102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue
Publisher: Eidos (2000)
Clearly aimed at the younger crowd, 102 Dalmatians is a well-produced, technically impressive platform game. Based on the Disney film, the evil Cruella De Vil (hey, isn't that Michael Jackson?) has kidnapped all of the pets in town. Playing the role of a Dalmatian puppy, you must rescue the caged animals by defeating evil toys, collecting bones, and traversing a series of colorful locations. The visuals are exceptional, with fluidly animated characters and scenic backdrops that reminded me of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons. The scenery is rendered using impressive textures, with the exception of those cheesy-looking, perfectly square hedges. I really enjoyed exploring the toy store and museum stages, and the carnival's vibrant lights look amazing against the deep blue night sky. Other stages are less intriguing however, like the Big Ben level where you have to leap between moving clock gears. Dalmatian's gameplay is strictly by-the-numbers, but occasional mini-games serve to break up the monotony. You'll shoot bubbles with a toy cannon, bounce around a giant pinball machine, and ride a miniature train through the toy store. The stages are reasonably short with ample save spots, and thankfully you don't have to collect every
item if you don't feel like it. Although the controls are responsive it's hard to run straight with the analog stick, so you'll want to use the digital pad for precise movements. 102 Dalmatians is mildly amusing, but the whimsical musical score and childish dialogue did start to wear thin on me after a while. Plus, the dog lip-syncing was way
off (don't you hate that?). 102 Dalmatians is very easy and a little slow, but it's thoughtfully constructed and looks great. Bump up the grade by one letter if you're under 10. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
18 Wheeler American Pro Trucker
Publisher: Sega (2001)
This is my kind of game. Beautiful smooth graphics, simple control, and addictive arcade action round out this surprisingly original title. You're driving a big eighteen wheeler, and the realistic game physics leaves no doubt that you've got a lot of weight behind you. You can smash into just about anything and it hardly slows you down at all. Although climbing hills can be laborious, you can really build up some serious momentum on the way down. In the arcade mode, you need to reach the end of each stage within a certain time limit. There are four high quality, but relatively short stages. While a typical stage will take you half way across the country (New York to Florida for example), it's actually only a four minute drive. Your view from inside the truck is remarkable, with do-dads swinging from the rear view mirror and items sliding over the dashboard. CB and radio noise add to the realism. The outside scenery is fantastic, from congested highways, to dusty desert roads, to the hills of San Francisco. The tornado in stage three is easily the most impressive one I've ever seen in a video game. While your journey is mostly linear, there are a few branches and shortcuts. The key to finishing this game is utilizing the "slip stream", which requires lining up behind another truck to minimize air resistance, resulting in a speed boost. You can also try to defeat your annoying rival trucker, who always seems to get in your way at the most inopportune times. Between stages, there are "parking challenges" that earn you bonus items. While the arcade mode is highly entertaining and very challenging, the replay value takes a dip once you finish the game, and with unlimited continues, you might finish it in one sitting. Still, it's terrific fun while it lasts. There are some other modes like a two-player split screen mode and a "score challenge" mode, but these aren't nearly as exciting. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Midway (2000)
Whoa, this one took me by surprise! These four-wheel drive games seem to be a dime a dozen, but this one is a rip-roaring good time from start to end. If you're looking for realistic off-road action, forget it! This is pure arcade fun, with turbo boosts, ramps, and trucks bouncing all over the place. If you play your cards right, you can turbo through 90% of the course. Despite the breakneck pace, a solid frame rate makes it a smooth ride. The super-long tracks aren't spectacular, but at least there are a nice variety of locations. While the one player mode presents a major challenge, the two-player split screen mode is just crazy fun, as the races tend to be close and exciting. 4 Wheel Thunder is definitely a winner. Too bad there's no four-player mode. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Crave (1999)
AeroWings taught me how to fly a plane, but what I really
wanted to do is play a video game! The first time I tried this first-person flyer, I selected the "training mode" in order to become accustomed to the controls. Little did I know I'd be looking at ten additional
training stages once I began the "Blue Impulse Mission" mode. The premise has you becoming a member of a plane squadron like the Blue Angels - you know, the kind that fly in formations and do acrobatic tricks. It's a bad premise for a video game, and I know that for a fact because I've played Aerowings and I can attest that it's absolutely no fun at all
. Sure, the controls are fine and the training missions start off easy enough, but once you reach stage eleven, things become inordinately complicated. Here's a sample of the instructions you'll hear in your pre-mission briefing: "Start from the take-off position... keep brakes on and throttle to 100%... after releasing the brake bring flaps down 100%... when you reach 80 knots turn on the smoke... take off at 120 knots and maintain a low altitude... throttle down to 60%... when you reach the end of the runway, pull the stick back and go into a loop... try to keep your G's between 3.5 and 4.0... when pitch reaches -120 to -130 after loop apex, execute a roll two and half times before leveling out. Got that? There's more, but I think you get the gist of it. You're prompted to do some of this stuff while in the air, but still, the instructions are overwhelming for those who don't aspire to be real pilots. After each stage you're prompted to save your replay, but I can't imagine why anyone would want to relive something so boring and tedious. After losing patience with the main mode, I switched over to "Sky Mission Attack" mode, which challenges you to buzz through loops over cities, islands, and canyons. It's refreshingly simple, but even that gets boring after a few minutes. Aerowing's graphics are pretty good. The planes look sharp and detailed, and the scenery on the ground looks photo-realistic (until you get really close that is). The audio includes a lot of that random beats with samples tossed in. If flight simulations are your thing, you'll probably appreciate Aerowings, but those looking for arcade action will absolutely deplore it. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (1999)
Airforce Delta is too realistic to be an arcade game, but too simplistic to be a simulation. It tries to straddle the line, but the results are mixed. Through a series of missions, you need to complete a variety of objectives including blowing up ground targets, shooting down enemy planes, and escorting friendly aircraft. Missions take place in a nice variety of locations, including over cities, mountains, and water. The scenery looks terrific, with the exception of the stagnant water, which looks awfully fake. Just flying around is pretty fun, and the easy-to-learn controls give you excellent maneuverability. Some people may not like the fact that the gameplay mostly involves locking on targets (some very far away) and shooting them down with guided missiles. There aren't many occasions to use the machine guns, which only work at very close range. Shooting down planes is fun, but the enemy explosions are rather unspectacular. After each mission, you can watch a cool instant replay. It's not bad, but Airforce Delta is less than thrilling. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2001)
Rating: Teen (violence)
Released late in the Dreamcast life cycle, this obscure title barely registered on gamers' radars. Alienfront Online features the standard alien invasion premise, but you have the option of playing on the alien
side as well. On the human side you'll select from three tanks of varying armor, speed, and firepower. As an alien you have the option of a four-legged "crab", a two-legged walker, or a gliding hovercraft. You get a decent view of the action from behind your vehicle, but your firepower is weak. You tend to fight alongside one or more allies. Occasionally spot troops running along the ground whomake satisfying squishing noises when you run them over. The game's on-line mode incorporated "real time voice chat" - a feature that was pretty novel for its time. Despite what the title would indicate, Alienfront Online is quite playable off-line. The hard-as-nails "tactics mode" is a full-blown campaign with branching missions and multiple endings. There's also an arcade mode with shorter, more action-oriented missions (kill everything). Your progress is saved automatically in tactics mode and high scores are recorded in arcade mode. Alienfront's graphics are respectable and the frame-rate is consistently smooth. The spacious Area 51 and Siberia locations are boring as hell, but it's fun to blast buildings in Washington DC and Tokyo and watch their walls crumble. I also like the manner in which enemy walkers keel over when destroyed. Alienfront's soundtrack blends edgy guitars with futuristic synthesizers. The main problem with Alienfront is its shallow gameplay. I tried a variety of strategies like cat-and-mouse, circle strafing, and keeping my distance, but my tank just wasn't agile enough. The strafing controls are awkward, requiring you to push up
on the thumbstick while holding in a trigger. Ultimately you'll settle for trading shots with an enemy and scooping up the health packs left in its wake. I suspect the on-line mode is long defunct, but I don't think we're missing much. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare
Publisher: Infogrames (2001)
The original Alone in the Dark (PC) was arguably the very first "survival horror" game, preceding the original Resident Evil (Playstation) by two years. Unfortunately, several sequels later it still lags far behind RE in terms of horror and play value. In the familiar premise, you're stuck in a huge old mansion full of monsters, puzzles, underground corridors, and secret rooms. Ironically, for a game called "Alone in the Dark", you never really feel alone OR in the dark. With so many characters to encounter or overhear, the game often feels more like a murder mystery than a horror movie. And unlike other games that feature pitch-dark rooms (Silent Hill, Fatal Frame), there's more than enough light in these rooms to see all but the most obscure objects. The analog control is used to point your flashlight, and the shadowing is superb. The scenery is pre-rendered, and as a result, it's highly detailed yet surprisingly grainy in certain areas. As you walk around a room, there are multiple pauses as the game loads each new camera angle, and some of the views leave much to be desired. The house itself really doesn't possess the foreboding atmosphere I was hoping for, but the game's biggest blunder is its idiotic monsters. I'm all for being imaginative, but I couldn't tell the head from the tail for some of these ridiculous creatures. Most aren't as frightening as they are annoying. Finally, there are the puzzles, which tend to make no sense at all. Throw in some invisible portals, and the game becomes a confusing mess. There are even some curse words thrown in for good measure. Alone In The Dark The New Nightmare is a generic adventure that fails to scare or intrigue. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Metro 3D (1999)
It's taken me nearly an eternity
to review Armada, mainly because this stupid game can't even maintain my attention long enough to write
one. It's that
bad! I've tried to get some friends to help me with it, but after a few minutes of pointless shooting, they're all like "hell with this!" And who can blame them? The game makes no sense at all. On the surface, Armada is a good-looking game with an Asteroids vibe. Played on a 2D plane (over 3D graphics), your ship can move in any direction and fire rapidly at aliens that relentlessly converge. The aliens resemble metallic cockroaches, and their screams reverberate nicely as they explode. Superimposed numbers indicate their health, and it's satisfying to wear them down - for the first five minutes or so. After that it just gets old. What I am supposed to do and where am I supposed to go? Neither my friends nor me could figure it out. Armada might have been slightly more interesting if we could have purchased some of the fancy weapons and gadgets for sale at the space station, but they're so expensive it's unlikely you'll ever see them in action. You only collect one or two "credits" for most defeated enemies, and you'll need at least
800 to buy anything worthwhile. I was hopeful that adding a partner or two (the game supports four simultaneous players) would expedite the process, but all we did was continually rag on this putrid game. Let's face it, life's too short for games as poorly designed as Armada. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Atari Anniversary Edition
Publisher: Infogrames (2001)
Being a huge fan of classic arcade games of the 80's, I tend to love these classic compilations. This one has twelve excellent titles: Asteroids, Asteroids Deluxe, Battlezone, Centipede, Crystal Castles, Gravitar, Millipede, Missile Command, Pong, Super Breakout, Tempest, and Warlords. Although most of these have been available on other compilations (on the Playstation), these are the closest adaptations I've seen. You even have the option to play them within "cabinet borders", but since that makes the game screen smaller, you'll want to turn that off. And since some of the finely-drawn vector graphics are difficult to see, you'll want to turn off any background graphics and make the playing field as large as possible. More practical options allow you to configure the control and difficulty of each game. The three new titles included that I hadn't seen before on a console are Pong, Gravitar, and Warlords. Gravitar is sort of a dud. It's difficult to make out the graphics, even after screen adjustments, which makes it hard to play. Pong is actually better (and harder) than you would think, and Warlords provides some great four-player action. Unfortunately, most of these games were designed for paddles or trackballs, and the Dreamcast analog controller just doesn't provide the same degree of control. But the biggest flaw is that you CAN'T SAVE anything to VMU! Can you believe it? It would have been awesome to save your high scores or game configurations, so what the hell happened? Anyway, the game does include some bonus material, containing press releases, screen shots, artwork, and an interview with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. There's some good stuff here. Atari Anniversary Edition should have been 'A' material, but this package is clearly flawed. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Crave (2001)
You might think this two-dimensional shooter is a throwback to the 16 bit era, but the Genesis could never
have handled anything this
intense. You control a tiny man with a booster pack flying through enclosed areas and blasting everything to oblivion. There are lines of stationary targets as well as flying creatures. Your targets are so tiny that it's tough to tell what they're supposed to be. As you destroy objects, giant fruit appears in their place that you can collect for bonus points. Your firepower is, in a word, awesome. You can choose between guided or bouncing missiles, and can fire them non-stop. On top of that, your special attack unleashes hundreds of projectiles in all directions - all without any slowdown! Bangai-O has a few anime cut-scenes and plenty of weird Japanese humor. As you play through the various stages, the game automatically saves your place. Bangai-O is a nice change, but it does get repetitive. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (1999)
Rating: Mature (blood, animated violence)
You could write this off as cheesy, second-rate survival horror, but Blue Stinger has a quirky, Japanese vibe that's appealing. It's set on the monster-infested "Dinosaur Island", which connects to barge structures via long, enclosed metal walkways. The scenery tends to be industrial in nature, but there are also some residential areas with a grocery store, arcade, video store, and pub. Not only are these places richly detailed, they are plastered with interesting ads and video monitors. I love reading the Hassy soda ads and watching digitized images flash across the screens. The retail area is decorated for Christmas, which seems odd for such a bizarre, futuristic world. Blue Stinger's graphics are smooth but the blurry textures, ugly seams, and awkward camera angles are showing their age. You alternate control between two characters: a young guy named Eliott and a gruff sea pirate named Dogs. Switching between them seems unnecessary at first, but it's nice to swap one in when the other is low on health. You're also accompanied by a fairy for no apparent reason other than the fact that it's a Japanese game. The monsters tend to be mutated people with multiple limbs that creep around silently. Your auto-aiming mechanism is pretty sweet, but I wish the creeps didn't regenerate so often. Killing a creature results in a fountain of blood and raining coins. Collecting these sparkling, ringing coins makes you feel like you're playing Sonic the Hedgehog. Blue Stinger is an expansive adventure, and I couldn't imagine playing it without an FAQ on hand. You'll need to collect a slew of ID cards and enter a lot of numeric key codes. It's easy to go in circles thanks to the repetitive locations and lousy mapping system. Some of the doors look like walls. In one storage area you need to use one specific crate to access a switch, even though there is another very similar crate in the room. Beverages replenish health, but your character takes his sweet time to drink it - not cool in the middle of a boss battle! Uneven save points and frustrating swimming controls will demoralize all but the most resolute adventurers. The orchestrated music is great, but the poorly-translated dialogue and stilted voice acting make for some of the most bizarre conversations I've ever witnessed. As is often the case, these faults give the game a certain charm. Blue Stinger never takes itself too seriously, and that might just be its saving grace. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2001)
Bomberman has been around forever, and this old game hasn't changed much. Up to four players walk around a maze trying to blow each other away with strategically placed bombs. Sure it's fun, but it's still the same game you've been playing for 10 years (if not longer). Sega tried to inject new life into it by adding a slew of new modes and customization options, but the original four-player "survivor mode" is still the best of the bunch. Although the battlefields are rendered completely in 3D, the characters are flat sprites. The good news is that the 3D graphics don't hamper the gameplay like they did in some of the Playstation versions. Perhaps the main attraction of this game is that you don't need to invite three friends over since you can play it online. The single player modes didn't appeal to me at all. If you've never played Bomberman, don't hesitate to buy this game, but if you have one or more Bomberman games already, you can probably live without this. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Border Down (Import)
Publisher: G Rev (2003)
Whoa! This side-scrolling shooter really rocked my world! Border Down takes the genre to new heights by honing an age-old formula to near perfection. First, let's talk about the incredible graphics. Starting with the awe-inspiring cityscapes of stage one, this game was meant to be gawked at. The enemy craft and bosses are extremely original in design, and I love how they fluidly rotate into view from the background. The textures are so smooth and seamless that you barely even notice that this is a 2D game with 3D graphics. The massive explosions, fire, and smoke effects are some of the best I've seen in any
game. But Border Down is more than just a pretty face - the game plays like a dream! Your default weapon is effective, and the controls are completely intuitive. Holding in a button fires a constant stream of shots, and tapping it unleashes heat-seeking missiles. It's an ingenious scheme that works like a charm. You also have an ultra-powerful beam weapon that you'll want to reserve for the big guys. I love how this thing cancels out
incoming beams, and obliterates weaker projectiles! The game is slightly boss-heavy, but they don't tend to overstay their welcome. High scores are saved with your initials to a rankings screen. The electronic music isn't exceptional, but at least it has a nice old school vibe. It's a shame Border Down wasn't available during the Dreamcast's heyday, because this really shows off the system's power. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Acclaim (2000)
When Bust-A-Move first burst onto the gaming scene in the mid-90's, it captivated players with its addictive balloon-popping gameplay and drew immediate comparisons to Tetris. Like so many popular puzzle games, much of its allure lied in its simplicity, leaving little need for a sequel. Of course, that hasn't stopped Acclaim from beating this golden goose to death. Bust-A-Move 4 (BAM4) attempts to further branch out the franchise by incorporating cute, cuddly characters and storylines for each one. Bad move! Not only does the character selection have minimal impact on the actual gameplay, but the infantile giggles and bubbly kiddy voices will drive you up the wall! Some characters take up too much real estate on the bottom of the screen, to the point of obstructing the playing field! I recall one time where I had some girl on a pogo stick jumping up and down in front of my side - very irritating! Other un-asked-for features include "pully" mechanisms in the puzzle modes, and "chain reactions" in the versus modes. Chain reactions occur when you break off more than one color at a time, and they typically clear a lot of bubbles away for you - automatically. While these certainly create a more fast-paced, unpredictable style of play, they also lead to a lot of cheap, undeserved victories. I was totally sucking in one game, just about to lose, until one lucky shot triggered a crazy chain reaction, clearing my entire side and awarding me the victory! I didn't even know what the heck was going on! You can turn off the chain reactions in the options menu, by the way. BAM4 offers plenty of playing modes, but where's the four-player split screen? It would have been a natural considering this is
(duh!!). There's a new "puzzle edit" mode, but for the life of me, I can't imagine why anyone would be the least bit interested in that. On a positive note, the controller's vibration function is used to good effect, and I like how in the two-player mode allows both players to choose different skill levels. And despite the numerous distractions, the core gameplay is undeniably fun. BMA4's simple graphics are colorful and appealing, but the music is uneven. It seems that for each song I really liked, there was one that I absolutely hated
. With Bust-A-Move 4, Acclaim was clearly just following the old video game adage, "if it ain't broke, just add more features". Personally, I'll pass on the fancy window dressing and stick to Bust-A-Move 2. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Shinforce, Sega.com, Racket Boy, Wikipedia