Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
For those having to decide between this and the Playstation 2 version of Madden 07, either one will do, because both are practically the same. The differences are slight. I thought the graphics looked a bit "softer" on the GameCube, at least on my high definition television. There are fewer awkward "pauses" after plays than in the PS2 game, resulting in slightly more fluid contests. Some of my friends also noted that the audio (especially the crowd) sounds cleaner. One important aspect to take into account is the controller. If you're used to a PS2 button layout, you may find the GameCube configuration awkward. Fewer buttons necessitates holding multiple in for certain functions. For example, you need to hold in the right trigger and hard-to-reach Z button to bring up the passing icons. Of course, once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. The best new features are the "lead block" controls and the new "highlight stick" that lets you perform nifty moves while eluding tackles. The worst addition is the analog kicking stick, which effectively makes the kicking game predictable and boring. The music is pretty awful, but overall Madden NFL 07 is a solid, competitive game with ample replay value. See the Playstation 2 review for further details. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Golf Toadstool Tour
Publisher: Nintendo (2003)
This new Mario Golf gets the job done but could have been a lot better. Toadstool Tour looks and plays very much like Mario Golf 64, but it's bogged down by glaring flaws and unwanted new features. The main new feature, and by far the most useless, is the "automatic" swing. This employs the standard swing meter, except you only need to push the "A" button twice - once to initiate the swing and once for power (the accuracy is random). Apparently this was meant to cater to the young kids, but it's ill-conceived. In order to circumvent this ridiculous "feature", you must press "B" on the second button press. It's a mess, but I still prefer it to Tiger Woods's "analog swing". Aiming and applying spin is intuitive enough, but getting a decent camera angle is another story. The game places a gaudy "grid" with flashy colors and moving dots over the location you're aiming for. These gratuitous visuals not only clutter the screen, but often hide the flag, hole, and obstacles! Adjusting this view with the C button is awkward and frustrating. Worse yet, after you putt, the camera stays trained on your golfer, so you don't even see your shot go in (or miss)! This is inexcusable. Not all the news is bad though. The graphics are very easy on the eyes, depicting tropical locales with rolling green hills and incredible water effects. There are plenty of classic Nintendo players available from the get-go, although you'll need to play a few rounds to open up the courses. Unfortunately, it seems as if most of the courses are either too easy or crazy hard - there aren't enough "middle-of-the-road" courses here, which is what most players prefer. The characters are nicely animated and quite entertaining as they celebrate or grimace after a shot. The music is pleasant and includes some nice steel drum music. But easily the best aspect of Toadstool Tour is its fast pacing. There's virtually no load time so you can play eighteen holes in a matter of minutes. And when you get tired of regular golf you can try "Ring Shot, "Club Slots", "Speed Golf", "Coin Shoot", or assorted other side games. In the end, Toadstool didn't live up to my lofty expectations, but it's not a bad choice if you're in a mood of a quick round of golf. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Kart Double Dash
Publisher: Nintendo (2003)
Kart games are always fun, but Double Dash perfects the formula, and is truly a joy to play. Each kart can hold two characters, one to drive and one to hang off the back and employ weapons. This two-man concept was first realized in the gladiator racing game Circus Maximus
(Xbox, 2002), and it was pretty effective in that game as well. While the second character doesn't make a huge
difference here, it does add a few subtle nuances to the strategy. Pairing up characters introduces weight factors, gives the ability to "juggle" power-ups, and lets you team up with a friend. Characters can switch places on the fly, and each can hold a different power-up. The tracks here are absolutely gorgeous, and many are reminiscent of the exotic worlds in Mario Sunshine. There's a tropical paradise, jungle, castle, and a desert track complete with a Sarlacc (for all you Star Wars fans out there). My personal favorite is the track that winds through a giant cruise ship - it's incredible! The one track I didn't care for was the giant rainbow, which incidentally appears at the end of every
Mario Kart game (and always sucks). Most courses tend to be wide open, so it's not difficult to stay on the road. Even if you do crash or get hit by a weapon, you're back in action almost immediately. All your favorite weapons are here, including the bananas, heat-seeking shells, and the lightning bolt that makes all the other racers tiny. You receive three shell projectiles at a time and can shoot them in a rapid-fire fashion. Control is responsive, although the handling depends on your character combination and vehicle. All the characters and most of the tracks are available from the start (thankfully), and the new Mario, Luigi, and Bowser "baby" characters are absolutely hilarious. The races are extremely fun and unpredictable, and the "Battle Modes" are also worth checking out. Double Dash is a must-have for GameCube owners, and for you non-GameCube owners, this may be the excuse you've been looking for. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
When the original Mario Party was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998, it was so well-received that it spawned a new genre of four-player "party" games. Since then, Nintendo has released sequels on an annual basis, but seem to be gradually running short on ideas. In fact, the series has degenerated to a point where many gamers actually feel animosity
towards it! After playing this seventh edition, I can see why. You'd think by now Nintendo would have honed Party into a sleek, mean, multi-player machine. Instead, it's slow, tedious, and sometimes arduous. As always, the idea is to traverse an oversized "board" while engaging in mini-games against your opponents. But too much of the game is spent paging through cutesy dialogue and waiting for spinning "wheels" to stop. I can forgive Nintendo using a lot of text up front to explain the rules, but it never lets up! Worst yet, much of the dialogue is worthless fluff like "Come back and see me again", or "Do try a mini-game again". You'll find yourself constantly pounding buttons in an attempt to expedite the process. The boards are attractive enough, but there are too many types of spaces to keep track of, and the use of various "orbs" needlessly complicates matters. One innovative (but ill-advised) feature is the inclusion of "voice-activated" games played with an included microphone that plugs into a memory card slot. These "mic" games are so weak that they smack of desperation. There's nothing more assinine that having to sit there and watch a CPU character play a solo mic game. What was Nintendo thinking
? Even the "normal" mini-games fall flat, with too many slot machine and dice games that require more luck than skill. When playing with four people, three players will often have to wait for one player to complete a solo mini-game, and that's just plain wrong
. Mario Party seems to have run its course, and if Nintendo wants to resurrect the series, they should forgo the gimmicks in favor of streamlining its slow, convoluted gameplay. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Power Tennis
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
The light-hearted tennis game looks like a sure bet at first glance, but it's seriously flawed. Mario Power Tennis allows you to play as fourteen Nintendo characters including Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Boo, Sky Gun, Wario, and a rather shapely version of Peach. The gameplay calls to mind Virtua Tennis
(Dreamcast, 2000), as you can "charge up" your shot if you can position your player early enough. Unfortunately, Power Tennis' control scheme is far more complicated than it needs to be. Although slightly simplified from Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64, Nintendo still makes you use combinations
of the A and B buttons to execute normal shots, lobs, drop shots, and slams! For example, a drop shot is performed by pressing A and then B, which is very
unintuitive and awfully easy to forget in the heat of competition. The graphics look absolutely terrific with its colorful courts, fluid animations, and shots that leave bright trails behind. There's one thing that really kills the gameplay however, and that's the ultra-annoying "power shot". Incredibly cheap, it allows a player to reach the ball from any
spot on the court - even if it's already whizzed by them! Performing a power shot initiates a wacky bit of animation like Donkey Kong Jr. strapping on a missile launcher, or Waluigi swimming through a pool of water (huh?). You'll really
get tired of watching these things. It would be annoying enough if these power shots happened once or twice per game, but they seem to occur on every frickin' volley
! I would love to turn that silly gimmick off, but sadly, that's not
an option. Mario Power Tennis has a tournament mode that lets you climb the ranks, but it inexplicably prompts you to "delete your game" after each tournament, which makes no sense at all. Also included are "gimmick master" tournaments featuring contraption-laden courts that change on the fly. These look great and add variety, but the gimmicks (such as sliding floor panels) are distracting at best and annoying at worst. A selection of mini-games is also included in the package, with highlights that include playing against an octopus or taking shots at ghosts in the windows of a haunted house. The games that require you to reconfigure mazes or paint pictures are just a headache. Mario Power Tennis was never produced in large quantities and can be hard to find. Perhaps Nintendo realized the game wasn't quite up to their usual high standards. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Superstar Baseball
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
As much as I enjoyed Mario Superstar Baseball, I'm irritated by its lack of fine-tuning. This should
have been the ultimate arcade-style baseball game. The randomized teams are composed of just about every loveable character you've ever encountered in a Mario game, including obscure characters like Boo, Goomba, Shy Guy, and Dry Bones. Nintendo fans will absolutely freak out
when they see these classic characters rendered in lush 3D. The baseball fields are a nice break from the usual, including Peach's castle with the trimmed hedges and Donkey Kong's jungle with a stream running through the outfield. Superstar Baseball's controls are simple as can be and responsive to boot, although selecting a base with the analog stick is a bit inexact. The games themselves are fast moving, action-packed contests with minimal lulls. Since there's no obligation to be realistic, Mario Baseball is able to forgo the more boring aspects of the sport. The default game length is only five innings, there's no bullpen to worry about, and you don't have to wait for the catcher to toss the ball back to the pitcher. But despite doing so many things right, Nintendo also screwed the game up in a number of ways. First off, it's awfully hard to hit the freakin' ball, and too many games turn into tedious pitching duels. This is supposed to be an arcade title, right? Even when you do make contact, the ball sails foul more than half the time! Hello? Didn't anybody bother to play-test
this thing? Worst of all, the brain-dead base runners take off on any contact whatsoever, resulting in an inordinate number of double plays. The umpire that calls balls, strikes, and outs is extremely annoying as well. Several four-player mini-games are also included, but these are marginal. Mario Superstar Baseball is a nice break from those "realistic" baseball games, but it's still disappointing. A little fine-tuning could have gone a long way with this one. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2002)
Rating: Teen (violence)
The original Metroid was an NES classic, and Super Metroid (1994) is considered by some to be the best game for the Super Nintendo. Both featured top-notch platform shooting in creepy, desolate space environments. Transitioning such a popular series to the third dimension turned out to be a monumental challenge. Originally intended to be a first-person shooter for the N64, the project was plagued with controversy, endless delays, and development team changes. All things considered, it's surprising that Metroid Prime turned out this good! Not only does Prime capture the distinctive flavor of the series, but you'll need to search high and low for a more polished
video game! The razor-sharp visuals, fluid framerate, and intelligently crafted stages are astonishing at times. It's amazing the level of detail they can squeeze onto one of those tiny Gamecube disks. Eerie sci-fi music and Alien-inspired corridors make you feel claustrophobic and paranoid. Despite adopting a first-person point-of-view, Prime's gameplay remains faithful to the series. Long-time fans will be giddy as schoolgirls as they behold awesome 3D renditions of bosses they battled in the previous Metroid adventures. Even some stages
call to mind the old games, like the timed escape sequence in the very beginning. A few original elements have been added to spice up the action, including visual devices called "visors" that allow you to scan objects, see in the dark, and even see through walls. You'll need to morph into a ball to squeeze through narrow openings, and the game wisely switches to a third-person view for this. You check your position by rotating 3D map, which is a lot of fun to manipulate. Metroid Prime's clever puzzles are far more thoughtful that the standard pull-the-switch stuff. You can only save your progress at specific locations, but these tend to be well placed. The controls are somewhat unconventional, and this has been a sticking point for many gamers. There's no strafe control (unless you're locked on), and that can be problematic. But the overall quality and playability of Metroid Prime is more than enough to win over any skeptics. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Metroid Prime 2 Echoes
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)
The first Metroid Prime was great, but the Echoes follows the same formula too closely, and it's already starting to wear thin. The graphics and audio of both games are practically identical, so if someone walked into the room they wouldn't be able to tell if you were playing the original Metroid Prime or Echoes. It doesn't feel fresh or new, but Echoes is certainly huge
. It offers excellent shooting action, easy platform jumping, and thoughtful puzzles set in bleak alien landscapes and subterranean worlds. Morphing into a ball is key, and in certain areas you can even launch yourself like a cannon ball. This new chapter revolves around the idea of "light and dark aether", which failed to win me over. We've seen the concept in other Nintendo titles, and it seems to promote a lot of backtracking. I found Prime 2's storyline confusing, and many cut scenes left me wondering what the heck just happened. The control scheme is unchanged, which is surprising considering how many fans of the first game clamored for a strafe move. You can only save your progress at special "beacons", and while these are strategically placed, you'll usually breathe a huge sigh of relief when you reach one. Echoes also features a four-player split-screen mode, but I didn't find the redundant, closed-in environments of to be very conducive to shoot-outs. Echoes isn't as much fun as the first game, but it's still the same high caliber of first-person shooting action, and for some gamers, that's enough. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Nintendo.com, Sega.com