what you get out of this game depends on how much you're willing to put into it. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: King Games (2006)
Just what the world needs - another stealth game! Talk about a concept that's been beaten to death! Still, there's something appealing about freaking people out as "the King" with his creepy plastic face. Or maybe I'm just a sick bastard. Anyway, at first I couldn't figure this game out, until my buddy Steve pointed out that you could only scare "hungry" people with burgers in "bubbles" over their heads. Once you get a feel for it, Sneak King is actually a fun little game. The wandering people sport Metal Gear-like "vision cones" that are clearly visible on the main screen (no need to check the radar display). This makes it easy to avoid detection, and once you begin to recognize their movements, you can pop out of barrels, crates, and bales of hay. Upon successfully surprising a person, King breaks into a little dance before presenting the sandwich. While comical at first, you'll soon grow weary of these animations and find yourself tapping buttons in a vain attempt to expedite the process. The first stage takes place in a sawmill (odd!), but later stages include a neighborhood cul-de-sac and a city at night. The missions become trickier as you progress, and it can get pretty intense as you attempt to deliver a certain number of sandwiches within a short time limit. Sneak King has a certain charm and an addictive quality the other Burger King games lack. At $3.99, this one really took me by surprise. NOTE: This game also plays on a regular Xbox, with slightly degraded graphic quality. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing with Banjo Kazooie
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Sega has proven quite adept at mishandling its classic franchises in recent years, but with Sonic & the Sega All-Stars Racing, they finally got their act together. This arcade-style title harkens back to the good old days when playing a video game was easy and fun. Sonic Racing brings together characters from such beloved Sega franchises as Space Channel 5, House of the Dead, Super Monkey Ball, Crazy Taxi, Samba De Amigo, Billy Hatcher, Jet Set Radio, and naturally Sonic the Hedgehog. The gorgeous high-def stages take you through tropical lagoons (Sonic), snowy castles (Billy Hatcher), dark graveyards (House of the Dead), festive villages (Samba De Amigo), and modern cities (Jet Set Radio). Not only is each track a visual treat, but the soundtrack leverages toe-tapping tunes from past titles like Sonic Adventure and Samba De Amigo. The lush tropical locations are loaded with references to classic Sonic titles, including the crabs and fish from the very first Sonic game! I love the eye candy, but Sega could take some pointers from Nintendo regarding course design. The Monkey Ball tracks have one 90-degree turn after another, and the House of the Dead courses are too dark to follow. Yeah, I know Sega's just trying to stay true to the subject matter, but running into walls is not
fun. Otherwise this game is a blast! The control scheme rewards drifting with a speed burst - a nifty concept used effectively back in Crash Team Racing (PS1, 1999). The races are ideal in length and the split-screen mode is terrific. In the single-player tournament mode, you only need to place in the top three to advance. The commentator is annoying and unnecessary, but you can easily shut him off via the options screen. Credits earned can be used to buy additional characters, tracks, and music. Yes, for once there is actually useful stuff
to buy! Amazing!
I'm really happy to see Sega finally able to capitalize on their substantial catalogue. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing may not be as good as Mario Kart Wii, but it's awfully close. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2011)
Each year Sega brings us a new Sonic title, instilling gamers with the false hope that the blue hedgehog has finally returned to his glory days of 2D side-scrolling action. Yet invariably Sega insists on pushing the 3D style that favors glitz and eye candy over actual gameplay. Sonic Generations is a fair compromise, offering both 2D and 3D versions of stages compiled from 20 years of Sonic games. You switch modes by toggling between the "old" and "new" Sonic, but frankly both look pretty much the same. The first two stages resurrect classic levels from Sonic 1 and 2 from the Genesis. These remastered renditions of the Green Hill and Chemical Plant zones play like a dream and are rendered with lavish 3D backdrops. You'll wish the rest of the game was this good. Sadly, many of the remaining stages are culled from much more recent Sonic titles that most gamers would just as soon forget. Many suffer from ubiquitous "dangerous drops" which are often located in the most illogical places (a parking garage?
). When developers feel the need to pepper levels with big ugly red warning signs, that should have raised some concern. I wasn't particularly stoked about the 3D variations but I will admit they turned out better than expected. The sense of speed is exhilarating at times and there's plenty of variety as well. One thing I'm not crazy about is how the stages are super long. Breaking them up into smaller, more manageable chunks would have made them more fun to explore. The controls are fine but a bit slippery. The audio is a pleasant surprise. Surround sound is used effectively and the soundtrack is absolutely sensational
. The normal stages are definitely on the easy side, but dozens of "challenge" stages will keep you busy with their special objectives. A cynical critic might see Generations as a missed opportunity, giving too much credence to recent outings (like Sonic Colors) instead of focusing on the classics. Judging the entire work however, I'd have to say Sonic Generations is a solid effort that offers the best of both worlds. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2008)
Whoever is responsible for this ill-conceived mess has no business being in the video game industry. Sonic Unleashed looks like a million bucks, but plays like a $1.98. The early press on this game suggested it would mark Sonic's long-awaited return to his classic 2D roots. In fact, this has more in common with the universally despised Xbox 360 Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Unleashed introduces a one highly unoriginal and completely unwelcome new element: the ability to transform into a werewolf at night. The combat-heavy, puzzle-centric werewolf stages are always tedious and frequently unbearable
. The jumping and grabbing controls are so counter-intuitive that it feels like you're playing a first-generation 3D game. It's as if the developers tried to reinvent the wheel and it turned out square. You'll contend with regenerating robots that linger on the screen after
you defeat them, making it hard to determine who's left to attack. The camerawork is jerky, the controls are touchy, and the checkpoints aren't nearly frequent enough. The werewolf stages are a veritable chore
, but even the lightning-fast Sonic stages barely register on the fun meter. There's no shortage of raw speed and lush scenery, but controls are so limited you feel as if you're having minimal impact on events. Expect a lot of confusing button prompts that are impossible to react to. Is there anything good about this game? Well, I like the idea of collecting rings to replenish your life gauge, and the island stages feature some absolutely breathtaking scenery. Too bad you don't get to enjoy any of it! In addition to its fundamentally-flawed gameplay, Unleashed seems to go out of its way to irritate the player. The ability to walk around a town and chat with people ("Nice weather today") was never fun in the past, and never will be, no matter how pretty the scenery may be. The epic storyline is inappropriate for a Sonic title, and the endless, unskippable cut-scenes are torture to watch. The boss battles are too frequent, too long, and often too difficult. Was this game even play tested? Irritating tightrope-walking sequences, confusing objectives, boring slide-the-block puzzles, frequent "you can't go here yet" messages, cutesy sidekicks, vomit-inducing voices, and fatal water are just a few of the torments Unleashed inflicts upon the player. Bad games happen, but to create something as supremely unlikeable
as Sonic Unleashed, you really
have to make the effort!
© Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Publisher: Sega (2006)
Sega's famed mascot has had his ups and downs over the years, but there's simply no excuse for this outrageously bad
game. The fact that it bears the same name as the original Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis, 1991) is a slap in the face
to long-time fans. Presented in high definition but unplayable at any resolution, this ill-conceived debacle is structured like Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast 1999), but lacks the charm, polish, control, and element of fun. As if the developers were trying to emphasize the worst
aspects of previous Sonic titles, you'll endure pointless chatting with townsfolk, brainlessly "bop" the heads of countless robots (just keeping pressing A), and barrel through stages while almost completely out of control. The idea of integrating the cartoon-ish Sonic characters with realistic human figures is as creepy as it is idiotic. The "touching" cut-scenes between Sonic and the shapely female character are so utterly embarrassing that they had me reaching for a barf bag
("All I need... is your smile"). Back in the day, the Sonic games featured light-hearted themes, imaginative stages, crisp controls, and simple gameplay. This new Sonic, on the other hand, is bogged down with pointless dialogue, confusing objectives, idiotic stage designs, and abysmal control. The "hub" of the game is a little town where you buy items from LL Cool J and chat with people who have nothing interesting to say. The "action" stages aren't much better, thanks to a spastic camera that makes it impossible to keep your bearings. In the desert stages, you instantly drown
when you touch the sand!! Think about how stupid that is! Still, it was quite amusing to hear a friend yell, "Oh no!! SAND
!!" The new "ring attacks" are a confusing mess, and the boss battle with "Silver" is the worst ever ("Take that! It's no use!!
"). The ill-advised new "super speed" stages have you whizzing through long stretches so fast that you can't properly steer or anticipate obstacles. Evidentally, Sega fired their entire Quality Assurance department, because the game's obvious bugs and general lack of polish is astounding. Besides the jumpy camera, there are collision detection glitches, inexcusable pop-up, clipping problems galore, and kung-fu quality lip-syncing. It's not unusual to suddenly lose control of your hedgehog as he momentarily moonwalks in place. The loading screens are so excessive that I had to sit through a 15-second load screen just to watch a lame, 5-second clip. The graphics are high-definition, but no more detailed than the Dreamcast titles - only sharper. I find it hard to believe that somebody at Sega thought this game was a good idea. This is a disgrace
. Sonic the Hedgehog has been defeated. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I
Publisher: Sega (2010)
At the behest of legions of fans, Sega has finally released a true sequel to the "holy trilogy" of Sonic games that appeared on the Genesis in the early 90's. Are you telling me that this was really the best they could do?! Sega is famous for mishandling their big-name properties, but this is unforgiveable! One of the intro screens displays the Sonic Team logo, suggesting the original development team was somehow involved. So when did they forget how to program?
By the looks of it, Sonic 4 was developed by Sega's bored intern who had never actually played the original games but had seen a few screen shots. For a real Sonic fan, it takes all of about five seconds of play to realize that Sonic 4 feels all wrong
. The original Sonic boasted simple controls coupled with a palpable sense of speed and momentum. In Sonic 4, when Sonic is propelled through the air, taking your thumb off the directional pad causes him to stop abruptly in mid-air and drop like a bag of bricks! WTF!?
Likewise pressing the jump button in mid-air will interrupt his flight and send him lurching in a random direction! Instead of being fast and smooth, Sonic's movements are awkward and stilted. The physics are borderline non-existent!
These controls would be terrible in any
game, much less a high-profile sequel. Instead of simply pouncing on a foe, you're forced to perform a "homing attack" made un
-popular by the marginal 3D Sonic titles of recent years. Who in the [expletive] asked for that?!
These attacks are especially problematic when the red target symbol obscures the spikes
sticking out of the creature you're about to hit! Sonic 4's stages made me physically nauseous. Long and redundant, you often feel as if you're moving in circles (and in many cases, you are
). I never felt the urge to explore, but I did want each stage to end
as soon as possible! The "Splash Hill" zone tries to rekindle the tropical beauty of the old games, but despite the high-def makeover the scenery looks plastic and boring. The Lost Labyrinth zone has a Temple of Doom vibe, but having your heart ripped out is more fun than playing it. That torch puzzle is brutal, and that mine-cart ride? Really
Sega? Trying to hop between the cogs in the Mad Gear zone is a nightmare, and the lack of physics makes the pinball-inspired Casino zone a chore. It should come as no surprise that the rotating bonus stage is less visually appealing than the one in the original Sonic, and a lot
less fun! As the final insult, the "Episode I" subtitle suggests Sega intends to string you along so they can dip into your wallet again and again. When I heard Sega was making this long-awaited follow-up, I was hoping
they would take it seriously. Instead, it was treated like some half-hearted side project. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection
Publisher: Sega (2008)
Sega released a terrific compilation of 28 old Genesis games for the PS2 in 2006, but Sonic Ultimate Collection eclipses that with over 40 titles! Designed with high definition in mind, these games offer a degree of visual and audio clarity far beyond what a Genesis system could muster. On a wide screen, the games are "framed" to retain their original 4:3 proportions, with colorful (and appropriate) scenery filling the unused space. While playing Streets of Rage with my wife, I noticed many subtle details undetectable in the original version, such as the reflections of buildings in store windows. My wife noted that the colors are much deeper. When you stop to savor all of the artistic details in the scenery (like posters blowing in the wind), you gain a whole new appreciation for these old games. The Sonic titles look brighter and more inviting than ever, and memorable 16-bit soundtracks like the one in Ecco the Dolphin have never sounded better. The collection contains a few marginal titles like Flicky, Alex Kid, and Bonanza Bros., but most of these games have aged extremely well. I personally rediscovered a few obscure gems like the action-packed police shooter E-Swat and the macabre platformer Decap Attack. The action/adventure Beyond Oasis boasts lush tropical scenery and impressively large animated characters. Role-playing game (RPG) fans will flip over the inclusion of rare titles like Phantasy Star 1 thru 4 (!) and Shining Force 1 and 2 (!!). You can save any game in progress, and in some cases high scores are retained as well. Unlockables include interviews and arcade-perfect hits like Congo Bongo, Zaxxon, Space Harrier, and Shinobi. And no, they are not hard to unlock (thankfully). Does this collection have any faults? Well, the 360 controller is not
ideal for these kind of games, and after a while your fingers will long for a Genesis control pad. The emulation is not perfect, but it's very close. I noticed some subtle slow-down and slight control lag, but it's barely worthy of mention. Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection is a treasure trove of fun from the 90's. With so many games, you could play this all night, and that's really not a bad idea. I just hope this isn't the last Genesis collection, because there's a lot more where this came from! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2008)
The last time we saw Soul Calibur, it was a Playstation 2 exclusive in the form of Soul Calibur III (2005). As the first edition for this new generation, Soul Calibur IV (SC4) delivers exactly what you would expect but nothing more. It's an intense, one-on-one 3D brawler with fantasy themes and majestic backdrops. The gameplay has changed little the years - for better or worse. SC4 has a nice pick-up-and-play vibe, with intense action and minimal load times. The basic controls are simple enough, but the string of movements required to perform certain attacks borders on the extreme. Button mashing isn't always a bad option. Being aggressive gains you the momentum, and your opponent's guard move is only partially effective. Most battles take place on raised platforms, and it's annoying how you can pummel an opponent teetering on the edge, yet they refuse to fall off! The roster includes martial artists, knights, jesters, and of course some scantily clad females. I think the developers have finally went over the edge with Ivy - it looks like she has two bowling balls
hanging off her chest! She's gone from a sex goddess to a freak! Sometimes landing a blow it will break off some of your opponent's armor. "Hey look guys, her clothes are coming off!" "Quick, hit her again!!" Besides the new on-line modes, the biggest news is that Star Wars characters have been introduced, including Vader, Yoda, and a Jedi Apprentice. This may add some variety, but they seem oddly out of place, and I don't appreciate how they use the force to toss me around like a rag doll. The stages are diverse, but if you've played Soul Calibur before, areas like the cathedral, volcano, and floating raft will seem awfully familiar. My personal favorites are the bright, exotic pirate ship stage and the moonlit glacier. The story mode spices up the action by incorporating power-ups and pitting you against three opponents in a row. But the storylines themselves are crap. They begin with a text crawl (and I mean crawl
), and end with an incomprehensible cut scene. The melodramatic dialogue tries to sound profound but it means absolutely nothing. "Her resolution gives her the strength to face her destiny." Whatever! The arcade mode lets you play for points, but sadly, they aren't recorded unless you're on-line, and that sucks. A rich create-a-fighter mode is included, which may appeal to some. Soul Calibur IV is still a quality fighter, but unless you want to play on-line, this edition has little new to offer. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2012)
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Soul Calibur first arrived on the scene on the Dreamcast in 1999. Since then, gamers have experienced the abundant joy derived from smashing people over the head with impossibly large swords. This weapon-based, one-on-one fighter boasts dynamic medieval settings like a Citadel under siege, a torture chamber, and a sinking merchant ship. Soul Calibur's elegant control scheme consists of four buttons: horizontal slash, vertical slash, kick, and guard. Special moves are combinations of button presses and joystick movements. A player can orchestrate elaborate combos or button mash, and most of the time it's a combination of both (admit it). Once you get a few special moves under your belt, playing this game feels like playing a musical instrument. The moves are always at your fingertips (via pause menu), but the button mappings are confusing. When K maps to the B button and B maps to Y, something's not right. The fighters consist of knights, monsters, freaks, and sexy chicks. Some of the costumes are outrageous. The scenery looks crisp and a lush orchestrated score adds weight to the proceedings. The fights are best-of-five rounds, but I personally prefer the best-of-three format. It's possible to "ring out" your opponent by forcing him off the fighting platform, but I wish it wasn't such a rare occurrence. Soul Calibur V is one of the more accessible fighters out there, so even novice players will enjoy it. The previous installment was focused on on-line play, so I was pleased to see several off-line modes available in Soul Calibur V. The story mode is a snore-fest, but the "quick battle" mode lets you earn titles. The arcade mode records your best time, although I would have preferred an old-fashioned high score. There's even a one-player "Legendary mode" you can unlock. The idea of registering rivals is cool, but the whole "license" concept is confusing and unnecessary. As with most modern fighters, Soul Calibur V looks amazing but under the surface is just an incremental improvement. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Spec Ops: The Line
Publisher: 2K Games (2012)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Let's face it - these military shooters all start to look the same after a while. But just because it comes from a worn-out genre doesn't mean Spec Ops: The Line isn't fun. Oh sure, its basic formula is Call of Duty all the way, and a lot of specific elements are borrowed from Modern Warfare (slow motion hostage rescues, finishing moves, remote rocket attacks). Even so, The Line manages to carve out its own little niche thanks to its bizarre premise and compelling storyline. It takes place in Dubai after a series of cataclysmic sandstorms have transformed the city into a half-buried ghost town. It's a surreal sight to see the shiny, ultra-modern structures rising from an ocean of sand. The story begins as a rescue mission, but things take a dark turn when you find yourself battling other American troops. The Line is a morality tale of sorts, presenting you with a lot of no-win decisions. The game conveys the horrors of war with grisly scenes of death, and it's heavy handed but effective. The third-person action is pretty standard as you run for cover while enemies pour out of the woodwork. Taking them out using a systematic approach works best, but sometimes you can trigger an avalanche of sand to stun (or bury) enemies. I like how you can instruct your fellow soldiers to focus in on a particular target; it's a real life saver when you're pinned down. The "take cover while sprinting" feature comes in handy as well, letting you quickly slide behind a barricade. The game is occasionally frustrating, especially when your soldier refuses to take cover behind an object. It only takes one enemy shot to trigger the "You are dead" message, followed by a lengthy reload-checkpoint process. The language is strong, but the dialog is believable. At one point I eavesdropped on a pair of soldiers ("Hey Bradley, you got any gum?" "Yeah - last piece." "I don't want to take you last piece!
" "Go ahead - take it") just before mowing them down. I guess that really was
his last piece! The checkpoints and saves are well placed. There are no split-screen modes, but the on-line multiplayer is not a bad way to pass the time (the sandstorms add an interesting twist). Spec Ops: The Line is never as spectacular as the Modern Warfare games, but it's certainly good enough to hold you over until the next one. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco Bandai (2010)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
As a longtime Splatterhouse fan, I find this modern "re-envisioning" to be fairly reprehensible
. This game takes the B-movie appeal of the original 2D games and substitutes it with shock value, lewd images, and juvenile humor. The profanity-laced dialogue is embarrassing, and all the gallons of blood washing over the screen can't hide the fact that this is a hack-n-slash title of the lowest caliber. Like the original, the basic gameplay involves moving from room to room while bashing regenerating demons with weapons (or your fists). There are plenty of attacks to mix things up, but it's hard to tell who's taking damage - you or the creatures! The button-mashing gets old in a hurry, and the collision detection is so poor that I once punched a creature and hit the one standing behind
him instead. The stages are very inconsistent in terms of graphics and quality, and the first boss would look more at home in a Transformers
game. The graphics aren't bad, with plenty of shadowy hallways, plush furniture, and clammy demon skin. The controls are overly complicated and there are too many one-hit deaths. After losing a life you'll need to wait a full minute
for the last checkpoint to load, and it feels like an eternity!
And just when you thought the game couldn't sink any lower, you find yourself collecting nude photos
of your girlfriend. There are a few side-scrolling stages that try to recapture the old 2D magic - in vain. The single saving grace of this disc is the inclusion of three original Splatterhouse games, including the arcade original and the two Genesis sequels. These classic side-scrollers are so good that it's almost worth playing through this miserable, ill-conceived game just to unlock them. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Disney (2010)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
There's only one thing more satisfying that racing fast cars, and that's blowing them up. Split Second looks like a million bucks, and plays like it too. Its adrenaline-soaked action, photo-realistic graphics, and devastating mayhem are a joy to behold. While racing against seven other cars, you fill a power gauge by executing drifts, jumps, drafts, and near-misses (shouldn't those be near-hits
?). Most games let you earn turbo, but here you earn the ability to wreak havoc on the course, systematically knocking out your competitors. You'll trigger incidents like helicopters dropping girders, trucks backing out into traffic, cranes swinging out of control, and buildings collapsing. Blue or red icons appear over opponents who are properly positioned to be the target of your carnage. Just be sure to keep some distance or you might just plow into the mess you've made. The captivating action combines the thrill of an arcade title with the richness of a simulation. The cars are not
particularly easy to drive (it's easy to over-drift), but that just adds to the challenge and realism. The season mode mixes normal races with elimination events, survival races, and special challenges like helicopter showdowns. A split-screen mode is also included, and it's superb. Split Second also offers a number of clever innovations. As a race begins you're immediately off to a rolling start. There's no countdown, and you won't miss it one bit. I also love how your power meter and vital information are displayed on your back bumper, allowing you to glance at them without taking your eyes off of the road. If there's one area where Split Second does not
live up to its name, its the load times. It's like playing a PS3 game
for crying out loud! My friend Scott complained that they "take you out of the moment". Fortunately it's worth the wait. And in an era when companies routinely release buggy games, I have to commend Disney's quality control department. This game is so smooth and polished, I can only assume they play-tested the hell
out of it! My friend Jonathan even raved about the menus! The freakin' menus!
Boldly original and perfectly executed, Split Second elevates racing excitement to a whole new level. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2009)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)
I love explosions, mayhem, and gratuitous destruction as much as the next guy, but Splosion Man is a real dud. The star of this whimsical platformer is a creature with a serious chemical imbalance running loose in a lab facility. At the press of a button he detonates, vaulting himself through the air while reducing scientists in the vicinity into meaty chunks. It's a killer concept that's completely squandered! Instead of coming up with inventive uses for this "explosion" mechanic, it basically serves as a glorified jump button. The game's 2D stages are hopelessly generic as you vault between walls, leap between floating platforms, and activate switches to reach the end of each stage. It's every platform game you've ever played in your life, minus the fun. The stages are cookie cutter in design, and finishing each feels unsatisfying and pointless. I was holding out hope for the multiplayer mode, but that requires to you synchronize your jumps
with a friend (1...2...3...GO!) which is just a monumental pain in the ass. If this game is getting good ratings, gamers much be desperate
for some 2D action on their 360. Splosion Man had mad potential, but it suffers from a complete lack of imagination. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
This game is wrong on so many levels I don't know where to begin. The original Steel Battalion (Xbox, 2002) was an epic mech shooter packaged with its own monumental controller. I suspect Capcom envisioned the Kinect as a way of incorporating a sprawling control panel into a game without having to produce the massive hardware. Well, if Heavy Armor is any indication, the Kinect is not
ready for prime time - when it comes to sophisticated war simulations at least. The opening stage attempts to walk you through the basic controls. You're housed in a claustrophobic cockpit with three other soldiers. You are literally surrounded with gears, monitors, buttons, levers, and handles. As the game demonstrates the function of each, it tries to ease the process by displaying a ghostly hand or flashing the controls that require attention. Getting through this training exercise does not
inspire confidence. In fact, it makes you wonder how the [expletive] you're supposed to remember
all this stuff!! Even if you could, Heavy Armor will drive you crazy with its lack of responsiveness and poor precision. In the heat of battle you'll find yourself waving all over the place, often triggering the controls you did not
want to push. Sometimes the game seems to have a mind of its own, changing your view and activating controls at random. Once I attempted to look out of my tiny window, only to have a hand close the shutter over it instead. And for all the headaches the motion controls entail, guess what? You'll still
need to use a regular
controller! That's right, it's used to fire, look around, and perform other actions. Using your binoculars requires you to hold up your hands to your face, which makes sense until you realize you have to move the right thumbstick
to look around! It's as though the game couldn't be properly played with a controller or
the Kinect, so we get the worst of both worlds. The overall tone of the game is ill-advised as well. The original Steel Batallion was generally serious, but this one tries to be Saving Private Ryan-serious
with its gruesome gore and over-the-top profanity. I cannot believe Capcom gave this project the green light. This is embarrassing. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Destineer (2008)
Stoked feels like a snowboarding game designed by snowboarders, and that's part of the problem. If terms like indy, mute, or stalefish are second-nature to you, Stoked delivers a pretty hardcore snowboarding experience. Otherwise you're in for a substantial learning curve. And even when you do learn what the hell these wacky terms mean, memorizing their controls is another ball of wax. The big selling point of Stoked is the promise of skiing freely down a huge open mountain. Most snowboarding titles limit you to narrow courses, and if you're like me, you've been tempted to travel off the beaten path. Stoked allows you do that, but sadly, there's not much to see! Yes the wide-open powdery hills look inviting at first, but there's little sense of speed even as you careen down the steepest slopes. Worse yet, some mountains have immense slushy sections and bare spots that send you tumbling head over heels. I struggled through the game's tutorial and was frustrated by my lack of progress on the first mountain. Each mountain offers a series of "challenge points" which require you to perform specific tricks while meeting a scoring threshold. They are not easy at all, especially when you're asked to pull off chicken salad/backside 360 combinations at the drop of a dime. Many of the moves are never explained anywhere
. Okay, I'm supposed to perform a hucked or styled landing?? Ummm... how?? Little help here!! The controls are mainly limited to the two triggers and thumbsticks, but there's little room for error, and concept of "winding up" a jump is hard to wrap your mind around. Even when I knew exactly what I had to do, I struggled to find a ramp that would give me sufficient air to complete the trick. Probably the best aspect of the game is its diverse, eclectic soundtrack. While none of the songs sounded familiar, they all had a nice, laid-back groove. Soundtrack aside, Stoked is a major letdown. Some may appreciate its realistic slant, but the game is entirely too inaccessible to recommend to the casual player. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Street Fighter IV
Publisher: Capcom (2009)
The Street Fighter franchise has returned with a vengeance, successfully coupling its classic 2D gameplay with lush 3D graphics. The colorful anime set-up screens are a joy to behold, and the fighters are rendered with amazing polish and artistic flair. Street Fighter IV (SF4) plays as well as its looks, thanks to its perfectly responsive controls. Think you can find a better head-to-head fighter than this? Good luck! Hell, this makes 3D fighters like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive look like garbage!
SF4 adopts the classic Street Fighter 2 format, from its colorful selection screen, to its best-of-three matches, to the obligatory winner's quote ("What's up with that outfit? Did you lose a bet or something?") The new "focus attacks" add depth, but the new "Ultra" moves (grab your opponent and jump a mile in the air) are just overkill. SF4 really should come packaged with a full-sized joystick, because the 360 controller is not
conducive to button tapping. Unfortunately, from what I hear the official SF4 joystick won't be widely available until late 2011 (did Capcom outsource to Nintendo
or something?!) I congratulate Capcom for nailing SF4 in the style and gameplay department, but they really messed up on a few important details. I'm glad they brought back the old characters, but Chun Li is saddled with the same enormous
thighs she picked up during her Alpha days (not to mention man-hands). Rose's hard facial features prompted my friend Steve to do his best Austin Powers impression ("She's a man
baby yeah!") As for the four new characters, could Capcom possibly come up with a more unattractive
group? Not likely! Viper is a lesbian with red braided hair and a bigger package
than the guys!
Abel is a generic muscleman, Rufus is an overweight biker, and El Fuerte is a short Mexican wrestler who hops around like a flea.
Equally devoid of imagination are the backgrounds, most of which are instantly forgettable. The jungle and diner scenery is probably the best, but that's not saying much. The music on the character selection screen has a sweet 1992 vibe, but the overall soundtrack is a mixed bag. Is that Justin Timberlake
singing the title track? One tune sounds like that annoying Six Flags commercial (ugh). An irritating (and unnecessary) commentator is always tossing out platitudes like "The weak lose and the strong win! Who will prove the axiom today?" Each character has a short animated intro, and you'll get really tired
of skipping them. Playing this game with friends is a total blast, but the one-player experience rings hollow. In the arcade mode, the final boss (the shape-changer "Seth") is so damn cheap you'll have to play on the "easy" difficulty just to unlock characters. The challenge mode is not very exciting, and the arcade mode only records your high scores if you're on-line!
For a game that prides itself as old school, that just plain sucks.
Sorry, but I have no desire to compare my scores with some 17-year-old in Boise Idaho! I suspect Capcom is just trying to force people on-line in the hopes they'll shell out a few bucks for a new Chun Li outfit. No thank you! Street Fighter IV definitely has a lot of muscle under the hood, but ill-advised design decisions prevent this one from attaining classic status. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Street Fighter X Tekken
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, crude humor, language, suggestive themes, violence)
I loved the style of the Street Fighter IV series, but I was cynical about this "cross-over" title. Pronounced "Street Fighter Cross Tekken", the game combines characters from both fighting franchises for a grand total of 38. Since Street Fighter is the dominant series, the Tekken characters conform to Street Fighter's 2D gameplay and six-button control scheme. It's not a bad fit. I like being able to play as King from Tekken, especially since his nifty throw moves have been incorporated. The contests are two-on-two battles and you can swap characters at the drop of a dime. Besides your "vitality" gauge, a second meter shows how much health your partner can regain while "standing by". Another interesting feature is gems that provide you with different advantages under various battle conditions. You can choose a gem combination beforehand, and when they activate your fighter glows the color of the gem. The graphics feature that polished, semi-realistic look that made Street Fighter IV such a hit. Some of the stages are amazing, like the Jurassic Park-inspired jungle, the mammoth chase in Antarctica, and the space ship that launches as you fight inside of it. The rest of the stages are not nearly as interesting. A lot of the newer characters are downright hideous (Hugo, Rufus), but Poison is drop-dead gorgeous. In terms of pure gameplay, the 2D action here is superior to most 3D fighters. The controls feel tighter and it's just more fun. The bouncy, uptempo music is appealing and I like how the voices are Japanese. This game is tailored to two-player and on-line action. The arcade mode is lame because there's unlimited continues, no score, and the AI is suspect. The Akuma boss is pretty cheap - the screen goes black, fireworks go off, and you're dead. If you do win, you are rewarded with a "Thank you for playing" message. You're not welcome!
The "challenge mode" is just plain tedious. Lousy single-player support and a prominent on-line "store" give this one the look of a money grab. Still, Street Fighter X Tekken is a blast if you're playing on-line or head-to-head. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Super Street Fighter IV
Publisher: Capcom (2010)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
With this Super edition, Capcom rectifies most of the issues I had with the original Street Fighter 4. Although the game still caters heavily to the on-line crowd, it does now record off-line statistics like high scores for each character (as well as an all-time high). I would have preferred a traditional top ten screen with initials, but I'll take what I can get. As a fighting game, Super Street Fighter 4 is superb, combining the simplicity of 2D controls with the rich visuals of 3D graphics. It feels exceptionally polished and well tuned. The fighting action is intense, and if you haven't invested in a good joystick yet, now is the time. Playing with a normal 360 controller is not
kind to your hands! There are ten new characters to select from, bringing the grand total to whopping 35. Newcomers include old favorites from Street Fighter 2, less familiar faces from Street Fighter 3, and a few brand new characters. You can now play as Dee Jay the Jamaican, T. Hawk the Native American, Adon the Kickboxer, Dudley the English boxer, Cody the handcuffed convict, and the ever-so-generic Guy. Juri is a sexy Asian chick, Ibuki is a schoolgirl, Makoto is a kid, and Hakan is a Turkish dude who enjoys rubbing himself down with oil. I was hoping for a lot of cool new stages, but only a few stand out like the diner scene and the elephant stage. The arcade mode now incorporates classic bonus stages including the one where you beat the hell out of a car. The commentator has been dramatically upgraded and the glossy instruction manual is first-class all the way. I'd stop short of calling this a mandatory upgrade, but Super Street Fighter 4 clearly represents the current state-of-the-art for fighting games. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Amazon.com, Xbox Marketplace