Publisher: Nintendo (2003)
This is the latest entry in Nintendo's long running series that began on the SNES (F-Zero, 1991). A futuristic racer with hovering pod-shaped cars and fantastic tracks, F-Zero GX aspires to new heights but never quite gets off the ground. Still, I can't deny that it looks great
. The gravity-defying tracks wrap around futuristic metropolises, elevated casinos, deserts infested with giant worms, semi-submerged water cities, and the obligatory volcanic locations. But while the stage intros make you think you're in for a treat, the wide tracks and low viewing angle makes it hard to see much eye candy during the actual races. Incidentally, the more outrageous tracks are the least
fun, because they provide too many opportunities to fall off the track, abruptly ending your game. The racing action is incredibly fast and the frame-rate remains silky-smooth at all times. I can appreciate the breakneck pace, but the tight turns and over-sensitive controls can lead to frustration. Unlike most racers where you compete against a modest number of opponents, F-Zero GX places you in a field of 30!! It sounds awesome, but there are a few negative side effects. First off, you're constantly banging into other racers, and sometimes you feel like a pinball bouncing around. Also, the cars tend to bunch up, so you to tend to finish either in the top three or dead last. There are a few attack moves (like a sideways spin attack), but these are so weak you'll wonder why Nintendo even bothered. Up to four players can compete via split-screen, but like the single-player mode, it's only mildly amusing. The soundtrack features plenty of up-tempo beats, but nothing particularly memorable. F-Zero GX is a serviceable racer, but it's not a stand out title. It took me a long time to review this game, mainly because I kept hoping it would get better, but it never did. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Freekstyle is widely referred to as "SSX on motorbikes", but if you've played any of the SSX snowboarding games, you know that's not necessarily a bad thing. Freekstyle provides an exhilarating racing experience with roller coaster-like tracks and a silky smooth frame-rate. Performing mid-air tricks is done by pressing button combinations, which in turn cranks up your turbo meter. Whether playing the single-player mode or two-player split-screen, your adrenaline will be pumping as you fly off huge ramps and glide hundreds of feet through the air. Freestyle has a grungy appearance, with tough-looking racers, industrial locations, and a hard-rocking soundtrack. Some of the female riders are pretty hot. While Freekstyle is mostly fun, it has a few minor annoyances. First of all, having to race the same tracks over and over in single-player mode gets old, especially since they tend to be so damn long
. The game is also very unforgiving when it comes to nailing the landing after a trick. You'd better be seated for a full second before you hit the ground or you're sure to wipe out. Finally, this game seems to keep races artificially close, letting you unfairly come from behind, or lose a substantial lead in the final homestretch. It's definitely rough around the edges, but this "extreme" racer is still worth a look. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Godzilla Destroy All Monsters
Publisher: Infogrames (2002)
Rating: Teen (violence)
As a child, I spent countless Saturday nights watching "creature feature" movies on our local independent broadcast channel (channel 45 in Baltimore). Our TV was black and white and the reception was lousy, but I could still make out huge beasts like Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra fighting each other and demolishing miniature cities. Fast-forward 25 years and I see Godzilla Destroy All Monsters
at Best Buy - a no-brainer purchase if there ever was one. No matter how good or bad this game was, I had
to have it. Destroy All Monsters is a 3D fighter with modern cities serving as the battle arenas. Green lines indicate the fighting boundaries, which looks pretty lame but is necessary I suppose. The all-star lineup features eleven towering monsters, including Rodan, Mothra, Gigan, Megalon, Mechagodzilla, and two
versions of Godzilla. If hearing these names gets you excited, you may even want to bump up my grade a bit. The fights themselves are pretty preposterous, but let's face it - that's how they were in the movies too! It's like a wrestling match on a huge scale. Creature movement is somewhat slow, but that makes sense considering their immense size. Projectile attacks like Godzilla's fire breath and Gigan's laser eye add some variety to the melee carnage. Less impressive is how the monsters interact with the buildings. The collision detection is hit or miss, and buildings always collapse as a single unit. Whether you smack one with your tail, or get body slammed into it, the whole thing implodes as if a demolition crew had it rigged. I was hoping for something a little more sophisticated. Godzilla's graphics are only average, but the excellent sound effects seem to be lifted directly from the original films. Destroy All Monsters gets extra credit for not
taking itself very seriously. Some cut scenes poke fun at the old movies, and I love how the police report stuff over the radio like "Megalon has won. Repeat - Megalon has won." This game really grew on me. There's actually a good deal of technique involved in combat, and as the city gets leveled, the dynamics of the battle change. Fights tend to be close contests, and it's very satisfying to come out on top. You'll be playing until your fingers are sore trying to unlock all of the cities and creatures. The four-player modes are fun, especially since all the monsters are shown on a single screen (no split-screen). Godzilla Destroy All Monsters is a quality title and effectively resurrects those creature features of your childhood. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, The
Publisher: Midway (2006)
Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence, crude humor)
This turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Instead the kiddy-themed platformer I was expecting, The Grim Adventures of Bill & Mandy is a wild 3D fighting game! Much like Power Stone 2 (Dreamcast, 2000), it's every cartoon character for himself in a series of creepy environments. While not quite up to Power Stone standards (that game is a classic), Grim Adventures does offer the same brand of chaos, with satisfying attacks, unique weapons, and projectiles flying all over the place. The main characters are a pair of kids and a scythe-wielding grim reaper. Although targeted to the younger crowd, I found the game to be very funny and not the least bit irritating. In addition to going solo in the story mode, you can engage in four-player battles and even assemble teams. Weapons include flame-throwers, vacuum cleaners, and a "brain-sucking" gun. You can sometimes mount larger weapons like giant crossbows and mech warriors. When it's time to finish off an opponent, you execute a G-rated Mortal Kombat-style "fatality" by pressing a button sequence displayed on the screen. On the downside, when things get hectic it can be hard to tell what's going on, and targeting a specific character is tricky. What put this game over the top for me was the Halloween theme, with fun locations like pumpkins patches, graveyards, laboratories, and Egyptian tombs. As the battles progress, the environments constantly change, keeping things fresh. I really like the cell-shaded graphics because it really does feel like you're playing a cartoon. The soundtrack is whimsical and fun with a nice macabre undertone. It's not exactly original or polished enough to be an upper-tier title, but there aren't many games like Grim Adventures on the market. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Treasure (2003)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
Shooters of recent years have succeeded in filling the screen with projectiles and explosions, but few have exhibited any real signs of innovation. And at first glance, Ikaruga doesn't look like anything special, but it has a killer twist that's simple in concept but radical in terms of gameplay. Your ship can toggle its "polarity" (color) between black and white. All of your enemies and their missiles are also either white or black. Are you with me so far? Your rapid-fire shots do twice
the damage to enemies of the opposite color. Incoming missiles of the same color as you will not
harm your ship. In fact, you can absorb
them to increase your energy gauge! Fill this gauge completely and you can unleash a devastating attack by pressing the R trigger. The whole scheme is innovative and brilliant, creating a cerebral shooting experience like no other. You'll need to switch colors strategically as waves of black and white projectiles head you way. Once you get a feel for it, Ikaruga is fun and not nearly as confusing as it sounds. One downside to having all black and white enemies is that the graphics, while certainly sharp, look rather sterile. The enemies aren't very interesting, and the backgrounds reminded me of Silpheed for the PS2. Another issue is the screen size. Being a direct arcade port, the game is played on a rather narrow strip running down the center of the screen. An alternate option is to play the horizontal mode, where you play the game like a side-scroller. A two-player simultaneous mode is also included. Ikaruga is a fascinating shooter and it's challenging as hell. Shooter fans in particular will have a field day with this one. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2003)
With his career fading and popularity plummeting, former platform game star Kirby has been reduced to doing kart games in order to finance his sizeable crack habit. I've never been a huge fan of this obese pink ghost, and Air Ride isn't going to change that. This odd package offers a hodgepodge of games, but none are compelling enough to warrant a purchase. In fact, a few of these gave me a splitting headache! The main event is the "Air Ride" mode, with its imaginative tracks that loop and curl all over the place. Like Mario Kart, a split screen mode lets up to four players compete. Remarkably, only the A button is used during the race. This is meant to simplify things, but using one button for multiple functions actually tends to confuse
matters. Its primary function is to slide and boost around corners, but it can also be used to swallow animals and objects in your path - giving you special abilities. These abilities can alter your handling or let you to attack opponents. The courses are wild and attractive, but the constant turns and vertigo-inducing heights made me ill. It's often hard to figure out where to go - not only in the split-screen mode, but even in the full-screen single-player mode. Invisible rails keep you from veering off track, but Air Ride is not an enjoyable experience, and the cringe-worthy "happy" music doesn't help matters. The second playing mode is the old-school "Top Ride", in which screen-sized tracks are viewed from overhead. Refreshingly simple and very competitive, this mode nearly redeems the entire package. Unfortunately, excessive power-ups and gimmicks render races more confusing than they should be. The constant zooming of the camera is also annoying - I wish it would remain wide-angle. And why isn't there a multi-track circuit? A third mode is the atrocious "City Trial" where opponents spend a few minutes wandering aimlessly around a virtual city, collecting power-ups before engaging in a "stadium event". These events include a Super Monkey Ball-inspired "target flight", a drag race, and a Twisted Metal-inspired Demolition Derby. If you can figure out what the hell's going on in the Demolition Derby mode, you're better than me. After one whirlwind contest, my friend Scott exclaimed, "Hey, I'm the winner - somehow!" That pretty much sums up Kirby Air Ride. Nintendo was all over the board with this one, and none of these games really hit the mark. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Publisher: Nintendo (2003)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
As a long-time Zelda fan, I've watched the series evolve since the first edition was released on the NES back in 1986. I personally regard the third chapter, A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo, 1992) as the best in the series. I thought the more realistic Nintendo 64 editions were overrated, despite their technical excellence. But Wind Waker won me over completely and managed to live up to all expectations, and believe me, they were huge
. In a highly controversial move, Nintendo bucked the trend toward more realistic graphics and instead opted for a radical, cell-shaded cartoon look. In fact, the characters resemble those in the old "clay-mation" holiday specials. Decked out in a dorky green outfit, Link could easily be confused for the "dentist" in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Still, the game's overall appearance is gorgeous. The graphics are vibrant, fluid, and remarkably clean, with facial expressions that are pronounced and easy to discern. The core gameplay is classic Zelda, as you accomplish a series of lesser tasks while working your way towards an overall goal, which is to rescue your sister. Wind Waker's mechanics combine elements from all previous Zelda titles. You'll hack bushes for rupees, set bombs to clear obstacles, break pots for hearts, and buy items from shops. The automatic jump has been held over from the N64 era, along with the popular targeting system. Familiar music and sound effects will rekindle warm memories for long-time Zelda fans. In addition to its new look, Wind Waker introduces a few innovative concepts as well. You can hide in shadows to sneak past guards, view distant lands with a telescope, "sidel" along edges, mail letters, glide under a big leaf, swing with a grappling hook, and even "orchestrate" the wind. Wind Waker also has a nautical flavor that really distinguishes it from previous games, using a boat to sail between locations. The land areas you explore are never overwhelming, and you'll discover all sorts of addicting mini-games during your journey. There's a nice learning curve, though some may claim the game is too easy. I really like how you can fall from high places without incurring damage. You'll need to endure some verbose (but well-written) text dialogue, as well as cut-scenes that you cannot skip. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have to wrestle with the camera on a regular basis, but then again, I've come to expect that from this type of game. Wind Waker has a certain charm only found in Zelda games, and I appreciate how the game never takes itself too seriously. There's plenty of good-natured humor, like the little kid with snot hanging from his nose, and the fact that people give Link grief about his green outfit. You can tell that an extreme amount of effort went into every detail of the game, and the result is near perfection. The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker is truly a masterpiece that stays true to its roots while still feeling new and fresh. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
This long-awaited new Zelda epic manages to live up to some pretty lofty expectations. It plays similar to Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, 1998), but Twilight Princess is far greater in scope, pushing the GameCube system to its limits. It's difficult to find fault with its elegant gameplay, thoughtful controls, and rich, semi-realistic graphics. Our hero Link looks pretty cool - not dorky or effeminate at all. His quest is to vanquish a weird "twilight" state bestowed on the land by an unseen evil. Twilight Princess is a case study in good design. It's not particularly difficult, with rewards that come in measured amounts, and mercifully restrained use of bosses and cut scenes. It takes a while to gain traction, but once the training wheels are off, a captivating adventure unfolds. Zelda's combination of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat aren't unlike other games, but its polish, humor, and imagination are second to none. You might expect Nintendo to be running short on ideas for Zelda by now, but Twilight Princess brilliantly mixing familiar sights and sounds with bold original elements. Discordant horns usher in the appearance of weird, faceless ghouls which emerge from intentionally
pixelated portals. An improved boomerang weapon lets you lock onto multiple targets at a time, and iron boots come in handy in ways you've never imagined. The weak spot of the first boss is his ass
for Pete's sake (hell - that's pretty much worth an "A" right there). A shadowy fairy companion by the name of Midna not only provides helpful hints but also lets you make treacherous leaps at the touch of a button. The "twilight" serves as a "parallel plane" of sorts (a la Soul Reaver). Link assumes the form of a wolf in these dark areas, affording him new abilities like digging, tracking, and talking to animals. Controlling the wolf feels a lot like Okami (PS2, 2006), and the twilight effect even resembles the watercolor visuals of that game. Zelda's gorgeous graphics are detailed and lush, but the quirky, exaggerated characters help maintain a lighthearted mood. Load times are brief and well disguised, and you can save your progress at any time. If I have one reservation about the game, it would be the length. I'm sure RPG die-hards will cherish every moment of this 50-hour quest, but for casual adventurers the time commitment can be a bit extreme. The well-crafted dungeons had me captivated, but long stretches of exploring vast wilderness tried my patience and sent me searching for the FAQ. Regardless, I've clocked more hours with Twilight Princess than any other GameCube title, and I don't regret a minute of it. Pound for pound, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is an outstanding value and in all likelihood the last great GameCube title. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
This title fell under intense (and perhaps unfair) scrutiny as one of the GameCube's "launch" titles, with critics focusing more on its technical prowess than actual gameplay. Personally, I like how Luigi's Mansion takes an occult theme and turns it into a light-hearted family affair. Armed with a flashlight and vacuum cleaner, Luigi's objective is to find his brother Mario in an expansive haunted house. By shining the flashlight on ghosts at critical moments, Luigi can stun them, making them vulnerable to being vacuumed up. Reminiscent of Ghostbusters, vacuuming is done by holding the joystick in the opposite
direction as the ghost struggles to escape. Sucking up ghosts is fun, and controls have a certain fishing game quality. Lushly decorated with interactive furniture, each room becomes a little puzzle as you try to determine how its ghost(s) can be drawn out. Eventually you acquire the ability to unleash elements like fire, providing additional possibilities for puzzle solving. Luigi's Mansion is an entertaining little game, but there's a learning curve involved, and aiming your vacuum with the C stick is awkward. Some of the puzzles are tough, and even in the early going some gamers are bound to become stuck. Even so, there are a lot of little things about the game that will make you smile, like hearing the Super Mario Bros. theme in the music room, or discovering a hidden switch only visible from a mirror on the far wall. The graphics are good but unspectacular, although there are some slick lighting and fog effects. The clammy brick walls in the basement really caught my eye. The audio contains a number of catchy tunes in the minor key, and rich digitized sound effects are interspersed with old-school style sound cues. Luigi's Mansion tends to be under-appreciated, but GameCube fans will definitely want this one in their collection. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Nintendo.com, Sega.com