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DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution
Grade: B+
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/1/8
Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics)

screenshotThe Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) series has been around for a while now, but its popularity really seems to be taking off with this latest edition. The game is played by performing synchronized steps on a special mat controller while listening to pulsating dance music. I enjoyed the original DDR on the Playstation, but the excessive difficulty was overwhelming and the cheap sliding dance mat didn't help matters. DDRMAX2 addresses those shortcomings with an easy-to-play beginner mode and an improved dance mat with a rubber undercoating that doesn't slide nearly as much. There are four arrows on the mat, and you step on these in sync with the arrows moving up the screen. New "freeze" moves require you to leave your foot on an arrow for an extended number of beats. DDR is crazy fun, but you can't help but look ridiculous playing it. Due to the physical nature of the game, you'll be bombarded with unintentionally funny "precaution" screens advising you to keep lights on and maintain your distance from the monitor. Dance Dance Revolution is certainly unique in the realm of video games. The first time I played it, the game had me smiling and even laughing out loud as I struggled to keep up. I'm sure it provides good exercise as well, judging from the sweat I worked up. No dancing game would succeed without some catchy tunes, and DDR has its moments. There are some actual music videos from Kylie Minogue, Dirty Vegas, and 2 Unlimited, along with a few less-recognizable artists. Of the 65+ remaining songs, a few are nightclub caliber gems, but too many are mediocre and generic. I wish they could have licensed more big name acts and included more videos. Once they do that, this is 'A' material. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Dance Dance Revolution Extreme
Grade: B
Publisher: Konami (2004)
Reviewed: 2008/1/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI always enjoy these funky dance-pad games, but what's so "extreme" about this DDR? It's the Eye-Toy camera, silly! Now, not only can you look like an ass playing the game, but you can even watch yourself looking like an ass! The camera doesn't add to the fun, but it does add challenge and helps you burn more calories. I like the mode that directs you to touch parts of the screen while "dancing", but the other camera variations royally suck. Most are unplayable, like the one that requires you to constantly "wipe" the screen as it clouds up. I suspect most gamers will play around with the camera for about ten minutes and then say the hell with it. At its core, Extreme still offers regular DDR action with a brand new set of songs, many of which have been shortened for game-playing purposes. Highlights include remixed renditions of "Your Rain", "Bizarre Love Triangle", "Like a Virgin", "Never Ending Story", and "Waiting For Tonight". Songs by original artists include "Go West" (Pet Shop Boys), "Kids In America" (Kim Wilde), "YMCA" (Village People) and "The Reflex" (Duran Duran). As usual, the bulk of the tunes are generic dance numbers electronically generated by DJs with names like "Shawn the Horny Master". There are a few hidden gems however, like the insanely catchy grooves of "Move Your Feet" and "Only You" (Captain Jack). "Mobo Moga" has an easy-going, lounge vibe that's appealing. There are more modes than you can shake a booty at, including a Workout mode specifically designed to burn calories. The new Mission mode gives the solo player something to work through, but the disappointing Party mode is just a collection of annoying, non-dancing mini-games. Since most white guys can't dance like John Travolta, Lesson and Training modes are also included. The main problem with Extreme is its user-hostile interface that makes it hard (if not impossible) to "back out" when you accidentally select a wrong option. That's unacceptable, considering how clumsy the dance pads are for navigating menus (hint: press start and select to reset the game). Also, I found the increase in difficulty from "light" to "standard" to be rather steep. Otherwise DDR Extreme is sure to please gamers who like to get off of their asses every now and then. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Konami (2005)
Reviewed: 2008/1/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Dance Dance Revolution Extreme game added a new element to the dancing formula by incorporating the Eye Toy camera, and Extreme 2 ups the ante with on-line support. For seasoned players, a new Advance mode lets you dance indefinitely as long as you can maintain your dance meter at a certain level. As usual, Konami has padded the soundtrack with generic DJ-generated tunes, but there are a few standout tracks. First and foremost, there's Beyonce's "Crazy in Love". How much did Konami have to pay her for that one? Other notable jams include "Get Busy" (Sean Paul), "Captain Jack" (Captain Jack), and "Pump up the Volume" (MARRS). Some of the better tunes are in fact radical remixes (for better or worse) including "Spin Spin Sugar" (Sneaker Pimps), "Genie in a Bottle" (Christine Aguilera), and "Oops I Did It Again" (Britney Spears). The soundtrack didn't blow me away, and there's not much new in terms of gameplay, but at least the user interface is more user-friendly. That's right, you can now back up after selecting a wrong menu option. The DDR franchise seems to be treading water with Extreme 2, but those looking for more of the same will enjoy its appealing brand of upbeat dance action. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Dance Dance Revolution Supernova
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2006)
Reviewed: 2008/5/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter DDR Extreme, where does a dance series have left to go? Well according to science, the next level after Extreme is Supernova! Wow, Konami is milking this series for all it's worth, but can you blame them? The thing is a freakin' goldmine! DDR Supernova is basically the same old DDR with a new set of songs. The "Dance Master" mode has been replaced with the suspiciously similar "Stellar Master" mode, offering a list of challenges that let you earn points and unlock items. As usual, Konami makes the interface a lot more complicated than it has to be. You have to shuffle through a confusing maze of screens to determine what you next challenge is, and even then your objectives are rarely clear. I prefer the basic "Game mode" where you just select songs and boogie for high score. The song selection is slightly better than usual, although the bulk of the tunes are locked initially. Standout tracks include "Dance Dance" (Fallout Boy), "Since You've Been Gone" (Kelly Clarkson), "Let's Dance" (David Bowie), "Do You Want To" (Franz Ferdinand), "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" (Cyndi Lauper) and "Video Killed The Radio Star" (The Buggles). Many of these are accompanied by their original music videos. Some gamers may write off the Japanese songs, but in fact most are extremely catchy. The only song I really found objectionable was the heinous cover of "Centerfold" by Captain Jack. Supernova is aimed at wannabe dancers of all skill levels, with plenty of customization options, a tutorial for beginners, and a workout mode. I only wish the workout mode didn't have the pauses between songs - that kind of defeats the purpose! The core DDR gameplay is fun as always, and it will make you work up a sweat. An announcer periodically comments on your performance, but he always seems a few beats behind. I really don't like when he yells "You're not an ordinary fella!" What's that supposed to mean exactly?! DDR Supernova is a predictable but likeable addition to the repetitive line of DDR games, although calling this "Supernova" is laying it on a little thick. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Dance Dance Revolution Supernova 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/5/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSupernova 2 offers a few incremental improvements to the tried-and-true dancing game series. The retooled "Hyper Master Mode" is much more straightforward than the bewildering "Stellar Master Mode" of the last game, offering clearly defined "missions" of gradually increasing difficulty. As usual, Konami mucks up the user interface so bad that you'd think this was their first video game! For example, why does it ask it I want to retry after I clear a mission?! So I can get a better score? I think most gamers are satisfied to just move on, thank you. The basic "Game mode" is still the best, allowing you to select the song and difficulty of your choice before cutting the rug like Elaine Bennis. Some of the more recognizable tunes include "Rock Your Body" (Justin Timberlake), "Say Goodbye" (Chris Brown), "Temperature" (Sean Paul), and "Unbelievable" (EMF). There are a few nice old R&B jams like "Le Freak" (Chic), "Every Little Step" (Bobby Brown), and "Got To Be Real" (Cheryl Lynn). "Wind It Up" by Gwen Stefani is indisputably the worst song ever conceived. As usual there are a slew of Japanese pop songs that range from ultra-cheesy to insanely infectious. Supernova 2 also includes the ability for four players to play against each other(!), but would you believe that's on-line only!? There's really nothing super about Supernova, but the beat goes on... © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Death By Degrees
Grade: D+
Publisher: Namco (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/12/14
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, language, suggestive themes)

screenshotThis ill-advised Tekken spin-off was utterly demolished by critics who couldn't find enough things to hate about it. Could Death by Degrees possibly live down to such a reputation? I had my doubts. Actually I was pretty impressed by the game's production values. The action kicks off with some very elaborate cut-scenes with a villain who's a dead ringer for Benicio Del Toro. The game begins on a luxurious cruise ship that provides for some serious eye candy. The high-resolution graphics look especially sharp on those high-tech status screens. The star of the game is a kung-fu slut-bomb named Nina Williams. She's a fine role model for young women who aspire to have humongous breasts. The opening scene shows Nina sunbathing in a tiny silver bikini and high heels. Who sunbathes in high heels? She immediately proceeds to dispose of a whole gang of henchmen. Soon after, she slips into something more appropriate - a trashy negligee! Wow - for a secret operative, she sure tends to draw a lot of attention to herself! It looks downright comical to see her crawling through vents and swinging from pipes dressed like that! The big gimmick behind Death by Degrees is its 360-degree fighting system. By flicking the right stick you can target enemies approaching from any direction. It's fun, especially when you're armed with a club! Special "focus" attacks present a slow-motion, x-ray view so you can zoom in on the bone you want to break. The ensuing animation is very satisfying! When you're not fighting, you're sneaking around the ship collecting useful items like infrared goggles and a hand-crank (what is this, a Capcom game?). Death by Degrees has a few things going for it. The sniping scenes are fun (in the tradition of Silent Scope), and I like the concept of scanning fingerprints to circumvent access codes. A bar indicator on the screen indicates when a save point is near. The swimming is incredibly realistic with a cool first-person view and muffled bubble effects. Still, I can't recommend Death by Degrees with a clear conscience, and it's all because of the [expletive] camera. It's the clumsiest, most unwieldy camera system ever devised. For some reason it wants to show you everything except what's ahead of you! Some of the fixed viewing angles are crazy, like when I had to fight a gang of thugs while staring at the back of a white pillar! You can get away with it sometimes, but not when you're facing a boss! Speaking of bosses, how come I can smash a guy's skull and shatter his ribs but he keeps coming? The game's lesser offenses include a broken tutorial, an unwieldy status screen, and too much loading. But for all its flaws, Death By Degrees has a so-bad-it's-good quality that's fascinating at times. Namco obviously sunk a lot of money into this, which makes its epic failure all the more spectacular. Collectors take note. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Def Jam Vendetta
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/9/6
Rating: Teen (strong language, strong lyrics, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotVendetta is a superb wrestling game with a hip, urban style. The 44+ (!) fighters include popular rappers like Redman, Scarface, Method Man, DMX, and Ludacris. Matches take place on the "mean streets", including a junkyard, a highway underpass, and a club. I'm not a big fan of wrestling games, mainly because I'm usually not familiar with the fighters and the matches tend to drag on for way too long (both are the case here). Def Jam Vendetta deserves credit however for its high production values, smooth animation, and well-designed controls. The characters are huge and execute their moves in fluid motions. The control scheme is reasonable, and I appreciate the fact that not all of the buttons on the controller are used. A refreshingly brief tutorial tells you all you need to know to get started. The four main buttons allow you to attack, grapple, run, and climb in/out of the ring. Experimenting with the buttons can yield some amazing maneuvers - I don't know how the developers came up with so many imaginative moves. The fights tend to be exciting back-and-forth contests, with life meters that regenerate quickly. It's not uncommon for one guy to be completely beaten down only to regain his strength and pull out the victory. Come to think of it, I guess that makes Vendetta a lot like "real" professional wrestling! The key is to finish off your opponent when he's down. Being a Def Jam game, it should go without saying that the audio should kick ass, but the music played during matches is just understated beats with no vocals. The menu screen music does feature actual rap tunes, and they're pretty good. I'll say one thing about Vendetta - it's hard, so you'll have to exhibit mad skills to progress through the story mode. Cool bonus features include a four-player free-for-all and female fighters you can unlock. These girls typically wear tight dresses, and you better believe they are hot. I can only get so excited about a wrestling game, but Def Jam Vendetta is probably as good as any I've played. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Despicable Me
Grade: F
Publisher: D3 Publisher (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/12/14

screenshotDespite my best efforts, I couldn't derive much enjoyment from this aggravating combination of platform jumping and puzzle solving. Despicable Me is based on the film whose main character is a Dr. Evil-style villain voiced by Steve Carell. He tosses out a few mildly amusing lines, but even his star power can't salvage this unimaginative ordeal. The funky rap tune that plays over the title screen is arguably the highlight of the game. For those of you expecting Despicable Me to be aimed at young children, the difficulty may come as a bit of a shock. My friends and I struggled mightily to complete the freakin' tutorial, which doesn't even bother to explain the controls. Umm, isn't that what a tutorial is for?! The platform stages take every familiar concept you've ever seen and present them in various combinations. You'll leap over spiked pits. You'll dodge boxing gloves. You'll duck under laser beams. Special "guns" let you do things like blow air and freeze platforms, but they're not especially fun to use. The analog controls are responsive enough but the collision detection is absolutely ruthless. Even touching a drop of water spells instant death. The puzzles require you to trigger switches by strategically positioning round "minions" and shooting them to trigger various effects. How hard are these puzzles? Well, you basically need to be a PHD working at NASA to figure out some of these. Thank goodness the game gives you the option to skip an area if it sees you dying repeatedly. A few flying/shooting stages are included, but these are marred by excruciating escort missions (argh!) and lengthy boss encounters (gahh!!) They really pushed me over the top! Fans of the film can bump up the grade by a letter, but others will find Despicable Me a bit hard to take. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Destruction Derby Arena
Grade: F
Publisher: Sony (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/9/6
Rating: Teen (mild violence, mild language, suggestive themes)

screenshotWhy in God's name is it so friggin' hard to create a decent Destruction Derby game? As a huge fan of the original version (Playstation 1995), I was hoping the power of the PS2 would put this struggling series over the top. But somewhere along the line, the developers lost sight of what made the original game so great. The "destruction bowl" mode is the heart of the game, pitting 19 cars in a circular smash-up-derby arena. It's a lot of fun - at least for the first few minutes. The L2 button kicks in your turbo, and it's thrilling to plow into cars and send them flipping end over end. Cars explode when they incur enough damage, causing the number of vehicles remaining to gradually dwindle. Abundant power-ups scattered around the arena provide turbo, shields, health, and some of the most worthless "weapons" ever. The existence of a health power-up is an awful idea that completely defeats the purpose of the game! Imagine banging the crap out of an opponent for several minutes, only to see him emerge good as new simply by grabbing a lucky icon! The camera is also a major liability, swinging wildly whenever you approach the edge of the course. In theory, the last car standing in Destruction Derby should be the victor, but I suppose that would make too much sense. Instead, matches always end prematurely at the hands of a five minute timer. That's the game's biggest sin. Adding insult to injury, there are NO options to set the timer or adjust the power-ups. As tainted as the destruction bowl mode is, Arena's racing mode is even more ill conceived. You "win" a race by outscoring your opponents, so you'll need to wreck other cars and try to finish first. Needless to say, these two goals conflict with each other in the worst way and make each race a confusing mess. The X accelerate button is touch-sensitive, meaning you need to jam your thumb into it the whole time to maintain your speed - not fun! The cars model damage, but you'll barely notice due to the sub-par graphics. Destruction Derby Arena is riddled with other annoyances as well. For one thing, when the game displays text during the race (about a new leader or whatever) it's never displayed long enough for you to actually read the damn thing! I've seen some incompetent design flaws, but that's a first. The announcer contributes nothing except for moronic lines like, "Imagine these guys with shopping carts!". Bonus point icons are all over the place, providing a cheap way to score points. Your progress is not saved automatically, and you're not even prompted to save! No, you have to remember to navigate back to the save option on the main screen. Destruction Derby Arena is a case study in poor design. It's one of those rare games that completely misses the point - of itself! © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Devil May Cry
Grade: B+
Publisher: Capcom (2001)
Reviewed: 2005/10/26
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotFrom the creators of Resident Evil, this third-person action-adventure offers a nice combination of exploration, puzzle-solving, and hack-n-slash mayhem. A demon warrior named Dante, you will explore an amazing castle, collecting artifacts and battling evil minions featuring wooden puppets and screaming wraiths. The marionettes look especially creepy (where are those strings coming from?). In addition to slashing with your sword, you have a shotgun to pump lead into enemies from a distance. Although Devil May Cry's basic gameplay is straightforward, figuring out where to go next can be frustrating, especially since it's possible to wander back into older areas you don't need to be in. The game's main strength lies in its tremendous visual presentation. The monsters are very imaginative, and the castle scenery is beautiful and sometimes breathtaking. Each room is painstakingly detailed, and some of the outside areas can induce vertigo. The background music is a strange cacophony of sounds, including screams and organ music, creating a surreal atmosphere. As polished as the game looks, the control scheme could use some work. Unlike Resident Evil or Tomb Raider where pushing up always moves you forward, Dante will move on the screen exactly the direction you move the joystick. This wouldn't be a problem if the camera remained in place, but it's constantly changing! Parents should note that this game contains a LOT of gore. Heck, Dante gets impaled even before the game begins - and it won't be the last time! Devil May Cry is a far cry from the Resident Evil games, but the constant action and stellar graphics will captivate most gamers. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Devil May Cry 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/10/26
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotDevil May Cry 2 (DMC2) was considered a disappointment by most critics. Apparently the first game set the bar too high, especially in terms of graphics. Instead of a magnificent palace, this sequel is set in a dreary town with towering skyscrapers and uninteresting warehouses. DMC2 ambitiously attempts to broaden the scope of the series, but not without paying a price. The game looks unpolished, and many of the monsters and locations look positively rough. The water in the "harbor" section looks particularly heinous. Still, there are some cool creature designs, like skeletons encased in metal cages, giant orangutans, and a mammoth flaming Minotaur. DMC2 is definitely less cerebral that the first, with more emphasis on action. Heck, you can even hack your way through most of the puzzles! Still, you have to love the combination of sword fighting and shooting. The unlimited ammo and auto-aim makes picking off enemies from a distance quite satisfying. Pressing the "Devil Trigger" (L1) turns you into a flaming demon with a host of power-ups. Besides Dante the "devil slayer", you can play though the game as a hot chick named Lucia (via the second disk). The game is generally fun, but there are a few obvious flaws. Certain areas contain creeps that re-spawn indefinitely, which is bad design in my book. Sometimes a red force field will box you in with a bunch of enemies, and won't disappear until you vanquish them all. Dante is definitely more agile this time, but the new Matrix-inspired moves aren't very useful. In fact, some of the cinematics are such blatant Matrix rip-offs that it made me nauseous. The control problems from the first game are back in full force, although by now I'm practically used to them. Certain parts of the story make no sense, and the concept of demonically possessed tanks and helicopters is downright idiotic. Despite these issues, Devil May Cry 2 has a fun, arcade quality that I enjoy. The constant button mashing eventually caused my hand to cramp, but I still found the game hard to put down. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening Special Edition
Grade: B+
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/11/10
Rating: Mature (blood, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotAfter a lukewarm sequel, Devil May Cry (DMC) returns with a vengeance in this surprisingly fresh third chapter. Many fans regard DMC3 as the best of the series, and they have a good argument. An action-packed adventure that never lets up, Devil May Cry 3 offers excellent control, ferocious monsters, awe-inspiring locations, and even a sense of humor. The combat is a nice combination of frenetic slashing, strategic shooting, and evasive maneuvers. There are plenty of puzzles, but nothing too taxing. Even when things get crazy, the control feels crisp and the camera does a remarkable job of providing the tightest possible shot of the action. Many of the demons you battle are the standard grim reaper types, but there are also a few imaginative ghouls that really caught me off-guard. I love how they disintegrate into dust as you strike them down. The action takes place in a modern city, and you'll actually battle in a bar and nightclub before entering the huge stone tower that suddenly arises from the center of town. Unlike similar games that recycle the same locations, each room feels unique and is meticulously detailed in a distinctive gothic style. You begin the game armed with a sword and pistols, but later collect additional weapons including a shotgun and nun-chucks made of ice. DMC3 maintains a torrid pace with stages broken up into bite-sized chunks. A frenetic techno mix kicks in whenever the action heats up, and it really gets you pumped up. The original version of Devil May Cry 3 was infamous for its steep difficulty, but this special edition offers an easy mode that should minimize the frustration. While it's an impressive game, the main character is a bit of a jerk. Impervious to death and cocky beyond belief, Dante gleefully surfs on missiles and spouts wisecracks as he's being impaled. After a while, you almost wish he would die. Also, the cringe-worthy use of outdated expressions like "let's party" and "dope!" makes you wonder if the dialogue was written in 1988. Still, Devil May Cry 3 avoids the traps of many sequels and offers an engaging adventure every bit as fun as the original. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Dino Stalker
Grade: C
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/11/14
Rating: Mature (Blood, Violence)

screenshotIt seems to me like dinosaurs and gun games should go together like peanut butter and jelly. I've been waiting for years for a game like this, but it's a real let-down. Dino Stalker lets you battle Pterodactyls, Raptors, and huge carnivores as you forge through a lost-world like wilderness. The dinosaurs are incredibly realistic - you can even see them sniffing as you approach! When shot, blood flies as they writhe in agony. Unfortunately, Dino Stalker suffers from an inexplicably bad control scheme. Yes, even with the state-of-the-art, usually accurate Guncon 2, the control sucks. Most of the complications arise from the fact that Capcom has given the player full range of movement. That's right, you move freely like a first-person shooter, and but aim and shoot with your light gun. It sounds good, but turns out to be more than a little awkward. The directional pad on the back of the gun is used to move, and the button on the bottom switches weapons. That's fine, but then you need to use the A and B buttons to strafe, which are inconveniently located on opposite sides of the gun. To engage sniper mode, you hold both A and B. I experimented with holding the gun several ways but I never felt comfortable. Worse yet, the Guncon 2 isn't even accurate! My shots were all over the place! After getting fed up with the gun, I switched to the control pad, only to find a whole new set of problems. The right joystick is used to aim your cursor, and it's entirely too squirrelly to aim accurately. In addition to bad control, Dino Stalker doesn't have enough save points, and you'll be forced to sit through the CGI intermissions since they can't be skipped. Despite these problems, the game can still be quite a rush. You feel paranoid walking through tall grass, and the sheer size of some of these creatures will scare the heck out of you. Too bad poor control spoils the fun. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Disney Sing It
Grade: B
Publisher: Disney (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/11/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHere's a likeable karaoke game aimed squarely at the younger set, offering a fairly impressive set of songs from Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, High School Musical, Cheetah Girls, Camp Rock, Jesse McCarthy and other young artists. If you're not a teenager (or parent of one) you may not be familiar with these tunes, but most are catchy, fun, and highly singable. Disney Sing It boasts sky-high production values, and its elegant user interface looks like something you'd see on an i-pod. There's an extensive voice lesson mode, but the handy "quick play" option lets you dive right in. Music videos play on the screen as song lyrics are displayed across the bottom, with bars over each word indicating the proper pitch. As a little star moves over the words, you try to align it with the bars as you sing. It's pretty obvious if you're a little high or low, so you can adjust your vocals on the fly. The more frequently you stay on pitch, the higher your score, and there's a high score screen for each song. Granted, the game doesn't truly gauge your voice quality, since you don't need to sing the correct words and the game can't even tell if you're singing in the right key. That's fine though, because it means the game can be enjoyed by good and bad singers alike. Many songs are duets, and it's possible for two players to sing the respective parts. Sing It Is surprisingly engaging and even my wife wanted to get in on the act when she heard my soulful vocals emanating from the next room. Obviously being familiar with the songs makes the game much easier, but I could usually do respectable on my first try. Your voice tends to drown out the actual singer, so it's a good idea to turn down the microphone volume from the options menu. Trust me, when the VGC belts out a rendition of Hannah Montana's "Best of Both Worlds", nobody needs to hear that! Disney Sing It comes packaged with a high-quality microphone that plugs into a USB port. The game has a limited demographic, but I'm sure Disney knows what its doing. If you're a young girl, bump up the grade to a solid A, because this game is sure to dazzle your friends at your next slumber party. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


Disney Sing It: High School Musical 3
Grade: B
Publisher: Disney (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/3/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMy Wii review of this game left me open to a flood of "Do you know how I know you're gay?" jokes, but here I go again. Can you cut me some slack this time? Has reviewing Sing It: High School Musical 3 cost the VGC his manhood? Not at all. Has the VGC sold out to Disney? Maybe! Seriously though, this PS2 edition is practically a carbon copy of the Wii version now being enjoyed by my young niece and nephew. It's a well-designed karaoke game where you score by consistently singing at the proper pitch. I'd advise turning down the microphone volume, because your voice tends to sound garbled coming out of the television. A USB microphone is included, and if you buy a second one it's possible to sing duets (joy!). The game itself is easy to play (singing the correct lyrics is optional), but it takes some lungs to hold those long notes! The user interface is slick, and the soundtrack includes 25 feel-good tunes covering all three High School Musicals (of which I have seen exactly zero). Truth be told, these songs aren't half bad, and there's even a number for you tough guys out there ("The Boys Are Back"). If there are any kids in your household, chances are this game will be an instant hit. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Dora Saves the Mermaids
Grade: NA
Publisher: Take Two Interactive (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/3/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYou know we're living in an ecologically conscious age when a preschool video game is focused on pollution and litter. But picking up garbage is exactly what Dora and her monkey sidekick do throughout this entire game. They clean up a beach, a bridge, the ocean, and even scrub the gunk off of a whale! Apparently some sleazy octopus with way too much time on his tentacles is sailing around on a trash barge dumping piles of disgusting filth. Dora must take it upon herself to put this low-life scoundrel on the endangered species list! Just kidding! Unlike its sibling game (Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue) Dora has some freedom of movement within constrained 3D environments. The tropical scenery is fun, and it's nice how when she runs through a flowerbed a bunch of butterflies will flutter away. The action primarily consists of easy platform jumping as Dora tries to collect the gems of a magical crown that will save the Mermaids. The game finds a lot of little ways to spice things up. When you step on a teeter-totter, a crab will hop on the other side to vault you over to another island, and it's oddly satisfying! Also fun is careening down mudslides while collecting icons. Other simple activities include vine swinging (Pitfall style), hopping over logs (Frogger style), and solving simple color and shape-matching puzzles. Dora tends to offer the player a lot of positive reinforcement ("Yooouuu did it!!"). What put this game over the top for me was her cute little purple monkey sidekick. That thing looks funny to begin with, and when he speaks in that slow, high-pitched voice, it's hilarious! Dora Save the Mermaids has less dialogue than Go Diego Go: Safari Rescue, so it flows better and is easier for grown-ups to sit through. A handy "helper" feature is included for parents, and an auto-save kicks in between stages. Although it's possible to finish the game in under an hour, you can always try to collect more gems to earn a higher score. Dora Saves The Mermaids is a polished, pleasant romp for kids, and its bright tropical scenery and pleasant steel drum music make it ideal for summertime fun. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Downhill Domination
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/12/26
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)

screenshotThis game is wild. Playing Downhill Domination is truly a vertigo-inducing experience. You're careening down a mountain at full speed, and the courses are remarkably long. At times, it feels like you're falling off a cliff - for 10 minutes straight! The game has an arcade quality, with plenty of power-ups, bike-on-bike violence, and nonstop racing action. The speed is exhilarating, even in the four-player split screen. You view the action from behind your bike, which is always upright from your point of view - it's the scenery that swings around, and this unique approach really helps you keep your bearings. Obstacles include cabins, mountain goats, hikers, and off-road vehicles. There are plenty of natural ramps, giving you the opportunity to perform SSX-like tricks and fill your turbo meter. In many racing games, a major problem is difficulty seeing the road ahead. It's not really a problem in Downhill Domination, because you can pretty much go anywhere. Whether you are plowing through the brush, careening over rocks, or flying off of a cliff, the trail is so wide open that you don't even need to know where you're going. Thanks to the intuitive (and very forgiving) controls, unless you run directly into a wall, you're not going to crash. Even when you do wipe out, the game puts you back on the trail almost immediately. While this makes Downhill Domination very easy to play, it also makes it a slightly less satisfying racing experience. Punching and kicking your opponents can causes you to crash, but the projectile weapons are extremely accurate and fun. My biggest complaint about the game is that playing for an extended period of time make me feel sick (seriously!). People who tend to get motion sickness should keep their distance from Downhill Domination, but extreme sports enthusiasts should get a kick out of it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Drakengard
Grade: B-
Publisher: Square Enix (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/6/8
Rating: Mature (blood and gore)

screenshotThis high-quality medieval adventure grabbed me from the very beginning and refused to let go. Drakengard is a hack-n-slash action game with an RPG-style storyline, sort of like a modern-day Golden Axe. You play the part of a warrior protecting a "goddess" in an intriguing epic storyline. I was struck by the beauty of the computer-generated cut scenes. These breathtaking cinematic sequences not only look amazing, but the voice acting is first-rate as well. I've read a few magazine reviews that were critical of the "old English" style of voice acting, but in my opinion it adds character and class. When I play a game set in the middle ages, the LAST thing I want to hear is modern slang and an American accent. The cut scenes are plentiful but tend to be short, conveying the story in small doses. The lavish, orchestrated musical score is outstanding in every respect - it made quite an impression on me. Although Drakengard's narrative is quite involved, its gameplay and controls are relatively simple. The crux of the game involves wiping out huge armies using magic and your sword. The first time you play, the sheer number of enemy knights can seem insurmountable. However, by wearing them down with explosive magic attacks and then going nuts with your sword, you can take out dozens at a time. Battles take place in castles, courtyards, ruins, forests, and other large, expansive areas that require a "radar" display to navigate. In some stages you only have to destroy strategic marked targets to complete the level. Despite the ability to acquire new moves and weapons, the hand-to-hand stages do become repetitive after a while. This first dawned on me after I struck down a fireball-throwing wizard, only to watch about 50 more suddenly appear scattered around the landscape, and I had to go around and kill each and every one! I was glad when that was over. Adding variety are some exhilarating dragon-riding sequences, some of which allow you to shoot giant fireballs down on massive armies from the air. It's supremely satisfying when a well-placed blast sends dozens of soldiers flying. Some of the dragon stages feature air-to-air combat, and these play much like Panzer Dragoon (Saturn, Xbox). These air stages feature some odd enemies, including a lot of floating rectangular stone faces (huh?). One drawback is the lack of any kind of camera control. It's usually in the right spot, but tends to pan very slowly. Drakengard's graphics are exceptional. The red dragon's skin has a brilliant sheen, and enemies wear impressive suits of armor. One graphical flaw is the ubiquitous "fog" that hides scenery when you are wandering around on foot. It's especially egregious when you know a castle is near but you can't see it. Darkengard features multiple endings, and if you manage to collect all the weapons, you get to see a particularly bizarre one. Drakengard is a good-looking, quality title for those who like a lot of action in their adventures. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


ESPN College Hoops 2005
Grade: D-
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/2/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotTimes are tough for college hoops fans looking for a decent video game. They'd probably be better off pulling out the old Coach K for the Genesis. When compared to EA's March Madness (MM), College Hoops looks prettier but lacks the tight control. The smoothly animated players look sharp, but their moves have a "continuation" element that doesn't make you feel in total control. The button scheme is comparable to MM, but the icon passing is assigned to R2, forcing you to release the R1 "turbo" function to use it. Hoop's gameplay is more defensive-minded than MM, so it's difficult to penetrate on the drive. When you do find an opening however, you'll be treated to some nifty rim-rattling dunks. The ball seems strangely "floaty" around the rim, but I do like how it can bounce up off the rim and go in the basket anyway. On defense, it seems like whenever you try to steal you're charged with a reach-in foul, and that's something you can't adjust in the option screen! And then there's Sega's foul shooting system, which I didn't think could get any worse. It has. Now only a single button press is used, and making the shot apparently depends of some mysterious combination of how hard you push the button and how long you hold it. The instructions don't offer a clue, and it's frustrating to try to figure out what the game designers were thinking (or smoking). Coaches are present on the sidelines, but they don't look anything like the real ones, and you can say the same about the mascots. Maryland's turtle looks downright emaciated! During timeouts all you see are the cheerleaders, although I will admit they are fairly shapely. College Hoop's ESPN license is largely wasted, represented only some familiar music and that ever-present logo. The game lacks an NCAA license but it doesn't matter since the players look realistic and wear the correct numbers. The commentary is serviceable, but it does sound odd to hear the players called by number ("Number four should not have taken that shot!"). The career mode is pretty weak because you only have a limited number of teams to start with, and if your favorite isn't on the list, what's the point? This would have been a good year for College Hoops to overtake March Madness, but apparently Sega was not up to the challenge. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


ESPN NBA 2K5
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/5/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotDespite superior graphics and sharp overall presentation, NBA 2K5 lags behind EA's NBA Live in terms of gameplay. On the bright side, players move with fluid motion and react realistically to the action on the court. They can deliver the ball on the run, and the slam-dunks are very satisfying (especially when players hang on the iron). Best of all, the jump shooting aspect of the game is terrific, thanks to a very soft and forgiving rim. Unfortunately, player animations tend to have an "automatic continuation" element that makes the controls feel less than responsive. Plays can be called on the fly, but their selection menus cover too much of the screen. In their tradition, Sega has incorporated a needlessly complicated foul shooting scheme that requires the use of both joysticks and a shoulder button - it's frustrating! NBA 2K5 shines in terms of presentation. Besides the familiar ESPN graphics and music, you get pre-game analysis with interesting commentary. Michele Tafoya reports from the sidelines, and shapely cheerleaders entertain during half time. I like how coaches complain about calls, and you even get reactions from players on the bench. The idea of showing highlights during half time is good, but the still pictures are a lame substitute for video. ESPN 2K5 does have one odd feature that's quite disturbing. When a player is called for a foul, his rotating head is then displayed (as if on a platter) while his mouth opens and closes. I can't tell if it looks more creepy or hilarious, but Sega really dropped the ball there. As you would expect, 2K5 offers a plethora of option menus and sliders to customize every aspect of the game (except for the rotating heads). Adding replay value, there's an interesting "24 by 7" mode that uses the actual system clock to offer new items and challenges each day, as you advance a player (and his rotating head) from the streets to the pros. Most sports fans will probably favor NBA Live, but ESPN is still a respectable effort. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


ESPN NFL 2K5
Grade: A
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/9/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAt long last, it appears that Madden's domination of video game football may finally be at an end. ESPN NFL 2K5 delivers a different style of football, but it plays nearly as well, looks far better, and has some surprisingly fresh features. With a price that's hard to resist, 2K5 retails for an astonishing $19.99, compared with $49.99 for Madden. ESPN's animation is more fluid and realistic than Madden, with running backs that squeeze through holes and receivers that leap for high throws. The players look great with or without their helmets, and even the cheerleaders and coaches look respectable. It may take a few games for Madden veterans to adjust to the new controls and playbook, but it's well worth the effort. Tecmo Football veterans will appreciate how tapping the 'A' button lets the runner break tackles! ESPN's gameplay is slightly more arcade-like than Madden, but the teams and players still perform in a realistic manner. I do have an issue with how difficult it is to set up certain special formations. For example, assigning a receiver double coverage is so complicated that you probably won't get it registered before the computer snaps the ball. What really pushes ESPN over the top is its innovative features. For the first time in many years, the chains will occasionally be dragged out to measure a first down, and this whole sequence looks great. Players carry on with each other after plays, and there's an amazing number of user-selectable after-touchdown celebrations. Sega made good on its ESPN license, with familiar music and flashy graphics like you'd see on a live telecast. There are even impressive half time and post-game shows that accurately detail the action of each half. The highlights are shown as still pictures instead of video clips, but that's understandable due to memory limitations. As impressed I was with these shows, I was absolutely floored when I saw Suzy Kolber interview a player after the game. That's just too cool. If ESPN has a weakness, it lies in its whiney play-by-play. Unlike Madden, ESPN doesn't use professional commentators and it shows when they mispronounce player names. In general they call a good game, but they get cut off whenever you press a button. Overall ESPN is a brilliant package that should make Madden fans think twice. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


ESPN NFL Football
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/9/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFrom the outset, ESPN Football looks like a Madden killer. A sequel to NFL 2K3, Visuals Concepts has produced for Sega the best-looking football game you can buy. With fluid animation, players that remove their helmets, impressive TV-style presentation, and a top-notch running game, ESPN is a legitimate challenge to the Madden dynasty. There are plenty of innovative new features, but most prominent is the "first person" mode, that puts you right on the field, looking out of the helmet of key players. It would seem impossible to pull off, but with the help of a "slow mo" (aka "bullet-time") button, it can be pretty exhilarating. I'm not sure if I could make it through a whole season playing this, but it's definitely an entertaining diversion. The next thing that grabbed my attention was the professional TV-style presentation. With all the cut-away scenes, statistical analysis, and visual highlights, I was actually expecting a commercial to come on. The cheerleaders are pretty scrawny, but the fans and sideline players look terrific. Unlike Madden, players actually take off their helmets here and talk to the camera! Chris Berman does a nice half-time show, going over the highlights from the first half (although the fact that still pictures are used instead of video reveals the limitations of the PS2). The entertaining announcers are the same ones from the NFL 2K series, and they talk non-stop and only occasionally say something inappropriate (for some reason they get pretty excited about extra points). Another innovative new feature is the "Crib", a virtual house that holds all of the trophies, memorabilia, and mini-games you open as you play through a season. The action on the field isn't bad either. The running game is exceptionally fluid, and runningbacks regularly drag defenders and break tackles. The innovative "speed burst" control lets you tap the X button for extra speed or hold it to charge up. You can execute every move imaginable including stutter-steps, chop blocks, rips, and hook slides. The playcalling screens have been overhauled to look just like Madden, so Madden vets will have no problem making the transition. ESPN Football makes an outstanding first impression, but repeated plays reveal some imperfections. The passing game is much weaker than Madden. Passes that seem uncatchable somehow get pulled in, and many good passes get dropped inexplicably. Also, the AI (artificial intelligence) will often leave you bewildered - Madden definitely has a smarter CPU. If you compare ESPN to Madden, it's really a toss-up. ESPN is definitely flashier, but Madden is slightly more realistic. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


ESPN NHL 2K5
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/3/29
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIronically enough, it was the cancelled hockey season that inspired me to purchase a hockey game. I'm not an NHL fan, but I love winter sports and hockey games usually make for a good time. There's something about the sport's bright rinks and distinct sound effects that I find hard to resist. I couldn't decide between ESPN NHL 2K5 and EA's NHL 2005, but since they were cheap, I picked up both. After playing them back-to-back on several occasions, I have to give the edge to ESPN NHL 2K5. Its graphics are about the same quality as EA's offering, but the animation is far more fluid. Consequently, the puck is easier to follow and maintain control of it. The replays are also silky smooth, and a real pleasure to watch. Scoring is not difficult, thank goodness. There are plenty of "loose puck in front of the net" scoring opportunities, and I was able to perform my signature "one timers" with surgical precision. At times, I felt like I could score at will, but that's probably because I'm so awesome. One area where ESPN does falter somewhat is its body checks, which seem awfully soft compared to EA's game. ESPN's fights, while annoying after a while, are probably the most realistic I've ever seen in a hockey game. Instead of looking like two stiff robots jabbing at each other, the players really thrown their weight around and usually end up falling onto each other in a heap. The game's commentating is sensational. You never know what's going to come out of these guys' mouths, and they sound like they're genuinely enjoying themselves. Even so, I prefer to turn down the music, commentators, and especially that damn horn, in order to crank on the on-ice sounds. I find the crunching of the ice and "clicking" of the punk very relaxing. Recognizing that most gamers are just casual hockey fans (if that), ESPN incorporated an interesting new "party mode" for one to four players. In this collection of mini-games, you can challenge friends to collect icons, traverse an obstacle course, or engage in a free-for-all shootout. It's not worth buying the game for, but it certainly adds to the replay value. In the final analysis, I think it's safe to say that ESPN NHL 2K5 is the best hockey game on the market right now. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 


ESPN NHL Hockey
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt's an age-old question: Can a modern hockey game even compare to those classic Genesis NHL games of the past? Of course not, but ESPN Hockey makes an admirable attempt. In fact, this is the best new hockey game I've played in years. Why? Because ESPN isn't afraid to sacrifice some graphic detail in order to ratchet up the fun. The field scrolls mainly up and down, and the camera is pulled way back so you get a good view of the rink. This makes passing easier, although if you're on the far right or left side, you still can't see your teammates on the opposite side. The gameplay itself is quite exciting, with lightning fast slap shots and skillfully executed one-timers (my specialty). ESPN Hockey strikes a good balance between arcade and realism, and the controls are dead-on. I have heard that the season mode is somewhat lacking, but to be honest, I'm the kind of guy who prefers to just play against friends with the penalties OFF. I don't even know who the players are, but I certainly can appreciate seeing a player check another into the first row! One aspect that's pretty lame is the fighting - these guys punch like girls! The TV-style presentation is nice, but all the fancy graphics sometimes disrupt the flow of the game. The announcers keep up with the action well enough, but rarely say anything interesting. I like ESPN Hockey. Purists may nit-pick, but casual gamers with enjoy the nonstop action. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Endgame
Grade: C+
Publisher: Empire (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/8/19
Rating: Teen

screenshotIf you like light gun games, then you'll probably enjoy Endgame. It's a no-frills shooter, but it's fun and provides plenty of shooting satisfaction for your money. The story centers around a redheaded woman who knows some corporate secret, so now an army of white-collared Republican executives is out to get her. Like Time Crisis (Namco), you'll take cover behind scenery, and need to hold down a button in order to stick your head out and shoot. Control is dead-on. But the best thing about Endgame is that you're constantly running from place to place, so the game never feels repetitive or boring. The smooth sensation of movement is done to good effect, and the game is fairly long by light gun game standards. You'll travel through 20 locations spanning the globe. Many of the locations have been covered by previous light gun games, including a subway, train, warehouse, and snowmobile stage. I swear the warehouse looks exactly like the one from Area 51 (PS1). The characters in this game move realistically, but are pretty chunky by PS2 standards. The main character looks like she's wearing an adult diaper! The scenery is about average, but features some nice lighting effects, and you can shoot up just about everything. It's especially satisfying to shoot out all the windows. Enemies react according to where they're shot, and you can hit them multiple times. There's no blood in this game. If Endgame has a fault, it's that it's too plain. There are no power-ups or special weapons to spice up the action. The game does feature a few hidden play modes however that open up if you advance far enough. One is the Mighty Joe Jupiter game, a mini light gun game starring a cartoon space hero reminiscent of Blasto for the PS1. While it isn't much of a game, the dialogue is hilarious! You can also open a two-player/double gun mode. Endgame isn't anything spectacular, but it certainly gets the job done. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Evil Dead Regeneration
Grade: C
Publisher: THQ (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/11/10
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotThis bargain bin title is pretty much what I expected - not great but still worthwhile. As long as you keep your expectations in check, Evil Dead Regeneration will satisfy your craving for a bloody, irreverent beat-em-up. It's perfect for the Halloween season. Of course, it helps if you're a big fan of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies (as I am). Unlike the ill-advised Evil Dead: A FistFul of Boomstick (Xbox, 2003), which placed our hero Ash in a boring little town, Regeneration features a bevy of dark locations, including an asylum, cabin, cemetery, and catacombs. The action is fairly standard as you slice up ghouls with your chainsaw and blast them with your shotgun. A new aiming system makes it very easy to get a bead on moving targets. The finishing moves (initiated by a single button) are mildly amusing, but man, I wish you didn't have finish off every freakin' enemy! A notable new addition is Sam, Ash's diminutive (and butt ugly) sidekick. Since Sam is technically a zombie, you can abuse him in any number of humorous ways, like tossing him into burning oven or kicking him into giant fans. After the gory mess that ensues, Sam reappears no worse for wear (except for his attitude). Regeneration's visuals are fair, but the camera is clumsy and the collision detection could be better. The cut-scenes are fairly elaborate, and many are rendered using the same distinct visual style as the films. The audio track is the highlight of the game, with Bruce Campbell once again lending his voice to supply Ash's clever wisecracks. Evil Dead Regeneration is pretty easy in terms of difficulty, thanks to a generous number of save points. The game doesn't really break new ground, but it's easily the best Evil Dead video game I've played. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Eye Toy
Grade: C
Publisher: Sony (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/1/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAnd now for something completely different! Eye Toy includes a camera that you set on top of your television, allowing you to be the star of the game! I'm not exactly new to this technology, having played some similar demos on my PC. But Eye Toy takes the concept to the limit, offering super responsive control and an amazing assortment of games. Personally, I think Eye Toy is mainly a novelty, but I have to give Sony Entertainment Europe credit for running with the concept and assembling a remarkably high quality game. Although your image isn't exactly crystal clear, your interaction with the on-screen graphics is responsive. Some of the games include kung fu fighting, window washing, setting off fireworks, bouncing a soccer ball off your head, boxing a robot, eliminating ghosts, and various dancing contests. You begin each by adjusting the camera so your upper body is centered on the screen. The Kung Fu game is the best of the bunch, letting you punch little ninjas that attack from the sides, and breaking boards in the bonus round. The "repeat this move" dance games are tiresome, and come off as second-rate Samba De Amigo (Dreamcast) clones. A few games like the fireworks-laden "Rocket Rumble" are terrific fun, but others like "Ghost Eliminator" feel more like a chore. In general, most of these games are repetitive and won't hold you attention for repeated plays. The stylized cartoon characters are charming and funny, giving the game a distinct personality, and when you make a high score, the game takes your picture! The one aspect I strongly dislike about Eye Toy is the cumbersome menu interface, requiring you to "wave" at large buttons on the screen for a few seconds to enter a choice. Especially with all the confirmation prompts ("Are you sure?"), it gets really old. Overall, Eye Toy is a lighthearted game that's great for kids and parties. I don't think it has much long-term value, but if it's the first time you've played anything like this, you're in for a real treat. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 



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