Publisher: Warner Bros. (2009)
This inventive puzzler deserves an A for ambition and creativity. What other game lets you type in the name of any object and have it appear on the screen like magic? Better yet, you can then manipulate your item to solve elaborate puzzles! Scribblenaut's graphics have a charming, hand-drawn look and the music has a pleasant, easy-going vibe. Each stage challenges you to retrieve a hard-to-reach star, and there are always multiple ways to reach your goal. Let's say the star is sitting at the top of a tree. You might create a ladder so you can climb the tree and snag it, or maybe summon a chainsaw so you can cut the tree down. The sky's the limit, and you'll even surprise yourself
with some of the imaginative solutions you come up with. In one puzzle I cleared out a pond of man-eating fish by sticking a shark in the pond and removing it once he had finishing chowing down. Scibblenaut's ability to recognize whatever you type in is pretty amazing. In addition to obvious objects like rock, rope, and ball, it accepts entries you might assume to be out-of-bounds, such as black hole, dragon, and God. You can create and drive vehicles such as cars, submarines, and airplanes. I found my ability to spell tested on occasion when I needed items like a stethoscope, spatula, or pneumatic drill. After a while you'll find yourself reusing certain useful items like scuba, glue, and fire. There's plenty of selectable stages that place you in diverse environments, and some even have holiday themes. Scribblenauts can be immensely satisfying, but it can also drive you mad. In some stages it's not readily apparent what the heck you're supposed to do. And sometimes even when you know exactly
what to do, it can be frustrating to orchestrate a sequence of events. The point-and-click interface is perfect for manipulating one object at a time, but when you need to juggle multiple items in close proximity, it can be a nightmare. Objects tend to be very large and have a way of overlapping one another. It requires a lot of patience! I'm not normally a fan of this style of game, but Scribblenauts is so ingenious in concept that I couldn't help but be intrigued. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Six Flags Fun Park
Publisher: Brash Entertainment (2008)
Six Flags Fun Park lets you freely roam around an amusement park, but while there's plenty of "park", the "fun" is in short supply. The best part of any theme park is its rides, but this game focuses on carnival-style games of skill. These mini-games tend to fall into the standard categories like target shooting, rolling balls (skee-ball style), navigating obstacle courses, and other touch-pad controlled activities. By their nature, all mini-games tend to be simplistic and repetitive, which is fine as long as they're short and challenging. Unfortunately, most of these games are super-easy, control poorly, and quickly wear out their welcome. Most run a full 90 seconds, and these are some of the longest 90 seconds you'll ever have to endure! If you played this game non-stop for the rest of your life, you'd probably live for 1000 years. Each section of the park has its own theme (haunted, sports, pirates, etc) but the games tend to be the same with different window dressing. Occasionally you'll discover one that's genuinely fun (like the boat racing), but those are the exception. Most are not terribly fun, and many are just terrible. The one where you guide an egg through a digestive track is unbearable
. The haunted house had potential, but why are the ghosts all standing around? Shouldn't they be popping out and trying to scare me? Technical issues abound, including erratic controls, audio that cuts out, and actual load times!
Load times are never
a good sign when you're playing a cartridge!
There's plenty of stuff to see in Six Flags Fun Park, but I doubt you'll want to see any of it twice. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood
Publisher: Sega (2009)
It's hard to believe, but Sonic's first RPG is sensational
! I usually have a tough time sinking my teeth into an RPG (blame my short attention span) but this one had me hooked
. What's so great about it? Well it's not the storyline, which I couldn't make much sense out of (not that I tried). It's not the dialogue, which I couldn't skip through quickly enough. It's not the 2D graphics, although they do a very nice job of simulating layered terrain. No, what makes the game work is its slick, easy-to-learn combat system. It's a sweet combination of skill, strategic, and luck. The battles are turn-based, but Chronicles spices up the age-old formula with its innovative use of the stylus. Executing special moves requires you to quickly trace lines or tap circles, and your timing needs to be just right to inflict the full amount of damage. Stylus moves also let you defend your characters from special attacks. So instead of sitting back and watching the battles play out, you are fully engaged at all times. Like any good RPG, the action is shallow in the early going but becomes more interesting as you develop skills, learn new attacks, and collect helpful items. Advanced battles play out like a chess match, and they can get seriously intense! The exploration aspect of the game is also well done as you trek through classic zones like the Green Hill, Mystic Ruins, and Emerald Island. The stages are ideal in size which makes it fun to explore every nook and cranny. All the colorful Sonic characters are playable (for better or worse) including Tails, Amy, Knuckles, and Big the Cat. Heck, even the nefarious Dr. Eggman
joins your party! Some areas can only be reached by utilizing the special abilities of certain characters, like Sonic's spin-dash, Tails hover, and Knuckle's ability to climb. Your enemies include a lot of robotic creatures, and their synthesized voices sound very cool. Not all the sound effects are pleasant however, as I found the ring chimes and spin-dash effects to be hard on the ears when wearing earphones. Otherwise it's really hard to find fault with this well-crafted title. The pacing of the game is brisk, and you can save your progress at any time. Best of all, this game is habit-forming. Easy to grasp and not excessively long, Sonic Chronicles is an RPG for the rest
of us. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)
As a Sonic fan since his debut in 1991, I was totally psyched to hear about this new 2D Sonic game for the DS. Sonic Rush plays much like the original Genesis Sonic games, which should come as good news to longtime fans. It's the same fast-action, platform-jumping, enemy-bashing formula that made the blue hedgehog famous. The colorful stages are loaded with bumpers and spinners that propel you through large stretches at a time, although certain areas do require careful timing and simple puzzle solving. You can play as Sonic or a purple cat named Blaze, and both have their own paths through the game. Tails the fox appears in cut scenes, but his kiddy voice is annoying has hell ("Alright, Sonic's here! Do your best, Sonic!") Rush is played across both screens, and while this doesn't have an enormous impact on the gameplay, it certainly looks
cool. A new "tension gauge" lets you execute "super boosts" if you can fill it up by performing mid-air tricks. Personally, I found this gauge to be unnecessary and somewhat gratuitous. Sonic Rush offers a brand new set of zones, and while they're certainly colorful and unique, they're uneven in difficulty and not as enjoyable as they could be. The Leaf Storm is your typical introductory stage, with inviting green foliage and easy gameplay. Mirage Road has an Egyptian theme and Night Carnival has a glittery retro look. Water Palace features a scenic Greek backdrop, but the bulk of the action takes place underwater, which is a real drag. Are these tedious underwater stages really necessary in every
Sonic game? Besides the water, there's also a preponderance of "bottomless pits" that also put a damper on the action. The third "act" of each zone is a boss battle, and these make effective use of the system's 3D graphic capabilities. Some bosses are amazing, like the mechanical snake that disconnects its head and attacks you with it! Rush's bonus stage is a throwback to Sonic 2, challenging you to collect a number of rings while running through a 3D half-pipe. It can only be played with the stylus but that works very well. One aspect of Sonic Rush I didn't appreciate at all was the music. These disjointed tunes are straight-up wack, and seem to be constructed from a hodgepodge of irritating voice samples. Despite its flaws, I had a good time playing Sonic Rush. It maintains an old-school style of play, but doesn't feel stale at all. Actually, it makes me want to play a new 2D Sonic game on the big
screen! Will that ever happen? © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic Rush Adventure
Publisher: Sega (2007)
The first Sonic Rush welcomed back the glory days of 2D side-scrolling action, and Sonic Rush Adventure (SRA) expands the formula - with mixed results. On the positive side, the game has a real tropical flavor with festive steel drum music and many warm, exotic locales. The Plant Kingdom and Coral Cave zones are positively gorgeous, and the retro-industrial Machine Labyrinth offers a nice change of pace. At its core, SRA's gameplay is the classic Sonic you love, with high-speed action that moves seamlessly between the dual screens. A map screen lets you move between islands via four unique vessels, including a speeding jet ski and a well-armed pirate ship. Guiding the jet ski with the stylus is great fun, and firing the cannons of your ship feels a lot like the Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS, 2008). I also like the idea of replaying stages to earn the materials needed to construct new ships. The third act of each zone is an imaginative encounter with a colorful 3D boss like a T-Rex or giant Octopus. It sounds a lot like the first Rush, doesn't it? So what's this "adventure" business? Well, apparently that refers to the worthless, verbose dialogue you'll need to page through upon arriving at each new island. Not only are the conversations pointless ("Hi, I'm Twinkles the constipated otter!"), but the text often runs upwards of 50 pages! Okay, I made up the Twinkles bit, but when the bottom screen says "Press Start to skip", it's there for a reason! The user interface is confusing as well. Although the map screen lets you travel between various islands, your "island screen" always looks the same! Worst of all, the "Sonic Team" forgot how to design a fun stage. Each of these massive zones forces you run through the same general sequence of obstacles over and over again! And when you do stumble upon something exciting (like a wild minecart ride), the game totally beats it to death! The "ghost ship" zone sounds intriguing, but these ships look as if they were decorated by Ikea
, and they're infested with annoying ghosts latch onto you like leeches!
Even SRA's control scheme is convoluted. I mean, do we really need three
dash moves?? Sonic Rush Adventure exudes some good old-fashioned Sonic charm, but the game lacks focus because everything is so overblown. Note to designers: Sometimes more is less. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Space Invaders Extreme
Publisher: Taito (2008)
The PSP edition of Space Invaders Extreme was barely above average, but this DS version tips the scales a little more. Sure, it's pretty much the same game, but the loading and saving process is a lot
faster, which is critical for an arcade-style title. Space Invaders Extreme plays much like the original 1978 arcade hit, in that you move a cannon across the bottom of the screen while blasting an armada of marching, pixilated aliens. But Extreme is far more frenetic and less predictable. Each stage is unique, the aliens come in many forms, and the power-ups are tremendous
. Among my favorites, the green cannon lets you fire four shots at a time, and the blue one unleashes a solid beam of destructive energy. These make it almost too
easy to rip through each wave. I love the break-neck pace of the game, although occasional "bonus stages" really interrupt the flow. Although the playing field is smaller, this DS version packs every bit of pizzazz found in the PSP edition. The aliens burst into colorful explosions and frenzied backgrounds overwhelm the senses. I like the layout of this DS version better, with all the gauges and indicators relegated to the top screen. Pleasant electronic beats and digitized voices also add to the experience. High scores are saved automatically. Space Invaders Extreme isn't destined to be a classic, but as a celebration of the original game, it plays the role very well. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Space Invaders Extreme 2
Publisher: Taito (2009)
The first Space Invaders Extreme was a dazzling mix of relentless shooting, hypnotic visuals, and pulsating music. This sequel ups the ante and pushes the limits of what the human senses can absorb. Who needs drugs when you have Space Invaders Extreme 2? At first glance it looks exactly like the first Extreme, except you don't have that distracting meter running down the right side of the screen. The weapons and deliberately-pixelated aliens mimic that classic Space Invaders look, but the colorful rotating backgrounds are just crazy. Alien waves appear in quick succession, but they're no match for your ultra-powerful weapons capable of destroying mutants by the bunches or vaporizing an entire column. In addition to power-ups, yellow icons rain down which net you major bonus points. Invaders come in many varieties, including those with shields, those that split in half, and those that "get skinny". The action is frantic but if you keep moving and firing like a madman you're bound to score at least 3 million points. The upper screen sometimes provides additional aliens for shots that get through the lower armada. It's like playing two games at once, but let's face it - you can only focus on one screen at a time. Space Invaders Extreme 2 is over the top, but hey, that's why it's call "extreme" right? There's a lot of extra stuff happening on the screen that I don't understand, and bonus rounds like "fever time" seem to kick in at random. In my experience there's only one cure for fever time, and that's more cowbell.
Extreme 2 is one of those games where it's best to keep the thinking to a minimum. The electronic music is really quite good and you'll often find that your shooting is perfectly in sync with the pulsating rhythm. Crank it up!
High scores are saved and you have the option to continue from the highest completed stage. Space Invaders Extreme 2 will seem very familiar to owners of the original, but newcomers should enjoy the sensory overload. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Space Invaders Revolution
Publisher: Mastiff (2004)
It's hardly what I'd call a "revolution", but this souped-up version of Space Invaders should appeal to some old-school fans. Revolution's "classic mode" tries to emulate the original 1978 game, but its aliens are oversized and there are a lot
more missile collisions. The "new age" mode offers interesting variations on the original game, including splitting aliens, one-on-one battles, and huge pixelated bosses. Spicing up the action are nifty power-ups including speed-up, rapid-fire, and side-cannons. Revolution isn't well suited for DS. Controlling your cannon with the touch screen is possible but not practical, and even selecting power-ups by touching the lower-screen is awkward. Revolution offers more Space Invaders action than you can shake a stylus at, but the game was never really meant for the small screen. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals
Publisher: Disney (2006)
Rating: Everyone (10+)
Clearly inspired by Pokemon, Spectrobes is a science fiction adventure starring a hero who creates creatures to battle for him in virtual worlds. Although targeted at the younger set, I found the introduction so remarkably complex that I wondered how a kid could even absorb it all! The game gradually introduces new concepts, but it takes literally hours
to learn the basics! The process of creating creatures (called "Spectrobes") is remarkably involved, requiring hands-on interaction in a number of time-consuming stages, including excavation, awakening, incubating, feeding, evolving, and training. The process of excavating is a game in of itself, as the stylus is used to blast away layers of rocks and then carefully chisel to avoid damaging the fossil. It's actually a lot of fun, and it makes me feel like a Paleontologist. Awaking the creature involves yelling into the microphone for a few seconds, causing my wife to wonder what the hell I was doing. Once your creatures are finally ready for action, you'll unleash them against against the evil "Krull" in order to save the universe (so what else is new). I like the creature designs, and each has their own unique look and feel. The combat is surprisingly straightforward, at least compared to the rest of the game. For me, the highlight of Spectrobes is its outstanding soundtrack
. It often strikes a Zelda chord, and sometimes reminds me of the electronic tunes from the 16-bit shooter days. Spectrobes sucked me in for a while, but it can take hours just to create your first Spectrobe, and the battles are extremely repetitive. While the gameplay is generally linear, it's sometimes hard to tell what you're supposed to do next. Spectrobes has some interesting concepts, but I was looking for a portable game, not a lifestyle! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Star Fox Command
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild fantasy violence)
I like Star Fox Command, but it's probably not what most Star Fox fans had in mind. Command has its share of arcade-style shooting stages, but these are tied together by strategic missions that play more like mini board games. As you position your ships on a map on the lower screen over a series of turns, clashes with enemies initiate the shooting stages. It's kind of cool how you draw the flight paths of your ships and watch the action unfold. I suspect Nintendo incorporated so much strategy because the shooting stages couldn't quite stand on their own. They're all pretty similar, as you freely fly over sparse planet surfaces while trying to destroy a certain number of enemies as the clock ticks down. Flying, aiming, and performing special maneuvers are all done with the stylus, and the left shoulder button is used to fire. The stylus makes it easy to precisely target enemy ships, but special maneuvers like boosting (double tap high on the screen) and spinning (rapidly move the stylus side-to-side) tend to throw off your steering. Star Fox Command is addicting at first, but its overbearing strategy becomes tiresome after a while. The advanced missions can be pretty drawn out, and sometimes a single hidden enemy will slip by and ruin an otherwise flawless mission, forcing you to start over. There's also a lot of worthless text dialogue between stages, although thankfully you can skip this. Star Fox Command certainly takes advantage of the DS's capabilities, but unless you have a mind for strategy, you may want to pass this one up. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Publisher: Ubisoft (2005)
Rating: Everyone (10+)
I enjoyed the Gameboy Advance version of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and this DS edition is even more
impressive. At its core, it's the same side-scrolling hack-n-slash Jedi fighter, but an improved presentation and additional gameplay elements elevate the overall experience. The touch screen is used to execute one of four "fury" moves (the GBA version only had one), and the game also incorporates several 3D space battle stages. I wasn't expecting much from these battles, but these proved to be a pleasant surprise. With rich visuals and fly-anywhere controls, they reminded me of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
(Nintendo 64, 1998). Another improvement over the Gameboy Advance is the epic, digitized soundtrack. These memorable melodies are lifted straight from the films and add a new dimension as the story unfolds. The bulk of the game still involves slicing endless droids with your light saber, but there are plenty of attack options including deflecting shots back towards enemies and using the Force to "push" enemies to the ground. Granted, Revenge of the Sith is still a button-masher at heart and it will
wear on your thumb after extended play. Robots require more and more strikes to destroy as you progress, and that gets annoying. You can assume the roles of Anakin or Obi-Wan, each with his own branching storyline. With a nod to the old school, Star Wars Episode III is a worthy upgrade to the Gameboy Advance edition. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Lethal Alliance
Publisher: Ubisoft (2006)
Lethal Alliance is an uninspired third-person platform shooter starring mercenary Rianna Saren. This chick might look pretty hot if not for those two humongous tentacles
growing out of her head. When it comes to women, tentacles have always been a personal turn-off for me - that and tattoos. Anyway, the action takes place in a futuristic metropolis rendered in less-than-spectacular PS1-quality graphics. Jumping and shooting is performed via the directional pad and buttons, with the stylus limited to occasional puzzles. A few minutes into the game Rianna meets up with a cute little flying robot called Zeeo (okay everybody, cue the eye rolling - now!
). That's right, Rianna and Zeeo form the so-called "Lethal Alliance". The game emphasizes cooperative attacks, but there's little satisfaction to be derived from this teamwork aspect. An auto-aim mechanism makes it easy to target enemies, but it's hard to make out the special attacks on the small screen. Rianna can "ride" Zeeo along walls, but the sight of her squatting on what appears to be a Roomba moving up the wall looks absolutely absurd. Zeeo's less-than-thrilling solo missions include traversing ventilation shafts or accessing computer networks - not my idea of a good time! Lethal Alliance is playable, but its boring, repetitive environments wreak havoc on the fun factor. I thought one neon-lit area was pretty cool, but in general the game is a maze of confined industrial locations. The last straw occurred when I couldn't determine if I was forging ahead or backtracking!
This Lethal Alliance may be a force to be reckoned with, but they were no match for the VGC's attention span. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Super Black Bass Fishing
Publisher: Majesto (2004)
Sensing this could be a port of an old fishing game, I went back and played Super Black Bass (SNES 1991) before reviewing this. My theory was largely confirmed, although a few token changes were made so this would look like a legitimate DS title. Unfortunately, this is really a step back
from the SNES game. You can play using the stylus, but it's hardly necessary. Before you get started, go directly to the options menu and turn off the vomit-inducing music. The main "tournament" mode forces you to sit through some lousy cut-scenes about some bratty kid trying to enter a fishing tournament. Once that unpleasant ordeal is over, you'll find yourself in your boat on the lake. But would you believe that you can't even steer it around!? No, instead you're forced to move it from square to square as if you're playing some kind of board game! That sucks, but at least you can easily spot the best fish locations with your depth finder. Casting using a simple meter works well, but like the SNES game, you'll need to experiment to find the "magical lure" that fish will be attracted to. The water is just a shimmering pattern of pixels, but the fish look tasty enough. Touching the stylus to the screen reels in your lure, and while you also have some degree of side-to-side movement, it's not very precise. Fights with fish are less than spectacular, and I hate how both your line and fish pass directly through logs as if they were ghosts. Black Bass Fishing's menu interface is a case study in poor design. Performing a simple action like changing lures is so complicated that it's almost a game in of itself! There's nothing else on the system to compare it to right now, but I sure as hell hope someone can make a better fishing game for the DS. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Super Dodgeball Brawlers
Publisher: Aksys (2006)
The original Super Dodge Ball
(NES, 1988) was a terrific translation of a schoolyard pastime, and has always been highly regarded among NES fans. Surprisingly, a follow-up was never attempted - until now that is. Unlike many remakes which botch the original formula, Brawlers perfectly preserves the classic gameplay while cleaning up the graphics and expanding the scope. The visual style retains the same with short, pudgy players, but gone is the unsightly flicker and slowdown. Not only are the players better defined, but there are some scenic backdrops as well. The dodge ball court is rectangular, with two squares holding players in the center and "throwers" lining the perimeter. It's good strategy to toss the ball between teammates to find the best angle on some unsuspecting chump. On defense you can dodge, duck, or even catch the ball if your timing is right. Each player in the square has a health meter, and once it's depleted he turns into a little angel and flies off. It's very satisfying to methodically "thin the herd" of the opposing team, and beaming a dork in the back of his head is always
a good time! Weapons appear at random, including rocks, sticks, and vending machines
. The controls are okay, but I wish you didn't need to press two buttons to jump. The single-player mode offers options galore as you configure your team, purchase useful power-ups, and enter tournaments. It's almost too much though, as the customization screens can be awfully confusing. Once the action begins however, anything goes and there's much fun to be had. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Super Princess Peach
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
The first time I played Super Princess Peach, I relished its old-school 2D graphics and classic platform action. It was quite refreshing to finally control the "damsel in distress" from so many old (and new) Mario titles. In addition to running around and pouncing on enemies, Peach wields a remarkably versatile magic umbrella that can be used to glide through the air, float on water, and beat foes senseless. But the game's real hook is its use of the touch pad, allowing you to unleash one of Peach's four "emotions" at any time. These powers allow Peach to laugh (fly), become sad (squirt water), angry (burst into flames), or happy (regain health). Not only do these provide strategy, but they offer multiple ways to solve puzzles. Interesting bonus stages also make good use of the touch pad, letting you roll logs or "flick" rubber bands in order to guide our heroine to safety. There's a lot to like about Super Princess Peach, but as I progressed through the game my enthusiasm waned. Many stages tend to be dull, mazelike, and some contain annoying "memory" style puzzles. The controls are generally good, but it's easy to slip off narrow platforms. The graphics and sound are rather bland and not particularly memorable. Super Princess Peach is definitely on the easy side, and experienced gamers may become bored with it over time. Perhaps younger gamers will appreciate it more, but I found Super Princess Peach to be pretty average stuff. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2010)
The original Scribblenauts had an ingenious premise but it could be a little confusing and frustrating. With Super Scribblenauts however, the franchise finally lives up to its potential as a boldly original, thought-provoking title. The idea is to help your little character Maxwell overcome each short stage by providing him with useful objects. To create an item you simply type in words via a nifty little interface and voila
- the object appears on the screen. The line between video games and magic continues to blur! Each stage poses a unique challenge, from bribing your way to the front of a line, to helping a witch concoct a love potion, to excavating a buried artifact. The game has a huge vocabulary, and part of its charm is trying to solve each puzzle with the most obscure items. The original Scribblenauts was dominated by "can't get there from here" challenges, but this Super edition features puzzles that are more cerebral and situational. For example, you might find yourself on a beach with people who want to start a party. There are any number of solutions but I solved it by simply creating a volleyball and radio. Some stages even allow you to use adjectives. Super Scribblenauts is much more user-friendly than its predecessor thanks to a handy progress meter, a nice hint system, and plenty of positive reinforcement. A few puzzles are confusing and a few seem to defy logic (calm a kid down by giving him armor?
). That's okay because a map of constellations provides branching stages, so there are always plenty of new puzzles available at a given time. The illustrated graphic style is endearing and the music is very distinctive and memorable. Kids tend to love Super Scribblenauts, but frankly this is one of those games that will appeal to all ages. If you're intrigued by Scribblenauts but haven't taken the plunge, this Super edition is your perfect excuse. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.