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Tecmo Classic Arcade
Grade: C+
Publisher: Tecmo (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/12/18
Rating: Everyone (mild violence)

screenshotI'm a sucker for arcade compilations, but compared to others I've played recently, Tecmo Classic Arcade feels a little thin. There are only eleven games, and most are unexceptional. Pleiades (1981, C) is a second-rate Phoenix clone. The first stage features aliens flying in formation that occasionally construct walls over your cannon. The industrial scenery looks attractive but tends to clutter up the screen. The second stage is exactly like the regenerating bird stages in Phoenix, except these targets look more like expanding blobs. The third stage has the obligatory mother ship, but it's not nearly as imposing as the Phoenix version. In the first-person shooter Senjyo (1983, C), you aim crosshairs at approaching enemy vehicles on a mountainous planet surface. Star Force (1984, C+) is a no-frills vertical space shooter with crisp control and better-than-average audio. The double-shot cannons and rapid-fire power-ups make this one worth playing. Bomb Jack (1984, C+) is so simple that you wonder if you're missing something. The back of the box describes it as "the wildly popular" Bomb Jack, but I've never even heard of it. The gameplay involves jumping around platforms while grabbing floating bombs and avoiding enemies. The exotic backgrounds are attractive enough, but they tend to obfuscate your enemies. Tecmo Cup (1985, C) is an overhead soccer game designed to be played on a flat table with one player on each side. As a result, you'll see upside-down text when your opponent scores. I love the nonstop action and simple controls, but finding a good shooting angle is difficult. Rygar (1986, B) is the arcade version of the side-scroller many gamers fell in love with on the NES. Controlling a warrior with a deadly spiked yo-yo, you jump and bash your way past all sort of mythical creatures. The scenery looks gorgeous and the bass-heavy soundtrack rocks, but the repetitive sound effects are grating. Then there's Tecmo Bowl (1987, C), which headlines this compilation. Fans of the NES version are in for a shock. This arcade edition is much slower, featuring huge, cartoonish players. Unlike most other games on this disk, the game stretched fully across my widescreen television. But while it looks great, but the slow-motion gameplay didn't impress me or my friends. Swimmer (1982, F) is my least favorite entry. Guiding a spastic swimmer up a river, you must avoid logs, crabs, and turtles while grabbing fruit for points. The controls are very touchy and inexact, prompting most gamers to yell "next!". Strato Fighter (1991, C) is a conventional side-scrolling space shooter, but its large sprites and realistic explosions make it stand out as a more modern game. It's similar to Gradius or R-Type, except your ship moves like a snail, making navigation frustrating. You'd think the two-player simultaneous mode would be an improvement, but it just complicates matters. Soloman's Key (1986, D) is an attempt to combine puzzle solving with platform jumping, but it's far too cerebral and tedious for my taste. Pinball Action (1985, C-) is a serviceable pinball simulation, although its multiple tables are awfully unimaginative. As for the bonus features, you can peruse a bunch of marketing brochures and marquees, but that's about it. Completists will probably want Tecmo Classic Arcade in their library, but casual gamers would be better served with the Taito or Capcom collections. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Grade: F
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/3/5

screenshotAs a big fan of the old-school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games (particularly Turtles in Time on the SNES), I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into this modern 3D adaptation. So believe me when I tell you that this game is absolutely awful. Seriously. TMNT's cell-shaded graphics are sharp and clean but woefully uninteresting. Your enemies look terribly generic, and you'll barely notice the plain, uninspired scenery. The gameplay itself is repetitive and wholly unsatisfying. You face the same groups of thugs over and over again, which appear out of thin air and disappear in a puff of smoke when defeated. You're also constantly hounded by these little metal dogs that yap non-stop. Granted, the older TMNT games were repetitive too, but at least they were fun. The control here is responsive but there are no interesting attacks. In fact, only your "strong" attack is particularly effective. Each turtle has two loud, annoying voice samples that they shout whenever they attack, and that's the one part of the audio that you can't turn down! Invisible walls block your advancement through a stage until you defeat every last bad guy, and there's always one or two stragglers you have to go back and seek out. I'm telling you - this game is a CHORE to play! You can knock over barrels to create explosions, but you can't control which direction they fly and most of the time you end up blowing up your partner. I'm not sure if this game has unlimited continues, but it sure seems like it. Just be sure to explicitly save your game from the main menu, because it does not save automatically. If you're a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan, bump up the grade by one letter, but I'd advise the rest of you to get your kicks elsewhere. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Terminator: Dawn of Fate
Grade: D
Publisher: Infogrames (2002)
Reviewed: 2004/5/12
Rating: Teen (violence)

screenshotEven though this game received bad publicity/reviews, being a loyal Terminator fan, I purchased this game at a discounted price and hoped it had some redeeming qualities. Well, Dawn of Fate does have its moments, but they are few and far between. The background story is set in the future before the first Terminator was sent back through time. Having grown weary of the dark, post-apocalyptic scenes from the movies, I was disappointed when I realized this whole game is set in that shadowy, war-torn concrete jungle. The only familiar characters are John Connor and Kyle Reese, but they look nothing like the actors that portrayed them in the films. The graphics are rough for an Xbox game, and even the cut-scenes fail to impress. Gameplay involves moving from room to room, blasting terminators while completing "objectives". You'll face a variety of "endoskeleton" robots, but some look blocky and resemble the battle droids from Star Wars. The dark rooms all look the same, so it can be hard to tell if you're backtracking (which you'll need to do plenty of, by the way). Occasionally you'll get a glimpse of the misty, moon-lit sky, and the sight of it is almost a relief. The control is a mess. Both a default third-person angle and a first-person view are available, but neither works particularly well. In the third person view, the camera flips abruptly as you move, causing you to become disoriented and head in the wrong direction. The targeting system is frustrating, and it's easy to get locked onto a terminator in the distance and not be able to shoot the one right in your face. The first-person view provides you a more stable angle and has a zoom, but you can't move while you're in it, making you a sitting duck. Ammo is often in short supply, but you always have the option to fight hand-to-hand. In the movies, the terminators could withstand any degree of punishment, but in Dawn of Fate they explode after simply being punched a few times! Despite some frustrating and repetitive gameplay, Dawn of Fate has a few bright spots. Checkpoints are evenly spaced out and health packs are automatically used when you need them (how refreshing!). Sometimes you can man a mounted cannon and mow down the evil machines with extreme prejudice. A useful "adrenaline" button gives you a boost of speed and accuracy when you need it. The audio features the familiar ominous Terminator music, but the battles are marred by ear-splitting guitar noise. Terminator fans will probably find other reasons to like Dawn of Fate, but it has too many flaws to recommend to the casual player. I think Infogrames may have overestimated the appeal of the aging Terminator franchise when they released this one. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open
Grade: C-
Publisher: Infogrames (2001)
Reviewed: 2003/2/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis early Xbox title isn't anything special, but it has its moments. Taking a page from Smuggler's Run, Off-Road features 53 "legendary" trucks racing from flag to flag in the open wilderness. Although there's usually a road you can follow, there's no penalty from cutting through the brush or flying over a mountain. Actually, cutting corners is pretty much the order of the day, and finding the shortcuts is the key to winning. Test Drive has "arcade" written all over it, with huge jumps, no damage, and trucks that hardly ever roll. Although the framerate remains smooth, the graphics are rather unspectacular and on par with the original Smuggler's Run. You'll race through mountains, jungles, and deserts, but there's just not a whole lot to see. The control scheme is simple, and at times I was wishing for a turbo button. The CPU-controlled opponents are fairly aggressive, often trying to run you off the road or turn you around. Other obstacles include rockslides and oncoming traffic. The career mode is fun at first because you don't need to finish high to move onto the next race, but I lost interest when the tracks started to repeat. The multiplayer mode features an interesting "King of the Hill" variation that my friend Scott compared to jockeying for a parking spot at work. It's certainly different but it's not for everyone. You'll either love or hate the music, depending on how much you like bands like Metallica. Personally, I turned the sound down. If you're looking for a arcade-style off-road game, this will do, but I wouldn't pay full price for it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


The Simpsons: Hit and Run
Grade: C
Publisher: Fox (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/11/22
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHit and Run has been described as a Simpsons version of Grand Theft Auto, and that's not too far off the mark. This whimsical game lets you freely walk or drive around the town of Springfield while performing a series of missions. The scenery is pretty impressive, brimming with humorous details and countless references to the television show. The 3D character models look terrific and the voiceovers were done by the actual Simpson's cast. I loved Hit and Run for the first hour or so, but then it began to wear thin. Most missions involve either racing or collecting items, and it gets repetitive after a while. At least Grand Theft Auto broke up the monotony by letting you shoot a guy every now and then! In addition, I was hoping Hit and Run would let me freely explore the entire town of Springfield, but that's not the case. Instead, different stages contain limited sections of the city, so you never really get the big picture. In addition, although the animation and frame rate are silky smooth, the screen occasionally exhibits a disorienting "wavy" effect. When all is said and done, Simpsons Hit and Run is an awesome concept that doesn't quite live up to its potential. Still, fans of the show will really enjoy immersing themselves in this colorful virtual world. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


The Suffering
Grade: B+
Publisher: Midway (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/10/5
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotI initially backed off of this prison-themed horror title, mainly because of its subject matter, which I perceived to be both disturbing and gratuitously violent. The guy on the cover is in an electric chair for Pete's sake! But once I heard the sequel was set in my hometown of Baltimore, my curiosity was piqued. Upon further investigation, I was surprised to discover a quality, mature-themed action-adventure with impressive production values. This is definitely a mature title. The main character, a hardened criminal named Torque, is trapped in an island prison where chaos breaks out. The profanity is relentless, but considering the characters are hard-core inmates, it actually seems appropriate. The professional voice acting also helps make the profane dialogue sound halfway believable and less gratuitous. The gore manifests itself in splattering blood and severed limbs, but it's nothing I haven't seen before. The Silent Hill-inspired freaks are pretty nasty. Resembling the subjects of sick experiments, some have syringes for eyes and others have blades for limbs. The action is mainly limited to exploring buildings and killing monsters, but it's a blast! Whether using the first or third person viewpoint, you always have a good angle and the controls are responsive and intuitive. During critical moments, you can transform yourself into a rampaging monster. On your journey you'll have the opportunity to team up with other prisoners, who actually help you dispose of these creeps. I also like how monitors on the walls let you preview upcoming areas - we've seen it before, but it's still effective. A tragic background story is conveyed through a series of unsettling hallucinations, providing bits and pieces of Torque's sordid past. If you'd think running around in a prison facility would be boring, you haven't seen Abbott Maximum Security Penitentiary. The atmosphere is intense, with inhuman sounds, alarming percussion, and eerie lighting that convey a sense of danger and foreboding. It's like walking through a haunted house - perfect for Halloween. The surround sound is so effective that you can even use it to locate the source of noises. I'm glad I didn't miss out on this. If you're over 16 and can stomach the gore, The Suffering can be a pleasurable experience. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


The Suffering: Ties That Bind
Grade: B
Publisher: Midway (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/1/21
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs)

screenshotIn the first Suffering game, an anti-hero named Torque blasted his way out of an island prison invaded by the legions of hell. This sequel offers the same brand of limb severing, brain-splattering action, but this time the city of Baltimore has gone to hell (uh... more so). While you might assume the change of venue would lead to a more wide-open brand of chaotic mayhem, that's not really the case. The streets, alleyways, and even rooftop areas tend to be surprisingly closed-in and even claustrophobic in design. Much of the action takes place indoors as well, in some truly disgusting dilapidated buildings. In general, the dark environments are effectively unnerving and extremely well conceived. Likewise, the grotesque monsters with weapons melded to their bloody limbs look absolutely terrific, particularly when combined with the flashes of machinegun fire. I love how they continue to twitch after you pump them full of lead. The Suffering's disturbing locales, regenerating freaks, fantastic lighting effects, and a relentless cacophony of alarming sound effects combine to make Ties That Bind feel like a living nightmare. In addition to its atmosphere, the developers did a lot of other things right as well. The gameplay is fast-paced - almost arcade-like - and the controls never let you down. Although the city is Baltimore by name alone, each new section looks very distinctive and the attention to detail is remarkable. You never feel like you're revisiting similar areas. And instead of forcing to you to view verbose, lengthy cut-scenes (Metal Gear Solid 3 anyone?), the background story is conveyed through brief but effective clips that blur the line between hallucination and reality. The shaky, grainy style of this footage takes its cue from the classic film Seven. While the stages are linear in design, moral decisions you make shape events later in the game. Best of all, The Suffering is easy to play. There's no need to juggle items, because it's all done automatically. You can save at any time, and there's actually an easy difficulty level (good idea!). On the downside, while the voice acting is high quality, I could have done without the gratuitous profanity. Also, while most of the graphics are excellent, the people models look surprisingly angular and stuff. But if you're an adult looking for a shooter than won't make you think very much, Ties That Bind is a satisfying romp. And remember, Baltimore may be the embodiment of hell, but you really can't beat the crab cakes. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


The Thing
Grade: C
Publisher: Konami (2002)
Reviewed: 2014/1/25
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotThe Thing has everything you'd want in a good survival horror title: intense atmosphere, hideous monsters, and plenty of ammunition. You play a soldier sent to Antarctica with a squad to investigate a destroyed base. The sense of isolation is uncanny as your trek over the snowy frozen wasteland. Having blue light poles guide you between buildings is brilliant, since much of the game takes place at night in blizzard conditions. I loved the sound of the wind whistling through my surround sound speakers. I also enjoyed the straightforward nature of the game. There are no weapons to construct, no skills to develop, and no outfits to unlock. You'll frequently seek shelter in small buildings (to avoid freezing) while gathering clues, rescuing survivors, and facing progressively difficult waves of monsters. These twitchy, fleshy red creatures begin as infected men but mutate into into weird freaks with random appendages. I wasn't crazy about the whole "squad" concept until I realized how we could create some sweet crossfire to obliterate incoming swarms of face-grabbers. Be careful about friendly fire though, because when you lose your squad, it feels awfully lonely. And when you peer out a frosty window and see a grotesque monster trying to get in, it's downright alarming! A flamethrower is necessary to completely dispose of larger creatures, but am I even using this thing correctly? It doesn't seem to have any range and I often end up burning myself! One interesting (and surprisingly advanced) original element is the ability to use security cameras to spot and focus in on clues (like written passwords). There are plenty of save points, but after dying you need to return to the main menu to reload your latest save (huh?). And why does my health meter only appear when I use a medical pack? The user interface for interacting with your squad is terribly convoluted, and manipulating items is so labor intensive, it's almost comical. The Thing shows its age with its clumsy controls, but it's still a fun game to curl up with on a snowy night. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


The Warriors
Grade: C-
Publisher: Rockstar (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/12/1
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol)

screenshotHere's a stylish fighter based on a low-budget movie (circa 1979) about rival gangs in New York City. In my opinion, it looks more like an R-rated version of the Welcome Back Kotter! Developed by Rockstar (of Grand Theft Auto fame) and heavily hyped, The Warriors delivers a healthy dose of gang battles, graffiti painting, looting, and general lawlessness. The violence is unflinching and the profanity is practically non-stop. Unlike most games of its kind, The Warriors also offers a deep storyline, realistic environments, and interesting mini-games. You'll run through endless dark alleys, pick fights with other gangs, break into stores, steal radios from cars, and mug innocent bystanders for cash. Unfortunately, the heart of the game, the fighting itself, isn't much more satisfying than mediocre brawlers like Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance. You're also asked to spray an excessive number of red W's all over the place - and man, does that get old! Like every other game on the market, there are obligatory stealth elements thrown in, but they're hardly worth mentioning. The controls used to pick locks and unscrew car radios are clever, and the mechanism for drawing graffiti is also innovative (trace a curved line using the left analog stick). The style of the game is extremely faithful to the film (from what I've heard), but personally I didn't find The Warriors particularly fun or entertaining. The dark, ghetto environments are realistically detailed, but they all look the same. But the biggest disappointment is the two-player cooperative mode. There are plenty of nifty moves and useful weapons, but the awkward camera angles make it hard for one of the players (if not both) to tell what's going on. Even in the single-player mode, the camera is often obstructed, and it's too easy to accidentally target another member of your own gang. I gave the single-player mode a good college try, but completing the numerous objectives of each stage felt like a choire. Fortunately, I unlocked a cool mini-game called "Armies of the Night", which nearly redeems the whole package. A thoughtful tribute to old-school beat-em-ups like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, this is the game I really wanted in the first place! With its side-scrolling stages and simple controls, it's a commendable effort, and I certainly enjoyed it more than the main game. It's still not great though, and the realistic 3D graphics don't hold a candle to the artistic majesty of the 2D classics. The controls could be better as well; I kept smacking around my partner inadvertently. Also, the whiny soundtrack does a pitiful job of replicating the classic old school, electronic music. When all is said and done, The Warriors is heavy on style but light on substance. If you're a big fan of the movie however, feel free to bump up the grade by one letter. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


ToeJam and Earl III
Grade: D
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2004/3/5
Rating: Teen

screenshotSega had to dig pretty deep into their catalog to resurrect this old Genesis cult classic. The original ToeJam and Earl featured two funky aliens engaging in wacky hijinks on a faraway planet, encountering bizarre characters and collecting power-ups in the form of wrapped presents. This third chapter doesn't stray far from the original formula, but of course the scenery is far more lush and interesting now. You still wander around elevated platforms, but the world is hilly instead of flat, and it's broken up into small stages with individuals themes. You can play the role of ToeJam, Earl, or a sassy newcomer named Latisha. Most of the old power-ups have returned, including the high-tops, icarus wings, and spring shoes. Unfortunately, when combined with the frustrating controls these power-ups will often send you flying off a cliff. The first ToeJam and Earl game was known for its catchy beats, and many of the same tunes have been incorporated into this sequel. But unlike the original game, this one features a slew of voice samples, full motion video intermissions, and even a few complete rap songs. But all this extra audio is not necessarily a good thing, because the repetitive urban slang ("yo yo s'up?", "I gotsa go - later y'all") is really annoying after a while. In addition, there's a women's gospel choir that kicks in on a regular basis. My wife declared that ToeJam and Earl III was best played with the TV on "mute". For fans of the original game, this is sure to bring back a lot of memories, but new players probably won't appreciate the characters or humor. Despite all of its fancy graphics and sound effects, I still much prefer the original game. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Torino 2006
Grade: B+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2006)
Reviewed: 2010/2/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOddly enough, the new Vancouver 2010 (PS3, 2010) winter olympic game has given me renewed appreciation for Torino 2006. Torino offers a no-nonsense user interface that lets you play the full 15 events, a shorter 9-event competition, or customize your own. The load times are quick and the graphics are first-rate. The ski and bobsled events convey a nice sensation of speed, giving you that "almost-out-of-control" feeling that's exciting. The camera zooms in at the tightest possible angle, making you feel right on top of the action. The rolling ski slopes look inviting, and while those blinking arrows look gaudy as hell, they clearly indicate where the gates are. The ski events requires a lot of finesse but speed skating focuses on timing. The ski jump is exhilarating, and the bobsleds have a real sense of momentum as you careen through the icy bank turns. Best of all, I could easily play all of these without the benefit of reading instructions or sitting through a boring tutorial! The controls are displayed on the screen as you play, and the system works remarkably well. Only the biathlon event suffers from non-intuitive controls. The target-shooting element is simple enough, but that circular meter that monitors your cross-country stamina is confusing! Best scores are recorded along with your initials, and these are easily viewable from the main menu. Torino lacks the fanfare of opening or closing ceremonies, but its bright white scenery look great and the lighted night events look especially good. The athletes are realistically animated, but I find it a bit odd how about half of the athletes are black! Up to four players can participate, but having to share the same controller is a pain. All in all, Torino 2006 offers a pretty solid all-around Olympic experience. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Transworld Surf
Grade: C-
Publisher: Atari/Infogrames (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/6/7
Rating: Teen

screenshotI should have bought the Playstation 2 version of Transworld Surf instead. Its graphics are better on the Xbox, but its difficulty is insane! Despite spending several hours playing Transworld Surf, I can't seem to make any [expletive] progress! The graphics are adequate, but not as good as you might expect. Yes, the semi-transparent water shimmers nicely, but the waves are too angular to be convincing. Although the scenery includes some exotic locations, you won't see anything but water during the actual game. Controls are somewhat Tony Hawk-ish, but the learning curve is much higher. Eventually you will learn tricks like barrels, jumps, and floats. You can chain together tricks to multiply your points, but instead of awarding these points immediately, the game waits a few extra seconds to see if you screw up afterwards (which in turn reduces your points to zero). Even harder than completing combos is trying to complete the goals of each level. The objectives range from mysteriously vague to nearly impossible. The funny part is, Transworld Surf still kept me coming back for more, probably because the stages are short and the action is intense. Even after a wipeout, the helpful "reef girl" (bikini chick on a jet ski - grrrrowl!) will set you up immediately on the next wave of your choice. Perhaps I'm just a glutton for punishment, but I return to this mediocre game again and again. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Turok: Evolution
Grade: C+
Publisher: Acclaim (2002)
Reviewed: 2008/12/20
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)

screenshotThe original Turok was a hit on the Nintendo 64, but the franchise wore out its welcome after a series of mediocre sequels. Evolution didn't attract as much attention, but it quietly breathed new life into the series with its massive scale and polished visuals. For those not familiar with Turok, it's a first-person shooter (FPS) starring an Indian warrior on a prehistoric planet. Initially armed with a club and bow, you gradually work your way up to high-tech weapons while fighting dinosaurs and armies of lizard men. Evolution kicks off with an overwrought cinematic intro with credits that just go on and on. You'd think it was Star Wars or something. The first few training stages can be hard to stomach, but once things begin to open up, Evolution gains traction. You can see pretty far into the distance, especially with the scopes mounted on most high-powered weapons. The jungle scenery is fairly dense, but you quickly learn that the stages are actually very linear, with pixilated walls of leaves serving as boundaries. The AI with the lizard men leaves much to be desired. When you fire an arrow into one of them, he acts like nothing happened, making it easy to send a second (fatal) shot. His buddy next to him rarely seems to notice either! One element carried over from the previous Turoks is the frequent platform jumping, which is never a pleasant experience in a first-person shooter. There are also some nasty traps that are hard to see coming. The game also features bonus stages that let you fly a pterodactyl equipped with more firepower than an F-15 fighter jet! These exciting stages provide a nice change of pace, but the objectives aren't always clear. I like how Turok's stages tend to be short, and the game automatically saves your progress after each. When you take into account a four-player split-screen mode, you have a very respectable Xbox shooter on your hands. Evolution didn't thrust Turok back into the limelight, but those disenchanted with the Nintendo 64 sequels will be pleased to see him return to form. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Van Helsing
Grade: B-
Publisher: Universal (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/6/23
Rating: Teen (Blood and gore, violence)

screenshotUnlike most movie-based video games, Van Helsing is a very enjoyable action-adventure. I wasn't thrilled with the film, but I must say that Van Helsing's subject matter is perfectly suited for a video game. All the monsters, stages, and bosses are conveniently provided by the film. Van Helsing is a monster hunter in a trench coat on the trail of the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula. The characters closely resemble those in the movie, and like the film, the acting and dialogue are pretty bad. The background story is a streamlined version of the movie, but it's of little consequence in a game like this. You'll have a lot of fun exploring the haunted castles, collecting items, and blowing away undead ghouls. The game is played from a third-person perspective, along the lines of Devil May Cry, Ominusha, or Castlevania Lament of Innocence. Van Helsing doesn't innovate on the genre, but it doesn't have to. The dark, gothic European scenery is quite atmospheric - I just wish I had some control of the camera so I could freely examine my surroundings. The castles, towns, and graveyards are meticulously detailed, but I found the annoying cave levels to be far less interesting. I actually had to subtract half a letter grade for getting stuck in those caves (by no fault of my own of course)! Many stages feature pathways that look similar to each other, resulting in a lot of inadvertent backtracking. You'll face a host of cool creatures like flying vampire women, ephemeral ghosts, and shambling skeletons. Unfortunately, you'll also have to deal with some downright boring pests like floating skulls or Dracula's diminutive workers, who look too much like Ewoks. Our hero is armed out with some very effective weapons like spinning blades and a rapid-fire crossbow. As you would expect, you collect new weapons and learn new moves as you progress. Monsters tend to regenerate when you return to previous areas, but you can often dart right past them. Van Helsing is action packed, and the puzzles aren't very hard to figure out. I love how the game is saved often and transparently. Van Helsing doesn't push the envelope, but it serves its purpose very well. Monster movie fans would be wise to give this one a chance. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Voodoo Vince
Grade: C-
Publisher: Microsoft (2003)
Reviewed: 2012/12/5
Rating: Teen (mild realistic violence)

screenshotThis whimsical 3D platformer is similar to Grabbed by The Ghoulies (Xbox, 2004), but Voodoo Vince wins out with its charming New Orleans scenery and lavish production values. You control an accident-prone voodoo doll who defeats enemies by inflicting pain on himself. When Vince gets the wrong end of a chainsaw, all enemies in the vicinity get sliced in two! The "Big Easy" theme is nicely reflected in the French Quarter architecture, a jazzy musical score, bayou locations, and dark voodoo imagery. Vince appears to be made of fabric, and this was many years before Little Big Planet (Playstation 3, 2008) made that look fashionable. Vince looks funny scampering around but his one-liners fall flat. The platform action is pretty standard as you run around beating up creeps, collecting items, and solving puzzles. Enemies include sparkling frogs, hovering insects, and a T-Rex skeleton boss. The stage objectives are imaginative. In one area you need to blow up some "evil gas pumps" by setting yourself on fire. In another stage you open and close various businesses by adjusting the clock in the town square. The game frequently saves your progress. Voodoo Vince is a polished title but it suffers from the typical nagging 3D platformer issues. Sometimes you don't know what to do, and you'll wander in circles trying to make progress. The city areas have been rocked by earthquakes (apparently), leaving bottomless gorges all over the place. The right stick gives you control of the camera, but it's still hard to judge the edge of walkways. The game's creative moments are offset by some painfully tedious stages. In one where you need to haul a flammable tank up a series of caverns lined with flame mechanisms, and it's less fun than having a tooth extracted. Voodoo Vince has style to burn, but as Vince would say, it's no pain, no gain. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Wakeboarding Unleashed
Grade: A-
Publisher: Activision (2003)
Reviewed: 2008/7/16
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWakeboarding Unleashed is truly a hidden gem in the Xbox library. Its kick-ass intro features Van Halen's "Unchained" playing over footage of people performing stunts on boards while being pulled by speedboats. I don't know if Wakeboarding is a real sport, but this game is amazing. Unleashed is best described as Tony Hawk on water. You launch off your boat's wake, hit buttons to perform crazy acrobatics in mid-air, and finish in time to nail the landing. Naturally there are plenty of strategically located ramps, half-pipes, and rails sticking out of water to grind on. If you get enough air, you can even grind on boats, buildings, and even telephone lines! It's possible to release the rope in mid-air, allowing you to soar to even greater heights! I love the cooperative aspect of this game. One player can drive the boat while the other performs stunts, and this can be played on a horizontal split-screen (preferred), vertical split-screen, or full screen. It's not unusual for the driver to plow into some rocks because he was gawking at some crazy trick. Once you really get the hang of it, Wakeboarding is a thrilling experience. I actually found myself twisting and contorting in my seat while playing. When you're soaring through the air and Molly Hatchet is blaring in the background, the game reaches a level of fun few games can match. Wakeboarding is crazy addictive, but you'll first have to overcome a substantial learning curve which may deter some players. Only one lake location is available from the outset, and while it's not bad, some tropical scenery would have made a better first impression. Other locations include the Louisiana bayou, Venice, and an amusement park. The addictive career mode lists challenges to perform and secrets to find, and most are very difficult to complete. Opening new locations is like pulling teeth, and unlocked stuff doesn't transfer to the cooperative mode. The game could certainly be more accessible, but those who stick with it are in for one hell of a ride. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


World Series Baseball
Grade: C+
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/6/16
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIn 2002, World Series Baseball blew all the other baseball games out of the water. It provides just the right mix of realism and arcade action to create a baseball experience that's fast and exciting. The game minimizes lulls in the action by eliminating time-consuming aspects such as throwing the ball back to the pitcher, batter introductions, warming up relievers, etc. The TV-style camera angles are amazing, and the player mannerisms are remarkably faithful to their real-life counterparts. The animation is superb. A ball hit to a fielder will clearly enter his glove, and the player will catch, plant, and throw in one fluid motion. And unlike other baseball games, these guys always act naturally, even when they're just standing around. The stadiums are much less impressive. The scenery isn't very detailed, and the crowd is pixilated and flat. But unlike the harsh, jaggy visuals of other PS2 baseball games, World Series has a soft, polished look that's oh-so easy on the eyes (like a Dreamcast game!). World Series is easy to play thanks to simple, intuitive controls, although pressing the R button to dive seems a bit odd. The strike zone is large and fielders snatch up everything in their vicinity. Automatic replays show you the angles you wish you'd see on TV, and the manual replay feature is a pleasure to use. The game engine is rock solid, and the attention to detail is commendable. Balls bounce off infielder gloves, first basemen reach for errant throws, and birds fly over the outfield. When you hit an opposing team's batter, be prepared to get a taste of your own medicine. But the game isn't perfect. There are some minor graphical glitches, and the two-man commentary is nowhere NEAR the quality of a television broadcast. Their remarks are sparse, and the color commentator is so boring that you'll always hit a button to skip his lame remarks. And no matter how thrilling a game is, the crowd and commentators always sound like they're ready to nod off. Other problems include the fact that all foul balls look the same, some players are the wrong skin color, and their faces look downright scary up close. Batters always hit the plate with the bat after striking out. You don't get a good view of fly balls, which takes away from the drama of homeruns. Despite its flaws, World Series is still at the head of its class. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


World Series Baseball 2K3
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/5/13
Rating: Everybody

screenshotAt least this game gets extra credit for getting the year right. Believe it or not, most new baseball games are passing themselves off as 2004 games - that nonsense has got to stop! World Series 2K3 builds upon the previous year's solid effort with more animations, deeper gameplay, and additional options. World Series is the best baseball game I've played in a long time. The controls have been dramatically enhanced since last year - just be sure to switch off that stupid "pitching cursor" from the options menu. The best new feature is the ability to jump straight up to snag liners, or scale the wall to rob homers. You can also swing for power, drag bunts, redirect throws to the infield, and steal bases with ease. Pitchers can even shake off pitches you try to enter (how cool is that?), and relievers can be managed in the bullpen. There are a slew of new "retro" options that let you play in classic parks, play as 25 Hall of Famers, or wear throwback uniforms. Otherwise the gameplay is pretty much the same as last year, which is a mostly good thing. Fielders apply tags cleanly, coaches dodge screaming foul balls, and players pull off picture-perfect double plays. The instant replay system is superb, and most of the auto-replays are worth watching. The graphics are about the same, which means the players still look like "Michael" from the Halloween movies. I was rather impressed to see trees in the background swaying in the breeze. The crowd noise is fantastic - it actually sounds like you're at an actual baseball game. I like how you can hit a button to expedite the game between plays, but I wish it wouldn't cut off the commentators so abruptly. Yes, they are boring as hell, but at least they could finish their sentences. Other problems include the fact that the pitchers try to field too many balls. The runners are too swift, creating an inordinate number of triples and inside-the-parker homers. The homerun angles are lousy, and the CPU opponent is slow. Like any good baseball fan, I like to see what happens when I start hitting batters in the head. This does incite a fight, but you only got to see the batter running toward the mound before the game switches to the pitcher selection screen. Next year, I want to see blood! World Series 2K3's intuitive control and arcade sensibility make it your best bet for a "next generation" baseball game. But as good as it is, it's still a bit slow, and it's still baseball. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


X-Men Legends
Grade: C-
Publisher: Activision (2004)
Reviewed: 2005/3/22
Rating: Teen (Blood, violence)

screenshotIt astounds me when I hear this game referred to as an RPG (role playing game), when in fact X-Men Legends plays more like a classic hack-n-slash arcade title. The only RPG elements are the experience points which allow you to "level up". Viewing the action from overhead, up to four players can assume the role of their favorite heroes, engaging in hand-to-hand combat, utilizing special abilities, and even performing "team up" attacks. When less than four players are involved, the CPU controls the others, although you can switch characters on the fly. You begin the game controlling just Wolverine, and gradually unlock other heroes as you progress. There are 16 playable X-Men in all. The comic-book style, cell-shaded graphics look terrific from a high angle, but far less impressive up close. I was enthralled by the cut scenes, which for once are actually worth watching. The best part of Legends is how your characters can occasionally interact with their environment; for example, Iceman can extinguish a fire in your path with an icy blast. It sounds like dream-come-true for comic book fans, but Legends doesn't quite deliver on its promise. I played the game with a few friends and although we were enthusiastic at first, the gameplay wore thin after a short period of time. Continuously beating up the same generic thugs becomes tiresome, and the stage designs are monotonous. Too many times we found ourselves going in circles, asking, "haven't we been here before?" Since the camera is pulled back, there's not much eye candy to enjoy. Also, the save game points are spaced far apart, so dying forces you to revert to your last load and replay a large chunk of the stage - not cool. X-Men Legends does contain some old-school charm, but I'd hardly call it addictive. Casuals fans will tire of it quickly, but bump up the grade by one letter if you're a die-hard. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 



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