March of the Penguins
Publisher: DSI Games (2005)
Although not a big fan of the movie, I figured March of the Penguins might provide some seasonal enjoyment (read: snow). It's not bad. Most of its stages play like "Lemmings in Antarctica" as you herd a dozen penguins over an obstacle-laden side-scrolling landscape. You interact and build upon the environment using a handful of selectable items including steps, bridges, fire (for melting obstacles), and trampolines (for reaching high places). You can lure the slow-moving penguins with fish to keep them headed in the right direction. I found myself somewhat captivated by this, although I will admit that the first stage is entirely too hard and is bound to discourage casual gamers. Some of the icy ledges are not rendered very clearly, and the game is very finicky about what item you can use where. More often than not an item simply won't register, forcing you to take another approach. March of the Penguins also offers overhead stages where you slide around a maze of ice, and these are moderately fun. Finally, there are the swimming stages which are awful
. Your penguin controls so poorly that you end up bouncing between "walls" of octopus while desperately attempting to surface for air. The game's graphics aren't exceptional, but a relaxing theme song plays in the background. A password is provided at the end of each stage. March of the Penguins is uneven in quality, but it offers enough variety and originality to make it worth a try if you're looking for something new. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Kart Super Circuit
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
Based on Nintendo's celebrated history of kart games, you'd better believe Super Circuit is first class all the way. The flat tracks may remind you of the Super Nintendo Mario Kart (the original
kart game), but the graphics are far more detailed and the gameplay has been tweaked to perfection. Many classic tracks have returned, including the haunted track with the wooden planks, Bowser's Castle with the lava, and a tropical location composed of a series of small islands strung together. There are eight characters to choose from and twenty beautiful tracks spread over five circuits. A cool new weapon is the "triple shells", which let you fire several shells in rapid succession. It goes without saying that the gameplay is fast, exciting, and supremely fun. The controls haven't changed much, with the exception of a new "spin turn", which lets you quickly change direction. The one-player mode saves your progress as you conquer each circuit, but Super Circuit is best played by multiple players linking up. A battle mode is available, and you can even shared your "ghosts" with friends. If you want to race on your Game Boy Advance, this one is a no-brainer. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Being a pinball fan that actually owns
a full-sized table, I had mixed feelings about Mario Pinball. On one hand, Nintendo has done a fantastic job of creating a large set of screen-sized tables that effectively convey that distinctive Mario flavor. You'll see all of the ghosts, coins, stars, pipes, bombs, rounded green hedges, and zany characters you would normally associate with a Mario title. On the other hand, most screens look awfully sparse compared to typical pinball games. In fact, some have only two or three targets to hit! I was expecting more sophisticated scrolling tables, but Nintendo took the opposite approach, keeping them as simple as possible. After playing Mario Pinball a few times I decided they had made a wise decision. The tables are "stacked" upon one another with doors at the top which lead to new areas. Predictably, you'll find bosses lurking at the highest levels. Your "pinball" is actually Mario rolled up into a ball, who humorously yelps each time he hits a hard object. By "clearing" tables (hitting all the targets), you collect stars which open doors to new areas. Your two flippers are spaced widely apart, so it's very easy to lose the ball between them. One thing I don't like is how your score is rarely displayed on the screen. In regular pinball, scoring is your main goal so you always want to see it. Then again, since Mario Pinball has the additional element of "forging ahead" to new areas, this lack of emphasis is understandable. Ultimately I found Mario Pinball to be madly addictive and perhaps the most enjoyable Gameboy Advance title in my collection. I especially love the power-ups that double the size of your "ball", add an extra ball into the mix, or place a pipe between the flippers. The bouncy soundtrack is loaded with catchy, playful tracks, and some of them are pretty amazing. The festive snow stages in particular really put me into the holiday spirit. The cartridge saves your progress, but there's only one slot. For those still having painful flashbacks of Sonic Spinball
(Genesis, 1993), rest assured that this game is ten times better. Some critics may question its simplistic approach, but maybe that's why Mario Pinball is so hard to put down. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
This high-quality title combines puzzle-solving with arcade elements inspired by the original Donkey Kong games. In a typical stage, you guide Mario around a single screen filled with platforms, elevators, and vines. Your goal is to reach a key and carry it over to the exit door before time runs out. Each stage introduces a new mechanism or technique, like vaulting from horizontal bars, walking on your hands, and performing double-jumps. Three colored buttons can be found on most screens, and pressing one will cause the platform configuration to change. It's not hard to clear each screen, but collecting all of the bonus items is tricky and adds to the replay value. Despite a healthy dose of nostalgia, I found the whole button-pushing/puzzle-solving affair only mildly entertaining. I prefer the older games where you don't have to think so much! The seventh stage of each "world" is inspired by the old PC game Lemmings, where you lead a bunch of toy Marios around obstacles and into a box. Only in the final stage of each "world" do you face off against Donkey Kong, but these confrontations aren't particularly dramatic or exciting. Typically you toss barrels or drop fruit on him while avoiding his projectiles. As you would expect from Nintendo, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong's production values are through-the-roof, with polished graphics, entertaining sound effects, amazing background music, and crisp control. The only control issue I had was difficulty jumping off the vines. Charming little details like the hammer from Donkey Kong (along with its original theme music), and the hilarious animations like cymbal-clapping monkeys elevate the game's average gameplay. The cartridge automatically saves your place and records the high scores for each screen. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong is an interesting twist on an old theme, but it's not as fun as the games that inspired it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
I don't play many RPGs, but I did enjoy this "mini-RPG" while on vacation at the beach. Its reasonable premise involves a witch who has magically stolen Princess Peach's voice, and our two mustached heroes must get it back. Mario and Luigi's scaled-down gameplay is a large part of its charm. Both characters move as a pair, with one button assigned to each. Not only must Mario and Luigi work together to navigate platforms, but they can also team up to perform devastating "brother attacks" during battle phases. These battles are more interactive than most RPGs, letting you hit a button at critical moments to maximize the damage or dodge an attack. Even so, battles can run long and get awfully repetitive. You always have the option to flee, but powerful monsters have a knack for chasing you down and sucking you in for more punishment. Mario and Luigi also incorporates a series of mini games, including jumping rope and a mine cart ride. There's quite a bit of dialogue to page through (some very corny), and I found odd lines like "I have fury!" quite amusing. The controls are okay, but it does get tedious to constantly switch between lead characters using the Start button. Also, jumping between the layered 2D ledges is hard to judge until you get a feel for it. Your quest begins slowly, but gradually sucks you in. Like any RPG, each mission is broken into a series of smaller tasks, and sometimes you forget what your original goal was. A revamped version of the original Mario Brothers arcade game is included, but it's disappointing. Even so, Superstar Saga deserves a thumbs up. It's very challenging, incorporates a great deal of action, and its thoughtfully-designed stages have Nintendo written all over them. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Matchbox Missions: Air, Land & Sea Rescue/Emergency Response
Publisher: DSI Games (2006)
This two-in-one combo is a pleasant surprise, with both titles being equally good. Each game boasts large vehicles, tight controls, a password feature, and a pulse-pounding soundtrack. Emergency Response is a pursuit-style game where you can either play as the police or the suspect (I prefer being the cop). There's not much to see as you race through the suburbs, desert, or snowy mountain peaks, but the addictive action never lets up! The suspect has a health meter that you wear down by bumping him from behind or blocking from the front. There's actually some subtle strategy as you decide whether to bump or go for the pass. The only thing that sucks is how the suspect can pick up "health" icons to regain strength! The second game, Air, Land, and Sea Rescue, is uneven but still compelling. You control a helicopter, ambulance, or boat while attempting to save a certain number of people as the clock ticks down. The helicopter controls well and reminded me of Desert Strike
(Genesis, 1992). The boat stages are less interesting because the narrow waterways seem rather maze-like. The ambulance stages are the best, although your vehicle is a bit slow. A radar display indicates the approximate locations of fuel, health, your home base, and your next destination. I wasn't expecting much from Matchbox Missions, but I enjoyed playing both games. Especially if you can pick it up cheap, you'll definitely get your money's worth. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Metal Slug Advance
Publisher: SNK (2004)
You'd think Metal Slug would be perfect for the Gameboy Advance, considering the series' stylish 2D graphics have not evolved appreciably since it debuted in 1996. The one demanding aspect of the game is the sheer number of projectiles on the screen at a given time. Metal Slug Advance looks and plays like all the other Metal Slug games, which is good news indeed. The action gets crazy as you blast your way through jungles, caves, and Aztec ruins. The graphics are brimming with style and humor, and the driving music is relentlessly good. Many stages should seem very familiar if you've played through any of the other Metal Slugs. Rescued POWs provide bonuses and weaponry, allowing you to amass some truly insane firepower. You can even commandeer vehicles to inflict massive destruction. Each stage ends with an opportunity to reduce a monstrous mechanical beast into a smoldering heap of metal. Metal Slug Advance is a great shooter, but a few things about it bugged me. I don't care for the "vertical" designs of some stages, and it sucks when you can't advance because you have to wait for more goons to appear. SNK tried to add some replay value by allowing you to collect "cards", but I didn't find this feature particularly compelling. Still, this is Metal Slug - the most intense shooter on the planet. And fortunately, little was sacrificed to bring it to the Gameboy Advance. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2002)
Metroid Fusion is a masterpiece in terms of production value and playability. Subtitled "Metroid 4", it marks the return of the old-fashioned, 2D style of play that you can't get enough of. Metroid has been a Nintendo flagship franchise since its inception on the NES in 1986, and recently it made an impressive transition to 3D on the Gamecube. Fusion has a compelling introductory segment that conveys a gripping story about an alien life form infiltrating a space frigate. Fusion's gameplay combines elements of past Metroid titles, and throws in a few new twists of its own. Sure, it's all platform jumping and shooting, but Fusion does it better than most. Samus can hang onto ledges, climb, charge her gun, and morph into a ball to squeeze through tiny openings. Compared to the old Metroid games, you can do a lot
more stuff. The audio is outstanding, with rich sound effects and quality music that feels appropriately menacing. Various missions take you through mazes of rooms, but an on-screen map makes it very easy to pinpoint you location as well as the next target. Special rooms allow you to retrieve mission updates, recharge, and save your game. It's an intense and difficult game, but never discouraging. Metroid Fusion is clearly a must-have title for Gameboy Advance owners. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Metroid Zero Mission
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Just when I thought I had played the ultimate Metroid game (Metroid Fusion), Zero Mission comes along and impresses me even more. Essentially a remake of the original Metroid
(NES, 1986), Mission Zero incorporates additional controls, explanatory cut-scenes, and new levels that effectively tie all of the Metroid storylines together. You play as Samus, a woman in a robotic outfit placed on her home planet to locate and destroy the "Mother Brain". Zero Mission enthralled me with its classic storyline and polished gameplay. The game introduces new weapons and skills gradually, and there are ample save points and power-ups. Crisp control, combined with a sensible user interface makes jumping platforms a breeze. Like Fusion, the graphics are exceptionally sharp and atmospheric, and ominous orchestrated music adds to the tension. Unlike most other platform games, the stages are thoughtfully designed and never seem repetitive, confusing, or frustrating. As icing on the cake, the original NES Metroid is included as a hidden bonus. With Zero Mission, Nintendo has taken an already classic game and refined it to near perfection. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Montezuma's Return (GBC)
Publisher: Take Two (1998)
I've seen many classics make the transition to the portable universe, and many arrive butchered beyond recognition. Fortunately Montezuma's Return is the exception to the rule, retaining all the qualities that made its predecessor, Montezuma's Revenge
(Colecovision, 1984), such a hit. You control a little Indiana Jones exploring a pyramid composed of a huge grid of rooms jam-packed with danger. There are moving platforms, ropes, spikes, rolling skulls, and plenty of coins to collect. If you obtain a knife, you can survive one hit from a creature like a cobra, rat, or spider. As in the original game, the controls are exceptionally crisp and responsive. Your explorer moves swiftly and can easily hop between platforms. I loved shimmying down ropes and sliding down poles. The levels incorporate all the stuff you'd expect to find in a real pyramid, like cobwebs, flaming pits, skeletons chained to the walls, and platforms that disappear at regular intervals. The visuals are a little dark, and certain items (like the purple keys) can be a little hard to make out. Pressing the select button brings up a map, and there are 150 rooms in all! 150!
Despite that, the game has a somewhat linear structure and it's pretty easy to get stuck. The soundtrack will get on your nerves, but you can shut it off via the options menu. All in all, Montezuma's Return is a heck of a lot of fun, mainly because it doesn't try to fix what's not broken. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8,700
Save mechanism: Password
Mortal Kombat Tournament Edition
Publisher: Midway (2003)
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
This scaled-down version of Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance is arguably more engaging than the full-blown edition, thanks to its tight, simplified gameplay. The graphics are a slick hybrid of the old 2D style (pre-MK4) and the new 3D look. Scaling sprites effectively convey a sense of depth and facilitate side-step moves. There are fifteen warriors in all, including old favorites like Johnny Cage, Raiden, and Scorpion. New faces include the club-armed Drahmin and the winged vampire Nitara. The fighters look slightly pixilated (especially when they scale in) but the controls are dead-on. With no load times, easy-to-execute special moves, and only two fighting styles per character, I found the gameplay to be far more accessible than Deadly Alliance. The CPU is a worthy opponent, and up to four players can link up for multiplayer mayhem. Occasional bonus stages test you "might" or "sight", and these provide a nice break from the one-on-one action. The ring-shaped arenas are wide-open and mostly outdoor, but to be honest, I miss the dark, mysterious indoor settings of the original MK games. The audio is amazing. Warriors are announced by name, and their grunts and screams sound like something from an old martial arts flick. The pulsating, edgy electronic music is equally impressive. Winning fights earn you coins for opening coffins for prizes in the "Krypt" room. Unfortunately, it's far too much work to unlock the really good stuff. Also, a move list really should
have been incorporated into the pause menu. Despite these minor quibbles, MK fans should be thrilled with this portable edition. It's the best fighter I've played for the Game Boy Advance. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Moto Racer Advance
Publisher: Ubisoft (2002)
In my early Genesis days I was a huge fan of Road Rash, and Moto Racer rekindled fond memories of that franchise. Barreling over hills and weaving through traffic is always great fun - even on the small screen. Considering the modest graphic capabilities of the Gameboy Advance, this motorcycle racer is absolutely superb
. Its lush scenery, fluid frame-rate, and tight controls make Moto Racer arguably the ultimate Game Boy racer. You view the high-speed action from behind your biker, and while an arrow alerts you to upcoming turns, it's actually very easy to see the track far ahead. The sense of speed is so effective that when you go flying off a hill and drop into the valley below you can almost feel your stomach drop! Don't hesitate to tap your brake on tight turns to execute controlled skids, because falling off of your bike will cost you valuable seconds (it takes a while to get started again). Each of the 19 track locations offers a distinctive color scheme and interesting scenery. The sunny beach course is pure eye candy, and there's even a respectable San Francisco track! There's plenty of cool roadside scenery, and occasional surprises like a chicken crossing the road. A multi-player is included, but the heart of the game is its lengthy "progression" mode that lets you gradually unlock new tracks and bikes. It's great fun, and all of your progress is saved automatically including best lap and course times! If I had a complaint about Moto Racer, it might be the lack of music during races - you only hear the whining of engines. And is it just my imagination, or does the bike selection screen prompt you to "Choose your monster"? Technically impressive and addictively fun, Moto Racer is one of those quality games that you'll return to again and again. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Noddy: A Day In Toyland
Publisher: Game Factory (2006)
Rating: Everyone (3+)
Living in a world of endless conflict and mindless violence, kids today could use a kinder, gentler video game experience. It's a sentiment I've always held near and dear to my heart. That's why I took a break from ripping out spines in the latest Mortal Kombat to review Noddy: A Day In Toyland. Designed for kids ages three and up, Toyland offers platform action similar to Super Mario Bros., except slower and simpler. Noddy is a jumping elf who collects coins in fairy-tale worlds that scroll both left and right. Spicing things up are occasional side-scrolling driving stages. To lend some perspective, I recruited the help of my 4-year-old nephew Jordan and 2-year-old niece Brooke. As I read the intro text to them, it dawned on me that Noddy might be better suited to kids who can read
to some extent. Once the action kicked in, Jordan offered a number of insightful comments, including "it's neat". Translation: he admired the psuedo-3D appearance of the characters, but was less impressed with the flat, uninspired background graphics. And when he mentioned, "I have to go poo poo", it was clearly in reference to Noddy's crisp controls and sensible stage designs. In his final analysis, Jordan boldly asserted, "It was a good game", although in the interest of full disclosure, he later admitted he would rather have Rescue Hero. Brooke also gave Noddy a workout, bobbing her head while exclaiming, "I'm winning! I'm winning!" Evidently that singsong music I found so irritating was quite appealing from her point of view. A Day In Toyland serves its purpose as a "starter" video game for kids, allowing them to learn basic game concepts without becoming too frustrated. It's a sensible way to get kids headed down the road to video game addiction. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Kemco (2001)
If you occasionally crave a good side-scrolling shooter, Phalanx will satisfy your urge. Originally available for the Super Nintendo in the mid-90s, this game was the victim of one of the worst marketing campaigns in video game history. Inexplicably, the box cover featured some bearded hillbilly with a banjo! It was meant to draw attention to the game, but it backfired big time. Anyway, Phalanx isn't unusual as shooters go. Armed with a rapid-fire gun and three smart bombs, you can collect multiple weapons, power them up, and switch between them on the fly. Adversaries include mechanical monsters, gross organic creatures, and combinations of both. Some fly in from the background with the help of some not-so-impressive psuedo-3D effects. A few creatures are downright tiny and can be hard to make out on the small screen. The bosses are pretty lame, although I do appreciate how chunks of them break off as they wear down. Its eight stages are average at best, but Phalanx does throw a few surprises your way. Supply trucks explode with worms when shot, and one stage has water on both the top and bottom
of the screen (that's how it is in space!) The game saves your high scores and lets you continue on your last stage. You won't play Phalanx for hours on end, but it's not a bad way to get a quick fix. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Pinball of the Dead
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild violence)
Believe it or not, this was the game
that finally convinced me to purchase a Game Boy Advance - my first portable! Being a avid fan of the House of the Dead (HotD) light gun games, I didn't want to miss out on this odd but wonderfully conceived spin-off. Pinball of the Dead offers three separate vertically-scrolling tables rendered in the distinct House of the Dead style. For the uninitiated, that means plenty of shambling zombies, gallons of blood, and maniacal bosses. Each table features several sets of flippers and numerous bumpers and targets. The gameplay is fast, fun, and challenging as hell. Tiny zombies (which can be hard to make out) march around the table, and terrific scream effects are heard as they are splattered with the ball. It's hard to find this kind of instant gratification on the consoles anymore. Each ball begins with a brief first-person target-shooting sequence where you can win a bonus. Pinball's high-octane soundtrack is unmistakable, and there's even some of the trademark bad voice acting. The first table has a clock-tower theme, and its decrepit, weathered look makes it my favorite. The second has a sterile "scientific lab" look, and it doesn't offer as much to do. The third table is a real treat, constructed entirely of human flesh! Now there's
something you don't see everyday! Sega didn't skimp on options either, allowing you to customize every aspect of the game from the number of balls to the color of the blood. Not only does the cart record high scores, but you can even save games in progress
. If Pinball of the Dead has a weakness, it lies in the lame "tilt" control. Sure it jostles the table a bit, but never enough to affect the ball movement. Pinball of the Dead is a highly underrated game, and House of the Dead fans are sure to have a ball with it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Publisher: TDK (2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean for the Game Boy Advance is the perfect antidote to the tediously slow Xbox edition. Its playful graphics are refreshing and bright, offering a nice isometric view of the scenery. The characters are small but nicely animated. The sound effects are clear and bold, but take a backseat to the outstanding music, featuring my personal favorite pirate song: "Yo ho - yo ho - a pirate's life for me" (everybody sing!). The game's short, entertaining missions involve hunting for treasure, fighting soldiers, and collecting items. Exploring townships, sandy beaches, dark caves, and dense jungles is fun, although the sword fighting is pretty simplistic. The puzzles are of the typical lever-pulling variety - nothing particularly taxing. Adding variety are water stages that let you sail your ship and engage in battles on the high seas. A clever control scheme uses the shoulder buttons to fire cannons off both sides of the boat. Although the pacing is brisk, the action does stall a bit when locations begin to repeat, and I did have a few "what now?" moments. What really annoys me is how such a quality title can lack a battery backup! Instead, you're forced to write down a "password" composed of random letters. What is this, the 90's? How much money did TDK save with this bonehead move, four cents per cartridge? Lame! Even so, Pirates of the Caribbean proves to be an entertaining little adventure that nicely captures the flavor of the film. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Publisher: Buena Vista Games (2006)
With so many Pirates of the Caribbean titles coming out this year (many of which have been described as "unplayable"), who would have predicted that the Gameboy Advance
version would trump them all? But it's true - this engaging little game kept me playing for weeks on end, thanks to its reasonable learning curve and old-school sensibility. You set sail on the open seas, searching out new destinations and engaging in ship-to-ship combat. Actually, you often need to engage in sea battles whether you want to or not, which can be frustrating. Once you disable a vessel, you can board it, battle the crew, and gather valuable booty. Upon reaching a port, most towns have shipyards where you can purchase ship upgrades, weapons, and other helpful items. Dead Man's Chest is structured similar to Sid Meier's Pirates
(Xbox, 2005), but there's less strategy and more action. Each island has a number of locations to explore in the form of 2D platform stages. Brandishing your sword and pistol, you'll battle your way through English troops, spear-toting tribesman, and vicious wild animals. When you slash at foes, little numbers display the amount of damage inflicted - it's like Castlevania on the high seas! The graphics aren't as rich as Castlevania, but they're certainly attractive and well defined. The game is brilliantly paced, maintaining your interest by gradually introducing new moves and challenges. You can save at any time, and the rousing theme music keeps the excitement level high. The developers did an extraordinary job of creating a captivating adventure with balance, polish, and a steady difficulty progression. If you were disappointed with the recent spate of 3D pirate games, this little gem is sure to lift your spirits. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Pitfall: Beyond the Jungle (GBC)
Publisher: Activision (1998)
I was hoping this game would take the Pitfall formula to the next level, but it's just a shameful attempt to capitalize on the brand name. Beyond the Jungle bears little resemblance to its predecessor, and its by-the-numbers design lacks charm and imagination. In the first stage you swing Pitfall Harry between ropes and make him jump between grassy platforms. The controls seem decent until you realize Harry always jumps a significant distance forward when coming off a rope. This makes it really hard
to land on a platform that's only a half jump away. Harry is armed with a pickaxe used to kill scorpions and flying shellfish (huh?). Creatures unleash blood-curling screams as you hack them to death. Occasionally Harry will need to run up to a gorilla and bludgeon him before the poor ape can even react. This game is just wrong on so many levels. When you finally deplete your lives (which seems to take forever
) don't be surprised to see a score of zero
. Are you telling me that collecting dozens of blue diamonds and killing innocent animals wasn't worth a single point?
The second stage is positively hellish as you descend into a dank prison. It's got all hallmarks of bad level design: flames on timers, pipes deadly to touch, and invisible hazards that blend into the gray scenery. In the end Pitfall: Beyond the Jungle seems to serve but one purpose, and that's to make your life thoroughly miserable. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Polaris SnoCross (GBC)
Publisher: Vatical (1998)
Polaris SnoCross comes on an extra-fat cartridge to facilitate a "rumble" capability. It works fine, but I wish more effort was put into the game itself. SnoCross plays like an overhead car racer except you're driving a snowmobile around tree-lined tracks. The tournament mode pits you against two CPU opponents, and they're tough! You'll need a near-perfect run to rank first, and if you get caught up on a tree you're toast. Winning races lets you unlock new tracks and snowmobiles. The courses don't offer much scenery beyond snow-covered evergreens and the occasional iced-over bridge. Prior to each race you allot points to adjust your sled's acceleration, traction, and top speed. In my experience you'll want to put all your eggs in your "top speed" basket. The tracks are ideal in length (read: short) and it's very cool how you slide down banked turns. The vibrate feature is surprisingly understated, and that's probably for the best. The audio is just horrible. The whiney music is hard on the ears and it gets even more obnoxious during the final lap. You can turn it off via the options menu, but that exposes some equally unpleasant sound effects. Unlocking tracks is a challenge, but it seems to require more memorization that skill. Polaris SnoCross is a serviceable winter diversion, but it could have used a lot more pizzazz. Note: This cartridge will not fit into a DS system. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: www.qwak.co.uk (2006)
Not often does a game come around exuding as much old-school charm as Qwak. Originally available for the Amiga computer, the author has graciously ported this sweet slice of the past to the Gameboy Advance, and it's a perfect fit! In Qwak, you control a duck in a series of progressively difficult platform challenges. You'll collect fruit for points, toss eggs at wandering spooks, and collect keys to open doors. It sounds like every video game made in 1983, but Qwak is still surprisingly fresh. Exceptionally well-programmed, it sports clean graphics, crisp collision detection, and responsive controls. It's especially satisfying to jump on a pile of fruit and see a bunch of point values bubble up in their places. Not only can you toss eggs in a rapid-fire manner, but they even bounce around, allowing you to "play the angles". The stages contain elevators, disintegrating floors, secret rooms, and items galore. Besides gobs of fruits, you'll collect keys, gems, flowers, mushrooms, pendants, hearts, and six
different types of potions. While these items add complexity, they also add another thing: confusion. Qwak looks like a pick-up-and-play game, but you'll want to peruse the manual first. While the gray potions provide layers of "armor", your current armor level is not
displayed on the screen, so you're never quite sure if the next hit will be your last. It's especially problematic when you consider the mandatory hits required to reach certain keys. Still, Qwak is great for a quick fix, and top scores are recorded to a high score screen that's conveniently saved to cartridge. The easy-listening soundtrack is pleasant enough, and I love the "quack" sound effect when you bite the dust (and turn into a roasted duck in the process). Qwak is easy to play but difficult to master - the hallmark of all great games. If you're looking for a slick title with an old-school sensibility, be sure to purchase a copy of this limited-edition gem. Qwak is available at www.qwak.co.uk
. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Racing Gears Advance
Publisher: Orbital Media (2005)
is my favorite Gameboy Advance game ever
! Yes, I do say that all the time, but this time I really
mean it (I think). An old-fashioned overhead racer at heart, Racing Gears features tiny cars on winding tracks in various locales and weather conditions. The view is isometric (tilted overhead), allowing for a more detailed view of the scenery and road ahead. When trees or tall buildings obstruct your view, your car's position is clearly indicated by a superimposed circle with an arrow indicating your direction. Racing Gears has "old school" written all over it. I've seen other games like this (including Rally Chase for the Neo Geo, Combat Cars for the Genesis, and Power Drive Rally for the Jaguar), but never executed this well. For one thing, the camera is pulled back far enough that you easily anticipate upcoming turns and keep an eye on opponents. That's critical, because you can also employ weapons like oil slicks, smoke screens, rockets, and mines. In order to prevent utter chaos at the start of each race, weapons are disabled during the first few seconds when cars tend to bunch together. The weapons are easy to deploy and very effective. Being the victim of a smoke screen attack causes your entire screen to cloud up - pretty neat! You'd expect the digital control to be a detriment, but I could navigate the courses and perform controlled power-slides with minimal effort. Racing Gears is instantly playable, and even gives you a "mini-boost" when you wander off the track. The scenery is a nice mix of city streets and country roads, with undulating terrain and strategic ramps that add depth to the otherwise 2D graphics. Inclement weather conditions include realistic rain and gorgeous snowstorms. With one or two minor exceptions, the electronic tunes are outstanding, and the car engine sound effects are mercifully understated. But what makes Racing Gears extra addictive is its championship mode, which lets you soup up your car as you compete in progressively difficult circuits. The upgrade screens are easy to use, and the game saves your place automatically. In an era when most console games are more concerned with realism (Gran Turismo) or chaos (Burnout), Racing Gears delivers what really counts: the fun! Remember that? © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Resident Evil Gaiden (GBC)
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
The Resident Evil (RE) survival horror series seems an odd fit for the Game Boy Color, but Capcom makes it work by using some innovative techniques. This chapter takes place on a large ocean liner, and yes, they are
running out of places. Here, STARS operative Barry Burton must solve a bunch of uninspired puzzles, mainly of the find-the-key variety. Zombies lurk in the shadows, but digitized moans signal their presence and pretty much eliminate the element of surprise. Although avoiding battle helps conserve ammo, the shooting system is the game's greatest strength. Once you take aim at one or more monsters, the screen changes to a first-person perspective with a "targeting meter" moving back and forth across the bottom of the screen. Pressing the fire button when the cursor is directly under an approaching monster causes your shot to ring true, spraying gratuitous blood in its wake. It's a pretty ingenious scheme, providing the only genuine thrills of the game. Another cool feature is how you can hold as many items as you want, unlike other RE games which limit your capacity. On the downside, the level designs are annoying, and you're constantly forced to backtrack and deal with confusing elevators. The musical soundtrack features a creepy but repetitive Halloween-inspired tune. Three save slots are provided, but save points are few and far between. I enjoyed certains aspects of Resident Evil Gaiden, but it's largely a hit-or-miss affair. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: TDK (2002)
Most side-scrolling shooters have something
to offer, but Robotech is worthless with its generic graphics and boring-as-hell stages. Making matters worse, the stagees drag on and on, long after you've lost interest. Enemies and projectiles are large and easy to see, but the repetitive planes and robot enemies are the worst
. Your ship can transform into a mech to engage ground combat, but there's really no point. If you can make it through the first stage without dozing off, you'll encounter a boss that's instantly forgettable (I think
there was a boss). You can collect power-ups, but since your ship is such a huge target it's difficult to maintain any significant firepower. Robotech doesn't even bother to keep score, so apparently the whole point is to see how long you can tolerate the monotonous gameplay. Adding insult to injury is the atrocious soundtrack, which sounds suspiciously like random keys being hit on a Casio keyboard. Why does this game exist? © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, GameFAQs.com