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NBA Jam
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/11/16
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter years of dealing with complicated basketball simulations, it feels great to play some straight-up, arcade-style hoops. NBA Jam is pure, unadulterated fun. Electronic Arts scored a coup when they gobbled up this long-dormant series, which was really long overdue for a comeback. I'll give EA credit - they really stayed true to the spirit of the original NBA Jam (SNES, 1993). Before each contest you actually have to enter your initials! How old-school is that!? There are a few new moves like pump fakes and cross-over dribbles, but the fast-paced two-on-two action is better than ever. A handful of current players are available for each team, but you can gradually unlock players from the past. In terms of graphics, the classic look and style has been retained. The player models are fluidly animated and their faces are now digitized. The backgrounds are rendered entirely in 2D - something EA hasn't done in forever. It's crazy fun as players zip from one end of the court to the other amid a flurry of blocks, steals, and thunderous, rim-rocking dunks. The number of blocked shots is excessive, but using pump-fakes can minimize these. Motion controls are used to shoot and dunk, and while they are somewhat imprecise, there's something about slamming the controller down that makes dunking all the more satisfying. The classic controller is also supported. The original commentator has returned, and he tosses out old favorites ("he's heating up!", "boom-shaka-laka!") as well as funny new lines ("stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey!") Even the soundtrack has an old-school vibe. The only thing missing from the original series is the "tag mode", which let you retain control after passing the ball to a CPU partner. It's a slight blemish on the single-player game, but the two-player co-op is always a rip-roaring good time. And if you get tired of the classic mode (not likely) you can even try the "remix" mode which adds even more razzle-dazzle (power-ups). So get ready to party like it's 1993, people. You don't even need to be a basketball fan to love this one. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NHL Slapshot
Grade: A
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/2/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNHL 11 for the Xbox 360 is a fine hockey game for die-hard fans, but NHL Slapshot is for fans and everybody else. I'm glad a reader clued me in on this one, because it wasn't even on my radar! Slapshot is a lot easier to play than NHL 11 thanks to its upbeat arcade style. We're talking simple controls, fast gameplay, minimal stoppages, and dramatic animations. Hard body checks and slapshots are punctuated by explosive audio/visual effects which makes them all the more satisfying. The game is packaged with a contraption that holds a Wii-mote and nun-chuck so you can create your very own hockey-stick-shaped controller. I'm not going to lie to you - it's awkward, especially when the puck is loose in the front of the goal and you're flailing away like mad. Still, there's something to be said for the smooth motion of slapping the puck past the goalie in a blaze of glory. The concept could have worked if the stick was a little more comfortable. It's still worth trying, but be sure to stand up and distance yourself from fragile objects. My friend Steve practically wiped off my coffee table with one wild swing! Once the novelty fades, you'll switch over to normal Wii-mote/nun-chuck control scheme which is very comfortable. Shaking the Wii-mote to body-check is effective (maybe too effective), and feels a lot like Mario Strikers Charged (Wii, 2007). The only buttons you really need to use are A (pass,switch players) and B (turbo,spin). Unlike NHL 11, passing and scoring are easy, resulting in exciting contests that remain in doubt until the final few seconds. The graphics are surprisingly good - like NHL 11 minus the high-def gloss. All the NHL teams and players are included along with a wealth of minor league teams. One feature that's easy to overlook is the 3-on-3 Pee-Wee mode which uses little kid versions of NHL stars. It's remarkably fun and its outdoor rinks offer pleasant scenery like snow-covered trees and houses. NHL Slapshot is great because it emphasizes the strengths of the sport and downplays the boring apects. It's like the NBA Jam of hockey, and the soundtrack kicks ass as well. My friend Steve is the biggest hockey fan I know, and after a few contests he proclaimed this an "A" game with no hesitation. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Need For Speed Nitro
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2009)
Reviewed: 2012/6/15
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild lyrics, mild violence)

screenshotAs one of several Need For Speed titles to grace the Wii, Nitro is decent but unspectacular. The career mode takes you through exotic locations around the globe including Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Dubai, Madrid, and Singapore. Your first car is a real piece of crap but it handles surprisingly well. There are several control options, and I gravitated toward the one-handed scheme which is specifically designed to let you race while holding a beer. I could accelerate, brake, and turn left with ease, but when I tried to turn right I almost broke my wrist. To avoid further bodily harm I opted for the Mario Kart-style "sideways" configuration, which works like a charm. The controls are great, and I love how you can initiate long power-slides by tapping the brake and then hitting the accelerator. Double-tapping the A button kicks in the turbo which literally sets the road on fire (true story bro). The graphics are the weakest aspect of the game. With such exotic locations you would expect bright, arcade-style graphics, but the scenery looks foggy and washed-out. This lack of pizzazz is just magnified in the split-screen mode. To atone for the dull scenery the game incorporates special effects like having buildings washed over with graffiti as you drive by them. It's fun to work through the career mode to gradually unlock cars and tracks. The police can be annoying, but they do play a strategic role in the game. Need for Speed Nitro plays well, and if you sink your teeth into the career mode just might just get hooked. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/11/29
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor years I've lamented how 2D titles have been relegated to portable systems and downloadables. As the popularity of classic gaming attests, the 2D style of play is still viable, and if anything, the games age better than their 3D counterparts. Finally Nintendo has relented and released a traditional 2D Super Mario game for the Wii - and they did it right. The understated visuals and toe-tapping music are consistent with the classic NES games - almost to a fault! The jump, bump, and pounce action is just as enjoyable as it's always been, with the turtles, fire-ball spewing flowers, beanstalks rising to the sky, and haunted house stages. You can even ride Yoshi! The cleverly designed stages are spiced up with interesting rotation effects, and the bright snow areas exude holiday cheer. New moves include the ability to throw objects and vault off of walls. New suits give you the ability to fly like a helicopter, slide like a penguin, or become tiny. Nintendo managed to incorporate motion controls without having them feel forced or contrived. Shaking the controller lets you "take off" with the propeller suit, and tilting the Wii-mote lets you adjust the angle of certain platforms. Finishing each stage is only moderately difficult, but the real challenge lies in collecting all of the star coins. One major new feature is the ability for four players to participate at once, but while it sounds great on paper, the characters tend to knock into each other, making it difficult to execute jumps. It's very chaotic and I really wish the players would "overlap" each other instead. Oh well, you don't throw away a Cadillac just because it has a dent in it! New Super Mario Bros. Wii proves that graphics are only screen-deep, but classic gameplay is timeless. The 3D Mario games were terrific, but Nintendo has finally given us what we've wanted all along. Take note Sega! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Nights: Journey Into Dreams
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/3/24
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first game in this series, Nights Into Dreams (Saturn, 1997), was one of the more innovative titles for the system, developing a cult status over the years. Fans have waited an eternity for this sequel, but sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for. While Journey Into Dreams maintains the same magical, fairytale style of the original game, it's not nearly as fun. As in the first Nights, a kid-turned-fairy glides through wondrous 3D environments while flying through hoops and looping around foes. Although the action takes place on a 2D plane, a swinging camera conveys the depth and visual wonder of a rich fantasy world. In the original game your goal was to collect chips in a certain period of time, but in Journey you chase down birds to obtain keys. It's not nearly as fun, and your proximity to the bird seems controlled in large part by the CPU. There's a slew of bonus stages including a wild river ride, but your objectives are rarely clear. Journey Into Dreams is also guilty of an unnecessary, overwrought storyline, complete with cringe-worthy, unskippable cut-scenes. Instead of sensible dialogue, we get garbage like "It's the white Ideya! This is the purity that was missing from my heart!" Your dream world is populated with giggly "Nightopian" midgets, and these things are the worst idea since Ewoks! I wish very much for harm to come upon them all. The pinball-inspired boss stages feature creepy clowns, but these would be better if you could tell what was going on, as the camera has a mind of its own. Last but not least, the controls are terrible. Pointing a Wii-mote to "aim" your flying character is counter-intuitive and awkward. The classic controller fares slightly better, but the ridges around the thumbsticks limit the ability to fine-tune your angle. I finally settled on the GameCube controller, which also has ridges, but they are a bit less pronounced. The sad fact of the matter is, this game would have been better suited to the 360 or PS3. The scenery is colorful and pleasant, but not spectacular. The musical score offers a gentle, dreamy theme that blends well with the action on the screen. The game's design and user interface could have used some fine-tuning. It took me a while to realize the little book on the corner of the screen indicated my game was being saved. Would displaying the word "saving" have been too hard? Likewise, the obscure objectives and sometimes hard-to-read screen indicators make you wonder if Sega fired their entire Quality Assurance department. And you might as well forget about the headache-inducing two-player mode. After about 15 seconds, my friends exclaimed "Ugh! Turn this [expletive] thing off!" Not only does Journey Into Dreams fail to live up to expectations, but it calls into question the viability of the franchise as a whole. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Ninja Reflex
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/11/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHere's a mildly entertaining title that incorporates martial arts skills into a series of brief mini-games. Ironically, Ninja Reflex does not use the nun-chuck attachment, despite the fact that it does have a nun-chuck game! When played solo, your goal is to earn a series of colored belts while working your way through increasingly difficult challenges. The six basic game variations include shuriken (throwing star) tossing, katana (sword) fighting, and smashing fruit with nun-chucks. The other three variations focus on your reflexes as you catch flies with chopsticks (not as hard as it sounds!), pull fish from a pond with your bare hands, or catch lightning bugs. No challenge runs more than a minute, and many last just a few seconds. I found them all to be fairly enjoyable when taken in small doses - there's really not a dud in the bunch. If you're looking for some sophisticated swordplay however, you'll be disappointed with the katana game. Not only are you limited to simple blocking and slashing motions, but it's hard to get the side-blocks to register. Still, it's satisfying to slash your foes with the simple flick of the wrist. The graphics and audio are a pleasant surprise. Despite what the generic box cover would imply, each stage offers gorgeous views of traditional Asian villages with dense foliage and colorful flowers. The traditional string music is also effective. Ninja Reflex is shallow fun, and if you can pick it up cheap, it's not a bad way to spend a few hours. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Nitrobike
Grade: B
Publisher: Ubisoft (2008)
Reviewed: 2014/3/22
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis grungy, high-octane motorcycle racer incorporates short tracks, rugged terrain, and an amazing sense of speed. As in Excite Truck (Wii, 2006), you'll slide around banked turns, fly off ramps, and kick in the nitro on long straightaways. The first time I hit the nitro (sometimes known as turbo) I was like, "WHOA!!" It has that Millenium Falcon hyperdrive effect! Time it right and you can soar over large sections of hills and obstacles. Some of the curvier tracks can be hard to follow, but animated arrows help guide you along. The career mode is divided into series of races and challenges (time trial, rings), culminating in a cup event that lets you unlock the next series. There's a lot of muddy tracks that look downright junky but offer plenty of opportunity for mayhem. Later you can unlock snowy mountains and coastal tracks that look more appealing. The controls force you to tilt the Wiimote, and it's easy to oversteer. My friend Scott claims Nitrobike would have been "A" material with better control options. At least it's forgiving. You can't fall over unless you crash, and even after mammoth jumps you always land flat on your tires. Your nitro supply is unlimited but using too much causes your engine to overheat and explode. CPU opponents tend to bunch up, making it easy to go from "worst to first" or vice versa. Just try to stay in the hunt! I like how the CPU riders can make mistakes. They will occasionally crash and burn, accompanied by some funny rag-doll physics. Upon earning a medal in a race you can save your progress. Unfortunately, the endless number of prompts you need to complete the save process is almost comical. The soundtrack features the standard grinding guitars but nothing objectionable. The single player mode is addictive as hell, and you will find yourself cursing out loud during certain tracks. The split-screen action is very good, although the controls feel different. There's a lot of play value here, including unlockable bonus games like a motorcycle version of bowling. Nitrobike may not be as polished as other racers in its class, but if you're looking for a shot of adrenaline this one won't let you down. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


No More Heroes
Grade: B+
Publisher: Ubisoft (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/5/7
Rating: Mature (17+) blood and gore, crude humor, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language

screenshotA lot of game designers would prefer to be making movies, so they incorporate convoluted storylines, lengthy cut-scenes, and "adult" themes. They have it all wrong. The real key to a cinematic experience is style, and No More Heroes has style to burn. Using dramatic camera angles, quick-cut editing, stylized graphics, and immersive controls, No More Heroes manages to be remarkably cinematic without forsaking its video game identity. The protagonist is a young man named Travis Touchdown who's armed with a "beam katana" which looks a heck of a lot like a light saber. With his slim build and glasses, Travis is more of a techno-geek than a prototypical action hero, but that "everyman" quality is refreshing. His goal is to become the world's number one professional killer by working his way up the ranks, and the parallels to Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies are unmistakable. The gameplay offers some exploration, a healthy dose of mini-games, and a truckload of sword-fighting mayhem. The visuals are more artistic than realistic, and the violence is way over-the-top - like the most brutal comic book you've ever seen. Initially I was concerned about using buttons to perform basic attacks (instead of motions), but my fears were short-lived. Orienting the Wii-mote lets you assume a high or low stance, and swinging the controller delivers devastating finishing blows, which are always punctuated by fountains of blood. I can't express how satisfying it is to decapitate a henchman or filet a thug with a simple flick of the wrist. Recharging your katana is done by shaking the Wii-mote in a fairly obscene manner, and considering the game's irreverent tone, I suspect that was by design. Between boss encounters you'll scour the city on your motorcycle looking for odd jobs so you can save enough cash for the next "entry fee". This is the weakest aspect of the game, as you're forced to play marginal mini-games that include cutting grass, pumping gas, and picking up trash. Yes, No More Heroes takes mundane chores to the next level! Whatever you do, do not blow your cash on upgrades like I did! The boss encounters are set in diverse locations including a subway, beach, school, and exotic mansion. Naturally, you'll first have to work your way through an army of henchmen who all look alike. These sequences tend to be repetitive, but there are a few surprises. In the stadium stage, enemies hurl baseballs which you can hit back at them by swinging the Wii-mote! Although a hack-and-slash fighter at heart, there's plenty of room for technique, including the ability to execute elaborate wrestling moves. The action on the screen gets pretty insane at times, and when Travis yells something crazy like "cranberry chocolate sundae!" that means you just got a power-up.

A quirky sense of humor pervades the entire game, and I like it a lot. Just before you meet each boss, your female advisor calls on your Wii-mote "cell phone" - very cool and quite imaginative! The boss battles themselves are sandwiched by brief but dramatic scenes that feature some outrageous (and utterly profane) dialogue. No More Heroes celebrates the fact that it's a video game with pixelated icons, old-school sound effects, and numerous classic game references. Even the fine electronic music soundtrack sounds like a throwback. It's not perfect, but No More Heroes is genuinely fun and one of the more memorable titles for the Wii. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.


1 or 2 players 


Obscure: The Aftermath
Grade: D
Publisher: Ignition (2008)
Reviewed: 2012/11/27
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, mild sexual themes, violence)

screenshotThis low-profile survival horror title begins at a college campus with a party atmosphere and rocking soundtrack. It's a refreshing change, but it quickly transitions into the typical doom and gloom we're all more accustomed to. You control two students at a time, toggling between them as they work as a team. In addition to a deserted college campus you'll explore a creepy forest and nearby hospital. Characters have unique skills like the ability to jump, move heavy objects, or solve puzzles. Obscure does a good job of conveying an ominous, mysterious atmosphere. The buildings look properly aged, the furnishings are lush, and the shadowy lighting is effective. The haunting soundtrack is appropriate but the sound effects are too understated. You probably won't even notice a huge behemoth approaching until it's bearing down on you. Don't be afraid to touch the mysterious plants, because these offer a very non-intuitive way to save your progress! Some of the game's puzzles can be hard to grasp, and invisible walls add to the frustration. You can bash generic monsters with baseball bats and hockey sticks, but the controls are unwieldy. There are constant prompts to "look" or "use" objects, but you don't know what it's referring to! To fire your gun you'll need to hold the Z button, point the Wii-mote at the monster, hold A to lock on, and press B to shoot. Wow - maybe next time they can incorporate a third controller! The roving camera rarely gives you a decent view of the action, and monsters tend to lurk off-screen. Fights tend to be in close quarters or dark areas, so you just flail away and hope for the best. With two-players the camera spins like a carousel, and it made me absolutely nauseous. Save points are unevenly spaced, and there are no checkpoints. Obscure isn't a bad option if you're desperate for something new in the genre, but be prepared for some serious aggravation. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers
Grade: D+
Publisher: D3 Publishing (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/8/9
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, sexual themes, violence)

screenshotTo best describe this game, I'll take a line from ex-Ravens coach Brian Billick: "It is what it is". Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers is a preposterous beat-em-up pitting cute chicks in sexy costumes against legions of zombies. The 360 version of the game is an unapologetic button masher, so naturally this Wii version is an arm-shaker. In case you're wondering what the title means, "Onechan" is Japanese for "big/older sister and "Chanbara" means over-the-top samurai swordplay. Put them together and you get a potent mix of action and eye candy. You select from a stripper wearing some cowboy get-up, or her sister decked out in a schoolgirl uniform. The game begins in a subway station crawling with shambling ghouls. By shaking the Wii-mote repeatedly, you efficiently slice, dice and fillet ghouls as blood splatters and limbs fly. When you tear into a group of zombies, blurry motion effects kick in, and they are both satisfying and mesmerizing. New attacks and combos are unlocked as you progress, but the mindless beatings never end. You hack up one mob, and another sprouts from the ground to take their place. The fact that the instruction book is a paltry three pages in length says a lot about the depth of the gameplay. The graphics are fair, but to be honest, these babes look 100 times better in the Xbox 360 version. The endless shaking of the controllers took its toll on my wrist, but I found that moving my arm at the elbow was just as effective and less painful. A two-player mode is also included, but it's boring and feels tacked-on. Onechanbara is an oddball title, and I'm surprised it's even available stateside. If you're ever in the mood for bikinis, zombies, and slaying, you might find this entertaining in short doses. But you definitely have to be in the mood. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection
Grade: B+
Publisher: Far Sight Studios (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/7/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf you love pinball, this is the only game you really need for your Wii. Pinball Hall of Fame's replay value is simply tremendous. As a pinball machine owner, I'll be the first to admit that no video game can truly convey the experience of playing the real thing, but Pinball Hall of Fame comes remarkably close! Ten actual pinball games released from 1970 to 1990 have been precisely recreated here, retaining the colorful artwork, digitized music, and cheesy electronic voices. Best of all, they play just like the real thing, with lightning-fast action, precision controls, and realistic physics. This game is a perfect fit for the Wii controller tandem, letting you comfortably command one flipper with each hand. If you're new to pinball, be aware that the flipper buttons also rotate the rollover target lights. When it looks like your ball is about to drain, you can shake your controllers to "nudge" the machine. This comes so natural that I did it before I even realized it was a feature! The tables look good but not great. The Wii's limited resolution makes it hard to discern all the subtle details, but the game does a fine job of zooming in on the upper area of the table when necessary. I'd be very interested to see what this game would look like on the Xbox 360. Each table delivers a totally different experience. Themes range from fantasy (Black Knight, Gorgar, Sorcerer) to high tech (Space Shuttle, Pinbot, Firepower), to just plain quirky (Jive Time, Taxi, Fun House). Jive Time (1970) is a bit sparse, and Funhouse (1990) is cluttered with gadgets, but others like Gorgar, Sorcerer, and Black Knight strike a nice balance. High scores are recorded, but I really wish the best score was displayed as you were playing, so you'd know what to shoot for. You can play the games freely or try the addictive Williams Challenge mode which requires you to attain a minimal score on each machine. Also included are comprehensive instructions for each game, and you'd be surprised just how elaborate and sophisticated the rules can be. Even so, you can just dive into any of these tables and start having fun immediately. My friend George and I played this game for hours on end, moving from one table to the next. With a replay value that's through the stratosphere, Pinball Hall of Fame is a fantastic addition to any Wii collection. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Pirates Plundarrr
Grade: C+
Publisher: Majesco (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/8/29
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSo who likes pirates around here? I do! I do! As a rabid fan of both the side-scrolling beat-em-up and pirate genres, this game really hit the VGC's sweet spot. Pirates Plundarrr is almost identical to the popular download-only game Castle Crashers - except this one sports a tropical pirate motif. The cartoon scenery looks sweet, and the small pirates are rendered with personality and humor. Up to four people can hack their way through side-scrolling islands, pirate ships, and murky swamps. You'll battle pirates, tiki men, and lots and lots of skeletons. Your buccaneer (or wench) can toggle between two weapons, and there's a wide range of swords, axes, clubs, guns, and unconventional weapons like hams and mops. The game employs an NES control scheme, with motion only used to unleash special attacks. There's no shortage of button-mashing as you hop around and slash like mad, causing damage points to rise up all over the place. You can stab an enemy while he's down, and the rolling attack is effective for plowing through a gang. Power-ups and health abound in barrels and chests. Pirates Plundarrr has the right ingredients, but its sum is less than its parts. Wiping out a gang of skeletons would be more satisfying if another identical gang didn't suddenly materialize in their place. Certain foes have the annoying ability to teleport around the screen or wield electricity. The multi-player co-op looks fun on paper but in practice it's hard to tell what's going on. When things heat up the frame-rate becomes herky-jerky, and it's not a pretty sight. I actually prefer to play the game solo. Pirate Plundarrr has no score - it's just one continuous romp as you attempt to unlock all of the stages. It's extremely hard in the early-going, but once your pirate attains a high level the game become too easy. The electronic soundtrack is catchy, even if it doesn't sound very piratey. Pirates Plundarrr is amusing but less fun than I expected. I love the whimsical style and vivid graphics, but its repetitive gameplay is only enjoyable in small doses. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Punch-Out!!
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/6/16
Rating: Everyone (10+)

screenshotPunch-Out first hit the arcades in 1984, and this modern version is remarkably faithful to it. Nintendo wisely preserved the traditional gameplay while adding more fighters, new control options, and enhanced graphics. I was mesmerized by this charming game as a kid, and guess what? I still am! You play the role of a young boxer named Little Mac who is working his way up the ranks. In the ring you view the action behind a semi-translucent Mac, giving you an optimal view of your wacky competitors. Punch-Out's gameplay is so simple and straightforward that there's not even a tutorial - how sweet is that? The motion controls are fully supported (including the balance board), but I always reverted to the "sideways Wii-mote" (NES) configuration - especially when my arms got tired. Most boxing games tend to be slugfests, but the key to Punch Out is studying your opponent's mannerisms and taking advantage when they let their guard down. It doesn't take long to pinpoint each fighter's strengths and weaknesses, but capitalizing on them requires excellent timing. The career mode lets you work your way through a series of increasingly difficult fighters of all nationalities. Your trainer is a hilarious fat black guy named Doc Louis with a fondness for chocolate bars. Besides providing comic relief, he offers useful advice between rounds. The memorable cast of fighters incorporates retains classic characters like Glass Joe, Von Kaiser, and Bald Bull. Each character is unique and colorful, making the fighters in other games seem bland by comparison. Although rendered with far more detail than the original Punch-Out, the fighters still maintain the same appealing, cartoonish style. There's a modest amount of damage modeling, mostly in the form of bruises and band-aids. The new head-to-head mode lets you compete against a friend on a split-screen. It's okay, but you can only play as Little Mac, and the controls feel a bit stiff and mechanical. Occasionally one player transforms into a Hulk-like "Giga Mac", adding a bit of intrigue. It's the single-player career mode however that will have you up until the wee hours of the morning. Punch-Out has a "one more time" quality few other games can match. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Rapala Tournament Fishing
Grade: F
Publisher: Activision (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/9/14

screenshotIf you thought Rapala Fishing was lame on the Playstation 2, you might want to brace yourself for this wretched Wii edition. The Wii motion controls should make the game more involving, but instead it's just more confusing! The main menu presents several modes including free fishing, tournament, and arcade. You'll want to begin with the free fishing, because its sparse hints are the closest thing you'll get to a tutorial. During the loading process you're presented with a series of multiple-choice questions, like "On an average cast, how deep does a size 3 mini fat rap dive?" Where's the choice for "Who gives a [expletive]?" You can fish at many locations worldwide, but the scenery always looks grainy and unattractive. Clearly these graphics were ported directly over from the ugly PS2 version. Rapala's controls are terribly unresponsive, and even the simple act of casting the line feels totally wrong. Considering Sega perfected these motion controls seven years ago on the Dreamcast (with their fishing controller), Rapala has absolutely no excuse! As you move your lure around in the water hoping to attract a fish, the view is blurry and moving your rod jars the camera in a disorienting manner. Your fisherman is superimposed on the left side, making it look like you're having some kind of out-of-body redneck experience. Reeling in the line can be done by moving the nun-chuck attachment in a circular manner, but since you can just hold in the A button instead, what's the point? I do like how the reeling sound effect plays through the little speaker in your controller. These fish aren't shy, so it doesn't take long to get a bite. Once on your line, the fish typically provides zero resistance as you drag his scaly ass through about 50 feet of pixelated sludge. Once he approaches the boat however, that fish goes buck-wild! During the ensuing fight, the game instructs you to do stuff like releasing the line, despite the fact that it's never explained how to do that. The instruction manual assigns that function to the A button, but that's what I use to reel, so what the hell? Upon pulling in a catch, your fisherman raises and lowers the fish, only to have it disappear over his crotch! "Did that guy just stick a fish into his pants?" I asked my friend Scott. "Well Dave, it was a wide-mouthed bass, after all. You know what? That fish is al-right!" Rapala Tournament Fishing should have been a slam-dunk on the Wii, but it's just terrible. Will somebody please notify the Coast Guard about this horrible port? © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Rapala's Fishing Frenzy
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/9/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Rapala game for the Wii was an unmitigated disaster, but this one feels more like a legitimate Wii title than a hasty PS2 port. Fishing Frenzy's box cover is deceptive, showing cartoonish characters and eager fish leaping from the water. In fact, Rapala takes a realistic approach and requires a little skill and a lot of patience. The action takes place in scenic lakes surrounded by dense foliage. Excellent natural sound effects and variable weather conditions (including pouring rain) greatly enhance the experience. The tournament mode offers a series of challenges like "catch three largemouth bass in 15 minutes". Rapala's controls are more complicated than they need to be, beginning with the casting, which requires you to push up on the thumbstick while making your casting motion. A nice underwater view of your bait reveals plantlife, rock formations, schools of fish, and the occasional sea snake. I like how the sun's rays penetrate the murky waters. You can adjust the camera using the d-pad, but the thumbstick would have made more sense considering you use the B button to reel. While waiting for a bite, you're sometimes prompted to "attract" the fish by making quick moves - rolling the thumbstick for example. The fish battles can be pretty lengthy, and the side-to-side tension meter doesn't feel very responsive. Occasionally you're asked to perform a series of special moves, like a twirl maneuver called "the time warp". I doubt real fisherman do that, but hey, it's a game. You can cruise around the lake in your boat, but the driving controls are anything but intuitive. Likewise, the menu system lacks basic information like a description of your bait or the fish you've caught so far. The commentator is normally low-key but occasionally chips in with a Marv Albert-like "YES!!" The challenges are timed, and it gets pretty intense as those final seconds tick away. The action stops abruptly when time runs out - even when a fight is in progress. Rapala's Fishing Frenzy didn't rock my world, but if you're up for a challenge, you'll find it here. Fishing enthusiasts can probably bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Rayman Raving Rabbids
Grade: C
Publisher: Ubisoft (2006)
Reviewed: 2008/10/2
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs a madcap collection of motion-controlled mini-games, Rayman Raving Rabbids was a surprise early hit for the Wii. The Rayman character originally appeared in a string of platform games in the 90's, and he's a likeable creature distinguished by his disembodied hands and feet (they float around him). In Raving Rabbids, Rayman is presented with a series of challenges, most of which incorporate an army of goofy-looking white bunnies. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to video game humor, but these psychotic rabbits make me smile - a lot! In addition to the good humor, Raving Rabbids offers a lot of variety. There are rhythm-based dance games, line-tracing challenges, and Olympic-style events like the hilarious "cow throw". You'll race on warthogs (the animals - not the jeeps), launch a bunny through the air (face first no less), and dash across an island at Sonic-like speeds. But the most memorable events involve firing plungers at rabbits-gone-wild in exotic locations like a beach and a Wild West town. These play like classic light-gun shooters, and it's really satisfying to nail one of those crazy rabbits square in the face. The graphics are simple but incorporate some amusing touches like rabbits wearing Splinter Cell-style goggles. Each game that's unlocked in the single-player mode becomes available in the multiplayer "score" mode, but the entertainment value is uneven. A few of the timed games are absolute torture, like the one where you need to slam shut the doors of four bathroom stalls as they slowly swing open. The motion controls in some games are erratic, and you could argue that the shape-tracing controls are altogether broken! This is also one of the only Wii games that complained about me sitting too far away from the television. In the final analysis, Rayman Raving Rabbids offers shallow fun with games you'll both love and hate. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Red Steel
Grade: B-
Publisher: Ubisoft (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/6/9
Rating: Teen (language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotCritics have been pretty rough on this Wii first-person shooter, but I suspect that's mainly due to it not living up to some very high expectations. Personally, I found Red Steel to be one of the more immersive, enjoyable first-person shooters in recent memory. The action begins with the hi-jacking of your hottie Asian fiance in a lavish hotel. Brief cut scenes are used to propel the dramatic narrative, but the real story is the controls. The Wii's remote/nunchuk combination makes aiming a gun, opening doors, and just sneaking around feel natural and effortless. Intuitive motion controls are used to push buttons, flip tables, and roll grenades with ease. With certain weapons, pushing the remote forward allows you to "zoom in", although this requires some practice. Your gun sight moves with a degree of accuracy comparable to a mouse, making it easy to zero in on each target. There's plenty of sniping action and strategically placed exploding barrels. One aspect of the game that disappointed critics was the Red Steel's sword-fighting action. If you're expecting your sword to move in sync with your controller, you'll be sorely disappointed. The swordfights feel totally staged, and the controls are very much "by the numbers", as you methodically block weak attacks, dodge strong ones, and quickly counter to strike your opponent. It's not nearly as natural as the gunplay, but still challenging and intense (although somewhat cheap in later stages). Even the gun aiming controls tend to suffer in advanced stages when the action gets hectic. Red Steel is forgiving though, with a Halo-style health meter that fully recharges if you can remain out of harm's way for a few seconds. Despite what the title would insinuate, there is no blood in this game. The graphics are decided low-resolution compared to other recent first-person shooters, but I still enjoyed the Japanese settings and attention to detail. Yes, there are boring locations like factories and warehouses, but also imaginative areas like dance clubs, massage parlors, a working car wash, and a fun house. I really enjoyed riding the conveyer belts during factory shootouts. Red Steel's musical score is terrific, and I love how it picks up the tempo during critical confrontations. Topping it all off is a nice four-player split-screen mode. Red Steel may not have lived up to its lofty expectations, but judging it for what it is, I'd have to say that it's a lot of fun. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Red Steel 2
Grade: D
Publisher: Ubisoft (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/9/22
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThe original Red Steel was a wild ride, but the fun was limited by clumsy swordplay and an unforgiving save system. This sequel ditches the Asian metropolis for an Asian wild-west theme. Unfortunately I'm not a big fan of the western motif with its dusty scenery, twangy music, and tired cliches. Red Steel 2 reminded me of another substandard title: Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath (Xbox, 2006). In this one you are a ninja armed with guns and swords defending your clan against gangs of bandits. At first glance it looks like traditional cowboy fare, but Red Steel 2 blends in all sorts of modern contraptions like trucks, vending machines, and even flying robotic drones. The visual style is less realistic than the first game, with more of a cell-shaded look. There's no shortage of violence but instead of blood there's splattering yellow liquid. Combat is a combination of first-person shooting and motion-controlled swordplay. The sword controls are much tighter than the first game, but I still found myself flailing my arms in the heat of battle. It's tiresome. You're encouraged to make large, sweeping arm movements which makes it very easy to knock over your drink. Expletive! A cute actress demonstrates each new move in actual video clips - something rarely seen in modern games. There are some interesting special maneuvers like the ability to send an enemy into the air by swinging upward. The moves are introduced slowly but it's hard to remember them after a while, and there's no handy reference sheet to fall back on. Red Steel 2 is heavy on the treasure hunting, allowing you to break most barrels, boxes, and bottles to reveal coins and bonus items. While fun at first, these breakable objects are too common and eventually you get tired of bashing them. A map in the upper right keeps you headed towards your objective, and that's good because the scenery always looks the same. Connecting locations are elevators and electronic doors, and these do a lousy job of disguising the frequent load times. Even more annoying is the game's save system. The auto-save icon is poorly designed (a gray box with an arrow) and sometimes it flashes too quickly for you to notice. What's so objectionable about displaying the words "saving progress" on the screen? Other confusing icons are flashed with alarming regularity. Red Steel 2 is more polished than the first game but I found its ninjas-meets-cowboys theme less than appealing. The original game was chock full of surprises, but I grew weary of this one's repetitive, cookie-cutter missions and level lay-outs. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/10/7
Rating: Mature (17+) blood and gore, intense violence, language

screenshotOriginally released for the GameCube in 2004, Resident Evil 4 (RE4) was universally acclaimed and is widely regarded as the greatest survival horror game ever conceived. Set in an isolated European countryside, this imaginative adventure oozes with atmosphere and tosses out surprises at every turn. The game begins in a dilapidated house in a wooded area, calling to mind films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blair Witch Project. Later you'll explore an old church in a graveyard, engage in a shootout on ski lift, ride a high-speed mine-cart, and have a boat encounter reminiscent of the film Jaws. RE4's pacing and difficulty are dead-on, with frequent checkpoints and strategically-placed typewriters to save your progress. Its controls are a compromise between a first-person and third-person shooting perspective, offering an "over the shoulder" view. Except for a few minor bonus missions, this Wii edition is almost an carbon copy of the GameCube version, with no perceivable graphical or audio upgrades. The only difference is the Wii's motion controls, which have been grafted onto the game in a rather clumsy manner. Especially after experiencing the comfortable controls of Metroid Prime 3, I found RE4's to be awkward and remarkably non-intuitive! Being able to aim directly at the screen is nice, but everything else takes time to grasp. To look around, you hold in the B button on Wii-mote while moving the joystick on the nun-chuck, and I often found myself staring at the sky as some madman was slicing into my flesh. While aiming, the camera "zooms in" a bit, effectively obstructing the left side of the screen with your character's head. Even navigating the map and item screens feels clumsy. I guess Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition serves its purpose as a port of the classic game, but I would hardly regard this as an upgrade. Those who never played the original can bump up the grade by a letter, but those who experienced the GameCube version will find themselves wondering what the point of this is (to make more money, silly rabbit!). © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
Grade: D+
Publisher: Capcom (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/2/1
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotIt's amazing how Capcom managed to botch this up. Umbrella Chronicles is basically a light-gun shooter that takes you on a whirlwind tour of older Resident Evil (RE) games beginning from RE0 and leading up to RE4. Consequentially, the game reuses a lot of the code from the GameCube RE remakes. Your character moves automatically as you blast the hell out of zombies, dogs, apes, and other converging creatures. Weapons, ammo, and grenades are scattered about, and can often be revealed by blasting scenery. The crosshair controls are quite responsive, providing excellent aim with minimal lag. You can shake your Wii-mote to repel zombies or wield a knife. At first glance, Umbrella Chronicles seems like a dream come true for Resident Evil fans, with its straightforward gameplay, precision controls, and rich visuals. But the game is not as fun as you would expect, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the first chapter (based on Resident Evil 0) is infested with leaping slugs, whose only purpose seems to be to aggravate the hell out of you. Countless in number and continually cluttering up the screen, these things alone should cost the game a letter grade. Next, monsters can absorb an inordinate number of shots. Even the weakest zombies will keep coming after taking several shots to the face at point-blank range! Don't even get me started about the bosses, who consume bullets like they're Doritos. At one point the game told me to shoot some shapeless boss in the mouth, and I couldn't even tell where its [expletive] mouth was! Unlike Sega's House of the Dead games which offer fast, arcade-style carnage, Chronicles tends to be slow going, and the action is constantly interrupted by load screens, dull cut-scenes, and checkpoints. Dying often forces you to repeat a large chunk of the game. Even the two-player simultaneous mode is lousy. I like the idea of both players sharing a health meter, but it's really easy to get those crosshairs mixed up considering they're both glowing red half of the time! The Umbrella Chronicles should have been a joyride of a game, but it didn't take long for me to grow weary of this. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Rhythm Heaven Fever
Grade: D-
Publisher: Nintendo (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/6/15
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

screenshotRhythm Heaven Fever is a musical game is its simplest purest form. Using one controller, you simply push A and/or B to the rhythm of the activity on the screen. For example, monkeys toss you golf balls and pressing A lets you hit them onto an island in the distance. In another stage you hop up and down on a see saw. In another you screw heads onto toy robots. Your timing needs to be perfect, but it's much easier when you get into the rhythm of the catchy beat. In fact, you could probably play without even looking at the screen. Rhythm Heaven Fever is a unique concept with some charming cartoon visuals. I appreciate the concept, but it's not particularly fun. The tutorials feel long, and it takes a while to get the hang of each challenge. When you get off beat, the game becomes frustrating. Even when you get into a groove, the game is only moderately entertaining. The best aspect of Rhythm Heaven is its cute, comical graphics. The characters (especially the monkeys) look hilarious, and there are a lot of subtle animations. In the stage where you kick footballs for example, and you can see tiny players leaping for them in the distance. Unfortunately Rhythm Heavy Fever's good intentions aren't enough. Rhythm games need to hit a certain "sweet spot", and this isn't it. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Rubik's World
Grade: C
Publisher: Game Factory (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/12/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis game is easy to overlook thanks to a generic cover that screams "Hey look - I'm a tedious puzzle game!" Loosely based on the popular puzzle cube of the 1980's, Rubik's World takes a "throw everything against the wall and hope something sticks" approach. There are eight brain-teasing game variations, but it's the addictive "Deconstruct" mode that makes this package worthwhile. In this block-tossing game you and friends take turns knocking down piles of blocks for points, and if you think that sounds a lot like Boom Blox (Wii, 2008), well, you're right! The main difference is that you just press a button to throw instead of making a throwing motion. I was really hooked on this for a while, although my friends noted how it's sometimes hard to see where you're aiming. Another interesting variation is "Guide", which calls to mind ChuChu Rocket! (Dreamcast, 2000). In this one you place directional tiles on a platform in order to direct rolling cubes toward an exit. The "Switch" and "Fit" variations let you swap and reposition blocks to solve puzzles, but I found these to be only mildly amusing. The "View" variation is downright tedious as you try to create a stack that looks different from various angles. "Create" and "Compose" let you build stuff or create music, but I really didn't see the point of either one. It goes without saying that there's a Rubik's Cube mode that lets you manipulate a 3D cube in a futile attempt to make all of its sides a solid color. The motion controls work fine, but if you really want to tackle this monumental challenge, you may want to just break down and buy a real Rubik's Cube. Rubik's World features realistic physics, intuitive controls, soothing synthesized music, and a clean user interface. Each variation offers a series of progressively difficult levels, beginning with "starter" levels that help you get the basics down. Rubik's World isn't a standout title by any means, but if you're a gamer looking for a cerebral challenge, you may want to bump the grade up by a letter. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 



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