Angry Birds Trilogy
Publisher: Activision (2012)
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Just about everyone has played Angry Birds on a smart phone, where it has enjoyed incredible popularity. But is it truly a great video game, or just a case of being in the right place at the right time? Playing Angry Birds on a "real" gaming system gives a little more perspective. The premise is to slingshot round birds at green pigs sheltered by precarious structures (some made of glass). The gameplay is completely 2D. Your slingshot control is on the bottom screen and the upper screen gives you the "big picture". I was surprised and a little disappointed that you must
use the stylus and can't get by with just your finger. When a bird hits its target, it typically results in a chain reaction as boards collapse, pigs are crushed, and points are racked up. This would probably be a mature-rated title if not for the cute, cuddly characters involved. Adding strategy are birds with special abilities, including those that divide, drop bombs, or explode on contact. There's a lengthy pause as you wait for everything to settle after your final shot. This trilogy contains the Classic, Rio, and Seasons editions of Angry Birds. I love the frantic monkeys in Rio and the holiday themes of Seasons. Each game offers dozens of levels to complete, and you can always replay them to top your high scores. As it was on the phone, Angry Birds is a terrific way to kill some time. The problem is, the game takes forever
to start up because of all the logo screens you need to sit through. Hell, even that God-forsaken Activision logo spins for a good 15 seconds! Using the stylus to navigate the menus adds further delay. Once you finally
get going, the game plays well. Completing the stages is satisfying and you can really get on a roll. However, the game isn't addictive enough to hold your interest for more than a few minutes at a time. Angry Birds is a decent video game, but Activision butchered the best part of the game: the instant gratification. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2011)
Rating: Everyone 10+
Asphalt 3D strikes me as a "lowest common denominator" title for the 3DS. Sure, the tracks are rendered in 3D, but after playing for a minute or so you don't even notice. At that point you're left with a pretty generic racing game. You get a nice selection of track locations at least, including Athens, San Francisco, and Aspen (snow!). The controls are simple and the courses are forgiving. Guardrails bounce you back on the track and not-so-hidden shortcuts give you a leg-up on the CPU racers. Along the courses are icons you collect to pump up your boost meter or bank account. The racing action is very arcade-ish, but I don't like how using turbo blurs the screen. It's hard enough to stay focused on these 3D games as it is! I also noticed the frame-rate can stutter while rounding corners. It's fun to run other cars off the road, but it's often unclear who crashed - you or the other guy! I really hate the idea of other traffic on the road besides the racers. Not only is it hard to see oncoming cars, but one wreck will ruin an otherwise flawless run. The tracks exhibit nice lighting effects and the roads look shiny, but the scenery is forgettable. No 3D effects will catch your eye besides maybe the leaves getting kicked up by your tires. I do enjoy the relentless, grinding soundtrack, and the deep career mode can keep you busy for a long time. Asphalt 3D isn't bad if you can get it cheap, but it's not exactly a showcase title for the system. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive (2013)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco, violence)
I enjoyed Batman: Arkham Origins
(Wii U, 2013) but I like Blackgate even more!
This has the playability of a classic 2D side-scroller with the style and visual pizzazz of a 3D Arkham title. The opening stage absolutely knocked my socks off
as I chased Cat Woman around Gotham on a dark, stormy night. The characters and scenery are richly detailed and the 3D effects are visually arresting. This is easily the best-looking game I've played on my 3DS. Batman's movement is limited to a single plane, but this means less aimless wandering, less wasted time, and a tighter storyline. When the action transitions to the prison facilities there's less eye candy but the grungy, dilapidated scenery still looks impressive as hell. You'll need to move back and forth between locations, but I love how you acquire new items (like a zip-line) that let you access new areas. Hazards like spikes, poison gas, and electrical charges feel like throwbacks to the 16-bit era. The well-designed control scheme mimics the 3D titles, making it easy to climb, grapple, and perform sneak attacks. The combat places heavy emphasis on counters and combos, and it's satisfying to witness that final, slow-motion blow. I really got into this game. Heck, I even enjoyed using the detective mode and cracking codes with my crypto sequencer. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is no joke. This is one game that plays as well as it looks, and in this case that's really saying something. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: NIS (2011)
This one looks really good
on paper. Cave Story 3D is a quirky 2D platformer that lets you explore subterranean areas while shooting bats, jumping between platforms, and solving puzzles. The rapid-fire shooting is the best part, and I like how you can fire straight up to destroy leaping blue blobs. To propel the story you'll converse with floppy-eared characters that offer clues on how to complete missions in dark forests and high-tech factories. The cartoonish characters, catchy music, and silly dialog give the game an old-school quality. The action is pretty slow however, requiring a lot of tedious exploration and plenty of trial and error. You can jump pretty high, but the slippery controls make it tricky to hop between narrow platforms. There are a heck
of a lot of one-hit deaths, sending you back to your last save point (and there's no auto-save). I also have a little problem with the size of the characters. The main character is literally
the size of a flea! This was the first video game that forced me to use my reading glasses!
The 3D effects are modest at best and really have no bearing on the gameplay. Frankly I suspect the game would play better on a big screen. Cave Story 3D has some appealing qualities but in the end I found the gameplay more tedious and aggravating than fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atari (2011)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood, fantasy violence)
My feelings toward this 3DS version of Centipede Infestation mirror those I have for the Wii version. You control a guy scampering around a confined area while unleashing rapid-fire shots at bugs crawling out of the woodwork. The game seems fun at first but the novelty wears off quickly. One issue is obvious right off the bat: you need to use the four face buttons to aim. You'll be wishing for a second thumbstick in the worst way. The touchpad is used to select special weapons you collect. The problem is, I only have two thumbs, which means I either have to stop moving or stop shooting to change weapons. That sucks, and it's not even worth it because the special weapons really aren't very special. Certain types of bugs you shoot will produce "sentries" which function like cannons that work on your behalf. That seems awesome, but it really just gives you less to do in a game that already has a lot of dead time between waves. Other bugs produce huge mushrooms which are super annoying because they tend to get in your way. Giant centipedes inject some excitement, but they only appear in the waning moments of each round. The 3D effects have little bearing on the gameplay, and they're actually more noticeable during the cheesy cartoon intermissions. Infestation comes up short when it comes to challenge, sense of progression, and replay value. This by-the-numbers shooter was a weak attempt to cash in on the Centipede name. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: D3 Publisher (2011)
Rating: No one
I felt a disturbance in the Force, as though a great many people who bought Dream Trigger 3D cried out in pain, and were suddenly silenced. The box has the audacity to call it "the ultimate handheld shooter". What kind of gullible chump would fall for that
one? Oh wait - that would be me
. Good thing being a sucker isn't against the law, or I'd be doing hard time!
Dream Trigger is a bad idea masquerading around as an even worse game. It cannot be played - only endured
. Its 3D effects are limited to layered backgrounds which have absolutely no bearing on its incomprehensible gameplay. The idea is to rub moving squares on your lower screen, causing flower-shaped enemies to appear up top. You then move this fairy thing over targets with the thumbstick and press the shoulder button to shoot. The designers failed to take into account that it's really hard
to watch both screens at the same time! While you're rubbing and shooting like a madman, hundreds of red projectiles appear from nowhere and criss-cross the screen in inescapable patterns. The fact that you're invincible while firing only further lowers my opinion of this putrid game. Dream Trigger's single redeeming feature is its serene soundtrack which envelops you in relaxing 3D audio. What a [expletive] waste. Designed on a cocktail napkin over a few drinks, Dream Trigger is a total sham. I'm calling out all critics who don't trash this game! You
are a fraud!
And for all the poor schmucks who made the mistake of buying this, I have a little piece of advice. Force yourself to play Dream Trigger every morning
, and you can rest assured that nothing worse
will happen to you for the rest of the day. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion
Publisher: Disney (2012)
Power of Illusion is the sequel to Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
(Genesis, 1990). It tries to stay true to the original but the game is bogged down by its overused touch screen elements. Before you can play you're subjected to about 15 minutes of tedious dialogue and exposition. Get on with the game already!
Mickey finds himself in a castle where he must save various Disney characters tucked away in magical rooms. Within these rooms you'll visit forests, castles, pirate ships, and distinctive locations from classic Disney films. The layered 2D graphics are understated but elegant, and a few distinctive sound effects have been brought back from the original game. The music from the opening stage is the same as Castle of Illusion, except this fully orchestrated version sounds remarkably lush and triumphant. Power of Illusion incorporates a wide range of Disney characters including Goofy, Rapunzel, Aladdin, Uncle Scrooge, and Captain Hook. It's fun to discover as many as you can. The platform action is decent, but Power of Illusion fails to recapture the magic of the original game. Mickey's primary attack is his "butt pounce" initiated by hitting the jump button while in mid-air. When you pounce on mushrooms, bats, and miniature knights, they leave dollar bills in their wake. This sounds like a great idea, but it's not. Pouncing on several enemies in a row is part of the fun, but having to go back to collect items is annoying. And since this is an "Epic Mickey" title, you'll also need to deal with obligatory painting mini-games. Painting allows you to create platforms or remove obstacles by playing a little tracing mini-game on the lower screen. It's fun for a while, but gets tiresome because you need to trace the same shapes over and over again
The stages aren't particularly interesting, and the game has a lot of derivative elements like barrels to shoot from (a la Donkey Kong Country) and an unnecessary spin attack (a la Sonic the Hedgehog). I do like the short stages and the automatic save function. Power of Illusion contains elements of Disney charm, but be advised you'll probably find yourself getting tired of this game before long. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, fantasy violence, mild language, mild suggestive themes)
Special report by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
This is the thirteenth
entry in the Fire Emblem franchise, a series largely unknown to North America until its characters appeared in Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube, 2001)
. Simply put, Awakening
is a delightfully addictive tactical role-playing game. The story, revealed via action-packed cut-scenes, follows a royal family during a time of strife, cultists, and zombies. Awakening
offers no towns to explore, no hidden items to find in someone's cupboard, and no vague conversations with villagers. What it does offer is a load of strategy/combat action at interesting locations like cliffsides, flooded forests, and catacombs. The characters are colorful and likeable, but often rendered with no feet
, which is just plain weird. You have the choice of Japanese or English language, but the game lacks true spoken dialogue. Instead characters sport a dozen or so canned expressions and exclamations displayed during combat and their witty conversations. The musical score is stellar, contributing to the atmosphere of each stage (a five
-disc soundtrack was released in Japan). The game's class system allows you to carefully mix and match unique talents for each of your units. There's no armor to worry about, only weapons. In combat, there are lots of factors to account for during each turn. Melee weapons (swords, spears, and axes) have a rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Some weapons deal bonus damage to certain units, so never bring a pegasus to an archery fight. As units fight in close proximity, they become friends and in some cases can fall in love and even get married!
These relationships provide in-combat bonuses, allowing for dual attacks or parrying damage. On top of that, the children
from these marriages (!) actually travel back in time
(!!) to help you fight. You can flex your strategy muscles by choosing which of your first generation units get hitched and pass on their desirable skills. Now, if the Fire Emblem franchise is known for one thing, it's permanent death
. When a unit dies, they're gone for good. Fortunately for newcomers and casual players, Awakening
includes a mode where death only lasts the duration of the current fight. The game prompts you to save your progress after combat, and there's even a quick-save feature available mid-fight. The menus are polished and the data screens offer a wealth of information at your fingertips - literally! The touch screen features all inventory and unit stats, and you can tap on anything
for a description. A whole cadre of DLC is available, providing extra maps for a buck or two each. You can also fight and recruit characters from basically every
past Fire Emblem title for free. Your 3DS StreetPass feature can share 10 units (of your choice) with other nearby Awakening
players. The local two-player mode isn't terribly good and feels tacked on. I've played Fire Emblem Awakening (with perma-death on) for a combined two-hundred
hours. Suffice to say I would regard this game alone as a perfectly valid
reason to invest in a 3DS. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Kid Icarus Uprising
Publisher: Nintendo (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+
The original Kid Icarus
(NES, 1986) is a cult classic known for its extreme difficulty. Uprising resurrects the series but takes it in a whole new direction. This is more of a rapid-fire shooter than a platformer. The hero is an angel named Pit guided by Lady Palutena (Goddess of Light). This light-hearted adventure features both flying and on-foot stages. In the air you'll vanquish jellyfish, birds, dragons, and random creatures that are hard to describe. The stylus aims, the directional pad moves Pit, and the left shoulder button fires. It feels a lot like Space Harrier as you weave through ruins while frantically blasting away at floating eyeballs. The sense of speed is terrific as you plummet through clouds, skim over vast expanses of land, and plunge into deep ravines. In one amazing scene the ocean parts and you fly between the two huge walls of water. The ground stages are less exciting. As you wander through castles, mazes, and space stations you "flick" the stylus to swing the camera. It feels intuitive enough, but it's imprecise and occasionally disorienting. It's hard to tell if enemies are behind you, so it's good that the melee button automatically targets anything nearby. Using both the control pad and stylus at the same time causes the system to shift your hand, making it easy to lose focus. To alleviate this problem Nintendo included a small black stand that keeps the system steady on a tabletop. It's not perfect, but it definitely helps. Even so, I could only enjoy this game in small doses. The tongue-in-cheek dialogue is a pleasant surprise. Nintendo must have hired a writer for this, because the constant banter between Pit and Palutena is amusing and sometimes very funny. Pit: "Wait - if you have an all-seeing eye, why can't you
find Pandora's location?" Palutena: "Because of my slightly botched
laser eye surgery." Pit: "Are you messing with me again?" Pay close attention and you'll catch characters making subtle references to other video games. Uprising does retain some elements from the original game like floating red eyeballs and an Eggplant Wizard boss. Before each stage you have the ability to bet hearts to increase difficulty and rewards. Despite its control issues, Kid Icarus Uprising is hard to dislike, and when was the last time you played a game with quotable lines? © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Rating: Everyone (fantasy violence)
When I started this game and heard that classic triforce refrain, I wept openly. Not really, but I did have an emotional reaction. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
(SNES, 1992) may be the single greatest video game of all time
, and Link Between Worlds is cast of the exact same mold. This captivating sequel retains the same overhead visual style, control scheme, and memorable musical score. Heck, even the layout of the land mirrors the original game. You can argue the merits of 3D Zelda titles, but I think the overhead view suits the series best. Not only does it simplify the controls (no camera to fiddle with) but the world is confined enough that you can explore every nook and cranny (and you'll actually want
to). The 3D effects really do spice up the experience. Especially in the multi-layered dungeons, the depth perception helps you discern the height of ledges and floating monsters. The only time I switched to 2D was during boss battles, which tend to be more hectic. One fantastic innovation introduced by Link Between Worlds is the ability to transform into a 2D image and move laterally along walls. Not only is it genuinely fun, but it opens up a new dimension of puzzle and exploration possibilities. Artfully crafted, the game gradually introduces items (like the devastating hammer) and new locations (such as Lorule, Hyrule's "bizarro" world). Strategically-placed weathervanes facilitate both saving and quick travel. The game plays like a dream, and I don't even mind when I die and have to replay a dungeon. So what's not to like? Well, there's a heck
of a lot of item swapping and teleporting between worlds. The idea of "renting" your items is bogus. In certain areas it's hard to judge heights - even with the 3D on. Even so, time has a way of melting away as you immerse youself in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. It's probably the best Zelda title in 20 years. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Publisher: Disney (2011)
Rating: Everyone 10+
I was pretty high on the console version of Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, but this portable edition is actually a better game. All four Pirates of the Caribbean films are represented and fully unlocked after you complete the first few stages. You'll explore tropical environments, solve simple puzzles, and engage in hand-to-hand combat. It's shallow, light-hearted fun best enjoyed in small doses. The stages are different from the console versions, and they are less complex and easier to complete. You still toggle between characters, only one is shown at a time, resulting in less clutter on-screen. There are some new elements like rowboat challenges, the chance to control a parrot, and the ability to hit multiple targets with one gunshot. I liked playing while wearing earphones because the tic-tic-tic sound of collecting cogs is pleasing to the ears. You'll also notice the crisp sound effects of churning water, clanking swords, crackling fire, and even sipping tea. There are some brief load times, and the cut-scenes look a little grainy. The stages are shorter and less frustrating however, making this a nice title for those looking for some casual fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon
Publisher: Nintendo (2013)
Dark Moon is the long-awaited follow-up to the Luigi's Mansion
(GameCube, 2001). As in the original game, Luigi creeps through haunted houses while stunning ghosts with his flashlight and vacuuming them up with his "Poltergust 5000". The scares are minimal, but the decrepit scenery and organ music really bring out the Halloween theme. The 3D graphics give the furniture a plush look and add depth to the transparent ghosts. The act of catching ghosts is a lot like fishing, and I love the new mechanism that lets you snap them up with a well-timed button press. Burning massive spider webs with fire is awesome, and the thought-provoking puzzles are satisfying. You can tell the designers were real pros, gradually introducing new concepts and building upon them. The small scale of the game is refreshing, since it's possible to explore every little nook and cranny of each cozy little room. Little details make all the difference. In the boss encounter with the giant spider, it's hilarious how the spider panics when he sees fire headed towards his web. Often you can peek through cracks and windows to spy on ghosts causing mischief in the next room over. Unfortunately the idea of moving around the system to adjust your viewing angle doesn't work well, as you tend to lose focus of the 3D effect. Another bone of contention is how the game only saves between missions. There were times when I would pick up this game at bedtime and end up having to play an hour just to reach the next save point! That said, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is probably the most addictive title I've played on the 3DS. Sleep can wait. After all, these ghosts aren't going to catch themselves. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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