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Half-Life
Grade: B
Publisher: Sierra (2001)
Reviewed: 2003/7/8
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotI should preface this review by confessing I'm not a big first-person shooter (FPS) fan, and only a few (Doom, Halo) have completely won me over. It seems like every year or so a new FPS comes along and pushes the envelope, which is what Half-Life did on the PC in 1998. Although this 2001 PS2 release might look slightly dated, it holds up well thanks to exciting action sequences and a compelling storyline. As a scientist named Gordon Freeman, you're working in a futuristic research facility when an experiment goes terribly wrong, causing the whole complex to be overrun with monsters. What's cool about Half-Life is that instead of using cut-scenes to convey the story, it unfolds through actions you witness and conversations you hear, creating a far more immersive experience. The graphics are fast and smooth, and you can interact with other scientists who explain events and provide help. Half-Life provides a nice variety of weapons ranging from a crowbar to a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The monsters are effectively grotesque, resembling roasted chickens, scientists with octopus heads, and headless dogs. Expertly designed, Half-Life features many clever puzzles which easily make up for the few annoying jumping sequences. A handy "quick save" function lets you save your place at any time, so if you die you can pick up near where you left off. Just remember that quick save does NOT save your progress to a memory card - you'll need to go to the mid-game menu to do that. The control scheme feels comfortable and uses both joysticks, just like Red Faction. The graphics are fair but look blurry up close. The crisp sound effects like clanking machinery and unsettling screams are remarkable, and even the voice acting is respectable. New to the PS2 edition of Half-Life is a two-player co-op game in addition to the standard death match. While the co-op game is playable, I despise the death match mode, and the controls in both are rather touchy. If you've heard about Half-Life and wondered what all the fuss was about, here is your chance to find out. It's a good game, but after playing it for an extended period, I couldn't help but get that feeling that I've done this all this too many times before. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Hidden Invasion
Grade: F
Publisher: Toka (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/9/20
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotJudging from the screenshots on the box that show large crosshairs and chunky character models, it's easy to mistake Hidden Invasion for a low budget light gun game, but it's really a third-person beat-em-up along the lines of Fighting Force (Playstation). Hidden Invasion tries to deliver high-octane arcade thrills, but it's just awful. The graphics are lousy, the control is detestable, and the gameplay is terribly repetitive. You play a cop in a typical terrorist storyline that quickly degenerates into an alien infiltration scenario. A typical stage involves running around a non-descript maze of rooms while collecting items and disposing of an endless parade of thugs. Making matters worse is a schizophrenic camera that's disorienting in the single-player mode, and absolutely bewildering in the two-player mode. The thug regeneration system is obnoxious to say the least, having the audacity to send goons out of empty rooms you just cleared out. You'd like to flee, but the game creates invisible walls that prevent you from proceeding until you've killed everything. Can you believe that crap? Technical glitches often cause enemies to become stuck in solid objects. I actually had a shoot-out with a gang of bad guys that were all embedded in a single door! There are plenty of weapons lying around, but the most effective move by far is the "grab and throw" which kills just about anything with one shot. As bad as it is, Hidden Invasion does a few things right. For one thing, the bad guys go down spraying bullets, which looks pretty cool. I like how you can kick a thug when he's down, and the hand-to-hand combat isn't bad. But the basic gameplay gets dull in a hurry. Hidden Invasion can be found lurking in your local bargain bin - avoid it at all costs. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


High Heat Baseball 2002
Grade: B-
Publisher: 3DO (2001)
Reviewed: 2001/6/9

screenshotHey, this looks suspiciously like a PS1 baseball game! The stiff players look pretty dorky, the stadiums aren't accurate or realistic, and the two-man commentary is weak. That said, High Heat is still a decent baseball game for your PS2. Why? It's the gameplay - fast, realistic, and simple to play. The presentation might be a little sloppy, but 3DO put the most effort into where it really counts. There aren't any crazy plays or fancy animations, but the baseball action is pure. Pitchers can't find the strike zone when they get tired. Coaches visit the mound. Players get ejected. Third strikes are dropped by catchers. These are the kind of details that real baseball fans notice. The controls are intuitive and responsive, and for your hyperactive friends, you can even set the game speed. Other nice options include a replay frequency setting and "view stadium" mode, which lets look around at your leisure. After each game, there's a load of statistics including a full box score and a complete game summary! With awesome control, realistic gameplay, and fast action, High Heat is not a bad bet. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 2 players 


Hot Shots Golf 3
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sony (2002)
Reviewed: 2008/5/25
Rating: Everyone (Mild language)

screenshotThe Hot Shots Golf series hasn't changed much since the first two editions (on Playstation One), but that's a good thing. With its lighthearted theme, simple controls, and beautiful rolling courses, Hot Shots has always been a joy to play. The graphics are much more impressive on the PS2. The six courses are splashed with color, the backgrounds are photo-realistic, and there are some truly innovative camera angles. The fifteen "off-the-wall" golfers are less impressive. They tend to be bizarre caricatures, and many are very unappealing. Sure I love the blonde in the tight red dress, but I could have done without the nerds, hillbillies, and other assorted freaks. Need more proof the characters are weird? Marilyn Manson is a hidden character. Even, Hots Shots 3 delivers in terms of pure gameplay. You'll be playing this game all day long just to unlock golfers, courses, and other goodies. Each round moves along swiftly and smoothly, with very few lulls in the action. There are only a few minor annoyances worth mentioning. Some of the sound effects, especially people yelling, get on your nerves after a while. The new addition of "caddies" is worthless, and the character reactions tend to repeat a lot. Hot Shots hasn't evolved much over the years, but it's still the best golf game around. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Hot Shots Golf Fore!
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sony (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/10/8
Rating: Everyone (mild language, suggestive themes, comic mischief)

screenshotSince 1998, Hot Shots has really been the premiere golf video game series. It's often imitated but rarely matched in terms of pure entertainment value. Sporting the same three-press swing meter used in golf games of the early 90's, Hot Shots is easy to play and appealing even to non-sports fans. One critic who writes for a popular game magazine suggested it's time for Hot Shots to adopt the "analog swing" used by so many other modern golf games, but that guy needs to shut the hell up! Hot Shot's old-fashioned swing meter is what makes this game so great, and this latest edition is unmatched in terms of playability and addictiveness. The courses sport lush green fairways, rolling hills, brilliant water effects, and attractive but unobtrusive scenery. The grass is so detailed that you can see individual blades. In the Hot Shots tradition, the golfers are wacky caricatures of people from all walks of life. In the past I've had issues with these goofy characters, but Fore features such a wide selection that it's not hard to find one that you like. Unfortunately,all but two golfers and one course are locked when you first turn the game on. I was also disappointed to see that some of the courses were repeats from Hot Shots 3. Still, there are some nice new features. Pressing the swing button with just the "right" amount of force rewards you with a better shot, which is the first reasonable use I've seen of the PS2 controller's analog "face" buttons. Some of the caddy characters are very funny, particularly the Sean Connery impersonator with a penchant for show tunes. As usual, the close-ups of putts are fantastic, sometimes placing the camera inside of the cup! You'll win prizes as you progress through the game, and detailed records are kept on best rounds, longest shots, etc. Hot Shots is now online compatible, and a miniature golf mode is also included. But the best thing about Hot Shots Fore is that its time-tested gameplay has remained intact. This is a safe bet for casual gamers and serious golf fans alike. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Hot Shots Tennis
Grade: A
Publisher: Sony (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/8/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHot Shots conquered the world of golf with its lush anime graphics and arcade style, and now it's poised to do the same with Tennis. It's funny - after playing so many state-of-the-art tennis games, my friends all prefer this bargain bin PS2 title hands down. Hot Shots Tennis offers bright, sunny courts in unusual locations including a farm and sandy beach resort. The player selection is very limited at first, but unlocking new characters is fun thanks to the addictive challenge mode that lets you scale the ranks through a series of quick matches. A lot of the female characters look really cute! Unlike other tennis games that try to be realistic (Top Spin 3) or over-the-top (Sega Superstars Tennis), Hot Shots Tennis manages to nail that ever-elusive "sweet spot". The action on the court is fast and fun, and there are only three buttons to worry about: normal shot, slice, and lob. Despite its whimsical style, Hot Shot's brand of tennis is arguably more realistic than "serious" tennis games. For one thing, it's fairly common to hit the ball out of bounds or into the net if your timing is off. Drop shots and lobs are extremely effective, and overhead smashes are immensely satisfying. You'll develop a good bit of technique as you get comfortable with the game. Although it's nearly flawless, I hate having to skip those lame player reactions after every single point. Fortunately you can turn off the instant replays from the options menu (what's there to see anyway?) Hot Shots Tennis is easy to overlook, but this throw-away title blows all of the other tennis games out of the water. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Hypersonic Xtreme
Grade: D+
Publisher: Majesco (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/4/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI didn't have high expectations for this, but for under $10, it's hard to resist. Hypersonic looks like a third-rate Wipeout clone with derivative gameplay and mediocre graphics. There have been tons of other futuristic racing games with floating cars, so there's hardly a demand for another. When I first started playing, all I could notice was the touchy controls and sparse scenery. But I stuck with it, and eventually realized this isn't bad at all. The secret lies in the insanely twisted, vertigo-inducing tracks - a few rank as some of the best-designed tracks I've seen. The sense of speed is palpable as you whiz through corkscrews and fly off gigantic ramps, often barely reaching to the other side. Once you master the turbo (hold it and the accelerate button at the same time) and side thrusters (hold L2 or R2 in the direction of the turn) you'll feel in total control. There are no weapons, but your vehicle will explode if you take too much damage by hitting the walls of the course. The arcade mode is fun, but I especially like the Slalom mode that lets you compete in a series of quick, one-lap races. Majesco even went the extra mile and included an intuitive track editor with a helpful tutorial. Hypersonic Xtreme really impressed me, up until it froze in the middle of one race. That's pretty bad for a PS2 game, and it really ruined an otherwise fun racing experience. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Ico
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sony (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/1/13
Rating: Teen

screenshotIco is an adventure in a dreamlike world. You control a little boy who has been imprisoned in a huge, old fortress at the edge of the sea. You soon discover a mysterious girl who is physically weak but possesses magical powers. Taking her by the hand, you must solve a series of puzzles in order for you both to escape. Occasionally you encounter evil spirits that attempt to drag the girl into another dimension, requiring you to beat the living crap out of them. The graphics are breathtaking. Fortress walls rise hundreds of feet above the sea, and the views from some of the higher platforms are enough to make you dizzy. I often had to stop and marvel at the level of detail. The architecture is amazing and the artistic direction is first-rate. The shadow-like spirits look both creepy and amazing, and the fluid animation is a feast for the eyes. Characters swing from chains, run hand-in-hand, and help pull each other up. Sure, you've seen smooth animation before, but nothing that looks this natural. The puzzles are interesting and fair, and there are ample save points. The vibration feature of the controller is used extremely effectively. Ico is a quiet game unlike anything else. While the slow gameplay and puzzles may bore action fans, thoughtful players will find Ico to be a very satisfying gaming experience. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


In The Groove
Grade: B+
Publisher: RedOctane (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/8/25
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFrom the makers of the high-quality dance mats comes this surprisingly strong Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) clone. While its name and cover art may be painfully generic, In The Groove serves its purpose very well. The gameplay is familiar to many - simply step on the up, down, left, and right arrows as they float to the top of the screen. But this game has a few new tricks up its sleeve. Special effects cause the arrows to swerve, freeze momentarily, accelerate, and exhibit other unpredictable movements, thereby spicing up the action. The number of modes and customization options are extensive. A single player can play several songs in a row via the "marathon mode", or try his hand at two mats at once. I favor the "fitness mode" that displays a live counter of the number of calories burned. So how are the 70+ songs? Pretty good, if you like the bouncy, club style of music. There are no big name musicians, but hell, there aren't very many in DDR either. So if you're into dancing games and need a new fix, don't hesitate to get In The Groove. Note: You'll need to own at least one dance pad to enjoy this game. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Intellivision Lives
Grade: D
Publisher: Crave (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/7/19
Rating: Everyone (gambling)

screenshotThis inexpensive package attempts to emulate the venerable Intellivision console, which competed with the Atari 2600 in the late 70's and early 80's. Well, you can emulate until the cows come home, but in this case there's no substitute for the real thing. I was pretty excited about this compilation initially, but when I sat down to play against my friend Scott, we were gradually able to pick it apart. The main navigation screen is a virtual pizza parlor, where you move between arcade machines and tables. Each offers a new category of gameplay, including sports, arcade, space, strategy, and kids game. You even get six previously unreleased titles! Although most of these don't qualify as "classics", there are definitely a few gems, including Astrosmash, Utopia, Thunder Castle, B-17 Bomber, Shark Shark, and World Championship Baseball. Once you select a game, you can view the original instructions, production notes, and a scan of the box before you play. All games have configurable options, and you can even select background music and enable "radical" play modes. These unconventional "modes" generally just distort the screen and are only recommended for hardcore drug users. Another nice feature is how the settings and high scores are automatically saved! Sound too good to be true? Well, don't throw out that old Intellivision console just yet. Many great Intellivision titles are conspicuous in their absence, including Diner (the Burgertime sequel) and the entire Dungeons and Dragons series. I'm guessing they had problems securing the rights to these games, and that's a shame. Another problem I should probably mention is that most of these games are unplayable with the PS2 controller! Pressing the select button causes a keypad to appear on the screen (complete with the overlay), but this gets in the way and lets the other player see what you're doing. Intellivision Lives should have been packaged with special controllers, because this fatal flaw ruins an otherwise attractive compilation. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Jak II
Grade: C
Publisher: Sony (2003)
Reviewed: 2006/5/20
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, mild language, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotMaybe my standards are gradually inching up, but Jak II didn't appeal to me nearly as much as its predecessor, Jak and Daxter (PS2, 2001). The first game was a fun, light-hearted romp with gorgeous tropical scenery and simple gameplay. Jak II attempts to expand and "mature" the series, but the new attitude and complexity in some ways defeats what made the first game so likeable. In this chapter, our hero Jak has been sucked into a dark kingdom ruled by an evil baron. Two years of torture and captivity have hardened his character, giving him a nasty alter ego. This isn't the kid-friendly adventure its predecessor was. While it does retain a whimsical side, it also has a dark undertone most evident in the strong language. Hearing words like "damn" and "bitch" in a game like this is a real turn-off. Technically however, Jak II is undeniably impressive. The rich scenery includes a detailed city you can easily cruise around via hovercraft. Tall structures can be seen in the distance, and I love like the flooded area with its rickety, wooden plank walkways. Jak II offers its share of conventional platform jumping, but much of the action takes place in indoor areas, making camera positioning more of an issue. Is it just me, or does the camera swing the wrong way when you adjust it with the thumbstick? In addition to jumping, Jak can now fire powerful weapons, although the camera makes it hard to keep your foes in sight. The highlight of the game are its hovercraft sequences, which bring to mind those in Star Wars Episode 2, only on a smaller scale. The chases are quite exciting as you swoop around traffic and avoid blasts from soldiers. The game lets you "car jack" vehicles a la Grand Theft Auto, and also incorporates Metal Gear-inspired "vision cones" for the guards that patrol the city. A handy map keeps you moving in the right direction, and I like how doors automatically open as you approach, saving you time as you navigate between areas. Jak II is huge and there's plenty to see and do, but it's bogged down by some annoying qualities. You can save at any point, but often dying will send you back to the beginning of a lengthy stage, which is aggravating. The characters tend to be extremely unlikable (including Jak), and the idiotic rodent sidekick Daxter fails to provide any worthwhile comic relief. Some of the missions feel like tedious errands. Jak II's production qualities are too high to write the game off completely, but fans of the first may find themselves with mixed feelings about this uneven follow-up. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Jak X Combat Racing
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/6/28
Rating: Teen (crude humor, fantasy violence, language, use of tobacco)

screenshotWith the long-running Jak and Daxter franchise running low on ideas, it wasn't hard to predict that a cart racer was right around the corner. Jak X is my type of game, with its arcade racing action, fantastic tracks, and destructive weapons. It tries to incorporate the best elements of past cart racers, with mixed results. Its lush jungles, flame-lit temples, and icy mountains are certainly inspired by the Crash Bandicoot racers, although these are more detailed and less cartoonish. Jax X offers an unprecedented number of playing modes, and most are a lot of fun. In the action-packed races, missiles fly and explosions abound as the racers jockey for position. Since the leaders are constantly blowing each other up, you're always in the hunt. In Turbo Dash mode, you score points by punching the turbo and maintaining that breakneck speed for about ten seconds at a time. Freeze Rally challenges you to complete the track in a fixed amount of time, hitting "freeze" icons to stop the clock. In Death Race, you score by blasting dozens of "drones", and in Rush Hour you score by ramming them headfirst. Artifact Races take a page from Smuggler's Run, where racers attempt to collect randomly places markers on a wide-open field. Likewise, Sport Hunt challenges you to blast wandering robots. It can be a lot of fun, but Jax X Racing has a laundry list of problems. The control scheme is counterintuitive and can't be reconfigured. The low viewing angle and cluttered scenery makes it hard to anticipate upcoming turns, so you'll really need to memorize the courses for best results. Power slides are tricky and it's easy to lose control of your vehicle. As you might expect, these issues are exacerbated in the split-screen modes. My friends usually love playing cart games head-to-head, but they couldn't get excited about this one. The game incorporates Burnout-style "kill cams" which show your enemy wiping out, but while watching these it's possible to lose control of your own car! The single-player cut scenes are not the least bit entertaining, and the little rodent Daxter is more irritating than funny. The guitar-driven soundtrack is pretty mediocre too. This game is best played solo, unlocking vehicles and tracks. If Jak X Combat Racing proves one thing, it's that "more" doesn't always translate to "better". © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Jak and Daxter
Grade: A
Publisher: Sony (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/1/22
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYes, it's another 3D adventure, where you jump on creatures, collect items, open new areas, etc. But Jak and Daxter is one of the best I've ever played. You'll recall Naughty Dog as the team that developed the stellar Crash Bandicoot games for the Playstation, and they haven't lost their touch. Not only is game a fantastic technical achievement, but it's loaded with charm and personality. Jak is the young adventurer you control, and Daxter is his little furry sidekick who provides ample comic relief. Your goal is to collect power cells on an island, which you discover through exploration or earn by doing favors for the local villagers. Exploring the island is fun, and there are plenty of interesting missions, vehicles, and hidden areas. The graphics are absolutely stunning! The scenery is lush, beautiful, and often fascinating. The lighting effects are particularly outstanding. The time of day gradually changes as you play, and at night little tiki lamps light your path. Even the enemies are fun and imaginative, and you can dispose of them with your Bandicoot-ish charge or spinning-kick moves. The control is dead-on, and even hopping between platforms is relatively simple. I only wish that the camera (controlled by the right joystick) was a little more versatile, because this game provides some incredible panoramic views. The gameplay is fun and addicting, and game saves are frequent and transparent. Best of all, there is virtually NO loading time!! Another innovative aspect is a lack of BOSSES. Believe me, you won't miss them a bit. The game has a fine sense of humor, and if Daxter doesn't make you laugh out loud, you will at least smile. Granted, there are a tons of other 3D adventure games out there, but I'd rather play Jak and Daxter. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Jet X2O
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/6/25
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI'm a real sucker for Jet Ski games, and Jet X2O is a solid but unspectacular water racer. Instead of weaving through buoys, Jet X2O gives you the full run of the course. There are gates to pass through, but these are only there to provide you with turbo power. I like this system because it provides opportunities for alternate paths, shortcuts, and secret passages. You can also earn turbo by performing SSX-style tricks off ramps. The gameplay is fast and challenging. The ultra-long courses careen through all sorts of exotic environments, including submerged ruins, volcanic islands, a desert gorge, and a high-tech city. The steering controls take some getting used to, and the flip and roll tricks are a real pain. All too often you wind up soaring through the air upside down, unable to right yourself. The water effects are mediocre, and occasionally the water looks unnaturally hilly and even blocky from a distance. Your competitors are wacky stereotypes from various countries, and I found their smart-aleck comments to be pretty irritating. Jet X2O has an addictive world tour mode and a fun two-player split screen mode. It's not the best jet ski game ever, but it was fun enough to keep me occupied for a few hours. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Katamari Damacy
Grade: B+
Publisher: Namco (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/1/14

screenshotYou don't see too many video games that are totally original, but Katamari Damacy certainly is. I want to thank Namco for taking a chance and trying something new. The game not only features radically unconventional gameplay, but its style is also in a league of its own. If you've ever seen the Beatle's animated movie "Yellow Submarine", you'll have an idea of the artistic, psychedelic style this game employs. While watching the intro with its hummed vocals, dancing animals, and aliens sliding down rainbows, my buddy Scott turned to me and asked, "Any chance this was made in Japan?" The game's bizarre premise suggests that mind-altering drugs played a key role in the development process. The "King of All Cosmos", who appears to have a sack of potatoes in his pants, has accidentally destroyed all of the stars in the sky, and chosen you, a small alien creature, to restore them. Naturally this is accomplished by "rolling up" things on earth into massive clumps. Yeah, I know it makes no sense, but work with me here. Utilizing a unique control scheme that uses both joysticks, you roll around a large ball which everything sticks to. Each stage challenges you to grow the ball to a certain size, and the stages progressively become larger in scope. The one catch is that you can only roll up items that are smaller than your ball, and bumping into larger objects will cause things to break off. There are a stunning assortment of items and even living creatures to roll up - we're talking hundreds per stages. The first stage takes place on a tabletop, where you pick up stuff like tacks, pencils, candy, and matchbooks. Next, you'll be wandering around a neighborhood, rolling up tools, plants, and toys. Eventually, you'll even be able to roll up people, and it's hilarious to watch them scream and struggle in vain as they get sucked into your unstoppable monstrosity. The ball even feels heavier and more unwieldy as it grows. It's an ingenious concept, and it's always interesting to see what each new stage has in store. Ultimately, you'll reach a point where you're rolling up buildings in a city. Playing Katamari Damacy is a surreal experience that's fascinating and compelling. The graphics are more functional than flashy, but like any puzzle game, the visuals don't matter much. Occasionally the camera gets out of whack, but I think that's to be expected. The offbeat musical score ranges from incredibly catchy to downright annoying. Between stages, the King tends to spout off a lot of nonsensical dialogue, which I skipped through as fast as I could. The worst aspect of the game is the tedious user interface used to move between stages. But in the end Katamari Damacy definitely gets extra credit for originality. It's a breath of fresh air in a video game market loaded with knock-off titles and endless sequels. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Kids Next Door: Operation Videogame
Grade: C+
Publisher: Take Two Interactive (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/1/1
Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence, crude humor)

screenshotBased on the Cartoon Network series, the Kids Next Door (KND) are five young secret agents (under the age of 13) who make their headquarters in a colossal tree house. Their mission? To protect all kids from cruel adults who would subject them to green vegetables, piano lessons, homework, and other unmentionable horrors. It's certainly a good cause, but how does it play? Like every other platform game you've ever played in your life! Seriously, there are floating platforms, laser beams, items to collect, electrified floors, switches to pull, weapon power-ups, and boss encounters. Heck, there are even stealth stages (ugh!). Despite its derivative nature, KND still gets by thanks to its varied gameplay, brisk pacing, responsive controls, and reasonable difficulty. Blasting the generic henchmen is no problem thanks to the tight lock-on controls, although switching targets using the right stick can be awkward. The jumping controls are forgiving enough, so you shouldn't have any problems leaping between those giant donuts. Through the 15+ stages, you'll face some unconventional villains including spank-happy vampires, nefarious lunch ladies, and the notorious "Toiletnator". You can unlock a lot of "Super Triple Top Secret" stuff by collecting - you guessed it - rainbow monkeys. KND's graphics are cartoon quality, meaning there's not a lot of detail. There are camera issues, but nothing more than you'd normally have to deal with in this type of game. The orchestrated soundtrack is surprisingly good, and has a dramatic James Bond motif. The varied stages include tree houses, factories, backyards, and floating pirate ships. Unfortunately, areas within each stage tend to repeat, giving the player a serious case of deja-vu. You'll play as all five characters through the 14 stages, each with their own set of moves. Most stages are strictly by-the-numbers, but a few display some innovation, like one where you round up scurrying hamsters (which is much easier when you acquire the freeze gun, by the way). But the stages that really captured my attention were the flying shooting stages. Surprisingly well executed, these combine old school vertical-shooting gameplay with beautiful, fluid 3D graphics. You can power-up your weapon to several degrees, and there are even smart bombs (known as "Chicken-Soup-erators" here). KND's cut-scenes are appropriately juvenile, but some of the dialogue is pretty clever, and the only character I couldn't stomach was the bubbly "Numbah 3". The game is well crafted in general, with a handy auto-save, infrequent load screens, and dialogue you can quickly page through. Kids Next Door: Operation Videogame could be considered a "cookie cutter" game, but it deserves credit for its clear objectives, reasonable difficulty, and kid-friendly theme. Fans of the show should bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Kinetica
Grade: D+
Publisher: Sony (2001)
Reviewed: 2007/8/12
Rating: Teen (mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotThis futuristic racer is similar to Wipeout, but instead of hovercraft, you race armored humanoids with wheels on each limb. The upside to this is added flexibility, allowing you to lay a smack down on a passing opponent or execute acrobatic tricks in mid-air. On the downside, you're looking at your character's ass for most of the race. Kinetica's fantastic tracks are the main attraction, and they are definitely worth checking out. Highlights include the Lost City with its dense jungle environments connected by rusty tunnels, and Orbital Junction which looks like a series of clear tubes in outer space. Unlike most racers, you cling to walls and ceilings, defying gravity as you whiz through tracks that twist and turn in all directions. The torrid pace and abrupt changes in direction seem cool at first, but after a while, it's just nauseating. The visuals are more effective on a wide-screen TV, and by "effective" I mean "more likely to make you throw up". Kinetica's controls are responsive, but the developers went overboard by incorporating every freakin' button on the controller. In addition to turbo, you can power-slide around corners, activate power-up icons, perform stunts off ramps, and siphon energy from yellow stretches of track. There's too much to remember, and the confusing stunts and siphon controls are not even worth attempting. Am I really expected to use the face buttons and right stick at the same time? How many fingers did these game testers have anyway? The one-player season mode is pretty hard, and a split screen option is included for two players (during which my friend Scott asked if there was an "end game early" power-up). I did enjoy the audio, which consists of high-octane techno music that perfectly matches the theme of the game. All in all, Kinetica is an ambitious title that's technical proficient but too complicated for its own good. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters 2000/2001
Grade: B+
Publisher: SNK (2003)
Reviewed: 2009/3/22
Rating: Teen

screenshotThe King of Fighters series began on the Neo Geo in 1994, and a sequel would appear every year after. These games all feature first-rate 2D fighting action, and the original cartridges make for some very expensive collectables. Thankfully, this reasonably-priced two-in-one package lets casual gamers see what all the fuss is about. As the seventh and eighth chapters of the series, King of Fighters 2000 and 2001 don't stray far from the original formula. There are more characters (35 and 42, respectively) and a few minor tweaks, but the visual style and core gameplay are vintage 1994. The SNK roster has its share of Ken and Ryu clones, but you'll still find some interesting characters like the silver-haired K' (pronounced K-Prime), the lovely Mai Shiranui, and the gargantuan Chang. Unfortunately, the poorly-designed character selection screen features a sea of tiny faces that are hard to make out. New additions include a bald freak named Lin and a chick named Kula who uses her hair as a weapon. Although many characters are androgynous, I like how the fighters tend to be human instead of a bunch of shape-shifting freaks. The fighting action is rock solid, and Street Fighter veterans will feel right at home with the controls. You select three characters for your team, and a fourth as a "striker" who can be called upon to apply a quick hit in the heat of battle. KOF 2000's stages are only mildly interesting, but the aquarium and wet city street stages are still more attractive than anything Capcom has come up with in recent years. If only there were as many stages as there are fighters! The arcade mode features some very interesting (and often twisted) endings for each character. KOF 2001 offers more of the same, but the striker mechanism is far more restrictive. The new characters are mainly the locked ones from the previous game, including the sword-wielding Foxy and the arm-drilling K9999. In terms of graphics, King of Fighters 2001 seems to have hit a wall. The washed-out backgrounds are plastered with "King of Fighters" banners, which unfortunately block much of the exotic scenery. The blocky spectators would look more at home in an Atari 5200 game. Still, I do like the improved character selection screen with the rolling clouds in the background. Both games feature Japanese voiceovers and high scores are automatically saved. There are minimal load times, and if you have an arcade-style joystick, you'll want to drag it out of the closet. The music features a wide range of styles, but it's the edgy synthesized tunes that really stand out. This is a package for fighting game enthusiasts. King of Fighters 2000/2001 may still have a foothold in 1994, but for fans of the old school, there's no place they'd rather be. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters 2002/2003
Grade: A
Publisher: SNK (2005)
Reviewed: 2009/3/22
Rating: Teen

screenshotThe previous pair of King of Fighters games seemed to have the series on cruise control, but King of Fighters 02 and 03 prove there is still some gas left in the tank. KOF02 drops the "striker" mechanism, but that's fine because it was pretty much beaten to death in the previous games. Instead you have a "Max activation" mode which takes the action to the next level, letting you administer high-speed beat-downs with conviction. The 44 characters are familiar but the stages are more interesting. The tranquil Japanese garden and stormy Mexican ruins are beauties, and aircraft can sometimes be seen scaling in and out of the sky. The concept of day-changing-to-night during the rounds has returned, and the effect is quite dramatic. And if you find KOF02 refreshing, you'll find KOF03 positively invigorating. The new "multi-shift" control allows you to switch characters at any time with a press of the button. The roster has been scaled down a bit to 35, but there are several new characters including a huge muscleman with a bird mask. Three health bars line each side of the screen (one for each team member), and while they consume a lot of real estate, at least they serve a useful purpose. They effectively add a new layer of strategy as you juggle your squad to create the most favorable match-ups. Still, three bars can be annoying when they're used by a single character - it's like having to defeat the same guy three times in a row! KOF03's backgrounds are arguably the strongest of the entire series. The train ride through new Zealand features a gorgeous, continuously scrolling background that begins with a bright city harbor and concludes with scenic rolling hills. Similar scrolling stages include a ride through town on the flat bed of a truck, and rafting through Egypt with massive monuments looming in the background. Even the static stages are brimming with eye candy, including a beach with an approaching blimp and a rooftop with neon lights. KOF02/03 easily rank among the best in the series. Readily available and cheap, 2D fighting fans should consider this required gaming. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters 2006
Grade: B-
Publisher: SNK (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/5
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)


screenshotI did my homework before playing this latest edition of King of Fighters, and first revisited its most recent predecessor, King of Fighters Maximum Impact (Playstation 2, 2004). I'm glad I did, because they play almost exactly the same. Yes, there are a few new maneuvers, but the move list in Maximum Impact was daunting enough! King of Fighters 2006 (KOF2006) kicks off with lengthy but stylish intro that introduces all of the characters. The roster has been expanded to 38, including four brand new characters. The newcomers include a dude with outrageously dyed hair, a short chick dressed like a bee, and an ethereal butterfly woman who floats around gracefully. Considering the series has lacked distinctive fighters from its inception, these new additions don't really add much in terms of play value. But like Maximum Impact, the fighting action is exceptional. The controls are crisp, the pacing is frantic, and there are some devastating attacks. The bouts are contained within enclosed areas, but except for being slammed against walls, there's no interaction with the scenery. Speaking of scenery, it continues to be a weak point for the series. There aren't many stages, and those included fail to impress. While locations like "hunting cave" and "temple ruins" would seem to hold promise, they're surprisingly dull. In fact, I've seen far more appealing stages in the old 2D KOF games. KOF2006 features both English and Japanese dialogue, but it's predictably dumb, with eye-rolling lines like "time to write your epitaph!" Extra modes include various party and mission modes, but these simply change the conditions of the fight, which typically increases the challenge but reduces the fun factor. The story modes should be more fleshed out, as they just seem like a series of random match-ups. KOF2006 will do the trick if you want a quick battle against a friend, but in the final analysis, this seems like case of "more is less". © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters 98 Ultimate Match
Grade: A
Publisher: SNK Playmore (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/3/26
Rating: Teen

screenshotFans who worship the original King of Fighters 98 are likely to lose control of all bodily functions upon witnessing the splendor of this Ultimate edition. The menus have been loaded up with all of the modern amenities and the backgrounds have been given a complete facelift, yet the heart of the game features the same amazing fighting engine. Easy to grasp but difficult to master, this is 2D fighting at its best. In addition to the "advanced" and "extra" control schemes, you also get an "ultimate" option that lets you cherry pick features from each. The 64-character roster is the largest ever for a KOF game, so you're sure to find all of your old favorites including Terry Bogard (with trucker hat), Geese Howard, King, Blue Mary, Mai Shiranui, and Wolfgang Krauser. I was never impressed with the quality of the stages in the original KOF98, but these 3D rendered versions look absolutely sensational. The Korean boat harbor in particular looks like an absolute paradise. The soundtrack has also been turbocharged, sounding more forceful and energetic. Playing modes including arcade, practice, endless, and a challenge mode. High scores are automatically saved, along with various statistics based on characters usage and fighting systems. King of Fighters 98 Ultimate is a fine example of properly updating a classic title without sacrificing the gameplay that made it one. As icing on the cake, the original KOF98 is also included. This is all the King of Fighters action you need. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters Maximum Impact
Grade: B
Publisher: SNK (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/2/5
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotIt's a risky proposition when a publisher tries to convert its flagship 2D fighting franchise to 3D. Capcom attempted it with Street Fighter 2 in 1997 (Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, Playstation) and Midway tried the same with Mortal Kombat 4 in the same year. Both games failed to attract many new fans, and to some extent they alienated many long-time fans. But I suppose it was inevitable that King of Fighters would go 3D, considering a 2D edition has been released for the Neo Geo system every year since 1994. I didn't think Maximum Impact could replicate the frenzied action and tight control the series is known for, but I was wrong. This is one of the most entertaining, intense one-on-one fighters I've played in years. In addition to maintaining the fast action of the 2D games, Maximum Impact's 3D graphics actually elevate the gameplay with new moves and superb camera angles. The characters look terrific, complete with the intriguing "bouncing boobs" feature SNK pioneered years ago (God bless them). The game even features a few genuine innovations, most notably the new "guard gauge" that lets you break down your opponent's defenses if he blocks too much. The robust move list includes counters, "blow back" attacks, emergency evasions, fall breakers, spiral moves, and too many others to list. This is the type of game that's simple to play but could take an eternity to master. I was disappointed that the sidestep move is initiated via a shoulder button instead of the standard "double-tap" up or down, but I got used to it. The 19-fighter roster includes 14 "classic" characters and five new fighters. SNK veterans will enjoy seeing their old favorites rendered in 3D, but novice players probably won't find these generic fighters particularly interesting, except of course for the voluptuous blonde assassin who is literally busting out all over (holy cow!). I made a point to play Maximum Impact with my friend Jonathan, a longtime SNK fanatic. I expected him to be somewhat critical, but his reaction was just the opposite. He thought the game was a refreshing change and far better than the past few 2D iterations. We identified only two obvious flaws, one being the well rendered but incredibly unimaginative background scenery. From generic construction sites to the aptly named "packing area", there's not much to distract you from the fighting action. Also, the lame story mode only adds a brief introduction to each match by some freak that looks like the Joker. Still, Maximum Impact has it where it counts - in its terrific fighting engine. Clearly a success, will the new 3D King of Fighters supplant the venerable 2D series? © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters XI
Grade: B-
Publisher: SNK (2005)
Reviewed: 2009/3/22
Rating: Teen

screenshotThis was the first King of Fighters (KOF) game to not be released for the Neo Geo, which in theory would free the developers from the limitations of that antiquated (yet still awesome) console. KOF fans who were nervous that the gameplay would be drastically altered had nothing to worry about. In fact, except for some sharper background graphics, this is really no different than any of the previous ten KOF games! The lack of innovation is almost disappointing! King of Fighters XI (KOFXI) is a functional 2D fighter, but it's certainly no better than KOF03, and feels like a step down in some regards. There are 47 characters - the most ever - but 14 of them are locked, and where's Mai? Apparently the new challenge mode lets you unlock characters, but man, that's just tedious! I was however glad to see Duck (of Fatal Fury fame) join the crew. You might think that the first KOF for the PS2 would try to be a little more accessible, but it's not. In fact, both newbies and longtime fans are likely to find the move list daunting. I counted no less than 30 controls on the "basic move" list alone! It's getting out of hand! As in KOF03, you can freely swap out characters on your team, but now there are four ways to do this, and that's just excessive. Other completely unnecessary new features include a "dream cancel", "judgment indicator", and a "skill gauge". It's getting to the point where you need an engineering degree just to figure out how all of this stuff works. In terms of graphics, the backgrounds are very sharp (almost painted) but the style is consistent with the older games. The designs however are uninspired and lacking in animation. Even the alleyway with hookers comes off as boring. Unlike the backdrops, the character graphics have not been upgraded, and compared to the sharp scenery they look downright pixelated. The fighting action is fun but not exceptional. When you dispose of an opponent the next one appears in the same place, and you can use this to corner the new guy and apply some cheap early hits. As one of the weaker entries in the series, King of Fighters XI is long on characters and extraneous features but short on imagination. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga
Grade: A
Publisher: SNK (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/3/18

screenshotThis collection contains the first five entries in the King of Fighters series (94-98), and you better believe they are all damn good. Originally released for the pricey Neo Geo system, few people got to enjoy these gems the first time around. If you appreciate Street Fighter 2 (SNES 1992), you owe it to yourself to experience King of Fighters. Considering the original cartridges typically go for more than $100 (each) on Ebay, this is quite a value. If SNK knew one thing, it was 2D fighters. Many of the characters may seem generic and derivative, but the well-tuned fighting engine is first-rate. The basic controls are simple enough (two punches, two kicks), but good technique is required to prevail. The characters are nicely detailed, but it's the layered backgrounds that steal the show with their imaginative locations and amusing animations. My favorites include the helicopter wreck in the Brazilian jungle, the smoky jazz club, and the ship docked in front of a glimmering city skyline at night. There's just so much to see you feel compelled to press pause just to gawk at the scenery. These games are perfectly emulated as I can tell, right down to the SNK intro logo. Some features originally "locked out" in certain regions are turned on by default, including bouncing breasts and splashing blood. There's a few seconds of load time between matches, but nothing objectionable. The buttons are configurable, but you really need a good joystick to do this game justice. The full move lists are available via the pause menu, and high scores can be saved to memory card. Since playing for high score is apparently not good enough anymore, SNK also included a "challenge mode" that lets you play matches under varying conditions, unlocking illustrations and music tracks as you go. One feature I wish SNK had included was progressive scan mode, since PS2 games displayed at the default 480i exhibit a slight lag on my plasma TV. Finally, what's the deal with this "Orochi Saga" subtitle? Well, apparently King of Fighters 95 through 97 had some kind of overarching storyline about a secret power called "Orochi". Who knew? Better yet, who gives a [expletive]? You don't need a story to enjoy top-of-the-line fighting action like this. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


King of Route 66, The
Grade: D+
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/7/31
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, mild violence)

screenshotThis is the sequel to the surprise hit Eighteen Wheeler, first released on the Dreamcast and later on the PS2. Eighteen Wheeler was all about driving a rig through different parts of the country within a time limit, and the graphics were astonishing. The only thing people complained about was the replay factor, because the game was admittedly short. Route 66 addresses that problem, but falters in nearly every other respect. The main mode consists of a series of very short races against the clock or a rival trucker. You'll need to sit through plenty of boring intermissions and skip through a ton of silly dialogue as the game tries to convey a weak storyline about an evil gang of truckers. The stages tend to be very uninteresting with mediocre graphics to boot. The scenery lacks detail, and the tornadoes that were so awe-inspiring in the first game look like moving tree trunks here! Worst of all, the rival truckers are incredibly cheap, weaving like crazy and keeping up with you no matter how well you drive. Only by cutting them off or using a well-timed turbo can you defeat them. Route 66 includes several other modes, but these are simply collections of mini-games, many of which take longer to load than to play. Some involve collecting tokens in a certain amount of time, which is incredibly tedious when you're driving an 18-Wheeler. The two-player split screen "race" is absolutely no fun at all. Route 66 is an uninspired game with mediocre gameplay, ludicrous AI, and excruciating load times. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Kingdom Hearts
Grade: A-
Publisher: Square Enix (2002)
Reviewed: 2004/6/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSubmitted by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
First, let it be said that I am not a big Disney fan. Secondly, let it be said that I generally prefer turn-based role playing games (RPGs) over action RPGs. I thought Kingdom Hearts (KH) would be a little childish and not fun for me to play. To my surprise, I was proven completely wrong! For starters, the first music heard in the game - KH's theme song - is a hit single from a hot Japanese pop singer, Utada Hikaru. Its plot managed to keep my attention throughout the whole game, with entertaining cameos from characters from both the Disney and Final Fantasy universes. The puzzles are challenging, and bosses are difficult. The controls make for far and away the best action RPG system I've ever experienced, even though the game has elements of 3D platformers (which I generally don't enjoy - my depth perception sucks). Donald and Goofy are your teammates and are controlled by a customizable AI. You could also add other Disney characters to your party depending on the stage. For a change of pace from the standard RPG action, they threw in a "Gummi" stage between chapters reminiscent of old-school space shooters. (You actually get to build your own ship!) Audio samples are crisp and clear, not to mention they got the entire Disney voice-acting staff to reprise their roles! Stage music is breathtaking on my surround sound system, and is perfect in its setting. KH looks vibrant with fluid animation and rounded, crisp cel-shaded graphics (very impressive for the PS2). The programmers did a fantastic job of capturing the design of both FF and Disney characters. KH even featured pause-able (but not skip-able) cut-scenes. My favorite is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas - a cult favorite. My only complaint is that the "super-secret" ending - a trailer for KH2 - was not worth the extra 15-20 hours I spent completing the required elements of the game. I would have also liked skip-able cut scenes in case you die while fighting a boss, then when you try again, you don't have to waste 3 minutes of your life on a video you've already seen. Overall, Kingdom Hearts is well worth the $19 and 50 hours I spent with it, and I fully recommend this game for platform and RPG enthusiasts. (Now patiently awaiting KH:Chain of Memories and KH2!)< © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Klonoa 2
Grade: B+
Publisher: Namco (2001)
Reviewed: 2003/1/7
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis has been hailed as one of the most underrated Playstation 2 games, as was its predecessor on the first Playstation. Hearing this, I had to investigate to see what Klonoa was all about. At first, I wasn't very impressed, but eventually I became a believer. The graphics are gorgeous. This game looks like a cell-shaded Sonic Adventure (Klonoa even looks like Sonic a little). The cartoonish scenery is colorful, crisp, and alive. The enormous waves in the first level had me in awe. Although Klonoa's surroundings are fully 3D, his movements are in 2D, meaning he can only move on a predefined path. This works great and has been used in many other games (like Pandemonium on the PS1). The control is precise. Besides jumping to avoid creatures and collecting items, Klonoa can "grab" his foes and use them to perform special moves like double jumping, activating switches, or smashing walls. The round, balloon-like adversaries reminded me of Kirby of Nintendo fame. Having to grab creatures all the time makes the game move at a slow, deliberate pace, but also allows for some innovative and thoughtful level designs. I think it was the Jungle Slide that really won me over. In it, you careen through tropical rapids and over huge waterfalls as you pursue Tat the cat. It's supremely fun and often breathtaking. The amusement park stage is also a winner, incorporating rides and attractions while fireworks paint the night sky. The only real weakness of Klonoa 2 is its ultra-cute cut scenes. You know, I used to think video games were age neutral, but the dialogue here is infantile. The music and sound effects are so sugary sweet that they made my teeth hurt. Reading the slow-scrolling text while hearing Japanese children recite it was more than I could take. I started skipping these things just to maintain my sanity (and saved a LOT of time too!). All in all, if you like platform games, especially in the classic 2D style, Klonoa 2 is a good choice. It looks fantastic and provides highly satisfying gameplay. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 



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