The Video Game Critic's
Halloween Review Special
Portable EditionUpdated 2017/10/21
Game Boy Color Games
The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror (THQ 2001) D+
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (THQ 2000) D
Despite a killer license, Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn't have much to offer. Our blonde heroine simply kicks and punches her way through generic undead thugs in repetitive side-scrolling stages. The character sprites are flat but the animation is surprisingly fluid, calling to mind Flashback for the Genesis (1993). The fighting action is shallow, but hearing a ghoul shriek as you stake him through the heart is satisfying. Sometimes you're even treated to flying body parts! The graveyard, mansion, and zoo locations are remarkably dull, and the sewers stages are marred by awkward platform jumping. Buffy's visuals are so dark that it can be tough to make out your enemies at times. Speaking of which, it's easy to get the impression that you're fighting the same zombie over and over again, who keeps returning in a new outfit! The game isn't hard and there's no score, so where's the challenge? It feels like you're just going through the motions as you mindlessly forge ahead, scribbling down a new password after each stage. At least the jaunty soundtrack is relatively good, striking a nice balance between creepy and funky. The illustrated cut-scenes look rough, but the witty dialogue is consistent with the show, tossing out references to several episodes. Even so, Buffy fans will regard this as more of a collectible than a source of entertainment.
Game Boy Advance Games
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King (Buena Vista 2005) A-
Pinball of the Dead (Sega 2002) B+
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Konami 2003) A
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Konami 2001) D+
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Konami 2002) A-
It took some time to win me over, but Harmony of Dissonance is one of the more enjoyable Castlevania games I've experienced. It's very similar to the highly-acclaimed Symphony of the Night (Playstation), and every bit as good. The graphics are gorgeous as you would expect, and the music is amazing (for a handheld system). You assume the role of a vampire hunter exploring a huge, mysterious castle - nothing new there. Armed with your trusty whip, you'll acquire all sorts of weapons, spellbooks, and artifacts as you progress. Typical of Castlevania, there are plenty of memorable animations, like lizard men lunging with their swords, barely missing you with the tips of their blades. Skeletons raise their dukes to taunt you. Subtle details like a floating eyeball lingering behind a curtain or a corpse hanging in the background are examples of the game's rich visuals. Each stage is a work of art, decorated with ornate architecture and huge sculptures. Initially I got lost in the endless corridors and stairways, but once I obtained the map, the gameplay improved dramatically. The more powers you amass, the more enjoyable Harmony of Dissonance becomes. This game is a winner, and it's one of three Castlevania games available for the Game Boy Advance.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King (THQ 2003) B-
Game Gear Games
Vampire: Master of Darkness (Sega 1993) A-
I don't know what the story is behind Master of Darkness, but it looks and plays a heck of a lot like Castlevania, and that is a good thing. Vampire takes place in the late 1800's, and you control a well-dressed fellow with the odd name of Ferdinand Social. The turn-of-the-century London scenery is quite realistic and conveys a nice atmosphere. There's plenty of platform jumping, but nothing too frustrating, and there are plenty of weapons hidden behind white masks. Stages include the Thames river, a cemetery, a laboratory, and my personal favorite, the wax museum. This museum stage reminded me of an old horror flick I watched as a kid called "House of Wax" starring Vincent Price. That movie was creepy, and this stage recreates the spine-tingling chills of seeing wax figures come to life. Other monsters in the game, including zombies, skeletons, and wolves, are large and nicely animated. The control scheme is identical to Castlevania - one button jumps and the other attacks, and pushing up while firing engages your special weapon. With the exception of navigating the stairs, the control is right on the money. Even the music is sinister and well orchestrated. Vampire is really an amazing game, and probably one of the best titles for the Game Gear. I only wish a password feature was included so it wasn't always necessary to start from the beginning.
Tiger Game.com Games
Resident Evil 2 (Tiger 1998) B
A 3D survival horror title is a tall order for the Game.com, but this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I was expecting a simple side-scroller, but this is a full-blown 3D adventure. It turns out that Resident Evil's slow, deliberate pace is a perfect match for a system that tends to run games at a slow, deliberate pace. You begin on a city street with a few staggering zombies nearby. Unlike the console versions, the camera is fixed and usually provides a side angle. The characters scale nicely and the depth perception isn't bad. Walking around is slow going (especially when you're injured) but the locations are reasonably small. One thing I do hate is when you walk onto a new screen and discover you're standing right next to a zombie! You don't have time to react and usually take some mandatory damage. The status screen comes complete with inventory controls, a map, and a health meter. Switching weapons is confusing but I got the hang of it. The map is critical because the scenery tends to be very faint. This makes the characters stand out, but makes it hard to locate doors in the background. The monsters look sharp and digitized sound effects feature realistic groans and voice samples. And yes, the game includes a save function. I can't imagine sticking this one out to the bitter end, but it's interesting to see how Resident Evil 2 was effectively revamped to fit this system.
Nintendo DS Games
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Sacrifice (Europe) (505 Games 2009) C+
Touch The Dead (Virgin Play 2007) F
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.
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence (Capcom 2006) C-
I've always been a rabid fan of the Resident Evil series, and Deadly Silence is basically a portable version of the 1996 Playstation original. While it remains a terrific game after all of these years, there's really no justification for porting it to a portable system like the DS. Sure, the DS is capable of rendering graphics comparable to the PS1, but a lot of detail is lost on that small screen. The meticulously detailed rooms of the original seem watered down, and you'll be squinting to see small items. Let's face it, a survival horror classic like Resident Evil deserves to be played on a full-sized TV with the lights out. In addition to the original version, you can also try the new "rebirth mode", which incorporates some touch screen functionality in the form of first-person knife sequences. It's fun to poke and slash creeps with the stylus, and it made me wonder how a light gun game might work on the DS. Another nice feature is the ability to view the house map at all times on the upper screen. Like the original game, there are plenty of anxious moments that will make you jump, but the default green blood looks cheesy! Deadly Silence also includes multi-player cooperative and competitive modes, but I didn't test them out. I love Resident Evil, but it's hard to recommend this miniature version. At its core, this is a solid game, but not a good fit for the DS.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Konami 2005) A
You really can't go wrong with a 2D Castlevania game, and Dawn of Sorrow is nicely suited to the DS. Instead of having to constantly switch to the map screen (as you do in every other Castlevania game), it's conveniently displayed on the upper screen at all times. Dawn of Sorrow even makes use of the touch tablet, letting you crack ice with the stylus, or draw patterns to open "magic seals". Yeah, it's a gimmick, but at least it's something. Other than that, the gameplay is pure Castlevania. Playing the role of a vampire hunter, you collect items, activate abilities, and upgrade attributes while plowing through legions of undead minions and gigantic bosses. The snowy village scenery looks absolutely stunning, although the modern cars seem a bit out of place. The graphics are slightly upgraded from the Gameboy Advance, but I had to hold them up next to each other to see a difference. There are a few eye-catching effects, including slashed zombies that cleanly split in half, and mirrors that reflect the walls you're looking through. Also included is a two-player mode that involves racing through custom-made castle rooms. Dawn of Sorrow is as enjoyable as any Castlevania game I've ever played, and it will probably clock more time on my DS than any other title.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Konami 2008) D+
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Konami 2006) C+
Sony PSP Games
Dead Head Fred (D3Publisher 2007) D
This budget title is a pretty run-of-the-mill by PSP standards, following in the footsteps of morbid platformers like Death Jr. and Medievil. You control a reanimated corpse on a quest for revenge, with the main gimmick being your ability to swap heads on the fly. You have several to choose from at a given time, each with their own powers. One lets you jump high, another lets you suck in liquids, another makes you stronger, etc. We've all seen this type of thing before. The game gets off to a questionable start with a lengthy introduction that concludes with the lead character dropping the F-bomb. The animation is nice, but the scenery features a lot of non-descript hallways and plain-looking rooms. Dead Head Fred incorporates hand-to-hand combat, puzzle solving, and platform jumping. It isn't terribly original, but the pacing is good and the effective musical score often mixes a playful piano with more ominous tones. You can save your progress at any time. The game seems playable enough at first, but you end up struggling with an unruly camera and some terribly unforgiving platform jumping. In one stage you need to jump across a series of sinking lily pads, and the degree of frustration is almost enough to award the game an instant F. A minor title like this does not merit that degree of aggravation. Even at a budget price, I'd have a hard time recommending Dead Head Fred to anybody.
Death Jr. (Konami 2005) F
Death Jr. offends my video game sensibilities in so many ways I don't even know where to start. It stars a diminutive skull-headed kid battling his way through a series of uninspired stages to save his friends. Death Jr. tries to convey an off-kilter sense of humor, but the dialogue comes off flat, and Jr's freaky "friends" are more disturbing than comical. The action consists of the mindless shooting and hacking of regenerating creeps while trekking through angular, banal locales including a museum and a school (snore). I still don't know what "Meat World" is supposed to be, but it sure is boring! Ghouls relentlessly pummel you with projectiles, and these monsters are so poorly rendered that you can't even tell what they're supposed to be! But the game's main offense is how poorly it plays. The targeting system wreaks havoc on the framerate, adjusting the camera is a constant struggle, and the clipping problems are unforgivable. I can't tell you the number of times I was able to see past (or move through) "broken" walls. The minor-key musical score isn't bad, and you can save anytime, but these bells and whistles can't make up for the atrocious gameplay. I would have given Death Jr. points for originality, but then I remembered there was a Medi-Evil game for the PSP, and that has to be better than this.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (Konami 2007) A
Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower (Capcom 2004) B-
Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins (Capcom 2006) C
Nintendo 3DS Games
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (Nintendo 2013) B+
Resident Evil: Revelations (Capcom 2012) B+
Resident Evil: The Mercenaries (Capcom 2011) C
Sony Vita Games
Silent Hill: Book of Memories (Konami 2012) F