Samurai Shodown Sen
Publisher: SNK (2010)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, mild sexual themes, violence)
I love me some SNK, but this may be the single most unsatisfying fighting game I've ever played. Sen attempts to bring SNK's venerable Samurai Shodown series into the 3D realm, much as Capcom did with Street Fighter 4. Needless to say, this is a lot
less successful! The intro is a remake of the classic opening from the original Samurai Shodown, but it's all downhill from there. You select between 24 weapon-equipped martial artists, including some new faces like a dwarf wielding an axe and a black guy wielding an Afro. The stages are 3D renderings of the tranquil scenes from old Shodown games, but they look bland. The story mode begins with painfully slow text crawl as a flashing prompt practically implores you
to "PRESS START. SKIP EVENT". The fighting engine is rough and feels very outdated compared to the latest crop of fighters. The animation is choppy and the fights lack a natural flow. The convoluted controls include a horizontal slash, vertical slash, kick, horizontal power slash, horizontal vertical slash, special action, and more
. As you can imagine, this set of moves doesn't map well to any
controller on this planet. A typical special move combination goes something like this: left-down, vertical slash, horizontal slash+vertical slash, special. Got that?
Each round's intro is needlessly long, and the replays shown afterwards are nothing you'd ever want to watch. There's minimal gore during the course of the battle, but the finishing moves are big on dismemberment followed by fountains of blood. Instead of a score, your performance is judged on how fast you finish the game.
The problem is, you probably won't be inclined to finish it. I could criticize Sen's replay value, but that would imply the game had any play value to begin with. SNK seems to have lost their way with regard to their classic franchises. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Interactive (2007)
As one of the few critics with an unexplainable appreciation for the full-motion video (FMV) "phase" of the early 90's gaming scene, I gravitated towards this oddball title. Scene It is a movie trivia game for up to four players. Each contest is a series of mini-games, and four small controllers are included to make it easy to answer the multiple-choice questions. At the top of the controller is a large "buzzer" which is rarely used and hardly necessary. Your controllers need to be in range of a sensor that runs from a USB port, and they can be flaky in terms of responsiveness. When the game begins you watch a short movie clip and answer questions related to it. In subsequent mini-games you'll identify a movie from a prop, an audio clip, or a partial movie poster. There are literally dozens of variations, and they vary dramatically in terms of entertainment value. Most are fairly enjoyable, but a few, like the one that asks you to unscramble movie names, are unspeakably
bad. Scene It's movie selection is respectable, covering all major genres from the black-and-white era to the present. Obviously you'll fare better with films you're familiar with, but sometimes you'll get stuck with an oldie. Unfortunately, after the first round you're penalized
for wrong answers, which takes the fun out of making educated guesses. The idiotic announcer is another liability, spewing corny lines like "I hope you have a good memory because mine is... um what was I just talking about??" Har dee har har har.
Worse yet, this jerk relentlessly ridicules players who are losing. He annoyed my wife so badly that she wanted to stop playing
half-way through the game!! By all means, be sure to turn that sorry bastard off
via the options menu. Even Scene It's scoring system is flawed. During the final round, the point values are multiplied
by each correct answer. If you're familiar with the movie in question, it's possible to score more points on one question than you earned in the entire game
! Bogus! Who was the bonehead who designed this thing anyway? There are some technical issues as well, like pause screens that won't let you select anything except "resume". As a movie lover, Scene It should have been a treat, but this botched title is more of a cautionary tale
. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Scene It Bright Lights Big Screen
Publisher: Warner Interactive (2009)
Unlike most critics who are bent on trashing the Scene It series, I like the concept of a movie trivia game and held out some hope for this "Bright Lights Big Screen" edition. The game has a glitzy game show format, allowing up to four players to participate in a series of rounds consisting of multiple-choice questions. The interface is very polished, and you're presented with clips from films like Evan Almighty, Cloverfield, Surf's Up, Uncle Buck, and the Karate Kid. There are no black-and-white oldies this time around. Scene It can be fun when movie buffs go head-to-head, but the game stumbles in the most confounding ways. Most of these clips aren't the least bit memorable, and the audio is entirely too low compared to the game's audio effects. It's critical to properly adjust the options. That means shutting off that irritating commentator and disabling the ill-conceived "star system" which tends to reward bad players. You'll also want to disable the negative points and set the game type to "short". Answering questions about movie clips is fun, but when the puzzles get creative things go south in a hurry. The anagrams and pictograms are headache inducing, as are the puzzles with pictures that materialize from liquid drops. Any puzzle that require players to "buzz in" is terrible. I hate how the game never bothers to tell you the name of the movie you just watched, and also fails to inform you of the correct answer when the players guess it wrong. Bright Lights Big Screen can be mildly competitive with some willing participants, but its high production values can't gloss over its many design flaws. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, cartoon violence, language, mild suggestive themes)
I wasn't too impressed the first time I played Scott Pilgrim, but after watching the excellent movie I just had to give it a second chance. Just as the film was loaded with old-school video game references, this game is a throwback to the 8 and 16-bit eras. It's a side-scrolling brawler along the lines of River City Ransom
(NES, 1988) and Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991). It harkens back to a time when bad guys dropped giant coins and bosses blinked red when they were about to die. Up to four players assume the roles of Scott, Ramona, Kim, or Still, walking the streets of Toronto while beating up random hooligans. The first stage takes place on a city street at night in the snow, and the sheer artistry of the graphics is commendable. Despite being rendered in low-resolution, the color and attention to detail is a sight to behold. Likewise, the upbeat electronic music brings back memories of a time when video game music was simple, catchy, and fun (remember that?). The fighting action begins slowly. You don't have many moves to begin with and enemies tend to block a lot. There are tons of weapons but most aren't particularly useful. Quite often characters will overlap so neither one can make contact. The first stage drags on for an eternity, and the bonus stages are awful. With four players you tend to get lost in a swarm of generic characters - unable to tell the good guys from the bad. You can revive your friends, but my friend Chris found the action so repetitive he implored us not
to revive him! Even playing solo gets tiresome with its endless waves of clones and lengthy boss encounters. The game does gain a little traction as the characters level up and acquire new moves. I like how you revisit locations from the film including the playground, clubs, and the action movie set. The boss encounters are particularly interesting, as you must defeat Ramona's "seven ex's", each of which has different abilities. There's no score in the game, but your character retains his stats and moves when you continue. Scott Pilgrim isn't as fun as it could have been, but at least its heart is in the right place. Fans of the comic can bump up the grade by a letter because of its faithfulness to the source material, which is outstanding. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2007)
I've been a fan of the Sega Rally series since it debuted on the Saturn in 1996, and this third edition effectively resurrects the franchise from a long sleep. Revo offers addictive off-road racing in a series of exotic environments ranging from tropical, to desert, to snowy mountains. This game has an easy-to-play arcade look and feel you don't see very often anymore. Initially the steering seems tricky, but with a little practice you'll be power sliding around corners with ease. You might expect the brake to play a vital role in the slippery conditions, but it's usually more effective to simply let off the accelerator to initiate a slide. Hell, even bouncing off a guardrail
is better than using the brake! Like most arcade racers, an invisible wall prevents you from veering off the track, and you'll be grateful for it. Cars don't incur damage either, which is also a good thing. Mud and snow tends to get caked onto the bottom of your car, which looks cool. The left bumper of the controller lets you cycle between views, and although the "windshield" offers the most immersive vantage point, the "high" view is slightly easier. Vibration feedback also enhances the experience, along with the crisp sounds of gravel, mud, and snow under your tires. Your five fellow-racers are some sneaky bastards, trying to cut you off at every opportunity. As retribution, be sure to slam into them around sharp curves to minimize your turn radius. Sega Revo's scenery isn't spectacular, but the courses have a realistic quality that's appealing. They tend to be reasonably short so you can finish a race within five minutes. But my favorite aspect of the game is the snow. Not only do you plow through deep snow in the Arctic, but on Alpine tracks the snow becomes more treacherous as you climb a mountain, and gradually melts away as you approach lower elevations. Revo's packaging boasts about its "Geo-deformation" technology, but apparently that just means your tire tracks remain in the road over subsequent laps. They don't seem to affect your handling at all. Sega Rally Revo has an addictive single-player championship mode, despite an annoying number of menu screens that all look the same. The two two-player split-screen mode is exceptionally good. Sega Rally Revo is not great in any way, but very good in every
way, making it feel like more than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Sega Superstars Tennis
Publisher: Sega (2007)
I was disappointed with the Wii version of Sega Superstars Tennis, and disgusted
with this Xbox 360 edition. Superstars had a lot going for it, including loveable Sega characters, bright scenic courts, and familiar tunes from classic games. The action is fast and has an arcade quality. So why do I not
want to play this? Well, first of all the controls are terrible. The swing controls are erratic, and your character doesn't even make an effort
to hit a lot of balls that seem close enough. Two buttons are used to hit the ball (topspin and slice), but executing lobs or drop-shots requires you to hit combinations
of these. Hello? There are two unused buttons
on the controller! Poor AI is another problem. In the main "Superstar mode", the CPU is so unyielding that I couldn't even win the first match! It's impossible to get the ball past a speed demon like Sonic, so you only score when he inexplicably "gives up" on the shot! And couldn't Sega have programmed more than one
reaction per character? Talk about repetitive! The two-player mode is better, but still mediocre. The music tends to "cut out" between points, and it's really annoying. I was expecting Sega Superstars to be shallow, but I wasn't prepared for such a complete meltdown. If you want to know how far Sega has fallen, look no further than this game. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Shadows of the Damned
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, sexual themes, strong language)
This demon shooter has an unorthodox "grind house" style that's appealing. Its crisp graphics, responsive controls, fast pacing, and over-the-top premise give the game an arcade flavor. The wisecracking anti-hero "Garcia Hotspur" (who resembles a young Benicio del Toro) literally
goes to hell to rescue his girlfriend! Hell looks a heck of a lot like Europe with its narrow streets winding through quaint townships. Garcia's sidekick is a flaming skull (with a British accent no less) who can morph into a motorcycle and a variety of weapons. The story is often silly and occasionally profane, but it's a wild ride. There's a lot of satisfaction to be derived from blowing off demon heads with shotguns. Shadows of the Damned doesn't water down the shooting with an auto-aim mechanism which has become all too common in today's shooters. It's tough to execute a headshot, but that makes it extra satisfying when you do so. On the flip side, it's frustratingly easy to miss
jumping enemies during shootouts in tight spaces. The game has a lot of fun little quirks, like the fact that your weapons shoot teeth
and health is replenished by drinking bottles of booze. There are even old-school collectibles like diamonds and strawberries. The game is linear in design and the save points are frequent. Sadly, Shadows sabotages itself by incorporating a "special type of darkness" which periodically enshrouds the area you're in. It slowly drains your life, and worse yet it drains the fun from the game
. To restore the light you'll need to find and shoot a mounted goat's head (no, that's not a typo). Being forced to find light sources adds a puzzle element and a sense of urgency, but it feels contrived and unnecessary. The endless boss battles also left a bitter taste in my mouth (a boss life meter would be helpful). As it is, Shadows of the Damned looks like a great game but doesn't play like one. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Shaun White Snowboarding
Publisher: Ubisoft (2008)
Rating: Teen (lyrics, mild suggestive themes, mild violence)
Unlike the Wii version of Shaun White Snowboarding, which was shallow but fun, the 360 edition tries to convey a more realistic snowboarding experience. You can toggle between four locations including Alaska, Europe, and Japan. The mountains and scenery look quite authentic, and you can even ride the lifts. You can hop off the lifts in motion
, or have a helicopter drop you off at strategic locations. Heck, you can even step off your snowboard and freely explore your surroundings. The sense of freedom is fine, but the game is missing one crucial ingredient, and that's speed
. Even when going full bore you feel as if you're just plodding along. After being awarded "speed demon" bonus points, I was like, "You've got
to be kidding me!" It's hard to accrue or maintain any kind of momentum, so stringing together tricks is a frustratingly proposition. The low camera angle doesn't help matters, making it hard to see upcoming cliffs and time your jumps accordingly. The controls are mainly limited to the thumbsticks and triggers, but the scheme is counter-intuitive and I never felt comfortable with it. Pushing up on the left stick increases your speed, but it also initiates a forward flip during jumps, and that's a problem. There are plenty of special challenges, and most involve performing tricks for points. The thing is, even when you do horrible
you tend to win a medal, and that's not satisfying at all. The game has a plethora of customization options, letting you personalize every detail including your boots, backpack, and goggles (does anybody care?). The graphics are okay, but the mountains fail to instill a sense of awe, and they all look pretty much the same. The game's lively soundtrack is great, including heavy-hitting rock tunes like Cult of Personality (Living Colour) and Barracuda (Heart). For patient gamers who value realism, Shaun White Snowboarding offers tremendous depth and replay value, but if you just want to have fun, stick with the Wii version. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Downpour
Publisher: Konami (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
I've been a huge fan of Silent Hill since day one
(Playstation, 2000), but I'm feeling ambivalent about Downpour. The game has a lot of technical glitches and doesn't convey a proper sense of terror or suspense. You play a prisoner on the run after a bus accident, and initially you find yourself in a creepy wooded area reminiscent of Alan Wake
(Xbox 360, 2010). It's fun to explore the dilapidated scenery, but the artificial boundaries can be frustrating. You'll spend a lot of time at an abandoned truck stop and in a deep mineshaft before finally arriving in Silent Hill. The town looks much like it did in previous games with foggy streets, trashy alleys, and boarded-up houses. The game is moderately fun as you collect items, solve easy puzzles, and bludgeon monsters. Your enemies include tall, lanky white freaks and psychotic young women straight out of The Grudge or The Ring. The idea of mannequins with invisible spirits probably looked better on paper than it does in the game. Silent Hill is a sprawling place, but the scenery is repetitive. Too often I was less interested in solving the mystery as I was in finding a good save point. If the designers were trying to keep the interface clean, it backfired big time. When you see a "pick up" prompt, you rarely know what the [expletive] you're about to pick up. That's a big deal, because if it's a weapon, you'll automatically swap it out
with whatever you're holding. The prompts can be terribly misleading. You'll often see an "unlock" prompt when in fact you can't unlock the door. There's a thrilling mine cart sequence but a slow-moving thumbstick animation belies the fact that you really need to shake that thing like mad. The right trigger is used to throw
your current weapon, making it really easy
to lose your weapon. One original control is the "look back" button, but who in his right mind would ever want to do that?!
The game has some scary moments, like when you see a hideous girl running up the street toward you, but it squanders many opportunities. It seems like when things are genuinely scary, there's no payoff. There are too many verbose documents to read, and the interface for reading them is poor. The game claims to "save" often, but it sometimes lies, leading to disappointment when you resume a game. Other technical issues include an erratic frame-rate and camera angles that can render you blind during a fight. Did anybody play-test this thing? Downpour feels like a by-the-numbers Silent Hill title, and an undercooked one at that. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Homecoming
Publisher: Konami (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes)
Homecoming ushers Silent Hill into the next generation with style, reinvigorating the franchise with a fresh new look and feel. Previous Silent Hills were consistently scary but tended to be slow, plodding, and difficult. I like how Homecoming picks up the tempo and is generally easier to play. The basic premise is unchanged as you search a foggy, deserted town for some bratty kid while fending off twisted, deformed creatures. Spine-tingling sound effects and limited visibility create an intense atmosphere, but Homecoming eschews the grainy visuals of past Silent Hills and looks crisp and clean by comparison. The unnerving background music ranges from alarming cacophonies to melancholy pianos. The game keeps you on edge as you creep through a cemetery, hotel, police station, and prison. Among the evil hordes are hellhounds, hammerhead goons, and some smoking hot
nurses (from the neck down, at least). Some of the more bizarre creatures have heads
protruding from their crotches! Isn't that nuts!? Homecoming has its share of memorable moments including a flooded basement encounter and a harrowing elevator ride. Your character is surprisingly mobile, dodging attacks with ease and moving between rooms without having to contend with load screens. Combat is more sophisticated than past Silent Hills but not complicated. Homecoming is well programmed but a few design issues had me scratching my head. The inventory system is confusing, especially when items you just picked up don't show up in your inventory! Certain puzzles don't make much sense, like when you "use" an empty gas can to obtain gas from a truck. The graphics are sharp but uneven in quality. The lighting is terrific and the decrepit graveyard looks properly weathered, but the grass looks flat and standing water looks more like glass. The distribution of health items and save points could also be better. Homecoming could use a bit of polish, but it proves this franchise can still deliver the spooky thrills. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Simpsons Game, The
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2007)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, crude humor, language, suggestive themes)
This game is a trip
! The Simpsons Game is the first I can recall to effectively break the "fourth wall". Not only does it constantly acknowledge the fact that it's a video game (and a TV show), but it mocks all of the standard video game conventions. There are breakable crates ("as seen in everything
"), exploding barrels, invisible walls, pressure pads, enemy-spawning portals, and dozens of other hackneyed concepts we've come to expect in our games. I love how the invading aliens debate about exposing the "weak spot" of their saucer after every four laser bursts. Although the hub of the game lets you freely roam Springfield, the stages take you to specific locations such as a lumber mill, an aquarium, and a natural history museum. Two characters embark on each mission, and since they need to work as a team, the game is much
more enjoyable when you play with a friend (via split screen). Each of the four main characters has special powers. Bart can transform into Bartman, Lisa can move items telepathically, Marge uses a megaphone to round up mobs to do her bidding, and Homer can assume odd forms like the destructive rolling "Homerball". Playing a game that pokes fun of every other video game
does have a drawback - it also plays
like every other video game! That means you'll engage in a lot of routine platform jumping, button-mashing fighting, tedious item collecting, and lever-pulling puzzles. Some stages, like the "Cheatrix", are almost unbearable
. Even so, the game's wicked sense of humor keeps it afloat. The jokes and quips come early and often, and the game is genuinely funny. In one scene the mayor decrees: "I have decided to ban the game Grand Theft Scratchy from minors - the only ones who want to play it!" Some of the best lines come from the aliens, who exclaim "Killing humans is like sex to us" and "I was Dick Cheney all along!" You'll also play Simpson-ized versions of many classic games including Joust, Gauntlet, Metal of Honor, Space Invaders, and Missile Command. One stage relentlessly mocks Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, effectively exposing that game for how ridiculous it really is. Unfortunately, while these send-offs are fiercely entertaining, they aren't particularly fun to play. The Simpsons also has its share of technical issues. The control scheme is surprising unintuitive
, although constant hints are provided to prod you along. The controls are erratic, which is truly evident in the Frogger stage, which should be simple but is absolutely frustrating. The camera often provides lousy angles and requires constant adjustment. There's lots of stuff to collect, but only specific characters can collect certain items, and that absolutely stinks. On the surface, the game looks absolutely beautiful, with crisp visuals, bright colors, and smooth animation. The Simpsons Game may be guilty of style over substance, but die-hard fans can probably bump up the grade by one letter. NOTE: I have been advised that the Xbox 360 version has better graphics and more content than the Wii version. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)
Giants is the follow-up to the original Skylanders, which pioneered the idea of pairing video games with collectable toys. Don't you wish you'd thought of it? It's also a spin-off of the Spyro the Dragon series, retaining the same visual style. The starter set comes with three figures and a portal device that magically teleports them into the game. The figures are well crafted, and sometimes parts of their bodies will illuminate when placed on the glowing portal. The game itself is little shallow but surprisingly fun! At its core, this is a simple platformer with stages set in picturesque, floating lands. You can swap out your character at any time, and certain classes of characters are required to access certain areas (translation: buy more figures). Unlike most platformers there is no jump control
. This turns out to be a refreshing change, and the well-designed stages are easy to navigate via steps, ramps, and walkways. Skylanders has a Gauntlet flavor, especially when played cooperatively. The simple controls (two buttons) make it fun to battle diminutive goblins, dogs, cyclops, and archers. Your dragon character can unleash branching lightning, and your ambling tree giant can pound the ground to devastate anything in the area. I love the giants' ability to unleash widespread destruction and chaos. Defeating enemies or opening chests cause sparkling treasures to spring forth, and it's satisfying to snatch them all up. The puzzles are very straightforward and the comical mini-games provide a nice change of pace. I especially enjoyed the Skystones card game - it's like a game within a game. The main story mode is easy, but the timed "challenge stages" will give you a run for the money. In the coop mode the players are tethered, which can be a pain. A battle mode includes an impressive set of two-player games, including a football variation. The characters exude a lot of personality there are some funny lines ("Worst carnival ever!
"). My main beef with the story mode is that there is entirely too much unskippable dialogue. My friend Scott said there was so much talking that he felt like he was in a relationship
. Still, the game is very polished and just because it's easy doesn't mean it's not fun. Skylanders Giants may be based on a gimmick, but the gimmick is pretty awesome. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls V
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks (2011)
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, use of alcohol)
This sprawling, Nordic-themed RPG feels like an interactive Lord of Rings movie. Skyrim's attention to detail is amazing, especially when you consider its massive scale. The rugged wilderness looks very natural, and the towns, dungeons, relics, and characters all seem to have a purpose and back-story. You'll find entire books in this game that you can actually read!
The graphics have an illustrated quality, and the snowy scenery looks breathtaking when bathed in moonlight. As with most RPGs the focus is on exploration, resource management, character development, and an epic storyline. Skyrim held my attention longer than most because it's so accessible. In the early going you wield powerful weapons, cast spells, shoot arrows, pick locks, and battle dragons. I like how "time stops" when you access your inventory, allowing you to switch weapons or use a critical item. The main storyline is a series of quests, some of which require you to travel over huge expanses of land. The pace is plodding at times, but at least once you discover a place you can return to it quickly via a quick travel option. There are also dozens of side-quests to distract you at any given time. Skyrim is most exciting when you descend into a dungeon to fight giant spiders, skeletons, and wizards. Unfortunately the close combat is disorienting and it's hard if an enemy is within striking range. Aiming with your bow is less-than-exact and the enemy AI is quirky. Sometimes a creature will remain in the same place even after getting shot repeatedly. Everywhere you go there are dozens of objects lying around, and you'll waste a lot of time just scouring the scenery for valuables. You can only carry so much stuff however, so you'll constantly have to head back to town to sell off treasure. The townsfolk engage in a lot of wordy dialog, but I guess that just adds to the richness of the experience. You can save your progress from the pause menu and there's also an auto-save. Bethesda scores extra points for including a full-color manual and a map made of thick textured paper. Those who can curl up with a good novel will sink endless hours into Skyrim. Gamers like myself however (who wait for the movie) will only enjoy it in small doses. I didn't have the patience to figure out Skyrim's extracurricular activities like smithing, smelting, tanning, cooking, and alchemy. I guess what you get out of this game depends on how much you're willing to put into it. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
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