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OddWorld: Munch's Odyssee
Grade: C
Publisher: OddWorld Inhabitants (2001)
Reviewed: 2008/3/16
Rating: Teen

screenshotAfter a pair of successful 2D outings on the Playstation, the OddWorld franchise transitioned to 3D in the form of this Xbox launch title. Despite offering the same brand of puzzle-solving platform mayhem, Munch's Oddysee was largely overshadowed by the Halo juggernaut and those high-kicking babes of Dead or Alive 3. Even I was lukewarm on the game after playing an unimpressive demo. Now that I've finally played it, I can attest that the game remains quite faithful to the classic OddWorld formula, with intelligently designed stages that are puzzling but rarely frustrating. In addition to controlling Abe (the star of the first two games), you also control a fish-like character named Munch. The two begin in separate locations, but when their paths cross they work as a team. The visuals are brighter than previous OddWorld titles, and the animation has a "claymation" quality to it. Unfortunately, the constrained valleys, sewer, and industrial locations are nowhere near as interesting as the 2D environments of the old games. You'll still pull switches, possess enemies, and save Mudokons (your alien species), but a few new elements have been added - for better or worse. You spend much of the game collecting green mushrooms called "spooce". You need a certain number of these to open each door. You can "grow" additional spooce if you need to, but that's a tedious process. Resurrecting Mudokons is another new feature which I found to be a bit of chore. One worthwhile new element is your ability to round up creatures and have them fight enemies for you ("kick some booty!"). In typical OddWorld fashion, there are a lot of funny, unexpected surprises, like the squeaky wheelchair that lets Munch zip around from place to place. The control scheme could be better. The main buttons are now used to speak, but having two phrases mapped to each button is confusing. The A button is used for both "action" and jumping, which is problematic when you try to grab a Mudokon and leap into an abyss instead! Sometimes the action button doesn't register at all, or does something other than you intended. The directional controls are very touchy, and I don't like the idea of firing a weapon by pushing in on the right thumbstick. Munch's Odyssee has flashes of brilliance here and there, but in the sea of 3D adventures, it doesn't stand out. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


OddWorld: Stranger's Wrath
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2008/3/16
Rating: Teen

screenshotThe previous game, Oddworld: Munch's Odyssee (Xbox, 2001), received a lukewarm response so Stranger's Wrath tried to re-envision the franchise as a first-person shooter - with mixed results. Instead of controlling that dorky-but-loveable alien Abe, you play the role of a scruffy cowboy bounty hunter with a low, gravelly voice. In contrast to the dark industrial environments of previous OddWorld game, Stranger's Wrath features sunny western locales like dusty towns and rocky canyons. The game still retains the same distinctive OddWorld look and feel however, with whimsical characters that appear to be half animal. I'm not generally a fan of the western motif, but I did enjoy exploring the meticulously detailed towns. Stranger's gameplay is really a combination of third-person platform action and first-person shooter (toggled by pushing in the right thumbstick). What makes the shooting action unique is the nature of your ammo. Instead of bullets, you fire live creatures! It sounds a bit cruel, but the animals aren't harmed. You fire chipmunks to coax out enemies, spiders to tie them up, electric bugs to shock, and skunks to nauseate groups of adversaries. While they're incapacitated, you can vacuum them up using a special device. It's a novel approach, but let's face it - capturing enemies is less fun than killing them outright. There's some strategy involved in using combinations of ammo to subdue enemies, but you have to collect ammo by hunting down the small creatures, and that's just tedious. Other key elements are your ability to hide in the weeds, and "shake off" damage at the cost of lower stamina. Stranger's Wrath features sharp graphics, finely tuned controls, and first-rate audio. The dialogue is excellent, I really love the little quips from the chipmunks ("hey - you got somethin' hangin' from your nose!"). But as well constructed as the game is, the western motif wore on me, and after the novelty wore off, the game struggled to maintain my attention. Like the first game, Stranger's Wrath is thoughtfully designed but may be too clever for its own good. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/4/15
Rating: Teen (blood, fantasy violence)

screenshotBesides holding the world record for "slowest opening text crawl" in video game history (Zzzzz), Otogi 2 is best known for its stunning visuals. Set in an ancient Asian fantasy world, this hack-n-slash adventure has one thing going for it, and that's pure eye candy. The scenery is beautiful to behold and the hulking creatures are definitely not the usual suspects. Adversaries include ferocious spiders, huge animated statues, and less-impressive "ghouls" that appear to be made of construction paper. But you haven't seen anything until you've witnessed about a hundred monsters attack you at once! As you pound buttons like there's no tomorrow, all HELL breaks loose on the screen. Your combos look spectacular as vivid lines trace your devastating swings, and the level of chaotic mayhem is unprecedented. As you send enemies flying, they tend to destroy the scenery as well. There's a downside to this madness however. Quite simply, you can't tell what's going on much of the time, and when your ass gets knocked clear across the screen, you'll have no idea what hit you. Otogi 2 is better designed than its predecessor (it has to be), but it inherits the same shallow, monotonous gameplay. Each stage is introduced by some ostentatious background narration, but your goal is always the same: destroy everything. Before each stage you can select from a set of unique characters, some more animal than human. A stage select is also included, and it's a welcome departure from the linear gameplay of the original. One of my big complaints about the first Otogi was how it never prompted you to save your game. Believe it or not, Otogi 2 doesn't either. Instead, it "reminds" you that you need to go to the options menu if you want to save. Would an autosave capability be asking too much? I mean, I know it's only 2005, but throw me a bone here! Otogi 2 is certainly a good-looking game, and that might be enough for some people. But it wasn't enough for me. Sorry. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Otogi: Myth of Demons
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/4/15
Rating: Teen (fantasy violence)

screenshotPlaying Otogi: Myth of Demons was one of the worst video game experiences I've ever had to endure. How this putrid piece of trash was granted a sequel is beyond comprehension. Initially this repetitive hack-n-slash fighter reminded me of Shinobi (PS2 2002). Playing as a mysterious ninja warrior, you move from area to area slashing everything in sight. The hackneyed storyline involves a "broken seal" that's brought darkness to the world. By collecting four "essences" and "purging the demons", you can "revive the great seed". In other words, it's the same recycled garbage you always see in these kind of games. Otogi does feature unique monsters and ancient Asian scenery, but its gameplay is mind numbing at best. I can't decide if the controls are more annoying or bizarre. You can leap great distances, but never with any degree of precision. Although armed with both a normal and hard attack, the hard one is all you need. While in mid-air, you can remain there indefinitely by continually hacking away at anything nearby. You can also execute a mid-air "dash" - many times in a row in fact. While in the air, you'll often find yourself disoriented, and perhaps inadvertently positioned over a bottomless chasm (great!). Otogi's camera system is a real nightmare. It's always facing the wrong direction, and swinging it around is slow and tedious. But by far the worst aspect of Otogi is its wildly uneven difficulty. Some of the early stages are almost impossible to complete without a walk-through. The abysmal gameplay is matched by an equally inept menu system. At the conclusion of each stage, the game mentions something about "saving map data", but don't be fooled - it's NOT saving your game! To really save, you must take a detour to the options menu - another example of the game's pitiful design. You can purchase weapons and items between stages, be warned that some weapons for sale may be weaker that your current one! The one thing cool about this game is the chain reactions that occur when you smash boxes. No question about it - Otogi should have never seen the light of day. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Outlaw Golf: Holiday Golf
Grade: F
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2002)
Reviewed: 2010/2/21
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, mild language, mild violence)

screenshotThis "interactive demo" was originally sold at Blockbuster video stores at the bargain price of $4.99. It's basically a scaled-down version of Outlaw Golf (GameCube, 2002) outfitted with a holiday theme. I like the concept! Unfortunately, the original Outlaw Golf was marred by unfunny commentary, poorly-designed courses, atrocious camera angles, and confusing controls. Consequentially, Holiday Golf never had much of a chance. Its festive title screen makes an effort to get you into a holiday mood with a nice rendition of Jingle Bells. The players are decked out in Christmas colors and diminutive elves serve as spectators. The scenic courses feature ice-encrusted trees and quaint cottages, and if you look closely, you might get a glimpse of Santa flying with his reindeer! Before you begin playing however, be sure to shut off that obnoxious buffoon of a commentator. There's a fine line between irreverent and stupid, and this guy didn't get the memo. Even without the idiotic banter however, Holiday Golf is a disaster. I can accept the rock-hard, icy fairways, but obstacles like pipelines and overpasses seem strategically placed for the sole purpose of pissing you off. Many greens are unfairly sloped towards water or sand traps. The very first hole is an "island", and as you can guess, the ball rolls off of it all the time. The putting game is so bad, this game could qualify as cruel and unusual punishment. You have the option of initiating tantrums and beating up your caddie, but these gimmicks are more pathetic than funny. Adding insult to injury, there is substantial load times between holes. Holiday Golf was meant to be a promotional stunt, but it's best remembered as a cautionary tale. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Outlaw Golf: Nine More Holes of Xmas
Grade: F
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2003)
Reviewed: 2010/2/21
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, mature sexual themes, mild language, mild violence)

screenshotI question the existence of this sequel, considering what an utter travesty the first holiday golf game was! The back of the box states, "Stuff this! (in your stocking stoopid!)" which offers keen insight into the game's intellectual level. It's hard to believe someone actually got paid to write that. Nine More Holes begins with the generic Outlaw Golf intro, but transitions into a nice holiday screen with Jingle Bell Rock music. The gameplay is on par with the previous Holiday Golf game, which puts it squarely into "trainwreck" territory. This edition offers tutorial videos which are unwatchable thanks to stereotyped characters that try hard to be funny but fail miserably. For the first three holes or so, this game seems to be a modest improvement from the previous edition. The courses tend to be wider with less annoying obstacles. Then you reach a series of holes that look like floating islands. Two words: Ill-advised! In addition to inexplicable hole designs, the camera angles are atrocious. Sometimes after hitting the ball the camera will remain planted behind you, making you wonder where the hell your ball went. In one instance I found myself in an impossible situation, and if not for the shot limit, I would have been stuck on that hole for the rest of eternity. As usual for Outlaw titles, the game's corny sense of humor is so bad that a barf bag should have been included in the package. The animations of a hot female golfer slapping her caddie and pulling their hair is pretty hilarious - if you're seven years old! How low can a video game go? Try Nine More Holes of Christmas and find out for yourself. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Outlaw Volleyball
Grade: C-
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/5/12
Rating: Mature (mature humor, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotI tend to enjoy Volleyball games, and considering the incredible babes that grace this title, Outlaw Volleyball should have rated much higher. These chicks are even sexier than the gorgeous dames in Dead or Alive Volleyball (Xbox). Outlaw Volleyball also includes an assortment of male characters, but what's the point in that? What really stinks is that only two of the females are available off the bat, and you'll need to invest an inordinate amount of time in the single-player "tour" mode to unlock the others. The gameplay itself is average at best. Well-designed controls let you set the ball and aim shots with precision, and a power meter determines the potency of your spikes. Unfortunately the females tend to be weak, and as a result most games feature endless volleys. But the biggest drawback to this game is its whole "outlaw" theme. The loud-mouthed, wisecracking announcer is a complete jerk, and I had to shut him off almost immediately. The volleyball courts are set in unappealing places including a prison and a sewer. Wacky extra "features" like exploding balls, dynamite, and one-on-one fights do nothing but bog down the action. Although the packaging refers to the humor as "mature", in fact it's anything but! When all is said and done, Outlaw Volleyball is fair, but it's really no better than any of the other volleyball games on the market. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Outlaw Volleyball Red Hot
Grade: NA
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/5
Rating: Teen

screenshotYou may have seen this $5 demo game sitting at your local Blockbuster, and it's not a bad deal. Red Hot is basically a teaser for the full-blown Outlaw Volleyball game, and it certainly did attract my attention. This demo appeals to the primal urges of male players by featuring four incredibly shapely chicks playing volleyball on a court located in hell. These are hands-down the hottest women I've ever seen in a video game (as of this writing), even surpassing the gratuitously sexy dames of Dead or Alive Xtreme Volleyball (Xbox). The scenery consists of fiery caverns and huge demon spectaculars that look downright scary. If the minimal gameplay offered here is any indication, the real Outlaw Volleyball is a pretty solid game. The controls are easy to learn and similar to Beach Spikers (Sega). The court is displayed vertically, and the camera can be an issue if you're playing on the far side of the net. In the true "Outlaw" spirit, you can also initiate fights with the other team, but inexplicably the girls do NOT use this opportunity to rip off each other's clothes, much to the chagrin of me and my friends. The only real complaint I have is with the idiotic commentator. His nonstop remarks are both obnoxious and moronic, and I really felt like beating the living [expletive] out of him. But ultimately Red Hot is a nice little demo that serves itspurpose quite well, and I'm not just saying that because it features a bunch of half-naked chicks. Okay, okay, I am just saying that because it features a bunch of half-naked chicks. Oh, and by the way, don't try to unlock any hidden players or courts, because you can't. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Outrun 2
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Reviewed: 2006/6/24
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOutrun 2 rekindled long-dormant feelings of the first time I played Ridge Racer on the Playstation. The colorful graphics and simple controls of Outrun 2 are unadulterated arcade joy. Too many racers in recent years have adopted that tired, God-forsaken Gran Turismo formula, where you start with a 82' Ford Escort, painstakingly earn 12 licenses, and after 20 hours finally work your way up to a turbo-charged Honda Civic. Enough of that! The original Outrun (1986) was (and is) pretty spectacular despite its lack of true 3D graphics (it used scaling sprites). Outrun 2 delivers the same brand of instant gratification as you tear across the countryside in a red convertible with a hot blonde in the passenger seat. The slightly-washed-out scenic backdrops include a tropical resort, a medieval castle, a haunted forest, snowy mountainside, and an amusement park. The road forks periodically, letting you seamlessly select a new stage while adjusting the difficulty (the right branch is always harder). I love how there's no concept of laps. The game's terrific sensation of speed is also commendable, matched only by the Burnout games. Outrun 2's controls are minimal (accelerate, brake, shift), and I have to admit I sometimes found myself instinctively reaching for a turbo button that wasn't there. Power slides play a major role in the game, but they're very unrealistic and difficult to control. Initiating a slide is no problem but straightening up is another story. Upon crashing, your car just flips a few times before quickly recovering. The highlight of Outrun 2 is its exciting "arcade mode" where you attempt to reach the finish line of a branching track before a timer runs out. Too bad there's no high score screen! In the "heart attack mode", your passenger instructs you to complete tasks along the way, such as hitting cones, avoiding crashes, power sliding, or driving over colored areas. The more you screw up, the more incensed she becomes. There's also a "challenge mode" with individual missions to complete, but many border on tedious ("math racing"?!). There's an on-line mode and a lame "take-turns" party mode, but sorry, no split screen. Outrun 2's soundtrack is a collection of generic synth-pop tunes, which sound cheesy at first but have an old school charm. The original Outrun is included as an unlockable, and it many ways it's better than Outrun 2! Even so, this great-looking game provides more instant gratification than most modern games. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2006)
Reviewed: 2009/7/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotLike its Playstation 2 cousin (which is practically identical), this racer will absolutely thrill arcade fans. Not only is Outrun 2006 easy to play, but the eye candy is off the charts! Its breathtaking tracks wind through sunny beach resorts, rocky South American ruins, and gorgeous national parks. There's even a Las Vegas stage that will blow your mind. There are plenty of play modes, but you really can't beat the old-fashioned "Outrun" mode where it's all about reaching the finish line before time expires. Coast to Coast conveys a potent sense of speed with its steep hills, long curves, and ample straightaways. Since the tracks branch, each time you play you can view a different set of scenery. It's great fun to tap the brake to initiate a controlled power slide on a long turn, and you can keep it going for quite a while without slowing down. A cool new "slip stream" element provides a speed boost whenever you line up behind another racer. Outrun 2006 is a smooth ride, but things can get intense as you near the end of a section with those final few seconds ticking down. Passing the checkpoint adds more time to the clock, which usually provide a sense of relief. Outrun 2006 shines in the audio department, providing updated renditions of classic Outrun tunes like Splash Wave, Magical Sound Shower, and Passing Breeze. It's a shame there's no split-screen mode - multiplayer is available on-line only. Another annoyance is Coast to Coast's confusing menu system that makes you sift through tons of modes - few of which are explained anywhere. Compared to the PS2 edition of Coast to Coast, the graphics are slightly grainy, but the ability to use an Xbox controller (with those big triggers) gives this one an edge in the control department. You really can't go wrong with any version of Outrun 2006, which perfectly combines old-school gameplay with state of the art graphics. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Painkiller: Hell Wars
Grade: B-
Publisher: Dreamcatcher (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/11/6
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity)

screenshotWith first-person shooters becoming increasingly more sophisticated (see Bioshock and Halo 3), Painkiller's "shoot-everything-that-moves" gameplay is refreshing and fun. This game was first released for the PC in 2004, and I still recall my friend Scott showing it off and telling me what a great Halloween title it was. He was right! Despite its age, Painkiller still looks great on the Xbox. The game's storyline is conveyed through cut-scenes starring a topless gal named Eve. As you stare intently at her boobs, she blabs away about something or another. Painkiller's early stages are set in spooky graveyards and vast cathedrals, complete with chanting and organ music. Hooded monks approach menacingly but explode into meaty chucks when blasted at close range. Each stage offers a fantastic new environment like a swamp, prison, opera house, town, or asylum. A few stages go a bit overboard with the winding staircases, so much so that the opera house actually made me nauseous! Painkiller is fast and frantic, but despite the occasional hiccup in the frame rate, the action flows smoothly. The game's innovative weapons include a wooden stake gun, a freeze ray, and the "Painkiller", which is best described as a "blender on a stick". Enemies react according to where they're hit, so when an approaching freak takes a wooden stake to the chest, it looks awesome. You'll face a nice variety of monks, knights, bikers, mental patients, demons, and even witches on broomsticks!. They are all nicely rendered and spooky-looking. Unfortunately, there are only two or three enemies per level, and the massive waves of attackers make you feel like you're killing the same guys over and over again! Heavy metal guitar riffs play as you unleash a six-pack of whoop-ass on the undead bastards. Lucky for you, they never seem to realize that those barrels are indeed flammable. Occasionally you'll transform in a demon yourself, becoming invincible as your vision changes to a blurry black-and-white perspective. Once the carnage subsides, you can collect souls and search for ammo, weapons, and hidden areas. It's really annoying how souls take a few seconds to appear, forcing you to wait impatiently for these green clouds to materialize (yes, souls are green!). Gold coins can also be collected and used to purchase tarot cards (power-ups) between stages. Painkiller's colossal bosses are impressive, and some of these towering behemoths reminded me of Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 2, 2005). I truly enjoyed Painkiller's occult themes and pick-up-and-play quality. If it's close to Halloween and you're feeling more violent than usual, you may even want to bump up the grade to a solid "B". © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Panzer Dragoon Orta
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/2/27
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)

screenshotFew people had a chance to experience the original Panzer Dragoon games on the Sega Saturn, so it's good to see the series come back strong on the XBox. In this third chapter, you pilot a dragon through fantastic, dream-like worlds, blasting monsters and bombarding huge airships with your immense firepower. Although the game is largely "on rails" (your course is predetermined) there is some room to navigate around obstacles, and at certain points you can even alter your path through a stage. The background story revolves around Orta, a young girl who rides a dragon. The visuals, both in the cut scenes and during the game, are outstanding and sometimes exhilarating. As times it feels like one of those theme park illusion rides, and it's fun to play too. You can rotate your view 360 degrees and a useful radar pinpoints your enemies' direction. You deal most of your damage using lock-on missiles, but you'll need your regular shots to shoot down incoming projectiles. As your ace in the hole, there's the powerful "berserker" attack that basically obliterates everything on the screen. You can also dash, slow down, and switch between standard, powerful, and agile dragon forms on the fly. This unusual shooter demands a tremendous amount of technique and strategy. Fortunately, an outstanding tutorial walks you through the finer points of the game. There's also a "Pandora's Box" menu option which houses goodies that open up as you progress. My main complaint with Panzer Dragoon Orta is that you don't always know what the heck is happening around you. The disconcerting camera angles during play, coupled with an incomprehensible storyline often left me bewildered. Sometimes friendly companions are difficult to distinguish from the bad guys, and the colossal bosses require an inordinate amount of time to defeat! Orta is one tough game, and you shouldn't be ashamed to set the difficulty to easy. Still, this is a game you'll return to time and time again. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Pinball Hall of Fame: The Gottlieb Collection
Grade: C
Publisher: Crave (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/3/22
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI happen to be a big pinball fan. I own my own Lord of the Rings pinball machine and I'm familiar with the history of the game, which extends way back to the early 1900's. So as you can imagine, I was pretty psyched when I found this collection of seven pinball games from the 1950's through the 90's: Ace High, Central Park, Big Shot, Genie, Black Hole, Victory, and Tee'd Off. Pinball is one of those "real world" games that translates surprisingly well to video game. Especially on the PC, there's no shortage of fantastic pinball titles. The tables in Pinball Hall of Fame are rendered in photo-realistic detail, and you can even see the reflection of the backboard on the table! The flippers are perfectly responsive, and you can shake the table with the joystick (just be careful not to tilt). But what really struck me was just how antiquated the tables look, with the exception of the futuristic "Black Hole" from 1980. Still, some of the older tables are surprisingly fun and addictive, partially due to their sheer simplicity. The 1974 Big Shot looks cheesy as hell, but has that "one more time" quality that keeps you coming back, trying to top your best score. Ironically, the most recent game in the package, "Tee'd Off" from 1993, is also the least interesting. Its excessive ramps and hidden passengers make it hard to tell what's going on. In all of these games, the ball animation is silky smooth but has a "floaty" quality that seems unnatural. In addition, the elongated shape of the table is hard to capture on a television screen. The close-up viewing angle makes it hard to react to caroms and aim for targets. The wide-angle view lets you see the whole table, but most of the graphical detail is lost. On the bright side, the Gottlieb Collection includes plenty of background information, a generous number of configuration options, and its under-$20 price is certainly reasonable. It's difficult to capture of the essense of real pinball in a video game, but Pinball Hall of Fame's effort is commendable. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Pirates of the Caribbean
Grade: D-
Publisher: Bethesda (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/7/27
Rating: Teen (violence, gambling, use of alcohol)

screenshotWhen I first started playing Pirates of the Caribbean, I could tell that something wasn't right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. After a few minutes, I finally figured it out - this is a PC game! You can tell by the awkward user interface, unresponsive control, and the tedious nature of the game in general. And get this - it isn't even based on the movie! It's just a third-person pirate RPG with a Disney license slapped on it. Granted, the graphics are terrific - especially the picturesque colonial townships, finely detailed tall ships, and gorgeous sunsets on the water. But the game itself is a real drag, and most console gamers won't tolerate its sluggish controls and slow pace. Sure there's sword fighting and sea battles, but you'll spend most of your time wandering around, bartering with merchants, and having pointless conversations with the locals. I love the subject matter, but I didn't have the patience for this game. And except for a brief sword fighting tutorial in the beginning, you have figure out everything yourself, which is terribly frustrating. The "user-hostile" interface doesn't help matters. You walk up to a chest and a hand appears in the corner, but no matter what button you hit, nothing happens! The sword fighting moves lag behind your commands, and the framerate stutters on a regular basis. The strength of the game lies in your freedom to roam as you please. It won't advance the story, but you can sail to different islands and visit many scenic locations. The music is also pleasant and appropriate for the time period. If you're looking for a slow-paced adventure with a strong storyline, maybe Pirates of the Caribbean will appeal to you. But for action-minded gamers, I'd recommend Pirates: Legend of Black Kat (PS2, Xbox) instead. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Reviewed: 2006/10/14
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotAlthough widely overlooked, Legend of Black Kat is arguably the best pirate game ever made. It's a potent combination of explosive sea battles, interesting island exploration, and exciting swordplay. The game progresses at a steady clip thanks to its nicely tuned difficulty, responsive controls, and frequent save points. You assume the role of an attractive female pirate by the name of Kat, who must single-handedly battle famous pirates, giant crabs, gorillas, and skeletons. In addition to wielding a sword, Kat can hurl knives and toss exploding powder kegs. Each island is unique and fun to explore. I especially like the nifty vibration effect that alerts you of nearby buried treasure. Controlling your ship on the high seas is easy thanks to arcade-style controls that even include a turbo boost! Blasting away at other ships is satisfying, especially when they explode into flames. This Xbox version's graphics are noticeably more polished than the Playstation 2 version, and its crisp audio includes creaking boats hulls, exotic birds, resounding explosions, and a lively musical score. The save and load times are much better in this version as well. Those looking for realism will prefer Sid Meier's Pirates (Xbox, 2005), but gamers looking for non-stop action should check out this underrated adventure. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Pitfall: The Lost Expedition
Grade: C-
Publisher: Activision (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/7/3
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAttempting yet another comeback after his ill-fated 16-bit Mayan Adventure in the 90's, Pitfall Harry is once again swinging from vines and hopping over crocs. Lost Expedition is somewhat disappointing - it lacks polish and fine-tuning - but there's still some fun to be had. The graphic style strikes a whimsical tone with large-headed, cartoonish characters. Its basic gameplay and lush tropical scenery suggest Crash Bandicoot (Playstation), but some of the more expansive areas exhibit a Tomb Raider influence. Pitfall's graphics are easy on the eyes. Beautiful plants sprout around ivy-covered ruins, and you can see far into the distance. Likewise the crisp sound effects make you feel immersed in a jungle filled with birds, monkeys, chanting natives, crumbling rocks, and waterfalls. Many of the basic gameplay elements from the Atari 2600 (1982) game are included, like leaping over pits, swinging from vines, avoiding rolling logs, and dealing with crocodile-infested waters. But unlike the original game, navigating vines is slow and tedious, requiring you to constantly reposition yourself, and then swing back and forth to gain momentum. Harry also has the ability to roll up into a ball (a la Metroid) and the obligatory "stealth" mode lets him sneak around snoozing monkeys. I really like the invisible checkpoints and the fact that long falls are not fatal. It's also cool to escape from the jaws of a crocodile by pressing a button rapidly. Unfortunately, Lost Expedition is plagued with design flaws. The stages have multiple paths, but most are only accessible after acquiring a specific item (like a torch or gas mask) much later in your journey. This means you'll be doing a lot of backtracking through areas you've already been through several times, and that just sucks. Managing items is a pain, and performing a simple task like drinking water from your canteen is needlessly complicated (and almost impossible during a battle). Why the right joystick is used to "grab" is beyond my comprehension. The camera is funky, so you'll need to constantly adjust it. Objectives are often unclear and even when they are clear, it's confusing how to accomplish them (okay, I have a torch, and I'm supposed to burn these crates - but how?) The dialogue can be hard to hear, but that might be considered a bonus considering how corny it is. Pitfall's maps and instructions are presented in a tattered, handwritten presentation that looks cool but can be hard to read. In the end, the Lost Expedition is a good-looking adventure but spotty gameplay prevents it from reclaiming the glory days of the franchise. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Project Gotham Racing
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microsoft (2001)
Reviewed: 2001/12/6

screenshotI'm not sure what "Project Gotham" means, but this is no Batman game. It's a super-realistic racer that takes you through the streets of New York, London, Tokyo, and San Francisco. With sharp graphics, responsive control, and intense gameplay, Project Gotham is easily one of the best racers I've ever played. The 25 cars look fantastic and handle like a dream. The tracks aren't very exciting, but there's plenty of variety and the cities look fairly realistic. The main problem is that the tracks tend to have VERY dark shadows, making it difficult to judge upcoming turns. A well-designed "kudos" system allows you to earn points by driving with style, speed, and skill. It's really fun to watch your points rack up during a good run. You use these points to unlock new tracks and cars. Unlike Gran Turismo 3 (PS2), you won't have to invest an inordinate amount of time to get to the good stuff. The audio is less impressive, and the "radio" tunes didn't really appeal to me. The four-player split-screen mode is smooth and very competitive. Project Gotham is really a very impressive first generation racer for the XBox. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Project Gotham Racing 2
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/6/23
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe Xbox's "flagship racing franchise" (it says so on the box) is back with more of everything that made the original such a hit. Realistic graphics, precision handling, and endless challenges signify this first-class racer. Project Gotham 2 (PG2) features over 100 cars (in 14 classes) and 100 tracks located all over the world, including Chicago, Washington DC, Sydney, Yokohama, Stockholm, Barcelona, and Moscow. The tracks are well designed with realistic scenery, but like the first Project Gotham, they're plagued by over-shading that makes it hard to see where you're going. The problem is especially glaring in the split-screen mode, but it even affects the single-player mode. The "night tracks" are ridiculously dark, especially if you shatter your headlights! The career mode provides a wide array of challenges, including navigating cone courses and reaching breakneck speeds on the "speed camera" courses. One of the charms of the first Gotham Racing was its "kudos" system, which awarded points for stylish maneuvering - mainly power slides. Well in Project Gotham 2 the developers (Bizarre Creations) went cuckoo for kudos! It seems like you earn kudos for everything, including overtakes, good "lines", drafts, and "clean sections". Heck, I inadvertently earned some Kudos for sneezing during one race! I'm sure Bizarre Creation's intentions were good, but it feels very watered down. The new multi-tier kudos system is needlessly complex. When you finish a race and tons of bonus kudos are heaped upon you, it just feels routine. Despite these minor quibbles, PG2 still manages to be both realistic and fun. The cars handle precisely, and the game supports on-line play (which I did not try). The four-player split screen is fun but I wish it was more obvious when you finish the race. I often found myself driving an extra lap before noticing the small word "Finished" in the corner of my screen. Project Gotham 2 may not be the end-all of racers, but fans of the original will consider this more of a good thing. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Quantum Redshift
Grade: B+
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/1/30
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotI've played plenty of futuristic racers with hovering vehicles, from F-Zero on the SNES to Wipeout on the Playstation. But Quantum Redshift seems to have learned from the lessons of those past games and put together a superior product. It has simple controls, large vehicles, and some of the most visually compelling tracks I've ever seen. You'll race through loops, underwater, and over waterfalls. The scenery is so varied that it's impossible to describe, but always magnificent in scale. When you race through water, drops bead on your windshield, and it looks terrific. Likewise the explosions are huge, colorful, and satisfying. The simple control scheme lets you shoot homing missiles, straight missiles, engage turbo, or activate a shield. The shield is great to have when you're in the lead (or approaching the finish line!). You're warned of incoming fire so you even know when to engage it. The racing vehicles are large and meticulously detailed. While they may bounce off walls quite a bit, they never slow down much. The races are relatively short, and you'll always look forward to see what the next track has in store. An up tempo (but repetitive) techno soundtrack keeps the intensity high. So what's not to like about this game? Well the difficulty goes through the roof when you go from amateur to expert level, and some of the advanced tracks are very narrow and windy, requiring memorization to do well. Also, Quantum Redshift isn't very original, and you probably have a game like this in your collection already. But it's certainly a wild, exciting ride. I played it until my index finger was sore. Sounds like a recommendation to me. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


R: Racing Evolution
Grade: F
Publisher: Namco (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/5/12
Rating: Teen (mild language, suggestive themes)

screenshotDespite the name change, R: Racing Evolution is the spiritual successor of Namco's Ridge Racer series, which was wildly popular on the original Playstation thanks to its exotic tracks and arcade-style gameplay. The disappointing Ridge Racer V was released at the PS2 launch, and it had rush job written all over it. I was hoping R: Racing Evolution would get the series back on track, but this game is fairly worthless. Straying from it's arcade roots, Evolution tries to do everything other racing games are doing, but doesn't do them nearly as well. It offers realistic tracks and cars (a la Gran Turismo), street racing (Need For Speed Underground), rally racing (Rallisport Challenge), and awards you points slick maneuvering (can you say "Project Gotham Racing"?) The graphics are average and the tracks are awfully boring. The driving action is sleep-inducing. There's zero sensation of speed or excitement, and every lap feels like an arduous ordeal. The cars handle like Mack trucks, and you'll constantly plow into the guardrails on turns. After one race, my friend Scott turned to me and asked, "Can you unlock the good game?" R: Racing's few original features are remarkably lame. First, there's the "auto-brake" which automatically slows you down during turns. Who the heck asked for THIS? Sure it makes the game easier, but who wants the computer doing half the driving for you? Next, we have the "pressure" meters that look like health bars above the cars ahead of you. Apparently, closing in on other cars makes them nervous and susceptible to committing "mistakes". I don't get it. During races, you can hear your manager and other racers talking over the radio, and this would be interesting if their remarks weren't so repetitive. The "Racing Life" story mode (laughably described as "immersive") is simply a series of races and cut-scenes tracing the story of a hot Asian chick who becomes a serious racecar driver. If not for the skintight outfits and gratuitous cleavage, these cut-scenes would not be worth watching at all. R: Racer also includes a slew of "challenges" for the single player, but you have to purchase each one, which is dumb. One thing I do like is the high-angle instant replays, which look television-quality, at least until you notice those flat cardboard spectators in the stands! The soundtrack is weak, and some of the menu screen music sounds like it's broken. With minimal innovation and no sense of purpose, R: Racing Evolution is completely forgettable. I'm not sure why this even exists. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Rallisport Challenge
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/8/14

screenshotYou have to love rally racing. It's all the thrills of real racing without the control! We're talking about racing through the sand, mud, or on ice. You're going to slide around a lot, so you'll need to use more finesse than you would in a typical racer. My first experience with rally racing came with Sega Rally on the Saturn (1996), which set the standard quite high. Nowadays, even Gran Turismo (PS2) has rally tracks. There's just something about careening through the elements half out of control. Rallisport offers two basic types of racing action. You can race against time through a series of track "segments", which take you through mountains, countrysides, and deserts. Or you can challenge three other cars in more conventional races with circuits and laps. A four-player split-screen mode is also included. The graphics are top notch. The shiny cars look real, and kick up plenty of dirt and mud. The tracks are realistic, and the use of lighting is phenomenal. The snow tracks with shiny ice are particularly striking. The tracks aren't overly long, so the races don't go on forever like they do in some other games. Tight controls allow you to execute precision power slides thanks to flawless physics modeling. Once you get the hang of the controls, it's easy to get carried away and try to speed through the course. But be aware that hitting an embankment can send your car spinning through the air. It can take time for your car to upright itself, but the convenient white button will put you right back on track. I've found that using other cars as "guard rails" is an effective technique. So what's not to like about Rallisport? Well, like many racing games, you don't get any computer opponents in the split-screen mode, which is very disappointing. Also, some players may have a hard time finding a comfortable camera angle. I finally settled into using the most distant behind-the-car view. The game provides visual and audio cues about upcoming turns and road conditions, but it often seems like it's two turns ahead, which is confusing. Finally, you'll need to complete some very difficult and long competitions in order to access most of the tracks and cars. But overall this game is loads of fun. Some players won't like all the sliding, but this is a rally game, and you can't blame a tiger for being a tiger. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 player 


Red Dead Revolver
Grade: B
Publisher: Rockstar (2004)
Reviewed: 2010/6/20
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotI hardly consider myself a fan of the genre, but I've been known to appreciate a good western game provided there's enough spurting blood and extended death sequences. Red Dead Revolver satisfies my criteria. The star of the game is a bounty hunter named Red, but you'll play as several characters throughout the adventure. Eschewing a lengthy tutorial, Red Dead sprinkles in short training challenges as new techniques are introduced. Taking cover behind scenery is key, and special "red dead shots" employ slow-motion so you can unload on several targets at once. The controls are good, and when a fountain of chunky blood spurts forth from an enemy, it's satisfying! The outlaws tend to be really ugly - as all bad guys should be! Red Dead Revolver is linear in design, but that keeps the narrative tight and the pacing crisp. The cut-scenes are brief but you can easily skip them. The game boils down to a series of sharp-shooting challenges in varied locations like a runaway train, a rocky mountain passage, and a ghost town. The stages vary dramatically in length, ranging from about a minute to nearly a half hour. Red Dead's gunplay has shades of Halo, especially when you face the diminutive, giggling clown outlaws. I detected no serious flaws, but occasionally a frustrating boss (like Pig Josh) will disrupt the game's momentum. There are also a few circumstances where you have to restart the entire stage after an untimely demise. Red Dead Revolver is a game of exceptional quality. During a train shootout, you'd expect that falling off the train would spell your demise, but no - it's actually possible to climb back on! The developers used faded colors, blurry visuals, and "film imperfections" to give the game a weathered look, as if you were watching an old western on TV. The music is fantastic and the voice acting is convincing. If you're looking for a western that's heavy on action and light on drama, Red Dead Revolver is your game. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Rocky
Grade: A-
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/4/26
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotI've played plenty of boxing games in my day, from Activision's Boxing (Atari 2600) to Punch Out (NES, SNES), to Evander Holyfield's "Real Deal" Boxing (Genesis), to Ready 2 Rumble (Dreamcast), but Rocky is probably the best. Ubi Soft should be congratulated for somehow managing to strike the perfect balance of arcade action and realism. And unlike most movie-based games that squander their license, this one is surprisingly faithful to the Rocky movies, with fighters, arenas, music, and cut scenes taken directly from the five films. When you see those awesome movie clips and hear that classic theme, you can't help but get pumped up. The fighters look amazingly real, and their animation is silky smooth. As punches land, blood and sweat flies, and the fighters clearly take some serious punishment. Trainers council the fighters in their corners between rounds. Rocky fans will love the meticulously detailed arenas, which include a chapel, a bar, grand arenas, and even outdoor venues. But what's most surprising is the quality of the gameplay. The controls are easy to grasp, and there are a wide variety of punches and dodges. The fights tend to be intense and exciting. Even a fighter who's losing badly can manage a knockout if he unleashes a fury at the right time. The two-player mode is tremendously competitive, and I actually worked up a sweat playing it. In the one-player mode, the boxing matches follow the sequence of the films, and Rocky even "evolves" as you progress. You can save your place after each bout. You'll need to train Rocky between bouts in order to build up his strength, stamina, movement, determination, and speed. Unfortunately, the training sessions can be confusing to figure out, and the difficulty is uneven. Thankfully Ubi Soft included an "auto-train" mode for those who have trouble. What's not to like about this game? Only a few minor things are worth mentioning. First of all, it would be nice to have commentators during the fight. I wish the boxers wore their robes as they are introduced and approach the ring. Also, they apparently didn't secure the license for the song "Eye of the Tiger", which is a major letdown (a second-rate sound-alike is used instead). And who the heck is that "Big Yank Ball" guy? But all in all, Rocky is a fantastic game that far exceeds expectations. Outstanding! © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 player 



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