Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball
Publisher: Mindscape (1992)
I'm from Baltimore, and Cal Ripken is revered in these parts. But I don't think Cal had much input into this game. Simply put, Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball is unsurpassed in terms of sheer mediocrity. It came out about the same time as Sportstalk Baseball, and frankly, there's no comparison. While it isn't particularly bad in any way, it doesn't have much to offer either. There are no major league teams or players (except Cal, of course), and you only get three fictitious stadiums. The graphics are dull, and all the players look the same (generic white guys - like Cal!). The pitching controls are simplistic (fast, slow, curve), and the exceedingly large outfield area allows too many balls to be hit into the gaps. It's hard to field the ball with your tiny players, and you'll need to use the dive button to snag anything that's not hit directly to you. Close plays result in a close-up "action window" - a nice touch, but if you blink you'll miss it! As far as the sound effects go, an umpire calls strikes, balls, and outs, but he has a bad case of bronchitis. At least after you hit a homerun you get to hear the "Bad News Bears" theme - I like that. The league mode provides a password to save your spot, and the homerun derby mode is unusual in that it scores points for hits other than home runs. Overall, Cal Ripken baseball is a fair but unremarkable baseball game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mentrix Software (1991)
If this rare shooter has one thing going for it, it's instant gratification. In Caliber 50 you're a blonde-haired commando forging through jungle camps, deserts, and caves. Holding in B button unleashes rapidfire shots and you're never at a loss for ammo. The A and C buttons rotate your aim, allowing you to spray bullets with reckless abandon. Much like Forgotten Worlds
(Sega, 1989) the scheme seems ideal until the action gets hectic and you forget which button is clockwise. In one treacherous area you must wade up a river bank lined with enemies, and the best I could do was continuously spin and fire non-stop. The sensitive controls make it hard to aim with precision but strafing enemies is a lot of fun. There are no pea shooters in this game, and the flamethrowers and rocket launchers are devastating. You automatically lob a grenade when you stop
firing - a thought that will rarely (if ever) cross your mind. I still haven't figured out the heck are those orange things are that float around when you shoot something. Early in the game you can commandeer a plane and man its guns, mowing down enemies on the ground below. The first boss encounter is a trio of giant baboons who throw skulls that chase you like heat seeking missiles! The slowdown in this game is onerous at times and certain sound effects seem conspicuously absent. Caliber 50 is rough around the edges but once you experience its arcade shooting action all is forgiven. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 67,550
Publisher: Sega (1991)
California Games sizzled on the 8-bit systems but fizzled on 16-bit machines. The five events look so much better yet play so much worse
. It doesn't help that the developers felt compelled to shoehorn three buttons, making each event needlessly complicated. The half-pipe is so confusing and non-intuitive, any score over zero should be considered a victory. The second event is foot bag. Wait - foot bag?
You mean the event known as hacky sack
to the rest of the world? This simple keep-it-up game would have been okay if your character didn't constantly drift off the left side of the screen. Next up is surfing. As if the designers sensed the event needed some spice, they incorporated the idea of popping beach balls with the tip of your surf board!
That makes no sense. In skating you control a bikini-clad chick navigating a sidewalk with obstacles like ice cream cones and sand. It's moderately fun but a few spills brings the action to an abrupt conclusion. In BMX bike racing you barrel over dirt hills and perform stunts in the air. It's probably the most playable event, but like the skating, a bad fall cuts the action short. In terms of graphics, California Game is a crowd pleaser. There are cool details like the Hollywood sign and passing traffic on the half-pipe screen. The Golden Gate bridge in the foot bag event looks digitized
. And if you check out the background in skating, you'll spot a girl on the beach tanning with her top undone. The music is generally lame and often horrible. High scores are recorded for each event, but with no comprehensive score, it's impossible to crown a winner with multiple players. I thought California Game could get by on sheer variety, until Scott referred to it as "a variety of suck
". © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Captain America and the Avengers
Publisher: Data East (1992)
Let's face it: Captain America and the Avengers reside in the "lower tier" of the comic book hero hierarchy. As my friend Chris put it, "I didn't even collect
comics as a kid, and even I
knew the Avengers sucked!
" In this side-scrolling brawler two players can team up against Red Skull and his minions. In addition to Captain America, you can play as Iron Man, Hawkeye (who?!), and Vision (what?!) Unfortunately, the chaotic two-player action suffers from severe flicker and collision detection issues, so it's best to play the game solo. The character sprites aren't very detailed, partly because they're rendered with thick black outlines. The backgrounds are generally bland, although I did enjoy the skyline and waterfront areas of stage one. The fighting action is fast - probably too fast for its own good. When our heroes aren't sliding around on the ground, they're hopping around like fleas. The control scheme seems unnecessarily awkward, requiring you to press two buttons to unleash special attacks like Iron Man's plasma ray. Captain America can throw his shield, and this attack is doubly effective since it also inflicts damage on its return trip. This game packs no less than twelve different boss characters, my favorite being a hulking robot that fills the screen in stage two. The beginning of stage two plays more like a shooter as you fly through the air while inexplicably blasting flying scuba divers spiraling out of control. The text dialogue provides an unexpected entertainment bonus, serving up dramatic exchanges like: "You can't escape!" "You will be the one escaping!" Marvel comic fans will also appreciate how obscure elements of the comics have been incorporated into the game. For example, during the shooting stages you're accompanied by a tiny character named Wasp. On the whole Captain America and the Avengers is average fare, but comic fans can probably bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: w/continues
Our high score: 212881
1 or 2 players
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
Publisher: Sega (1990)
Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse established Disney as a legitimate player in the video game industry. This enchanting and well-constructed platformer boasts all the lavish production values and timeless charm you'd associate with a Disney classic. Mickey is a likeable hero forging through exquisitely detailed fantasy environments. In the magical forest you butt-pounce on mushrooms and swing from ropes before running from a giant red apple (reminiscent of the boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark). In the second stage you leap between floating leafs while avoiding spiders. I love the delicate music and the way the leaves dip slightly when you land on them. The Toyland stage features toy soldiers and clowns which frankly look kind of creepy. You hit an arrow icon to flip the screen, and the effect is jarring. Castle of Illusion is full of surprises and the controls are unique too. Pressing the jump button in mid-air causes Mickey to do a butt-pounce and you also have a healthy supply of apples to toss. The soundtrack is fantastic, with each stage having its own theme. Although short by modern standards, Castle of Illusion is an engaging journey from start to finish. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 77,100
Publisher: Sega (1994)
Castlevania was an insanely popular line of side-scrollers for the NES and SNES. After what seemed like an eternity, it finally arrived on the Genesis in the form of Castlevania Bloodlines. The game plays much like Super Nintendo's Castlevania IV, where you battle creatures of the night armed with a whip and other weapons. So how does this compare to its SNES counterpart? It's not quite as good, but still worth playing. The graphics aren't as detailed or colorful as the SNES version, but they still rate better than average on the Genesis. I found the controls to be a bit tricky when navigating the stairs, but other than that, this is pure platform heaven. I love the bosses, especially the wolf who shatters the windows with his howl. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
Chakan The Forever Man
Publisher: Sega (1992)
Whenever I think about this game, that old Chaka Khan song invariably starts playing in my head ("Chakan Khan let me rock 'ya, let me rock 'ya Chaka Khan, let me rock 'ya that's all I wanna do.") Why are you looking at me like that? Anyway, Chakan is a dark platformer that's far too difficult and unforgiving for its own good. You assume the role of a skeletal figure with a large black hat. This "forever man" is doomed to an eternal existence unless he can defeat the world's supernatural evils. Chakan is armed with two swords and can employ a variety of power-ups including invisibility, invincibility, high jumping, and enemy slow-down. Unfortunately, the game is saddled with the most convoluted power-up system ever conceived. It involves mixing potions on a separate "Alchemy" screen, and I never fully understood it. Chakan's graphics exude a gloomy occult flavor, with surreal environments, hideous creatures, and a murky musical score. I like the premise, but the pieces just don't quite come together very well. Chakan's movements are stiff. He ambles around slowly and can't jump very far. This is problematic when you take into account all of the high-altitude platform jumping with zero room for error. There are no checkpoints either - if you die, you restart the stage. Adding insult to injury, you're constantly pestered by small, regenerating birds and bugs. While they're not hard to kill, Chakan's stiff controls make it hard to wield your swords with any degree of precision. The larger enemies look scary enough, but they're so poorly animated that they might as well be statues. It's especially lame how they just blink as you slash away at them. Chakan is not ideal for the casual player. Its difficulty is through the roof, and even the so-called "easy" mode is frustrating. I felt like I was in my own little personal hell playing Chakan. Only hardcore gamers who enjoy pain should attempt this one. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Taito (1992)
After being thoroughly impressed by the first Chase HQ
(Turbografx-16, 1992), I expected big things from this sequel. Chase HQ 2 does have its moments. The object is to drive an undercover police vehicle through traffic and catch crooks by ramming their car repeatedly. The mission screens feature voice synthesis that sounds like pure gibberish. You can select between a sports car, a four-wheel drive, and a semi-truck. Each has a trade-off between speed and damage. The racing action isn't as fast or smooth as the Turbografx, and the roads look angular. I like the bonus multiplier that lets you rack up thousands of points for each passed car, and the lousy collision detection tends to work in your favor. Chase HQ 2 has a few surprises up its sleeve. In the opening stage you'll approach a city at night during a thunderstorm, and watching the lightning illuminate the dark clouds above the skyline looks awesome. After passing through a tunnel you suddenly find yourself driving in the country, which makes no sense. Other scenic locations include a coastal town and snow covered mountains. Occasionally you'll approach busy intersections, and you'll want to jump the conveniently-placed ramp to avoid a wreck. Crossing bridges is pretty cool, and the one in the coastal stage even has waves lapping up against it. Ice-covered bridges are a serious headache however, because it's so easy to slide off the side (no rails). The game introduces new hazards like bomb-dropping helicopters and thugs who fire guns from their cars. When you finally nab the crooks, it's satisfying to see cops holding guns to their heads ("just give me a reason punk!!
") Chase HQ 2 isn't as polished as the Turbografx game, but it still delivers its share of high-speed fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: CJS 184,520
Chuck II: Son of Chuck
Publisher: Core (1993)
The original Chuck Rock
(Genesis, 1991) delivered zany prehistoric hijinx with a lazy couch potato of a caveman. This underrated sequel lets you control Chuck's son who's not even out of diapers yet! Wielding a massive club, the little brat slugs dinosaurs and throws explosive temper tantrums. That quivering lower lip of his is hilarious. He's not the most endearing character but Chuck Rock 2 reprises the same winning formula as its predecessor. The animation is smooth, the controls responsive, and I love the "thud" sound when you smack an enemy off the screen. The programmers clearly knew what they were doing, incorporating elaborate scaling and zoom effects. In addition to dinosaurs, you'll face prehistoric mammals, suggesting the game takes place in the Paleolithic era
(or maybe I'm reading too much into it). You'll also face some cavemen dressed as dinosaurs - a form of cross-dressing quite common for the period. I like how your first hit knocks off the costume. Other enemies include hermit crabs, lizards, and banana-tossing monkeys. Benevolent creatures will carry you over treacherous terrain, including a giant black ant and a galloping ostrich. You'll explore flowery groves and volcanic caves, but I prefer the sunny water stages complete with surfers and water slides. Chuck Rock 2 is an ideal summer game, especially when the thunderstorms roll in. One original element is the ability to teeter on your club and let boulders pass harmlessly underneath. The stages are pretty dense and sometimes you need to take mandatory hits in order to make progress. When you lose a life the game doesn't reset so be ready to immediately continue. The soundtrack is lively and fun, and I enjoyed the subtle graphical details like bandages that appear on bosses as they take damage. In the past I never though Chuck Rock II lived up to the original, but in retrospect I think it's every bit as good. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: Easy
Our high score: 65,625
Publisher: Virgin (1991)
Back in the 90's, I remember running out to buy Chuck Rock after reading a glowing review in a game magazine. My friends loved
this game. Not only is Chuck Rock fun to play, but its wacky prehistoric graphics are hysterical!
The title screen depicts a jamming stone-age rock band, and I especially love that green dinosaur bassist with the big hair. Chuck is a loveable oaf of a caveman, with a clever name possibly inspired by a popular rapper of the day: Chubb Rock
(remember the single Treat Em Right
?). While it appears to be a basic platformer on the surface, Chuck Rock is sprinkled with imaginative elements. The main character's huge gut is used to bounce enemies off the screen, and he can also perform a nifty jump-kick. The cartoon-style visuals are not unlike Bonk's Adventure (Turbografx,1990). The colorful, layered backgrounds offer subtle details like eyes peeking through the woods in the background. The short-but-sweet stages include jungle, cave, water, ice, and graveyard scenes. The bosses are fun, but can absorb an inordinate number of hits. Most of your adversaries are small dinosaurs rendered in a wacky style. I love the pink elephants that split in half until you can squish them with your feet! Certain creatures are helpful, like the pterodactyl that flies you over a gorge or the brontosaurus that gives you a ride across a river. Boulders also play a key role. You can place them to reach high platforms, hold them over your head for protection, or toss them on enemies. Chuck's mannerisms are hilarious - especially when he takes a hit and let's out a crazy yelp. A "heart meter" in the lower left corner serves as a health gauge, and grabbing hearts causes it to "inflate". This game is brimming with personality, and it's well programmed to boot. The controls are responsive, and the collision detection is crisp. Distinctive sound effects provide positive reinforcement whenever you grab an item or defeat an enemy. Several continues are available, but Chuck Rock could really use a password system. The whimsical background music has a jazzy, funky flavor. If you own a Genesis and haven't played Chuck Rock, you're letting the best things in life just pass you by. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 148,100
Publisher: Sony (1993)
In this movie-based platformer you're forced to battle both the elements and fugitives in snow-covered mountains. Cliffhanger adopts the typical side-scrolling punch and kick formula, with thugs that blink and disappear when defeated. The fighting action is enjoyable enough, but you'll need to press combinations of buttons to perform certain moves. You'll pick up weapons like knives and machineguns, and these are extremely
useful. This version looks just like the SNES edition, but it plays faster. In fact, it makes the SNES version seem almost sluggish
by comparison. Fighting thugs is a lot easier on the Genesis. There seem to be fewer of them, and your attacks do more damage. If you continuously swing a knife at the edge of the screen, you can knock off many foes before they can even make an entrance! The platform jumping, on the other hand, is harder on the Genesis. The controls feel touchy as you leap between icy ledges. In one harrowing stage you scale a cliff as snipers pump slugs into you from a few feet away. Unlike the SNES game, you cannot
kill these guys, even when standing on the same ledge with them! But the worst part of this game is the avalanche stage where you're forced to run through an obstacle course of rocks and logs as a wall of snow bears down on you. Unlike the SNES version, when you trip on something there's no time to recover. It's not unusual to breeze through dozens of fights without a scratch, only to piss away every last life on this single unforgiving stage. Continues are available, but they take you back pretty far, and there's no password. Cliffhanger is playable on the Genesis, but I'd give the nod to the SNES edition. Note: Despite what the box claims, this game is one-player only. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 7 lives
Our high score: 166,500
Publisher: Parker Bros. (1992)
I vaguely recall playing the Clue board game over my cousin's house as a kid, and it seemed like such a "grown up" game. I'm not exactly sure what possessed me to pick up this Genesis version but my friends would tell you temporary insanity
. Let's face it, board games don't translate well to the video game medium. I guess the main selling point of Clue is the ability to play against the CPU when nobody else is around. Hey, that's something, right? An overly complicated set-up process lets you assign human or CPU to up to six players. It's possible to watch the CPU play itself. Players take turns moving around a brightly-rendered board with the help of a digitized hand that rolls the dice. Upon entering a room you suggest who committed the crime and what the weapon was. For example, Colonel Mustard in the dining room with the candlestick. You then watch a brief cut-scene as dramatic organ music plays. There's only one correct combination and as scenarios are ruled out the possibilities narrow. To help you keep track the game originally provided a "detective notepad" with grids of checkboxes (you can make your own by copying a page from the manual). Frankly I found the notepad design to be confusing and opted not to use it. Another awkward part of the game is how other players are supposed to look away
when you view your cards. The cutscenes are short and add a bit of suspense, but you never actually see the murder take place. You might watch an animation of a pipe coming down followed by a *clunk* sound. It's possible for the winning player to also be the murderer ("I won! I'm on my way to prison but I won!") Clue and the Genesis isn't exactly a match made in heaven, but if you've ever had a burning desire to play the game solo there are five skill levels to test your sleuthing skills. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Coach K College Basketball
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1995)
For their first college basketball title Electronic Arts basically recycled their NBA Live engine. They changed the team names, moved in the three-point line, and tweaked a few rules. The players are only identified by their numbers. There are only 32 teams included, including a classic Maryland Terrapins squad featuring Joe Smith and Keith Booth. Like NBA Live, Coach K's gameplay is fast and furious. For maximum mayhem I'd recommend turning off the fouls. This allows you to effectively mug
the opposition by running into them at full speed to knock the ball away. Once you scoop up the loose ball you're off to the races, performing slow-motion acrobatic dunks that are far more satisfying that those in modern games. It's funny how players sometimes point their finger (in the wrong direction) after dunking just to rub it in. When performing lay-ups, why do players look like they're holding their nose?
It's possible to shatter the backboard with a thunderous dunk, leaving the basket hanging like a saggy condom. It fits nicely with the porno music that plays over the option screen (eliciting erotic moans from onlookers). One cool feature is the ability to make the crowd wave their arms behind the basket during foul shots to distract the shooter. I don't know what's up with the blonde cheerleaders on the sideline, buy they never cheer! Be sure to check out the creative fans holding up letters to spell "T-E-A-M". Two things that stink about Coach K is crowd noise that sounds like a water faucet and a menu interface that's slow and clunky. Still, it's fun take your team through a season and gradually climb the rankings. This old college basketball game may be primitive, but it's also very memorable. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Mega Cat (2017)
Side-scrolling brawlers like Final Fight
(SNES, 1991) have been a dying breed, so when I got a review copy of Coffee Crisis in the mail I was giddy as a schoolgirl. It features a pair of fighting hipster baristas (Nick and Ashley) who work in a goth coffee shop. I love the green aprons and Ashley's blue hair. The wacky storyline has our heroes defending Pittsburgh from coffee-seeking aliens. The cut scenes drag on a bit, but one particular line ("Hit em ya jagoffs!") was instantly adopted by my friends. As you take to the streets armed with coffee accessories you'll battle big-headed aliens, elderly folk, and country music fans. Taking a bat to a granny with a walker feels so wrong... yet strangely satisfying!
The controls could be better. The characters tend to slide around, making it hard to line up with enemies. Fortunately the collision detection is forgiving. The A button is used to grab enemies and pick up weapons, but these actions aren't always responsive. Tapping B unleashes combos, and holding it lets you "wind up" for a mega punch. Your jump-kick works great against a mob but deals minimal damage. The sound effects are generally muted, save for the satisfying "clank" of smacking somebody with a parker meter. When an enemy is defeated a beam of light shines down from heaven as their body levitates into the sky. While imaginative, one could argue this death animation is overused and takes too long. The music is an acquired taste. My friend Chris characterized it as "somebody banging on trash can lids" but Brent and Kevin really dug the death metal vibe. There are some really impressive backdrops in this game, mainly in the form of the city skyline at night. Stages tend to be short, with your score tallied at the end of each. So why isn't it displayed on the game over screen? I like how two players share the same set of continues, and it's possible for one player to come back "from the grave" if a new continue is found. Coffee Crisis gets an A for effort, with packaging that includes a Genesis clam case, a glossy manual, and an astonishing translucent red cartridge. Collectors will definitely want to get in on this one. It's no Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991) but once you get into the spirit of the thing Coffee Crisis is a good time. For more info check out Mega Cat Studios
. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 2880
1 or 2 players
College Football National Championship
Publisher: Sega (1994)
Although their Joe Montana line of NFL games couldn't compete with Madden, Sega came back strong with a nice College Football game in 1994. This time, Sega dropped the side view in favor of the Madden style, 3D vertical field view. The game still has a unique look however, because the players are smaller and look more realistic than Madden. As with the Joe Montana games, the action zooms in close when the ball is passed or handed off, which really works well. You have 32 of the best college teams to choose from, and it's fun to take one through a regular season and try to attain the #1 ranking. There are a slew of game options and a wealth of statistics. This is one of the only games to take advantage of Sega's 6 button controller, but I wish they had incorporated a catch button. The game has a few other issues too. The play-by-play announcer from the Montana games is back, but he's mediocre, and it can be downright comical it hear him exclaim "he could go all the way!" as the runner gets stopped for two yards. Even more annoying is his use of the word "zip", as in "Florida State 7, Alabama zip". The playing field is so wide that sometimes you can't see all of your receivers. And while the player animation is good in general, after each play they stand around like soldiers, which looks really stupid. It's interesting to note that hitting the B button after any play causes your player to raise his helmet in triumph -- even if he screwed up during the play. Trust me, once you discover this "feature", you will be doing it constantly, and laughing out loud. Despite the silliness, this is a very good football game. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
College Football National Championship II
Publisher: Sega (1995)
I have no idea what Sega was thinking, but I hate it when a company has a year to improve a game and then puts out something WORSE. How Sega could justify releasing this game is beyond comprehension. It's almost exactly the same game as the 1994 version! There are still only 32 teams, and only five
are different! The play-by-play announcing has been dropped completely. I guess they didn't want to take the time to improve it, so they just scratched it altogether. For some odd reason there is now total silence during the play selection screen, like you're in the twilight zone or something. There are some minor additional options, like the ability to play shorter games, but there's not enough here to warrant an upgrade. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
College Football USA '96
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1995)
Borrowing liberally from EA's Madden franchise (including Madden's voice) and lacking an NCAA license, College Football USA '96 comes off as somewhat generic. 108 teams are represented along with four bowl games. The players are nicely articulated on the field, but why in the [expletive] is my Maryland team decked out in blue?!
Major oversight there. The action on the field is smooth with few lulls. I like how the C button lets you catch on offense or block a pass on defense. The main problem with this game is the running. It's really easy to get continously pushed back, and apparently the game has no concept of forward progress. Audio effects include a static-y crowd and boo effects which sound more like a pack of dogs. I do however relish those crunchy tackle sounds. Before each game you're prompted to enter your name, and I highly recommend you do so. Why? Because the game records a wide variety of statistics including longest pass, total yards, and most sacks in a game. It's satisfying when the game stops to announce you've smashed an old record. The battery in my cartridge is currently dead so records are not retained, but that can be replaced. There are some nice bells and whistles like cheerleaders, chain measurements, and referees that toss penalty flags. College Football USA '96 has issues, but its pick-up-and-play style is appealing. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: battery
1 to 4 players
College Football USA '97
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1996)
You don't expect much from a franchise late in a system's life, but College Football USA '97 nicely refines its winning formula. New features include create-a-player, custom schedules, and coaches polls. There are 111 teams which is only three more than last year. On the field the action is improved. Offensive lines don't get pushed around as much and the passes feel crisp. I really enjoy running option (pitch or run) plays and found it fairly easy to score. The CPU quarterbacks seem to have a hard time grasping the ball, as it often slips out of their hand. The play-calling interface is clean but some of the color choices are hard on the eyes (yellow on light purple?) There's a generic new commentator voice this year but he's barely used. College Football '97 retains the best feature of the previous year, and that's player records. I also like the cutscene of the coach yelling at a player and the way the ball is "zapped" when it hits the goal post. College Football USA '97 may lack the gravitas of the Bill Walsh games, but it runs like a finely-tuned machine. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: battery
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Sega (1990)
In the late 80's Tetris was "the game", and every reputable game console (or computer system) had to have a version. Not wanting to miss out on the puzzle-game frenzy, Sega introduced Columns, a Tetris clone with its own twist. Columns of three gems descend from the top of the screen and you need to line up three or more of the same color to make them disappear. You can't turn the stack sideways, but you can rotate the order of the gems. It sounds simple, but once you get going, quick and strategic thinking is required. Unpredictable chain reactions inject excitement into the game. Columns won me over in a big way. Unlike Nintendo's cartoonish incarnations of Tetris, Columns has an Egyptian theme. There isn't much to see graphics-wise, but the soft, soothing organ music makes the game feel like a religious experience. There are plenty of options including a nice two-player simultaneous mode. The controls are a little TOO responsive, making the columns tricky to line up precisely. But the relaxing, addictive quality of this game cannot be denied. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 13888
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Accolade (1994)
Combat Cars is a mediocre overhead racer with a lame combat element that feels tacked-on. Neo Geo gamers will recognize this as a close relative of Thrash Rally
(Neo Geo, 1991). The fact that cars can run over
each other is a dead giveaway. Both games share the same style of play but Combat Cars is a lot
less polished. You select a driver from a set of freaks which include the cyborg "Metro", the werewolf "Growl", and an obese woman named "Big Bad Momma". Only after
you make your selection do you see their handling/speed/acceleration characteristics, which is just one example of this game's poor design. The tracks vary wildly in terms of difficulty. The opening "beach" course is easy enough with its nice wide roads, but the "Harbour" track is an absolute killer
with its deadly turns and muddy edges. You can only see a short distance ahead of your car, and the arrows are painted on the turns themselves! What good is that?
of the eight cars have respectable weapons (shotgun and missiles). Most others just drop stuff like smoke, oil, and mines. One car's so-called "weapon" is a freakin' turbo boost
! C'mon now!
I'm surprised this game didn't make windshield wipers
a weapon. You'll need to finish first
in each race to advance (which sucks) and there are no continues
. I tried to lower the difficulty via the options menu, but - oh wait - it's already on easy!
The audio is dominated by the annoying squeals of tires, but there's something to be said for the pulsating, high-energy dance beats. I would surely include them on my video game mix tape, if only I had one. One tune sounds like "What Is Love?" Between races you'll purchase upgrades from a blonde vampire bikini girl (and yes, she certainly does
have mega tires!). A two-player mode lets you go head-to-head with a friend, but the screen is distorted (a la Sonic the Hedgehog 2), the sound is degraded, and there are no CPU cars. Considering how simple its concept is, I'm amazed how bad Combat Cars falters. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: easy
Our high score: $90,800
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sega (1995)
Comix Zone is so innovative in concept and visually arresting that I'm bummed out
that I can't give it an A. The art direction is stunning as you guide a hero named "Sketch" through the pages and cells of a comic book come to life! I love the post-apocalyptic opening stage, complete with raging thunderstorm and dismembered Statue of Liberty. Stage two has a snow-swept Asian temple, and the third features a weathered boat graveyard. The only bad-looking thing in this game is Sketch's mullet - worst haircut ever!!
Comix Zone has a lot of hand-to-hand combat with a few puzzles sprinkled in. You can juggle three items in your inventory, and it's much easier if you have a six-button controller. The animation is impressive as your unleash a can of whoop-ass on a variety of mutants and martial arts thugs. I absolutely love how they slam against the border of the cell, or better yet break through it, spilling the action into the next cell! Quick dialogue bubbles offer clues and add some levity. The soundtrack is outstanding, delivering some killer guitar riffs with that distinctive Genesis twang. The first stage has some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game. Gotta love that Elvis-inspired "Se-gah" intro as well. Comix Zone had the makings of a masterpiece, but unreasonable difficulty and repetitive fighting prove its undoing. The first level is so incredibly unforgiving that it will demoralize all but the most ardent gamers. You only get one life, so falling into a pit is an instant "game over". You really need to get familiar with the branching stages to enhance your chances of survival. An easy difficulty level would have gone a long
way. The combat is fun, but it gets repetitive because enemies can absorb too many hits! That dude who looks like Aquaman can take about 30 hits! C'mon
now! And what's the deal with the mandatory damage? Even punching your way through crates
will drain your life! If you stick with it, Comix Zone does get better. Strategic usage of items is key, and you can use your pet rat to uncover items hidden in the scenery. There's no password feature, but the branching paths provide a some variety. While clearly flawed, Comix Zone still oozes with style and originality. Had its gameplay been tweaked, this could have been the start of a killer new Sega franchise. This is a must-have for collectors. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: GWC 35,950
Contra Hard Corps
Publisher: Konami (1994)
This could have been "the
game", but Contra Hard Corps is ruined by a difficulty level best described as impossible
. This side-scrolling shooter pushes the Genesis hardware to the limit with dazzling scaling and rotation effects, voice synthesis, two-player simultaneous action, and even some morphing! Contra's first stage clearly demonstrates the highs and lows of the game. There are some slick in-game cut-scenes, like a truck plowing through enemy robots, and a massive lumbering robot unleashing destruction in the distance. Unfortunately, the game's checkpoints fall before
these sequences, so you end up having to watch them over and over again! I mean, they look great and all, but I'm not getting any younger here! Hard Corps' difficulty is off the charts, and even the first boss keeps coming back in different forms long after you thought he was defeated. I would have not gotten much further than the first stage
if not for my Game Genie cheat device. The Genie let me play through the entire game, but I lost countless lives in the process, making me wonder how in the hell
Konami could think three lives was sufficient! You'll fight aliens while hanging off a helicopter, riding on a speedboat, and latched onto the side of a rocket! In one of the more imaginative scenes, a scientist uses a pair of transporter pods to combine creatures (a la The Fly) to create new monstrosities for you to fight. It's quite poetic when his final creation ends up eating him
! Hard Corps' rotation effects are put to good use in bosses that come apart and reassemble themselves into new configurations (like Transformers). In one "virtual" area, you fight constellations
come to life. Besides the difficulty, another issue is how the game seems to degenerate into a series of lengthy boss battles. The graphics are generally good, but the lame explosions are just a bunch of red balls flying everywhere. The soundtrack is decent, but Hard Corps' voice samples are high-pitched, as if Alvin and the Chipmunks recorded them. Upon completing the game, a pitiful "ending" shows your soldier giving the thumbs-up along with the message "Good job!" Contra Hard Corps is a technical tour-de-force, but what good is that when you can't enjoy it? © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 20490
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Virgin (1993)
One of the best summer games ever
, Cool Spot transports you to a sunny beach with the scent of suntan lotion permeating the ocean breeze. This likeable side-scroller is so polished you'll hardly notice it's an interactive soft drink advertisement. It stars the "red dot" character from the old 7-Up commercials. You know he's cool by the way he sashays around with those big sunglasses. When my friends Steve and Brendan first brought this over my house back in the day, we were cracking up at his zany mannerisms. Each stage challenges you to collect suspended red dots while shooting various marine creatures, bugs, and cheese-tossing mice. Spot is not fleet of foot but he can leap a great distance. He can also rapidly shoot bubbles in any direction, and that's good because most enemies can withstand several shots. The first stage is the highlight of the game as you walk over sand dunes and climb beach chairs while shooting crabs and mosquitoes. I love the sound of the crashing waves and funky reggae music. The second stage takes place on a dock where you climb ropes like Donkey Kong Junior. The remaining stages include a blow-up pool with frogs and a dark attic infested with spiders. There's also a toy stage with miniature versions of the robot from Lost in Space (the 1960's television program). The later stages aren't as visually appealing but the fun factor remains high. I love the fact that enemies do not regenerate - it keeps the repetition to a minimum. Bonus stages take place inside a giant green 7-Up bottle, where you bounce around on bubbles trying to collect as many red dots as you can. It's fun! With bright graphics, tight controls, memorable stages, and a laid-back soundtrack, Cool Spot is an underrated Genesis platformer. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 45,460
Publisher: Kyugo (1991)
Crossfire looks like your garden-variety vertical helicopter shooter, calling to mind Twin Cobra
(Treco, 1991) or Task Force Harrier EX
(Treco, 1991). Before selecting a mission you're briefed by a "commander" who looks more like a ventriloquist dummy
. Why is he so wavy? Am I dreaming?
The first three missions are set in Central America, each offering sparkling blue waters, lush green foliage, and ancient ruins to destroy. Actually that flashing blue water is kind of irritating. The first part of each mission seems generic as you slowly strafe enemy cannons and helicopters that congregate like mosquitoes. In addition to rapid-fire shots and limited bombs, you can initiate a turbo mode that lets you quickly dart around the screen with a protective shield! Once you think you have the game figured out your helicopter descends via a cut-scene. Now your aircraft looms large as you strafe the ground from side-to-side, obliterating enemy soldiers and munitions. Make sure you wipe out the heavy artillery because you're about to traverse the same area on foot! This part feels a lot like Commando (Capcom, 1986). You can fire rapidly but your bullets move in a squiggly path that's really quite bizarre. It's a good idea to jump into the air to avoid bullets, despite the fact that it looks so silly. You can also call in air support but you'll probably want to save that for the armored vehicles. Once you infiltrate the enemy fortress and free the lone hostage you might think you're home-free. Not even close! The last part of the mission is much like the first, only much longer and with a few bosses sprinkled in. You'll also face those spinning ring things from Xevious
(Atari 7800, 1986) for some strange reason. Crossfire is weak in the audio department, with understated music and wimpy sound effects. You're not awarded a score unless you complete a mission. That's bogus, but overall Crossfire deserves credit for having so much more depth than most vertical shooters. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 176,800
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1992)
Remember back when rock music was cool? Motley Crue was so big in the early 90's that they even had their own video game! This flashy pinball title has a kickin' heavy metal theme and some of the hardest music the Genesis can crank out. The three featured Crue songs are Live Wire, Dr. Feelgood, and Home Sweet Home. The Genesis has never been considered an audio powerhouse, but these synthesized tunes sound amazing
. It's a shame you have to endure so many generic "filler" tracks in the early going. In fact, it's a good thing you can preview songs on the title screen, because otherwise you might never even hear
the good stuff! The pinball tables scroll vertically with stacked areas and a "boss" at the top. In addition to drop-targets, bumpers, and rollers, you'll take aim at skulls and centipedes that creep across the table. Pinball games tend to make great video games, and this one certainly has an addictive quality. The first table is pretty hard to conquer though, and the erratic pinball sometimes seems to be possessed by the devil (which is fitting, I think). In addition to excellent music, the game has some wicked sound effects, and I would strongly suggest cranking up the stereo. Crue Ball could have been better, but its distinctive heavy metal theme makes it far more memorable than most garden-variety pinball titles. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 6,226,000
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Acclaim (1995)
Based on the wildly unpopular motion picture, Cutthroat Island has the ingredients of a fun hack-n-slash side-scroller. One or two players (coop) can play as the lead character Morgan or some guy named Shaw who looks like Robin Hood. The first stage is a brawl in a prison courtyard, and the layered, textured scenery is reminiscent of Flashback
(Genesis, 1993). The fighting action is reasonably good with nicely-animated characters and interesting grapple moves. Still, I don't like how enemies can attack from off-screen, even firing their guns
on occasion! If you spot an item on the ground, be sure to pick it up immediately because after defeating the last enemy Morgan will automatically move on to the next area. The second stage is where the fun comes to a screeching halt. This "cart chase" stage is a rollercoaster ride of sorts as you swerve between two dirt roads to avoid boulders and trees. Plowing through enemies is satisfying, but hitting a big guy will cause you to crash, which is bogus. Conquering this stage requires pure memorization since the cart moves too quickly to react on-the-fly. Worse yet, the stage is really long and repetitive, so it's hard to remember when you need to switch lanes. It took me at least 25 attempts
to get through this! The third stage takes place in a town crawling with pirates trying to kill you. You are free to enter shops and walk down side-streets, but it's not clear where you need to go. I didn't progress any further because there are no continues
and no passwords
. The prospect of restarting this game is upleasant, if only because you need to repeat that God-forsaken cart stage. It's a shame because Cutthroat Island probably has a lot of cool stuff I'll never see. As a consolation, the instructions offer a chance to win a cruise
and real treasure hunt
in the Florida Keys! I'll be rich
beyond my wildest dreams!
Last minute note: The fine print specifies "entries must be received by December 31, 1996." Crap!
© Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 10,593
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Tengen (1990)
Cyberball is a futuristic football game played by robots using an exploding ball. It sounds inventive and fun, but it's so hard to play!
I can't believe this was once an arcade game. Keep in mind this was pre-Madden, when companies did not yet know how to program a sophisticated football game. You begin by selecting from a series of ridiculous teams like Seattle Snakes, Boston Riots, and Pittsburgh Bolts. You're then presented with some kind of "work shop" screen to outfit your players with ambiguous power-ups. I can only guess what half this stuff does. The confusion you experience at this point is nothing compared to what you're about to be confronted with. The teams are composed of robots with wheels and treads, but it's hard to discern the details from the high overhead angle. Instead of gaining ten yards for a first down, you try to gain an arbitrary amount of yardage to "defuse" the ball. When the ball explodes you lose possession. You select from a set of play diagrams with tiny symbols you can't even make out. How to play this game is a great mystery. The manual goes into extensive detail explaining the sport of football (positions, rules, etc) but fails miserably to explain the controls. It took me several games to realize there's only one button.
A, B, and C all do the same thing! During pass plays there are white boxes on the field. Apparently you need to point your quarterback towards a box
and press the button to throw. This is the worst system ever devised, considering the boxes are often on the same side of the field, and sometimes even bunched up! Needless to say, you never know who the [expletive] you're throwing the ball to. The CPU pass rush tends to push you back, causing your receivers to scroll out of view. Cyberball is a bewildering mess, and would you believe there's no way to pause the game? Its lone highlight is the half-time show featuring three robotic "one-man bands" marching across the field. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1993)
Sega had some good ideas for this one, but Cyborg Justice just didn't come together very well. This is a fighting game where you create your own robot warrior using a variety of body parts and weapons, and take him through the single-player mode or go head-to-head against a friend's creation. It sounds interesting, but Cyborg Justice just isn't any fun. The moves are frustratingly hard to execute, and you'll get pummeled if you try to do anything fancy. That's too bad because some of the moves, like pulling off your opponent's arms, are pretty cool. And even if you do manage to pull off a sophisticated attack, the damage it deals is minimal. It's also tough to tell what's going on during the heat of battle because the robots all look the same and easily get bunched up. And the bouts go on for way too long. Add in a lousy audio track and terribly boring backgrounds, and the game starts looking like the train wreck it is. © Copyright 1999 The Video Game Critic.
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