Publisher: Ubisoft (2007)
Though not a huge fan of any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (TMNT) television shows or movies, I consider the franchise be synonymous with video games. On the NES and SNES, the four turtle heroes provided a number of memorable (albeit repetitive) side-scrolling adventures. In recent years however the franchise has fallen on hard times with an awkward transition to 3D. All things considered, this TMNT game represents a return to form for the franchise. At its core, the gameplay hasn't changed at all since its 8-bit days. The platform jumping is still vanilla, as are the frequent encounters with bands of ninja clones. You begin in a jungle training mission before moving on to the urban environments, including sewers, back alleys, and rooftops. I almost had to laugh at all of the old-school cliches, including jumping over electric beams, dodging steam vents, fighting on elevators, and hopping across rafts in electrified water. The stages tend to be lengthy (up to 30 minutes), and the scenery is very repetitive. If jumping over a laser beam five times in a row is sufficient, this game makes you do it 25
times. So why do I like TMNT? Well, technically it's extremely well done; you can tell the programmers really knew their stuff. The controls are perfectly crisp and responsive, allowing you to hop between platforms, scurry along ledges, and climb fences with speed and precision. The brisk pacing gives the action a "race against the clock" quality, and it's fun to see how fast you can make it to the end. The fighting action is simple, with special moves that look a lot like break dancing. The graphics are more detailed that the cel-shaded visuals of the previous game, but the use of color is surprisingly restrained. As a matter of fact, many stages are primarily rendered in black and white. They won't wow you, but you can always tell what's happening, and I had no issues with the camera. The audio features an understated but well orchestrated musical score, and the voice acting during the cut-scenes is exceptionally good. Expect to hear a lot of goofy dialogue like "awesome super sensationalistic bro!!" Oh yeah - there's one other thing you need to know about TMNT: It's one-player only!
That's right, you can "tag-team" with your three "bro's", but you only control one turtle at a time! That's disappointing, but TMNT still exudes a degree of enthusiasm and polish that makes it hard to dislike. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rockstar (2006)
Every now and then a game comes along that other critics rave about, but I'm left scratching my head wondering what all the fuss is about. Table Tennis isn't bad
, but how a major game magazine could even consider
naming this "sports game of the year" is beyond comprehension. Table Tennis was originally designed as a demonstration of the new Grand Theft Auto graphics engine, and it looks the part. The characters appear stiff in the face, but their body movements are quite natural - particularly their physical reactions to good or bad shots. The game's physics engine is beyond reproach. The balls convey an uncanny "lightness" and bounce with the utmost realism. Although it borrows its basic gameplay from Sega's Virtua Tennis
(Dreamcast, 2000), Table Tennis isn't nearly as fun or addictive. The action unfolds so lightening-quick that it's hard to employ much strategy. The control scheme seems overly complex at first (using nearly every button), but it does provide for absolute control over the power, location, and spin of each shot. Making superb use of the vibration function, you can actually "feel" when your shot is in danger of missing the table. The game's one-player tournaments are unreasonably difficult (the CPU gets to everything
), and unlockables open much too slowly (great, I won another shirt color). Most of the matches against my friends were terribly one-sided, although that might be attributed to my propensity to suck
. There's really nothing wrong with this game. Table Tennis really hasn't been done before in a video game, and this is probably as good as it could be done, so I'll give it the credit it's due. But please, let's not get carried away here. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Bandai (2009)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, crude humor, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
It's been over 15 years since Heihachi and company began performing back-breaking slams on my Playstation One, and Tekken's basic gameplay hasn't changed much. I always liked the simple two-punch/two-kick controls, with special moves performed by pressing a string of buttons. They work, but the controls could be tighter as certain moves (including side-step) can be tricky to execute. Tekken's high-definition graphics are pretty sweet. You get a variety of multi-level stages, each of which rotates 360 degrees. Standouts include the bright snowy glacier, the neon-lit city, and the stormy dock stage with waves crashing in the background. Tekken 6 offers a huge roster of 40 fighters. In addition to old favorites like Marshall Law and Nina Williams you get oddballs like a boxing Kangaroo (with baby in pouch), an animated wooden log, and an obese guy named "Bob". The arcade mode doesn't keep score, but instead earns you credits to deck out the characters in wacky outfits. Does anybody really
want to see Heihachi fighting in some goofy boxer shorts? The new "scenario mode" is an awkward attempt to turn the game into a side-scrolling 3D adventure. It begins with an extended cut-scene directed by some guy who would clearly prefer to be in the movie business. Between the endless cinematics and frequent load screens, I thought I'd never get to play! The stages are constrained by invisible walls, but I like how the story branches. And it's always fun to lay waste to a gang with a steel pipe or a flamethrower. I literally
beat a chicken
out of some guy! It's no Streets of Rage, but at least Bandai made an effort. When you're not playing on-line or against a friend you can try your hand at the time attack and survival modes. The load times are quick and rankings are saved. Tekken 6 may be more of the same, but hey, at least it's a lot more
of the same. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Test Drive Unlimited
Publisher: Atari (2006)
Rating: Everyone (language, mild violence)
I've heard other critics refer to Test Drive Unlimited like it was an arcade racer, but that was not my experience at all. In fact, I think Unlimited leans more towards the realism end of the spectrum. It's sort of like Need For Speed Most Wanted without all of the fun and excitement. Set in Hawaii, the developers have meticulously recreated the entire island of Oahu for this game. Having vacationed there in the past, I'd say the game does a respectable job of capturing the general look of the place and its key landmarks. The tropical scenery includes palm tree-lined highways, green mountains, and soaring skyscrapers, but after a little sightseeing the novelty wears off really quick. When attempting to travel around the perimeter of the island, I kept getting stuck on roads that loop around on themselves, which was annoying. Test Drive Unlimited uses a Google-Earth type of system to map the island and a GPS system to guide you to any location. The main story mode has you arriving at the airport before picking up a rental car and finding a place to live. As you progress through the game, you'll buy virtual houses and stock your garages with actual cars that look great and handle realistically. In addition to racing through the streets, a hodge-podge of missions includes time trials and driving hitchhikers to various locations within a time limit. You'll need to commute to each new challenge, but once you've been to a location, you can instantly jump to it via the map screen. The GPS system works about as well as those in real life, meaning it's mediocre. Once you start getting tired of the exotic scenery, Test Drive Unlimited becomes a bore, causing you to drive faster and get into a lot of accidents. That puts the police on your tail, and once they catch you they'll take your money, or worse, send you to jail. In jail, you'll need to sit there and stare at the screen for a minute of real time
. That's right folks, you literally serve time
in the game! Who in the hell thought that
was a good idea?! The races themselves are not very interesting, and the difficulty takes too long to ramp up. The shopping and customization elements are meant to add depth, but they just make the game feel tedious. I had high hopes for Test Drive Unlimited, but in the end it just bored the hell out of me. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
The Simpsons Arcade Game
Publisher: Konami (1991)
Rating: Everyone 10+
I first stumbled upon this gem in the arcade at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, and I was mesmerized. The Simpsons Arcade Game is a colorful side-scrolling beat-em-up cast from the same mold as Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991). Up to four players can participate as Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa attempt to save baby Maggie who has been kidnapped by Smithers. The bright, vivid stages bring to life so many memorable locations and wacky characters from the television series. You'll venture through downtown Springfield, a cemetery, Krusty's amusement park, a television studio, Mo's Tavern, and the power plant. Each area is brimming with detail, and it's a treat just seeing what each stage has in store (although that "dream" stage is lame). The slight pixelation in the graphics only adds to the game's charm. The two-button control scheme is simple, but occasional weapons (like a slingshot or cat) and team attacks add some spice. Even so, this wasn't as fun as I expected. The fighting is definitely repetitive, especially with the same bad guys appearing in each stage with different colored suits. Sound effects like Marge's vacuum attack will get on your nerves, and even the voice samples tend to wear out their welcome. The Simpson's Arcade Game is probably a "B" game, but it suffers on Xbox Live. The credit options suck
. You either get enough credits to cruise through the whole game (no challenge), or a single life
in "survival" mode. Huh?! It's hard to measure your performance because the global high score system is bloated to the point of being useless. A local top 10 would have been more faithful to the arcade original. The Simpson's Arcade Game should have been a slam-dunk, but the people who port games to Xbox Live have an annoying way of sucking the fun out of them. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 08
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Since the Wii edition of Tiger Woods 08 wasn't much to look at, I was expecting this 360 version to blow me away, but there's not much eye candy in this one either! The courses look fairly bland, especially when you consider the natural beauty of locations like Hawaii and Pebble Beach. The scenery has an artificial quality, and the fairways look more like Astroturf than grass. It doesn't help that the spectators lining the courses look like mannequins. I found the rolling hills of Hot Shots Golf (Playstation 3) far
more appealing and organic. The golfers here look very lifelike, but who cares? This game also suffers from many of the same design defects that plague the Wii version, including a needlessly complex create-a-golfer feature and the fact that your head will sometimes block the hole during a putt! The fact that the current hole and par information are not
displayed on the main screen is beyond stupid
. Apparently EA invested all of their time and resources in the new "photo game face" feature, which lets you upload your own face onto your character. Who asked for that feature? Oh yeah, that's right - no one.
The left stick is used to swing your club, and the gameplay is respectable but not exceptional in any way. It lacks the pick-up-and-play quality of the Wii game, and it takes nearly twice
as long to play a round. Most Xbox 360 owners will probably be satisfied with this, but only because they don't know what they're missing. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Square Enix (2013)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
I was very skeptical about this new Tomb Raider "reboot", which covers Lara Croft's very first adventure when she looked like Jennifer Lawrence. She's a new breed of hero that's mistake-prone and emotional, yet courageous and resourceful. The new, non-sexualized Lara has a sense of humility that makes her more relatable - and likeable. The game may be a "coming of age" story but it never feels melodramatic or heavy-handed. Tomb Raider expertly weaves a compelling narrative with pulse-pounding action sequences. Lara and several fellow explorers find themselves shipwrecked on a stormy island with tropical forests, soaring cliffs, ancient temples, ship graveyards, and watery caves. Tomb Raider's controls have been honed to perfection over the years, and now it seems they have it down to a science. It feels quite effortless as you leap between burning rooftops, swiftly dodge enemy attacks, and latch onto walls with your axe. And no, you won't plummet to your death just because you released a button! Lara reacts naturally to situations, holding up her arms to shield herself from wind, contorting her body to squeeze through crevasses, and feeling her way along the edge of a cliff. There are zip-lines all over the place, and they are a heck
of a lot of fun to ride. During shootouts you can quickly toggle between a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, and bow. For my money there's no more effective (or satisfying) weapon than a flaming arrow, which causes your enemies to burn in agony. Did I mention the game was really violent? Flaming arrows can also trigger explosions and rope arrows are used to pull down wooden structures. The stealth sequences are handled with restraint, and even scavenging for items is fun. Normally I have a few complaints about the camera, but I didn't even notice it
in this game! The people who put this together were really on top of their game. Frequent auto-saves and transparent loads create a seamless experience that never takes you out of the moment. Like the Uncharted series, Tomb Raider serves up a generous share of edge-of-your-seat quick-action scenes that will leave you breathless. Building on the lessons of all its predecessors, Tomb Raider is a masterpiece that gives this franchise a new lease on life. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Tomb Raider Anniversary
Publisher: Eidos (2007)
Rating: Teen (mild suggestive themes, violence)
Ten years after the release of its groundbreaking adventure, Eidos has released this Anniversary edition with updated stages "inspired" by the original Tomb Raider
(Playstation, 1997). It's an important distinction because despite a few key scenes and familiar sound effects, this feels like a completely different game. You'd expect an old Tomb Raider vet like me to be giddy as a schoolgirl about this update, but I am decidedly underwhelmed. Eidos incorporated the controls of Tomb Raider: Legend
(Xbox 360, 2005), and they are so intuitive and forgiving that it will be difficult to ever go back to the original game. New moves include the slow-motion "adrenaline dodge" and the ability to swing from grappling hooks. Lara now grabs onto anything by default, and can scale walls and hop between ledges with fluid ease. Unfortunately, the benefits of the new controls are offset by the excessive number of leaps you're expected to make! Lara has to jump around each level like a little monkey, and it gets annoying! Are these supposed to be tombs or jungle gyms? The stages are expansive, and some ascend to dizzying heights, but passages tend to loop back on themselves in a confusing manner. Backtracking is common, so don't get too happy after you traverse a hallway of perilous ledges and traps, because chances are you're going to have to go through it again
- in the other direction
. The early stages have you contending with wild animals, but eventually you'll face centaurs, mummies, and demons. Anniversary's graphics are about on par with Legend, and Lara's facial expressions are surprisingly well rendered. The audio features a sparse but effective musical score and memorable sound effects from the original game. When you hear the howl of a nearby wolf, it's quite unsettling. Sadly, Anniversary can't quite duplicate the spellbinding experience of the original game, and this became clear to me in the lame T-Rex encounter. The game has a few technical glitches here and there, including enemies that become partially embedded in the scenery, and you'll often need to fiddle with the camera. On the bright side, the load times are short, the checkpoints are frequent, and you can save your progress at any time. Tomb Raider Anniversary struggled to maintain my attention, but for gamers with a lot of time and patience, Anniversary offers a heck of a lot of adventure for your money. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Tomb Raider Underworld
Publisher: Eidos (2008)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Tomb Raider: Legend
(Xbox 360, 2006) restored the Tomb Raider series to prominence, and Underworld is of the same mold. Its dense jungles, overgrown ruins, and rocky shorelines look magnificent, partly thanks to some outstanding water effects. Lara Croft looks more like Angelina Jolie than ever before, and yeah
, that's a good
thing. She wears a number of sexy outfits throughout the game, and looks absolutely smokin'
in that black swimsuit. Like all Tomb Raider adventures, the emphasis is on exploration and puzzle-solving, with a side-order of combat tossed in every now and then. There's plenty of jumping, climbing, and swinging, but thanks to the intuitive control scheme it's all fairly effortless. One amazing new feature is Lara's ability to rock-climb. All you have to do is direct her over a rocky surface and watch in awe as she skillfully places her hands and feet in the proper outcroppings. Underworld's thoughtfully-designed dungeons require you to scour every nook and cranny. The game goes light on bosses, but I enjoyed the encounter with the grumpy red octopus. Underworld has all the ingredients a Tomb Raider fan could want, but it's surprisingly rough for such an established franchise. The camera sometimes hides critical areas, and it occasionally goes berserk in tight spaces. The game never bothers to explain what object you just picked up, making it hard to determine if it was a critical item or just a bonus treasure. The save system is also confusing, and sometimes it doesn't even restore from your latest save! While the action is fairly linear, you may find yourself needlessly backtracking in more expansive locations like Thailand. Be sure to use Lara's PDA if you get stuck, because it offers valuable hints. Tomb Raider Underworld has some unexpected technical flaws, but that shouldn't prevent thrill-seekers from enjoying this lush, exotic adventure. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Tomb Raider: Legend
Publisher: Eidos (2006)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)
With her career in "free fall" mode for years, Lara Croft is back in a fantastic new adventure that should return respectability to the franchise. Combining awesome visuals, intuitive controls, and a reasonable difficulty level, Legend is the most accessible Tomb Raider ever. The gameplay is an engaging mix of exploration, puzzle solving, high-speed chases, and shootouts with bosses and mercenaries. Climbing, jumping, grappling, and swinging are executed with remarkable ease. Since Lara automatically grabs onto any nearby ledge, there's much less of a chance that you'll accidentally fall to your death. Better yet, you can hang on to most ropes and ledges indefinitely without getting tired. Shiny objects and radio clues keep you on track, ample heath packs keep you strong, and checkpoints are both generous and well placed. It's as if the Eidos developers read every Tomb Raider critique ever written, and addressed every issue. Most of the puzzles are like none you've seen before, and many involve pulling objects with your grappling hook. But while the controls are perfectly suited to slow, deliberate movements, they tend to be a bit sluggish and inexact when fast action is called for. The mediocre targeting system doesn't detract from shootouts with bad guys (which tend to be easy anyway), but when facing bosses like the serpent in King Author's tomb, they can be a real nuisance. Fortunately, most sequences that require a series of fast actions are played out in cinematic cut-scenes that prompt you to hit buttons at critical moments to avoid danger. It may sound lame, but these are very well executed and a lot of fun. The obligatory shootouts with thugs are fairly shallow (strafe and fire away), but I do like how you can shoot up scenery (like exploding barrels) to cause further mayhem. In terms of graphics, Legend's crisp wall textures, majestic waterfalls, and spectacular city skylines put the 360's graphic prowess to excellent use. Despite reports to the contrary, Lara Croft herself has retained her sexy, voluptuous figure - and thank God for that! She looks hotter than ever, especially in her black dress and heels (wow). She walks in a more feminine manner, and her voice sounds very much like Angelina Jolie (who played her in the films). The game's exotic music soundtrack is understated but effective, and the dialogue is outstanding. Unlike the mindless drivel of most games, Legend features first-rate voice acting with clever banter between Lara and her cohorts. I actually cracked up a few times listening to some of more funny lines. The game runs about 10-12 hours, which is long enough to get your money's worth, but short enough that you can actually finish
the thing (people with real jobs know what I mean). Polished, fun, and madly addictive, Legend is easily the most satisfying Tomb Raider game since the series debut on the Playstation in 1996. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2009)
Skateboarding gamers have been traditionally limited to tapping buttons on a controller, but Tony Hawk Ride takes the action to the next level with a sturdy skateboard controller you stand up on. This controller has a contoured base that allows you to tilt the board in all directions and even rotate it 90 degrees. Movement combinations let you execute ollies, grinds, flips, manuals, and just about every maneuver a real skater can do. The controller is comfortable enough but I'd recommend wearing shoes to help with balance. A tutorial mode walks you through all of the moves but it tries to cover too much ground. I felt overwhelmed as the moves started to blur together, making it hard to remember the basics. It doesn't help that the skimpy manual fails to provide any quick reference material. Like real skateboarding, Tony Hawk Ride requires good timing and balance. If you're not particularly coordinated, you'll find yourself stumbling all over the place - both in your family room and on the screen! Strangely enough, pulling off random tricks is actually much easier than steering
- which is hard as hell!
Thank goodness the designers had the foresight to include a "casual mode" that automatically navigates you through each course so you can concentrate on jumps and tricks. You can still affect your route by triggering strategically placed arrows around the course. It feels a little automatic, but going from "casual" to "confident" difficulty is a monumental leap. Even on "casual" the game caused me to work up a sweat. You'll get to show off your stuff in diverse locations including Venice Beach, the Los Angeles River, and downtown Chicago. Tony Hawk Ride is cool in concept, but its unwieldy interface bogs down the fun. The skateboard controller has buttons on its side, but you'll still need to hold a normal controller to navigate the confusing labyrinth of menu screens. Prior to every run you need to verify your foot position on the board, which is a tedious process. The load screens are agonizingly long and the save screens are annoyingly frequent. Tony Hawk Ride lacks flow, and at times just feels aggravating. Even so, if you're looking for a skateboarding game with maximum realism, bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2008)
Top Spin 3 is so bizarre that I find it hard to believe that 2K Sports would even consider
releasing a tennis game like this. This 360 edition has far more options and much
better graphics than the Wii version, but the controls are insane
. You hold your swing button down as the ball approaches, but have to release it long before
the ball gets to you! The instructions actually recommend releasing it before the ball even bounces! My friend George said it best: "these controls take a tremendous
amount of enjoyment out of the game." You could argue that this is the first control scheme with built-in lag
. If 2K Sports did this just for the sake of being different, well, it was a bad idea. To be fair however, Top Spin 3 is playable once you get the hang of it, although the controls never feel second nature. Too often the player will hold in the swing button for a split-second too long, causing your player to just stand there as the ball bounces by. The "Top Spin School" tutorial is way overdone, with dozens of tedious lessons that tend to confuse matters even more. Heck, I was lost before I started
thanks to all that confusing text that floats over the tutorial's load screen! It's a shame, because the game's graphics and animation set a new standard for realism. The player facial hair looks amazing, and when the sun comes out of the clouds, I love how the court brightens and shadows appear. The selection of professional players includes Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova, but conspicuous in their absence is Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters. The robust career mode lets you create a player and take him through the ranks, beginning in a grimy public court in Chicago. Top Spin 3's soundtrack includes some bouncy pop songs, but the matches themselves are very quiet. Normally I might complain about the lack of commentary, but in this case, I didn't miss it. Top Spin 3 is not terrible, but it goes against everything I've learned in 30+ years of playing games. In this case, it's not the controls that are broken, it's the control scheme
! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2009)
Rating: Teen (mild blood, mild violence)
As a child I was a big fan of daredevil Evel Knieval, and this game taps into my deep-seated fascination with motorcycles, dangerous stunts, and fiery wrecks. Trials HD challenges you to perform a series of crazy stunts in a dark, expansive warehouse. Each stage offers a configuration of rickety boards and scaffolds that form ramps, obstacles, and rollercoaster-style hills and valleys. The game's pacing is best described as "rapid-fire". The stunts are short, the checkpoints are frequent, and the carnage is a joy to behold. The triggers are used for acceleration and brake, but finesse is the key as you move the left thumbstick to lean forward and backward. It's all about balance and precision as you attempt suicidal jumps and speed across collapsing platforms. Even when you know exactly what you need to do, it can take a dozen attempts before you survive a stunt. Fortunately there's zero load time between tries and you can even restart in the middle of a trick
if things aren't looking good. The over-the-top wipeout animations add to the fun. Your driver tends to get tossed around like a rag doll and your motorcycle seems to explode on contact. Trials HD take a simple concept and runs with it, not unlike Portal. Unlike Portal however, I did not
become nauseous while playing this! The stages are very uneven in terms of difficulty, but you always have several to choose from at a given time. Trials HD isn't a deep title, but it's a wild ride that's hard to stop playing once you start. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
Publisher: Capcom (2011)
Rating: Teen (violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, mild language)
The original Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
(Capcom, 2011) was one of the most spectacular fighting games I've ever laid eyes on. Its vibrant comic book-style graphics, high-energy gameplay, and excellent cast of characters is a feast for the senses. This Ultimate edition augments the fun with 12 new characters (!) including Doctor Strange, Firebrand, Ghost Rider, Frank West, Hawkeye, Nemesis T-Type, Iron Fist, Phoenix Wright, Nova, Strider Hiryu, Rocket Raccoon, and Virgil. The fighting action is entirely over-the-top as heros and villains dart around while unleashing projectiles and air attacks quicker than the eye can see. The battles are three-on-three, and you can call on your partners to deliver quick hits (as if more chaos was warranted). The game also has a wicked sense of humor, like the special attack where Frank West plows into his opponent(s) with a shopping cart!
When Rocket Raccoon goes buck-wild on an opponent, the hilarity meter goes into overdrive. Your player "license" keeps track of statistics, character usage, and arcade high score. As you play the game you'll unlock a steady stream of art, movies, bios, and other goodies. The unbridled chaos puts Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 at a lower tier than Street Fighter IV
(Capcom, 2009) and Mortal Kombat
(Warner Bros., 2011), but this Ultimate edition is still quite a spectacle. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Virtua Tennis 2009
Publisher: Sega (2009)
Like previous editions, Virtua Tennis 2009 delivers arcade-style gameplay with vibrant visuals and intuitive controls. This latest version doesn't really offer much new, but sticking with the tried-and-true formula isn't a bad idea. The action is fast and exciting. To hit the ball, you hold in the A button to "wind up" your shot while aiming using the thumbstick. Your player swings automatically, but you'll need to be in good position to unleash a tenacious cross-court shot. One knock against this game is how almost every hit is in-bounds - even awkward shots where you swing wildly. This artificially extends the volleys and reduces the challenge. Virtua Tennis 2009 benefits handsomely from its roster of actual pros which include both Williams sisters and hottie Maria Sharapova. Better yet, you can stage a "clash of the titans" match between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. From a distance the players look fine, but once you get up close they look a little scary!
The upbeat music is an appealing mix of guitar and synthesizer, and the crisp sound effects include the grunts of the players. As a multiplayer game, Virtua Tennis 2009 is "A" material. Especially when playing doubles, you have to love the wild volleys and frantic saves that occur as four players scamper around the court. When a player moves out of position, an alert partner will usually bail them out. The single player "World Tour" experience is less compelling. Sure there's plenty of stuff to do, but it's slow to advance and the amount of loading is obnoxious. The mini-games include sinking pirate ships and shooting billiard balls, but would a retry option be asking too much? Experienced players will find working their way through the early cupcake matches to be excruciating. I should also mention that this is a heck
of a lot like Virtua Tennis 3
(Xbox 360, 2006). The player selection is nearly the same, and the basic gameplay is unchanged. The single player mode does employ a lower vantage point, but it's no better or worse that the default high overhead view. Additional on-line modes are now available for those interested in that kind of thing. Gamers in the market for a tennis title will love Virtua Tennis 2009, but long-time fans looking to elevate their game may be disappointed. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2006)
The original Virtua Tennis
(Dreamcast, 2000) is a timeless classic. Easy to play and insanely addictive, it raised the bar for multi-player sports action. Unfortunately, when a game's that perfect, there's nowhere to go but down. As a result, subsequent editions of the game have received less enthusiastic receptions. Virtua Tennis 3 is a solid title with smooth animation and entertaining mini-games, but the magic has faded a bit. In addition to applying topspin (the default), there's a lob and a slice that can be used to execute drop shots. The graphics are average but the animation is incredibly lifelike, and you'll occasionally witness a sensational move like a hit between the legs. The high-energy music is terrific, and sound effects include player grunting and shrieking. The solo World Tour mode lets you develop a player and enter various tournaments. In the over-the-top mini-games you'll do stuff like aim for bulls-eyes or catch an avalanche of tumbling fruit. For my money though, nothing can beat knocking down bowling pins with your serve. I love
that game. But while some mini-games are addictive, the excessive number of prompts and load screens water down the fun. Would a "retry" option be too much to ask for? I was really digging the World Tour mode until the game informed me I had suffered from a fractured wrist, which instantly set my abilities back
in several categories! What the hell?! The tournament mode lets you get right down to business against a series of opponents, but I really wish there was an option to save your progress between matches. There are 20 professional players to choose from. The versus mode accommodates up to four players, and when teaming up with a friend to play doubles, the CPU opponents are tough as nails! Virtual Tennis 3 is the real deal, and you'll struggle to find a better realistic tennis game on the market. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2011)
Considering the sheer brilliance of the original Virtua Tennis
(Dreamcast, 2000), it's amazing how its sequels have turned out to be so... boring!
Virtua Tennis 4 looks
like an arcade-style game with stylish graphics and great music, but it plays more like a bad simulation. I find it amusing that "Better with Kinect" is printed across the front of the box. What an [expletive] joke! The erratic motion controls don't even measure up to the five-year-old Wii Sports
tennis game. Just waving your arm is enough to hit the ball, but you have no bearing on the spin or direction of your shot. Since you can't adjust your player's position, matches turn into a series of boring volleys along the baseline. Only available in exhibition mode, it's painfully clear that the Kinect feature was tacked on at the last minute. Using a normal controller lets you control the speed and spin of your shot by "winding up" before the ball arrives. It's a great scheme, but I found it difficult to hit the ball hard - even with power-hitters like Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer! And I couldn't perform a drop shot to save my life. The controls feature four different shot buttons, which is probably two too many. The courts are tremendously detailed but the player models haven't improved much since the first Virtua Tennis. Even Maria Sharapova
looks unattractive for Pete's sake! I do like how the game includes so many big names like Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic, and Venus Williams. The matches tend to be reasonable in length, but I wish there were a way to turn off the constant replay and player reaction animations. After a while you just start tapping buttons to skip that repetitive junk. The World Tour mode gives the game substantial replay value with its "board game" layout and endless diverse challenges. Unfortunately there are more mini-games than actual tennis and they quickly wear out their welcome. The ones where you need to run around a court while stepping on switches or collecting eggs are especially annoying. The arcade mode apparently keeps track of your high score, but there's no way to view it from the menus (despite a wealth of other player statistics available). Virtua Tennis 4 is not a terrible game, but it lacks excitement. Sega games used to be so much fun. What happened? © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2006)
Viva Pinata is Microsoft's effort to reach the younger demographic, and it's not bad. Modeled somewhat after the Sim City games, the idea is to cultivate a small plot of land in order to attract a diverse assortment of cute creatures. These creatures are pinata versions of real animals, with names like Syrupent (snake), Sparrowmint (bird), Bunnycomb (rabbit), Mousemallow (mouse), and Squizzel (squirrel). You explore your "garden" with a circular cursor, and there's always something to do. You'll clear away rocks and debris, purchase items, grow plants, construct habitats, and interact with the creatures. Once you've fulfilled the "romance" requirements of a certain species, they will begin to procreate. The imaginative pinata animations are crafted with care, and it's slightly heartbreaking when they die of sickness or are hunted down. Your garden tends to get a little cluttered over time, but new ground gradually becomes accessible. I really like the changing weather conditions, and it's neat how the time of day affects animal behavior. The worms and birds tend to get up early, and foxes and bats are active at night. Viva Pinata's flower-shaped menus are structured logically enough, but the interface could be better. There are too many layers of menus, and too many prompts. Also, I couldn't determine the practical value of actions like "mailing" pinatas or assigning names to them. Helpful characters wearing Indian Doctor masks are gradually introduced to sell you goods, heal sick pinatas, or perform other services. These increase your options exponentially, but after a while it feels like the game is being crushed under its own weight. Viva Pinata is rarely exciting, but it's constantly introducing new creatures and items. As long as you keep experimenting, you'll always see something new, and the possibilities are endless. But while I found the game engaging from the start, my interest waned over time. Despite my continued success, maintaining the garden has a lot of repetitive tasks that can feel like chores over time. I really wish I didn't have to direct pinatas towards their mates or food sources, and the maze-like minigames are tiresome. I can appreciate the style of the game and its ageless appeal, but Viva Pinata doesn't have that addictive quality needed to put a game like this over the top. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
WWE Legends of Wrestlemania
Publisher: THQ (2009)
Rating: Teen (blood, language, use of alcohol, violence)
I've never been a huge wrestling fan, but I do fondly recall the "golden days of wrestling" of the 1980's, when the WWF was huge
. Hulk Hogan even made the cover of Sports Illustrated!
This game brings back all the true legends like Hulkster, Andre the Giant, Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Undertaker, the Iron Sheik, King Kong Bundy, and Jake "the Snake" Roberts. This game contains too many to list! There are even some newer stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. You can team up your wrestler with managers like Jimmy Hart and Bobby "The Brain" Hennan, but why are there only four managers to choose from? Where the [expletive] is Captain Lou Albano? Each match begins with the fighters approaching the ring as music blares, but these sequences are surprisingly uneventful. In the ring, you first initiate a punch or a grapple, and the possibilities branch out from there. I like the simple control scheme, which lets you perform throws, elbow drops, head stomps, and clothelines with ease. You can climb the turnbuckles or walk freely outside the ring. For more elaborate moves, a series of button prompts will flash, and hitting a button before your opponent does will give you the upper hand. Although the matches are fairly vanilla, every now and then something funny will happen, like Hulk Hogan will try to pick up King Kong Bundy and sprain his back! Managers tend to interfere with the matches, usually when you're trying to pin your opponent. Playing tag team with a friend is fun, but why in the hell
is it so hard to tag your partner?? Besides the head-to-head mode, there's the obligatory create-a-wrestler feature. The user interface for customizing your character sucks, but moving up the ranks is a challenge. A Tour Mode lets you relive (and rewrite) dramatic moments from past Wrestlemanias, but to be honest, the best part of these is watching the old footage. Legends of Wrestlemania should have been the ultimate wrestling game, but it's missing a few key ingredients. Namely, it's lacking the theatrics and showmanship of the old days. Why is there no talking?!
Back in the day, the wrestlers and managers would do extensive interviews before the fights, and the trash-talking was half the fun! Where is Mean Gene Oakerlund when you need him? Even showing a short, canned interview before each match would have been worth a letter grade in my mind. Another missing element is the referees. Yeah, I know they could never restore any order during bouts, but it was always fun to see them try. On the whole Legends of Wrestlemania is a moderately fun game, but it fails to capitalize on its rich roster of memorable personalities. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
World of Outlaws: Sprint Cars
Publisher: THQ (2010)
A few years ago my buddy Brent introduced me to sprint car racing, luring me up to Williams Grove Speedway in PA with a six-pack of Pinner beer. Sprint cars are small winged vehicles that race around dirt ovals at dangerous speeds. For sprint car fans World of Outlaws is like the holy grail of games. Fully licensed with real drivers and actual venues, this game perfectly captures the festive atmosphere and high-speed thrills of the sprint car circuit. Williams Grove looks so much like the real thing I could almost spot myself in the stands chowing down a $1.75 hot dog. Those red sunsets look amazing. In terms of gameplay World of Outlaws is a lot harder than you might expect. The triggers let you to regulate your speed with precision. That's critical, because sprint cars "gun it" on straightaways and make long, controlled power-slides around turns. It's exhilarating when you're sliding around a turn halfway out-of-control in a crowd of other cars. Once you get into a rhythm this game is mesmerizing. Just don't blink because one false move will send you plowing into a wall, undoing ten laps of jockeying for position. As in real sprint car racing, flying mud tends to obstruct your vision - even in third-person view. Hitting the X button will tear tape off your goggles and clear the screen, but these "tear offs" are limited. I also like how icons appear over cars, depicting symbols like an exclamation point, fire, or a cup. Since the icons are never explained, my friends have their own comical interpretations ("Hey look - that guy is really surprised!") An exciting career mode lets you gradually unlock new tracks and cars. It's nice how you can skip time trials and intermediate heats (if so inclined) to get right down to business. The two-player split-screen is very good but sometimes seems to indicate the wrong player won. Racing around ovals may not be for everyone, but World of Outlaws is so faithful to the sport that sprint car fans should bump up the grade by a full letter. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
X-Arcade Unplugged Volume 1
Publisher: Microsoft (2006)
Rating: E-T (simulated gambling, mild fantasy violence, comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)
I was pretty psyched when I heard about this unlikely compilation. I've long resisted the urge to join Microsoft's Xbox Live on-line service, but I've heard intriguing things about one particular X-Arcade game called "Geometry Wars". Geometry Wars headlines this collection, but does it live up to the hype? Is it really the best game for the system? Is it worth giving up your life savings or selling a kidney for? Yes. Absolutely. An entrancing combination of Asteroids (1979) and Robotron (1981), this ultra-addictive 2D shooter offers visceral non-stop action, visual splendor, and an ass-kicking techno soundtrack. Heck, this one game justifies the entire package! The other five titles on the disk are far less compelling. Bejeweled 2 is a Tetris-inspired puzzler with attractive graphics and a pleasant new age soundtrack. Hexic is another puzzler played by rotating hexagonal gems. Both feature the same brand of simple but relaxing, mesmerizing gameplay. Hardwood Backgammon is a single-player version of the classic board game, but it benefits from an intuitive interface and helpful tutorial. Outpost Kaloki is best described as SimCity in space, but despite its offbeat sense of humor and big-band musical score, it failed to hold my attention. Wik: The Fable of Souls, is a ho-hum platformer with a visual style similar to OddWorld: Abe's Odyssey (Playstation, 1997). If you can imagine playing a platform game with a mouse, you'll have a pretty good idea of what Wik's about. Texas Hold 'Em is a sharp version of the popular card game, and I found it to be a useful tool for learning how to play. So where's the "arcade" in X-Arcade Unplugged? With the exception of Geometry Wars, you can't help but get the feeling that Microsoft was trying to unload its "worst sellers". Even more insidious is how you cannot
record your high scores unless
you're logged into Xbox Live! So let me get this straight: Microsoft calls this "unplugged" and then forces you to log in to use a key feature? In light of this, the package starts to look like a cheap gimmick to lure off-line customers onto the service. X-Arcade Unplugged gets by on the strength of the phenomenal Geometry Wars, but ultimately it comes off as a glorified demo disk. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
X-Men The Arcade Game
Publisher: Konami (1992)
As much as I prefer buying my games on disk, this download-only title was just too hard to resist. I have vivid memories of seeing six people play X-Men at the local arcade at Security Square Mall back in the day. It was captivating to watch. The massive cabinet featured three large side-by-side screens which gave the illusion of one super-wide playing field. X-Men's simple brand of side-scrolling fighting action is pure 2D bliss. Up to six players can team up as Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Dazzler. Each hero has a trademark special move like Cyclop's eye laser and Storm's tornado summoning. Colossus' special attack is accompanied by a hilarious roar, and Nightcrawler kills every foe as he makes a mad dash around the screen. Although the scenery isn't spectacular by any means, the vivid, comic-book style visuals look great. The audio is less impressive, with many background tunes riddled by annoying samples. This relatively short adventure takes you through war-torn streets, caves, jungles, and industrial facilities as you track down the evil Magneto. At first you'll face waves of generic robots, but eventually you battle imaginatively-designed freaky mutants. Beating them up is fun, and you can even hit them when they're down! Each stage concludes with an obligatory boss encounter, at which time all the players predictably unleash their special attacks non-stop. The abrupt cut-scenes between stages are unintentionally funny, and you have to relish cheesy voice samples like "the White Queen welcomes you... to die!
" X-Men is a fantastic arcade game, so I'm disgusted
by how poorly it's implemented on Xbox Live. First, the scoring system is awful. You score a point for each kill, so wiping out a swarm of bees nets you 20 while defeating a boss earns you one. Even if the scoring made sense, there's no mechanism for saving local scores. Next we have the issue of unlimited continues. Not only does this eliminate any tension or challenge, but it encourages players low on health to kill themselves
just so they can recharge their special attacks! I was excited about playing on-line with five people, but it turned out to be a jerky, blinky mess. Whoever ported this game on Xbox Live was lazy and thoughtless. Either they don't know anything about video games or were just out to make a buck (probably both). You'll enjoy playing through it once, but after that X-Men's replay value becomes negligible. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Publisher: 2K Games (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
This intense strategy title is a "reboot" of a PC cult favorite released in 1994. X-COM: Enemy Unknown perfectly captures the "just one more try"
feel of the original. Alien forces are harassing the Earth and it's your job as commander of the secret multi-national X-COM organization to find out why... and beat back the Green Menace! Quick tutorials lay out the basics of running your base and commanding soldiers. At headquarters you'll need to decide what technologies to research, what gadgets to build, and which requests for assistance to respond to. Missions include intervening against alien terror attacks, escorting VIP's, and investigating grounded UFOs. If you're tired of first-person shooters, this is the game for you! Good reflexes with the controller will do you no good here. Just like real life alien abductions, you'll need to think
your way out of this mess! Each mission lets you methodically position troops in a turn-based isometric world, and it's important to make sure your soldier always has some kind of cover. A real
game manual would have come in handy in lieu of the now-standard three-page leaflet. The rules of engagement are not always clear, and even after extended play certain elements of the game seem mysterious. You'll want to know all your options, because only an experienced, combat-hardened X-COM operative stands a chance in later missions. The graphics are appropriately campy for the retro-style sci-fi theme of the game, and the creepy sound effects are effective. X-COM starts off slow but becomes more interesting as you progress and resource management becomes increasingly important. Once you fully develop a soldier, it's painful to lose him on the battlefield. If you lose several troops on a particularly tough mission, you'll find yourself desperately short-handed for the next one. The game has terrific depth and complexity, yet the user interface is intelligently designed and a pleasure to navigate. X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a slow-burn title that will test your patience up front but pays off in the long run. NOTE: Special thanks to the C-64 Critic for contributing to this review. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
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