Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
Being a huge fan of Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991), I can appreciate a 2D, side-scrolling brawler like Final Fight One. Few things in life are as satisfying as bashing a thug with a lead pipe, or slugging three goons with a single punch! This GBA edition of the original Final Fight is nearly arcade quality, with graphics that look slightly better than the SNES version. Controlling Guy, Cody, or Haggar, you forge your way through various urban locations including slums, a subway, and a construction site. The old-school gameplay is appealing, with hand-illustrated 2D backgrounds that are far more interesting than the 3D rendered locations of modern games. Along the same lines, the thumping, 16-bit electronic music is awesome and perfectly suited to the frenetic action. The jump/punch/special control scheme may seem limiting, but it yields an adequate number of attacks, and the throws are especially fun. On your journey you'll encounter Andre the Giant look-alikes and Street Fighter Alpha "bosses" Sodom and Rolento. Final Fight One is no cakewalk, and just surviving the third level (out of six) requires some serious skill. Like most games of this style, Final Fight's main downfall is how the same bad guys reappear over and over, usually in different colored outfits. Special features that can be unlocked include a stage select, color select, and a "rapid punch" option. If you enjoy old school fighting action, Final Fight One will not disappoint. And one more thing: does anybody else find the title of this game amusing? © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Boy oh boy, I had forgotten just how ridiculously hard
these Gradius games are! For those who aren't familiar with the series, Gradius is a line of side-scrolling space shooters that became popular in the mid-80s. This version retains the basic gameplay and extreme difficulty of the original game. Galaxies tosses you into the fire from the get-go. Level one is nearly insurmountable with its narrow caverns and missiles approaching from all directions. Like all Gradius titles, you can collect pods and redeem them for power-ups. It's really important to get off to a good start and load up on weapons early. Galaxies also includes an "auto upgrade" feature that automatically performs your upgrades so you can concentrate on the business at hand. The graphics and sound here are nothing fancy, but the lack of flash makes it easier to dodge projectiles and navigate caverns. As a big fan of the series, I really enjoyed Gradius Galaxies despite the frustration it inevitably brings. This is a shooter lover's shooter - an extreme challenge of the highest magnitude. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear Advance
Publisher: Sammy (2002)
I really enjoyed the Playstation 2 (PS2) Guilty Gear games, but this portable edition is a joke
. The PS2 versions featured large, well-animated characters and gorgeous backgrounds, but you'll get none of that here. The motley crew of characters is the same, including the hair-fighting Millia Rage, hard-rocking Axel Low, hulking Potemkin, bag-headed Faust, and the aptly named Sol Badguy. Unfortunately, the fighters are small, and their animation is so rough that certain moves look more like glitches in the game. The fantasy backgrounds are completely static and have a washed-out look. The music is totally unappealing, and the distorted voice samples sound like static. But the worst aspect is the game's low difficulty, which is surprising considering how tough the PS2 versions are. The normal skill level is laughably easy, and even at "very hard" I could dispatch my opponents easily with minimal technique required. Upon winning the arcade mode, you view a text
ending, and are then forced to sit through boring credits - some reward! Guilty Gear Advance does save high scores, and you can link up with a friend, but what's the point, really? © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Gunstar Super Heroes
Publisher: Sega (2005)
The original Gunstar Heroes appeared on the Sega Genesis in 1993, and over the years a dedicated following has elevated it to classic status. As a big fan who owned Gunstar "back in the day", I could hardly wait to get my hands on this Gameboy Advance sequel. But much to my surprise, this is more of a remake
than a sequel. For those who've never played Gunstar Heroes before, its frenetic, rapid-fire style is a lot like Metal Slug, but much faster. Gunstar Super Heroes kicks off with flashbacks to the original game, complete with the same bad dialogue ("No... the Earth... under one person's power...). After a short intro level, you can select from four familiar scenarios, including the village, airship, mineshaft, and oversized board game. The stages have been visually overhauled almost beyond recognition, and new mini-games have been incorporated. True to the Gunstar legacy, there are some truly wacked-out bosses, including a giant gopher that's periodically run over by a passing truck. The character sprites are significantly larger and more detailed than those of the original game, but their size seems to limit the amount of on-screen mayhem. The run-and-gun action is still fun, but seems more tame. You can switch between three weapons on the fly, but you can't combine them. The developer makes heavy use of the GBA's rotation capabilities, with stages that feature spinning planes and rotating a mazes. Unfortunately, these stages look
better than they play. Even a new overhead shooter sequence falls flat due to your oversized ship and limited real estate. I could also do without all of the boring dialogue between stages. Does an action game like this really need
dialogue? Definitely not! I will give this game kudos for its high score management, which saves high scores and initials per stage
. In the final analysis, Gunstar Super Heroes manages to stay true to the original game, but like most sequels, it can't quite match the original. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
High Heat Major League Baseball 2003
Publisher: 3DO (2002)
Man, I didn't realize how good Baseball Advance was until I played High Heat! This game has some serious problems. For starters, the fielders and balls are very tiny, which is not conducive to a hand-held game! Even the behind-the-batter view looks very distant. The pitching and batting controls are okay, but I hate how you have to "cue" the pitcher to throw the ball when you're batting. Once the ball is hit, fielders can run, catch, and throw, but can't jump or dive. The CPU-controlled fielders are idiotic, often missing easy chances to throw men out or turn double plays. High Heat does have all the major league teams and a wealth of options. The ballparks look pretty good, but the players all look identical. High Heat's audio is horrible. The intro screen's blaring rock music will make you cringe, and during the game the crowd is strangely silent, only reacting to long fly balls. High Heat is long on options but short on gameplay, so I'd recommend you stick with Baseball Advance. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Hot Wheels: All Out
Publisher: DSI Games (2006)
What initially attracted me to this bargain-bin racer was its isometric (tilted overhead) camera angle. Providing an ideal perspective of both the cars and scenery, this view has been effectively used in many old-school racers, and more recently in the excellent Racing Gears Advance (2005). Sadly, Hot Wheels falters badly with its sloppy gameplay and uninspired tracks. The tiny cars look okay, but the ice, volcano, and city tracks lack detail and creativity. Only the colorful jungle stage is even the least bit interesting. The courses are strewn with cheap hazards, including potholes that collapse from underneath and flamethrowers that trigger without warning. In terms of racing, there's little sense of speed, and the collision detection is deplorable. Just driving close
to an opponent causes a "bump" to occur, giving him a boost while you come to a near standstill! There are ramps to jump, but the physics is laughable as your car gently floats in the air without even changing its orientation. Hot Wheels provides ample challenge and a handy password option, but this poorly constructed racer is lukewarm at best. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Jurassic Park III: Island Attack
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
As one of three Jurassic Park III games made for the Gameboy Advance, Island Attack is an action-packed adventure. There's not much of a story (thank goodness for that) but the style and visuals stay true to the film. At the start of the game you find yourself next to some plane wreckage while talking to the coast guard with a transmitter. The guy offers some pretty dubious advice, like "if you run into any dinosaur, just make a run for it." Actually he's right - running is usually your safest bet, considering there are no weapons
. The action is viewed from a tilted overhead angle as you explore jungles with wide clearings, a partly-operational control center, and a dilapidated museum. The graphics are so detailed that they sometimes border on digitized. The massive Spinosaurus looks particularly ominous as it rocks back and forth, ready to charge. Some of the smaller dinosaurs however, like the spitting Dilophosaurus, can be a little hard to make out. Your main adversaries are raptors, and the most effective way to subdue them is to lure them near explosives and ignite them with a flare gun. This cat-and-mouse style of play gets a little old after a while. In one area you need to lure five Dilophosaurus into an electrified pool of water, and it's a tedious, time-consuming process. The running controls are awkward, forcing you to double-tap the directional pad. Frankly I wish my guy was running all of the time
. A crosshair symbol appears on items of interest (like a breakable crate), but sometimes only intermittently. Aiming the flare gun is frustrating, especially when a dinosaur stands between you and a crate. When it comes to smashing a box or opening a rusty door, the game prompts you to button mash. Most stages are relatively short, and you can save your progress after completing each one. The transmitter comes in handy later in the game when you're in need of a hint. A high-speed motorcycle chase offers a nice change of pace, but it's about twice as long (and hard) as it should be. Jurassic Park III: Island Attack has its highs and lows, but it should appeal to fans of the film. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Jurassic Park III: Park Builder
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
The intro to this game features digitized (and pixelated) dinosaurs running wild, and it really got me psyched up to play. Jurassic Park III: Park Builder is a simulator along the lines of SimCity and Theme Park. The icon interface makes it pretty easy to construct a park with roads, hotels, restaurants, shops, and fenced areas for the dinosaurs. The process for making a dinosaur is consistent with the films. First you deploy teams of excavators to various continents to mine for amber. Upon their return you analyze the amber in a research lab, with each piece containing portions of DNA for a particular dinosaur. Once you acquire a full strand you can produce an egg. There are 140 (!) types of dinosaurs in all, and it's fun to "collect" them. As the park comes to life you'll see people milling about with bubbles over their heads indicating if they are sad, happy, or excited. The game lets you customize your park to a surprising degree, incorporating things like landscaping, statues, and fountains. You can upgrade facilities, read what the people are saying, and view a graph of the attendance. There's plenty to do, but your hands are often tied by available funds. Your money is shown on top of the screen, and it fluctuates wildly. When in the red you really can't do much of anything except wait, and the park freezes in time when you peruse the menus. I also dislike how the game is constantly prompting you to "name" things, including every single dinosaur. Not only do I have no desire to "name" the dinosaurs, but the keyboard interface royally sucks. One crucial tip for a novice is to install "rotaries" to connect roads with walkways. Otherwise you get all kind of nonsensical error messages. Once you get the hang of it Park Builder is a pretty intriguing title that packs a surprising amount of content. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Jurassic Park III: The DNA Factor
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
Of the three Jurassic Park III games for the Game Boy Advance, DNA Factor is probably the most playable. It feels like a traditional side-scroller as you guide a lanky Indiana Jones-looking dude through jungles and laboratories while jumping, dodging, shooting, and collecting DNA samples. Good times! Your character actually moves between two planes, but since they aren't clearly delineated, it takes a while to figure out where you can or can't go. There are a lot of bottomless pits, but your guy usually grabs the ledge instead of falling. The DNA samples (colored dots) burst into stars as you collect them in a magically delicious kind of way. You don't need to collect all
of the DNA, but grab what you can because if you don't collect enough you'll need to replay the stage. I really enjoyed the arcade style of DNA Factor, but the game finds some imaginative ways to annoy. When trying to get past the Brontosaurus boss, even touching his leg can spell instant death. Worst yet, the "earthquakes" caused by his stomps deal significant damage unless you jump in the air. It's actually possible for him to kill you after he's completely left the screen!
I could also do without that "DNA shooting" mini-game between stages. It has an old-school flair (I guess), but it's confusing and unnecessary. Worst of all, if you fail it, you need to restart the previous platform stage, and that just sucks. The DNA Factor had the right idea, but a few bonehead design choices prevent it from being exceptional. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Pro Surfer reminds me of an old computer game called Surf's Up that I played on my Atari XL computer about twenty years ago. There's no 3D graphics here - just a little surfer on a huge wave. Even so, I must commend the awesome visuals. The waves look utterly fantastic with their bubbling foam crests and shimmering barrels, and the water in the background looks practically digitized. Gameplay simply involves guiding your surfer around the wave and executing tricks for points. It would be tempting to write off Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer as a simple button masher, because almost every button combination produces some kind of trick. It's hard to screw up in Amateur mode, but the Challenge mode is addicting in a Tony Hawk kind of way. You can pull off impressive combos with ease, but you'll need to know what you're doing to score the big points. A special meter across the top of screen increases with every trick, so the better you perform, the easier it is to pull off the crazy stuff. Pro Surfer's music is great, and a gnarly surfer dude offers constructive criticism like "You suck
!". Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is a pleasant surprise to say the least. If you're looking for a surfing game but have been disappointed with the PS2 and Xbox offerings, give this old-school throwback a try. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Konami Arcade Hits
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Based on this superb compilation, the Gameboy Advance is clearly well-suited to classic 80's arcade action. Konami's all-star lineup includes Frogger, Scramble, Time Pilot, Gyruss, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Rush'n Attack. Frogger is clearly the star of the show, and remarkably, this is the first time
I've seen it in a compilation! Unlike the arcade version, the screen scrolls up and down as you hop, but this doesn't harm the gameplay. Scramble is one of my all-time personal favorites. It's a terrific side-scrolling space shooter where you fire missiles and drop bombs while navigating narrow caverns. Time Pilot is an intense free-flying airplane shooter with stages that reflect various periods of history. In Gyruss, you move your space ship in a circular pattern and fire at enemies that emerge from the center of the screen. Yie Ar Kung Fu hasn't aged as well as the others, but it still delivers some enjoyable fighting action as you attempt to defeat a series of cartoonish martial artists. Rush'n Attack is a side-scroller that challenges you to infiltrate a Russian military base. All of these games provide hours of addicting fun, and some nifty bonuses are included as well. There's a "prehistoric" bonus level for Time Pilot, two extra fighters for Yie Ar Kung Fu, and "advanced resolution" modes of Frogger, Scramble, and Gyuss. This is how classic games should
be updated - improve the graphics but don't
mess with the time-honored gameplay! So what's not to like about Konami Arcade Hits? Well, the fact that you can't
save you high scores for one thing. That's especially hard to forgive considering all these games have nice high-score screens
. Other than that, Konami Arcade Hits is an action-packed blast from the past. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda, The
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Originally released on the NES in 1986, this revolutionary title effectively fused arcade action and RPG-style adventure. As one of Nintendo's flagship franchises, Zelda is still going strong today, but has this original installment stood the test of time? Absolutely, and this throwback cartridge leaves no doubt. It had been a while since I had played Zelda, and the first thing that struck me was how unlike recent Zelda adventures, this one doesn't "hold your hand" through the first few stages. No, this one tosses you straight to the wolves, and you'll die repeatedly before you gain enough health to face down monsters. Stick with it - the game gets easier and more interesting as you progress. Zelda's world is a rectangular patchwork of screens containing forest, desert, water, and mountain environments. Scattered throughout the landscape are wandering monsters, multi-level dungeons, merchants, and wise men that offer advice (like "walk into the waterfall"). When your life meter is full, your sword can also fire projectiles, making combat a heck
of a lot easier. It's neat to see how so many of the weapons, monsters, and musical tunes from this game have endured throughout the whole series. Legend of Zelda may be timeless, but it understandably lacks the polish of subsequent Zeldas. I don't like how the monsters materialize briefly after you enter a screen, resulting in some really cheap hits. It's also annoying how when you reach the edge of the "world", the screens just start to repeat in a confusing manner. Some of Zelda's graphics are a bit hard to discern on the small Gameboy screen - many creatures are hard to see at all. But despite these minor quibbles, Legend of Zelda is still a very satisfying experience. Plus, it's refreshing to play a Zelda game that you can finish in a weekend. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
One of my defining video game memories was playing Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo) in 1993. That game absolutely captivated me from beginning to end, and few adventures I've played since have been as enthralling or satisfying. Over the years, Zelda has transitioned to 3D, and the modern adventures are great but lack that charming 2D simplicity. Now, after many years, Nintendo has returned the series to its 2D roots. Firing up Minish Cap for the first time, those warm feelings began to return. The game's overhead graphics are very appealing, and the majestic musical score is first rate. Much of the music and sound effects are lifted directly from Link to the Past. The storyline doesn't take long to develop. An evil being has turned princess Zelda to stone, and he can only be defeated by a special sword. The sword has been broken into pieces, but it can be reforged by the legendary tiny "Picori" people in the Minish Woods. Once Link acquires the power to shrink himself down and visit these little people, it opens up a whole new dimension of exploration. After so many Zelda episodes, you might expect the formula to be wearing thin, but Minnish Cap introduces some truly innovative new wrinkles, such as rotating a barrel from the inside. Unfortunately, everything doesn't come together perfectly, and it's possible to become terribly stuck. The new feature of "fusing coin pieces" requires you to slash every bush and talk to every person, and it gets old. Even so, the game has a wonderful sense of charm and discovery, making for a pleasant but imperfect Zelda adventure. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
This little Diablo-style dungeon crawler is playable enough, but practically identical to its predecessor, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
(Electronic Arts, 2002). Return of the King's presentation is beyond reproach, with cinematic sound effects and fluid animation. Heck, Gandolf's robe even flows in the wind! As you battle your way through scenes from the film (and a few scenes not from the film), you'll discover all sorts of new items and weapons. Unfortunately, the familiar formula is wearing thin, making Return of the King's flaws harder to forgive. For one thing, item management gets tiresome, especially when you keep picking up the same unwanted crap. An auto-upgrade feature sure would come in handy. Besides selecting abilities and weapons, the hack-n-slash action is pretty shallow. Cheap hits and exploding enemies will have you wishing there was some kind of defensive maneuver. There's a lot of dark environments that make it hard to discern enemies. If you didn't play Two Towers, you might appreciate Return of the King more, but otherwise steer clear of this obvious rehash. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
If nothing else, I was enthralled by The Two Tower's sky-high production values. Crisp video clips, lavish ornamentation, and a heroic musical score make this a very attractive package. Under the covers however lies a rather conventional hack-n-slash solo adventure in the tradition of Diablo. You guide your selectable hero through locations inspired by the first two
Lord of the Rings films, from snow-swept mountains to cavernous mines. Unfortunately, there's not much to see and the dungeons and wilderness areas get monotonous. You view the action from a tilted overhead perspective, giving the 2D graphics a modest illusion of depth. Despite the small size of the characters, each is meticulously rendered and nicely animated. Enemies like Orcs and Wolves can be hard to discern, but at least they splatter nicely when defeated. The audio samples are simply amazing. During battle, the sound of a clanking sword or ripping flesh lets you know when you've landed a blow. In addition to hacking and shooting arrows, you can execute special moves like brandishing two swords at a time or shooting fireballs. The somewhat repetitive action is spiced up by the ability to outfit your character with various weapons, armor, and other items. You'll acquire loot from defeated monsters and not-so-hidden treasure chests. In theory, you can save your place at any time, but you always have to restart your latest level, which means repeating large chunks of a stage. Despite its flashy appearance, Two Towers wears thin after a while. Fans of the films will find plenty to like, but casual gamers may have a hard time maintaining interest. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
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