ATV Quad Power Racing
Publisher: Acclaim (2002)
For such a vanilla racer, ATV Quad Power Racing is surprisingly fun and engaging. The single-player "challenge" mode offers nine tracks, each with a distinctive color scheme and enough scenery to convey a unique flavor. From dusty desert roads to snowy mountains, you'll power-slide around sharp turns and plunge down steep hills. The impressive 3D objects and textured roads look like something out of a Playstation One title - pretty good! Your seven opponents are equally spaced out on each track, and you can employ power-ups to overtake them. Speed boosts are the most useful, and others give you extra "air" or allow you to "stick" to the road. My biggest issue with the game is its password save feature. It's bad enough you have to write down a password, but instead of letters, the passwords are composed of odd symbols! ATV isn't great, but its clean visuals and fair difficulty managed to hold my attention. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
Advance Wars is turn-based combat the Nintendo way: Thoughtfully designed, easy to learn, and madly addictive. Despite its war theme, the visuals maintain a non-violent, cartoon-like appearance. You command an army of infantry, tanks, artillery, transport vehicles, and even helicopters as you attempt to wipe out opposing forces or capture their headquarters. The main screen displays both armies scattered over a grid/map. To manipulate your units effectively, you'll have to play to each of their strengths and use terrain conditions to your advantage. When forces engage, a split screen shows both sides and the damage that ensues (with minimal violence of course). There are a lot of subtle details in the strategy, and a nice tutorial illustrates the nuances by walking you through a series of sample scenarios. Advance Wars has a brilliant user interface and the action moves along at a nice clip. The graphics are somewhat plain and it can be easy to confuse different units since there are so many types. Advance Wars has a significant learning curve, and completing the "Field Training" mode is crucial to fully understanding the game. In terms of audio, the dramatic music is absolutely superb, although slightly repetitive. You can save your game at any time during a battle, which is useful since wars can take hours. Some variations let you manufacture new units with factories, but I prefer the pre-deployed unit variations because the game ends much
quicker when you can't replenish your units. Up to four players can "hook up" to engage in a multi-front war. Advance Wars is an engaging strategy game, and it spawned a popular sequel. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2003)
The first Advance Wars was a real sleeper. The media didn't pay it much attention, but hardcore gamers recognized the genius of this addicting strategy game. By the time this sequel emerged, video game magazines were revising history and hailing Advance Wars 2 as the greatest thing since Pac-Man. The truth is, Advance Wars 2 is really just more of the same. There are some new graphics, new head-to-head modes, and special "CO" commands that let you augment the abilities of all your deployed units. But most of the graphics, sound effects, and music have been recycled from the first game. The absorbing gameplay involves moving your army around a map, strategically positioning your troops and weapons in order to capture your opponent's headquarters. The main campaign mode explains the subtle nuances of the game through a series of increasingly difficult missions. It's fun, but boy is it verbose
. After a while, I got really tired of reading all of that text (or should I say, skipping
all of it!). Fortunately, the "Versus" mode offers more than enough options and maps to satisfy anyone's taste. As an arcade-minded player, I prefer the "pre-deployed" maps over ones that have you manufacture your own units. All in all, Advance Wars 2 is a great buy - unless you already own the first game. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Altered Beast Guardian of the Realms
Publisher: THQ (2002)
Altered Beast was a popular arcade game in the late 80s, serving as the first "pack-in" game for the Genesis system. In it, you controlled a man raised from the grave to fight an army of monsters. As you progressed through each stage, power-ups made you bigger and more powerful until you finally transformed in a werewolf or some other creature. Guardian of the Realms is an updated and extended version of Altered Beast with similar hack-n-slash gameplay but superior graphics, sound, and control. The mythological theme is reflected well in the background scenery and monsters you encounter. The nicely rendered beasts include trolls, skeletons, centaurs, giant praying mantis, and grim reapers. The stages are difficult at first because you're just a normal man, but once you start pumping yourself up with power-ups, things start getting easier. And by the time you transform in a monster (which looks great by the way), you're practically unstoppable (until you reach the boss, that is). As a longtime fan of Altered Beast, I was really psyched up about Guardian, but my enthusiasm waned as the lengthy stages took their toll on me. The original Altered Beast was tighter, with shorter but more difficult stages. In this new version, you get sick of punching and kicking the same beasts over and over. In the forest stage, the regenerating bees drove me absolutely crazy. Considering the large number of stages, I appreciate how the cartridge automatically saves your progress. Guardians of the Realms is a not a bad game, but I think Sega overextended the old formula. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2001)
Ah yes, there's nothing like an old-fashioned Sega baseball game. This one brings back fond memories of the SportsTalk and World Series Baseball games for the Genesis. The graphics mimic the style of the Genesis World Series games, with large, realistically animated players. The behind-the-batter view gives you a close-up view of the strike zone, but you'll need to learn a whole new swing system to hit the ball. First, you move a circle around the strike zone in anticipation of where the pitch is coming. Then you hold the swing button before
the pitch comes (even before the wind-up), releasing it to swing. It takes some getting used to, and can be maddening until you figure it out. But once you get it, it's not so bad. Actually, this is the most fun I've had with a baseball game on a portable. The pitching and fielding controls are perfect - playing defense is even more fun than batting! I love how you can dive for grounders and turn double plays. The players are supposed to look like they're breathing heavy, but it looks like they're all shrugging their shoulders - pretty funny. All the MLB teams are included, but only four stadiums: Safeco, Wrigley, Fenway, and Pacific Bell Park. It may come up a little short on features, but for pure fun, Baseball Advance is hard to beat. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
When I play a sophisticated 2D platform-fighter like Batman Begins, it begs the question "Why in the hell aren't there games like this for the consoles?" Although its style is rather old-fashioned, Batman Begins boasts terrific production values and adds some nifty twists to the standard formula. Its fluidly animated, highly detailed characters look almost digitized, and I especially like how Batman's cape bellows out as he glides through the air. The adventure begins in the snowy mountains of China, and much like Bruce Wayne in the movie, this is where you'll learn the ropes. Eventually you progress to Gotham city where you take on crooks in more industrial locations. The rich scenery has a nice weathered look to it, and the rain and snow look terrific. Batman has a wide arsenal of hand-to-hand moves, including a rolling kick and an uppercut that can take out three thugs at a time
(yeah - now that's
old school!) Fighting is fun, and enemies have little health meters under them. Batman Begins also incorporates a lot of stealth elements - for better or worse. I like the idea of getting "the drop" on enemy thugs, but certain stages require you to remain totally
unseen, and that's just tedious. Batman Begins features nicely illustrated cut scenes and a soundtrack worthy of a Hollywood action movie. The stealth elements tempered my enthusiasm, but it's nice to see an old-school take on a new-school movie. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Boktai: The Sun Is In Your Hands
Publisher: Konami (2003)
I can't resist a good gimmick, so I was intrigued when a friend told me about a Game Boy Advance cartridge that lets you harness the energy of the actual sun
to destroy vampires
. It sounds far-fetched but it's true!
This anime-style adventure puts you in the role of "Solar Boy", assisted by a fairy named Otenko (Messenger of the Sun). Boktai is a mix of stealth, combat, exploration, and thought-provoking puzzles. You view the action from an isometric perspective while exploring outdoor trails, multi-tiered dungeons, and mazelike castles. Your weapons tend to be light-based and short-ranged. The cartridge itself has a small square sensor, and when it detects sunlight you can recharge your solar-powered weapons! Another innovative feature is the game's internal clock. The time within the game reflects the actual time of day
, and this has a dramatic bearing on events. For example, zombies roam outside when it's dark, but they stay in their dungeons during daylight hours. The game has a lot of shambling undead creatures (including mummies), and you can often conserve ammo by staying out of their sights. This emphasis on stealth is understandable considering the game was developed Hideo Kojima, the mastermind behind Metal Gear Solid (Playstation, 1998). When you're caught, certain monsters release their purple blobs that cling to you, slowing you down and draining your health. What a drag! It's almost as bad as having to slowly drag a coffin from a castle tower all the way down to an outside area. Painful!
Boktai annoyed me often, but I could appreciate certain aspects of the game. The characters are cleverly animated (despite their small size), the inventory system is easy to navigate, and you can save your progress at any time. While the game is much easier to play in direct sunlight, that's really not an ideal way to play your Game Boy! Not only is it probably bad for the system, but the glare on the screen makes it hard to see what's going on. The best arrangement I found was to sit near a window on a sunny day. The game is thoughtfully designed but it's light detection is more gimmicky than fun, and it's really hard to play at night. Boktai is interesting diversion for a while, but I found that its innovations were gradually eclipsed by its tedious nature. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Submitted by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
This Breath of Fire port is much the same as the original Super Nintendo title (1994), except Capcom added two elements that greatly improve the experience. First, you can now save anywhere
- a necessary feature for a portable title. Doing a "field save" lets you return to the exact same spot where you left off, and dying returns you to your previous save point. The graphics have been improved as well, with better-looking character sprites and menus, as well as brand new "still image" cut-scenes. Breath of Fire's solid gameplay hasn't changed since its SNES days, but the extra save feature and new glitz livens it up a little. Still, if you already have this game for Super Nintendo, this updated version might not be worth your while. See SNES review for further details. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Breath of Fire II
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
Submitted by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
Much like the GBA Breath of Fire port, Breath of Fire II features revised graphics and the addition of a quick-save option. The fine audio of the SNES version has been preserved pretty much intact, and the sprites have been modernized. New character art, backgrounds, and an overhauled menu system are among the key revisions. Like Breath of Fire, Capcom has incorporated some nice looking static cut scene images. Newcomers should consider buying this simple and fun RPG, but owners of the SNES version can probably bypass it. See SNES review for further details. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (GBC)
Publisher: THQ (2000)
Rating: Everyone (animated violence)
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. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Wrath of the Darkhul King
Publisher: THQ (2003)
Rating: Teen (mild violence)
Although cut from the same cloth as its predecessor (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Game Boy Color, 2000), Wrath of the Darkhul King offers a far more interesting brand of hack-n-slash action. The characters are rendered in a slick psuedo-3D style, and Buffy herself looks a lot
like she did in the TV show! This girl has a slew of weapons at her disposal, including axes, crossbows, crosses, holy water, and of course, wooden stakes. Since each weapon is limited in supply, you're forced to experiment with whatever's available, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Just be sure not to accidentally hit that poorly-placed "quit to main menu" option when perusing the weapon selection screen! Oddly enough, the worst part of the game is its unforgiving training stage
, which forces you to execute some unreasonably difficult jumps towards the end. The game gains traction after that, offering a nice balance of combat, puzzles, and secrets to discover. I really like how you have to stab a vampire directly in his heart to kill him - just like in real life!
The cemetery, museum, and forest locations are mildly interesting, but the city areas tend to be repetitive and dull. Likewise, the underground crypts look like every platform game you've ever played, with their maze-like layouts and spiked pits. The production values are commendable, with a foreboding soundtrack and impressive cut-scenes. Not only do these scenes feature still photos of the show's actors, but there's a lot of funny text dialogue to go along with them. It's not for everyone, but fans of the television show may be pleasantly surprised. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Damn! I should have played this game a long time ago, because the other two Castlevania games for the Gameboy Advance suck
by comparison. Do the words "Best Gameboy game ever
" mean anything to you?? Aria of Sorrow achieves a perfect balance of challenge and playability, with phenomenal graphics and a top-notch symphonic musical score. Its gameplay is your standard Castlevania hack-n-slash platform jumping action, but this chapter is far more forgiving and has ample save points (dare I call it "easy"?) Indeed, this is the first Castlevania game I've played where I did not
reach some hopeless point of frustration. The storyline involves a lunar eclipse in 2035 that causes two people to be transported to Dracula's castle, where a "new evil" has assumed the deceased vampire's powers. Here lies my main complaint: is the lead character ("Soma Cruz") a guy or girl? If there's one thing I hate
, it's androgynous characters. Also, the corny dialogue is more akin to two chicks chatting at the mall as opposed to warriors on an epic quest. Aria's graphics are brighter and easier to discern than "dark" titles like Circle of the Moon. Besides the usual suspects, you encounter witches than transform into cats, killer dolls, and waltzing ghosts (a la Disney's Haunted Mansion). Bosses include the grotesque "Creaking skull" (a giant Skeleton torso) and the "Headhunter" who swaps heads to assume different identities. I like how when you attack a monster, the damage points are displayed right on the screen. Acquiring the abilities of defeated foes is a cool feature, and I even enjoyed perusing the "enemy database". Overall, Aria of Sorrow is the most polished, well-rounded Castlevania adventure to date - including Symphony of the Night (Playstation). © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Publisher: Konami (2001)
As the first Castlevania title available for the Gameboy Advance, Circle of the Moon is flawed and highly overrated. Yes, the visuals are quite nice with its gothic scenery and imaginative undead creatures, but the stage designs are a nightmare. Each has one or more huge open areas with diagonal "stairways" running up each wall. While these central corridors often branch out to other zones, they are awfully repetitious. After aimlessly hopping around several of these, you'll find yourself pining for the more linear gameplay of the NES Castlevanias. Another flaw is the poor control which makes it hard to jump and attack at the same time! The annoying first stage is crawling with poisonous "worms" that are all but impossible to avoid (hint: slide). Circle of the Moon's save points seem randomly placed. The first time I defeated the first boss (which was surprisingly hard), I frantically searched for a save point, but there were none in the vicinity, and I soon succumbed to a frustrating death. The gameplay mechanics are standard Castlevania, except now you can collect "cards" and combine them for various effects. In terms of presentation, Circle of Moon is high quality as you might expect. A gorgeous full moon shines through the windows of the castle and outstanding organ music plays a haunting refrain. Sometimes when you look out the windows you can get a glimpse of a boss you'll eventually encounter. Circle of the Moon should have been a slam-dunk, but it's unbalanced, lousy stage designs suck the enjoyment right out of it. Fortunately its shortcomings were addressed in the two subsequent Castlevania games for the Gameboy Advance. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Publisher: Konami (2002)
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. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Crash Bandicoot: N-tranced
Publisher: Universal (2003)
As the second Bandicoot game for the Gameboy Advance, Entranced succeeds on some fronts but fails on others. On the positive side, Entranced is a lot quicker to get up and running compared to the first game where you needed to wade through endless intro screens. The action itself is the same fun side-scrolling mayhem you'd expect, but this edition features fresh new stages including a remodeled jungle that's less lush and more open. There are also Prince of Persia-inspired stages and Super Monkey Ball-inspired "Atlasphere" sequences. While the new scenery is nice, the game has some problems. The position of your large Bandicoot sometimes makes it hard to avoid jumping right into lava or other dangers. The skinny natives you encounter tend to be hard to discern on the small screen, and I sometimes I even ran right smack into them. The vine-climbing controls are poorly devised and nearly impossible to navigate. Had the developers possessed any knowledge whatsoever of old school gaming, they would have adopted the same mechanics that Donkey Kong Junior perfected over 20 years ago! Sheesh! And then there are the "Atlasphere" stages - the one bright spot in Wrath of Cortex (PS2, Xbox). Unfortunately, these ball-rolling stages do not
translate well to the Gameboy, thanks to lousy collision detection and bizarre physics. The 3D Jaws-inspired water skiing stages feature remarkable water effects, but don't play as well as they look. Entranced has its problems, but if nothing else, it offers some fresh and exciting new environments for this Bandicoot to roam. Let's face it, there's a Bandicoot in all of us, and he must be unleashed. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Crash Bandicoot: The Huge Adventure
Publisher: Universal (2002)
"Oh how I love me some Bandicoot action!" Those profound words ring as true today as they did 10 years ago. And who would have expected that the Gameboy Advance could duplicate the same Crash Bandicoot action seen in the old Playstation games? These stages look like they were practically lifted straight from those classic titles! The original three Crash Bandicoot games were a combination of 3D "into the screen" action and 2D side scrolling stages. Huge Adventure consists of mainly side-scrolling stages, although some well-executed 3D "chase" sequences are included as well. This is the kind of old-school Bandicoot action I thrive on, and the nostalgia factor is through the roof! Getting started however, can be a chore. You'll have to sit through about five annoying logo screens, and each is animated
. That [expletive] has got to stop right now
! After that, you have to page through the ridiculous intro detailing how the evil Cortex has shrunk the world to the size of the grapefruit. Stop him? I think it's a little late for that! You'll be tapping buttons like there's no tomorrow just to get the game started, only to accidentally select "New Game" (instead of Load) on the main screen. When will the hurting stop?! Should you persevere through all of that nonsense, you'll discover that Huge Adventure is quite good. The scenery consists of dense jungles, mysterious ruins, and even shipwrecks - what more could you want? With a few exceptions, the controls are finely tuned, and the new double jump is superior to the clumsy slide-jump used in old Crash games. The bongo-driven musical score sounds fantastic. Naturally, I do have a few reservations. For one thing, the stages are so familiar
that the word "rehash" crossed my mind a few times (not that young kids will notice). Also, the snow and swimming stages, which held great novelty value in the original games, tend to bog down the action. Control in the snow stages sucks, and the swimming stages are just plain slow. Still, brimming with nostalgia and irresistibly fun, Crash Bandicoot's Huge Adventure is one worth undertaking. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
DK: King of Swing
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Leave it to Nintendo to take a remarkably simple idea and parlay it into a thoroughly enthralling game experience. In King of Swing we find Donkey Kong moving hand-over-hand across pegs and pegboards, subduing enemy creatures while collecting coins en route to the exit. Amazingly, this game can be played using nothing but the two shoulder buttons! Pressing either one causes Kong's respective hand to grasp a peg, rock, lever, or whatever else it's positioned over. When one hand is free, Donkey Kong swings continuously, and releasing the button sends him sailing through the air. You press both buttons to jump, and holding them both in initiates a "charge" attack. As usual, Nintendo gets a lot of mileage out of this simple concept, with advanced levels that let you toss rocks at enemies and turn levers to open doors. King of Swing's gameplay doesn't really lend itself to fancy effects or scenic backdrops, but the understated visuals are clean and attractive. In addition to the main story mode, there are a slew of mini-games you can play alone or against friends. High scores are saved within the cartridge. So if you're looking for an old-fashioned platformer with a unique twist, King of Swing offers wholesome and addictive fun. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 3
Publisher: Acclaim (2002)
Picture Tony Hawk on a bike and you'll have a pretty good idea of what Freestyle BMX is all about. Dave Mirra is all about catching the "big air", punching buttons like there's no tomorrow, and praying to God that you come down on two wheels. You can pull off some amazing maneuvers in mid-air, but nailing the landing is extremely difficult because it's so hard to judge your orientation. Stages include a skate park, construction site, and skyscraper, but the highlight of the game is its impressive digitized soundtrack, which sounds remarkably clear. As with any "extreme" selection of tunes, yes, you get the obligatory Limp Biscuit track. Green Day's "Basket Case" is also included, but I can't get over how censored it is. In the end, Dave Mirra was very much what I expected, but the small screen proves to be a major hindrance. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Midway (2001)
This updated version of the 1982 arcade classic further illustrates how graphics and sound alone cannot carry a game. Despite its large aliens, 3D ships, photographic backgrounds and digitized sound, this Defender pales in comparison to the original. But that doesn't mean it's a bad game. In fact, compared to most Defender incarnations (the recent Xbox version comes to mind), this is pretty good. The 2D gameplay is familiar as you fly across a side-scrolling screen while shooting aliens that attempt to abduct humans from the planet surface. For some reason, you can't
catch the falling humans, but that's okay because they always survive the fall. The terrific backgrounds include a tropical paradise, but the aliens tend to blend into them. As a result, I spent most of the game staring at the scanner on the top of the screen to locate approaching aliens and gauge their positions. Each planet stage consists of three rounds followed by a fun vertical bonus round where you catch floating people in space while avoiding debris. Defender gives you a choice of ships, but their firepower is weak compared to the awesome streaming lasers of the arcade game. Like any respectable Defender game, hyperspace and smart bombs are also at your disposal. Defender can't live up to the legacy of the original game, but it's still a nifty little shooter. Note: The original Defender is an unlockable bonus. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Dragon's Lair (GBC)
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Here's an unlikely title for the Gameboy Color - an interactive animated movie featuring full-screen video! Yes, this is the original laser disc game, not some lousy 2D platformer with a Dragon's Lair license. Dragon's Lair is a tall order for the Game Boy Color, but the results are interesting. Obviously the system can't replicate the gorgeous animation of the original game, but the graphics are sufficient for the most part. It might be hard for new players to tell what's going on at times, but personally I had a ball playing this. In some ways it actually plays better
than the original game, particularly with regard to pacing. This action moves swiftly from one room with the next without the constant loading that bogs down the disk versions. Although the gameplay still relies heavily on trial and error, the controls are more responsive and provide confirmation beeps to signal a good or bad move. There seem to be fewer actions to take in each room, which compensates for some of the hard-to-see graphics. The stages are presented at random, and sometimes even "mirrored" to keep you on your toes. Except for some musical fanfares, the game is played in relative silence. All things considered, Dragon's Lair is still a good time, especially if you have fond memories of the original. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
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