Heavy Metal Geomatrix
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Rating: Mature (blood, strong lyrics, violence)
Did Capcom truly believe that a heavy metal soundtrack could justify a whole new fighting game? According to my friend Scott, there are some big musical names here, including Megadeth and Halford, but it's hardly enough to carry a mediocre fighter like Geomatrix. Heavy Metal's shallow gameplay consists of one-on-one battles with an unhealthy emphasis on enormous guns. The expansive 3D arenas range from Egyptian ruins, to a castle, to a run-down stadium, but none are particularly memorable. Muscle-bound cyborgs and top-heavy babes round out the generic roster of fighters. The battles are a mix of shooting and melee, but the control scheme is very counterintuitive. The ability to jump and hover is somewhat useful, but laying traps seems silly when you consider this is a one-on-one affair. The camera control is seriously lacking, so you often can't tell where the heck you are. Other glitches include CPU opponents who seem intent on running through (and getting stuck inside of) the walls. The best thing about Heavy Metal's matches is how mercifully short they are. Ironically, the relentless soundtrack is arguably the worst aspect of the entire game. If the awkward camerawork doesn't give you a headache, the non-stop, grinding guitars certainly will. I don't know anyone who has ever enjoyed Heavy Metal Geomatrix, and I seriously doubt I ever will. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
House of the Dead 2
Publisher: Sega (1999)
Rating: Mature 1-2 players
I don't tend to be very opinionated (HA!), but I firmly believe House of the Dead 2 (HOTD2) is the greatest light gun game ever conceived. It's pure adrenaline as you blast the limbs off hideous undead while exploring a gothic-looking city inspired by Venice. You can't control your movement directly, but your path branches based on the innocent civilians you save (or don't save). The shooting action is nonstop mayhem. Depending on where you shoot a zombie, an arm may fly off, a huge hole could be blown in his chest, or his head could be blown clean off. HOTD2 exudes all the cheesiness of a low budget horror flick, complete with pathetic cardboard acting and hilarious dialogue. I absolutely relish lines like "Don't come! Don't come!" "James, go and stop the confusion in the city", and of course the classic "Suffer like G did?" Power-ups and bonus items are revealed by destroying barrels and other containers, so keep an eye out. I play HOTD2 with friends every Halloween, and we're still
discovering new areas and hidden goodies. Grotesque bosses include a headless knight, a hydra, and a "bleeding heart" lizard. The ultimate boss is a white guy decked out in a suit and tie. Yes, he's your worst nightmare - a Republican! In addition to the arcade mode, there's an "original" mode that lets you employ items you've collected in previous missions. An extensive option menu allows you adjust the number of continues, difficulty, and controller configuration. A normal controller can be used, but I'd highly recommend a light gun. Two people can play cooperatively, or better yet, one player can go solo holding two guns! Quirky, action-packed, and loaded with unintentional humor, House of the Dead 2 provides the most satisfying light gun shooting action I've experienced. NOTE: Dreamcast light guns don't tend to be very accurate, but it helps to crank up the contrast and brightness of your TV. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Rating: Mature 1-2 players
Publisher: Midway (1999)
This "launch title" (released on the same day as the system) is my favorite Dreamcast game of all time. Hydro Thunder is pure arcade bliss, with eye candy galore, simple controls and some of the most exhilarating gameplay you'll ever experience in a video game. Imagine an amusement park water ride that moves at the speed of a roller coaster, and you'll start to appreciate what Hydro Thunder has to offer. This racer features 13 power boats and 14 astonishing tracks. From the exotic jungles of the Lost World, to the gigantic ice formations of the Arctic Circle, to the majestic ancient ruins of the Greek Isles, each track is magnificent in scale and full of surprises. Complimenting the smooth graphics is a dramatic musical score and some hilarious sound effects. The intuitive control scheme makes it easy to maintain control even as your boat is careening down rapids at high speeds. Large floating icons provide turbo, and using your turbo power efficiently is key to winning. Numerous ramps allow for plenty of opportunities to catch big air, and your stomach will drop as you go over huge
waterfalls, some over 400 feet tall! A split screen mode allows two players to race head-to-head, and while it's a step down in terms of speed, it's still a lot of fun. Two minor complaints are the lack of a restart option and an automatic save. But all in all Hydro Thunder truly delivers on the promise of the Dreamcast. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Treasure (2002)
Ikaruga was never released for the Dreamcast in America, much to the consternation of shooter fans. If you've read my GameCube review of this game, you know that I like it a lot. Ikaruga appears to be a generic vertical shooter on the surface, but there's far more to it than meets the eye! Enemies are colored either black or white, and your ship can toggle between black and white "polarity". Firing on an enemy of opposite color inflicts twice
the damage. You can actually collect
enemy projectiles that match your polarity, using them to fuel a special weapon gauge. It's more cerebral than your typical shooter, but the system quickly becomes second nature. Once you get a feel for it, you'll be switching polarity on the fly to gain advantage in any situation. The GameCube version of Ikaruga has a few extra modes, but the graphics in this Dreamcast edition look every bit as sharp (if not more so). There are plenty of options including the ability to change screen orientation (horizontal or vertical) and automatically save high scores. Whether you play it on the Dreamcast or GameCube, Ikaruga is a fascinating title all serious shooter fans should have in their collections. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: AIA (2000)
Over the past few years, there's been a steady flow of survival horror games, most of which mimic the Resident Evil formula. But Illbleed is a different animal altogether, with truly innovative gameplay and unabashed B-movie storylines. Each of the six stages plays like a low budget horror flick, with names like "The Home Run of Death" and "Revenge of the Worm Queen". The graphics are only average, but the audio really steals the show, with blood-chilling sound effects and remarkably intense music. Illbleed has enough atmosphere to give you nightmares. I must admit however that Illbleed has a steep learning curve. While aggressive play is rewarded in most survival games, it won't get you far here. No, you need to progress cautiously in order to detect traps and maintain your health. Staying healthy means moderating your pulse, bleeding, and stamina. An on-screen "horror monitor" helps you detect possible traps or items. While this type of slow exploration might seem tedious, that is anything but the case. The game feeds on your sense of paranoia. The tension mounts as you turn each corner or enter a new room. The monster battles are pretty intense, and the gore is way over the top, and every hit produces a fountain of blood. The battles reveal the main weakness of the game, which is poor control. The "dodge" move, which is critical to surviving battles, is less than responsive than it should be, and you sometimes walk when you're trying to run. Problems like these aren't as apparent when you're sneaking around, but they can lead to some serious frustration when things really heat up. The game has its frustrating moments, but like the bosses, I kept coming back for more long after I thought I was through. Illbleed is original, disturbing, and occasionally terrifying. It's a remarkable game that's worth checking out. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rage (1999)
I only bought this game because it was five bucks, and didn't hold much hope for it, but Incoming turned out to be much better than I expected. If you like to blow stuff up, this game is right up your alley. You are faced with a series of missions to blow up invading enemy tanks, aircraft, and ground installations. You play from a first-person perspective, alternating between a turret, helicopter, tank, and a plane. Basically you just aim and fire your main weapon (which never runs out or overheats) or a secondary weapon (usually a supply of guided missiles). A helpful arrow at the top of the screen always points you to your next target, so there's not much thought required. The vehicles look great, but the hills are rather blocky. The rapid-fire shooting, combined with some nice explosions gives you a feeling of satisfaction. Although the games tend to be long and repetitive, I never got tired of the gratuitous death and destruction. The aiming controls are a bit sensitive, but the weapons tend to me very forgiving, compensating when you're slighting off. One annoying thing about the helicopter is that your targets tend to move underneath of you (and out of sight), so you need to make multiple passes to finish them off. Incoming also has a nice two player simultaneous mode. It's not particularly deep, but as a mindless shooter, Incoming serves its purpose. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2000)
Rating: Teen (13+)
It's not often that a game comes along that's both completely original and fun, but that's Jet Grind Radio. You control a skater who must vandalize certain parts of the city while avoiding the police. The "cell-shaded" cartoon style graphics are unlike anything I've ever seen in a video game, and it looks fantastic. In addition to the stunning visuals, the fashionable hip-hop music and sound effects really give this game an edge. The controls are simple but effective. Spray-painting involves moving the analog joystick around in the various motions. These motions seem excessive at times, but it's exciting trying to finish your "art" while the cops are heading your way. One major thing that annoyed me about this game is the camera work. Some levels have cramped areas, and you'll really struggle to get a good angle. And that's no fun when the police are beating you with clubs like Rodney King (I'm not kidding!). Jet Grind is unlike any other game out there. It's far from perfect, but it deserves a look. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Publisher: Capcom (2000)
Ten years ago, when 2D fighters were a dime-a-dozen, it was hard to get excited about JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Its gameplay was hard to grasp, thanks to a "stand" mechanism that's never sufficiently explained. And if you're among the 99% of gamers not familiar with the Japanese comic, the game can feel like an inside joke nobody bothered to let you in on. The manual doesn't bother to explain much of anything. Judged purely as a 2D fighter however, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is original, stylish, and visually pleasing. The game has its share of effeminate dudes sashaying around with pink hair and flamboyant outfits, but you can chalk that up to its anime influence. The playable characters also include two hotties, a cowboy, and an aged Indiana Jones. Alessey is the arguably the cheapest of the bunch considering he's armed with a gun!
Who brings a gun
to a fighting game anyway?! As an indication of how over the top this game is, you can play as a yapping little dog or a freakin' bird!
Most of the characters have a "stand" mode initiated via the A button. Typically this causes an "alter ego" to appear and fight by your side. These entities tend are decidedly weird
, and usually assume the form of a ghost, doll, robot, animal, or non-descript shape-shifter. The "stand" gives you new attack options but tends to confuse the action. With so much frenetic shape-changing, this game is more on par with Darkstalkers than Street Fighter. The action is chaotic but fun, and the moves are undeniably entertaining. As a prime example, the priestess can summon a pink Cadillac
to sprout up under your feet (yes, we're talking about a car
). The air juggling can be aggravating, but I like how you press multiple buttons to vary the intensity of your special attacks. The backgrounds are unspectacular yet clean and attractive. Even locations like the jail cell, office, and hotel room are aesthetically pleasing. The story mode has a slick comic-book style presentation, and even boasts a side-scrolling desert stage. High scores are saved to VMU. I'd be lying if I said I "get" JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, because it really doesn't make sense to me on any level. Still, it's one of the more interesting fighting games I've played in some time. And with 2D fighters becoming such as rare commodity as of late, this unorthodox title is looking better all the time. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Titus (2000)
I wasn't expecting much from Kao the Kangaroo; I would have been satisfied with a cutesy, easy-to-play platformer. But this... is awful. A butt-ugly Crash Bandicoot rip-off, Kao somehow manages to be both dull and infuriating. It's no surprise that Titus, creator of some of the worst games known to man, is responsible for this tripe. The gameplay is tediously slow, with badly designed stages and poor collision detection. As you painstakingly hop through each stage, you must defeat enemies by punching or swinging your tail. To break up the monotony, there are some simple puzzles, along with some hang-gliding and snowboarding stages. The very first thing that annoyed me about Kao was its jerky animation. Especially when you turn, the scenery rotates in a stilted manner that's not at all pleasing to the eye. The game adopts the same visual style as Crash Bandicoot, but with far less polish and attention to detail. The jungle environments look blocky and artificial, and their narrow passages make you feel boxed in. The idea of placing your own checkpoints seems nice on paper, but turns out to be a monumental pain in the ass. The so-called "bonus" stages are even more tedious than the regular stages, as you navigate narrow platforms to collect useless coins. The camera is normally trained behind your kangaroo, but occasionally it swings around to the front. Inexplicably, the controls don't adjust
to compensate for the new angle, which is just confusing as hell. In addition to the unintuitive controls and awful graphics, Kao's clownish music provides the final nails in its cheaply fabricated coffin. Much of the music sounds as if it was generated by a Casio keyboard - it's revolting
! I had always wondered why I heard so little about Kao the Kangaroo, but now I understand completely. Garbage like this gives the Dreamcast a bad name. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Milestone (2007)
Karous is an odd, cel-shaded vertical shooter with sophisticated gameplay and understated visuals. It's uniquely artistic with mysterious overtones and a hypnotizing soundtrack. The first thing you'll ask when you start playing is, "What the hell am
I?!" You appear to be controlling a raggedy black flying creature vaguely resembling a crow. In addition to spraying blue projectiles, you can unleash a sword for close attacks, or activate a large red shield. Employing different techniques increments three counters in the corner on the screen, but since I can't read the Japanese manual I couldn't really determine the subtle nuances of the game. Considering the graphics are cel-shaded, the visuals are remarkably bland and the use of color restrained. Enemies taking damage blink red, which looks striking against the dull gray backgrounds. The first few stages are completely forgettable, but advanced stages feature modest green foliage and city streets with neon lights. Even more boring than the scenery are the repeating gray airships you shoot down. Karous is a strange game. A small shield guards the front of your ship when you're not shooting, and you can actually set the controller on the floor and watch your ship cruise through most of the game unharmed (bosses are timed so they don't need to be attacked). The fact that I scored a few million points in this manner didn't sit well with me. The bass-heavy synthesized music isn't remarkable, but has a cool club vibe that gets under your skin. The game is supposed to save high scores, but I couldn't get that to work. Hardcore shooter fans looking for something to sink their teeth into can probably bump up the grade by one letter, but casual Dreamcast fans can safely avoid Karous. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
King of Fighters Evolution
Publisher: SNK (2000)
King of Fighters is a venerable 2D fighting series started by SNK in the mid-90s. And if SNK knows one thing, it's fighting games! Evolution delivers outstanding gameplay along with some terrific visuals. There are over 33 characters, but if you were just raised on a steady diet of Street Fighter II, you may not recognize any of these guys. SNK fanatics like Jonathan Hawk, on the other hand, know these people like they're family. Since most of the characters have had years to "evolve", they tend to be well balanced and finely tuned. The attacks tend to be hand-to-hand, unlike lesser fighting games that rely on cheap projectile moves. There's not a large selection of babes, but the drop-dead gorgeous Mai more
than makes up for that shortcoming. The characters are large and the scenery is an absolute feast
for the eyes! Imaginative locations include a carnival, airport, bell tower, and a rainy courtyard. While the backgrounds are fully 3D, they retain the same level of detail as the classic 2D backgrounds. I looked forward to seeing each one, which is rare for a jaded gamer like myself. The audio is a nice combination of rock and jazz music. Modes include single and team fighting, as well an "endless survival" mode that challenges you to beat up as many guys as possible (good idea!). King of Fighters Evolution is awesome. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Last Blade 2, The
Publisher: SNK (2001)
Rating: Teen (13+)
I like Last Blade 2, but I think I liked it better the first
time around, when it was called Samurai Shodown
. I'm being facetious but the games share a lot of traits. Both are scaling 2D fighters that feature Samurai fighters armed with weapons. Last Blade 2 is hardly original, but being an SNK title, you can rest assured the game will kick ass. There are 16 warriors to select from, each adorned in traditional Japanese garb. The one exception is Mukuro, who is draped with bandages like a freakin' mummy!
The controls are pretty basic (weak slash, strong slash, kick, repel), but the instructions reveal a fighting system with tremendous depth. You can chain together some pretty elaborate attack combinations when your sword gauge is fully powered. The repel move is simple enough in theory (press just before your enemy attacks), but I found it hard to employ in the heat of battle. I also have to call character balance into question in light of my difficulty defeating Amano. This bathrobe-wearing brute is very grabby, and once he gets his big paws on you, major damage is headed your way. My personal character of choice is Zantetsu, who looks like Raiden (of Mortal Kombat fame) and dishes out some devastating kick combinations. In terms of graphics, Last Blade 2 features fluid animation and some of the more attractive stage designs I've seen. Some boast tremendous depth and detail, like the sunny trail that winds along a river with boats in the far distance. Other stages like the dreary battlefield are surprisingly bland. The musical score is only average, and some stages forgo music for "natural sounds" such as blowing wind (which sounds horrible) or chirping birds. The voice samples have not
been translated in English, but that's probably for the best. Last Blade 2 isn't hard to play, but its appeal to button-mashers will be limited. This is an elegant, sophisticated title for those who take their fighting games seriously. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: NG Dev (2007)
I happen to be fanatical
about the Dreamcast and its 2D shooters, so when I heard there was a brand-new
one available, I had to have it. After purchasing Last Hope from Play Asia, I was pleasantly surprised by how it loaded without the help of a special disk. Last Hope plays a heck of a lot like R-Type, offering the same brand of side-scrolling shooting with intricate layered visuals. It's a shame the game is borderline unplayable
. One problem is obvious from the outset: there's too much "stuff" moving on the screen. The photo-realistic backgrounds, floating icons, explosions, raining debris, and layered walls look great, but they tend to clutter up the screen! You can't tell what objects are in the foreground or background! Even worse, enemy projectiles assume a number of shapes, from orange balls to jaggy metal objects. Some of the more irritating foes seem completely impervious to attack, so you'll just need to avoid them. Your cannon can fire rapidly or charge for a single powerful shot. You'll augment your firepower with missiles and a protective shield that rotates around your ship via the shoulder buttons. Last Hope's difficulty is best described as "impossible", even on so-called "very easy" skill level. There are checkpoints, but they are poorly placed. There should always
be one right before a boss, but that's not the case here. That's a problem, because reaching the first boss is a frustrating ordeal, and the boss himself not only features a web of laser beams, but a gravity device that pulls you every which way. Needless to say, no one on this entire planet has ever seen
the second stage. The best part of the game is its relaxing electronic soundtrack, which has an almost ethereal
quality to it. But despite its fine presentation, Last Hope's staggering difficulty and general unplayability make it impossible to recommend. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Last Hope: Pink Bullets
Publisher: NG Dev (2009)
The first edition of this side-scrolling shooter showed potential, but confusing visuals, insane difficulty, and poor checkpoint placement rendered Last Hope practically unplayable
. The situation has been somewhat rectified by Pink Bullets, which is an enhanced version of the original game. Its gameplay is far more forgiving, the action seems about twice as fast, and plentiful power-ups make it easy to amass firepower. Enemy projectiles tend to be large and pink (hence the name), making them easier to spot. Don't get the wrong idea though - Last Hope: Pink Bullets is still an intense shooter that will kick your ass from here to next week. There's a lot
of activity on the screen at any given time, and the multi-layered scenery tends to hide environmental hazards. Enemies tend to be large and can absorb quite an excessive amount of firepower. Another annoyance is how you're often forced into tight spaces for extended periods. Your ship is large, but a shield can be used to absorb all enemy fire coming from the front. For that reason it's often more effective to attack your foes head-on instead of weaving around. Weapon power-ups come early and often, including devastating cluster bombs that flare out from above and below your ship. The colorful, multi-layered backdrops have a cool sci-fi flavor that nicely complements the surreal electronic music. The first stage takes you through a generic space station, but I like how you can see tiny spacemen making repairs in the background. The second stage is more imaginative as you fly over (and into) water with a dramatic red sunset in the background. Last Hope: Pink Bullets isn't great, but it's a hell
of a lot better than the original. High scores are saved automatically - providing you don't use any continues. The game is just average overall, but 2D shooter fans looking for a challenge will dig this. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Publisher: Eidos (2000)
Soul Reaver is massive adventure that introduces several innovative, original concepts. The excellent background story, revealed in an amazing introductory sequence, sets the stage nicely for a dark, twisted tale of vampire revenge. Gameplay involves making your way through ruins and caves, dispatching enemies, and defeating bosses to gain new powers. In order to destroy vampires, you must either impale them or toss them into sunlight or water. One cool new concept is the spectral plane versus material plane. The spectral plane is a parallel universe with the same basic landscape, but contain ghostly creatures and permit no object interaction. Within this plane you can move through water and perform certain powers such as passing through gates. Switching planes is strategic to accessing certain places or avoiding enemies, and it adds a new dimension to the game (literally!). While changing planes, the world changes before your eyes, and the morphing effect is a sight to behold. Besides battling creatures, there are occasional puzzles, mainly the lever-pulling/block-moving variety we got sick of in the Tomb Raider series. Another weakness is the lack of a map, and at times it's hard to figure out where to go next. The graphics look terrific, but although they are higher in resolution than the Playstation version, they don't offer any additional detail. I was disappointed that during cut-scenes, which feature top-notch voice acting, character's mouths do not move when they talk. The creatures in this game are truly scary and well designed, especially the hulking, loathsome bosses. The control is responsive, and you won't need to wrestle with the camera too much. Dramatic sound effects and music compliment the hellish atmosphere. Soul Reaver is an adventure with style and originality, and if you haven't already played through the Playstation version, check out Soul Reaver. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Looney Tunes Space Race
Publisher: Infogrames (2000)
If you're frustrated by the lack of good kart games for the Dreamcast, give Looney Tunes Space Race a try. Granted, it's technically a rocket
racer, but you get the idea. This light-hearted (and underrated) game stars classic cartoon personalities who glide over elevated freeways in intergalactic locales. The all-star line-up includes Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian, and Porky Pig. These colorful characters retain their distinctive voices and mannerisms, and it's funny to hear them yell at each other during a race. Bugs is the smart-aleck, Yosemite Sam is constantly flying off the handle, and the silent Wile E. Coyote communicates by flashing signs that say things like "Drat". The artistic style should bring a smile to those who grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons ("presented in Techno-Color!"). Space Race plays like a typical kart racer with power-ups, weapons, turbo boosts, and ramps. The animation and frame-rate is silky smooth, even in the four-player split-screen mode. It's a little hard to see upcoming turns on the split-screen, but I like how you have the option of adding CPU players into the mix. Unconventional weapons include portable holes, instant storms, disintegrator pistols, and extensible boxing gloves. Unfortunately, one ill-conceived (and totally cheap) weapon nearly ruins the fun. The "remote control" causes heavy objects like safes, pianos, and pink elephants to be dropped directly on a nearby opponent. Although I'm told it's possible to dodge these, I didn't have much luck doing so. The twelve tracks take place on various planets but none are particularly memorable. Still, the controls are good, the racing is competitive, and ample bonus challenges give the replay value some legs. Looney Tunes Space Race is an irresistable racer that only seems to improve with age. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Shinforce, Sega.com, Racket Boy, Wikipedia