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SSX On Tour
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/22
Rating: Everyone 10+ (Crude humor, mild violence)

screenshotFive years after the first SSX (Playstation 2, 2000), EA continues to pump out these crazy snowboarding games. SSX On Tour may be the same ole' [expletive] with a fresh coat of paint, but On Tour is probably my favorite SSX yet. Unlike previous editions, it lets you dive straight into the action. In addition to the standard races, there are many unconventional challenges like "tagging" other riders and initiating "close calls" with the casual skiers on the slope. Performing fancy tricks is frustrating until you learn to "wind up" spins and flips before you take off. You can't just initiate them in mid-air as in previous games. The instructions do a poor job of explaining this vital detail, but once you get it down, you'll be pulling off crazy tail-wag/sinful-indy/rubber-chicken-salad/meatball-spaghetti combos with ease. The controls are flawless, and the Gamecube's analog stick proves ideal for carving the slopes. Performing grinds is pretty much automatic, and I like how tapping B lets you recover from falls. I also like how your character makes an effort to re-orient himself before landing a trick. The single-player "tour" mode is madly addictive, and it's fun to climb the rankings after each win. Naturally, you can also race against a buddy via the split-screen. Like all other SSX games, the courses are loaded with obstacles, lights, fireworks, roller coaster-like rails, and strategically-placed ramps. While never boring, they do tend to be a bit "much". I would have preferred a few open, natural-looking trails. SSX On Tour features a classic rock theme and menus that resemble doodles from an old high school notebook. The hard rock soundtrack sounds dated at times, but Def Leppard's "Let It Go" and Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills" are standout tracks. All in all, SSX On Tour offers high-speed thrills that even the most casual gamers should appreciate. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Scooby Doo: Unmasked
Grade: C
Publisher: THQ (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/11/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI got a real kick out of Scooby Doo: Night of 100 Frights (Xbox, 2003), and expected this new edition to deliver the same brand of wacky ghost-chasing mayhem. But Unmasked isn't as good, party because it looks like doggy-doo. These graphics are butt-ugly. Everything looks totally dull, poorly defined, and plain. The hub of the game is a monster museum with creatures fabricated from a magical substance called Mubber. You'll also spend a good amount of time in China Town and its sewers in a sequence of stages that resemble a bad Tomb Raider knock-off. Here you'll witness every platform clichˇ under the sun, including rising platforms, conveyer belts, trampolines, and gas that shoots out of pipes at regular intervals. You control Scooby throughout the game, only interacting with the other characters to provide them with key items. Scooby is well animated, and he looks really funny when he slides on his butt or climbs hand-over-hand. He can perform Crash Bandicoot-style jumps and spins as he breaks crates and bashes rats and spiders. Occasionally he'll dress up like a Kung Fu fighter, a bat, or Robin Hood, giving him a whole new set of moves. Though not terribly interesting, Unmasked is still quite playable thanks to its responsive controls, forgiving gameplay, and fine camera system. Even when faced with a harrowing set of obstacles, you'll usually whiz right through them without breaking a sweat. Occasionally you're treated to a special stage, including a wild ride down an underground river. The game's voice acting is very good, and pleasant jazzy tunes play in the background. You can save your progress at any time from the pause menu. Scooby Doo Unmasked doesn't do a lot, but if you're looking for a light-hearted, easy platform game, this should do the trick. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Shadow the Hedgehog
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/22
Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence, mild language)

screenshotAs much as I hate to say it, the critics were perfectly justified to lambaste Shadow the Hedgehog as they have. This game was an attempt to mix shooting action with Sonic's trademark speed, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. More often than not, you'll gain a full head of steam, only to collide with enemies you're supposed to shoot. You'll also contend with poorly-designed stages, lousy camera angles, and confusing objectives. The third stage, Cryptic Castle, may be the single worst stage I've ever played. In the main story mode, our "anti-hero" attempts to piece together his past, conveyed through some extremely boring intermissions. Like every Sonic game conceived since the beginning of time, your ultimate objective is to find seven chaos emeralds (enough already!!). Shadow's simplistic graphics are about Dreamcast quality, and while that's not necessarily bad, it won't turn any heads either. The branching stages take you through interesting worlds like burning cities, tornado-swept desert canyons, and Halloween-inspired castles. Unfortunately, navigating elevated platforms is a colossal pain because whenever he walks, Shadow inexplicably slides around like he's on freakin' roller blades! Even executing simple jumps will push your patience to the brink. The ability to glide on balloons and drive vehicles is fun, but steering a flying bat proves to be a nightmare. A few of the available weapons include shotguns, lasers, a rocket launcher, and a Halo-inspired sword. Shadow's auto-aiming is sufficient most of the time, but the shooting action feels like an afterthought, and it's often easier to simply dash past most enemies. The two-player battle mode is an abomination, as you'll battle the camera in a futile attempt to even find your opponent! On a positive note, Shadow's soundtrack kicks ass, and its rocking intro got me all pumped up for what should have been a good time. I wanted to like Shadow the Hedgehog, but the frustration was too much to deny. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Skies of Arcadia Legends
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/8/23
Rating: Teen

screenshotSubmitted by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
Skies of Arcadia (Eternal Arcadia to you import gamers) was a popular, highly-acclaimed Dreamcast RPG. Consequently the folks at Sega decided to release this "director's cut" for the GameCube with improved graphics and additional missions. The fantastic world of Arcadia has no ground - the entire population lives on floating "islands" in the sky and transits via flying ships. Naturally, where there are ships, there are bound to be pirates! In Skies of Arcadia Legends (SoAL), you play Vyse, a young, dashing air pirate accompanied by two constant companions: his spunky childhood friend Aika, and the shy, mysterious Fina (both hotties!). Early in the game it becomes clear that your quest is to prevent the evil Valuan Empire from acquiring six lost relics that would give it the power to conquer the world (sound familiar?). The gameplay doesn't differ much from its Dreamcast predecessor, with the same solid turn-based combat. What sets SoAL apart from most other RPGs is its two different types of battles: hand to hand combat and aerial ship battles. Your pirate ships are upgraded throughout the game, and likewise your characters learn new and advanced techniques. One novel feature is how you can call on your crew to assist you in battle. Arcadia's dungeons and puzzles are well-designed and not particularly difficult. This GameCube version was given a slight graphics touchup, boasting bright, crisp, and rounded characters and environments. SoAL doesn't use pre-rendered cut scenes, but instead relies on the game's graphics engine, giving the characters a full range of movement and facial expressions. SoAL's music and sounds effects are crisp and clear. Only two flaws are apparent with the game. First, although you can change the color of your weapon to deal more damage to certain monsters, it's mainly guesswork as to which color to use. Secondly, instead of full-blown voice acting, the developers combine text dialogue with cheesy sound effects like "Uh-uh", "Yay!", "Yes!", etc. I recommend Skies of Arcadia Legends for any RPG fans, but its simple gameplay will accommodate any gamer who appreciates a good story. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Smuggler's Run Warzones
Grade: F
Publisher: Rockstar (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/7
Rating: Everyone 1 to 4 players

screenshotThe first Smuggler's Run (Playstation 2, 2000) delivered fantastic two-player off-road action as players frantically vied to grab and deliver cargo before it could be stolen by another vehicle. With Warzone's addition of three and four-player modes, I assumed this would be the ultimate Smuggler's Run, but I was wrong. In fact, I am absolutely stunned at how poor this is! My buddies who played the original Smuggler's Run for hours on end absolutely hated this sorry excuse for a game. Rockstar not only removed everything fun from the game, but incorporated a heap of unwanted crap in its place! There are new "countermeasure" elements like smoke screens and turbo boosts, but these add nothing to the gameplay. Instead of reasonably-sized locations like those in the first game, Warzones features sprawling wastelands that make every sprint to the cargo feel like an extended journey. The multi-player modes feature zero computer-controlled vehicles, and that was an element that greatly contributed to the mayhem of the original Smuggler's Run. None of the multi-player variations are enjoyable at all, and the single-player modes are equally lame. Throw in some repetitive, head-banging music and lousy controls, and you have a recipe for disaster. Don't say I didn't warn you. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

Rating: Everyone 1 to 4 players 


Soccer Slam
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/6/12
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSoccer Slam is to soccer what NFL Blitz is to football and what NBA Jam is to basketball. It's a three-on-three game (not counting goalies) played by zany but nicely-animated caricatures of soccer players. By kicking realism to the curb, Sega maximized the fun factor while eliminating the boring aspects of the sport, like out-of-bounds, penalties, low scoring, etc. There are six teams with themes of fire, water, ice, electricity, spirits, and toxic chemicals. Each squad has a combination of beefy strong thugs, thin agile sprinters, and middle-of-the-road players. The responsive controls include "deke", turbo, and power-up buttons. You can also execute slow-motion "killer kicks", which add a Matrix (slow motion) element to the game. Soccer Slam's action is intense and never lets up. On defense you can slide to steal the ball from an opponent, or simply beat the living crap out of him. The playing fields are small, and the CPU-controlled goalies are intelligent and fair. Most shots are scored by follow-up kicks (with the goalie on the ground), one-timer opportunities, or amazing "power-up" kicks. An addictive single-player "quest" mode lets you earn money to purchase power-ups and unlock game secrets. The multi-player mode allows up to four players to compete at once, but it's not without flaws. Since the camera is tight and only follows the guy with the ball, other players are often left off the screen, wondering what the heck is going on. Even so, Soccer Slam is underrated and fun. With its pick-up-and-play arcade gameplay, this is a soccer game for the rest of us. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Sonic Adventure 2 Battle
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/12/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf you enjoyed the first Sonic Adventure, you'll freak out over this killer sequel. With more emphasis on action, better visual effects, and two-player head-to-head modes, it's everything a Sonic fan could ask for. The first stage takes place in a San Francisco-inspired city, and it is truly a tour-de-force. When you're not skateboarding through traffic or grinding rails, you're sprinting for your life as a huge Mack truck barrels down the hill behind you, ramming into parked cars and sending them flying in all directions. While most stages are not that intense, Sonic Adventure 2 does offer a nice variety of challenges. You'll control other characters like Tails or Knuckles in stages specifically designed for their abilities. Some stages let you control a "mech" (manned robot) that unleashes devastating guided missiles. There's a few "kart" racing stages, and who doesn't like those? The only stages that wore thin were those featuring Knuckles. Although Knuckle's ability to glide is cool, his stages require him to collect hidden items, which can be tedious. And since Sonic Adventure 2 is decidedly linear, you can't skip the stages you don't like. The camera is a little dicey but better than the first Sonic Adventure. Like the first Sonic Adventure, the cut scenes are corny as hell and the voices absolutely suck. The new two-player mode is decent, but players familiar with the stage layouts have an unfair advantage. All in all, Sonic Adventure 2 manages to take what was so good about the first game and offer a whole lot more of it. It's a bit on the easy side, but undeniably fun. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Sonic Adventure DX Director's Cut
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/12/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt may not be the groundbreaking spectacle it once was, but Sonic Adventure still packs a wallop. Its bright graphics are still gorgeous five years after its original release, which I consider a testament to the greatness of the Dreamcast console. Sonic Adventure's gameplay is a mix of fast action stages and less-exciting "adventure" levels that require you to locate and manipulate items. The "action" stages are reminiscent of the classic Genesis Sonic games, in that you can carefully explore them or whiz through them as fast as you can. The first stage bounces our blue hedgehog between islands with lush tropical scenery and shimmering blue water. It's easily one of the best-looking stages I've ever seen in game. There are certain ultra-high-speed sections where you'll find yourself simply pushing up on the control pad while watching Sonic zoom through loop-to-loops and corkscrews. Sure it's shallow but still fun to watch. The adventure sections attempt to add depth, but they drain the game's energy. Fortunately, this Gamecube edition offers additional hints to prevent you from getting hopelessly stuck in these tedious areas. Sonic Adventure's controls are responsive enough, but the camera is something you'll need to wrestle with almost constantly. It's the one thing that will remind you that you're playing a 1999 game. Still, Sonic Adventure DX provides a generous amount of gameplay for the money. You can play through the game as six different characters, and doing so unlocks a Gamecube-only "mission" mode. In terms of audio, Sonic Adventure's music is absolutely superb, spanning a wide range of genres from rock to soul to new age. One feature I was surprised to see preserved from the Dreamcast version is the ability to download "Chao" mini-games. The original game transferred these games to VMUs (Dreamcast memory units), but DX lets you use a Game Boy Advance instead. This disk also contains several Sonic Game Gear titles that can be unlocked. If there's one thing I dislike about Sonic Adventure, it's how characters like Sonic and Tails have been given voices. Bad idea! Their kiddie voices and corny dialogue make the cut scenes almost unbearable. Sonic Adventure may not be the visceral thrill it once was, but it still has an appealing charm and arcade sensibility that's hard to resist. If you missed out on it the first time around, Sonic Adventure DX is worth a look. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Sonic Gems Collection
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/3/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe Sonic Mega Collection (GameCube, 2002) was an enjoyable compilation for the GameCube, but longtime Sonic fans were miffed by the conspicuous absence of the highly regarded Sonic CD (Sega CD, 1993). Sonic Gems addresses that glaring omission, and tosses in a bunch of miscellaneous Sonic titles for good measure. To be honest, I never considered Sonic CD to be as good as the original Sonic titles for the Genesis . The whole time travel aspect is confusing because all the stages tend to look the same. They lack imagination as well, which is evident when you consider it contains yet another pinball stage and yet another slow underwater stage. Still, the sole fact that this it's classic 16-bit Sonic is good enough for most fans. The load times are practically zero (unlike the original), and you're treated to a smoother, cleaner version of the kick-ass animated intro. That "Sonic Boom" song is one of my personal favorites - it rocks! The second game included is Sonic R (Saturn, 1997), a 3D foot-racer that never received much attention in its day. Although plagued by mediocre controls and confusing track designs, it's not half bad once you get the hang of it. I really like how the stages change seasons, as well as the time of day. The upbeat dance songs are pretty good, and that woman belting out the vocals can sing her ass off! Next up is Sonic The Fighters, an arcade game that no one has ever even heard of! All things considered, it's not bad, with crisp 3D graphics and fast-action gameplay. The big heads and short arms are limiting however, and reminded me of Virtua Fighter Kids (Saturn 1996). There are some beautiful backgrounds, including one where you're careening down a sunny river on a boat. Sonic Gems also includes six Game Gear titles, but it's hard to get excited about those unless you're a Game Gear fan. Still, I have to admit that these games look damn good on my big plasma TV - especially considering they were designed for a portable system from the early 90's. There's a nice menu interface for selecting games, but each seems to have its own way of quitting back to the main menu, which is confusing as hell. Scanned manuals are available for all the games, and you can unlock a "museum" of illustrations, many of which I recognized from old magazine covers. Rounding out the collection are the unlockable Genesis hits Vectorman and Vectorman 2, which are arguably better than any of these Sonic titles. Sonic Gems is not a must-have collection, but if you enjoyed Sonic Mega Collection, this is a pretty sweet addendum. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Sonic Heroes
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotLike many gamers, I was very skeptical about this new Sonic game, considering that lately we've only seen the blue hedgehog in re-releases. It seemed as though the Sonic Team had run out of ideas, but Sonic Heroes proves they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. The basic gameplay is similar to Sonic Adventure, with remarkably long stages and fast, non-stop 3D action. But this time you control three characters that move as a single unit, and depending on the lead character, they assume a certain formation and can perform specific special moves. There are four groups of characters to choose from, the default one composed of Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles. Each character has his own special ability, including speed (Sonic), flight (Tails), and power (Knuckles). You can change "lead" characters on the fly, so if you're outrunning a huge boulder, you'll want to employ Sonic's speed. If you're blocked by a tall wall, you'll want Tails to give the team a lift. And if your path is blocked by powerful enemies, Knuckles can step up and kick some booty. This swapping of characters provides for some nice strategy and technique. The special moves are simple to execute, using only the A and B buttons - or Z for the effective but visually weak "team attack". The bright, colorful stages are magnificent, with sparkling water effects, inviting exotic island environments, and cities with towering skyscrapers. Although the level of detail is slightly less than most Gamecube titles, you'll be moving too fast to notice. Mario World-style cannons let you shoot yourself to far-away platforms, and winding rails lets you perform Tony Hawk-style grinds. There are some exhilarating moments in Sonic Heroes, like running from giant rolling wheels or escaping a rising pool of lava. As in Sonic Adventure, there are several sequences where the characters are running at light speed and you basically just keep pushing up on the controller and watch them zip all over the place. These sequences may turn off some gamers, but you have to admit they look pretty cool. The more I played Sonic Heroes the more I enjoyed it. Like the old Sonic games, you have the option of whizzing through the stages or thoroughly exploring each one. The game is definitely on the easy side, but amassing 100 rings to win a free life is still a challenge. So what didn't I like about Sonic Heroes? Well, Tails sounds like a whiny four-year old, and Knuckles sounds like he's shouting a bad word whenever he attacks. I also didn't care for the two-player "race" mode, because falling off the edge of a platform instantly takes you out of contention. Otherwise Sonic Heroes is a terrific, light-hearted romp that will win you over if you give it a chance. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Sonic Mega Collection
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2006/7/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe Sonic Adventure games are fine, but once you experience this fine collection of the original Sonic games for the Genesis, you'll have to admit Sonic was better in 2D. Most of these titles have aged extremely well, boasting artistic graphics, simple gameplay (one button!), and memorable soundtracks. Mega Collection contains Sonic 1, 2, and 3, as well as Sonic Spinball, Sonic and Knuckles, Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, and Sonic Blast. The "normal" Sonic games (1 to 3) are all outstanding, with polished graphics, toe-tapping tunes, and hyperactive gameplay. Most stages can be whizzed through fairly quickly, but patient gamers will enjoy hunting for secret passageways and hidden surprises. You really can't beat the colorful scenery in these old games, like the shimmering water of the Green Hill Zone or the gorgeous red skyline of the Chemical Zone. Not just easy on the eyes, these majestic backdrops make the stages feel more expansive than they actually are. Sonic and Knuckles offered more of the same traditional Sonic action, but introduced a new character named Knuckles who could glide and climb. As the first (and last) "lock-on" cartridge, it could also augment the gameplay of Sonic 2 and 3 by incorporating Knuckles into those games as well. It was an innovative concept whose time never came. Changing gears a bit, Sonic Spinball was a mediocre attempt to make Sonic into a living pinball. Though fun in its own way, the choppy animation and sub-par visuals make it evident that this was not produced by the original Sonic team. Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is a Tetris clone, and like most Tetris clones, it can be madly addictive. Sonic Blast was Sonic's first foray into the world of 3D, but its slow, deliberate pace hardly lived up to the hedgehog's reputation. One truly glaring omission is Sonic CD, which was a big hit on the Sega CD system. All of the games on this disk are near-perfect ports, right down to the distorted two-player split-screens and occasional slow-down. The original manuals can be viewed on the screen and several additional 16-bit titles can be unlocked (Flicky, Ristar, and Blue Sphere). Bonus features include illustrations, comic book covers, and some video clips. I love watching the Sonic CD intro movie with its catchy theme song, but the History of Sonic documentary is brief and lame. Mega Collection could have been better, but the quality of these classic games can't be denied. Sonic veterans will find themselves instantly transported back in time, and even younger gamers should appreciate these finely crafted oldies. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Sonic Riders
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/3/22
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)

screenshotI first played Sonic Riders at a display in the local Gamestop. I wasn't impressed at the time, but figured the game would be enjoyable enough once I got the hang of it. I was so naive back then! This game is just wretched. Sonic Riders places Sonic, Tails, Amy, and a few new faces on floating boards as they race through wild, twisting tracks. Unfortunately, the action is so frenetic and confusing that most players will wonder what the heck is going on! I don't do drugs, but I would imagine that playing this game while stoned out of your mind is exactly the same experience as playing it straight. As you whiz through the courses your character gets tossed all over the place, the camera swings wildly, trippy music blares, and fiddling with the controls seems to have little bearing on events. The developers seemed to have the right idea by doing away with the accelerator button, implying the races would be full throttle all the way through. But then they go ahead and incorporate pit stops to recharge you "air gauge"! What were they thinking?! The courses are chaotic as hell, but that's okay, because half the time your character is completely out of your control anyway. More often than not you'll find yourself either riding on an opponent's "turbulence" (slip stream) or being slung all over the place in sequences that are supposed to be visually pleasing but more often just disorienting. The tracks are wide, but the atrocious "air slide" mechanism makes cornering impossible, so you'll be scraping against guard rails at every turn. The B button provides a boost and lets you "attack" opponents, but this depletes your "air" meter. Once that's gone, you're left holding your board, looking for the next pitstop. While in mid-air, you can perform Tony Hawk-style tricks, but they tend to be simplistic and unsatisfying. Five flashy courses wind through a city, factory, desert, river, and a jungle track that looks as if it was lifted from Sonic Adventure 2. Sonic Riders includes a four-player split screen mode, but based on what you're heard so far, would you really expect it to be any good? I had some Sonic fans over to give this game a good workout, but after a few minutes their eyes glazed over as they looked on in bewilderment. Sonic Riders is a complete mess. This hedgehog will require a complete overhaul if he's bound for the next generation of systems. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Space Raiders
Grade: F-
Publisher: Taito (2004)
Reviewed: 2009/10/6
Rating: Teen

screenshotThe previews for Space Raiders described it as a re-imagining of Space Invaders, retaining classic elements while incorporating modern conventions like 3D graphics, a story, and bosses. We've seen this approach with many classic games (Centipede, Frogger, Missile Command, Defender, etc), and it never works. Therefore it should come as no surprise when I tell you Space Raiders sucks in the worst way. While not technically deficient, it's fun factor is sub-zero! The game is completely devoid of the challenge and suspense that made the original Space Invaders so compelling. You move a human character side-to-side across the bottom of the screen, firing away at alien creatures dropped from the sky. Three barrels let you take cover, but since they tend to just get in the way, you'll quickly learn to clear them out. The insect-like aliens are creepy enough, but most can absorb a ton of gunfire. The bland scenery consists of back alleys and war-torn streets. After completing the first wave, you might think, "That wasn't so bad!" Little do you know you're destined to spend the next 20 monotonous, mind-rotting waves staring at the exact same scenery! Adding to your misery are special aliens who fire back and cancel out your shots, extending certain waves to unbearable lengths. The bosses are the worst kind. Not only can angular beasts withstand 10 minutes of constant bombardment, but they show absolutely no sign of wear-and-tear until they finally succumb. Couldn't the programmers have made them blink red at least? I mean, throw me a [expletive] bone here! The story mode offers unlimited continues, which manages to eliminate both the frustration and challenge in one fell swoop. I thought the two-player simultaneous mode might save Space Raiders, but it's even worse! Since both characters occupy the same plane, they are constantly bumping into each other! I'm grateful Taito didn't slap the Space Invaders moniker on this, because that red mother ship would have been rolling in her grave! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Star Fox Adventures
Grade: F
Publisher: Nintendo (2002)
Reviewed: 2008/4/10
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild violence)

screenshotI think I hate this game. Oh yeah, I hate it. The original Star Fox (SNES, 1993) was a 3D space shooter that stunned gamers with its cutting-edge polygon graphics. A kick-ass sequel delivered more explosive action on the Nintendo 64 in 1997. So why in the God's name did Rareware opt to transform the stellar series into some half-baked Zelda knock-off?! Instead of flying over treacherous planet surfaces while blasting everything in sight, Adventures has Fox marooned on a planet of sickly dinosaurs. When it comes to the history of bad ideas, this ranks right up there with "the new Coke". If you think a dinosaur planet sounds compelling, keep in mind that these "beasts" look more like Barney than actual dinosaurs. Despite its sky-high production values, Star Fox Adventures embodies everything that's wrong with free-roaming 3D adventures. You'll page through the text of a lot of boring conversations. You'll smash crates, collect nuts, and solve "slide the block" puzzles. Not only do you need to shop for critical items, but you even need to haggle for them (oh joy). Fox's main weapon is a staff, and you attack foes by tapping the A button repeatedly. You get a baby dinosaur companion, and there hasn't been a less appealing sidekick since Jar Jar Binks. Adding insult to injury, you need to feed the brat periodically! No, I'm not kidding. At one point the little critter instructs you to press specific buttons on your controller! In another game low-light, you have wait until sunrise for a Wooly Mammoth to wake up from his slumber. Good times! Since tunnels and passages tend to look similar, I often found myself wondering if I was treading new ground or heading back where I came from. I could go on and on about blind jumps and swimming against water currents, but what's the point? Many of the basic controls are lifted from Zelda, including automatic jumping and first-person aiming controls. The collision detection is hit-and-miss however, especially when it comes to throwing explosive barrels at cracks and doors. That's just unacceptable for a game like this. It may be awful, but Starfox Adventures looks like a million bucks. The animation is smooth, and the graphics are so finely detailed that you can even see the hairs on Fox's head! The rolling meadows and flowing water look inviting, as do the snow-encrusted evergreens of the mountain stages. The controls are responsive, and you can save at any time. But the quest itself is so tedious and lame that even the dinosaurs look bored! They seem to speak in some kind of foreign language. Are you telling me that someone actually took the time to concoct a whole new language for this lousy game!? What a colossal waste of time!! I tried to like Star Fox Adventures, but it has an intangeable quality that makes me nauseous. Its only thrills come from its brief space shooting stages, which offer a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Star Fox Assault
Grade: D
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/2/19
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotThe first Star Fox game for the GameCube, Star Fox Adventures, received tepid reviews for its free-roaming platform style of play. Star Fox fans were hoping Assault would return to the high-flying shooting formula the series was known for. Sadly, Assault is an awkward mix of both flying and on-foot action. The game gets off to a fast start with a rip-roaring first stage that feels like a roller-coaster ride through space. Viewing the action from behind your ship, you fly through a hectic, Star Wars-style space battle, picking off small ships and taking out large cruisers piece by piece. The stage's linear design is a throwback to old shooters like Silpheed (Sega CD, 1993), Panzer Dragoon (Saturn, 1995) and Star Wars Arcade (1983). Sadly, after stage one the fun factor drops precipitously. Most stages adopt the standard "sandbox" style of play, with Fox running around repetitive, uninteresting environments. If the uninspired scenery, confusing objectives, and boss-heavy stage designs don't turn you off, the pitiful controls should do the trick. Fox's movements are overly sensitive, and there's no targeting mechanism, forcing you to adopt a "run and spray" approach. Switching between weapons is awkward, and the semi-transparent map overlay tends to obstruct your vision. Star Fox Assault is a real mess, and reviewing it was a hardship. The endless text in the cut-scenes sets a new standard for boredom, and even the four-player split-screen modes elicited yawns from my friends. The best part of the game is its awesome explosions. Occasionally you'll be able to save your friends by shooting enemies on their tail, and this harkens back to better days for the series. Assault is a great title to pick up - if you want to gain a new appreciation for your old SNES and Nintendo 64 Star Fox games. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader
Grade: B-
Publisher: LucasArts (2001)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18
Rating: Teen (Violence) 1 player

screenshotCast from the same mold as its highly-acclaimed Nintendo 64 predecessor, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (N64, 1998), Rogue Leader is a compelling air/space combat game. Its presentation is impeccable, with real Star Wars movie clips playing on the menu screens, fantastic explosion effects, and awe-inspiring starships rendered in meticulous detail. Easy-to-grasp controls even allow you to give orders to the rest of your squadron while in the heat of battle. Your targeting computer (highlighting enemies on the screen) is invaluable, since distant Tie fighters tend to get lost in the star-studded backgrounds. Your 3D radar display always directs you to your next objective, but locating a specific enemy can be tricky. Rogue Leader does have a major flaw, and that is unclear mission objectives, which make it very easy to get become hopelessly stuck on a particular mission. The difficulty of the stages is also uneven. You struggle through a so-called "training mission", only to coast few some of the more advanced stages. Despite its inconsistencies however, Rogue Leader is still a fun title that Star Wars fans won't want to miss. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

Rating: Teen (Violence) 1 player 


Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike
Grade: B-
Publisher: LucasArts (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18
Rating: Teen

screenshotRogue Squadron III kicks off with an animated sequence featuring all of your favorite Star Wars characters cutting the rug on a disco dance floor. It's supposed to be funny, but it's bound to turn off serious Star Wars fans like myself. The game itself contains all of the trademark dogfighting action that made the series such a hit, but expands the scope by incorporating ground missions, both in vehicles and on foot. Unlike its predecessors, Rebel Strike's storyline incorporates actual characters from the films including Wedge Antilles, Mace Windu, and Luke Skywalker. The first stage is mainly a rehash of the Tatooine training stage from the Rogue Squadron II, with a million tedious objectives to complete. Thank goodness you can skip that! Subsequent stages are really a series of short objectives strung together, and it really sucks when you die during the last one and have to start all over. Rebel Strike's air/space combat is first-rate as you would expect, with Tie fighters that careen out of control and magnificently explode when blasted. But like the last Rogue Squadron game, you may find yourself asking, "What am I supposed to do now?" The difficulty is wildly uneven. Some missions that are nearly insurmountable, while others you can practically sleepwalk through. The ground missions provide a welcome change of pace, but their graphics are a bit rough and the targeting system is clumsy. Despite the occasional frustration, Rebel Strike has its share of exciting moments, and the constantly changing scenarios will keep you wondering what the next stage has in store. Some of the locations are fascinating, like the water planet with its jaw-dropping waterfalls. I also enjoyed the delayed-explosion sound effects of the sonic charge weapons - very cool. Rogue Leader III is highly ambitious, but its pieces don't quite come together as well as they could have. In one instance, my pilot could be heard talking over his radio after his ship had been blown to bits! Despite the rough edges, fans of the series will appreciate Rebel Strike's fresh set of challenges. A two-player, split-screen, cooperative version of Rogue Squadron II is also included. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Grade: C+
Publisher: LucasArts (2002)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18
Rating: Teen (Violence)

screenshotBasically a ground-based version of Rogue Squadron, Clone Wars lets you glide around planet surfaces in hovercraft and low-flying starships. In some stages, you can even mount wild animals! There are also opportunities to guide Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Mace Windu around on foot, slashing everything to bits with your lightsaber. Clone Wars is similar to Star Wars: Battle For Naboo (N64, 1999) in terms of gameplay, and that's not a bad thing. Unfortunately, the graphics and framerate also resemble Battle For Naboo, despite the fact that the GameCube is a far more capable machine. Objects look inordinately blocky (especially when running around on foot), and the framerate goes straight to hell when the combat heats up. But Clone Wars is still a fun to play, thanks to the nicely paced, diverse stages, and non-stop shooting action. Equipped with a blaster and missiles, you'll be strafing and firing almost constantly (much like a first-person shooter). I love how enemy craft burst into flames or spin into the air when blasted. It's also satisfying when Mace Windu throws his lightsaber and cuts down scores of bad guys at a time. If you're a fan of Attack of the Clones, you'll recognize all the imaginative new vehicles and villains from that film. Sadly, the multi-player modes are lame, and my friends lamented about how they couldn't all be on the same team. Clones Wars has its moments, but it's definitely not a top-notch Star Wars title. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Super Mario Strikers
Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/12/6
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

screenshotMy friends always have a blast playing Super Mario Strikers, and a few even insist it deserves an "A" for its intense four-player competition. While I certainly appreciate its non-stop action and high scoring, Strikers is not a flawless game. As with other Nintendo sports titles, it incorporates familiar characters into a simplified, arcade version of soccer. There are no out-of-bounds, no penalties, and matches run just a few minutes in length. In addition to precision passing and pinpoint shooting, you'll perform "dekes" to elude defenders, lay big hits on ball handlers, and unleash devastating power-ups to send the entire contest into chaos. The action is fast but smooth, and the raised camera angle provides an optimal view of the action. Perfect passes and special shots are punctuated by dramatic slow-down and pulse-pounding sound effects. Whether you're playing against some friends or the CPU, Striker's gameplay never lets up. I only have a few gripes with the game. First, only your "captain" is a major Nintendo character like Mario or Donkey Kong. Goalies are crocodiles, and your teammates consist of diminutive "minor" characters like toads or koopas. As a result of so many different characters on the field, it sometimes hard to distinguish the teams. The controls are responsive, but maybe too responsive, as I always found myself making inadvertent extra passes. Finally, the intense matches are murder on your hands! But despite its shortcomings, Strikers stands out as one of the more entertaining soccer titles in recent memory. You don't even need to like sports to appreciate Striker's simple yet frantic brand of arcade action. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Super Mario Sunshine
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/9/26
Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

screenshotIt's always a joy to play a brand-spanking new Mario game, and Sunshine radiates with all the magic and charm we've come to expect from the pudgy plumber. It's not revolutionary like Super Mario 64 (N64), but Sunshine still provides some remarkably fresh platform action. The storyline revolves around a Mario look-alike who has vandalized the beautiful Isle of Delfino. Unjustly charged with the crime, Mario is sentenced to clean up the island with the help of a high-powered, water-spraying backpack. This innovative device really adds a whole new dimension to the standard platform fare. It's a blast to hose off nasty sludge, and you can even turn the nozzle on your foes! The water pack has a surprising number of other uses as well, like turning windmills from afar, rocking yourself on a giant swing (this one actually gave me motion sickness), and even functioning as a jet pack (by aiming the nozzles down)! In terms of graphics, Sunshine boasts the best water effects to date, including some amazing reflections. The Isle of Delfino is a tropical paradise that rivals the lush environments of Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast) and Jack and Daxter (PS2). The music is wonderful, and many sound effects are throwbacks to classic Super Mario titles. You can save you place at any time, and the game has a reasonable learning curve. And last but not least, Yoshi is back! What more can you ask for? Well, a better camera system for one thing! You'll need to wrestle with it constantly, and sometimes even a simple jump can be difficult to execute due to the awkward camera angles. I'm also not a big fan of the new "triple jump" move. Nevertheless, Mario Sunshine is too innovative and fun to let the minor flaws like those rain on the parade. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Super Monkey Ball
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/3/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith Super Monkey Ball, I think I've discovered the definitive party game for the Gamecube. Rolling monkeys around in clear plastic balls has never been this much fun - and I would know! Super Monkey Ball's electrifying "party mode" features three incredible multi-player games. Monkey Racing plays like a wild "kart" game, with momentum playing a huge role. Monkey Fight lets you punch other players with oversized boxing gloves to knock them off an elevated platform. Monkey Target is the best of all, with airborne monkeys gliding onto distant targets scattered in an ocean of islands. All three games are easy to play, addictive, and fun. But wait - there's more! There are three additional games you can unlock as well: Monkey Bowling, Monkey Billiards, and Monkey Golf. This leads to my one, major complaint. In order to open these mini-games, you have to earn points in the tedious one-player mode, and that really sucks! This single-player mode plays like those old marble games where you tilt a board on both axis to navigate a maze. You have to traverse some very perilous platforms without falling off. The first few stages aren't so bad, but the advanced levels are like walking a tightrope! Opening the mini-games soon becomes a major chore, and you'll be looking up and down for a cheat code. Other than that major flaw, Super Monkey Ball is a fine package that will keep you and your friends occupied for hours on end. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Super Monkey Ball 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI loved the first Super Monkey Ball, with its simple controls, good-natured humor, and competitive four-player action. This second edition, however, has rehash written all over it. In the first game there were three games available from the start (race, fight, and target), and three additional games (bowling, billiards, golf) you could unlock by playing the torturous single-player mode. Super Monkey Ball 2 (SMB2) presents all six of those original games up front, with improved graphics and extra features. I like how Monkey Target is now played on a split-screen, although my friends prefer the old-fashioned version where you take turns. Unfortunately, to play any of the new games you'll have to endure that diffcult and annoying single-player mode again. After playing it for an hour, you'll see a message like "You now have 560 play points. Only 5,347,124 needed to unlock the next game!". Okay I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea. Don't ask me if the new games are any good, because I haven't unlocked any of them - and probably won't without a cheat code! Also included is a new Story Mode that pits our monkey family against the evil Dr. Bad-Boon, but if you're over the age of 5, the sugary sweet dialogue will turn your stomach. If you don't own the first Super Monkey Ball, SMB2 will serve you well, but if you do, subtract two letter grades. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Super Smash Bros. Melee
Grade: B
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
Reviewed: 2008/4/10
Rating: Teen 13+ (Comic Mischief / Mild Violence)

screenshotAfter playing the original Super Smash Bros., Melee comes as a shock to the system! The graphical upgrade is tremendous. The fuzzy, angular fighters have been substituted with crisp, rounded characters that move with fluid motion. The confined, static stages of the first game have been replaced with expansive, dynamic environments. It's hard to believe the original game was released a mere two years prior! The expanded roster includes Mario, Pikachu, Bowser, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Fox McCloud, Ness, Captain Falcon, Ice Climbers, Kirby, Samus, Zelda, Link, and Sheik. There's only one thing better than having so many sweet, loveable characters in one game, and that's seeing them beat the living [expletive] out of each other! The battlefields and musical tunes are inspired by classic Nintendo titles, including Icicle Mountain (Ice Climbers), Mute City (F-Zero), Hyrule Temple (Zelda), and Pokemon Stadium. The underlying gameplay is the same - for better or worse. Each four-player free-for-all takes place on a set of elaborate platforms, with the object being to knock the other characters off the playing field. The action is fast and chaotic with an appealing arcade flavor. Novice players can button mash, but experts will employ a host of techniques. Melee is extremely customizable, and after each fight your bonus is determined by a long list of specific categories. You'll earn extra for "combo master", "cliffhanger", or "first strike", but lose points for being a "stalker" or "spectator". For die-hard Nintendo fans, Smash Bros. Melee is a treasure trove of classic references and unlockable bonuses. Melee's added depth makes it more enjoyable than the original game, but it still suffers from the same fundamental flaws. During four-player battles it can be tough to tell what's going on. The animation is smoother and the graphics are cleaner, but those benefits are offset by larger stages, flashier effects, and a more active camera. The fact that opponents can often work their way back to the platform by continuously jumping on "air" is still one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a video game. The two Ice Climbers are a tandem that I found incredibly confusing to control. Melee includes a few new solo modes, but the only one I found moderately entertaining was the "event" mode with its list of short challenges. People's enjoyment of Smash Bros. Melee is largely a function of their loyalty to Nintendo, but even casual gamers will find themselves drawn to its slick graphics and simple gameplay. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Swingerz Golf
Grade: C-
Publisher: Eidos (2002)
Reviewed: 2007/7/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor a bargain bin title, Swingerz Golf seems like a good deal but its long-term play value is suspect. Swingerz looks a heck of a lot like Hot Shots Golf, and I wouldn't be surprised if the same developers were responsible or the same engine was used. The rolling green fairways are extremely appealing, and the sunny tropical beach resort course is a feast for the eyes. The cartoonish players are likeable enough - not irritating like so many of the wacky characters in the Hot Shots series. The action moves at a brisk pace with minimal pauses, and exciting camera angles follow the ball through the air. Pleasant (but repetitive) background music plays throughout, and the difficulty is reasonable. You're always provided with the ideal club for your next shot, the greens are huge, and the putting is forgiving. It sounds like a winner, but controls are the game's Achilles Heel. Instead of embracing the three-press swing mechanism of Hot Shots or the analog swing of Tiger Woods Golf, Swingerz uses a bastardized combination of the two. You pull back on the analog stick to start the swing meter, and then press forward once it's reached sufficient power. Instead of offering the best of both worlds, the scheme feels unnatural and imprecise. This lack of precision is not an issue for the first few courses, but when you're trying to nail tough shots in the advanced stages, the controls will let you down again and again. Besides the standard tour and match modes, Swingerz offers a set of mini-games, but these must be completed in succession, and it's really easy to get stuck on one. Another flaw is how hard it is to open up new characters, especially since you only get two from the start. Swingerz Golf makes a good first impression, but in the long run it comes up short. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 



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