Tecmo Bowl Kickoff
Publisher: Tecmo (2008)
The original Tecmo Bowl football game (NES, 1988) was a landmark title that has stood the test of time. So the fact that Tecmo has managed to botch
this portable version is astounding to me. Since there's no NFL license, you'll select cities with idiotic names like the Baltimore Bulldozers and the Los Angeles Supercocks (no, really). At least the core gameplay is solid, with simple controls and easy-to-see 2D players on a side-scrolling field. The action (and clock) move at a torrid pace, lending the game to quick contests. Slick animated cut-scenes punctuate exciting plays such as blocked kicks, sacks, and interceptions. You're treated to ten-yard measurements and even a half-time show with some hot-looking cheerleaders! It would seem hard to mess up this winning formula, but Tecmo found a way. First, you can't switch defenders once a play begins. That was forgivable in the original game, but in 2008 a little more control would be nice. Next, the arrows that indicate selected players are so poorly colored that they blend into the field!
The terminology is all wrong, with punts referred to as "turnovers" and two-point conversions hailed as "touchdowns". The CPU makes horrible decisions, like kicking an extra point when down by two points at the end of a game. You can't even pause
the game. The user interface for the season mode is atrocious, forcing you to "sim" each game and save them one-by-one. Had a knowledgeable football fan play-tested this (instead of a chimpanzee), these issues would have been easy to catch and rectify. As it is, Tecmo Bowl Kickoff makes a mockery of a storied franchise. Oh well, if you've ever dreamed about taking the Washington Volcanics to the championship, here's your big chance. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Despite its glowing reviews, Tetris DS is somewhat overrated. Don't get me wrong; this is a competent version of the classic game, but there are better ways to spend time with your DS. Tetris DS makes limited use of the system's dual screen and touch functionality. For the single player, there are no less than six variations of the game, each themed after a classic Nintendo 8-bit franchise, including Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Zelda. Veteran gamers will freak over the old-school graphics and vintage music. The first variation, "standard mode", is basically the original Tetris with a few handy new features. The new "ghost piece" indicates exactly where your block will land, and the "hard drop" lets you instantly set falling pieces into place. When used in conjunction, these really speed up the game. Since the top screen isn't needed in this mode, it's used to depict various scenes from Super Mario Brothers (NES 1985). The second variation, "push mode", is played against the CPU on a football-style field, where both players work on opposite ends of the same mass of pieces. As you might imagine, It has a back-and-forth quality to it. Catch mode lets you rotate a floating mass while approaching blocks latch onto it, and once the "core" reaches a certain size, it explodes. These new modes are certainly imaginative, but neither held my attention for long. I could also live without the tedious puzzle and mission modes where you have to perform specific actions with a fixed set of blocks. That's too much thinking for me. Last but not least, there's "touch mode", where you break down a huge stack by rearranging the blocks with a stylus. Nintendo struck gold with this one; it's easily the most fun and additive mode of the bunch. Tetris DS also offers a wealth of multiplayer and wi-fi modes, but I didn't have much luck with them. The setup is time consuming, and you always get stuck with some Tetris whiz who can stack the pieces faster than you can see them. Personally, I always felt Tetris was best played solo. Tetris DS is a nice package, but where are the other popular Tetris variations like Dr. Mario, Tetris Attack, or Tetris 2? I guess Nintendo is betting we'd be willing to buy them on a separate cartridge, and they're probably right. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
The key to any good golf game is its swing mechanism, and the best ones let you jump right in and play. Tiger Woods PGA Tour, on the other hand, will have you reaching for the instruction manual! In fact, you'll need a PHD in physics to fully understand EA's complicated touch screen swing meter. There's definitely a learning curve, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour has no shortage of features. I like the unlockable challenges, the ability to play against real pros, and the snazzy dual-screen fly-bys that introduce each hole. Eight real courses are available, along with a slew of playing modes. The action moves along at a brisk pace (even the CPU-controlled players don't dawdle), and you can save your progress at any time. Of course, it's all about the control, and while I did improve over time, I never felt totally comfortable with the touch swing mechanism. The putting game is just plain poor. The "grid" doesn't properly convey the contours of the green, and the ball is often obfuscated by a big blue blob. Sometimes you can't even see your ball go into the cup - you'll only know if you sunk it by your player's reaction! The PS1-quality graphics are fair, but the audio will drive you nuts. The crowd noise turns on and off like a water faucet, and the relentless crashing waves of the Pebble Beach course are almost unbearable. It's not the worst golf game in the world, but Tiger Woods PGA could definitely use some fine tuning. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Disney (2008)
Magical fairies may not appeal to everyone, but Tinker Bell has some serious "street cred" with the young girl crowd. My friend Ken tells me his daughter is absolutely crazy
about Tinker Bell and visits the official Disney web site daily. In this non-violent adventure you guide Tinker Bell through beautiful natural landscapes while performing errands that enable the seasons to change. Rendered in lush 2D, the visuals reminded me a lot like Kolibri (Sega 32X, 1995), except the world is broken up into small sections which only scroll slightly in each direction. The stylus is used to guide Tinker Bell around the screen, and glowing arrows indicate passages to new areas. Messages like "you can't go there yet" may seem annoying at first, but these actually save you the aggravation of going on a wild goose chase. The layout of the world is a bit of a maze, but a central "hub" keeps everything in close proximity. Still, it can be hard to determine how areas connect, and pre-school aged children will likely be confused. Each area is inhabited by other fairies that provide clues, items, or request favors. It's hard to keep all of them straight, but at least their conversations are short and to the point. Tinker Bell has the ability to repair items, and this activity is fun thanks to the elegant touch-screen workbench. There are also mildly amusing mini-games (like collecting dew drops in a basket) which add some much-needed action. This game appeals to females with its elements of shopping, decorating, gossiping, and dressing up. It even incorporates gift-wrapping, an activity which males are genetically incapable of performing. Like all Disney games, the production values are top notch and the cut-scenes are movie-quality. Some of the orchestrated music has an easy-going, merry-go-round vibe that I found interesting. Tinker Bell is so well constructed that even adults will find it engaging to some degree. Unlocking the sunflower dress was hardly my proudest moment, but school-aged girls will probably love it. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Tomb Raider Underworld
Publisher: Eidos (2008)
Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, mild violence)
This game is a real revelation. I love the full-blown Xbox 360 edition of Tomb Raider Underworld, and I'm pleased with how Eidos handled this portable version. It effectively recreates the same intriguing action and exotic environments - but in glorious 2D! That's right, although the graphics are rendered with smooth 3D polygons, the action occurs on a single plane, and it works surprisingly well! Our hero Lara Croft is quite nimble as she leaps between cliffs, shimmies across ledges, and vaults between walls. From a sinking ship to a dense jungle to dark catacombs, the adventure moves at a brisk pace and is consistently fun. That's largely due to the effortless controls, fluid animation, and forgiving stage designs. The exciting storyline mirrors the console version, and even uses the same cut-scenes! Enjoyable "rune" puzzles make fine use of the DS capabilities, letting you slide pieces into place using the stylus. Although the variety is a bit limited, I love how the game is broken into bite-sized chunks, with stages rarely running more than 3 or 4 minutes each. The graphics are first-rate for the DS, and the audio is outstanding. Whether it's the creaking hull of a ship, or the chirping of tropical birds, the clear sounds make you feel as if you're "right there". While the controls are well conceived, the shooting action comes off as mediocre, especially when it takes several shots at point-blank range to take down an enemy (locked-on no less!) Also, there were times when Lara didn't seem to want to release a vine she was swinging on. Load times also bog down the action slightly. For PSP owners the 15-30 second wait times are mere childs-play, but DS gamers may get a bit restless. Even so, Tomb Raider Underworld is one of the most intelligently designed portable games I've played. It's like a good book - easy to get into and hard to put down. Or so I've been told by people who actually read books!
© Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2008)
This DS version of Top Spin 3 is much different that its console counterparts. It plays a heck of a lot like Sega's Virtua Tennis. You simply hold down a button as the ball approaches, and your player automatically swings as it arrives. The directional pad is used to aim your shot. The problem is, when playing against a skilled opponent, a normal shot won't get by him, so welcome to volley city. That's where the "power" and "angle" shots come in, activated by the shoulder buttons. These shots bring up little meters, so your timing determines the accuracy of your shot. These meters move pretty fast, so getting off an effective shot is tough but satisfying when you nail it. Top Spin 3's graphics are very good, with lifelike player models and a big yellow ball that's easy to follow. You can select from a number of big-name pros including Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova. The challenging career mode lets you create your own player and take him up the ranks by training and winning tournaments. I found the training to be more work than fun, and the tournaments are a bit too long for a portable game. Having to use those shoulder buttons really causes your hand to cramp. But the strangest thing about Top Spin 3 is the player reactions after each shot. Unlike real tennis, the players strut around and badger their opponent after every shot! To witness Roger Federer showboat in such a manner is hilarious, and I'm pretty sure Maria Sharapova flashed a gang sign
at me! Except for that bit of nonsense Top Spin 3 is a pretty well constructed tennis game. If you want a more realistic brand of tennis action on your DS, Top Spin 3 is a viable option. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Virgin Play (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood, gore, violence)
At first blush, Touch the Dead seems like a pleasant surprise. I like how it attempts to emulate the fast-paced light-gun action of House of the Dead, as you tap the screen with the stylus to blast "zombies gone wild" in a penitentiary. Incidentally, the game spells it "penitenciary" - and this typo is a telltale sign of a budget title! The game offers a first-person view as you automatically roam around prison cellblocks, offices, and underground sewers. Sometimes you can shoot an arrow sign to alter your direction. Touch the Dead's graphics are Playstation One quality, with angular zombies and pixelated surfaces. On the small screen however, this lack of detail isn't a big deal. The shooting controls are responsive and exact, although having to "drag" ammo across the screen to reload is annoying. For the first two stages I was thinking "wow - this game could get interesting if I ever get out of this boring prison". Unfortunately, that never happened, as I was doomed to eternally traverse its endless empty rooms and hallways. Is this the best they could come up with? It's not even scary! All you do is blast the same two zombies over and over again - a fat one and a skinny one. The one exception is the zombie that throws his head
at you (please kids, don't try this at home). There are supposed to be a few alternate weapons besides the pistol, but I could never find any. Touch of the Dead had the potential to be fun, but it falters badly due to an astounding lack of creativity. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Trauma Center: Under The Knife
Publisher: Atlus (2005)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild violence, partial nudity)
Brilliant in concept, this medical surgery simulation is perfectly suited to the DS's unique touch-screen interface. If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a surgeon under pressure in an operating room, Trauma Center is for you. As a rookie doctor, you perform a series of operations of increasing difficulty and intensity. A helpful nurse assists you and practically holds your hand through the early stages. The game is played entirely via the touch screen, and the controls feel surprisingly natural. Ten tools are at your disposal via icons that line the edge of the screen, including a scalpel, pump, laser, antibiotic gel, forceps, scanner, syringe, and bandages. Cutting with the scalpel is done by simply dragging the stylus over a dotted line. Draining liquid involves touching the screen to position the pump, and then dragging the stylus up to suck out the fluid. Suturing up incisions is done by moving over the wound in a zigzag pattern. Once you get the hang of these basic movements, they become second nature and can be performed in rapid succession. I'm not sure how realistic these medical procedures are, but there sure is a lot of technical jargon tossed around. Successful completion of operations not only requires a steady hand, but quick thinking as well. This game is stressful! With doctors and nurses yelling at you as a clock winds down, it can feel like more work than pleasure! Another aspect I could do without is the melodramatic storyline and the substantial amount of text it entails. I got tired of paging through all that dialogue at the start of each stage (hint: hold down Select to skip). In terms of graphics, Trauma Center is not exceptional, but does a good job of depicting injuries like lacerations, inflammations, and protruding shards of glass. I enjoyed the music, and the introductory track has an old-school, electronic quality that actually reminded me of Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991). Trauma Center is a fresh and exciting new addition to the DS library. You won't find a game like this on any other system. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
If nothing else, I'd have to say that True Swing Golf is tailor-made for the DS touch screen. Unlike the complicated physics meter of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, True Swing uses a simple and satisfyingly original swing mechanism. You place the stylus on the club head on the botton screen, pull it back to determine power, and then rapidly push upward to strike the ball. It's easy to get carried away and hit the top screen on your follow-through, so take it easy! Striking the ball on the left or right side lets you apply spin, and it's even possible to miss the ball completely ("whiff") - costing you a stroke! The putting is also easy - perhaps too much so. In terms of graphics, True Swing has a leg up on Tiger Woods, and includes similarly good fly-by previews of each hole. True Swing's sound effects are exceptional, especially the crystal clear rain drops. You'll definitely want to turn off the easy-listening music on the options screen though - it nearly drove me insane. On the downside, you won't find as many play modes as Tiger Woods, and the players and courses are entirely fictional. You can save your place at any time. True Swing Golf feels a bit shallow at times, but it's easy-going style should appeal to casual gamers who want to play on the go. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: UFO Interactive (2008)
With more and more publishers entering the crowded DS waters, I've noticed a growing epidemic of poorly designed games
. It astounds
me how a game that sucks this badly could even get published
. On the surface, Underwater Attack looks like a classic 2D, side-scrolling shooter from the 16-bit era, but don't be fooled. The stylus
is used to aim and shoot, prompting you to inquire, "Hey, wouldn't that obstruct your view?" Why, yes
it would! Thanks for asking! Hell, this game is barely even playable!
At least you don't have to tap on anything, and can just drag the stylus around to unleash a steady stream of projectiles. Sadly, shoddy controls are the least
of this game's problems. The unimaginative, repetitive stages just go on forever!
After ten minutes of shooting the same three enemies in front of the same repeating scenery, you can actually feel your brain cells deteriorating. Then you reach an unspectacular boss that takes another
eternity to destroy. You can upgrade your firepower between stages, but that only provides false hope. Underwater Attack's cookie cutter design is only good for one thing, and that's for making a quick buck. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Wario Master of Disguise
Publisher: Nintendo (2007)
Master of Disguise introduces some original new elements but isn't as fun as it could have been. At first its gameplay seems typical as you jump between platforms, pounce on enemies, and play mini-games. Once you begin unlocking "disguises" however, the game takes on a real strategic, puzzle vibe. These aren't as much "disguises" as they are costumes with special powers. For example, Cosmic Wario fires a ray gun, Artsy Wario "paints" blocks, Genius Wario finds hidden paths, and Sparky Wario can light up a room. As you accumulate powers, you'll use them in conjunction with each other to solve puzzles and access new areas. Switching disguises is done by drawing a simple pattern over Wario's head, such as a circle, check mark, or lightning bolt. Sometimes you'll need to switch disguises in rapid succession, which can be awkward. The mini-games typically last about a minute, and they are a mixed bag. I really enjoyed squishing bugs and connecting dots, but didn't like coloring in patterns to match a memorized image. Master of Disguise relies equally on the buttons and touch screen, causing my hands to cramp up something awful. It doesn't help that there's so much goofy text to page through. I wish the game allowed you to save at any time, because the save points are few and far between. Wario Master of Disguise had enough unique elements to grap by attention, but couldn't quite close the deal. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Wario Ware Touched
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
In the tradition of Wario Ware and Wario Twisted for the Gameboy Advance, Touched offers a collection of short but fascinating mini-games presented in rapid-fire succession. Using the stylus, you slice fruits, steer remote controlled cars, draw mustaches, pet a dog, swat flies, bowl, shake trees, tune radios, and play guitars. Some of the more bizarre games defy description, much to the credit of the imaginative minds at Nintendo. One stage is a tribute to old Nintendo games, and another is played completely by blowing into the microphone, almost causing me to pass out. I like how the games are randomized, and even the same ones will vary slightly each time you play to keep you on your toes. Touched challenges your problem-solving abilities and requires quick thinking. Control with the stylus is both precise and forgiving. Unfortunately, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time watching inane animated sequences. Silly as can be, these provide unnecessary backgrounds stories and attempt to tie everything together. Yes, these exist in the other Wario games as well, but never seemed this lengthy or irritating. When the action kicks in however, Wario Ware Touched is insanely fun. It's one of those novel games that must be experienced to be appreciated. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Yoshi's Island DS
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
You have to hand it to Nintendo - they really know how to bang out these side-scrolling platform games. Having played this game steadily over several months, I have to say that Yoshi's Island is quite playable but won't rock your world. Controlling a Yoshi (which resembles a baby dinosaur) is always a treat because of its unique abilities. After snatching an enemy with his long tongue and swallowing it, Yoshi can poop it out as an "egg" which in turn can be hurled at hard-to-reach targets. In this game the Yoshis come in every color of the rainbow, and their mission is to protect baby versions of Nintendo characters like Mario, Donkey Kong, and Peach. You carry one baby at a time on your back, and it endows you with an additional ability. Baby Mario breaks blocks, baby Donkey Kong climbs, and baby Peach lets you glide on an umbrella. It's possible to switch babies at certain locations, but I found this idea to be more aggravating than fun. When your Yoshi takes a hit, your baby floats away in a bubble as you frantically rush to retrieve it. The over-the-top screaming and crying sound effects are absolutely hilarious. Your enemies are the usual suspects for a Mario-style game, save for occasional surprises like Shy Guys on stilts. The graphics are somewhat bland, and most of the backgrounds have an understated, washed-out look. The controls are surprising in that they do not
use the touch screen controls at all! Instead you use the pressure-sensitive
buttons to perform jumps of varying heights. I didn't even know
those buttons were pressure-sensitive! Yoshi's Island DS amounts to standard Nintendo platform fare, and for most gamer's that's good enough. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Yoshi's Touch and Go
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
I'm really glad I purchased this game along with my DS, because it demonstrates the system's unique capabilities beautifully. Yoshi's Touch and Go is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Played entirely with the stylus, the object is to guide a baby Mario around enemies and into coins. The game is played for high score - a great concept that's lost on most modern game publishers. The action begins with baby Mario floating down from the sky on balloons, and you must skillfully draw lines of clouds to alter his direction. You can also draw circles around enemies to "pop" them for bonus points. Both screens are used to convey one long vertical view. When baby Mario reaches the ground, Yoshi gives him a ride through some old-fashioned side-scrolling screens. Here you can "bridge" gaps for Yoshi and make him toss eggs at targets in the upper screen. The control scheme is intuitive and pretty ingenious in my opinion. The audio features understated music and cute but funny sound effects. Yoshi Touch and Go is simple and short, but its irresistible old-school charm makes it a real treat for DS owners. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Zenses: Ocean Edition
Publisher: Game Factory (2008)
I was pretty lukewarm about Zenses: Rainforest, but this edition resonated with me. Perhaps it's my love of the sea, or maybe these games are just a little bit better. Zenses: Ocean offers six puzzle games presented with relaxing aquatic themes. Gentle music, serene backgrounds, and thoughtful gameplay make this ideal for more mature audiences. In the first game, Zen Stones, you match up similar shapes in rows of sliding rocks. It's very simple and even my wife said it was fun (she hates everything). Pearl Diver is a real gem of a game where you attempt to connect scattered pearls of various colors. The connect-the-dots gameplay is impossible at times but so addictive I couldn't stop playing. Turtle Turn is a lame entry - one of those "match this pattern" games that will drive you crazy. Hot Spot is also mediocre, letting you piece together undersea creatures like turtles, shrimp, and jellyfish. The touch interface is clever enough, but all the pieces look the same. Shell Twirl is very enjoyable, challenging you to fit colored shells into a series of rotating rings. The final entry, Wave Breaker, features some nifty wave effects, but its memory-style gameplay won't appeal to everyone. Like the other Zenses, the difficulty is configurable and high scores are saved. All in all, this is a likeable collection for those looking for a kinder, gentler gaming experience. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Zenses: Rainforest Edition
Publisher: Game Factory (2008)
The new "Zenses" game series isn't your typical portable fare. It caters to a more mature, cerebral audience looking for some quiet, relaxing entertainment. Zenses offers six unique puzzle games presented with a tasteful rainforest motif. The puzzles generally involve manipulating shapes and objects in front of serene waterfalls and lush jungle foliage with rays of light filtering through the trees. No doubt about it, this game looks great, and the soundtrack is soothing as well. I liked a few of the puzzles, but not all of them resonated with me. Stack Jack lets you combine similar shapes of various sizes as they gently flow down a waterfall. In Flower Board you clear boards by creating flower combinations, and Sapphire Wheel is a compelling brainteaser where you construct a large shape from smaller ones. Solitaire and Treasure Spin are too tedious to be enjoyable, and Twist-N-Turn is the kind of thing that puts people into mental institutions
(I'll pass). You select your skill level before each game, and high scores are saved automatically - along with dates! Zenses: Rainforest Edition isn't terribly exciting, but it wouldn't be a bad way to pass the time during a business trip. I'm really not sure if there's an audience for this, but if it sounds like your cup of tea, give it a try. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
This has got to be one of the most underrated games I've played in a long time. Apparently it's been out for quite a while, yet I had never even heard
of it! Zookeeper may be the most addicting puzzle game since Tetris. Heck, I couldn't even pry it from my wife's
hands - and she doesn't even like video games! The game presents you with a grid of square-shaped animals on the lower screen. By swapping two at a time, you try to create rows or columns of three or more creatures of the same type, causing them to disappear. The grid then collapses to fill in the empty space, often resulting in very satisfying chain reactions. Using the stylus to select the animals is easy and fun, allowing you to execute many moves in rapid succession. The top screen displays game statistics, but you'll never really have time to look at it. Zookeeper offers a number of variations on the basic game (including a two-player "battle") and it saves the top ten scores for each mode. As much as I enjoy this game, there are two obvious issues I need to mention. First of all, the same playful music loops continuously throughout the game, and it will drive you nuts
! Second, this is an easy game, so if you're any good at all, a single game can easily run well over a half hour. Still, it's hard to not like Zookeeper - a game that should appeal to both men and women of all ages. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
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