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Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
Grade: C-
Publisher: D3 Publisher (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/8/26
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes)

screenshotIf slashing up zombies with bikini-clad hotties is wrong, then I don't want to be right! Bikini Samurai Squad has a wonderfully absurd premise, but the same low budget quality that makes it appealing is also its downfall. The main character is a chick decked out in some cowboy stripper garb (complete with stockings and heels), and her younger sister dons a schoolgirl outfit. The opening cinematic features a very provocative shower scene - something you won't be seeing in the Wii version! Together these girls kick zombie ass all over town with the help of their swords and martial arts abilities. As zombies emerge from the concrete, you'll employ fierce button combinations to slice them up into tasty morsels. A radar displays shows where they are congregating, and that's helpful because the camera is always pulled very close. The gore meter is through the roof, and it's especially satisfying to plow into a gang and watch the blood wash over the screen. Occasionally you'll transform into a marauding zombie yourself, making the action even more over-the-top (if that's at all possible). The stages include a graveyard, hospital, and parking garage. There's not much to see, and little of the environment is destructible. You'll run up against a lot of arbitrary barriers, causing the message "you can't go here right now" to display. What is this, 1997? The fighting action is mindless fun, but it is certainly monotonous. Sometimes zombies will continuously regenerate in an area, causing you to ask, "when is this going to end?" The bosses include a pair of hideous "poop" monsters - not to be confused with attractive poop monsters. While hacking up the beasts, the game's clipping problems are on full display as sloppy polygons appear and disappear all over the place. Onechanbara's controls aren't very intuitive, but I do prefer this game's button-tapping over waggling the controller in the Wii version. Unlockables includes alternate outfits and a police chick armed with an Uzi and shotgun. I like the premise, but it's hard to recommend something as monotonous as Onechanabara. It takes a certain breed of gamer to appreciate a quirky title like this. You know who you are. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Orange Box, The
Grade: C+
Publisher: Valve (2007)
Reviewed: 2009/4/26
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, violence)

screenshotThis popular compilation includes three complete first-person shooter games: Half Life 2 (and its two sequels), Portal, and Team Fortress 2. Half-Life 2 (HL2) was originally released for the PC in 2004, and with its two expansion packs, there's a metric ton of first-person shooting action here. You play the role of scientist Gordan Freeman on the run from the law in a totalitarian society. As you traverse sewers and canals the game plays out like an action movie with pursuing helicopters, shoot-outs with police, and a generous helping of explosions. HL2's graphics have held up well. The textured walls look properly weathered and the water effects still look amazing. The sci-fi storyline is intriguing. Most adventures make heavy use of contrived cut-scenes, but HL2 conveys its narrative through in-game conversations, videos, and radio reports. The game does show its age when you get stuck on scenery or semi-transparent walls restrict your movement. Turrets let you mow down groups of baddies and you have to love those strategically-place red barrels. There's some tricky platform jumping (never fun in a FPS) and some absolutely heinous swimming areas. The sewers are loaded with irritating creatures that hang on the ceilings and lift you up with their tongues. Half-Life's audio makes heavy use of surround sound, but it can be annoying when you turn away from a person and their voice becomes muffled. The soundtrack features hypnotic futuristic beats that nicely fit the relentless pacing of the game. Also included on the disk is the on-line-only Team Fortress 2. My 360 isn't on-line, but my friends tell me this is a fun capture-the-flag shooter. Too bad they didn't include a split-screen mode! Last but not least, there's an interesting puzzle game called Portal, which makes heavy use of physics as you attempt to escape each room in a lab facility. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around this one, but I can't deny that it's brilliant. The female robotic voice that guides you has a deadpan sense of humor that's hilarious. "Touching the floor in this room will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record. Followed by death." As much as I appreciate the quality of these title, I could never play Orange Box for extended periods without feeling nauseous. I can't explain why - it must be the engine. Ultimately I can only grade this based on my personal experiences, but FPS lovers should probably bump the grade up by one letter. The ending to Portal in and of itself is probably enough to justify this package. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Otomedius Excellent
Grade: C+
Publisher: Konami (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/1/28
Rating: Teen (mild fantasy violence, suggestive themes, partial nudity)

screenshotClassic shooter fans (like me) should find this 2D shooter with 3D graphics very appealing. Otomedius Excellent's intro features an extremely catchy song playing over scenes of anime chicks assuming suggestive poses. (Scott's take: "I'm glad they didn't objectify women in this game! I was really concerned about that!") The game itself is a high-definition update of the classic side-scrolling shooter Gradius (NES, 1986). Instead of a space ship you control a chick on a glider with her legs dangling off of the sides. She's a big target, so it's good that the collision detection is so forgiving. Destroying red enemies release pods which you "trade in" to augment and upgrade your weapons. You'd expect the modern graphics to enhance the action, but that's not necessarily the case. The sparkling city in the first stage is gorgeous, reminding me of the one in Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast, 1999). The eye candy can be blinding however with bright scenery and layered backdrops that make it hard to see missiles or small enemies. The game exhibits an alarming amount of slow-down which I wouldn't expect to see on the 360. My friend Chris suggested it may have been intentional, but I'm not convinced. I see many signs that this was a lazy effort. The graphics are about Dreamcast quality, and the advanced stages are very dull. Some of the robotic bosses are extremely unimaginative, and the explosion effects are lame. A story mode lets you play through the game using unlimited continues, and a score attack lets you play for score. The highlight is probably the three-player mode that lets you team up with friends. I was very troubled by the fact that you can't record local high scores, especially when you consider that's the whole point of the game. I enjoyed the old-school gameplay of Otomedius Excellent, but the game fails to live up to its name. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 3 players 


Perfect Dark Zero
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/7/26
Rating: Mature (blood, language, violence)

screenshotIn this disappointing sequel to the popular N64 first-person shooter, you assume the role of special agent Joanne Dark. Not only does this shapely redhead look damn good, but she also specializes in high-tech firearms. Perfect Dark Zero's single-player missions emphasize stealth, but I managed to do fine despite blowing my cover again and again. One cool feature is your ability to "take cover" behind obstacles, only exposing yourself when you return fire. Most weapons have some kind of zoom function, so it's usually a good idea to weed out foes from a distance. Enemy soldiers tend to wear body armor, and it's satisfying to blast their vests to pieces. It's far more efficient to aim for the head however. Although the game purports to have an "auto-aim" function, I generally found it difficult to get a bead on my targets. The single-player missions feature some interesting locations including a submerged laboratory and a high-tech club overlooked by towering, sculpted skyscrapers. Unfortunately, the missions themselves are a mess, and if not for white arrows directing me every which way, I'd never know where the heck I was supposed to go. These missions can also be played cooperatively with a friend, but that's even more confusing. Perfect Dark Zero fares far better with regards to multi-player action. In addition to playing on-line, you can challenge your friends to a spirited four-player split screen contest. Better yet, you can toss up to 16 (!) CPU-controlled "bots" into the mix. Even playing solo against the bots can be fun, although they tend to bunch up in certain areas. The graphics and audio are fair but not exceptional. Perfect Dark Zero is not a must-have game for 360 owners, but if you're in the mood to bust some caps, it serves its purpose. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection
Grade: B+
Publisher: Crave (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/3/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI loved the Wii version of Pinball Hall of Fame, and was expecting this 360 edition to offer a dramatic visual boost. That wasn't my experience however. Yes, the graphics are a little sharper, allowing you to better discern certain targets when the camera zooms in. The thing is, you spend 95% of the game viewing the action from the far end of the table, so the fine details are lost. I really wish there was a mechanism to freely explore each table, because I'm always fascinated by the artwork. The 360 controls aren't as tight as the Wii. The flippers are controlled with the triggers, but they have too much "give" to feel responsive. In addition, jostling the table by moving the left joystick is less intuitive than shaking the controller. Pinball Hall of Fame does have a definite edge when it comes to table selection, as it offers three additional tables from the late 90's. Medieval Madness is one of the most sought-after pinball tables by collectors, featuring a wicked sense of humor and some hilarious animations. Arabian Nights boasts exotic music and transparent ramps that make the ball look like it's floating. No Good Gophers is less compelling, but at least it offers a family-friendly theme. Other tables include Gorgar, Black Knight, Space Shuttle, Funhouse, Sorcerer, Taxi, Firepower, Jive Time, and Pinbot. Each of these has been reproduced in exquisite detail, and the physics is good, if not a bit floaty. The machines are presented in a virtual arcade environment that feels like something out of the 1980's. In addition to recording high scores, each game is fully configurable and offers a series of challenges. Pinball Hall of Fame is an excellent value. This is one of those disks that you toss in for a quick game, and end up playing for three hours. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Grade: C+
Publisher: Disney (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/9/18
Rating: Teen (use of alcohol, violence)

screenshotMost games based on the Pirates franchise have been complete duds, so I was pleasantly surprised with the rich graphics, intuitive controls, and varied gameplay of At World's End. The awe-inspiring tutorial level is set on a stormy night in the towering sea fortress seen at the beginning of the second movie. You'll creep along soaring cliffs in the pouring rain, revealing some absolutely breathtaking views. Subsequent stages are less spectacular but still impressive, with exotic locations including the town of Tortuga, Port Royal, and the Davy Jone's haunted ship. Enemy pirates are rendered so meticulously that you can actually see the hair on their backs! This attention to detail extends to the fantastic water effects and tiny flies buzzing around lanterns. When the scenery is this rich, exploring your surroundings and hunting for items is a lot of fun. Villages are bustling with activity, but if you look closely you'll see townsfolk disappear as they approach doors - a bit of lazy programming there. You'll control a number of characters on your quest including Jack Sparrow, William Turner, and Elizabeth Swan. Not only are these dead-ringers for the real actors, but they mirror their subtle mannerisms as well. Intuitive controls make it easy to jump, climb, and battle multiple foes at a time. Spicing up the action are advanced techniques that let you toss buccaneers off platforms, roll exploding barrels, and perform well-timed counter attacks. At World's End is gangbusters for its first few stages, but then I hit a few bumps in the road. The occasional one-on-one swordfights slow the pace considerably and control poorly. Several stages require you to control two characters by switching between them on the fly, and this is a colossal pain in the ass. You'll be having a great time swashbuckling as Jack Sparrow, only to be informed that your mission failed because Will Turner (who you forgot about) just got his ass kicked in another part of the tavern! Other stages feature annoying bad guys that continuously respawn until you defeat one specific (and often elusive) foe. Flaws like that tempered my enthusiasm for World's End, but the game does do a lot of things right. The stages are short, and your progress is saved automatically and frequently. Most enemies don't require an inordinate number of hits to defeat. The game features its own unique storyline, although it does borrow elements from the films. Its rousing musical score is very cinematic, and the surround-sound effects are sensational. Should you get lost or confused, you can just press the select button to view your objectives or review the controls. At World's End falters at times, but it's still a respectable effort that stays true to the movies it's based upon. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Plants Vs. Zombies
Grade: A
Publisher: Popcap (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/10/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI was skeptical about this previously-only-available-via-download title, but Plants Vs. Zombies eventually got the best of me. This game makes the hours just melt away. It's a comical, horror-tinged, real-time strategy (RTS) game played on a single screen depicting your back yard. Zombies approach slowly from the right, and your goal is to prevent them from reaching your house. Prior to each wave you select several carnivorous plants, mines, blockades, and special items to use. Once the action begins, you'll strategically place these items to fire pellets at the zombies, slow their progression, swallow them whole, or just blow them up. Your "currency" for planting items is sunlight, generated by sunflowers. You'll generally want to plant these early and often along the far left. Plants Vs. Zombies has a Warcraft vibe as you skillfully manage resources and multitask for maximum destruction. What sets this apart from other RTS titles is its simplicity and short stages. It's instantly gratifying yet endlessly playable. The adventure mode introduces one item at a time, and as your selection grows new strategies emerge. The cartoonish zombie horde features colorful characters including pole-vaulters, football players, and disco dancers. Things begin slowly but it doesn't take long for the fun to kick into overdrive. It's satisfying to watch your minions decimate the undead mob. A row of lawnmowers serves as your last line of defense, activating automatically when touched by a zombie. Plants Vs. Zombies isn't particularly hard, but it's just challenging enough to keep stringing you along. The animations are fun to watch and the moaning voices ("Braaaains...") are just hilarious. So how do you make a superb game like this even better? You add more ways to play, silly rabbit! Extra modes include co-op, survival, puzzle, bonus games, and even a versus mode that lets a friend control the zombies! Now how much would you pay? But wait - you also get two complete puzzle games as a bonus. Peggle is cross between pinball and Pachinko from the Price is Right. You shoot a fixed number of balls at colored pegs, and every peg hit disappears. There's a lot of bouncing around, and some of the most amazing shots are totally unintentional. It's crazy addictive and even my wife was hooked. The second puzzle game is a marble shooter called Zuma. While less compelling than Peggle, it's still fun and boasts rich sound effects and an amazing African soundtrack. All three games save your progress, but there are no local leaderboards. Even so, this is a terrific value considering how these games warp the time continuum and make crack look like a mildly addictive drug. This package sells for under $20, so run out and buy it immediately. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Pocket Bike Racer
Grade: D-
Publisher: King Games (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/12/22
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYeah, I know, you can't expect much from a $3.99 game you get at Burger King. Pocket Bike Racer plays like a third-rate Mario Kart knock-off, which of course, it is. The courses are set in everyday places like a suburban neighborhood, a construction site, a Burger King parking lot, and a farm where huge Whoppers grow from out from the ground. As you cruise around the lengthy courses, you can power-slide around corners, turbo-boost through straight-aways, and unleash weapons on opponents. The characters are entertaining enough, including a bulky hamburger called Whopper Jr., a "subservient chicken", a hot babe named Brooke Burke, and the King himself. There's really nothing wrong with the graphics. The King's flapping cape looks nice, and the puddles in the parking lot look remarkably realistic. The gameplay is the problem. Memorizing the tracks is everything in this game, and novice players will find themselves veering off the course at every turn. The turbo is hard to control, and much like the humorous commercials, King often finds himself plowing into walls. During one race, a friend advised me to check out Brooke Burke's ass, causing me to crash directly into a wall and become permanently stuck. Looking back, it wasn't a bad tactic. Pocket Bike's weapons are unimaginative at best, and irritating at worst. There's the "homing bottle rocket", firecrackers (mines), a "disruptor" that screws with the controls, and a blinding "flash bomb" that makes it look like the game is broken. The races are far too long, and tend to wear out their welcome after a lap or two. The menu music has a fun, whimsical tone, but the races are dominated by generic, grinding guitar riffs (ugh). There are tournaments to play solo and split-screen modes to accommodate up to four players. Since one friend thought the inclusion of mega-babe Brooke Burke was worth a letter grade, I'm bumping this one up to a "D-". NOTE: This game also plays on a regular Xbox, with slightly degraded graphic quality. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Project Gotham Racing 3
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/4/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYou'd think a "realistic" racing franchise like Project Gotham would be ideal for showing off the Xbox 360's graphic prowess, but initially my friends and I were not impressed. Yes, the cars look shiny and the scenery is nice, but judging from the standard behind-the-car point of view, it would be easy to mistake this for a regular Xbox title. Over time however, I did come to appreciate Gotham Racing 3 for its realism, and the fact that you can select from an assortment of quality automobiles right off the bat. The career mode stages are divided into conventional races and specific "challenges", each with a selectable skill level. These challenges include crossing a checkpoint at a certain speed, passing a number of opponents within a set time, or tediously weaving through cones (ugh). The track locations are realistic, set in New York, Tokyo, London, and Las Vegas. Being skilled in the previous two Gotham Racers, I thought I could dive right into this, but came to realize the controls feel a lot different. Specifically, the cars have a truer sense of weight and momentum, forcing you to rely on the brake and initiate power slides earlier. Even when you become accustomed to it, you'll still find yourself fishtailing and banging into guardrails. The cars model damage slightly, and but cannot be "tricked up" in any way. The VGC loves eye candy, and colorful locations like Las Vegas and Tokyo didn't let me down. While the degree of detail in the surroundings is not readily apparent while racing, using the right thumbstick to look out the side window reveals layer upon layer of rich, realistic scenery. Fortunately, the tracks tend to have long straight-aways that allow you to peek without smashing into a wall. You also have the option of racing at night, and the cities light up beautifully. On the downside, I noticed some unsightly alias effects in the distance, and the tree leaves look awfully chunky. The polygon spectators look rough up close, but at least they're an improvement over the cardboard cutouts we've seen in past racers. If this new generation of racers has progressed in any way, it's the elimination of that annoying pop-up (also known as "draw-in"). In Gotham 3, you can see buildings looming from a mile away, and they scale in very smoothly. One issue that has not been fixed by this generation is load times - they're back and longer than ever! Gotham 3's music is about average, but the sound of other cars creeping up from behind is amazing. A four-player split screen mode is available, but switching between user profiles is a complete fiasco. You actually need to backtrack all the way to the top menu to switch profiles, which is insane when you have to navigate about eight screens just to start a freakin' race! Still, if you're in the market for a racer with real cars and actual locations, PG3 is a quality title. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Project Gotham Racing 4
Grade: C+
Publisher: Microsoft (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/5/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis fourth entry in the Project Gotham series makes a few refinements to the basic formula, but the frachise is quickly becoming stale. Two new features are the ability to ride motorcycles and a new calendar-based career mode. Project Gotham 4 (PGR4) is an incredibly sharp-looking game with some amazing city skylines. The neon-lit Asian cities are an eyeful and the Vegas tracks are quirky, but the dreary tracks of St. Petersburg seem somewhat depressing. I enjoy the varying weather conditions, but where's the thunder to go with the lightning? The career mode has a lot of special events like weaving around pylons, passing a number of cars, time trials, and one-on-one challenges. The 360 controller triggers really come in handy for the pylon challenges, giving you a fine degree of control over your speed. The diverse events may sound interesting, but personally I'd prefer if the game stuck to basic, old-fashioned street racing. The "kudos" system is back, allowing you to earn points for executing special moves like power slides, slipstreaming, jumps, and burn-outs. PGR4 is more forgiving that previous Gothams, so a slight rub against a guardrail will not drain all of your kudos. New bonus "stars" are awarded for chaining together consecutive stunts. You rack up kudos whether you win or lose, which are used to upgrade and buy vehicles. PGR4 includes an arcade mode with a two-player split-screen, but the initial selection of cars is awful. In general, the handling in this game is extremely difficult. You'll use your normal brake and hand brake extensively - and sometimes even both at once! It doesn't help that the tracks are exceptionally narrow. There's a lot of loading in PGR4, and the eclectic music can be irritating at times. Project Gotham Racing 4 is a lot of game for the money, but it really could use an injection of excitement. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Pure
Grade: B
Publisher: Disney (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/10/10
Rating: Everyone


screenshotI really dig the reckless, half-way-out-of-control quality of off-road racing games, and Pure did not disappoint me. This ATV racer may not have the "wow" factor of MotorStorm (Playstation 3, 2007), but it's arguably more playable. The graphics didn't knock my socks off, but Pure certainly isn't a bad-looking game with its smooth rolling hills and amazing aerial views. Unlike Motor Storm, there's a nice variety of track locations including scenic national parks, European ruins, and tropical islands. The racing action is very engaging thanks to controls that feel realistic but are actually very forgiving and make it easy to stay on the course. Pure places a heavy emphasis on tricks, and in the "freestyle" mode you'll need to perform them almost continuously. I'm sure many of you are cringing with thoughts of memorizing complex button sequences, but thankfully that's not the case with Pure. When you catch air, you simply move the thumbstick in any direction while pressing A (easy trick), B (medium), or Y (difficult). You sometimes have time to perfect several tricks in succession, but leave yourself a little extra time to nail the landing! The camera follows you from behind, and your driver often looks back and comments on your driving skills, causing me to exclaim, "Dude! Keep your eyes on the road!" The courses are reasonable in length, and the shorter "sprint" tracks offer a nice change of pace. No matter what the outcome of a race, it seems like you're constantly showered with new events and parts for your ATV. If there's one aspect of Pure I didn't care for, it's the ATV customization system. While it allows you to tweak every tiny part, it's very tedious and hardly worth the effort (use the "auto-build" option instead). I enjoyed working my way through the single-player World Tour mode, but my friends lamented the lack of a split-screen mode. Chaotic racers like this are tailor-made for head-to-head action, and that on-line multiplayer is not going to cut it. Then again, the tracks would have been hard to follow on the split-screen, considering how they tend to branch so much. Pure is not a showcase title like Motor Storm, but it's definitely worthwhile on the strength of its satisfying single-player experience. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Rage
Grade: D
Publisher: Id Software (2011)
Reviewed: 2013/4/18
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotThis post-apocalyptic first-person shooter contains so many hackneyed elements that I was already sick of it ten minutes into the game! Rage takes place in a desert wasteland with fortresses cobbled together from junk, makeshift vehicles with mounted weapons, and mindless, screaming bandits. If you think it sounds like Mad Max, you hit the nail on the head. The characters have Australian accents for Pete's sake! As you team up with a ragtag band of slobs trying to survive, you'll have to run a lot of errands like fetching parts for a car. One load screen suggests, "Talk to everybody, there are a lot of jobs to be done". If you think that sounds enticing, well, you're the only one. As you creep through shacks you'll notice they are tastefully decorated with chunks of concrete, hanging skulls, and rusty pipes. Once you hear the Psycho music you know it's just a matter of time before some raving lunatic lashes out at you. The fights are intense but not especially fun. You can pump a guy full of lead and he'll still manage to get up and continue fighting. One original weapon is the "wing stick" which bascially functions like deadly boomerang. As in Fallout 3 there are tons of random stuff to collect including cans of corn, boxes of shoes, and assorted odds and ends. You can sell the stuff or use "engineering recipes" to construct items like bandages and antiseptics. When you find yourself building your own health items it's clear that the "build it yourself" concept has been taken too far. The game also has a few dual-thumbstick puzzles not unlike those in Dead Space 3 (Xbox 360, 2013). There's an auto-save function that doesn't kick in often, and the game actually advises you to "save early and often." What is this, 2005? Traveling between locations requires driving weapon-equipped vehicles, but the car combat won't give Twisted Metal a run for the money. Most of the multi-player modes are on-line only, and they are a herky-jerky mess. At least you get a few split-screen cooperative missions. Rage has some pretty decent production values but it feels like a trash heap of tired concepts. If you've played Borderlands, Fallout 3, or any other first-person shooter set in a wasteland, it's hard to get excited about Rage. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Raiden Fighters Aces
Grade: B+
Publisher: Valcon (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/6/21
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotI've always craved 2D shooters, but in recent years these have been relegated to Japanese imports or download-only games. Well, thanks to Raiden Fighters Aces, the happy days are back again! This disk offers top-notch old-school shooting action - on a real Xbox 360 disk! The first Raiden, released way back in 1990, offered sweet vertical-scrolling mayhem with satisfying explosions. This arcade compilation delivers the same type of thrills, but with enhanced graphics and a myriad of options. There are actually three games included (Raiden Fighters, Raider Fighters 2, and Raiden Fighters Jet), but they are all extremely similar, mainly offering different stages and aircraft options. You have a wide selection of fighter jets to choose from, each with unique handling and firepower characteristics. The stages are fairly conventional as you blast through well-fortified military bases in desert, harbor, forest, and snow-covered locations. You'll destroy bombers, tanks, jets, and ships of all sizes. The graphics are old-school all the way, looking like something you'd see on the Saturn - only higher in resolution. The action is non-stop but the difficulty is reasonable. Sure you'll need to "thread the needle" at times, but missile barrages rarely feel overwhelming. It speaks volumes that none of my friends blamed the game when they lost a ship. The high score is displayed on the top of the screen, and a rapid-fire button saves your thumb from pain. If there's a flaw with Raiden, it's the fact that it only consumes the middle third of the screen (typical of an arcade port). You'll hardly notice once you become immersed in the action, but to be honest, it's hard to give a game an A when it uses such a small portion of the screen! It's odd considering you can scroll the screen sideways a bit by "pushing" against either side. High scores are recorded along with initials (locally or on-line) and you can view your top scores on a ranking screen. It's also possible to record your complete play session, also known as a "gameclip." Raiden's menu interface can be a little confusing. You'll need to configure at least two continues to enable two-player action, and apparently high scores are not saved in this mode. After each game there are too many prompts about saving your gameclip. Enabling your profile is confusing as well. But these gripes are small potatoes compared to what this bargain-priced package has to offer shooter fans and old-school gamers. Buy Raiden Fighters Aces now and you won't regret it! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Raiden IV
Grade: B+
Publisher: UFO (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/1/25
Rating: Everyone (10+)


screenshotRaiden Fighters Aces (Xbox 360, 2009) was a terrific compilation, but I figured it was just a warm-up for Raiden IV. As it turns out, Raiden IV is not much different! The scenery looks more organic and the explosions have a bit more bass, but it's still basically the same game. As a vertical shooter ported from the arcade, Raiden IV is played on a narrow strip that only consumes about one-third of a high-definition screen. A special Xbox 360 mode is included, but instead of taking advantage of the additional real estate, it only offers extra stages. The eye candy is substantial, and I loved soaring over city skylines at night and cascading waterfalls by day. Unfortunately, when things get crazy (which is most of the time), the lush backgrounds get totally lost in the chaos. Your firepower is fierce, and it only takes a minute or two to build it up to insane proportions. Colored icons let you switch between three types of weapons, but I prefer the red "spray" variety. The blue laser is too narrow, and the purple "snake" weapon tends to clutter up the screen, which is already bombarding my senses with activity. Its gameplay is old-school all the way, but Raiden IV veers a little too much into "extreme" territory. In the midst of the chaos you'll find yourself using bombs almost exclusively for defensive purposes. The flood of enemy projectiles is overwhelming, but at least the collision detection is forgiving. In fact, I have no idea how I managed to weasel my way out of so many impossible situations. Bosses are the typical oversized robots with parts that detach and reform. They tend to overstay their welcome, but upon their demise you're treated to some sweet ring explosions and blur effects. The game offers limited continues, a high score screen, and a coop mode. You can begin play on any stage that you've reached in previous sessions. Raiden IV doesn't offer much new in the realm of 2D shooters, but it's sure to please shooter fans looking to take their game to the next level. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Rainbow Six Vegas
Grade: C
Publisher: Ubisoft (2006)
Reviewed: 2009/2/10
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes)

screenshotAs a thinking-man's FPS (first-person shooter), Rainbow Six Vegas forces you to take a stealthy, tactical approach. If you're the run-and-gun type (like me), you'd better check yourself before you wreck yourself. The action begins in a dusty Mexican town, probably to set up a back-story or some garbage like that. The intense gameplay accentuates realism, so it's possible to die from a single shot. The lifelike environments feature multiple routes and plenty of sniping opportunities. The audio is superb, especially with regard to distant music and muffled conversations. Since this game is hard as balls, I recruited my good friend (and FPS expert) Scott to help me out. As he methodically eliminated enemy soldiers, I observed him yelling stuff at the TV like "We need to flush out these maggots!" and "Eat it mother [expletive]!" He would later explain that using this type of language was an integral part of the FPS experience. I also took note of how he utilized his two squad members. They're supposed to be your best friends in the whole wide world, yet Scott sent them into harms' way at every opportunity. Apprently it's an effective way to draw out the enemy! Rainbow Six Vegas incorporates a myriad of stealth techniques including using a silencer, tossing smoke grenades, rappelling down walls, or employing a "snake cam" to spy on the next room. When pinned in a corner, you'd be wise to lay low - until you hear them reloading! After completing a stage, we were yelling "Vegas baby!" only to wind up in some abandoned factory or rail yard (ugh!). Considering the hours it takes to reach Vegas, the title seems a bit misleading. When we did finally reach Vegas it was a bit anticlimactic thanks to the less-than-spectacular scenery. But what really hurts the game is its lack of checkpoints, forcing you to frequently replay some painfully long stretches. The user interface is an utter travesty, and configuring a split-screen game is absolutely excruciating. The single-player mode is playable enough - if you're up for the challenge. I like how an objective marker always points the way, and displays the distance to your target in meters. The AI is pretty mediocre though, and when you shoot an enemy, it's not uncommon for another to immediately assume the same exact position. Sometimes you'll pick off three or four guys in a row by firing in the same spot! You can't skip the cut-scenes, and the "low ammo" message is misleading (you just need to reload). FPS fans who value challenge and realism can bump up the grade by a letter, but I found Rainbow Six Vegas a tough pill to swallow. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Rayman Origins
Grade: A
Publisher: Ubisoft (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/2/17
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotA fantastic blend of old and new, Rayman Origins combines well-constructed 2D platform gameplay with high-definition graphics and frenetic multiplayer action. The whimsical characters are endearing and the stages are pleasing to the eye. In fact, is the most likeable game I've played in recent memory. When you rescue little yellow "lums" and their high-pitched, harmonized voices break into song, it's sure to bring a smile to your face. From the lush jungle to slippery glaciers to the "musical desert", the sharp scenery is rich with detail yet never interferes with the excellent gameplay. The simple controls are incredibly tight and your punches and kicks are exaggerated to good effect. Crisp sound effects make it extra satisfying to smash through boards and other obstacles. The developers were not only experts in their craft, but they truly "get it" when it comes to making video games. The stages are ingeniously designed as you vault between walls, slide down waterfalls, and bounce off flowers. Surviving any particular stage isn't particularly hard, but locating all the secrets adds a nice risk-versus-reward dynamic (and substantial replay value to boot). There are even side-scrolling shooting stages. I like how my friends can jump into my game at any time, although it's easy to lose track of your character in the multi-player mayhem. Rayman Origins is an astonishingly good platformer that's guaranteed to bring joy to all who play it. If you don't like this game, you have no soul. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Resident Evil 5
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/4/26
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotThis chapter of the Resident Evil survivor horror saga ditches the dark, gothic scenery of Europe for sunny African locations. The opening chapter takes place in a war-torn urban area with burnt-out buildings and rat-infested shantytowns. Weren't these locations beaten to death in recent games like Metal Gear 4, Call of Duty 4, and every other first-person shooter released in the past two years? Maybe, but when a mob of zombies converges and you're trying to survive long enough for helicopter support to arrive, it's really intense! Resident Evil 5 (RE5) stars Chris Redfield and an exotic babe named Sheva. RE5 is designed for two-player coop, either online or via split-screen. The CPU does a decent job of playing the role of the second character, but the game is more satisfying with a human partner. Besides being able to cover each other and exchange items, you can resuscitate your partner when he's dying. Occasionally you'll become separated, and it's quite a relief when you meet up again. Reunited and it feels so good. Reunited 'cause we understood. In the pitch-dark cave stage, one player lights the way with a lantern as the other blasts zombies. In the swamp area, one player drives a boat as the other picks off monsters on shore. In addition to zombies of all racial backgrounds, you'll face ghouls on motorbikes, masked men with chainsaws, and executioners armed with oversized axes. Impressive bosses include a giant vampire bat, a sea serpent, and a troll reminiscent of the one in RE4. Be sure to keep an eye out for those exploding red barrels - it's one cliche that keeps on giving! RE5's controls are excellent, and you can hold plenty of items. The action does not pause when you access your inventory, and this really adds to the tension. In case you don't stumble upon a critical weapon (like a shotgun) in your travels, you can always purchase and upgrade weapons between chapters. I love RE5's brisk pacing, entertaining cut-scenes, and brief load times. A friend can join in your adventure at any time. The dialogue is nothing to write home about, with Chris constantly bristling about how he "needs to get some answers!" When playing split-screen on a wide-screen display, the two screens are cropped, leaving a lot of empty black space. Couldn't they have at least put the maps in there? Some critics may lament how RE5 lacks the "creepy" factor of past RE games, and seems more like an action movie. Personally, I think the series benefits from the change of pace. Less easy to forgive are the final few stages which come off as generic and occasionally boring. Even so, RE5 is an action-packed thrill ride you'll to want see to through to the end. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Resident Evil 6
Grade: D
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/12/11
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, suggestive themes)

screenshotWith this latest entry Capcom has forsaken the qualities that made the franchise great. Resident Evil 6 (RE6) ditches the horror and suspense for gunfights, frantic escapes, and Hollywood-style explosions. Clearly inspired by recent Call of Duty games, the non-stop action proves a poor fit. RE6 is very much geared to coop play, and you always have the option let a human partner join your campaign. The storyline is absolutely incomprehensible as you're whisked between locations like subways, sewers, mines, a jet plane, a college campus, and the streets of China. There are some interesting sights like a gothic cathedral and decrepit graveyard, but you don't get a chance to enjoy them. As in Call of Duty, an omnipresent wayward marker (with distance) keeps you forging ahead. Not only does it undermine any sense of mystery, it renders exploration unnecessary. Frequent button prompts attempt to involve the player in the scripted cut-scenes, and I like the innovative meters. Unfortunately your responses have little bearing on events and much of the time I felt more like a spectator than a player. The best thing I can say about RE6 is that it has a metric ton of content. There are three separate missions, each of which can be played coop (on-line or off). The controls are crisp and the detail in the graphics is amazing. Much emphasis is placed on melee, so you can simply press the right trigger to deliver a roundhouse kick to any nearby zombie. Unfortunately, melee is more of a necessity than a luxury. That's because it's hard to tell what the [expletive] is going on at a given time! The camera pulls in very tight and most areas tend to be pitch dark! If you adjust the brightness as the game suggests, you won't be able to see a damned thing! And if you thought the single-player mode was disorienting, wait until you try the two-player split-screen. Is there a reason why each player gets such a tiny window? I also take issue with the new health system, or as I call it "how to use an herb in 12 easy steps". The needlessly complex menu interface will have you fumbling with the controls in the heat of battle. Normally you could hit pause to check the button mappings, but there's no pause function in this game! It addition to picking up items and ammo, it's necessary to collect "skill points" lying around, which makes no sense. Other irritations include zombies wearing body armor (really?), mandatory "tripping" over bodies (c'mon now), and an unbearable Tomb Raider-style swimming stage (gah!). Some of the chapters are excessively long (over two hours) and I was practically begging for them to end. There's no shortage of action in Resident Evil 6, but there's a serious shortage of fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
Grade: F
Publisher: Capcom (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/10/28
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotOperation Raccoon City is every bit as bad as advertised. This ill-conceived Resident Evil spin-off is a highly derivative squad-based shooter. Much like Left 4 Dead (Xbox 360, 2008), each member of the four-man team has unique abilities. As in Gears of War, taking cover and reviving fallen teammates is an integral part of the action. In addition to its boldly unoriginal gameplay, you'll forge through the most boring, repetitive environments ever conceived (city hall, laboratory, power plant) while completing by-the-numbers objectives (find doctor, shut down the power grid). And if the unimaginative locations weren't bad enough, they're outfitted with cheap booby traps and invisible walls. Who thought it was a good idea to incorporate suicide-bomber zombies in close quarters? Mowing down zombies results in plenty of gore, but there's nothing scary about this game. Actually, you spend more time fighting special ops forces than monsters! And these guys are so well-armored that you need to shoot them point-blank in the face about 20 times - just to make them flinch! Each mission feels like a chore that you can't wait to end. The game was designed for coop play, yet no split-screen modes are available. I can't recall ever having less fun playing survival horror than Operation Raccoon City. Capcom needs to stop running the Resident Evil name through the mud with garbage like this. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Ridge Racer 6
Grade: A-
Publisher: Namco (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/4/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI'm been a huge fan of the Ridge Racer (RR) series since its debut on the Playstation One in 1995. After a few terrific sequels, the franchise stagnated after the disappointing Ridge Racer V (Playstation 2, 2000). Thankfully, this sixth edition has the series back in good form. Realism be damned, Ridge Racer 6 features bright, clean, scenic locations and the most responsive, forgiving controls you'll ever encounter in a racer. As long-time fans would expect, there's an abundance of eye candy in the surfside resorts, winding country roads, majestic bridges, and soaring downtown skyscrapers. Certain locations look similar to those in previous RR games, but the degree of detail is far beyond anything seen in those. The racing action is as tight as ever, incorporating a new "nitrous oxide" meter that fills as you drift around each corner. The nitrous element fits Ridge Racer's arcade style nicely, and it's satisfying to whiz past opponents on your way to the finish. The controls feel second nature - just tap on the brake and you'll kick into a long slide that can be controlled all the way through. Since you're racing against 13 other cars, there's plenty of passing and jockeying for position involved. Cars are not customizable and don't model damage, but gameplay is king, and Ridge Racer 6 has it in spades. The madly-addictive single player mode features a huge, branching tree of racing challenges, with bonus cars awarded after every few contests. The split-screen mode lets you compete against a buddy head-to-head, but there are no CPU racers, which is disappointing. The diverse soundtrack is a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the laid-back jazz numbers, the bouncy techno tunes with high-pitched voice samples got on my nerves. The commentator is somewhat annoying, providing shallow remarks along the lines of "Get ready for some crazy nitrous! Booya!!" Namco fans will notice plenty of fun references to classic Namco games, with names like "Asteroth", "Grobda", and "Toy Pop" painted on the sides of cars. You even get to play a round of Pac-Man during the initial load. My main issue with Ridge Racer 6 lies with the convoluted user interface and its excessive number of menus and prompts. Between races in the single player mode, I had to wade through 10 screens, 14 prompts, and 4 load screens! Still, with its unrivaled playability and unapologetic arcade style, Ridge Racer 6 is my favorite of the initial crop of 360 racers. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Ridge Racer Unbounded
Grade: D-
Publisher: Namco (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/9/1
Rating: Teen (mild language, mild violence)

screenshotOnce the leader in arcade racing, the Ridge Racer franchise finds itself in a serious identity crisis. Unbound's action takes place in the fictional town of Shatter Bay where you compete in races, time trials, drift, and demolition events. As in Need For Speed, the cars are shiny and the scenery is realistic. Like Split Second, there are strategic targets to demolish. And like Burnout Paradise, you can perform elaborate "take-downs" to knock out opponents. Unbound steals ideas every racer under the sun and still manages to suck. Too much emphasis is placed on drifting, and the controls are horrible. I tend to be pretty good at racing games, but I couldn't execute a decent power slide to save my life. I either slam into a wall or find myself turned in the wrong direction. By the time I'm done spinning my tires the other cars are long gone. The urban scenery is dark and cluttered, making it hard to anticipate turns and spot shortcuts. The designers went totally overboard with the blood red sunsets. The taillight smearing effect is back in full force, and it's also employed for turbo boosts. I guess it's kind of neat how laps and times are displayed on track walls, and cars have place indicators above them, keeping all the vital info "in your face". You can plow through obstacles like concrete barriers but it's easy to lose control and wreck. The game encourages you to demolish billboards and car dealerships, but your reward is usually a last place finish. It's hard to make progress in Ridge Racer Unbound. Did anybody play-test this thing? Even the "build your own track" feature falls flat because the building blocks are so painstaking to unlock. The soundtrack is a hodgepodge of electronic noises that got on my nerves. Looks like it's time for Namco to go back to the drawing board. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Rise of Nightmares
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/10/11
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language, suggestive themes)

screenshotIncorporating Kinect body-motion control into a survival horror game was a tall order, but Sega pulled it off. Rise of Nightmares is about as immersive as they come, giving you a harrowing first-person perspective while exploring decrepit environments and fending off zombies. It feels like a virtual haunted house as you travel through forests, graveyards, crypts, and castles in the country of Romania. You control your movements with regard to both direction and speed. Turning your body adjusts your view (which works great) and you walk by stepping forward. Moving while turning can be awkward, but Sega thought ahead and provided an ingenious "auto-move" feature. When you're not being accosted by ghouls you can simply raise your hand and be effortlessly guided to your next objective. Curious gamers however will want to thoroughly explore and collect all the bonus items. Interacting with objects is easy, as you simply move a hand icon over a highlighted item. Rise of Nightmares also requires you to perform realistic motions to open doors, pull switches, swim, duck, climb, or wipe the vomit off your face. Motion controls prove effective when fighting off zombies. Vertical hacks are more potent but horizontal slashes tend to severe more limbs. Weapons include machetes, pipes, electric knuckles, exploding test tubes, and the obligatory chainsaw. The Kinect works well in open areas, but falters when zombies converge, resulting in an annoying "invisible wall" effect. I really love the creature designs which include executioners, cultists, butchers, witches, maids, and super hot nurse zombies (super hot before their flesh started rotting, but I think that's just common sense). There's a faceless woman opera singer with a voice so loud you literally need to cover your ears to prevent taking damage! Some zombies have mechanical body parts, suggesting gruesome experiments are under way. It tired me out but Rise of Nightmares kept me riveted with its fast pacing and short stages. The action gets pretty intense, and my wife actually screamed when she looked into a mirror and saw the image of the main boss. This ominous boss is especially cool because although he can't see through his mask he can still hear you, so you need to remain perfectly still when he's in the area. The game has a bizarre storyline that's unnecessary and a lot of profanity which is even more unnecessary. Still, Rise of Nightmare is an intriguing game that's worth dusting off your Kinect for. It's a little clumsy but it will get you involved like no other horror title can. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Risen 2: Dark Waters
Grade: D-
Publisher: Deep Silver (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/7/30
Rating: Mature (Blood, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence)

screenshotThis third-person adventure embraces all the classic pirate lore including sword-fighting, rum-drinking, sexy wenches, eye patches, treasure chests, monkeys, and even sea monsters. Risen 2 does a fine job of establishing a narrative and setting the tone for a swashbuckling adventure. The massive stone fortresses and ornate pirate ships are a feast for the eyes, and I love the sound of sea gulls and waves lapping against the shore. There's a lot of potential here but the game too often feels like a plodding waste of time. Risen 2 has all the hallmarks of a PC port. Its graphics are extremely sharp and detailed, yet the frame-rate stutters, the collision detection falters, and the camera is always in the wrong place. Clumsy controls will have you inadvertently walking on tabletops and off of balconies. The combat system is atrocious. It's possible to parry and perform combos, but this requires a degree of control the game fails to provide. Most characters will engage in conversations that tend to be short and to the point, but the dialogue has a lot of unnecessary profanity. Side quests queue up like crazy as you speak with people, but you'll need to accumulate a ton of gold to unlock each basic skill. A simple tip might cost you 1000 gold, and meanwhile you're scrounging around finding five gold here and ten gold there. A missions can send you from one side of an island to the other as rabid monkeys chomp at your heels every step of the way. I don't know what I ever did to these monkeys, but they are pissed! Running is usually the best option, considering slaying a single animal requires about 20 whacks from your sword! There's quite a bit of customization you can perform on your character, but I don't have the patience for this type of micromanagement. You can save at any time, and there's also an auto-save feature. The full-color manual looks impressive but the small text is hard to read. Those willing to invest the time in Risen 2 will appreciate the depth and attention to detail, but I prefer my adventures to be more focused, cohesive, and fun. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Rock Band 2
Grade: B+
Publisher: Harmonix (2008)
Reviewed: 2010/2/25
Rating: Teen (lyrics, suggestive themes)

screenshotI was an early adopter of Guitar Hero, but by the time Rock Band rolled around my interest in music games was beginning to wane. After purchasing The Beatles Rock Band and getting a full set of instruments however, I picked up Rock Band 2 (RB5) to see what I had missed. If you're used to Guitar Hero, the biggest difference is that the notes are square instead of round. RB5 offers a diverse track list and a user-friendly interface that allows up to four players to jump in and out of the fray. A slick auto-calibrate feature fixes the lag problems introduced by some HD TVs. Rock Band 2 is an excellent party game. The soundtrack includes old 80's stand-bys like Eye of the Tiger (Survivor), Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran), Livin' on a Prayer (Bon Jovi), and White Wedding (Billy Idol). The 90's are represented by Drain You (Nirvana), Everlong (Foo Fighters), and Today (Smashing Pumpkins). Man in the Box (Alice in Chains) has got to be one of the most kick-ass songs ever to appear in a game like this. Also included are some upbeat modern numbers like My Own Worst Enemy (Lit) and That's What You Get (Paramore). Not all the songs are gems, and the entries by Rush (The Trees) and AC/DC (Let There Be Rock) come off a little flat. Many songs are extended versions, which sucks when you're working through a mediocre tune. The songs vary in difficulty depending upon the instrument, but a handy chart indicates the relative difficulty for each song. Are the drums as fun as you'd imagine they would be? Hell yeah! Playing bass guitar can be a little monotonous unless you're playing with a full band, and I'd recommend a few drinks before attempting the vocals. The heart of the game is the Tour mode which lets you play various gigs to unlock new songs and venues. Its branching system gives you plenty of options, but you're forced to complete too many multi-song "set lists". There's also a hell of a lot of loading screens in this game. The graphics are largely an afterthought, but seeing a scraggly, bearded dude sing "You Oughta Know" (with a woman's voice no less) was disturbing. The appeal of music games may be waning, but Rock Band 2 is still guaranteed to rock the house. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Rock Band Track Pack Volume 2
Grade: C+
Publisher: Harmonix (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/4/18
Rating: Teen (lyrics)

screenshotI'm not big on downloading Rock Band songs but I do pick up these "Track Packs" whenever I can. They only cost a few bucks and usually contain at least a few songs I like. As with the other track packs, this is actually a fully standalone game that's playable if you have at least one instrument. What's nice about Track Pack Volume 2 is its eclectic mix of tunes. There are old standbys like Call Me (Blondie), Simple Man (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Rio (Duran Duran), Message in a Bottle (The Police), and You Got Another Thing Comin' (Judas Priest). You also get newer tracks like Snow (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Time is Running Out (Papa Roach), and Why Do You Love Me? (Garbage). As a Smashing Pumpkins fan, the inclusion of "Zero" pretty much sealed the deal for me. It's a great song, but the most fun to play has got to be "Just What I Needed" by the Cars. This infectious pop song really kicks into overdrive when the chorus comes around. All in all, this is a fun set of tunes that might just convince you to dig out that dusty fake guitar sitting in your closet. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 



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