Publisher: Taito (1991)
For 2D shooting fans, Sagaia is one of the simple pleasures of life. While unspectacular on the surface, this side-scroller's 28 branching stages present an irresistible challenge. Your ship is armed with both rapid-fire missiles and bombs, and there's no penalty for unleashing them both with reckless abandon. Power-ups in the form of shield icons augment your current weapon, so you can snatch them all without having to be selective. Less thinking equals more fun! Certain weapons fire both up and down, which are useful when flying through cannon-fortified caverns. Enemies tend to appear in groups, and eradicating every last one will net you a big fat bonus. Sagaia's aquatic-themed enemies include lobsters, jellyfish, and seahorses. Fish bosses don't overstay their welcome and turn red when near death (like a good boss should). Keep an eye out for floating mines which you can shoot to wipe out everything on the screen (like a remote smart bomb). My main beef with Sagaia is how enemies can absorb many shots, offsetting the benefits of the rapid-fire shooting. Those pesky seahorses are prime offenders. The stages are pretty generic and advanced levels tend to recycle old enemies and bosses. The music is fair, but occasionally it drifts into Hanna Barbara cartoon territory. The sound effects are weak, and destroying enemies sounds like you're popping balloons. Sagaia isn't particularly memorable, but its "keep it simple" style goes a long way. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 919,450
Publisher: Taito (1991)
Caution: This game may cause sexual confusion. Although the sword-wielding warrior on the box cover is definitely a dude, on the screen it looks like you're controlling a chick!
What the hell? Saint Sword is an androgynous hack-n-slash platformer with colorful dungeons and impressively detailed, oversized characters. You explore mountains, dark forests, graveyards, and castles, each with a network of subterranean areas. A diverse set of adversaries includes crawling trolls, skeletons, golems, and baby dragons. You can slash upward as well as forward, and that's good because pesky flames tend to fall from overhead. Hitting switches causes walls to slide open, revealing new areas. The most interesting aspect of Saint Sword is your ability to transform into a half-animal creature. As a centaur you can leap great distances and execute a deadly rear-kick. As the birdman you can fly freely, allowing you to bypass a lot of tedious platform jumping. As a fishman you can swim like Michael Phelps. By strategically changing forms, you'll learn how to complete each stage a lot faster. Saint Sword's fighting action is a little irritating at first, since you tend to be weak and most enemies require multiple hits. The skeletons especially are a major pain in the ass. Thanks to the haphazard collision detection, making contact is more like a suggestion than a requirement. Once you acquire the spiffy gold armor however, you can slice through the baddies much easier. The stages have multiple paths, and while some are annoyingly maze-like, at least they tend to be reasonable in size. You'll encounter some seriously grotesque bosses that look like an unholy amalgamation of hideous creatures lumped together. Saint Sword probably looks better than it plays, but if you can embrace its quirks you're in for a good time. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 42,400
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Takara (1994)
After playing the 3DO version of this game, there's really no going back. On the Genesis, Samurai Shodown just looks like another run-of-the-mill Street Fighter wannabe. It's a 2D fighter with Asian-inspired fighters that carry sharp weapons. Some of the characters are pretty cool, but the graphics are nothing special, and the sound is just lousy. The scratchy voice samples are hard to take, and the minimal background music won't exactly have you singing in the shower. The gameplay isn't much better - the action feels very slow and lethargic. Worst of all, the Genesis isn't capable of executing the snazzy 3D scaling that's the trademark of the game (not to mention its one original feature). At least the six-button controller is supported. But only diehard fighting fans will want to try this one. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Scooby Doo Mystery
Publisher: Sunsoft (1995)
Scooby-Doo Mystery is a throwback to the point-and-click adventures that were once popular on the PC. You can play two separate mysteries - one set in a snowy hotel and the other at a carnival by the sea. Each begins with a scene of the van cruising down a road to the sound of that familiar Scooby Doo theme song. A conversation in the van sets up the premise, and for the first time in video game history the text dialogue is displayed at perfect reading speed
. Amazing! It also nicely reflects the personalities (and speech impediments) of the characters. Once you arrive at your destination the gang splits up and you assume control of Shaggy and Scooby. You can move freely between areas but interaction requires you to point with the cursor after selecting a command at the bottom of the screen like "look" or "use". The user interface is pretty clunky, and I got tired of dragging that slow-ass cursor around the screen. The illustrated scenery in Scooby Doo Mystery is terrific, but key items and entrances tend to blend in. There are only a few animations but they are amusing. To solve a mystery you'll converse with people, move obstacles, search for clues, and even piece items together. The game would have been a winner if the puzzles made sense, but more often that not, they defy logic! In the hotel you'll need to open every door in a long hallway before the one at the end magically becomes unlocked. In the carnival you'll use taffy
to start an electric generator. Nonsense like that forces you into trial-and-error mode (or better yet, FAQ
mode). I was glad to see a save function until I realized it required writing down a 30-character
sequence - with special characters
no less! Scooby-Doo Mystery had the potential for spooky fun, but its poorly-constructed puzzles are unforgivable. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Sage's Creation (1990)
My friends were dismissive of Shadow Blasters but this obscure title is an underrated gem in my book. You play the role of four ancient warriors in six stages: mountain, street, glen, harbor, forest, and "future". When one character dies you select another, effectively giving you four lives. The fact that you can select between both characters and stages
ratchets up the replay value considerably. The graphics aren't anything to write home about with grainy backdrops and people rendered with black outlines. That said, the visuals have an old school charm and the ominous music is quite enjoyable. Each warrior has his own weapons, from knives to boomerangs to flaming dragons. You'll battle samurai warriors, serpents, flaming birds, floating heads, and annoying hopping pinecones. You can jump, duck, toss projectiles, and unleash a special attack. The environments could use more pizzazz but I like how there are alternate routes you can take. The control, firepower, and difficulty is right on point. It's hard to tell what some of the icons are for, but collecting gray ones will power up your attack. Each stage concludes with an obligatory boss in the form of a floating head, a rock golem, or giant brain. Don't forget your special attack! The gameplay is very basic but fun to play for high score. The fact that there's a highly-playable two-player simultaneous mode is icing on the cake. Shadow Blasters may not look like much but rest assured it's a worthy addition to the collection. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 104,500
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sega (1990)
As the opening text crawl explains, New York City has become a smoldering ash heap with exploding man-holes presided over by a mutated reptilian overlord. What year could it be, 2073? Try 1997!
I guess the future isn't what it used
to be. Shadow Dancer is one of the more underappreciated Shinobi titles, and one of the more underrated games for the Genesis. It takes the finely-tuned hack-n-slash ninja action and adds a strategic element in form of a loyal attack dog. Your main goal in each stage is to save a number of hostages. You're armed with unlimited throwing stars and you'll automatically slash enemies when close. Your dog can't kill your enemies, but he can struggle with them long enough for you to move in for the kill. Some enemies are protected with shields, so you'll need to sic your pooch on them at exactly the right moment. The game moves at a deliberate pace, but this is still an arcade title at heart. The detail in the graphics is impressive; I love the way female hostages struggle in their bindings. The post-apocalyptic stages are short and sweet, with dynamic elements like earthquakes that open giant crevasses. A nice variety of bosses include a scary samurai beast and a rock creature that materializes out of a brick wall. When you reach the top of the Statue of Liberty you'll fight a chick that throws spinning blades. If you enjoy spectacular skylines (and who the hell doesn't?), this game has them in spades. Shadow Dancer also has its share of memorable tunes that instantly transported me back to the early 90's (when my sister bought this game for me). The only thing I don't like are the lame bonus stages where you shoot flying ninjas while falling from a skyscraper, which is an exercise in button mashing. Otherwise Shadow Dancer is an exceptional side-scroller that delivers top-notch sword-slashing, star-chucking, and dog mauling satisfaction. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 235,700
Publisher: Sega (1993)
Contributed by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk.
Amazingly, Shining Force was the first
turn-based strategy RPG that I played the entire way through, and it has turned me on to the genre! This was the second entry in a long-running line of "Shining" titles, many of which have seen U.S. releases. The main plot involves "the Hero" and his allies (the Shining Force) as the last hope in a fight against an ancient evil (Dark Dragon) and his minions. The Hero battles his way through several chapters of the game, picking up additional party members along the way including a robot, dragon, werewolf, centaurs, elves, and birdmen. When not in battle, the game suffers from "too many buttons" syndrome. Instead of hitting a button to perform an action, you must call up a menu and select "Search" or "Talk". Each character has four item slots, and it's interesting how you never buy armor for your units - only weapon upgrades. The combat system is where the game truly... er... "Shines". Battles either take place on over-land maps between cities, or within the towns and dungeons. You can have up to twelve units in your party with several others waiting back at "headquarters". True to tactical RPG's, each unit can move a certain amount of squares, which is often limited by the terrain. After moving, your unit can attack or cast a spell (if it has the ability). Archers can shoot from afar, but melee fighters can only attack adjacent squares. Victory depends largely on your ability to effectively coordinate the movement and attacks of your units. Your units can accumulate experience points and gain levels, as well as earn "promotions" to improve their classes. When a unit dies in battle, you can't bring them back during the fight, but you can have it revived at a church. If the Hero is killed, the battle ends and you find yourself back at your last save point - with half the gold. The background music and sound effects are pretty enjoyable and the graphics (which included some simple illustrations of the characters) are relatively good-looking all things considered. A few of its elements are a little inconvenient, but on the whole Shining Force is pretty darn fun to play. Favorite Character: Zylo. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (1993)
Shinobi III is one of the best ninja games I've ever played. The graphics, sound, and control are all spectacular. The first stage is set in the wilderness, with ninjas hiding in the trees. It's pretty cool, except for the guy walking around with the bucket on his head (what the?). In the second stage, you fight armed guards in a high-tech, biological test facility. The action never gets repetitive because the scenery is constantly changing, and there are plenty of surprises. You have several attacks and power-ups at your disposal. The bosses are incredible, and there are even some nice high-speed levels that let you ride a horse or jet-ski. The audio is remarkably good, especially the sound of your weapon slashing into human flesh! If you like ninja games, you cannot afford to live without this one. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1992)
Back when I lived at home with my parents my friends would often lounge around my room playing Side Pocket. Its awesome title screen features some guy standing next to his sports car at river's edge gazing at a gorgeous city skyline. My friends loved to imitate the gravelly, chain-smoking voice that announces "Siiiiide Pocket
!" This billiards title may lack customization options and fancy 3D angles, but it's so
much fun. The two-player modes are fine but you can't beat the addictive goodness of the one-player pocket game. Played in series of cities across the USA, you must obtain a certain score to advance to the next town. The idea is to sink balls in order (consecutive or by number), with a supply of "stocks" keeping track of allowed misses. This system gives you a little leeway so you can experiment with some imaginative shots. The controls are intuitive and a dotted guide line makes it easy to set up your next shot and play the angles. Angles are limited by the resolution, but you can compensate by applying english. The shiny balls roll smoothly around the table and I love the sound of them clicking against each other. The physics is a little quirky and I really wish there was more separation during breaks. Spicing things up are randomized bonuses and opportunities to execute trick shots on tables lined with wine glasses. A score is awarded after each round, but I wish there was a running tally as well. What makes Side Pocket stand out is how it conveys the atmosphere of a smoky pool hall. The jazzy lounge music is relaxing and the intermission screens show sophisticated ladies in come-hither poses. I think one just winked at me! Side Pocket is an arcade-style pool game with style to burn. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 6,100
1 or 2 players
Simpsons, The: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants
Publisher: Acclaim (1992)
Bart Vs. The Space Mutants features bright cartoonish graphics and compelling gameplay, but its difficulty is insane
! When it takes me several days
to complete the first stage, that tends to have a detrimental effect on the game's grade! The colorful intro shows the Simpson family snuggled up on the sofa watching TV as aliens land outside and begin infiltrating society disguised as normal people. These aliens are seeking specific items to complete their doomsday machine, so Bart must run, jump, and skateboard through five stages in order to snatch up (or hide) these items from the aliens. The first stage is set on a city street where Bart must track down 24 purple items, and a helpful "goal counter" on the bottom of the screen keeps you posted on his progress. You'll achieve your goals by spray-painting flowerpots, dumping paint, and knocking clothes off a clothesline. In one special case, Bart needs to prank call Moe the bartender in order to lure him out and spray-paint his apron. The sidewalks are crawling with small bouncy aliens that Bart has to duck under or jump over. Sometimes it's necessary to purchase specific items from stores including wrenches, cherry bombs, and bottle rockets. Bart Vs. The Space Mutants is actually quite fun to play, but it's relentlessly unforgiving
, requiring you to complete every single goal
flawlessly! If that's not enough, each stage ends with a boss encounter like a water-balloon tossing bully. Later stages promise madcap action in a shopping mall, amusement park, and museum. If only I could get that far! Since there's no password, you're always doomed to repeat the early stages, and considering the difficulty, that oversight is unforgivable. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Core (1995)
Despite some outstanding visuals, Skeleton Krew falters due to its repetitive, headache-inducing gameplay. You can choose from one of three "skeleton warriors", but they just look like regular guys with all that heavy armor on. You play from an isometric diagonal view, and the stages look like futuristic dungeon mazes. The control scheme allows you to rapid-fire, rotate, and strafe, making it easier to mow down legions of monsters that continuously materialize around you. That leads me to my main complaint - there's too many freakin' things to shoot! The monsters just regenerate over and over, which is really annoying in certain levels that require you to clear them all out before progressing. The shooting action gets old really quick. In most stages I discovered it was less painful to simply navigate the maze and avoid combat altogether. Another annoying aspect is bosses that take forever to die, and you can't tell if they're taking damage! I really can't find fault with the graphics. The stages are fairly generic, but the pseudo-3D characters are nicely animated, and it's fun to watch them explode. But it's just eye candy as far as I'm concerned. Even with the two-player simultaneous mode, this game doesn't have lasting play value. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
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