MVP Baseball 2004
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
Of all the baseball games released in 2004, MVP Baseball is widely considered to be the best of the bunch. If you want to know what's so great about it, look no further than its awesome "throw meters". After EA completely removed the meters from its golf games, it's ironic to see them crop up here. A two-press meter determines the speed and accuracy of each pitch, which is quite challenging and makes the whole pitcher/batter aspect far more interesting. Swinging only requires a single button press and thankfully doesn't require any unrealistic "aiming". In the field, a one-press meter is used to determine the strength of the throw, and this works incredibly well. Batted balls are drawn with a line underneath of them, and the thicker the line, the higher the ball is. A diamond-shaped runner display in one corner has four small picture-in-picture screens to view each runner's whereabouts. Nifty animations include fielders that spin around and throw on the run, hook slides, and first basemen that stretch for wide throws. The gameplay is good, but the visuals could use some work. The players look chunky and a few have HUGE asses. The grainy field reminded me of the old RBI Baseball games for the Genesis, and the distant scenery looks awfully fuzzy. The gameplay is not perfect either. Computer-controlled fielders pause momentarily when you take control of them, and they don't apply tags as quickly as they should. The play-by-play is uninteresting and often even wrong
. I've heard the commentators refer to a fielder's choice play as an infield single, describe a bloop hit as a line-drive, and say a foul ball "had the distance" when it most certainly did not. MVP Baseball tends to provide poor angles of certain plays, notably close plays at first base. Finally, some of the cut-scenes, like players walking to the plate, simply waste time and can not be turned off (although you can skip them with a push of a button). That's what I hate about modern baseball games - all those little cut scenes are supposed to add realism but just slow things down. Still, MVP Baseball is the first new baseball I've played in a while that doesn't put me to sleep after a few innings. If EA tightened up the presentation MVP would be tough to beat. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Magic the Gathering Battlegrounds
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)
As a casual fan of Magic the Gathering, I was curious to see how Atari would translate the strategy-intensive card game into video format. Battlegrounds is basically a "real time" version of the game, with each player controlling a "wizard" on each side of a battlefield. Actually, the game is played on a very small piece of real estate, and some might even call it cramped. By gathering "manna" that appears on the ground, players amass enough energy to conjure spells and monsters. Your creatures automatically attack your opponent, but often collide with opposing creatures along the way, resulting in a battle to the death. The action is nonstop - there's no concept of turns, so you have to think fast. The overall design of Battlegrounds is pretty clever, but the implementation is flawed. For example, when a monster penetrates your defenses, you can turn it away at the last second by "smacking" it with your staff. Regrettably, the lagging controls make this simple action almost impossible to execute. The monsters and spells available are a small subset of those from the card game. But unlike
the card game, combining them in imaginative ways is impossible because your selection is terribly limited at any given time. Another problem is the poorly-designed user interface, requiring an inordinate number of button presses to do anything
. The one-player mode is addicting for a while, but then you reach a certain stage that's practically insurmountable. The difficulty should really ramp more gradually. Magic the Gathering Battlegrounds isn't really a bad game - there's plenty of fun to be had despite its flaws. But when you consider how great it could have been, you have to be somewhat disappointed. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rockstar (2001)
Rating: Mature (violence, blood, adult subject matter)
Developed by our Finnish friends at Remedy, Max Payne may be the most violent game I've ever played. It's a third-person shooter with an intricate storyline carefully woven into it. The drama begins with a rather disturbing scene of Max's wife getting murdered. Three years later, Max finds himself downtown in New York stuck in a snowstorm, wanted by the law for a crime he didn't commit, and caught up in a mob war. And you thought you
had problems! The story is conveyed through narration and comic book-like stills with real actors and bubble dialogue. Actually, these "actors" look a bit young and innocent for their parts, so I'm guessing they were probably people on the development team who wanted to appear in the game. The dialogue is melodramatic and quite colorful. The game itself involves walking through seedy downtown locations like subways and cheap hotels while mowing down gangsters at every turn. But what really sets Max Payne apart is the Matrix-inspired "bullet time" mode that lets you dive on the floor and shoot people in slow motion. It's a great way to avoid fire, and you'll find yourself diving and shooting so much that it's almost comical. The blood and violence is VERY explicit, so you won't want the kids playing this. The game also contains a surprising amount of adult subject matter, some of which made even me
feel uncomfortable! An interesting feature is the use of "pain killers" to heal yourself. But the best feature has got to be the "auto-save" which tells you that your game is saved every few minutes - very convenient and reassuring. The graphics are, for the most part, very realistic, with the seedy parts of town looking appropriately filthy. You can even interact with most objects like faucets, phones, vending machines, and televisions. The characters, particularly Max, all have photo-realistic faces. The animation is very smooth, especially during "bullet time". However, the collision detection could have been better, as Max often ends up with half of his head stuck in a wall after diving. The sound effects are amazing, but the audio transitions are sloppy at times. In terms of control, I really wish there was a "turn around" button, because Max rotates slowly, making it hard to locate where those pesky bullets are coming from. The aiming controls are non-intuitive (pushing up aims down and vice versa), so most players will need practice before getting comfortable with it. In addition, the camera sometimes gets "out of wack" which makes you feel disoriented - very inconvenient during shootouts. I should also mention that you'll need to sit through tons of loading screens, although I'm guessing they pass more quickly than they do in the PS2 version. Max Payne is a good game to play when you need to blow off some steam after a hard day's work. It's not for kids, but mature adults in the mood for action should dig it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
This shooter received many accolades in 2002 when the Xbox library was still pretty thin. Mech Assault is less impressive now, but still a lot of fun. As in all "mech" games, you walk around in a huge, armored robotic war machine. Mech Warrior is an arcade-style shooter with simple controls and straightforward missions. You view the action from behind your mech, and the left joystick is used to move while the right one aims (like Halo). Your mech looks terrific from the back and moves in a very fluid manner. The well-designed control scheme lets you push in
on the left joystick to engage your thrusters and fly momentarily. Your first few missions feature easy adversaries including infantry that you can step on like ants. Many of your weapons have lock-on capabilities that make it easier to get a bead on your enemies. Large, satisfying explosions occur when you take out larger targets, and destroyed buildings crumble to the ground magnificently. The quality and magnitude of these explosions alone have to be worth at least a letter grade. Sometimes you'll find yourself in the middle of a huge battle against tanks, cannons, and other mechs, and when things heat up, you spend most of the time mindlessly strafing and shooting constantly. The graphics are about average, and the game is not glitch-free (I once got stuck in a rock). The two-player split-screen mode didn't do anything for me either. Mech Warrior is probably no longer considered a "must have" title, but it's still a fine way to kill an afternoon. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Medal of Honor: Frontline
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
If Medal of Honor Frontline was meant convey the horrors of World War II, then it serves its purpose well. The first stage is a virtual living hell
as you storm the beaches of Normandy (a la Saving Private Ryan) with spraying bullets, constant explosions, and dead soldiers all over the place. If that wasn't bad enough, the game tortures you with confusing objectives and unresponsive soldiers. When a fellow soldier asks you to lay down cover fire and then refuses to run, it's frustrating. It gets worse when you run out of ammo and have to scamper around the beach like a chicken
looking for more. Frontline's single player experience improves when the action moves into the war-torn towns, but it's still pretty easy to become hopelessly stuck. The graphics are quite good - so good that my friend Chris asked it this was a 360
game! The realistic environments are truly immersive, and the crisp sound effects of whizzing bullets, yelling soldiers, and distant explosions really make you feel part of a large conflict. The soldiers look good - even up close. It's realistic how injured Nazi soldiers sometimes get up and continue fighting. The AI has some pretty big lapses however, like when you're standing right next to an enemy and he doesn't even notice! There's no blood in this game, but those Nazi soldiers really love to put on a show with their dramatic, two-minute long death routines! Just die
already!! There are a lot of opportunities to man mounted machine guns, and it's great fun to mow down the bad guys by the dozen. While there's a lot to like about Frontline's solo mode, it consistently made me feel ill when I tried to play it for extended periods of time (over an hour). My friends thought it was great though, so maybe it was just me. I prefer the multiplayer split-screen experience, with its well-constructed environments that are ideal in size for four players. In addition to run-and-gun action, there are always plenty of places to camp out. In one memorable contest my buddy Steve (aka Sln7zer) unleashed a one-man reign of terror with his diabolical sniping tactics. Frontline isn't the landmark title it once was, but it's certainly a high quality war title for the Xbox. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Mega Man Anniversary Collection
Publisher: Capcom (2004)
Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)
Mega Man was a seminal series that debuted on the NES in 1987 and continues to this day. Mega Man Anniversary Collection contains emulated versions of the first eight Mega Man games, along with two never-before-released Mega Man arcade titles: Power Fighters and Power Battles. These two bonus titles are locked, which royally sucks for those buying this disc just for them.
The first six Mega Man games were NES staples, and Mega Man 7 for the SNES has become a rare collectable. The eighth game appeared on the Playstation and featured pastel, cartoon-like graphics. As a whole, these games represent some of the best 2D platform shooting action ever made. They look sharper than ever on the Xbox, yet retain their pixelated charm. The music sounds right on key and has that distinctive resonating quality. Unfortunately, the sound effects could use some work. The abrasive "hits" sound like someone banging garbage can lids together (the PS2 version does not have this issue). The controls also take a hit, since the Xbox controller is lacking in so many ways. The digital pad is wonky and the rounded buttons are uncomfortable. I'd recommend playing on an old-fashioned TV because the margin for error in the platform jumping is razor thin. Even the slightest input lag will make these games even more frustrating that they were originally (hard to believe, I know). The save system is a welcome feature, but it's poorly implemented and confusing. Sorry, I did not unlock the bonus games (bad critic, bad!
) I love Mega Man as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure this collection is the best way to enjoy them. Still, Mega Man Anniversary Collection makes a lot of sense for those on a tight budget or younger gamers who just want to see what all the commotion is about. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (2004)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)
Just to illustrate how prejudiced the media is against 2D graphics, one popular video game magazine recently claimed Metal Slug 3 (MS3) would probably qualify as game of the year - ten years ago!
That's not fair. In my opinion, fun is fun, and shooters don't get much better than this. One or two players assume of the role of soldiers in this intense run-and-gun arcade game where the action never stops. MS3's graphics are superbly detailed with wacky cartoon animations and interesting backgrounds that resemble oil paintings. Like all Metal Slug games, your firepower is awesome, and the on-screen explosions are supremely satisfying. Some weapons are limited to shooting either forward or up, but you can always lob grenades at hard-to-reach enemies. You can commandeer vehicles like planes, tanks, and subs, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. MS3's visuals are so lush and brimming with personality that it's easy to miss humorous little animations that occur in the heat of battle. The five selectable stages each require a different style of play, and the locations take you from a desert to the depths of the ocean to a zombie-infested island. Complementing the superb visuals is a killer soundtrack and crystal clear sound effects. Metal Slug 3 is a blast to play solo, and even better when teamed up with a buddy. As much as I love the game, there are a few negative aspects I have to mention. One is obvious to anyone who has played the game - it's entirely too hard. Even on the "easy" difficulty with the lives cranked up to five, clearing a stage is a monumental achievement. Your score inexplicably does not
reset when you continue, rendering the scoring system worthless. Also, the menus are confusing as hell to navigate. But these issues shouldn't deter you from buying this game. Metal Slug 3 is a breathe of fresh air next to all the first-person shooters and gangster games out there. Old school gamers will relish every moment of it, and other players may wonder why there aren't more
titles like this for Xbox. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rockstar (2003)
Rating: Teen (violence)
The first Midnight Club (PS2) was somewhat underrated, but for some reason Midnight Club II has been over
rated to no end, with some magazines calling it revolutionary. Are they trying to overcompensate perhaps? Don't get me wrong, it's a terrific game, but it's really not a whole lot different than the first Midnight Club, which got rather mediocre reviews by comparison. Like the original, you cruise around town challenging drivers to race, win new cars, and open up tracks as you advance. Midnight Club II is one of those games that you can jump right into without worrying about complicated controls or tedious tutorials. Even the first few cars respond well. I love to just cruise around the cities checking out the scenery. Los Angeles is pretty boring, but Paris looks terrific, and the colorful lights of Tokyo are mesmerizing. The graphics are only slightly better than the first Midnight Club, but definitely a step up from Grand Theft Auto Vice City. I was slightly disappointed by the angular roads and relatively small size of the cities. The gameplay itself is fun and addicting. Some races require you to pass through markers scattered all over the place, but those require too much trial and error, as well as knowledge of the street layout. Plus it's hard to watch your map while flying down the road at 100 MPH. I prefer the "straight" races that provide high-velocity thrills of the magnitude of Burnout. When you hit the "turbo" button, the visual effect is astonishing. One big disappointment is the multiplayer mode. These "capture the flag" variations try to be like Smuggler's Run (PS2), but that type of game just isn't suited to these dark, enclosed environments. Also, I wish the control scheme used the trigger buttons for accelerate and brake functions. In terms of music, the pulse-pounding beats and rap music are an improvement over the generic rhythms of the first game, but still not what I would call great. Midnight Club II doesn't really break any new ground, but it's still a decent racer. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition
Publisher: Rockstar (2005)
Rating: Everyone (mild language, mild violence)
No question about it - Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition raises the bar for racing games - if only in terms of pure eye candy. The texture of the road, vehicle details, and realism of the scenery easily surpasses anything I've seen in a previous racer. When I showed this to my friends, their jaws collectively hit the floor. The illusion of speed is exhilarating; especially once the nitrous oxide kicks it. The cities are bustling with cars and people, and weaving through traffic has an adrenaline-pumping "Burnout" flavor. Opposing cars are surprisingly aggressive, even going as far as running you off the road! The controls are outstanding. Squeezing through traffic and power sliding around corners feels almost second nature - even the first time you play. The single-player "career" mode is what you'd expect; you cruise around town in your shiny car, challenging racers and earning money to upgrade your ride. Unlike some lesser racers that will go unnamed (*cough* Gran Turismo 4 *cough*), you actually begin
the game with a half-way-decent car! Another feature I can certainly appreciate is the "auto-upgrade", which lets you easily enhance your car without having to be a certified mechanic. There are a variety of race types, but the classic Midnight Club style is to race through ordered "checkpoints" placed around the city, marked by colorful smoke plumes that extend to the sky. Unfortunately, these races are tainted by one glaring design flaw. The floating, translucent, 3D "arrows" that direct you to the next checkpoint are really
hard to make out! It's so annoying - how could none
of the game's testers not have noticed this when every single one of my friends did?! Midnight Club 3 also includes "auto cross" races, which are more conventional walled-in courses. These tend to be less exciting however because you don't encounter those crazy intersections. But the most exciting race type by far is the new "Frenzy" mode, which gives you automatic bursts of nitrous the whole race through
! As you can imagine, it's insane, and just staying on the road is a challenge. The San Diego, Detroit, and Atlanta locales are very realistic, although they lack that "sightseeing" quality. The pedestrians don't look very realistic, and you can drive right through
them, which looks pretty bad. The eclectic music mix is mediocre, although I found it thankfully less "extreme" than crap I've heard in other racers. Gamers looking for realistic late-night racing action will certainly appreciate Midnight Club 3. It offers a lot of game for your money, and plays as good as it looks. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
In the early 90's, Mortal Kombat (MK) was one of those blockbuster hits that took the world by storm. Its gameplay was somewhat different from the other popular fighter of the time (Street Fighter II), and gamers were mesmerized by the digitized warriors, flying blood, and gruesome fatalities. In addition, its dark, otherworldly style was both mysterious and inviting. The series peaked with MK2, lost steam with MK3, and fell flat with MK4. But Deadly Alliance signifies a Mortal Kombat comeback, combining the style of the original game with a state-of-the-art 3D fighting engine. Each fighter can switch between three fighting styles on the fly (including one with a weapon), so there's never a shortage of moves. With over 20 characters and moves galore it's unlikely you'll ever see everything this game has to offer. The basic move set includes a sidestep, back flip, taunt, and shove. Precise movements and exaggerated sound effects make each match look like a well-choreographed martial arts flick. On the downside, some of the combos are way too complex, and those that include a trigger button are almost impossible to pull off. In addition, many of the moves that appear devastating on the screen in fact do minimal damage. Dark Alliance's graphics are good, but still a notch below Dead or Alive 3. There are some cool details, like steam emanating from Sub Zero's arms, but the gratuitous flowing blood looks ridiculous. I prefer the old "flying" blood over this new "streaming" stuff. I also dislike how the fighters stand up briefly before collapsing in defeat. The netherworld backgrounds are less than dazzling, but MK vets will welcome back the familiar bonus stages that challenge you to smash wood or ice. The innovative Konquest mode teaches you the moves of each fighter and lets you earn "koins". This currency can be used in the "Krypt", which holds over 600 coffins, each individually priced and containing a unique prize. Items range from artwork, to video clips, to hidden characters, and my curiosity kept me coming back for more. My favorite feature is open from the start: a fun video called "The History of Mortal Kombat". Midway put a lot of effort into Deadly Alliance, and it shows. But was it really necessary to kill off Liu Kang?? © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Mortal Kombat Deception
Publisher: Midway (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
I suspect this sixth Mortal Kombat installment is called Deception because it tricks gamers into thinking this is a brand new Mortal Kombat game. In fact, Deception feels more like an extended version of Deadly Alliance (Xbox 2002). Sure, there are more fighters, battlegrounds, and play modes, but the main fighting engine is pretty much unchanged. It may have been cutting-edge two years ago, but since then it's been surpassed by the likes of Soul Calibur 2 and Virtua Fighter 4. By comparison, Deception's fighters look somewhat stiff and their moves disjointed. The only real changes to the fighting are a new "combo-breaker" move, multi-level arenas (a la Dead Or Alive 3), and gory "death traps". But Deception does pack a good deal of gameplay for your money. The character roster has been expanded to include old favorites like Baraka, Nightwolf, Sindel, and Kabal. An improved Konquest mode incorporates a "boy coming of age" storyline with expansive worlds to explore. I enjoyed running around gathering coins in Konquest mode, but the mediocre graphics, poor collision detection, and half-assed missions (find the dog!) make it look somewhat cheap and tacked-on. In addition, some of the tasks are crazy hard, like fighting with half a life-bar while bleeding to death. When you tire of Konquest (and you will), there's "Chess Kombat", which puts the MK crew on a chessboard, where they must literally fight for each square. The game has an Archon flavor that I find appealing, and the contests are a nice mix of strategy and skill. The third new mode is Puzzle Kombat, which plays like the old Street Fighter 2-inspired Puzzle Fighter 2 (Playstation). This Tetris clone is addictive enough but feels out of place in a Mortal Kombat game. Deception also has an on-line mode, but I've never been into that. One holdover from Deadly Alliance is the popular "Krypt" area, where you trade in your coins for various prizes. There's plenty of stuff to win, but unfortunately, most of it is junk
. We're talking "alternative" character bios, photos of the developers, and lame production sketches. With so many cheap "prizes," the Krypt feels really watered-down. I should also mention that I encountered a few bugs in the game. Most are minor, but the game did lock up once during a load screen. Deception is only an incremental improvement over Deadly Alliance. There's plenty of play value, but to be honest I was expecting much more. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks
Publisher: Midway (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language)
The first two Mortal Kombat spin-offs failed miserably on the Playstation One, but many critics claim that Shaolin Monks finally does the franchise justice. I don't think so. It's not that Mortal Kombat (MK) couldn't be made into a decent adventure game. With its rich set of characters, interesting storylines, and mysterious locales, it has all the necessary ingredients. But for every good design decision in Shaolin Monks, there's an equally boneheaded flaw. The stars of the game are Liu Kang and Kung Lao (both of Mortal Kombat 2 fame), and many other familiar faces make appearances including Raiden, Johnny Cage, Baraka, Shang Tsung, and Sonya Blade. The storyline is conveyed through succinct, enjoyable cut-scenes that contain a surprising amount of humor. But what will attract most MK fans to this game is the opportunity to explore the stages that served as backdrops for previous MK titles. Most locations are derived from MK2, including Goro's Lair, the spiked pit, the Dead Pool, and the Living Forest. The "earth" locations are breathtaking with their towering waterfalls and misty mountains, and the dark "Outworld" areas exude the proper aura of mystery and danger. Unfortunately, your freedom of movement is heavily constrained, limiting your exploration to a few obvious paths. The fighting action is similar to recent one-on-one MK games (Dark Alliance and Deception), but the controls have been tailored to let you strike multiple enemies in quick succession. "Multipliers" are displayed for consecutive hits, and it's not unusual to rack up some ridiculous numbers when battling a gang. Unfortunately, fighting the same old thugs over and over gets tiresome, especially when they regenerate
whenever you return to an area. I hate how you punch a guy 50 times in a row and he'll still
get up no worse for wear. As my buddy Scott remarked after unlocking some concept art, "What I really
need to unlock is the ability to inflict something besides slight
damage to these endless clones!" Shaolin Monks does manage to incorporate several trademarks of the series, including weapons, traps, fatalities, and even "test your might" challenges. The traps are sweet; there's nothing more satisfying that kicking your foe into a wall of spikes, or launching them from a catapult. Fatalities are much
easier to perform than in past MK games - and thank goodness for that! Not only are you provided
with the codes on the screen
, but you have ample
time to enter them! Unfortunately, all fatalities are performed on a generic black background - as if the two characters were floating in space! In general the graphics are about average, although the animation and control are a cut above. Two players can battle side-by-side, but the camera is a real pain. The save points could be spaced better; I played over an hour before locating a new one. Shaolin Monks is a mixed bag. At its best, the game lets you delve into the world of Mortal Kombat like you never could before, but at its worst, it feels like that awful Xbox Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2002)
My friends and I have been long time NBA 2K fans, having enjoyed all three iterations of the series on the Dreamcast. We expected XBox to continue the tradition, but we were sorely disappointed with NBA 2K3. Sure the graphics look terrific - the players even appear to have the sheen of sweat on their skin. The jams are rim-rocking, and the backboard reverberates appropriately. I especially like how players can save wayward passes by leaping out of bounds - it looks very realistic. NBA 2K's gameplay is known for being tight, but this 2003 edition may be too
tight. Compared to the EA's basketball games, NBA 2K3 is stiff and less fluid in terms of control and player movement. Players on the run stop immediately when they make contact with a defender, so it's nearly impossible to drive the lane. The scoring is ridiculously low, and even easy inside shots tend to clank off the rim. The CPU is a monster on the boards, rebounding about 90% of the shots! That's frustrating! Fast breaks? You can forget about them because they never happen, thanks to players who don't run any faster in the open court. And then there's the much-maligned foul shooting system, although this year it seems slightly easier. CPU controlled players do dumb things like pass the ball out-of-bounds - on the inbound
pass! The ESPN license provides some familiar TV graphics and a solid two-man commentator team. Unfortunately, unless you turn the crowd noise completely OFF, you can barely hear these guys! And the new special effects laden replay system is stupid - it's looks like you're watching a negative of the play! The game has ample options, including a "slider" menu that lets you adjust everything from reach-in foul frequency to defensive stopping power. It's as if Sega felt they didn't have to tweak the game if you could do it yourself. Play modes include franchise, two-on-two street, season, playoffs, tournament, practice, on-line, and a "Sega Sports Challenge" mode that lets you post your statistics to an on-line ranking board to see how you compare with other players. NBA 2K3 is not nearly as fun as the previous version. I'm going back to NBA Live, because this stinks. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
NBA Inside Drive 2004
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
You might expect these old sports games to be pretty lame, but sometimes they turn out to be better than the latest
stuff! NBA Inside Drive 2004 can stand toe-to-toe with NBA 2K11, especially when measured by pure fun. As with most Microsoft sports titles, the game offers fast action, realistic visuals, and crisp controls. For a 2003 title, Inside Drive is remarkably full-featured and even supports on-line play (or did
). The controls let you do everything you'd want to do, except without the mind-boggling control scheme of NBA 2K11. Advanced moves include protecting the ball, backing down a defender, taking a charge, and calling for a double team. The turbo button is effective, but your turbo meter drains quickly so you can't abuse it. Every aspect of the game is configurable, but the game is perfectly tuned right out of the box, and there's something to be said for that! Inside Drive strikes a nice balance between realism and fast-paced arcade fun. It's not hard to penetrate the lane, poke the ball loose, or orchestrate a fast break. After a player hits several shots in a row, his icon will throb, indicating that he's in the zone. It's usually a good idea to get him the ball so he can jack up a three-pointer. The passing is probably the weakest aspect of the game. It's too touchy, and you'll often make an inadvertent extra pass. Pressing the Y button to bring up the players icons is a little unintuitive, and using those hard-to-reach black and white buttons for anything
is awkward. The player models look very much like the real NBA stars, and better yet they behave
like the real players. The action is fluid, and it's fun to watch behind-the-back passes, dives for loose balls, and dipsy-doo reverse layups. Off the court there's not much to see. The spectators look flat and there's no half-time show or post-game analysis. The two-man play-by-play is exceptionally witty however, and if you pay attention you'll hear some really funny lines. All in all, NBA Inside Drive really delivers where it counts, and its arcade style has held up surprisingly well over time. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2002)
After a terrific run on the Dreamcast, the critically acclaimed NFL 2K series found new life on the Xbox. 2K3 is a good-looking football game. The stadiums look distinctive and the player models are more detailed than their Dreamcast cousins. The user interface is simple enough (no profiles to load) and the presentation conveys a professional telecast quality. The playbook offers roughly twice
as many plays as NFL 2K2. On the field, 2K3 has a fast, fluid, arcade feel that Madden lacks. The bone-crunching tackles are satisfying, and I love how runners can break tackles in the open field. The kicking game is a lot
more challenging than it was in 2K2. In addition to aiming an arrow that wavers in the wind, you'll also need to time a fast-moving circular meter. I like the hang-time clock for punts, but I wish the game would give some indication of how long an upcoming field goal attempt is. NFL 2K3's commentators describe the action with a conversational flow, and it's especially impressive when they break out the telestrator to diagram plays. The half time and post-game shows are informative but minimal. When selecting teams you get a break-down of ratings for offense and defense, but the lack of an overall rating makes it hard to find an even match-up. 2K3 suffers from intermittent glitches including balls that sometimes pass through ghostly defenders. In one instance I saw a quarterback throw the ball in the wrong direction!
The stiff-arm controls are mapped to the black and white buttons, which are awkward to use. Passes are dropped too often. The crowd tends to drown out the commentators by default, but there's a nice "TV presentation" audio setting that fixes this (why isn't that the default?). In some regards it may be a small step down from NFL 2K2, but this is still a solid alternative to Madden. Note: The next game in the series was titled ESPN NFL Football 2K4. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Before Peyton Manning was legendary, he was merely awesome. At that time he served as coverboy for Microsoft's short-lived NFL Fever
series. Underappreciated in its day, this game is a real treat to play in 2014! It feels refreshing to play a high-quality, NFL-licensed, non-Madden
football game. You know you're in for a treat when the intro features old-school rapper Chuck D. dropping incendiary rhymes over equally raw NFL game footage. NFL Fever 2002
delivers a potent combination of realism and arcade action. Its enticing visuals feature bright stadiums, dynamic camera angles, and vivid team logos. The player models are pudgy as hell but move in a graceful manner. In contrast to Madden, the kick-off mechanism actually requires skill and timing. Lining up for the first play you'll notice the default camera angle is entirely too close, so be sure to switch to the classic view. The action on the field is wide open, allowing running backs to exploit gaping holes in the defense. The passing game is not as sharp. Throws tend to float in the air, and deep balls often get batted around like volleyballs. Playing defense is fun thanks to responsive controls and a bright red player indicator. The pacing is brisk, so you can squeeze in a game (with three-minute quarters) in well under a half-hour. Nifty bells and whistles include cheerleaders on the side-lines, chain measurements, and cool animations like receivers who tip-toe along the sidelines. Some of the player reactions after plays are unintentionally hilarious. Is that player celebrating
, or did he just suffer a serious injury!?
There's a two-man commentary team, but it's nothing to write home about. There's no half-time show, but the post-game features a "player of the game" and a "key play" highlight. I really enjoyed playing NFL Fever 2002
. It's a likeable title that takes you back to the days when football games were actually fun
(but I'm sure you're too young to remember that
). © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
This game's box cover harkens back when Peyton Manning was a power running back! Nope, I don't remember that either. NFL Fever 2003
was a clear step forward in terms of realism, but not so much in terms of fun. The players are more realistically-proportioned, but their slimmed-down bodies have a "rubbery" appearance ("I'm Gumby dammit!"
). Lighting effects have been added to the action on the field, but it softens the edges and makes the visuals look dull. The difficulty has been ratcheted up from last year. Namely, it's harder to complete passes as defenders have a tendency to bat them down. On the other hand, it does seem much easier to break a run for a big gainer. New moves include pump fakes, fake snaps, and the ability to put a man in motion. The television-style presentation offers some fun camera angles, but there's still no half-time show. The commentators have definitely gone off the deep end this year, shouting lines like "right on baby!", "he jacks it!", and "he banged that one good!". Ummm, we're still talking about football, right? It should also be mentioned that the game's colorful, glossy manual is a real treat to peruse (another relic of a bygone era). NFL Fever 2003
is an entertaining football game that added realism at the cost of some arcade flair. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
Whenever a sports franchise attempts to ratchet up the realism, it runs the risk of compromising the all-important fun factor. NFL Fever 2004
falls into that trap. For the second year in a row, the series makes an unsuccessful attempt to refine its visuals. The sad result is an uglier version of last year's game! The "enhanced player models" are a joke!
Instead of crisp, well-defined players, they look muddled and blurry. 2004's gameplay is similar to last year but suffers from a series of ill-conceived control changes. The Y button used to bring up a simple route preview, but it now presents you with a bunch of confusing options. WTF?!
The default passing mode forces you to press multiple buttons
to throw the freakin' ball! Really?!
An unwanted new running mode lets you perform moves by pounding on a single button. Did you hear that noise? It's the sound of a football series being crushed under its own weight. My friend Scott and I played a game in the snow, and while the accumulation effects were cool, they slowed the action to a crawl!
On the bright side, I like how coaches are prominently featured in cut-scenes, and even chew you out
on occasion. The commentators are wacky as ever, tossing out lines like "There he goes! Heavy metal thunder!
" and "Look at him go! Like Hopper on the chopper!
" They're bizarre, but give the game an odd sort of charm. NFL Fever 2004
isn't terrible, but clearly the series was headed in the wrong direction. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
Is there something wrong with my TV? Why are these graphics so frickin' DARK?! It looks like someone turned my brightness all the way down, and I can't even adjust it! Actually, Sega has a LOT of explaining to do for this game. After seeing rave reviews for it in some video game magazines (who got paid off no doubt), I was stunned by how excruciatingly bad this is. The first thing you'll notice is the high camera angle, which gives you a birds-eye view of the action. This view may bring back fond memories of those old Genesis hockey games, but all the subtle details and fluid animations are lost in the dark, muddy graphics. The players move smoothly enough, but close-ups reveal player models that are definitely a notch below EA's NHL series. The audio is good, with authentic skating sound effects and realistic crowd noise. The announcers stay on top of the action but rarely have anything interesting to say. But the basic gameplay is NHL 2K3's real downfall. It's impossible to maintain possession of the puck because whenever a player touches you, you momentarily lose control. Trying to "thread the needle" is futile because opponents always intercept passes. Worst of all, scoring a goal is like pulling teeth. The goalies are like brick walls, and you'll need a lucky second-chance opportunity to get the puck into the net. Yes, I did attempt to tweak the numerous option meters myself to fix the gameplay, but this didn't do much good. I don't think those things even work! And the fights look like two little girls in a slapping contest - embarrassing! NHL 2K3 may not be the worst hockey game ever, but it's certainly the most disappointing. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2006)
Here's a fun, arcade-style hockey title that even non-fans can enjoy. NHL 2K7 for the Xbox plays just like its Xbox 360 cousin, but the graphics are slightly degraded and the camera is pulled back further. The graphic quality isn't much of a factor, but the more distant camera makes you feel less "in the game" than its 360 cousin. Still, there's a lot of fast-paced, head-to-head fun to be had. See the Xbox 360 review of NHL 2K7 for further details. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Midway (2002)
Rating: Everyone (violence)
Believe it or not kids, there was a time when multiple companies released hockey games in the same year, each with a unique style. We called this "choice", and little did we know that one day EA would take it away from us. In retrospect, NHL Hitz is pretty amazing, cast in the same mold as NBA Jam
(SNES, 1993) and NFL Blitz
(Playstation, 1998). Its three-on-three contests are pure arcade action with no penalties to interrupt the fun. All the NHL teams are represented with five-man rosters, and recognizable names include Lemieux, Messier, Roenick, Jagr, Federov, and Yzerman. The graphics are just plain fun, with huge players that literally ignite
when they go on a hot streak. The default arenas are small and lame, but the fact that you can unlock coastal, castle, and graveyard-themed rinks means this is one hockey game you can enjoy all year long!
The control scheme lets you deke, fake shots, and execute one-timers. The turbo button hardly seems necessary considering the breakneck pace. Speaking of breaking necks, ferocious body checks send helmets flying and launch players into the bench. The quick fights add some spice without wearing out their welcome. The head-to-head contests are so fast and intense, I nearly broke my wrist
during one adrenaline-fueled contest against my friend Steve. A lot of goals seem random/lucky, but I guess you could argue real hockey is like that too. The game's loud, brazen style is reflected in its abrasive soundtrack, which incorporates artists like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Good Charlotte. Thanks to the Xbox progressive scan output, this game still looks and plays great even in high definition. The ultimate arcade hockey experience, NHL Hitz amps the exciting parts of the sport and ditches the rest. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2004)
I truly regret failing to support so many of non-EA sports franchises back in the pre-monopoly days. Had I been paying attention, I would have discovered that NHL Rivals offers a respectable alternative for hockey fans. My friend Steve and I only recently played this for the first time, and we were impressed. Rival's razor-sharp visuals and fast gameplay even compares favorably to the latest
crop of hockey titles. The arenas look sensational and every person in the crowd looks like a unique individual. On the ice NHL Rivals delivers an arcade-style hockey experience with a high camera that makes it easy to track players and line up centering passes. Each player has a circular turbo meter, and since it drains quickly you'll need to use it sparingly. The action is smooth and the instant replay system is fun to use. The "inside-the-net" view has got to be the best angle I've ever seen in a sports instant replay! NHL Rivals 2004 exceeds expectations on a technical level, but its gameplay could benefit from some fine-tuning. It's way
too hard to score, so expect a lot of 2-1 games. The goalies gobble up everything that comes their way, and the puck rebounds too far away for a follow-up. You really need to capitalize on break-aways and one-timer opportunities. On defense, the over-effective body checking makes it too easy to dislodge the puck. It's hard to maintain control, much less execute a crisp pass. The roving referee tends to confuse matters, especially if your team is wearing black uniforms. The fights are unintentionally comical because it looks like the players are gently patting
each other's faces. It's like as a kid when your mom would wipe something off your face with that balled-up Kleenex she kept in her purse (gross!
). A laundry list of flaws bring NHL Rivals 2004 down to average territory, but I still enjoyed its original take on the sport. I suspect this could have evolved into something special had Microsoft stuck with it. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Recently I've been lamenting how most new racing games are incorporating the "Gran Turismo" style of play, which involves earning money, buying cars for your garage, buying parts for them, or worse, having to earn licenses. Just let me drive for Pete's sake!! Well thank goodness the latest edition of Need For Speed marks a return to a more sensible style of play. You just race to your heart's content, and more tracks and cars become available to you as you progress. Cars do not incur damage. This is a no-holds-barred arcade-style racer. There are two modes of play: championship and hot pursuit. Championship is your standard racing action, but Hot Pursuit throws in some police cars to harass you. While both modes are fun, the police cars certainly ratchet up the excitement and add more strategy. The smooth graphics are quite attractive and realistic, and the scenic routes make it look like you're driving through a state park. Many tracks look a bit washed-out, but the autumn tracks are vivid with color. I think the programmers went a little overboard with the shadowing, making some tunnels and turns very dark and hard to see (especially if you have any kind of glare on your TV screen). Another thing I don't like is the length of the races. Most are very long, and it can be painfully
frustrating to lose on the final lap. Initially I found the steering to be touchy and conducive to over steering, but eventually I was able to come to grips with the control. The game also features some slow motion, Duke-of-Hazzard-like cut-scenes when you catch enough air. Personally, I didn't think any of the ones I saw were spectacular enough to warrant this kind of treatment. Overall, I like the style of this new Need For Speed, but even after countless iterations, there's still room for improvement. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Need For Speed Underground
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Rating: Everyone (mild language, suggestive themes)
What a great game to pull out late on a Friday night after you've had a few drinks. Inspired by the film The Fast and the Furious
, Need For Speed Underground combines the arcade action of Burnout (Acclaim) with the realism of Project Gotham Racing (Microsoft). Unlike previous Need For Speed (NFS) games with their dusty country roads and quaint seaside villages, Underground takes place at night in strictly urban locations. In addition to conventional street races, there's drag racing, time trials, and power slide competitions. Like Burnout and Gotham, you're awarded "style points" for catching air, sliding, or executing "near misses" of other vehicles. Winnings are used to purchase car upgrades, including "nitrous oxide" which provides a considerable turbo boost. The most remarkable aspect of Underground is its spectacular, high-resolution graphics. The city looks stunning, with towering skyscrapers, majestic arches, and neon lights everywhere. Certain areas are very upscale, while others look run down, but you'll barely notice once you get caught up in the delirious racing action. The roads are covered with a shiny wet sheen as though it had just rained, and car windows sport realistic reflections. Need For Speed Underground certainly lives up to its name, as the races convey a genuine sense of speed. Still, the detailed graphics take their toll, causing the game to struggle to maintain a consistent frame-rate. That may also explain why there are no
computer-controlled racers available in the split-screen mode, which kind of sucks. Each circuit has multiple routes and shortcuts, but it's sometimes hard to tell where the road leads. Executing power slides requires practice, but in general the controls are terrific. The one-player "underground" mode is relentlessly addictive, and even when I got stuck it was hard to pull myself away from this game. One less impressive aspect is the crashes, which look pretty tame compared to the devastating wrecks of Burnout, and the cars don't model damage. I'm not a fan of the abrasive soundtrack either. As usual, EA tried to be "edgy" in their music selection, but most of these tunes are just irritating. I actually turned the music off completely, which I normally don't do. Still, this is a winner. Need For Speed Underground effectively combines the best aspects of other games with first-rate visuals, resulting in a spectacular racing experience. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Need For Speed Underground 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2004)
The first Need For Speed Underground featured a slick racing engine and gorgeous "downtown at night" tracks. Underground 2 improves upon the original by trashing the linear menu-driven system, allowing you to seek out action on your own. It may seem tedious to have to "search" for the next challenge, but you never had to go far and I really enjoy just cruising around town, checking out the sights. Besides numerous racing contests, certain locations allow you to tune up and customize your ride. Occasionally you'll encounter a rival on the street and be challenged to an impromptu race. NFSU2's graphics are even better than the first game, with its awe-inspiring skyscrapers, palm tree-lined streets, glitzy nightspots, and familiar destinations like Burger King and Best Buy. The glowing neon signs against the dark night sky is a beautiful sight, making this the best-looking racer I've ever
played. And thanks to the realistic highway system, road signs are actually useful in guiding you to your various destinations. Unlike the last game with its permanently shiny roads, the streets here look more realistic and it actually does
rain periodically. In fact, the rain effects are superb, slightly distorting your vision but not enough to impair your driving. The booming thunder is also a nice touch. My main objection is that the city looks almost too
pristine, hurting the sense of realism. Okay, enough fawning over the graphics. You can rest assured that the underlying racing engine is high quality as well. Underground 2's sensation of speed is palpable, and I love the "whooshing" sounds as you whiz past signs and concrete pillars. Rubbing against guardrails produces a colorful display of sparks, but doesn't slow you down much. The races are intense and you always need to keep an eye out for oncoming traffic. Many times I wrecked just before the finish line, but every now and then you'll catch a break and the car ahead
of you will be involved in a massive pile-up. The racing circuits feature easy-to-see red arrows to keep you on track, but the one-on-one races do not, which can be confusing. Car nuts will love Underground 2's customization options, but personally I'm thankful for the "packages" which let me bypass all the excruciating details. Like the first game, Underground 2's main weakness is it's poor soundtrack. What's with all of this head-banging bull[expletive]? I turned the music all the way down. Why can't EA allow you to change stations on the fly like the Grand Theft Auto games? Also, an auto-save feature is badly needed. You can only save after a win, and there are too many annoying prompts. Finally, it took me a while to realize that the steering controls in the drag races are completely
different from the rest of the game - be aware of that. Despite these relatively minor flaws, Underground 2 provides the best night driving action I've ever experienced in a video game, and it's a game I enjoy playing almost every weekend. Check it out. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Rating: Teen (Violence)
Here's a little medieval action game that tries to add a twist to the standard overhead shooter formula. Like Gauntlet, you wander through different environments hurling projectiles (spells) at monsters and destroying their regeneration portals. A floating orb aims you shots, and the control scheme uses one joystick to move your character and the other to move the orb. I've heard this game likened to Robotron 2084, but Night Caster is nowhere near as fun or intense. You can shoot in a somewhat rapid-fire manner, but your shots are slow and their range is short. The gimmick that's supposed to make Night Caster unique is the four classes (colors) of spells you can cast. Certain monsters are more sensitive to certain types of spells, so you'll want to use water (blue) attacks on red (fire) creatures. It might sound pretty innovative, but it's not much fun in practice. Once you get swarmed by creatures of all colors, you'll have to constantly switch spells, and it's a real hassle. In terms of presentation, Night Caster is a fine looking game. Although the graphical detail is mostly lost in the dark environments and high camera angle, the environments are quite lush and the monsters are painstakingly detailed. Likewise the understated musical score and clear, natural sound effects are outstanding. Whether it's the crackling of a fire or a flowing brook, it sounds like its right in your living room. But overall Night Caster is pretty forgettable, and only worth your while if you can pick it up cheap. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Tecmo (2004)
As one of the most noteworthy titles in the Xbox library, Ninja Gaiden is also one of the most overrated. Yes, this engaging fighter has A+ potential, but it's practically ruined by its outrageous difficulty level. A hack-and-slash platformer with sky-high production values, Ninja Gaiden stands head and shoulders above similar games like Sega's Shinobi
(Playstation 2, 2002). The original Gaiden series was born on the NES, and the three original 8-bit games can
be unlocked from this game, although I hear it's practically impossible. The gameplay of the new Ninja Gaiden maintains the spirit of the originals, combining platform jumping and simple puzzle solving with a whole lot of fighting action. In fact, the level of whoop-ass in this game is unprecedented - we're talking 60-hit combos here. Gaiden's superb control scheme makes it easy to pull off fantastic attacks, and you can often strike a number of surrounding foes at the same time. The blood flow reaches gratuitous proportions at times, like when an enemy slashes your throat from behind, releasing a fountain of blood. Your ninja is quite agile and can vault between walls and even run along them for short distances. A wide array of weapons includes swords, stars, arrows, and my personal favorite, nunchakus. Using a first-person vantage point, you can even shoot enemies from a distance with a bow and arrow. In one particularly memorable altercation, I was pummeling some thug who was continuously blocking my sword attacks - until I pulled out my bow and shot him right between the eyes! Good times! The blocking mechanism is quite effective and crucial to defeating more powerful foes. Gaiden's visuals are superb. The cut-scenes are spectacular, and Rachael, a top-heavy secondary character, is drop dead gorgeous. The early stages are set in traditional Japanese temples and villages, but the game really hits its stride in the airship stage - one of the best stages I've ever witnessed! As a violent thunderstorm rages outside, you can look down and see the lighted towns below, which look magnificent. Ninja Gaiden's bosses are also spectacular - not only are they completely original, but exceptionally scary as well. But for all the "wow" moments, gamers will still find themselves slamming down the controller in frustration. When you find yourself on the receiving end of "exploding darts", you'll experience a level of frustration you never knew existed. The bosses are disproportionately tough, so be sure to load up on health elixirs before you face each one. You'd think that a game with such high production values would have decent camera system, but you'd be wrong. When fighting in open spaces, you can't even see your opponent half the time! You can pause the game to use items and power-ups, but I wish health elixirs were used automatically, because you often get killed before you get a chance to use your supply. Ninja Gaiden is definitely exciting and addictive, but its glaring flaws cannot be overlooked.
Ninja Gaiden Black
Publisher: Tecmo (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
Although the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was critically acclaimed, it was plagued by severe camera issues and an unreasonable difficulty level. In response, Microsoft released two "Hurricane Packs" to on-line players. While these were marketed as "enhancements", it could be argued that their main purpose was to shore up the game's flaws. Afterwards, Microsoft realized that if they added a few more
features, they could justify re-selling Ninja Gaiden as an entirely new game. Hence we have Ninja Black, which incorporates both Hurricane packs, a new mission mode, additional cut scenes, and a badly-needed difficulty select. I assumed this Ninja Gaiden would be close to perfect, but sadly, that's not the case! The problem is, most of the new stuff is locked
until you play through the entire game again! Yes, even the new difficult levels! I'm sorry, but this is not only dumb, but it's false advertising considering the box claims you can now "choose your difficulty". While sure to annoy players who persevered through the original game, Ninja Black is obviously the way to go for newcomers. Gaiden is one of the best hash-and-slash platformers around, which fantastic stages and awe-inspiring bosses. I still detected some issues with the camera controls and difficulty, but those looking for a challenge will relish every minute of this. If you haven't played the original Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, this game is a safe bet. But if you had your fill the first time around, this isn't a necessary upgrade. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
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