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Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 1
Grade: A-
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Reviewed: 2010/8/9
Rating: Teen

screenshotThis is one of the finest classic game collections you'll ever find, packing 22 arcade titles of considerable quality. I already owned the PS2 version, but this 480p edition works better on my plasma TV. These games have held up extremely well over time, and even in high definition the artistry of their 2D graphics really comes across. There's a nice cross-section of styles too. 1942, 1943, and 1943 Kai are solid vertical shooters where you pilot WWII-era bombers over hostile waters. Bionic Commando is a challenging platform shooter where you traverse ledges via an extensible arm. Commando and Mercs are excellent Rambo-style top-down shooters. Three versions of Street Fighter 2 are included: the original, Championship Edition, and Hyper Fighting. Other old favorites include Ghosts and Goblins, Ghouls and Ghosts, and even Super Ghouls and Ghosts (SNES version). Forgotten Worlds is a spectacular side-scrolling shooter set in a post-apocalyptic world, and it's cool how you can rotate your character to fire at any angle. I think my favorite game on this disk would have to be Final Fight, which is considerably better than the SNES version. This compilation does contain a few clunkers (Vulgas and Exed Exes come to mind), but overall it's a terrific value. The bulk of the titles have a two-player option, and a surprising number are cooperative. Each game is configurable, but only to a limited extent. High scores are saved and there's a rapid-fire option, but there's no "easy" difficulty and you can't adjust the continues (which are unlimited). Even so, Capcom Classics Volume 1 is required playing for classic gamers, especially if you own an arcade stick for your Xbox. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 3 players 


Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2
Grade: A
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Reviewed: 2010/8/9
Rating: Teen

screenshotThis collection of old arcade titles is both fun to play and fascinating from a historical perspective. Capcom Classics Collection 2 delivers a generous portion of side-scrolling brawlers, and fortunately I'm into that kind of thing. Captain Commando adds a futuristic spin to the Final Fight formula, and up to four players can join the fray. King of Dragon is a superb D&D action-adventure where you battle mythical creatures on medieval countrysides, and Knights of the Round offers similar button-mashing fun. Magic Sword limits the action to a single plane, resulting in a faster, more frantic style of play. Strider is a classic hack-n-slash romp set in Russia, starring a character that can climb walls and hang from any ledge. In Black Tiger you're a barbarian slashing through caves while contending with cheap traps and awkward jump controls. Tiger Road is set in feudal China but its gameplay is pretty rough. Mega Twins is a cute platformer, and Avengers is a vertically scrolling fighter with an awkward overhead view. For shooter fans, 1941 Counter Attack and Varth both deliver potent vertical-scrolling action with rich graphics and substantial firepower. Last Duel is a futuristic shooter where you glide over a track lined with cannons and other hazards. Side Arms and Eco Fighter offer side-scrolling shooting, with Eco adopting a socially conscious theme. Street Fighter fans will be intrigued to find the original Street Fighter along with Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Three Wonders offers three whimsical games in one (platform, shooter, puzzle), and they are all surprisingly good! Block Block is a moderately enjoyable take on the Breakout formula, and Quiz and Dragons effectively combines elements of D&D with Trivial Pursuit. Speed Rumbler lets you freely drive a car around town and shoot other cars via an overhead view. Each title is fully customizable, and you can even turn off the continues! High scores are automatically saved and there are even some nice bonus features. Offering a metric ton of gaming on a single disk, Capcom Classic Vol. 2 is hard to resist. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


Capcom Vs. SNK 2 EO
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
Reviewed: 2014/6/8
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)


screenshotI love 2D Capcom fighters but have mixed feelings toward this one. Capcom Vs. SNK 2 EO is an awkward marriage of 2D sprites and 3D polygons. It's also an example of how bloated franchises become after several iterations. EO's spectacular intro sequence and slick, tiled menu screens will draw in gamers like a moth to a flame. Besides the standard 3-on-3 battle, a "ratio system" lets you give one fighter the edge. It's one of many truly unnecessary features shoehorned into the game. The default control scheme is called "EO-ism", and it simplifies the control scheme down to a single button. Again, nobody asked for this! There are six "groove" systems to select from, which vary the super moves, custom combos, and defensive techniques in subtle ways. Even fans of the genre will admit this is overkill. The 44-character roster (!) is packed with familiar faces from King of Fighters and Street Fighter, along with a few outliers like Morrigan of Darkstalkers (Playstation, 1997) fame. The graphic style in the actual game is off-putting. The juxtaposition of the smooth polygon backgrounds and rough pixelated characters is jarring. It looks like they belong in different games. The stages are surprisingly ugly and uninteresting, but a few do stand out. The London street corner looks inviting, and it's fun to watch trucks fly off sand dunes in Nairobi. In the glacier stage a massive cruise ship approaches and deploys a bridge so tourists can cross onto the ice. So, is the game fun? Well, yeah, actually it is! I enjoyed playing as the big wrestler Raiden with his bull-rush attack and nasty green breath. It's easy to pull off special moves and the length of the matches is just right. The point system is confusing but it's satisfying to rank in with a high score. The announcer is super annoying with his lame attempts to sound hip ("Keep rockin', baby!"). There are some terrific dance grooves in this game, but I'm not sure they're all that appropriate. It's a flawed experience overall, yet Capcom Vs. SNK 2 EO manages to be a good time in spite of itself. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Carve
Grade: C-
Publisher: GS Software (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/7/16
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs a jet ski racing fan, I'm surprised Carve never crossed my radar until I spotted it in an FYE bargain bin. Sadly, the game reeks of mediocrity. The scenery is attractive but lacks the "wow" factor of games like Hydro Thunder. Locations include city canals, shipwrecks, icy waters, and best of all - tropical resorts. The "lost jungle" is incredibly lame, but the moon-lit night tracks are quite appealing. Carve also features impressive weather effects including rain drops that form little circles on the undulating waves. You view your jet skier from behind, which would be ideal if not for the constant beading of water on the camera lens (from spraying water). I'm sure some programmer was really proud of that effect, but it makes it hard to see! Another eyesore are the oversized "targeting icons" on each buoy which indicate if you need to pass on the right or left. Yes, they keep you headed in the right direction, but man, those big ugly things really clutter up the screen! Carve also suffers from an overemphasis on tricks. Does every game need to be like Tony Hawk? There are more than a dozen tricks ranging from barrel rolls to handstands to submarines. Doing tricks results in speed bursts, but screwing one up can ruin your entire run! Worse yet, sometimes a speed burst will send you plowing directly into a wall! I'd prefer to avoid the tricks altogether, but you're forced to master them if you hope to win the advanced tournaments and unlock everything. A two-player split-screen mode is available, but it just magnifies these issues. The alternative soundtrack is fair, except for one tune that sounds like it's whispering "you're stupid" over and over again. Not exactly the confidence booster I was looking for! Carve isn't a bad game but let's face it - there's far better jet-ski action to be had. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Grade: D+
Publisher: Konami (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/17
Rating: Mature (blood and violence)

screenshotIt's like beating a dead horse to say Castlevania has never been very good in 3D. Still, Konami keeps plugging away, hoping one day they'll make a 3D version that comes close to capturing the magic of the popular 2D titles. With Curse of Darkness, you have to wonder how hard they're trying. Darkness basically mimics the lackluster gameplay of Castlevania Lament of Innocence (Playstation 2, 2003), but incorporates more "stuff". The melodramatic, overwrought introduction reveals that upon his death three years before, Dracula unleashed a terrible curse upon the land. You just can't win with this guy! I wasn't too impressed by the androgynous characters and embarrassing prose sprinkled with pretentious words like "thence". The game takes itself far too seriously, with verbose, drawn-out cut-scenes that bored me to tears. The equally uninspired gameplay consists of running down long halls while hacking at monsters that materialize out of thin air. The hallways and rooms tend to be wide-open, probably in an effort to ease camera issues. The camera control could be better, but it's about average for this type of game. Harder to justify is how you can't see very far into the distance - it's like every hallway is shrouded in fog! The gothic scenery is elegant enough, but each section of the castle has a bunch of rooms that look exactly the same, making it easy to get disoriented. Gaudy arrows attempt to keep you moving in the right direction, but their 3D, rotating appearance makes them tough to discern at certain angles. You almost wish they had just labeled the doors "in" and "out". Minions you'll encounter are standard Castlevania fare, including werewolves, skeletons, ghosts, cyclops, and mermen. They look good, but I hate how they spawn arbitrarily, and then respawn when you return to old areas. The controls are crisp and responsive, allowing you to strike down multiple enemies with ease. One notable new feature is your "fairy" sidekick who "evolves" throughout the game. Castlevania's lush orchestrated musical score is well done, but even that gets old after a whole. Curse of Darkness is a step up from Lament, but it's still generic and uninspired. The Castlevania formula just doesn't "work" well in 3D. If you're looking for some real occult fun, try the Devil May Cry series instead. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Cel Damage
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
Reviewed: 2001/12/6
Rating: Teen (Comic michief, violence)

screenshotThis vehicle combat game uses the trendy new "cell shaded" polygon graphics, which look like 3D versions of those old Warner Bros cartoons. I have to be honest: the animation is truly amazing to behold. It's a nice change of pace for those who cut their teeth on Twisted Metal. The music and sound effects are also interesting. It's hard for me to determine why this game doesn't work as well as it should. I think the bottom line is that it's just too chaotic. Despite the excellent framerate and zany animations, it's really hard to tell what the heck's going on in the heat of battle. The battlefield can get pretty muddled, especially in the split screen mode. There are no damage meters - one solid hit blows you up. As a result, you are constantly being destroyed, often before you can even get your bearings. Short-range weapons like the axe, hammer, buzz saw, baseball bat, chainsaw, and boxing gloves are great fun, but long-range weapons are a drag. Cheap hits from mortars and crossbows come from out of nowhere. And with vehicles whizzing all over the place, it's really impossible to aim from any kind of distance. Just head towards a group of vehicles and start firing away. Cel Damage is hard, but I was able to unlock a lot of goodies when playing the four-player split screen mode. Although the game looks better in the single-player mode, it plays better on the split screen. Go figure! I do like the "smack" point system, which earns you points based on how much damage you do. Cel Damage is not a great game, but it shows some potential. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


Circus Maximus
Grade: B+
Publisher: Encore (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/3/13
Rating: Teen

screenshotA CHARIOT RACING game for the Xbox? That's right, but what's even more surprising is just how GOOD this thing is. Circus Maximus is a brilliantly executed racing/combat game with innovative controls, and high-quality production values. The object is not only to race other chariot teams, but to beat them down as well. Each chariot contains two warriors: a driver upfront and a weapon-wielding combatant in the back. An ingenious control scheme gives you complete control of your vehicle while unleashing deadly attacks against your foes. There are a lot of buttons involved, but the controls are fairly intuitive. For example, the triggers pull the reins, and pulling on both slows you down. Although each warrior has four vicious attacks, there's really not much blood. Fighting is fun, but running other chariots over cliffs or into walls is just as satisfying. The nasty spills look fantastic! Another interesting feature is the fact that your chariot can tip over when riding around tight corners or over rough terrain. You sometimes need to lean your warrior to one side in order to maintain balance. The races seem to be kept artificially close, but this helps maintain the level of excitement. The tracks range from beautiful medieval countrysides to Roman Coliseums, complete with shortcuts, power-ups, and hidden areas. Locations like Greece, Rome, Britain, and Cyprus provide ancient landscapes full of statues, temples, and castles. While the scenery is somewhat lacking in detail, it is never boring. The audio is incredible, with amazing voice samples, subtle natural sounds, and dramatic music that always kicks in at the right time. The sound effects of the horses and wooden wheels really got my attention. The single-player mode lets you earn "dineri" currency by competing in a series of races. The more you earn, the more characters and tracks you open. I especially like how you can watch your dineri rack up as you compete. The four-player mode is especially fun because one player can drive while the other battles it out. Too bad there are no computer opponents in the split-screen mode. Circus Maximus is a triumph of originality, stunning visuals, and fun arcade gameplay. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


Crash Bandicoot Wrath of Cortex
Grade: C+
Publisher: Universal (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/4/26
Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

screenshotGiven a slick XBox makeover, Wrath of Cortex is definitely a step up from the PS2 original. The graphics have been totally redone and look significantly more polished and slightly more detailed than the PS2 version. You'll even notice some fuzzy fur on Crash during close shots. Best of all, the horrendous loading times are gone - the Xbox only needs a few seconds to load each stage. The gameplay however has remained unchanged, which means you'll still need to deal with lousy jumping controls and unforgiving collision detection. It's especially bad when you're trying to jump on a slow-moving animal (which you could have just as easily run around) but find yourself continually getting turned into a ghost. And the jump and spin gameplay is really starting to get stale. Fortunately there some outstanding driving/flying stages that come to the rescue and provide some much needed variety. The best of these special stages has Crash in a ball (a la Super Monkey Ball) rolling down ramps and through bamboo gutters. This wild ride is nearly worth the price of admission, and the mine cart stage is also very exciting. Too bad the regular stages are so lackluster, or this could have been the definitive Bandicoot game. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Crash Nitro Kart
Grade: D+
Publisher: Universal (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNitro retains the same basic gameplay as its popular predecessor Crash Team Racing (CTR) on the Playstation, but what happened to all the fun?! Like the last Crash offering, Wrath of Cortex, new developers have managed to capture the look of the original game but failed to replicate the exciting, addictive action. The graphics look nice, but the new "features" stink, and the racing is incomprehensibly slow and laborious. There are really no innovations over the original CTR, and some of the tracks look almost exactly the same! The first few courses take their cue from the inviting jungle environments of the classic Crash Games, but some of the later tracks go off the deep end and will have you wondering which way is up. The control scheme is somewhat awkward, using the X button to accelerate and the O button to use items. The problem is, you never want to let off the accelerator. You need all the speed you can get, because the karts move incredibly SLOW. My thumb was aching from mashing the acceleration button, trying to achieve some degree of velocity. Even with the generous number of speed boosts, there's no sensation of speed, and in some areas you feel like you're crawling along. There are some new "moves", but none that enhance the lackluster gameplay. One new (and unwanted) feature lets you gain power boosts by timing your power slides just right. Nitro also integrates a new "team" aspect, although there's really no cooperation between characters. Instead, the racers are separated into "good" and "bad" guys, and when your team meter is full, racers on "your side" get unlimited items for a few seconds. That's not as great as it sounds because most items are lame mine-type weapons that you just lay behind you. There's only one missile weapon, which is pretty ineffective, and the shields do little more than inhibit your view! Another problem is the "portal" areas used to choose your next race in the single-player mode. These areas are large and confusing, and it's a serious pain to locate the next unlocked course. And don't forget to save regularly, because Nitro does NOT save automatically. Worse yet, your progress and the "unlockables" are saved separately. I was thinking Nitro might be a worthy challenger to Mario Kart Double Dash, but it's not even in the same league. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


Crazy Taxi 3: High Roller
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2010/8/9
Rating: Teen

screenshotCrazy Taxi was a flagship franchise for the Dreamcast, but this third edition landed on the Xbox with a thud. Looking like a hasty port, Crazy Taxi 3 will disappoint longtime fans. The disk contains a new Las Vegas course in addition to the San Francisco and New York locations from the first two games. It's not a bad value if you're new to the series. You play the role of a wacky cabbie shuttling passengers through bustling city streets. Driving like a madman is fun, especially when there are hidden shortcuts, strategically placed ramps, and outdoor cafes to plow through. Crazy Taxi is known for its pick-up-and-play arcade style, but it loses a bit of its mojo on the Xbox. The visuals don't look as sharp or vibrant, and scenery like the San Francisco harbor looks less detailed. The new Vegas track is pretty lame with its generic layout and sparse crowds. The desert campground area is just plain boring. The frame-rate is surprisingly erratic and the load times are excessive. An increased difficulty means it's much harder to deliver groups of passengers on time. The Elvis-inspired soundtrack is mediocre, and the music volume is so loud you can't even hear what your passengers are raving about. After bowing out of the hardware business in 2001 Sega seemed to go into an unproductive malaise, resulting in titles like this. Instead of marking the rebirth of the series, Crazy Taxi 3 was the swan song. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Crimson Skies
Grade: A
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/1/28
Rating: Teen (Suggestive themes, Violence)

screenshotMicrosoft has come through with another high-quality title with gorgeous visuals, easy controls, and an arcade sensibility. Taking place in a retro-futuristic world where blimps and planes rule, Crimson Skies is basically a series of dogfights loosely held together by a storyline. You view the action from just behind your plane, and unlike most flying games, the controls are wonderfully easy to grasp. You'll collect new planes as you progress, and they are all innovatively designed and outfitted with unique weapons. In addition to flying planes, you'll also have many opportunities to man mounted cannons. This is an absolute blast! The cannons have a remarkable zoom function, and in a nice bit of realism, you'll need to "lead your shots" to hit long-range targets. The attractive graphics feature beautiful scenery, gigantic blimps, and satisfying explosions. The rippling water effects look magnificent, and the skies are swept with beautiful color. Thunderstorms make nice backdrops in some stages, and watching those huge blimps crash and burn is quite a sight. In order to maximize the fun, a lot of realism was sacrificed in Crimson Skies. You only take minimal damage from bumping into things, and your plane still handles quite well even when badly damaged. Landing is usually a challenge in games like this, but here it's almost automatic - you just approach a landing strip and press X. Your enemies are always easy to see thanks to some red brackets, and shooting them down never gets old. When you die, the game picks up right near where you left off. Crimson Skies is easy to play and loaded with personality and subtle humor. Even the graphic quality of the computer-generated scenes is amazing, particularly the facial expressions. There's even a kick-ass split-screen multiplayer mode thrown in for good measure. There's not much bad you can say about Crimson Skies, and it's madly addictive to boot. I don't think I will ever stop playing this game. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 4 players 


Dark Summit
Grade: F
Publisher: THQ (2001)
Reviewed: 2011/2/4
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, bad language)

screenshotThis misguided title takes the carefree sport of snowboarding and saddles it with paranoid undertones and espionage themes. You'll see references to undercover operatives, shadow organizations, and military conspiracies. Are we bored yet? (Yeah!) The premise of this game makes the "new Coke" look like a good idea by comparison. You play a lanky red-haired chick in disjointed missions that have you snowboarding through a combination ski resort/toxic waste dump. There are oozing green pits to jump over, fallen towers to grind, and exploding mines to avoid along the narrow, closed-in trails. The graphics aren't bad but the track designs are unappealing with their piles of rusty junk, mud bogs, and train tracks to get stuck on. Performing mid-air acrobatics is an exercise in button mashing, and your character doesn't immediately respond to your commands (hello face plant!). Grinding is especially unsatisfying because it's simplistic (hold X) and there are no audio effects to go along with it. The courses contain branching paths that let you explore new areas, but they tend to be monotonous and too long. Completing the mini-missions to make progress is an absolute chore. The challenges are described by cryptic text, so figuring out what you need to do is half the battle. Typically you're asked to perform a series of tricks, but sometimes you'll need to do odd tasks like knock a turkey off a picnic table. I'm not sure what the designers were smoking, but someone at THQ should have had their head examined for giving this dud the green light. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Darkwatch
Grade: B
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/3/12
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes)

screenshotAlthough Darkwatch boasts a western theme, this first-person shooter appealed to me more for its winter scenery and occult content. You play the part of Jericho, an outlaw who's slowly becoming a vampire after being attacked by a bloodsucker during a train robbery. Your goal is to hunt down the head vampire Lazarus, but first you'll need to blast hundreds of his skeletal minions back to hell. Darkwatch's graphics look terrific, especially in high definition. The action is fast and fluid, and the degree of detail in the scenery is commendable. One of the early stages takes place in a graveyard outside of a church, and it looks magnificent under the eerie moonlight. As you journey through trains, graveyards, mineshafts, and snow-covered forts, you'll blast rampaging skeletal warriors, undead cowboy sharpshooters, and levitating barmaids with glowing red eyes and hoop skirts. These chicks look especially creepy as they swoop down from above and unleash bloodcurdling screams. Darkwatch is brimming with style, which compensates for its by-the-numbers gameplay. The weapon selection is pretty standard, but at least the crossbow is unique, firing exploding arrows! I love how the skeletal creeps panic when they realize they have one of these things embedded in their chest. You can blast off the limbs of approaching creatures, and it's especially satisfying to detonate the explosive barrels they like to carry around. Throughout the game you'll toss dynamite, man turrets, and drive a jeep mounted with twin gatling guns. During horseback stages you can turn 360-degrees to attack demonic horsemen. At certain points in the game you're prompted to make a moral decision, and this affects what powers you'll acqure and what enemies you'll face. Another neat feature is your "blood vision", which highlights enemies and items of interest. This is initiated by pushing in the right thumbstick, and I often triggered it accidentally during the more frenetic parts of the game. Darkwatch is generally entertaining, but some stages are better than others. You can get lost in the pitch-black mineshafts, and the aptly named "torture maze" truly lives up to its name. The four-player split screen game is a nice bonus, but for some reason the two-player split screen doesn't include a scanner, and that stinks when you consider how huge these battlefields are. At its core, Darkwatch may be just another first-person shooter, but it has a certain polish and style few can match. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


Dead Or Alive 3
Grade: A-
Publisher: Tecmo (2001)
Reviewed: 2006/7/6
Rating: Teen (mature sexual themes, violence)

screenshotI must confess that I underrated this game the first time around. Dead or Alive 3 is easy to dismiss as pure eye candy, but in retrospect its gameplay is outstanding. This game looks astounding on my high definition television. The character animation is silky smooth, and the fights unfold like well-choreographed martial arts flicks. The controls are precise and success depends on a balanced combination of offensive barrages, defensive maneuvers, and pure luck. Juggling moves are the order of the day, allowing you to deliver several extra licks after tossing your opponent into the air. It's a bit shallow, but fun as long as you're not on the receiving end. Despite the rich visuals, the game has practically zero load times. Each character sports a distinctive fighting style, and while most are male, it's the beautiful females that steal the show (they kick high). Perhaps even more eye-catching than the babes are the scenic, multi-tiered stages. These locations are so phenomenal that you'll want to pause just to look around. Many feature uneven terrain, along with surfaces covered with water puddles, ice, or powdery snow. You'll battle in lush autumn woods, a sunny tropical beach, a high-tech aquarium, and a snow-encrusted forest. The skyline in the glass building stage is absolutely stunning. Interactive environments allow you to pin your opponent against a wall or tree, or toss them through walls and windows. When a fighter is thrown off an elevated platform, the other character leaps down to rejoin the battle, and it's as exhilarating as it is ridiculous. The slick user interface offers options galore, including story, tag-team, and practice modes. Dead or Alive 3 has long been the premier fighter for the Xbox console, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tecmo (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/4/2
Rating: Mature (Sexual themes, gambling, nudity)

screenshotFor those who find this game's title somewhat perplexing, it's actually an offshoot of the Dead or Alive (DOA) fighting game series featuring some sexy, well-rounded babes. Based on graphics alone, DOA Volleyball deserves an A+. My friends were absolutely mesmerized by the curvaceous ladies in this game, and the opening video alone was enough to make our jaws hit the floor. Yes, DOA Volleyball really plays up the cheesecake angle, with plenty of cut scenes showing the players "warming up" in various positions. Likewise the tropical island scenery is also pleasing to the eye, with sunny beaches, private coves, and lush jungles. The volleyball action seems almost secondary, but it's still pretty good, and DOA Volleyball somehow manages to forgo all the meters we saw in Beach Spikers for the Gamecube. All you see here are the girls in action, and while it's fun to watch, the swinging camera does make it hard to position your players. Still, the fluid animation and realistic physics make up for some of that. The game is fun and easy to play, with only two buttons used. It takes practice to time your hits effectively, and the volleys tend to go on for too long. Outstanding background music features bouncy, catchy pop tunes that fit the beach environment perfectly. But what's the deal with the voices? The players sound like little Japanese girls, and it's annoying. The one-player mode is not what you would expect. It's played in virtual "days", and before you can play volleyball you'll need to win over a partner by buying her an appropriate gift. You earn money for gifts by gambling in the casino at night, which offers several betting games that are fun in their own right. While maintaining relationships, shopping, and receiving gifts is certainly an original concept, it wasn't what I had in mind when I bought the game, and it didn't hold my interest. The two-player mode is better, but for some reason both players can't be on the same team! What's up with that? And where's the four player mode? Are they saving it for a sequel? © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Defender
Grade: D
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/2/17
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotIn recent years, remakes of classic early-80's arcade games have proliferated rapidly. Although their snazzy 3D visuals are a huge step up in terms of graphics, the gameplay usually languishes in mediocrity. Defender is a typical example. While it's great to view, the frenzied, relentless gameplay of the original game is nowhere to be found. The graphics are not at fault. The awesome interplanetary skylines are splashed with color, the explosions are remarkable, and the smooth framerate makes it a pleasure to fly around. You view the action from just behind your ship, just like Rogue Leader (Gamecube). Also like Rogue Leader, your missions usually involve protecting, escorting, or evacuating people. You can also pick up and place cannons strategically to help your cause. It's a shame that Midway took this hackneying "mission" approach instead of trying to use the gameplay of the original Defender. This game isn't very fun. A fundamental flaw is the difficulty in shooting anything - the crosshairs are way too sensitive, and aiming is frustrating. Actually, this new Defender bears little resemblance to the original. Only a fleeting sound effect here and there will remind you that you're playing Defender. I did enjoy the "Historical Perspective" documentary included on this DVD, but a better bonus would have been the inclusion of the original Defender. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Demon Stone
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/1/9
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

screenshotThis game is eerily similar to the Lord of the Rings titles based on the film trilogy. Those games were good, but not great. Since the same developers were responsible for Demon Stone, you can understand why I'm lukewarm on this hack-n-slash dungeon adventure. Demon Stone's opening stage introduces the three main characters: a fighter (strength), rogue (stealth), and a sorcerer (ranged attacks). You toggle between them via the directional pad, and this adds variety to its otherwise conventional gameplay. The trio battle their way through mines, towers, war-torn countrysides, and other locales that look like they were plucked from Lord of the Rings. Heck, even the soundtrack sounds as if it was lifted from the films. Demon Stone's core gameplay involves hacking up demons and goblins while mixing in occasional spells. I normally don't mind button-mashing fighters, but Demon Stone's brand of slicing and dicing is less than satisfying than it should be. There's minimal blood, and the weak sound effects really understate the thrill of slicing through raw flesh. It's almost as if sound effects are missing from the game! The graphics aren't bad, but dark, murky visuals sometimes make it hard to discern what's happening during the chaotic battles. I like how each fighter has his own style, but I find it odd how the rogue needs to walk through blue glowing "glint" in order to become invisible. What is that stuff?? Demon Stone falls victim to many annoying cliches including invisible walls, regenerating monsters, linear structure, and bosses that take forever to kill. It was a nice change of pace however when I was able to control the hulking "shield guardian" knight who swats away orcs like flies. Your game ends abruptly upon any character's demise, but frequent checkpoints ensure you won't have to retrace your steps too far upon continuing. Cut-scenes cannot be skipped however, which is a major no-no in my book. Between levels you save your progress and upgrade your characters. The upgrade screens are pretty involved, and while I was relieved to see an "auto-buy" option, it confused the hell out of me. Demon Stone isn't a bad effort, but if you've played any of the Lord of the Rings games, this one may feel a bit recycled. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Dino Crisis 3
Grade: D
Publisher: Capcom (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/5
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotHaving thoroughly enjoyed the first two Dino Crisis games, I was anxious to "complete the trilogy" of this exciting action/adventure series. Dino Crisis 3 took me a bit by surprise, because it's a radical departure from the first two games. Instead of Jurassic Park-inspired storylines, this takes place in the year 2548 on an abandoned space freighter crawling with genetically mutated dinosaurs. The fresh premise allows for some intriguing possibilities, and the developers took advantage of this to come up with some terrifying creations like you've never seen before. The production values for Dino Crisis 3 are excellent, with smooth, lifelike graphics, and a lavishly orchestrated musical score. The opening cut-scenes are positively jaw dropping, and had me convinced that I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. But despite such a promising start, Dino Crisis 3 turned out to be a confusing mess. Let's start with the horrendous camera scheme that you have absolutely no control over. Not only does it often give you the worst possible angle, but when you move it swings randomly, which is completely disorienting. You can't even see where you're going half the time! Adding to the confusion is the fact that the large, wide-open rooms all tend to look the same. Dinosaurs regenerate constantly, and literally appear out of thin air. Add in a bunch of uninteresting key puzzles and the need to constantly backtrack, and it soon becomes apparent why this game sucks so much. On the bright side, auto-targeting helps you pick off targets, and you can employ floating robots to fight alongside of you. But overall Dino Crisis 3 is a major disappointment, and it's probably not worth your time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Doom 3
Grade: B+
Publisher: Id Software (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/7/3
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)

screenshotI've been anxiously awaiting Doom 3 since it was released for the PC last summer (2004). I even purchased the Xbox "special edition" which contains Doom I and II. If only its tin gray box didn't look so butt ugly. And while I'm on that subject, there's something fishy about the fact that the "extras" are included on the same disk as the game. If they don't require an extra disk, why not let everyone have them? Oh, because then they couldn't charge an extra ten bucks! Anyway, Doom 3's claustrophobically dark environments offer an experience that's like nothing else I've played. You can use a weapon or a flashlight - but not both at the same time. This "feature" has been subject to much controversy, and I still can't decide if it's idiotic or brilliant. Obviously it would be easier to use both at once, but it could be argued that this limitation heightens the tension and encourages a more careful, deliberate approach. The game is set in an industrial complex on Mars where all hell breaks loose - literally - as demons begin spawning from portals. Is the game scary? Hells' yes! When the lights go out suddenly and you hear a loud crash, you can't help but jump out of your seat. Weird noises that emanate from rooms ahead will make you think twice before entering. Besides the hideous monsters, eerie sights include corpses that suddenly levitate and float out of the room. Doom 3's controls are crisp and responsive to the highest degree, and I love how the D-pad is used to quickly switch weapons. The weapons themselves are similar to those in past Dooms (chain gun, shotgun, plasma gun, B.F.G.) but their reload times are considerably longer. Doom 3 offers a few "find the key" and interactive puzzles, but for the most part it's either "kill or be killed". One element I'm not crazy about are the "PDAs" you collect from dead soldiers, containing both emails and voice clips. It's tedious to examine their contents, but sometimes necessary to uncover critical clues like lock combinations. Doom 3's graphics are as good as I've seen in a first-person shooter - even better than Halo 2. I couldn't help but notice some slight pixilation when you're right "up on" the scenery, but the texture mapping and lighting is fantastic. The environments are detailed to an almost photo realistic degree, but there's not much variety. You'll spend most of your time wandering the dark, narrow hallways of industrial facilities with steam pipes and control panels all over the place. The human characters look good but not remarkable, and their pale skin makes them look like zombies even before they're dead. The surround sound is impressive; the crystal clear moans and footsteps build a sense of paranoia (are those footsteps mine?) There's no auto-save feature, but you can initiate a save at any point, and there's even a handy "quick save" button. My biggest disappointment came when I attempted to play the much-ballyhooed two-player cooperative mode with a friend. Sadly, there's no split screen version, so you'll need two copies of the game. Otherwise, I really enjoy playing Doom 3. It may lack the variety and long-time play value of Halo, but you can't question Doom 3's sheer intensity and top-notch production values. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Dragon's Lair 3D
Grade: B-
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/1/30
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotI was a huge fan of the original Dragon's Lair "laser disc" arcade game in the early 80's. Although never any good at it, just watching that awesome animation was enough to keep me riveted. And with Dragon's Lair 3D (DL3D), I can freely explore that world of fascinating castle rooms, mysterious knights, and magical traps. At its best, DL3D does a superb job of capturing the look and feel of the original game. At its worst, it feels like a Tomb Raider knock-off. The graphics are rendered with detailed backgrounds and cell-shaded characters. I was only disappointed with the "death" screen". In the original game, Dirk would gradually decay into a heap of bones, and it looked incredible. The new sequence looks plain and downright cheesy in comparison. The sound effects and music are absolutely first-rate, providing an intense, foreboding ambiance. In the age-old storyline, Dirk needs to save Princess Daphne from an evil Wizard named Mordroc. Have you checked out Daphne? She is a certified hottie! Most of the rooms are short puzzles inspired from the original game, but a few require extensive platform jumping and switch pulling which can border on tedious. While the DL3D gameplay is certainly exciting, it can also be very frustrating. You have to sheath your sword before you grab ledges or ropes. Some of the key switches and escape routes are barely visible, and there are numerous bottomless pits - the bane of my existence. The fighting aspect is clumsy and doesn't require much technique. The camera is a big issue too. The developers leave it to you to position it correctly, so you're constantly swinging it around frantically. You can save at any time, but even if you forget to save and die, the game thankfully restores you close to where you left off. Like most platform games, you acquire new items and abilities as you progress. Dragon's Lair is pretty good. Even with all my complaints I could play for hours on end. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Dungeons and Dragons Heroes
Grade: C
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/1/30
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotAs a teenager my friends and I loved playing the Dungeons and Dragons board game. Actually, come to think about it, we spent more time perusing those awesome hardback books (Monster Manual, Dungeon Masters Guide) than actually playing the game. What made D&D so fascinating was its extreme attention to detail, with literally thousands of meticulously described magic items and hundreds of fully conceived monsters. Dungeons and Dragons Heroes tries to incorporate the richness of the board game, but it plays like a second-rate Baldur's Gate. As you explore caves, castles, and swamps, you'll collect treasure, flip switches, and hack up hordes of monsters. Your ability to perform special moves and throw projectiles like acid flasks adds some much needed variety. Does it get repetitive? Hell yeah! Especially when it takes five minutes to destroy a squid-headed Mind Flayer, and then you walk into the next room and there are five more! Still, the controls include a terrific guard move and I love how you can hack up dozens of creatures at a time with no graphical slowdown. When surrounded, each swing of your sword can strike several enemies, with blood and hit points splattering all over the place. Hero's medieval graphics are superbly crafted, but some of the dungeon scenery can get repetitive. Fortunately, a handy on-screen map will keep you on track. There are some minor annoyances, like the excessive number of "trapped" chest, and how you can pick up a huge pile of gold, only to discover it's just "3 GP". C'mon! The sound effects are outstanding, particularly if you have surround sound. I only wish the characters spoke with English accents - American accents sound odd in a game like this. Dungeons and Dragons Heroes has only one major flaw, but it's a killer. The camera control is left completely to the player! And while the right joystick makes it easy to swing and zoom the camera, the fact that you have to wrestle with it constantly is deplorable. Making adjustments while exploring is one thing, but when you're battling a half-dozen trolls and inadvertently move behind a wall, there's no time to mess with the camera angle. The disk states that the game is "best played together", but I beg to differ. With multiple characters, the camera pulls far back, making it hard to see what's going on in the dark scenery. If not for the camera issues, this might have been a winner, but as it is, Heroes falls into the average category. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


ESPN NFL 2K5
Grade: A+
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/12/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotBefore the "dark times" of EA's sordid monopoly, Sega produced some amazing football games. NFL 2K5 is quite possibly the best football title ever produced, and certainly the most ambitious. Each contest begins with a fully rendered Chris Berman at the anchor desk introducing the upcoming match-up. You're also treated to camera shots of enthusiastic fans filing into the stadium. NFL 2K games have always boasted cutting-edge graphics, but 2K5 raised the bar even further with players that remove their helmets and jaw-dropping television graphics. Even the cheerleaders were given a makeover. 2K5's gameplay is rock solid, offering balanced passing and running attacks. The controls are responsive and the action moves at a brisk pace. It's a little heavy on the turnovers by default, but you can dial that down via the sliders on the option screens. The playbooks are loaded with fun gadget plays including flea-flickers, halfback passes, and fake reverses. One small issue is how on defense it can be a little hard to pick out the blitz plays. Brief cut-scenes show coaches ranting on the sidelines, chain measurements, and dejected fans. The commentators are very spirited and often joke around with each other. I can't say enough good things about the replay system, which puts all the others to shame. Not only are its controls intuitive, but the analog triggers let you adjust the speed of playback with pinpoint precision. The coach's challenge system is terrific as well, with close calls correctly handled "from the booth" when less than two minutes remain. The half-time and post-game highlight shows are accurate and entertaining. Chris Berman provides a comprehensive recap of all the big plays while referring to players by their comical nicknames. These highlights are animated footage - not still images! I also love how the "ticker" at the bottom of the screen displays various game statistics. And just when you thought things couldn't get any better, at the end of each game a fully-rendered Suzy Kolber interviews the star player on the field! Sega pulled out all the stops with 2K5, and priced it at a mere $20 - undercutting Madden by $30. Once Electronic Arts realized they couldn't compete fairly, they contrived an exclusivity deal with the NFL that effectively put the 2K franchise out of business. It was a slap in the face for football fans, because NFL 2K5 is better than anything EA has ever done - and probably ever will do. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


ESPN NFL Football 2K4
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2010/12/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs the second NFL 2K game to appear on the Xbox console, this edition does a far better job of harnessing the power of its hardware. Although it retains the trademark arcade style, NFL 2K4's visuals have been given a dramatic overhaul. The players look far more realistic, having shed the "angular" look of their Dreamcast days. The stadiums now boast dramatic shadowing effects, and while the light fixture shadows look cool, they're a little too dark for my taste. Before each game Chris Berman lends his voice to an exciting preview, and later in a flashy half-time show. 2K4 is more offensive-minded than its predecessor. It's much easier to complete a pass, but also easier to have passes picked off. Running backs "get skinny" while trying to squeeze through the line, making it possible to bust a big run. It's hard to bring down a runner in the open field, resulting in a lot of big-yardage plays. The game incorporates some nifty true-to-life animations, such as players helping their teammates up from the turf. The cheerleaders are a nice addition, but they look like a bunch of string beans dancing around. The play selection screens are more Madden-like in 2K4, meaning the diagrams are larger and easier to read. Unfortunately it's not readily evident how deep some of the routes extend. The coach's challenge system is extremely well executed, giving the player a specific list of items to challenge, such as "spot of the ball" and "not a fumble". The commentators are very funny at times, especially when they mention how a tackler "buffed and polished" my clock. They can also be brutally honest, which was the case when they mentioned "The Ravens' best drive in the first half was a three-and-out!" The only thing that annoys me about the commentators is how they consistently mispronounce player names including Troy Polamalu, Dave Zastudil, and Adam Vinatieri. An interesting bonus is a "first person" mode that puts you in the helmet of the players on the field. It's really a whole separate game with its own set of controls. I found it extremely difficult to play, partly because it's hard to locate the football in the air (it gets lost in the lights). The only thing that really stands out is the first-person kicking, which is pretty amazing. As a whole, ESPN 2K4 is a potent combination of realism and arcade fun. Play this and see how good football games can be when there's competition in the football game market. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


ESPN Winter Games Snowboarding 2002
Grade: D
Publisher: Konami (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/6/7
Rating: Teen


screenshotCould Konami come up with the longer, more unimaginative name? ESPN Winter Games Snowboarding 2002 really doesn't have much to offer, but for only $9.99 (at Best Buy), I couldn't resist. The truth is, snowboarding games are a dime a dozen, and there's nothing here to make this one stand out. This game needs an edge, badly. The graphics are average and the control scheme is borrowed almost completely from SSX (PS2). The game fails to convey much sense of speed or excitement. The grinds are done on roller coaster-like rails, but the fact that you don't need to maintain your balance (just hold a button) greatly reduces the challenge. The graphics are smoothly animated but plain, and your large snowboarder often blocks your view of upcoming ramps and obstacles. A career mode lets you create, outfit, and live a day-by-day schedule as a snowboarder. Unfortunately, the many layers of menus become tedious to wade through after a while. The rock soundtrack features some big names like Offspring and 311. For novice snowboarders this game will suffice, but veteran gamers will want more. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Egg Mania: Eggstreme
Grade: C-
Publisher: Kemco (2002)
Reviewed: 2012/1/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor those who can't get enough puzzle action, Egg Mania is an interesting take on the classic Tetris formula. This shape-stacking game is played on a split-screen against the CPU or a friend. Despite what the title might imply, you're not stacking eggs. No, these are standard Tetris-shaped blocks. The difference is that you control an egg-shaped character who catches the blocks and slams them into place. The ability to hold each block buys you some extra time so you can thoughtfully position them and fill in the gaps. Unlike Tetris your ultimate goal is to build a tower high enough to reach a hot air balloon hovering above. The integrity of your structure is a factor because it will collapse if it becomes too rickety. Special items appear which either aid your building efforts or let you sabotage your opponent. It's fun to lob a bomb over to the other side as that poor slob attempts to jump out of the way. Adding further chaos are bees and dragons that occasionally fly in and attack. Frankly, there's a far too much stuff happening in this game. Egg Mania is far more complicated than it needs to be, which becomes clear if you attempt the tutorial which just goes on and on until you finally quit out of the damned thing. There are some interesting ideas here, but Egg Mania tries to do too much. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


Enter the Matrix
Grade: B-
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/7/24
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotSo this is the game so many critics and gamers have been complaining about? This is the same game that's been written off in newsgroups as a bug-ridden, poorly designed waste of a license? Well, I hate the ruin the party, but I actually like Enter the Matrix! Not only is its gameplay fast and exciting, but it captures the essence of the films perfectly. You assume the role of one of two characters: a black woman named Niobi or an Asian guy named Ghost. Most missions involve sneaking around buildings, shooting it out with police, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The left trigger kicks in the "focus" mode (the equivalent of "bullet time" in Max Payne), slowing everything down so you can perform incredible stunts like dodging bullets. Performing hand-to-hand combat in focus mode is even more remarkable. The fluid manner in which Niobi grabs, disarms, and flips a cop in one smooth motion is a sight to behold. It really isn't hard to pull off some mind-blowing attacks, many of which you'll recognize from the films. The controls are well designed, with the possible exception of the "shoot" button that's mapped to the somewhat awkward "black" button. I like how your character ducks automatically - it's great for running under low pipes. Enter the Matrix features a lot of dark, boring environments and stoic acting, but at least they're consistent with the films. There are ample police and soldiers to shoot up, but if you encounter an agent (you know, one of those Republican guys wearing a tie), you're better off running, since they are very difficult to defeat. The stages tend to be brief with ample save opportunities, and a handy arrow at the top of the screen keeps you heading in the right direction. Respectable driving stages are interspersed to break up the run-and-gun monotony. One of the major failings of Enter the Matrix has to be its uneven visuals. You'll see a near-photographic brick wall next to a cheesy-looking waterfall of white lines. Niobi's flowing, shiny coat looks remarkable, but car tires and power buttons are shaped like octagons instead of circles! It looks pretty heinous. I also don't like how when you fire a weapon, your bullets don't appear to be going in the right direction, even when you're locked onto a target. The collision detection is hit-and-miss (pun intended), but the occasional lapses don't adversely affect the gameplay. It's been reported that Enter the Matrix is susceptible to locking up, but I haven't experienced any of that. I can't forget to mention the much ballyhooed extra Matrix footage filmed exclusively for this game. I'm not a big fan of the trilogy, but these scenes are a real treat for fans. Unfortunately, the video is not DVD quality and looks somewhat grainy. Enter the Matrix definitely has its share of issues, but I still had a good time playing it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 


Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick
Grade: D
Publisher: THQ (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/12/9
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotI wasn't expecting much for $20, but being a long-time Evil Dead fanatic, I was hoping that Fistful of Boomstick would at least be respectable. I figured I could tolerate some mediocre gameplay as long as it retained that classic over-the-top horror formula I've always loved. Well, you have to be careful what you ask for, because this is certainly mediocre, and I don't think I like it so much. Wandering through town blasting ghouls with your shotgun and dismembering them with a chainsaw is entertaining for a while, but the fun doesn't last. The graphics are below average, with plain-looking, uninteresting scenery. The character models are blocky, although the gratuitous splattering blood and flying limbs do compensate for this somewhat. Our hero Ash is voiced by Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell, who sounds like he's having a swell time. His funny wisecracks include gems like "Yes, you may have another", "Thank you for shopping at ass-whippings R Us," and "I bet you're for gun control now, huh?" The monsters do seem to possess the classic Evil Dead mannerisms, but they look pretty rough for an Xbox game. The stages contain a series puzzles that often defy logic, and you'll find yourself running in circles. Battling zombies in the streets hardly feels like an Evil Dead movie, and it's frustrating not being able enter most buildings. In addition to fighting, you'll also talk to people and collect keys to open new areas. Spells gradually become available, but trying to execute a spell in the heat of battle is hazardous to your health. In later stages medical kits are in short supply and the zombies swarm you from all directions. Fistful of Boomstick was an ill-conceived project, and even Evil Dead fans will find it hard to justify shelling out $20 for it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 player 



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