Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball
Publisher: Mindscape (1992)
The SNES edition of Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball is certainly a step up from the mediocre Genesis version in terms of graphics and sound, but it's still pretty bland. In terms of baseball games, it doesn't get much more generic than this! Lacking a major league license, the teams, players, and three stadiums are completely fictional. The single exception of course is Cal Ripken himself, who appears in the game with a .348 batting average and 51 homeruns to his credit - the best year he never
had! Don't get me wrong - I'm from Baltimore and I love Cal, but let's get real! The simple pitcher/batter screen is easy to control, with handy windows showing runners on base. In the field, the players tend to be sluggish but have cannons for arms. The outfields are expansive, resulting in an inordinate number of extra base hits. Cal Ripken Baseball's graphics aren't very detailed, but the players look sharp. Perhaps in an attempt to reproduce the grass-cutting patterns you see at many ballparks, the fields sport fat green stripes on the grass that look really, really bad. The control is much better than the Genesis version, except for the diving, which is terribly clumsy. The baseball has a tiny shadow that makes fly balls difficult to track down. In terms of audio, this is a pretty quiet game. Low-key background music plays throughout the contest, and an enthusiastic umpire calls strikes and outs. Cal Ripken Baseball's best feature is the "zoom window" which displays full screen close-ups of exciting plays. These are cool but brief, so don't blink or you may miss them! All in all, this is a respectable baseball game for the SNES, but there's no way it can compete with the faster and more polished Ken Griffey Baseball. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
California Games II
Publisher: DTMC (1992)
The original California Games was fairly popular but how many people knew about this sequel? I sure didn't. The title screen doesn't bode well with those faceless freaks lounging on the beach listening to horrible looping music. California Games II offers five events: hang gliding, jet surfing, snowboarding, bodyboarding, and skateboarding. As usual, the developers made these events needlessly complicated. In hang gliding it's hard enough to stay aloft (thanks to abysmal controls) but you're also
expected to drop water balloons on buoys and feed fish to dolphins! Do all hang gliders take off with a bucket of fish? Jet surfing (aka jet skiing) is a real atocity. Instead of carving waves you're navigating a flat maze projected on the surface of the water. While it employs the mode 7 effects like F-Zero
(Nintendo, 1991), the mere concept of a water maze is idiotic. I thought there were dead ends
but it turns out they are flat ramps!
Did I mention you're supposed to pick up garbage
floating in the water?! Snowboarding is even more bizarre, inexplicably limited to the far right edge
of the screen. As you careen down nearly-vertical slopes all you do is hit a button to jump over hazards. The next event is something called bodyboarding. I didn't know anything about bodyboarding before, and I still
don't! I couldn't even figure it out, disappearing over the top of every wave. Skateboarding is another clunker. You travel down an endless half-pipe, periodically riding through round "aqueducts". During each event some bratty kid appears on the top right shouting stuff like "Yes way!", "Bogus!", and "Dweeb!"
The best thing about California Games II is that it presents the games rapid-fire, so before you can realize how much one sucks
you're quickly whisked off to the next one. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 88,300
1 to 4 players
Castlevania Dracula X
Publisher: Konami (1995)
Rating: Kids to Adults
The original Castlevania Dracula X, released for the PC Engine (playable on the Turbo Duo), was an epic platformer boasting dramatic cut-scenes, exciting stages, and an operatic musical score. Imagine the dismay of those who originally bought this game when they realized this version was an entirely different game!
Compared to the PC-Engine, this is a very run-of-the-mill Castlevania romp at best
. The opening stage features burning ruins with nifty fire effects, but the water-color look clashes with the other stages. Later you'll forge through elegant ballrooms, clock towers, mines, and moonlit crypts. You'll crack your whip at the levitating medusa heads, axe-throwing knights, floating eyeballs, and fire-breathing dragon statues. For some reason dog skeletons look a lot
creepier than people skeletons. The jumping controls try to incorporate momentum, but it doesn't feel intuitive. I hate how you fall back when taking a hit - even from behind- which frequently sends you plunging to your doom! Some checkpoints are poorly placed. Stage two begins with a harrowing bridge section with leaping lizard men that disrupt your jumps between collapsing columns. When I died at the hands of the giant bat boss, wouldn't you know that I had to restart that whole damn bridge sequence? Dracula X exhibits noticeable slow-down and some of the music sounds a little cheesy. The sound effects are very crisp, and it's satisfying to hear the crumbling of bones when you slay a skeleton. The password is nine symbols, which is not exactly easy to write down. Fortunately the kid who originally owned my instruction manual took the time to jot down a few! Dracula X for SNES is mediocre by Castlevania standards, and if you've ever tried the Turbo Duo version you'll understand why controversy has always swirled around this one. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12600
Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool
Publisher: Kaneko (1992)
Never get your hopes up for product-placement games. That's the first rule
in reviewing video games. Not really. Chester Cheetah (mascot for the Cheetos brand) is a sunglass-wearing, ultra-hip cat attempting to locate five missing motorcycle pieces in a zoo. The title screen shows a reclined Chester who snaps his fingers when you select an option. The fact that the snap doesn't make a sound is indicative of the game's lack of quality assurance. The opening stage is pretty ho-hum as you walk through a park while pouncing on turtles, bugs, and jumping fish. Unfortunately it's hard to tell who's hurting who
- a problem I eventually chalked up to some really bad
collision detection. Get used to it! The first boss seemed insurmountable until I realized I could just let him walk right by me! Too Cool to Fool tends to have you respawn in the same place you died, which is a really, really
bad idea! One power-up is a guitar that lets you jam in place while creatures walk into you and die. Why are they walking into you? Why is the music fatal? These questions have baffled scientists for years. A tennis shoe power-up lets you run and take long leaps, but let's face it - this really should have been a standard ability. The sunglasses let you locate hidden items, but using them dims the entire screen. Not only does this look
bad, it makes no sense either considering Chester is always
wearing sunglasses. You'll collect a lot of "paw" icons including big ones that give you health and small ones that can earn you an extra life. The game does have a few things going for it including fluorescent graphics that really pop off the screen. The madcap musical score is well done, and the low difficulty compensates for the awkward controls. My wife was headed to the store while I was reviewing this, and wouldn't you know, I asked her to pick up a bag of Cheetos. As mediocre as it may be, this game clearly served its purpose. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3,140
Publisher: Electrobrain (1993)
The name "Choplifter" resonates with a lot of old school gamers. In the original game 8-bit classic you flew a helicopter over enemy lines to perform surgical strikes and rescue hostages, and Choplifter 3 remains true to that formula. After lifting off from your base, you fly across a side-scrolling jungle landscape while avoiding fire from cannons, tanks, and enemy soldiers. Every now and then you'll land to pick up friendly gray soldiers, and sometimes you must blow up enemy encampments to release captives. You adjust the orientation of your helicopter with the shoulder buttons, and it's easy to strafe the ground with your gunfire. The colorful background graphics are a real treat, depicting a lush tropical jungle and scenic mountains. Choplifter 3 succeeds in the graphics department but falters badly in terms of gameplay. The first few stages are too easy and time-consuming, and it doesn't help that you get five
lives from the start. Be sure to have at least an hour free before you sit down to play this. At first it's tempting to clear out every enemy troop you encounter, but they regenerate so don't even bother. The fact that you cannot shoot your own soldiers might seem like a good thing, but it actually waters down the difficulty and eliminates the satisfaction of performing a "surgical" extraction. Choplifter 3 also suffers from a terrible case of boss-itis
. Every few waves you're forced to deal with an oversized tank or cannon that takes an eternity
to destroy! Adding insult to injury, the game exhibits some horrendous slow-down during these sequences. By the time your last helicopter goes down in flames, your desire to play this game will have gone up in smoke. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Square (1995)
Submitted by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
Whenever I have conversations about RPGs, it never fails that someone will mention, "You know what was a great game? Chrono Trigger." Many fans of the genre even consider it to be the best RPG of all time! The story revolves around Crono, a swordsman (circa 1000 AD) with wild red hair and a diverse set of friends. Together they embark on an exciting quest through time. Crono's ultimate goal is to prevent the end of the world in the year 1999 at the hands of an evil, magical entity named Lavos. Throughout your quest, choices you make in the past affect the future. As a result, the game has an astounding 13 possible endings! Chrono Trigger is a classic 2D, turn-based RPG. The sprites and backgrounds are clean and bright, as if lifted from a cell-shaded animation. The musical score is catchy and effectively conveys mood. Chrono Trigger's gameplay is fantastic. You can have three characters in your party at any given time, and Akira Toriyama (character designer for Dragonball and Dragon Warrior) lends his pen to create a truly memorable cast. As your party runs down a hallway and encounters a monster, the battle menus scroll in and the fight takes place on the same screen. Armed to the teeth, your characters have two types of special moves: magic spells, and "tech" attacks. It's innovative how tech attacks can be combined, so up to three characters can contribute to one massive monster hurting! I haven't seen this done in any RPG since. The story is a work of art, and obviously a lot of thought went into the various subplots and determining how events affect each outcome. Throw in some fun mini-games, a bunch of enjoyable side quests, and some pop culture references, and you have one of the most enjoyable RPGs ever made. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Interplay (1993)
Yuck! It's hard to believe my friends and I actually liked
this game at one time. An opportunistic release, Clayfighter came out when one-on-one fighters were at their height, resulting in a short-lived burst of popularity. What was innovative about the game is how it incorporates pseudo-3D "clay-mation" characters never before seen in a video game. The result is a bizarre fighter that's short on gameplay but long on novelty. I will give Clayfighter credit for being imaginative. The well-rendered but unlikeable clay characters include an Elvis impersonator, a scarecrow, a blob, a fat opera woman, and an evil snowman. These are not exactly your usual suspects when it comes to fighting games. They perform some humorous animations and sound bites, including Elvis saying "thank you very much" after winning a bout. When executing their bizarre attacks the fighters will sometimes transform into oversized weapons like hammers and buzz saws. While amusing at first, you can expect a lot of cheap hits and minimal technique. Although the characters are nicely rendered, they lack smooth animation, making it hard to tell what's going on in the heat of battle. You can adjust the game speed, difficulty, and controller configurations. Clayfighter is amusing for the short term, but in the long term it's more irritating than anything else. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: None
1 or 2 players
Clayfighter Tournament Edition
Publisher: Interplay (1994)
This is one of the more blatant examples of a company trying to cash in twice
on the same freakin' game
! Besides a new intro and some minor tweaks in the gameplay, this is exactly the same as the first Clayfighter game! There aren't even any new characters! Pass! © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (1993)
Cliffhanger is based on the "white-knuckle action movie" starring Sylvester Stallone. You play a mountain climber named Gabe out to save your friends from the clutches of the evil Qualen (John Lithgow). As you forge your way through side-scrolling stages you'll battle henchmen in snowy mountain environments. There are really only a handful of thugs, but they come in an array of colors. The kicking and punching action is intense, and proper technique is required to properly dispose of gangs of converging thugs. You can block their attacks, but where is the throw move? It would have been nice to send these goons plunging to an icy death. Enemies blink and disappear when defeated, but sometimes they blink and then get back up
in clear violation of video game ordinance. I hate it when they continue fighting with only a tiny sliver
of life remaining. Die already!!
In addition to beating the living crap out of everybody Gabe must overcome perilous platform challenges. You'll jump between narrow ledges with gunmen situated on them. You'll hop across floating logs that only surface briefly. You'll scale the side of a mountain as riflemen shoot at you from point-blank range. But the toughest part of the game by far
is the ridiculous run-from-the-avalanche stage. It wouldn't be so bad if Gabe didn't trip over every little twig. You'll need to memorize the stage to get through, and it'll cost you many lives in the process. There are continues available, but they take you way
back to the beginning of the stage. Cliffhanger makes up for its by-the-numbers gameplay with its attractive snowy mountain scenery. The icy cliffs, snow-encrusted trees, and mountain backdrops look bright and inviting. This version looks sharper than the Genesis edition but plays slower. That's fine, because the slower pace actually helps you navigate some of the more hazardous areas. Maybe it's the nostalgia, but I find myself enjoying this game more and more each year. If nothing else, it's enjoyable to play on a snowy day. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: 7 lives
Our high score: EV 373,000
Save mechanism: None
Publisher: Acclaim (1996)
Make no mistake - College Slam is nothing more than a blatant attempt by Acclaim to milk its aging NBA Jam franchise for all it's worth. Simply replacing the NBA players with college players sounds pretty easy (and lame), but Acclaim couldn't even get that
right! Players are identified by number, but Acclaim didn't bother making them look or play as they do in real life! Don't be surprised if your favorite player is inexplicably wearing goggles or isn't the correct skin color! My friend Eric is a die-hard college basketball fan, and he was totally disgusted with College Slam. In the one-player mode, you can't even select your opponent
- the computer chooses it randomly! The crowd is a bit more defined and there are some cheerleaders on the sideline, but the gameplay is still a poor man's NBA Jam. There's really no good reason to purchase this pathetic rehash. Note: At Best Buy, this game initially came with a free "so-bad-it's-funny" video called "Slams, Rams, and Jams" featuring a few minutes of old grainy footage of unremarkable plays. As low quality as it was, it actually had more entertainment value than this game. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: American Technos (1992)
It's a little sloppy, but if you enjoy side-scrolling beat-em-ups Combatribes serves its purpose (but please don't ask me what that purpose might be). Its surreal introduction prominently features the World Trade Center towers, and the background story centers about a mysterious organization called "Ground Zero". Strange coincidence, huh? The music that plays during the intro is totally bad-ass. Combatribes gives you three muscle-bound brutes to select from, ranging in height from 6'9" to 7'1"! Why is the black guy wearing lip stick?
The opening stage takes place in Times Square, and the layers of neon-lit buildings look great. The characters are oddly designed with huge upper bodies and short legs. After dispatching a few waves of henchmen you encounter a very cheap boss. Bosses usually possess some kind of weapon or a physics-defying attack, so when they unleash their fury it's best to just stay out of their way. Stage two pits you against freaky "demon clowns" on Coney Island, and another stage puts you in a dance club against roller-derby chicks. The controls are pretty basic (two buttons) but your ability to attack guys lying on the ground spices up the action. The ability to swing one around by his legs (to clear out surrounding thugs) is the most effective move by far. You can also bash their heads into the ground, which is both theraputic and enjoyable. The frame-rate and collision detection are pretty loose, but the game is still fun with one or two players. There's no score, but completing the game is challenging enough to keep you coming back. The passwords issued between stages are will not
let you continue the game - they only unlock new characters in the worthless "versus" mode. Combatribes won't win any awards but it's worth playing if you're in the mood for some shallow fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1992)
I decided to pick up Congo's Caper after reading about it in an old EGM magazine, thinking it would make for some easy-going summertime fun. What I discovered was a very shameless and poorly-designed Bonk knock-off. Apparently Congo is a monkey who gets magically transformed into a cave-boy, or maybe it's the other way around. Anyway the first stage features bright but sparse tropical scenery and some pleasant steel drum music (always a crowd pleaser). The jumping controls are responsive enough, but I couldn't perform the head-dive mentioned in the manual. You can swing a club to knock out pterodactyls and cave men, but since there's no accompanying sound effect it feels very unsatisfying. The stages are cookie-cutter to-the-max with their obligatory palm trees, spiked pits, and floating platforms. There's not much to see and collecting those ubiquitous yellow gems isn't very rewarding. The stages are generally poorly designed, and some are absolutely atrocious!
There are too many floating platforms, and sometimes you have no frame of reference, making it appear as if you're standing still when you're really moving. Certain areas feature stacked platforms that you tend to bang your head on. Congo can swing between branches, but this leads to blind falls and cheap deaths. Were the designers trying
to piss me off? If so, they did a great
job! Power-ups are awarded via a mini slot machine. Bonk fans will notice so many ripped off elements that their eyes
will be rolling like a slot machine. Would you believe that Congo even works his way through the inside of a T-Rex's body!? Oh no he didn't!
The only thing I like about this game is how the monkey shakes his booty when you set down the controller. It's hardly a ringing endorsement when the highlight of a game is a monkey's ass. Congo's Caper has become lost in obscurity in past years, and frankly I'm doing a huge disservice by bringing it back to people's attention. My bad! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8000
1 or 2 players
Contra III The Alien Wars
Publisher: Konami (1992)
Okay, who's looking for non-stop, rapid-fire action? How about huge hulking bosses and ridiculous explosions? Can I interest you in snazzy 3D effects and general mass destruction? Well in that case it sounds like you're in the mood for Contra III: The Alien Wars. As one of the better shoot-em-ups for the SNES, this game has it all! One or two players can blast their way through six harrowing missions to save the planet from invading aliens. Besides firing at everything that moves, you'll leap over fireballs, hang from rails, and perform death-defying somersaults. You're also equipped with a few smart bombs, and can even commandeer tanks and plow right through those alien bastards. Although mainly a side scroller, two missions offer an overhead view, providing a nice change of pace. The bosses look absolutely disgusting. Contra's controls take a bit of getting used to at first, especially when it comes to dropping to the ground. The game offers a few continues, but no passwords, so your journey is going to be a long one. But at least with Alien Wars, you know it's worth the effort. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: None
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Virgin (1993)
This interactive soft drink commercial was pure summer fun on the Genesis, so you might be wondering how this SNES edition turned out. Well, at first glance it looks just as good, if not better. The intro features the 7-Up bottle riding a wave. The bright beach stage offers a few new sights (like a walkman in the sand) and animations (Spot performs cartwheels as he tumbles). Crab claws stick out of the holes in the sand. The balloons are different colors and semi-transparent. There are even some modest lighting effects in the attic stage. Not all the graphical changes are for the better however. A metal panel spans the top with your vital indicators, but it looks ugly. The graphics look slightly washed-out and the reggae music doesn't sound as clear (which is surprising considering the SNES audio superiority). The gameplay is fun but not quite
as satisfying as the Genesis. The controls aren't as crisp and Spot does not automatically latch onto ropes in stage two (the dock stage). Enemies tend to regenerate, which is a bummer when you die and need to replay a section. That said, Cool Spot on the SNES still has the same happy-go-lucky spirit and fun-in-the-sun gameplay. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 73,550
Publisher: Konami (1993)
I wasn't very impressed with Cybernator back in 1993 when my buddy Steve brought this game over to my house. I did however appreciate the tremendous amount of destruction you could unleash. You control an oversized "mech" robot with its jet propulsion and loads of firepower. Each stage provides plenty of enemy robots and armaments for you to blast before facing some big mechanical boss. There are multiple weapons, power-ups, and everything else that you would expect in a shooter like this. Unfortunately, the storyline sometimes gets in the way by forcing you to scroll through endless text (Do you mind? I'm trying to blow stuff up here!). Although the screen tends to get overcrowded with large objects, the graphics are high quality and the explosions look exceptional. The controls are fair (every button is used), but navigating around enclosed areas can be awkward. The high energy music is a big plus. In retrospect, Cybernator is much better than I ever gave it credit for. I guess I owe Steve an apology. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Asmik (1991)
Here's a game that lives up to its name! Afflicted by rampant slow-down, excessive choppiness, and unforgiving collision detection, this is the kind of early SNES shooter that your mother warned you about. The action begins with your helicopter taking off from a scaling aircraft carrier surrounded by unsightly water rendered with pixilated diagonal blue lines. You're immediately accosted by hopelessly generic enemy aircraft, and their explosions are less than convincing. The sprites are sizeable, and your helicopter makes for a huge target. You can accumulate some serious firepower by gathering icons, eventually spraying bullets across half the screen. The sound effects of your missiles firing however sound like someone tapping their fingers on a table! As a general rule, you'll want to hold down the fire button to engage rapid-fire, and stay away from the bottom edge of the screen where jet fighters attempt to ram you without warning. Mixed in with the normal shooting stages are "exploration" stages that let you use the triggers to toggle between high and low altitudes as you blast dinosaurs in a prehistoric world. It sounds like a good idea on paper, but in practice it's a mess as you increase altitude only to collide with giant birds you didn't know were there. Even more disturbing is how you're expected to blow the heads off of triceratops on the ground. D-Force seems fun at first, with a high level of difficulty that keeps you coming back for more. Once you reach the more hectic stages however, the framerate goes to hell and you'll often find yourself exploding for no apparent reason. Upon losing your last life, there's a sorry sequence showing your copter spiraling down into some insanely pixilated "foliage" below. D-Force has a catchy theme song, but it gets repetitive in short order. The raw challenge of D-Force commanded my attention for a while, but technical glitches prove its undoing. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions
Publisher: Sunsoft (1993)
I recently purchased a set of Looney Tunes blu ray discs which reinvigorated my interest in the Saturday morning classics I grew up with. The Marvin Missions puts you in the role of Daffy Duck's alter ego "Duck Dodgers" against his arch-nemesis Marvin the Martian. This really brings back memories. Remember the "just add water" Martians? Sadly this whimsical side-scroller embodies both the best and worst
of the 16-bit era. Daffy can shoot, block, jump, and fly short distances using a jet pack. There's also a "go cuckoo" button that destroys all enemies on the screen. Prior to each stage you can purchase a variety of weapons and power-ups, adding a little strategy. The stages burst with technicolor but are cookie-cutter in design. As you can guess, the obligatory desert, water, and ice environments are all represented. Only the final level featuring cameos by several Warner Bros characters feels vaguely inspired. Each maze-like stage scrolls in all directions, making it hard to tell where you're supposed to go. That said, I like how there are multiple routes and hidden bonus areas. You can access a map via the start button, but it's about the size of a postage stamp!
How am I supposed to read
that thing? The controls feel slippery which is problematic considering some platforms are very narrow and each area is loaded with cheap hazards like dripping lava and flying cinders. Your weapons have a mean kickback, and even the weakest of foes can absorb five or six shots. Who are these pesky lava men and cactus monsters anyway? The first boss is a plane with mechanical arms that takes forever to defeat. I still remember my friend Eric calling me up in the early 90's just to complain about that! This game feels generic but I'll still take it over Taz Mania
(Genesis, 1992) any day. The audio packs funny digitized quips ("mother!"
) and a madcap musical score. The lack of a password feature is glaring, but Daffy Duck: The Marvin Missions gets enough mileage out of its awesome Looney Tunes license. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 49,100
Publisher: Taito (1991)
This side-scrolling shooter gets off to a rip-roaring start, blasting rotating fish over rocky beaches under bright blue skies. The graphics are super crisp and the synthesized music is terrific. You can fire and drop bombs continuously, and you might as well hold down both buttons for the entire game. It's a shame your firepower is so weak! You'll struggle to destroy even the lamest foes. The first medium-sized enemy you encounter is a red fish, and it might as well be a boss because it takes forever to destroy. Be wary of red tanks that deploy heat-seeking missiles! But the worst are the rotating "space jacks" of stage two which take about 100 shots to destroy! After getting my ass handed to me a few times I read an article on internet complaining how easy
this game is! Not helpful!
Once I dialed down the difficulty I began to enjoy the game. Not only could I plow through the opening stage but I also got a chance to accumulate some power-ups! You don't lose your weapons when you die, and that makes up for the lack of smart bombs. The ability to select branching stages is a key feature, but I found most to be repetitive and bland. There are no continues but the game does have a decent two-player coop mode. Darius Twin could have used some fine-tuning but I found it to be fairly addictive nonetheless. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: easy
Our high score: CJS 700,500
1 or 2 players
David Crane's Amazing Tennis
Publisher: Absolute (1992)
The box of Amazing Tennis features the quote "...amazingly good..." from Nintendo Power (March 1992). Really
Nintendo Power? Did you even play
this game? I should say try
to play it! If David Crane designed this, then Pitfall Harry must be rolling in his grave
. The game employs a low-to-the-court camera angle in an ill-fated attempt to make the player feel "in the game". This may allow for large, detailed players, but it makes the game impossible to play!
Serving the ball requires some very weird timing. When playing against my friend Steve, we struggled with our serves for the duration of the match! In general it's hard to judge where the large ball is with respect to your player, and if you're on the far side of the court, good luck!
The net completely blocks your view! The controls let you execute hard, soft, lob, and drop shots. But since returning the ball is challenge enough, there's little strategy aside from hoping your opponent hits the ball out of bounds. The outdated player outfits are hilarious, with guys wearing spandex under their shorty-shorts and donning shirts with pastel colors. The manner in which they scamper to and from the net makes them look like complete sissies. David Crane's Amazing Tennis is terrible, and one could argue that the $5 Footlocker coupon included with it is more valuable than the game itself. And yes, I'm taking into account that it expired in 1993! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Daze Before Christmas (Europe)
Publisher: Sunsoft (1994)
Hearing of my quest to review every Christmas game, a helpful reader recommended this terrific Santa Claus platformer. Since it was only released in Europe I am reviewing a reproduction. Daze Before Christmas sets the tone nicely with stages presented via one of those "countdown to Christmas" calendars. The controls feel ultra responsive as Santa bounds over snowy hills, ventures through ice caves, and scampers through houses. Some stages offer mystical scenery or factories with machines that wrap Santa into a present. Enemies like penguins, rats, spiders, and jack-in-the-boxes transform into collectable presents when you hit them with your wintery snow attack. At first I thought the idea was to collect all the presents, but apparently they are just bonus items and your main goal is just reaching the end of the stage. The festive scenery hits all the right holiday notes with rolling snow drifts, frosted windows, gently falling flakes, and giant climbable candy canes. Actually the snowflakes look more like feathers from a pillow. The festive music offers renditions of several traditional Christmas carols but there are also some generic tunes thrown in. The difficulty is easy and the first snowman "boss" is probably the weakest you'll ever face. Most stages are enjoyable but there are a few tedious scenarios like "wood factory" and "floody basement". In one stage you fly over England dropping gifts into smoking chimneys and the London skyline looks amazing. Collecting special icons power you with life and invincibility, but it's the hot cocoa icon that really caught my attention by turning Santa into a... demon?!
Is he supposed to be Krampus?!
Daze Before Christmas has a fun pick-up-and-play style, but some parts are confusing. Santa tends to blink while touching innocent objects like reindeer or elves. Is he taking damage?? My niece Brooke, who otherwise loved the game, voiced similar concerns ("Did I just kill
") Daze Before Christmas has some issues, but as a holiday treat this is hard to resist. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 53,150
Save mechanism: password
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Capcom (1994)
This game should be right up my alley, considering my affinity for occult themes, and the fact that this is a spin-off of the excellent Ghouls and Ghosts series. I've also been advised that this game was preceded by two Gargoyle's Quest games for the GameBoy and NES. Demon's Crest was widely praised by the media, but I don't think it's all that
. You control a red demon that can shoot fireballs and hover over the landscape. Later he acquires "crests" which endow him with additional powers, including the ability to slow time, fly high in the air, or swim. The action begins with a boss encounter against a huge zombie dragon which makes a rather dramatic (and frightening) appearance. It certainly grabs your attention, but it's probably not the best way to start a game like this. Upon completing the initial graveyard stage, you glide freely over a pixelated countryside to select your next challenge. Demon's Crest excels in presentation, but its gameplay could be better. Navigating through the graveyards and castles of the early stages is no problem, but too many advanced stages are covered with thorns that are hard to avoid. The controls are touchy, so trying to navigate spiked labyrinths is frustrating. Your demon's size makes it difficult to avoid incoming projectiles, and he can only shoot forward, often unable to hit objects in clear view. Switching crests (powers) can only be done from a menu screen. Why isn't there a button assigned to that? There's no pause button either, which is annoying for reviewers trying to take notes (curses!). In general, I found Demon's Crest too difficult. Its production values are outstanding however, with well-defined graphics and stereo effects so realistic they caught me off-guard. Upon hearing the howl of a ghost, I actually looked around
to make sure there wasn't someone else in the room with me! The creepy organ music is also very effective. Flickering torches give castle ruins an eerie glow, and graveyards are overgrown with twisted trees and shrouded in mist. A twelve-character password allows you to save your progress. Demon's Crest is certainly a feast for the eyes and ears, but is it enough to overcome the difficulty and frustration? © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Acclaim (1995)
Rating: Kids to Adults
This is one of a handful of SNES cartridges powered by the Super FX chip originally made famous by Star Fox
(SNES, 1993). The prowess of the chip is evident on the title screen and menus which boast 3D letters that magically spin and rearrange themselves. The character selection screen features polygon-rendered faces, but the manner in which their mouths open and close make them look like a bunch of guppies! Dirt Trax FX challenges you to outrace dirt bike competitors over a series of truly pathetic tracks. The hills are extremely angular and the riders are rendered using chunky, pixelated sprites. When I decided to undertake the circuit challenge, little did I know I would have to endure 15 painful laps
- and that's just the first race!
At least that track was easy to navigate. Subsequent courses are narrow and mazelike with all sorts of 180-degree turns (ugh!) It's hard to see where you're supposed to go and I was constantly driving over the retaining walls. When that happens, a huge arrow appears indicating where you need to re-enter the course. The controls are so poorly designed that there's actually a button that lets you travel at 2/3 speed!
Seriously?! The thumping music is decent, and I like the uptempo groove that kicks in when you take first place. Enjoy it while you can because a total bastard named T-Rex is constantly on your heels thanks to the rubberband AI. Dirt Trax FX is not the least bit enjoyable, and the split screen action gave me a splitting headache. This is no Star Fox, but it may be the anti-Star Fox. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Donkey Kong Country
Publisher: Nintendo (1994)
In 1994 Donkey Kong Country (DKC) astounded
players with its state-of-the-art pseudo-3D graphics. The creatures look like puppets
for crying out loud! Even by today's standards the textures, lighting, and water effects are impressive. The huge characters move with fluid motion and some of the animations are laugh-out-loud funny! The controls are crisp as you pounce on crocs, wasps, and beavers. The varied locations take you from lush jungles to snow-covered mountains to underwater caverns. DKC's memorable soundtrack offers a collection of jaunty, playful tunes that will have you bopping along as you play. The digitized sound effects are noticeably good, beginning with the muffled yells of Diddy when you first discover him in a barrel. It's tempting to write off DKC as a case of style over substance, but this is a well-constructed 2D platformer is jam-packed with neat innovations. The partner system lets you strategically toggle between Donkey Kong and the smaller, more agile Diddy Kong, and two people can play as a team. You can sometimes ride on animals like rhinos and swordfish, allowing you to plow through long stretches with minimal effort. Special barrels serve as floating cannons, allowing you to shoot your way across a stage with a series of well-timed blasts. And who can forget those rip-roaring mine-cart-on-the-loose stages? Even collecting bananas is a heck of a lot of fun. DKC's main flaw is its difficulty. One consequence of the oversized characters is a tiny
margin for error. The mine cart stages give you a split-second
to react, making it hard to avoid hazards even when you know they're coming!
The "Stop and Go Station" stage is a particularly brutal, tipping the scales from challenging to frustrating. Donkey Kong Country does deserve extra credit for having one of the best manuals ever
. Not only is it colorful and informative, but old Cranky Kong chimes in with hilarious remarks like "Well well I've never seen so much rubbish! A good game shouldn't need any explanation!" Donkey Kong Country looks like a million bucks and backs it up with memorable classic gameplay. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
1 or 2 players
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
Publisher: Nintendo (1995)
If you enjoy pirate-themed games (and who doesn't?) Donkey Kong Country 2 is the game for you. This quality sequel introduces Dixie Kong, a female whose long blonde hair looks like an oversized banana. The first stage is set on a sprawling pirate ship and amazing stereo effects include the sound of creaking planks and lapping waves. As you hop between barrels and masts you'll pounce on rats, bugs, and pegged-legged crocodiles. The stages are expertly designed with cleverly-hidden items and secret areas. In the volcanic cave area you hop across crocodile heads reminiscent of Pitfall
(Atari 2600, 1982). The psuedo-3D rendered characters are animated with charm and personality. When Diddy Kong completes a stage he performs a rapper impression that made me laugh out loud. Aiding you on your quest are creatures you can ride including a bouncing snake, a web-shooting spider, and a parrot that flaps like the birds in Joust. The visuals may be warm and friendly, but Donkey Kong Country 2 is surprisingly tough. It's generally easy to determine where you're supposed
to go, but the unforgiving collision detection makes it hard to get there. It's downright infuriating at times, especially in the vertical levels where you can fall a great distance and negate a lot of pain-staking progress. Each set of stages has a "college" area where you can save your progress, but you'll need coins to save! There's also a "game show" that quizzes you on stages you've completed - so pay attention! Later stages include an amusement park, haunted woods, and castle. Once you enter a new zone you are unable to return to the earlier stages. The surreal, moody soundtrack is often astonishingly
good. The two-player modes are disappointing, since you can only take turns. The manual is a real hoot, especially with Cranky Kong's cynical rants about this "unnecessary sequel." Diddy's Kong Quest may aggravate the heck out of you, but its sky-high production values elevate this platformer to premiere status. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
1 or 2 players
Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble
Publisher: Nintendo (1996)
This third installment of the Donkey Kong Country series gives the impression the franchise was running out of steam. My first clue was the title screen, which actually looks a little grainy! The playable characters are Dixie Kong and Kiddy Kong - not the most prominent members of the Kong family. Dixie has golden locks and Kiddy is an oversized baby monkey who throws a tantrum when he gets hit. The stages are less inventive than the first two games, featuring a lake, a factory, beach, sewer, snowy mountain, and forest with giant trees. I like how in the snow stages the precipitation will vary in intensity. The bonus stages tend to be reused subsections of the normal stages, which is kind of lame. The platform action is exactly like the previous games, and that's a good thing. Dixie has the ability to make long jumps and slow her landing with a helicopter spin. Kiddy can ram enemies with barrels and skim across the water surface (not to be confused with Jesus
Kong). The enemies are the usual suspects of crocs, bees, and rats. There are also these green barrels with arms that are kind of creepy. One the animals you can ride/control is a baby elephant named Ellie, but she freaks out if she sees a rat with a light shining on it. That's confusing to the player because the rat is always clearly in plain sight. The factory stages are a little repetitive, especially with the same owls shooting fireballs at you wherever you go. The swimming controls are too sensitive, especially since touching any fish spells instant death. The humongous bosses look great but can be a pain when they crowd the screen. That said, Donkey Kong Country 3 is still a heck of a lot of fun. The challenge is there but you'll never "hit a wall" like the first two games. The ability to save between stages is a real life saver. Donkey Kong Country 3 isn't as inspired as the first two games, but its gameplay is probably the most accessible of the three. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Williams Entertainment (1995)
Rating: Mature (animated blood and gore)
Trying to play Doom on the SNES is a lot like trying to play Warcraft II on the Saturn. You can do
it; it's just not recommended
. The screen is cropped, although since the border is black it doesn't stand out as much. The textures look washed out and the monsters exhibit a degree of pixelation on par with the Atari 2600. The animation is choppy and your movements (especially strafing) tend to lag. It's hard to make out enemies in the distance, so you'll often wonder what's shooting you. Doom probably has no business being on the SNES, but it's still playable. The bleak audio soundtrack is effective and the stereo sound effects are crisp (although slightly delayed). Between stages there's a nifty "you are here" map screen that you won't find in any other console versions. Did I mention the game comes on a nice shiney red cartridge? A candy-like
red cartridge. This is Doom stripped down to its bare essentials, and my friends were fascinated by it. It probably makes a better tech demo than a game, but this is a neat cartridge to have in your collection. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1992)
This game is weird. It feels like a cookie-cutter platformer with a Dragon's Lair license slapped over it. For the young people out there, Dragon's Lair was a laser-disc arcade hit from 1983 that certainly packed enough dungeons, creatures, and memorable animations to fill out a 16-bit platformer. The graphics here are not bad, but the game lacks a sense of mystique. Our brave knight Dirk is large and retains many of his distinctive mannerisms, like the way he swings his sword or crumbles into bones when hit. The stages focus on platform jumping, item collecting, and creature killing. Fans of the original game will recognize a lot of familiar monsters like the striped snakes, the bouncy reptile king, and a black knight who discharges electricity. Upon killing a creature, flashing point values appear, giving the game a nice arcade flavor. As usual, the designers felt obligated to incorporate a lot of small pesky bats and spiders. Dirk only swings his sword downward, which can be annoying when you're dealing with a bat fluttering in your face. In addition to wielding your sword, you can toss projectiles like axes or knives. Some stages have multiple exits, allowing the levels to branch. You'll find a few simple puzzles which usually involve the positioning of barrels. If the devil is in the details, Dragon's Lair fails miserably. Too often Dirk can't grab a rope that's clearly within his reach. His feet don't jibe with the stair steps - a sign of sloppy programming. The platforms tend to be slippery and there are blind leaps of faith. The exit doorways are about half the size as Dirk, suggesting the game was originally designed for a shorter character. The unimaginative stages seem to be sprinkled with a random assortment of creatures. In the water stage you float in a bubble while pushing barrels around
. Worst. Stage. Ever. And what's up with the low-key, melancholy music? Did someone die? Yes, that would be the spirit of the original game. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 38,600
Save mechanism: Password
ESPN National Hockey Night
Publisher: Sony (1994)
When it comes to hockey, EA's NHL series reigns supreme on the SNES. If you're looking for a little variety however ESPN Hockey Tonight might be worth a shot. If nothing else, it boasts crisp graphics and excellent audio. I love seeing that ESPN logo and hearing the classic musical theme. A digitized Bill Clement anchors the sports desk but has remarkably little to say! Like the Genesis and Sega CD games you can toggle between a vertical or sideways view. On the SNES the vertical configuration employs scaling to give you a better view up the ice. It's visually appealing but your lateral vision remains very limited, making it hard to pass. I also noticed the animation becomes really choppy whenever the puck changes possession. The sideways view offers a vantage point similar to Blades of Steel
(NES, 1988), but it's not that great either. I didn't feel like I could aim my shots in this view. One universal problem with NHL Hockey Night is extremely wide turn radiuses. While trying to deck an opponent you end up skating in circles
around him! It's maddening when the puck is sitting in the middle of the ice and you can't touch it! The body check control is assigned to the same button as shoot, which can cause you to accidentally fling the puck the length of the floor! On a positive note, NHL Tonight lets you lay into unsuspecting opponents after the buzzer, and that's always fun. The audio is arguably the highlight of the game, with lively organ music which gets you into the spirit. I also get a kick out of that angry digitized referee who gets all up in your face ("FACE OFF!!"). The battery backup feature is nice but where the heck is the instant replay? National Hockey Night ranks high in presentation but the actual hockey could use some work. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Earth Defense Force
Publisher: Jaleco (1991)
This might have been a perfectly good side-scrolling shooter, but Earth Defense Force (EDF) is marred by unbalanced gameplay
. It's the shame the developers didn't take a little time to tweak the weapons and difficulty. You begin EDF by selecting from one of eight weapons, and I personally recommend the guided missiles. Since many enemies approach from behind, weapons that only fire forward are pretty worthless. The game's forgettable stages include a cloudy blue sky, an underground river, and an ugly city skyline. There's plenty of parallax scrolling, but the scenery lacks detail and generally looks like garbage. You'll face a wide array of flying mechanical beasts, but most require an inordinate number of hits to destroy. The first stage is nearly insurmountable, especially since you only have a single ship to work with. Yes, you have a shield, but there's no audible cue when you take a hit! In the unlikely event that you survive the first stage with powers-ups intact, you'll likely cruise
through the rest of the game. Yes, EDF is one of those "all or nothing" games where you'll suck for ten games, and then get lucky and plow through the entire thing. Slowdown is a factor, but it can be a blessing in disguise, making projectiles much easier to dodge. Despite its old-school flavor, EDF's soundtrack is poor, and sometimes cuts out for no discernable reason. Earth Defense Force might keep shooter fans occupied for a little while, but much of that time will be spent contemplating how much better this should
have been. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Playmates (1994)
In 1994 Earthworm Jim was the perfect antidote to all the cute, cuddly platform heroes proliferating across the 16-bit landscape. Starring a crass worm in a spacesuit, the game is offbeat and comical. Its irreverent tone is set in stage one when you actually launch a cow through the air!
Surreal alien landscapes are rendered with an artistic flair and the animation is quite good. Jim can leap, grab ledges, climb chains, and ride on pulleys. He's armed with a rapid-fire gun and can also "whip" his head. The visuals are sharp and the jaunty music is just plain fun. Earthworm Jim has style to burn but its gameplay might leave you with a case of heartburn. Jim is subjected to brutal dog attacks and other hazards that appear with little warning. Those pesky blackbirds should not
require three shots
to kill. The levels wind all over the place and it's not always obvious where you need to go. The controls are a little clumsy. You'll try to jump but use your propeller head instead. You'll automatically grab a ledge when you're trying to drop down. Your laser gun is constantly petering out. Deadly objects like fish bowls and anvils rain down from above and the collision detection doesn't do you any favors. Thank goodness for that handy "stage skip" code! It helped me get through the game but also exposed the repetitive stages. The wormhole race is interesting the first time, but after every level?
I couldn't figure out that bungee jump stage to save my life, much less complete three rounds
of it. Still, the game has its moments like the underwater tubes where you unleash a giant hamster to clear out enemies. That happy-go-lucky skipping puppy in the "For Pete's Sake" stage is bound to put a smile on your face. Earthworm Jim is big on charm and personality and for some that might just be enough. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Playmates (1995)
The first Earthworm Jim was a quirky platformer with plenty of visual pizzazz. This sequel retains the zaniness of the original with less of the frustration. The controls are a definite improvement. Excellent firepower lets you reduce hovering aliens into splashes of green goo. Reminiscent of the cow-launching action of the first game, you sometimes need to haul pigs across the landscape and use them in strategic ways. Instead of a propeller head Jim now sports a snot parachute and can also snot-swing across slime-covered ceilings. The animations are superb and when standing still Jim looks like he has to go to the bathroom really bad
. The music has more of an acerbic edge than the first game and I like it a lot. One unnecessary new addition is Jim's nerdy voice ("way cool!"
). Stage one is terrific but stage two really got on my nerves. Entitled "Lorenzen's Soil", it requires you to endlessly tunnel your way through an underground maze with a special gun. The digging effect is technically impressive but it soon becomes super tedious. Adding insult to injury, the stage is timed!
Once that ordeal is over the game really opens up to a wide variety of diverse stages. In one you guide a blind cave salamander through a lower intestine. A hilarious carnival level lets Jim float around with an helium-inflated head. There's even a Zaxxon-style shooter that would be a lot more fun if you weren't required to push to big bomb around. One of the more conventional stages consists of mounds of paperwork and "Level Ate" is composed of processed meat byproducts. After each stage a digitized cow utters "well done!" Bonus levels involves bouncing puppies on a large marshmallow, and while ingeniously designed these stages really overstay their welcome. I appreciate the much-needed password feature, and the easy difficulty level let me get through a good chunk of the game on my own. But the best aspect of Earthworm Jim 2 is its uniquely surreal atmosphere. Creativity doesn't always equate to fun, but this is far more memorable than most cookie-cutter platformers out there. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: password
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