The Video Game Critic's
Updated June 15, 2008
Summer Game Review Special
Wave Race 64 (1996)|
System: Nintendo 64
With its simple gameplay, beautiful scenery, and superb water effects, Wave Race 64 is one of the most appealing titles available for the Nintendo 64. Its eight distinctive courses include a sunny beach, a serene lake, and an industrial port. There's even a "sunset" course where you race on an ocean of orange Kool-Aid! The choppiness of the water varies between courses, and hitting a large wave at the right angle can send you high in the air (sweet). Wave Race's foamy water and splashing sound effects are so realistic that you can almost smell of the salty water of the beach and the raw sewage of the port. The controls are absolutely terrific, and I'm glad because serious skill is required to weave in and out of the colored buoys (miss too many and you're disqualified). It's possible to perform tricks, but they seem a bit pointless really. The one-player championship mode is addictive as hell, and the two-player split screen also very nice. The main problem with Wave Race 64 is its annoying announcer, who never has anything interesting to say, and will not shut up
. Get used to hearing him shout the same words over and over: "Good!! Nice!! O-kay!! Okay!! Maximum Power!! Okay!!" Despite having a full options menu, there's no way to shut up that frickin' idiot. Despite this unfortunate audio flaw, Wave Race is a fantastic water racer and a must-have for all serious Nintendo 64 fans.
Far Cry Instincts (2005)|
Kings of the Beach (1988)|
I've played a lot of volleyball games in my time, and Kings of the Beach is the best
classic volleyball game! Its graphics are terrific, with scenic backdrops and well-defined players. Okay, one guy looks like he's wearing a diaper, but work with me here. A brilliant control scheme lets you spike, block, and even dive for the ball. One problem that plagues many volleyball games is the ability to get your player into proper position to hit the ball. Kings of the Beach addresses this issue by stopping
your player once he's moved into the correct spot, and that makes all the difference in the world. There's even a training mode to help you learn the moves. Volleyball is all about teamwork, and this game makes it easy to cooperate. Grab a multi-tap to form teams, or join forces with a friend to challenge a CPU-controlled team! Kings of the Beach is easy to play, but mastering it is another story, and the CPU opponents are no joke. So if you're in the mood to run around in the sand and spike a ball into somebody's face, Kings of the Beach is your game.
Shark! Shark! (1982)|
Sharks have fascinated me since my childhood. I'd pretty much buy any
game with "shark" in the title; so one with "shark" mentioned twice
(with exclamation points no less) is clearly a "must have". Over time this underrated game has become one of my all-time favorites. Perfect to play on a hot summer day, the action takes place in the cool blue depths of the ocean, where you control a tiny yellow fish. Other fish of all shapes, colors, and sizes swim across the screen as crabs and lobsters creep through the swaying seaweed below. Your goal is to consume other fish of lesser or equal size, which gradually increases the size of your fish. Ominous tones indicate the approach of the large, menacing shark. He's an intimidating adversary, but he can
be defeated. If you nip at his tail enough times, he will eventually die and sink to the ocean floor. But don't toy with him - the shark will turn and snap you up in a heartbeat! As your fish grows bigger and more powerful, you become a larger target for other creatures like jellyfish and seahorses. Other fish will also eat each other, and shellfish even jump up to grab low-swimming fish. It's a challenge to grow your fish to full size, and after you die you return to your original size. The game is enormously fun and addicting, thanks to intuitive controls that allow you to dash ahead or stop on a dime. Audio effects include realistic bubble sounds and harmonized music. Shark! Shark! is a killer game, and it even features a two-player simultaneous mode.
Hydro Thunder (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. Complementing 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.
In The Hunt (1995)|
With its stylized sprites, immense firepower, and spectacular explosions, In The Hunt is the kind of title you'd expect to find on the Neo Geo. Some have even called it "Metal Slug Underwater". If you have a single old-school bone in your entire body, gazing at this gorgeous 2D shooter could bring tears to your eyes. Released at a time when 3D graphics were becoming the rage, this game eluded most gamer's radars. Your yellow sub can simultaneously fire torpedoes forward (rapid-fire), launch missiles overhead, and drop mines below. The eye candy is amazing as torpedoes leave bubbly trails, splashes ignite the water surface, and mines trigger chain reactions on the ocean floor. Most enemies are underwater, but you can surface to engage airplanes and level buildings. The destruction quotient is pretty much off-the-charts as bridges collapse into the water, sending train cars plunging into the depths. In The Hunt's soundtrack isn't remarkable, but it does call to mind those glorious days when 16-bit ruled. There's just one thing that prevents In The Hunt from achieving greatness, and that's the heinous slow-down that occurs when the action heats up. It's hard to ignore in the single-player mode, and it practically ruins an otherwise terrific two-player simultaneous mode. In The Hunt is a fun game, but it seems like the hardware is struggling to keep up every step of the way.
Frogs and Flies (1982)|
System: Atari 2600
With its charming graphics, innovative controls, and head-to-head gameplay, Frogs and Flies is one of the Atari 2600's best kept secrets. Each player controls a small frog who can hop between two lily pads on the bottom on the screen. The control scheme is both unique and effective. By pushing and holding the joystick for a few moments, you control both the angle and distance of your frog's jump. When you miss the lilies and splash into the water, your frog to automatically swims back to a pad. Pressing the fire button flicks your frog's sticky tongue, allowing him to snag the blocky but tastey flies buzzing overhead. Each fly is worth two points and the frog with the highest score by nightfall wins. The fly movements are erratic, and it's always satisfying to snag one just before your opponent can reach it. The scenery is blocky but conveys a cozy pond environment, complete with plants lining the edge and tree branches hanging overhead. As the sky darkens, the action becomes more competitive and intense. At the game's end, a fly pulls a "The End" sign across the screen, and crickets can be heard chirping in the background. My friends and I have a blast
with this game, and there's a surprising amount of trash talk. Frogs and Flies also appeals to women, and is one of the few M-Network games that supports solo play.
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)|
Ecco The Dolphin (1992)|
Ecco the Dolphin was critically acclaimed in 1992, and hailed as the first of a new breed of games that would eschew violence in favor of constructive, thought-provoking gameplay (Ha!
). Ecco is more puzzle game than arcade game, with spectacular water effects and a brilliantly colorful undersea world. Your dolphin's movement is silky smooth, and swimming around in the open sea and jumping out of the water is fun in of itself. The goal of each stage is not immediately apparent, but you'll discover hints by "talking" to other sea creatures you encounter. You'll open passages, save other dolphins, avoid deadly sharks, and eventually destroy an "ancient evil" in the grand finale. Your 25-stage journey will even take you through back through time to the lost city of Atlantis. It's fun to see what each new stage has in store. The difficulty level is ideal, providing plenty of challenge but little in the way of frustration. A password is provided at the end of each stage. In addition to its gorgeous graphics, Ecco's music is also amazing, with sometimes ominous yet mostly relaxing undersea tones. Action-oriented gamers may find Ecco a bit tedious, but ultimately this is a very satisfying adventure.
T&C Surf Designs (1987)|
What the heck is
T&C Surf Designs, a line of summer clothing? Whatever it is, I've talked to several people who have fond childhood memories of this cartridge, which offers both skateboarding and surfing action. This is an ideal game to play on a hot summer day. Skateboarding is easily the highlight, as you cruise down a boardwalk while jumping over obstacles and collecting coins. It seems like every time you play you advance a little bit further. Surfing, on the other hand, isn't as enjoyable due to its hard-to-grasp controls. Just remaining upright on your board for more that a few seconds is a major feat. Fortunately the two games can be played separately, allowing you to forgo the surfing if you can't get the hang of it. T&C features appealing, bright beach graphics, and the background music is a lot of fun to listen to. There's a two-player mode, but it's alternating only. On the whole, T&C Surf Designs is not great, but gets by on its sunny graphics and addicting skateboarding action.
Pitfall 2 (1984)|
System: Atari 5200
There aren't many adventure games for the Atari 5200, but this sprawling jungle romp is pretty much all you need! Pitfall 2 looks and sounds nearly identical to the 2600 version, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You'll explore deep underground caverns, swim in rivers, and encounter all sorts of exotic creatures including monkeys, birds, and electric eels. From what I understand, there's an enormous hidden area that's exclusive to this 5200 version. Unlike the first Pitfall game for the 5200, there are no control problems to contend with. Pitfall 2 is fascinating and fun, but I must admit a "duck" button would have been a really good idea. The game employs checkpoints, and was one of the first to do so. Pitfall 2 is one Activision classic that truly shines on the 5200.
Finding Nemo (2003)|
System: Playstation 2
Frogger, The Official (1984)|
System: Atari 2600
The Parker Bros. version of Frogger for the 2600 was very good, but this Official version blows it out of the water
. It's astounding
how faithful this is to the arcade. The lush graphics boast a brilliant color palette and a well-animated frog that takes smooth, measured hops. All of the elements of the arcade are included (even the otter), but what makes the game extra fun is the break-neck pace. You get seven lives (!) but you'll go through them quick thanks to turtles that quickly submerge and cars that abruptly change speeds. The first screen is leisurely but the difficulty ramps quickly. I love how bonus point values appear right on the screen, making it extra satisfying when you escort the lady frog or snag a fly. Like the other Frogger, the difficulty switches determine if you can float off the side of the screen unharmed. But what really surprised me about this game is the music. Several songs play throughout the game, and while they lack harmony, they are all catchy and fun. Since the game rotates through a series of tunes (including Yankee Doodle), you never get tired of hearing them. It's a shame The Official Frogger is so obscure, because it's one of the most impressive titles I've played on the 2600. The game originally appeared on the Starpath series of cassette games, and was later included on the "Stella Gets a New Brain" CD.