Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Rating: Everyone (10+)
The VGC loves originality, and Odama has it in spades. Its gameplay is an unlikely hybrid of real-time strategy (RTS) and - get this - pinball
! The action takes place on a screen-sized battlefield set in ancient Japan. In the midst of a huge battle, the object is to have your soldiers transport a large bell through a gate at the top of the screen. Using a pair of huge "flippers" on the bottom, you propel a huge black iron ball (the "Odama") across the battlefield, knocking out obstacles and steamrolling any soldiers who get in the way (including your own). A special power-up causes the Odama to glow green, allowing it to "convert" enemy troops to your side. Odama's pinball gameplay is addictive, but the game falters in its attempt to incorporate voice recognition. You're supposed to issue vocal commands to your troops via the included microphone, like "press forward", "move left", and "rally". Unfortunately, it's rarely obvious when to issue each command (except when the game prompts you), and using the microphone in the heat of battle is distracting. I would prefer to just hit a button, or not have to worry about these commands at all. The targeting system for selecting groups of soldiers is quirky as well. Another big issue is the game's steep learning difficulty curve and excessive complexity. The second battle alone took me and a few friends literally hours
to complete, and subsequent battles have so many confusing objectives, it's hard to keep track of them all. Each battle is timed, so even when you seem to be making progress, the game can end abruptly if the clock runs out. As flawed as it is, however, Odama is still strangely compelling and addicting. My abysmal performance and lack of progress did not prevent me from playing Odama for hours on end. The ancient Japanese theme is artistic and unusual, and has an off-beat, self-deprecating sense of humor. Odama could have been a winner if it were easier and less complex. I love to see innovation like this, but I could really do without the frustration. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
One Piece: Grand Battle
Publisher: Bandai (2005)
Rating: Teen (cartoon violence)
Based on the Japanese cartoon series, One Piece Grand Battle is a pirate-themed one-on-one fighter in the tradition of Power Stone (Dreamcast, 1999). As you listen to rap music playing over the intro, it slowly dawns on you that this is not
your standard Pirates-of-the-Caribbean fare. Actually, you can't really tie One Piece to any
time period, because the series is set in its own universe. The main character "Luffy" is a kid in a straw hat that longs to be "king of the pirates". The other characters include a freak with a pointy nose, an evil clown
pirate, a dude with Freddy Krueger hands, and a guy dressed in a suit (just as I feared - a Republican!
). At its core Grand Battle is a series of one-on-one fights in constrained environments like a castle courtyard, a quaint village, a swimming pool, and a wooden ship. The stages are not spectacular, but they are true to the source material. One Piece fans will appreciate how so many of the secondary characters on the series make cameos throughout the game. The attempt to emulate the Power Stone formula comes up short. It's possible to unleash some nifty attacks, but it's hard to target an opponent who's jumping all over the place. Tapping certain button combinations will unleash a barrage, but more often than not you'll initiate an elaborate chain of moves in the wrong direction
. The special moves are enhanced with slow-motion close-ups, and it's always satisfying to witness a devastating roundhouse kick to the chops. Opening chests can reveal power-ups, but beware of poisonous mushrooms. The matches tend to be frantic, and it's pretty exciting when they come down to the wire. One Piece fans will relish the details of Grand Battle, but may be disappointed at the lack of a Japanese voice track. Anime fans can bump up the grade by a letter, but others might find the subject matter a little hard to grasp. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Simon and Shuster (2002)
Rating: Teen (Mature sexual themes, mild violence, strong language)
Outlaw Golf is an irreverent take on the sport, featuring "colorful" characters, suggestive commentary, and wacky gameplay. It sounds like an edgy version of Hot Shots, but it's not even in the same league. The cast of juvenile delinquents and hotties is certainly original, but their antics are more immature than funny. You can't help but like the sexy babe with the hot cheerleader caddy, but others like the redneck and white homeboy are just annoying. Likewise, the smart-ass commentary is terribly corny to the point of embarrassment. The graphics are actually quite good, with smooth green rolling hills and slick fairways, but Outlaw's gameplay falters badly. This whole "analog swing" business has got to go
! Its implementation here is even more aggravating than EA's Tiger Wood's Golf. Power is difficult to gauge, and the various indicators are totally confusing. Adding insult to injury, poor play results in a decreased "composure", making the game even harder! You can recoup composure by beating up your caddy, and this goofy sequence employs a standard meter that should
have been used to swing your club! Other annoyances include poor course design and lengthy pauses in the action. I normally enjoy whimsical sports games, but Outlaw Golf really turned me off. NOTE: After posting this review, I received the following email from Simon and Shuster: "Hi.. I saw your review of Outlaw Golf. While I can appreciate that is your opinion of the game.. no site gave us a "F" for the title. The lowest we got was a C or C- and that was because of the swing control. Needless to say I've had to remove you from future console titles as my boss was furious. Sorry about this.. Regards" © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2002)
This could have been called "Battle of the Namco Stars" because it really isn't a Pac-Man game at all. No, Pac-Man Fever is a four-player party game starring Namco characters like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroth (Soul Calibur), Heihach (Tekken), Reiko (the hot Asian chick from Ridge Racer), and some black dude with a big Afro. Three game "boards" offer medieval, tropical, and space themes, but none are particularly interesting. I enjoyed the pulsating techno music of the space stage, but the looping flute of the medieval stage was almost unbearable. You can select from three games lengths, including my personal favorite, short. Fever's gameplay consists of moving a random number of spaces (no dice roll necessary) and collecting coins that help you reach the finish line. The rules are fairly simple and the contests move along at a steady pace. Of course, a party game is only as good as its mini-games, and Pac-Man Fever's are a mixed bag. For every fun event like dart throwing, there's some kind of irritating "whack a mole" crap. I did find it interesting how certain games are inspired by old classics like Kaboom, Pong, Beamrider, and Tron Deadly Discs. The instructions preceding each are minimal, but figuring out what to do is half the fun (although some of my friends would dispute that). Pac-Man Fever is entertaining with multiple players, but one heinous design flaw nearly ruins the whole affair. The last four spaces of each board have special conditions that make it easy to become hopelessly stuck on them while the rest of the field catches up. It really doesn't matter how well you performed during the course of the game, because invariably everyone ends up bunched up in those last few spaces! Even so, Pac-Man Fever still compares favorably to the recent crop of mediocre Mario Party games. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Pac-Man World Rally
Publisher: Namco (2006)
I was tempted to call this generic racer uninspired, but in fact it is very much inspired
- by Mario Kart of course. Pac-Man World Rally is one of those cookie-cutter games that briefly teeters on the precipice of "rip-off" before plunging head-first into the abyss!
I was hoping for a refreshing twist on the Mario Kart formula, but World Rally left me feeling a little empty. The characters include all members of the Pac-Man family (including Ms. and Jr.) and the four ghosts (Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde). There's even a few extra characters tossed in like Spooky the ghost and Erwin the mad scientist. Track locations include jungles, volcanoes, swamps, and of course the obligatory pirate level (required by law in 50 states!). The graphics are clean and the haunted house stage is one of the best Halloween tracks I've played. The single player mode lets you unlock new stuff, and up to four players can compete via split screen. World Rally sounds like a winner but it's less than the sum of its parts. The weapons are poorly designed and some deal more damage to you
than your target. The frame-rate is consistently smooth, but the manner in which characters tend to bob and weave made me feel nauseous after a while. The tracks are perfectly reasonable in length but there are too many laps
, and there's no way to adjust that!
This can make the multi-player mode really boring - especially when someone pulls out to an early lead. Each stage plays a different rendition of the same Pac-Man musical theme
, and boy, that gets old in a hurry. Pac-Man World Rally is technically sound, but it lacks the effervescent spirit of Mario Kart. After a few races I felt like I was just going through the motions. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Submitted by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
As the sequel to the popular Nintendo 64 game (2000), The Thousand Year Door beings with Princess Peach sending Mario a treasure map and inviting him to a distant island away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Before she can meet him however, a mysterious group called the X-Nauts abducts her. To save her, Mario, along with several likable allies, must use the map to locate seven crystal stars and open a large magical door. The game is divided into several chapters separated by intermissions starring Peach, the X-Nauts, and Bowser. These benefit from a snappy, witty script that constantly pokes fun at the Mario franchise, often breaking the "fourth wall" (or as we call it in pencil-and-paper role-playing, "Talking Over the Table"). Paper Mario has slight platform elements, and each ally has a special ability like hiding in shadows or blowing up cracks in a wall. Mario has "paper" abilities like folding into an airplane or slipping through thin spaces. Most of the action however lies in the combat. Mario can jump or use his hammer during a fight, and as you collect crystal stars, his abilities expand. Your attacks are augmented by timed button combos which incur additional damage, and thankfully they're very simple
to enter. Only Mario and a single ally can engage in a fight at a time, and if Mario runs out of health the game is over - even if your ally is still standing. Battles take place on a stage in front of a cheering audience, and the audience will replenish your star power when you use crystal star abilities. Collectible badges add combat bonuses or new attacks, although some have silly effects like changing Mario's clothing. My one serious gripe is that you can only carry a few items at a time. Staying true to the Paper Mario roots, Thousand Year Door does an amazing job of rendering 2D characters in a 3D world. I was dumbfounded by how many sprites could be animated on the screen at a time with no lag
. Everything looks crisp, smooth, and brightly colored, albeit simple. The music is enjoyable but understated, and you'll occasionally recognize a recomposed tune from another Mario game. There's no voice acting, but occasionally Mario will exclaim "Wah-hoo!" or Bowser go "GWaaaaRrr!". One thing that blew my mind is how upon beating the game, you can save your progress and actually "play" in the post-end-of-story world! Everyone you encounter will thank you for your bravery or tell you how great you are, and you have the opportunity to do things you didn't get a chance to do the first time through. To sum up, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is a light-hearted, clever, and funny experience. It has a great story but is slightly repetitive and occasionally frustrating. GameCube or Wii owners will find it worthwhile, and RPG fans may even want to bump it up to an A-.
Completed In: 31 Hours
Favorite Character: Vivian © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
People who complain about the lack of originality of video games owe it to themselves to give Pikmin a try. Best described as a cross between Lemmings and Warcraft, Pikmin is brimming with all of the originality and charm you'd expect from a Nintendo original. Fun and addictive, it combines the simple controls of a console game with real-time strategy elements usually found on a PC. You control a little spaceman who's crashed into a planet and is attempting to locate 30 parts of his ship. By enlisting the help of small leaf-shaped creatures called Pikmin, you gradually retrieve the pieces and reconstruct your ship. The crux of the game involves raising groups of Pikmin and using them to retrieve objects. These little guys are cute and endearing, and their special abilities are indicated by their color. You can make the Pikmin perform several tasks in parallel, and they can even defeat monsters when unleashed in large numbers. The game showcases the Gamecube's power by letting you command up to 100 of these creatures at a time. Pikmin strikes a nice balance of action and puzzle-solving. The camera is sometimes an issue, but it doesn't dampen the fun. Once you get drawn into its little virtual world, you actually start empathizing for the little Pikmin. I truly felt guilty whenever I left a few behind at the end of a day, knowing they would be eaten by nocturnal carnivores. This game will appeal to both men and women of all ages. Although its gameplay wears thin over time, Pikmin will fascinate for hours on end. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Rampage: Total Destruction
Publisher: Midway (2006)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
Since 1986, the Rampage franchise has allowed gamers to fulfill the common fantasy of decimating major cities with enormous beasts like King Kong and Godzilla. But the series has aged poorly. It seems as if the more its graphics improve, the less challenging and more pointless it becomes. In Total Destruction, the action has gone fully 3D, and is all the worse for it. Stage locations include Las Vegas, San Francisco, London and Los Angeles, but they're just one set of boring buildings after the next. The goofy monster animations provide sporadic comic relief, and the gratuitous damage you can inflict is satisfying - for the first five minutes or so. The controls are erratic and imprecise. Kicking and punching is no problem, but picking up cars and latching onto buildings is problematic. It's really hard to do stuff that should
be easy. Bringing down a 10-story skyscraper is a piece of cake, but trying to damage a single-story building is nearly impossible. Why Midway assigned "jump" to the "A" button is beyond me, because it's generally worthless. Total Destruction's lack of difficulty is another major issue. The game goes on forever, and you'll quit out of sheer boredom long before you'll run out of lives. Ironically, Total Destruction renewed my appreciation for the first Rampage (1986), which is also included on the disk (along with Rampage World Tour, 1997). I was never a big fan of the original back in the day, but at least you can play the game in a few minutes, and its graphics have an old school charm. Rampage Total Destruction just goes to show that "more" doesn't always mean "better", and in this case at least, it means much worse. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bam (2002)
Rating: Teen (Violence)
Based on a movie that nobody has even seen, Reign of Fire places you in an all-out war between dragons and humanity in the year 2024. It begins with a series of missions in well-armed jeeps and tanks, but later actually lets you play the role of the dragons! Reign does a fine job of making you feel as if you're in the middle of a large-scale conflict, with raptor-like "jackyls" attacking from the ground and huge dragons swooping in from above. Your arsenal includes rapid-fire machine guns, rockets, and heat-seeking missiles. Since you are part of a larger fighting force, you don't need to do all the work yourself. In fact, the key to surviving most missions seems to be: a) Keep moving, b) Keep shooting, and c) Don't wander too far off. Unless you have guided missiles, it's hard to tell if you're inflicting damage, and the dragons will sustain many
hits before they die. Your vehicle is constantly set on fire, requiring you to find water ASAP, which can be a real pain. A small scanner identifies enemy positions, but you can't distinguish if they're approaching by air or land. Reign's graphics are surprisingly detailed, and the post-apocalyptic earth looks both desolate and beautiful. The dragons look so realistic that if they did in fact exist, I'm betting they would look exactly
like these. It's quite a rush to see one of these huge beasts turn around in the distant sky, lining you up for their next attack run. Some dragons will even pick up large objects and drop them on top of you! I once did a double take as I watched a boat
fall onto one of my tanks! The fire effects are completely convincing, and a dramatic musical score fits well with the explosions and rampant carnage. Reign of Fire lacks polish however, causing my mood to alternate between excitement and aggitation. The difficulty of the missions is wildly uneven - some are incredibly hard while others require little effort. The frame rate gets a little rough when things get hectic, and the load times are easily the longest I've seen on the GameCube. Clips from the movie are interspersed with the stages. Despite its lack of polish however, Reign of Fire's visually compelling action is exciting enough to keep you coming back for more. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Violence)
The granddaddy of survival horror has returned to reclaim its crown! The original Resident Evil, released in 1996 for the Playstation, was the first genuinely frightening video game. Trapped in a house full of zombies, traps, and puzzles, you had to brace yourself for each new room. Several sequels expanded the scope of the original, but rarely matched the level of hair-raising thrills. In light of that, remaking the first Resident Evil makes a lot of sense. Even those who played through it the first time around shouldn't hesitate to pick this up. With dramatically improved graphics, a new room layout, relocated monsters, and better puzzles, it's practically a whole new game. For horror movie buffs, it's like the difference between Evil Dead I and II. The cheesy live-action scenes from the first game have been replaced with some jaw-dropping CGI work. The mansion interior is spectacularly detailed and magnificently gothic and ornate. Lightning flashes and shadows from trees reflect realistically on the walls. New areas include a decrepit old graveyard. All the scenery is pre-rendered, which is both good and bad. On the positive side, pre-positioned camera angles allow for some downright creepy cinematography. For example, at the end of one long hallway you may see the faint image of a mysterious figure. On the other hand, you can't adjust your view, and it's occasionally frustrating to obtain a decent camera angle. The music effectively builds tension, and improved voice acting makes the awkward dialog sound halfway credible. Shrill screams and ominous groans will send tingles down your spine. While the graphics and audio are stellar, you still have to deal with a rather clumsy control scheme that really hasn't changed much since 1996. A targeting system makes it easy to locate monsters, but aiming at close range can be maddeningly difficult. As in past Resident Evil games, you'll need to juggle a lot of items, and you're carrying capacity is very limited. It seems like whenever I find a new item I need, I don't have any place to put it! One clever new gameplay element is the "defensive weapon". These special weapons (including a dagger) let you subdue your enemies after
they've gotten a hold of you. Just don't confuse the dagger with the knife like I did. Another major change is the ability for some monsters to follow you from room to room
. The first time this happens, you'll feel like you've lost what little sense of security you had. And the monsters don't go down as easy as they did in past games. Remember, they aren't dead until the music stops! Resident Evil is an all-time classic, and you're sure to be terrified by this slick, updated two-disk edition. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
No game is perfect, but Resident Evil 4 (RE4) comes about as close as you can get. I'm starting to think this could be the best video game I've ever played
. A masterpiece of great length and substance, RE4 is such a huge leap forward for the series that it doesn't even feel
like a Resident Evil game. Perfectly conceived with originality to burn, the game is madly addictive and supremely satisfying. What makes it so compelling? First of all, the rural mountainside setting is pure genius, bringing to mind films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blair Witch, and Night of the Living Dead. The desolate forest is so fully-realized that it's practically a character in and of itself. Although your movements are limited to a predetermined path, you'd never know by the natural-looking surroundings. The dilapidated old houses you stumble upon look authentic and foreboding. You even explore an old church on a hill surrounded by a graveyard - it doesn't get much better than that. The adventure begins on a dark cloudy day, and only gets scarier as night falls and a thunderstorm rages. Resident Evil 4's audio adds to the sense of urgency with harrowing sound effects that seamlessly meld with the haunting musical score. The perfectly balanced gameplay features brisk pacing, extraordinary variety, and a very reasonable difficulty level. The puzzles are interesting but mercifully easy. Don't rest during the cut-scenes, because "quick action events" prompt you to hit certain buttons at critical moments to escape injury. The game constantly keeps you on guard, but you never feel hopelessly stuck. When you die, you always continue close to where you left off. The storyline involves rescuing the President's daughter from a cult, and you'll spend a large portion of the game escorting her to safety. Instead of conventional zombies, RE4 features chanting monks and brainwashed townsfolk armed with pitchforks, torches, and axes. The violence is unflinching, and when a farmwoman freaks out after being shot in the face, it's actually quite disturbing. But nothing
strikes more fear in this game than the sound of a chainsaw
- it's downright alarming. RE4's control scheme may seem awkward at first due to the lack of a strafe button, but the limited mobility just adds to the tension. The over-the-shoulder view is a nice compromise between a first-person shooter and third-person adventure, and the jumping controls are practically automatic. Your firepower is astounding, and a powered-up shotgun can blow several attackers across a room with a single blast. The game incorporates a surprising amount of sniping action, so before you enter a new area you'll want to weed out as many creatures as you can from a distance. Unlike previous RE games, item management is not tedious at all, and a mysterious cloaked figure appears every so often to buy and sell goods, or upgrade weapons. A testament to RE4's greatness is how many memorable moments are packed into this single game, including a battle with a giant "troll" monster, a wild encounter on a ski lift, a crazy mine cart ride, and a row-boat sequence as thrilling as the movie Jaws. It should be noted that the game is definitely intended for mature audiences, due to excessive violence and gore, along with use of the "S" word. Although it never takes itself too seriously, there are some genuinely intense moments and gruesome images. Resident Evil 4 is one for the ages. The bar for survival horror has now been set very, very high. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Resident Evil Zero
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Gamecube owners are fortunate that these excellent Resident Evil titles are exclusively available on their system. Resident Evil Zero and the original Resident Evil remake released last year (2002) are two of the very best Gamecube titles. Although I didn't find this chapter as terrifying as most, Zero still delivers it share of thrills and is quite enjoyable. Zero is actually a prequel, revealing the backstory of the first Resident Evil. While the narrative is somewhat interesting, the main draw here is the classic gameplay we've come to know and love. Zero features fixed-camera angles and pre-rendered scenery. The level of detail is absolutely stunning, but a major drawback is how you can't adjust the view. These graphics surpass anything I've seen in a survival horror game, with driving rain, aged wood furniture, and subtle lighting effects that are nothing short of spectacular. Even the characters move with a certain grace rarely observed in a video game. The story begins with Star Team member Rebecca Chambers (very cute by the way) in a train full of dead people - an intriguing setting to say the least. Walking down aisles of dead passengers, you know it's just a matter of time before they get up and start shambling around. After the train moves and eventually derails, the action moves to more familiar surroundings - a research center which resembles an old mansion (oh no - not again!). Zero may tread on familiar territory, but at least its puzzles go beyond the standard "find the key and unlock the next door" variety. You often have to examine and combine items, as well as work together with a partner
. That's right - Rebecca must join forces with an escaped convict. Having a partner backing you up is comforting, but it reduces the scare factor being isolated. Often your partner fights right along side of you, but occasionally he'll just stand there like an idiot. You can switch between characters on the fly and even exchange items. The helpful map feature not only displays the room layout, but also tracks objects you've found or dropped. One new innovation is how you can now drop an item anywhere
- you no longer have to search for a chest. As an unwanted side effect, it's easy to pick up the wrong item when too many are lying around. I don't like how each character only has six item slots, with some weapons taking up two of them! You'll need to do a lot of item juggling to stay well-equipped. Like past RE games, you'll use ribbons and typewriters to save you place, which always provides a feeling of relief. Control is a bit clumsy, and this time there's no auto-aim - you'll need to turn slowly
towards your target. But these are minor issues. Resident Evil Zero is like a good book - it's absorbing and hard to put down. I have to confess I didn't feel the same degree of fear as I've felt in past games, perhaps because I've become too familiar with the series. I've seen dogs jump through windows and zombies burst out of closets before - you almost come to expect that kind of thing. Newcomers are in for some surprises however, and long time fans will feel right at home with this well-designed game. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Nintendo.com, Sega.com