Gallop Racer 2004
Publisher: Tecmo (2004)
I don't like to speak badly of games, but this is pretty much the worst game there ever was. Gallop Racer 2004 is loaded with boneheaded design flaws that will alienate all but the most avid horseracing fans. You begin by selecting one of four characters which include one cute blonde and three hideous fat slobs. Tough choice! The game itself presents you with screen after screen of incomprehensible charts, diagrams, records, and statistics. These are loaded with numbers, symbols, and abbreviates not explained anywhere - including the manual! Who is the audience for this game exactly? The user interface is the stuff of nightmares, with endless menus screens with numerous "dead ends". Setting up a two-player race seemed utterly impossible, until I figured out what to do by mistake. The "secret" to starting the race was to hit the tiny "Quit" button! I'm not kidding! Gallop Racer's general presentation isn't bad at all, with a graphic style similar to Hot Shots Golf and a pleasant, laid-back soundtrack. The realistic tracks look nice, with thoughtful features like the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. The vibration feedback for each "gallop" is also a nice touch. Unfortunately, the game is impossible to play. The racing screen presents a behind-the-horse view, but is needlessly cluttered with meters, gauges, and many other sources of information. You can pull the reins and whip to adjust your horses' speed, but I could never get a feel for it, and my horse was always exhausted by the final leg. A confusing meter is supposed to indicate your "target" speed, but sometimes it doesn't make any sense, like when it drops very low during the homestretch. Your performance is evaluated after each race, but even this information is conflicting. In one race I was given an "A" grade for "start", but the comments criticized me for a late
start! I just can't figure this game out, and even after studying the tutorial twice, I find myself coming in dead last every time. I actually fared much better when I just set the controller on the floor
and just watched. Unreal! Sometimes I think Gallop Racer 2004 is just an elaborate practical joke played on every gamer in the entire world. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Genji: Dawn of the Samurai
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
This coming-of-age samurai slasher has remained under the radar despite its exceptional gameplay and impressive production values. Playing the role of a young warrior in the Genshi clan, your quest is to destroy the evil Henshis using mysterious, powerful jewels called "Anamahagane" (I can't pronounce it either). While the premise seems awfully familiar, Genji succeeds thanks to its sharp graphics, crisp controls, smooth animation, and reasonable difficulty. In addition to your young warrior, you'll also get to play as Benkei, a colossal figure who swings a massive hammer like a baseball bat. As you travel through Japanese villages, leaky caves, and opulent palaces, you'll battle all sorts of sword-wielding thugs and vicious monsters. The strength of the game lies in how you can engage several aggressors at once. It's remarkably easy and satisfying to shift directions on the fly and deliver devastating blows to multiple foes in rapid succession. Unlike some other brawlers, you really feel
the impact of each blow. Much like "bullet time" in other games, the jewels let you slow down your enemies to better anticipate their attacks. The game reminds me of Ominusha in many ways, but Genji is more polished. The scenery is quite easy on the eyes, and the tranquil Japanese soundtrack is first class all the way. Save points are frequent, and the difficulty level is ideal. On the downside, Genji bored me a bit with its drawn-out storyline, extended cast of characters, and lengthy cut-scenes. In addition, the constant barrage of regenerating enemies (often falling from the sky) gave me a chronic case of deju-vu. Nevertheless, Genji is a worthwhile adventure, especially if you can pick it up cheap. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, blood and gore, mild suggestive themes, violence)
As with most games based on action movies, Ghost Rider is derivative but still has enough in the tank to please fans of the film and comics. I used to read Ghost Rider comics as a kid, but had pretty much forgotten about the franchise for the last 25 years or so. Ghost Rider is really Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman cursed to fight evil while intimidating foes with his burning skull. The game begins in the depths of hell where you beat down legions of regenerating demons and bats. It really sets the tone for the repetitive hack-n-slash action that makes up the bulk of the game. In addition to unleashing fiery fist and chain combos, Johnny can unload his shotgun on pesty creeps that insist on blocking everything. As you pound buttons like there's no tomorrow, the crazy combos you unleash result in some truly spectacular pyrotechnic displays. The chain attacks will remind many of God of War (Sony, 2005), and when Johnny snatches a demon with it and yells "C'mere!", the Mortal Kombat reference is unmistakable. Fighting wave after wave of demons, bikers, ninjas, and clowns is amusing, but only when taken in small doses. During one protracted boss battle against an electric woman over a train, I heard her shout, "I'm getting tired of this!" and I could certainly relate. The scenery is surprisingly bland, mainly consisting of caves, mineshafts, and deserted western towns. Even hell seems pretty ho-hum. Fortunately the game incorporates some fast-paced motorcycle stages that break up the monotony with more "cool jumps" than a Napoleon Dynomite flick. As you bound over chasms and slide under barricades, you'll blast demons in the road and wield your chain against other riders. Ghost Rider isn't a great game, as evidenced by its regenerating baddies, invisible walls, and major camera glitches. You can save at any time, but you'll need to wade through about ten prompts. After each stage you're rated in a number of categories, but is "brutal" better than "damned"? Is "avenged" better than "spirited"? Ghost Rider's brief stages, comic-book style cut-scenes, and understated guitar soundtrack make it easier to gloss over its faults though. This PS2 version is far
more enjoyable than its PSP cousin, if only because the controller is far more condusive to button mashing. It's mindless fun, and for fans of the movie there's plenty of bonus material to unlock, including film clips, interviews, and comic-book stories. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Publisher: Atari (2009)
This looks a lot
like the Wii edition of Ghostbusters, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The cartoonish characters are likeable caricatures of the memorable Ghostbusters squad featuring Egon (Harold Ramis), Ray (Dan Aykroyd), Peter (Bill Murray), and the black guy (Ernie Hudson). The original actors lend their voices to the game, and while the dialogue is far from great, it does maintain the lighthearted tone of the films. The stages include some old stomping grounds like the New York public library and the Sedgewick hotel. These environments are not spectacular by any means, but it's great how you can blast nearly every piece of furniture to bits. Ghostbusters is fun on the PS2, but it's not quite up to Wii standards. It's hard to target ghosts with that touchy right joystick, so you'll probably need to adjust the sensitivity via the options menu. When wrangling a ghost, you're prompted to flick the right stick in various directions to "slam" the ghost, and this is quite satisfying. Unfortunately, the PS2 hardware sometimes struggles to keep up with the mayhem, so you'll have to contend with an inconsistent frame-rate. The stages are short and sweet, but the load times border on the extreme. Just to give you an idea, imagine how long eternity is, and then knock off about 10 minutes. Got it? This PS2 edition also has the dubious distinction of locking up on me not once, but twice. Quality control issues aside, the game is very enjoyable. In one bizarre stage you battle pixelated video game characters
spawned from arcade machines! Unlike the PS3 version, there are fewer small "minions" to clear out, so you can focus your efforts on the big boys. There are no multiplayer modes. You can find better versions of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, but this PS2 version certainly gets its point across. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2003)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
I should have loved this game, but Ghosthunter just didn't do it for me. With gameplay clearly inspired by the film Ghostbusters (but without the humor), you play a tough cop hunting down ghosts in dilapidated schools, swamps, ships, and prisons. Ghosts assume the form of both transparent apparitions and grotesque creatures, including oversized demonic teddy bears (as opposed to the normal, garden-variety demonic teddy bears we're all familiar with). Using a special gun and ghost traps, you subdue and capture the spirits just like a real Ghostbuster. The background story is about as far-fetched as you can get, with an underground computer system mysteriously supplying weapons, providing training, and opening portals to various stages. There are a nice variety of eerie locations, but most seem annoyingly maze-like, and positioning the camera is quite a chore. Ghosthunter's graphics are about average but its brooding musical score is quite effective. Some of the more repetitive sound effects, including the shrieking pig-ghosts, are so annoying you'll be tempted to hit the mute button. But Ghosthunter's real problem lies in its non-intuitive gameplay. Capturing ghosts should be easy and fun, but it turns out to be remarkably clumsy and confusing. While dealing with the shrieking pigs, you're forced to play a tedious game of hide and seek. Each stage challenges you to complete several arbitrary tasks, many of which rely more on trial and error than logic. Often it's just a matter of returning to an old location to trigger an event. I like the general idea behind Ghosthunter, but the game lacks flow, and feels artificially constructed. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Go Diego Go! Safari Rescue
Publisher: Take Two Interactive (2007)
Very similar to the Wii edition, Go Diego Go Safari Rescue is a safe bet for preschool-aged children. In the main "Rescue" mode, our young Hispanic hero saves a series of wild animals in the African wilderness. It begins with some simple platform jumping, but gradually introduces new concepts like searching bushes, sliding down ramps, or bouncing off trampolines. Special "racing" sequences let you steer an elephant, jeep, canoe, or hang glider through obstacle-laden courses. The controls may be slightly less interactive than the Wii, but they do a decent job of approximating natural movements using the two analog sticks. For example, to bang the magic drum you move the sticks alternatively up and down. Diego collects "stamps" on his journey in order to unlock "patches", giving the game some replay value. I noticed that Diego tends to talk a little too much, slowing down the pace of the game. Although the Select button is used to "skip", you can only skip one sentence at a time
, which is annoying. One very thoughtful feature is the "Safari Helper" option, which lets a second player help out at certain parts of the game. This is a good way for a parent or older sibling to spend some quality time and prevent the little tyke from getting stuck. Safari Rescue's illustrated graphics are simple but colorful, and the music sounds pleasant enough with its steel drums and woodwinds. Go Diego Go also offers mildly amusing two-player action in its split-screen "Safari Race" mode. The speeding jeeps are cool, but watching two elephants trudging through water isn't too exciting. Also, it would be more fun if one player could actually get ahead of the other one
. Overall this is a well-crafted title for kids but I'd give a slight edge to the Wii version. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Rating: Mature (Blood and gore, intense violence, nudity, strong language, sexual themes)
As a guy who's played literally thousands of video games, I am a cynical, cynical bastard. Upon hearing all the media hype over this title, all I could do is roll my eyes. It wasn't until I stumbled across a free demo disk that I came to the realization God of War is the real deal
. In fact, this may be the best PS2 game I've ever played. It expertly combines familiar elements of other hack-n-slash adventures. It's not the first time we've seen blades on chains, outrageous combo systems, "quick press" action scenes, hanging from ropes, and gargantuan bosses. It's just the first time we've seen it done this well
. We're talking about fluid animation, thoughtfully designed stages, excellent camera work, intuitive controls, and a perfectly tuned difficulty level. Somebody must have play-tested the hell
out of this thing. But the best aspect of God of War is its sheer intensity
. You'll give the controller a serious workout trying to battle your way out of dangerous predicaments and against overwhelming odds. Even God of War's storyline is captivating. You assume the role of Kratos, the huge, pale warrior whose goal is to murder Aries, the god of war. Like an interactive Clash of the Titans, the game pits you against awesome mythological beasts under the backdrop of majestic ancient Greece. The polished visuals are the best I've witnessed on this generation of consoles, although periodic "waves" on the screen indicate that the hardware is struggling to keep up. Quality voice acting and a soaring musical score (with dramatic choruses) contribute to the game's epic scale. Gameplay is a combination of bloody battles and interesting puzzles held together by superb cut-scenes. Unlike games like Metal Gear Solid, these cinematic clips tend to be brief and highly entertaining. God of War's fighting system is very satisfying thanks to the innovative swords-on-chains weapon, providing you with excellent range and an endless variety of attacks. The responsive controls will have you executing spectacular 20+ combos with ease. You can readily anticipate when enemies are about to strike (their weapons flash), making it easier to block. I also like how executing a successful block "freezes" the action momentarily, providing immediate positive feedback. Exciting special moves allow you to unleash the "powers of the Gods", and holding up Medusa's head will transform enemies into stone. "Quick-press" sequences allow you to execute gory finishing moves by hitting a series of buttons clearly displayed on the screen. God of War's violence is unflinching, and another aspect that makes this a decidedly "mature" title is the frequent appearance of bodacious breasts. Apparently Sony has uncovered a new technology to render female nipples, and they make use of it at every opportunity. While I wouldn't call the nudity "gratuitous" per se, this game is definitely not
for the kids. I did my best to find flaws with God of War, but there are really none worth mentioning. Unlike other adventures that seemed designed to make you buy the strategy guide, you're not likely to get stuck or frustrated, and there are ample save points. With top-notch production values and brilliantly addictive gameplay, this is one for the ages. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2007)
God of War 2 is, without a doubt, the greatest game
grace the Playstation 2 console. The only question is, does anything else even come close
? I thought the first God of War game was outstanding in every way, and yet God of War 2 (GoW2) totally blows it out of the water. Any doubts to its greatness are cast asunder in the very first stage, in which Kratos faces off against an animated Colossus of Rhodes. Not only does this extended, jaw-dropping battle take a number of dramatic turns, but it climaxes within
the monster itself. GoW2's sense of size and scale rivals Shadow of the Colossus (Sony, 2005), with awe-inspiring camera angles and vertigo-inducing heights. The Greek mythology that characterizes the series not only provides magnificent locations and larger-than-life characters, but an epic storyline as well. This time Kratos is seeking revenge after being betrayed by Zeus, and the only way he can achieve this is to travel back in time. Like the first game, GoW2 doesn't bore you with tedious tutorials, but tosses you right into the frying pan while chiming in with short prompts that let you get a handle on the controls. Fantastic locations include snowy mountainsides, utopian islands, and a mysterious temple that rises from a swamp. There's no camera control in the game (none is needed), yet there are times when you'd like to just gawk at your surroundings. But GoW2's breakneck pace won't let you enjoy the scenery. The hand-to-hand combat is bloody and satisfying, with magical attacks that let you shoot rapid-fire projectiles, and awesome new weapons like the oversized barbarian hammer. New mechanics let you climb up walls, grapple, and kick huge blocks into place with ease. Special sequences prompt you to quickly hit specific buttons to execute exciting chains of events. But above it all, God of War 2 is just plain fun. The stage designs make it clear what needs to be done next, and the cinematography is unsurpassed. Time flies when you become sucked into GoW2, and a 15-minute play session can easily turn into two hours. This is one of those "I'll be up to bed in a minute honey" games if there ever was one. The only technical flaw I could detect was some slight waviness in the graphics, but I'll chalk that up to the game pushing the hardware to the brink. And if Sony is trying to impress me by tossing in a bonus DVD with trailers and behind the scenes documentaries, well, it's working! They could have included it in some overpriced "premium edition", but thank goodness they didn't. The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 may have the best technical specifications, but the Playstation 2 has the best game: God of War 2. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Gradius III And IV
Publisher: Konami (2000)
I'm a sucker for side-scrolling shooters, and this package provides a healthy dose of old-school action. Many reviewers have criticized the game for not fully utilizing the Playstation 2's graphics capabilities, but I say fun is fun. Why should people have to pull out their old Genesis to enjoy a good 2D shooter? Gradius III was released in 1989, but its graphics still look gorgeous, and its gameplay is remarkably addicting. As with previous Gradius titles, you collect power-up pods and redeem for special weapons. The more pods you collect, the better selection you have, and selecting the right weapon for the job is a major part of the strategy. Fortunately, you can equip multiple weapons at once and amass some tremendous firepower. You'll need it, because Gradius 3 is HARD! Set the difficulty to "easiest" and load up on lives and you'll STILL struggle to finish the first stage! Fortunately, a handy level select allows you to bypass stages you've already completed. Gradius IV plays the same but looks more modern, providing some impressive liquid-metal enemies. But while its visuals are a step up, I didn't find its gameplay as compelling as Gradius III, and it doesn't provide a stage select - just continues. This is a nice buy for shooter enthusiasts. If only Konami could have included Gradius I and II, it would have been a must-buy. © Copyright 2000 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2004)
Rating: Teen (mild fantasy violence)
As a big fan of the original Gradius (NES) and its many sequels, I'm sorry to say that Gradius V is a disappointment. Sure its polished graphics are pretty, but there are fundamental problems with the gameplay. For one thing, you'll need to navigate a lot
of tight areas as doors close around you and oversized monsters crowd you to the edge of the screen. Thankfully, the collision detection is VERY forgiving, so you'll manage to survive some seemingly impossible situations. When you're not navigating tunnels, you're facing bosses - a lot of them, and often one after the other. This overemphasis on bosses is not new to modern shooters, but Gradius V takes it a step further. In one area I counted four bosses in a row
, each more painful to defeat than the last. And it's not like these things are even interesting - most are just generic metal structures with obvious weak spots. The normal targets are equally dull, and some bear a striking resemblance to Chex Mix
(and they make a great snack!) Gradius V's scenery is hardly memorable, and it's often hard to tell if objects are in the background or foreground (i.e., shooting range). Occasionally a "friendly" ship will join the cause and fight by your side, but since it looks exactly like your ship, it tends to confuse matters, particularly in the two-player simultaneous mode. The frequent cut scenes are awfully boring and cannot
be skipped. Gradius V is extremely challenging but not insurmountable if you load up on weapons early. Of course, once your ship explodes you lose everything but a pea shooter, and then you're in for a real hurting. In the end, Gradius V is a slick-looking shooter, but it can't hold a candle to the gameplay of the original. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2001)
If you want realistic racing action, look no further than Gran Turismo 3. This is by far the most comprehensive, realistic driving simulation ever created. Every aspect of this game screams of quality. It begins with a remarkable intro video that provides a virtual tour of the inner-workings of an engine. And just when you think it couldn't get any better, Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way" kicks in. GT3 is divided into two modes: arcade and simulation. The arcade mode provides instant gratification, with hundreds of actual cars and plenty of realistic-looking tracks. Split screen and "iLink" modes allow you to race against your friends. I just want to know why they didn't include some computer cars in the two-player mode. I'm sure the PS2 could have handled a whole field of cars, and this one-on-one crap is pretty lame! To get the most out of GT3, you'll need to work your way through the simulation mode. Beginning with a modest car, you earn licenses, enter races, win money, upgrade your vehicle, and buy new cars. The number of modifications you can make to your car is staggering, and there are many more licenses and races compared to previous GT games. Unfortunately, acquiring licenses and building up your bank account require a significant investment of time, and casual players will lose interest. If you're into rally racing, rally tracks and special rally cars are also included. Graphically, GT3 is full of cool effects, such as exhaust fumes, clouds of dirt, creeping shadows, and sunrays that peek through the trees. The only thing that looks really bad are the spectators, who look like cardboard cutouts on the side of the road. Another complaint is that the cars don't take any damage, even if you run head-on into a wall. The background music is a surprising mix of old and new rock tunes perfectly suited to racing. Check out some of these: Judas Priest "Turbo Lover", Motley Crue "Kickstart My Heart", Snoop Dogg "Dogg's Turismo 3", The Cult "She Sells Santuary". There are about 40 songs in all. Unfortunately, there is no volume control for the music, just an on/off switch. What good are these songs when you can barely hear them? The well-designed user interface makes it very easy to negotiate the menus, and like past GT games, you can save your best races to a memory card. Gran Turismo 3 has its flaws, but both racing purists and arcade nuts will appreciate GT3's smooth action and attention to detail. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2005)
Despite maintaining the high degree of realism Gran Turismo is famous for, this fourth installment marks a fall from grace for the franchise. Like all previous editions, Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) gives you a cheap used car to start with (typically a Miata), and challenges you to painstakingly work your way up to more expensive cars by winning races and earning licenses
(ugh). Even hardcore Gran Turismo fans will find it hard to get excited about going through this tired process for a fourth time, especially since it's now more tedious than ever
(hard to imagine, huh?). Even the B-class "starter" license requires you to complete no less than 16
time consuming challenges. As you work your way through these tedious exercises and their endless load screens, you'll actually feel
! Fortunately there's an option to transfer your credits and licenses from GT3, and there's a handy arcade mode for gamers who prefer instant gratification (like me, and everybody else). In addition to the standard circuits, GT4 offers a nice selection of city tracks that provide scenic routes through New York, Tokyo, and Paris (among others). These are the real highlight of the game. There's also a set of off-road "rally" tracks, including a really boring
course around the Grand Canyon. GT4's racing is pretty much the same as the previous games, with realistic handling that takes a while to get the hang of, but is satisfying once you do so. Even when you fully grasp the controls however, the sense of speed is not impressive. Unnecessary new features include the ability to manage a race team or be a race photographer. Nobody ever asked for these options, and to this day, nobody
has ever used them. Meanwhile the damage modeling and on-line play gamers really
wanted are nowhere to be found. The music is a mixed bag, despite a few standout tracks from Van Halen, Judas Priest, and The Roots. Gran Turismo 4 offers ample racing action for your money, but for most gamers, the formula is has worn paper-thin. In the end, GT4 amounts to a great looking, super-realistic racer that nobody wants to play. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Grand Theft Auto III
Publisher: Rockstar (2001)
Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3) lets YOU be the criminal in the seamy underbelly of a crime-ridden city. In this mature-rated game, you commit murder, plant bombs, steal cars, and pick up hookers. It's a combination of Gran Theft Auto 2 (DC, PS), Midnight Club (PS2), and Driver (PS). It should come as no surprise that Rockstar also created GTA2 and Midnight Club. The previous Grand Theft Auto games had the same basic theme, but were restricted by their primitive, overhead 2D graphics. But in GTA3 you can walk or drive around a realistic 3D city teeming with traffic and pedestrians. There's so much to see and do that you don't even have to play the missions to enjoy the game. The expansive city is fun to explore, and it even has a monorail you can ride. I jumped in the back of a pick-up and got a free ride around town! If you're in the bad mood, you can take out your aggression by driving like a madman through the streets or beating down a complete stranger. The cops are out in force, but they only answer to serious crimes (like murder). The Mafioso-like missions are exciting, fun, and challenging. There are a lot of different cars to steal, and they all handle differently. I noticed a few minor flaws in GTA3. The character models are blocky, but at least their mannerisms are realistic, with the exception of the prostitutes who walk funny and look like they're wearing shorts. Although you can explore the city freely, there are very few buildings you can enter. The difficulty of the missions is wildly uneven, but otherwise GTA3 is a thrilling ride that I would recommend to mature gamers. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Publisher: Rockstar Games (2004)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, use of drugs)
This highly controversial adventure recreates the Los Angeles "gangsta" scene of the late 80's and early 90's. Rated Mature with a capital "M", Grand Theft Auto San Andreas is brimming with gratuitous violence, drug references, stereotypical portrayals, and the roughest language I've ever heard in a video game. The soundtrack is absolutely first-rate, including classic rap jams by Eazy-E, Public Enemy, NWA, Cypress Hill, and Above the Law. Even more ambitious than Vice City, San Andreas lets you roam freely around several sprawling cities modeled after Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. An interesting storyline unfolds as your homeboy "CJ" builds his "street cred" while partaking in a remarkable variety of missions. You begin with simple drive-bys and robberies, and eventually progress to amphibious assaults and jumping out of airplanes. Between missions you'll eat fast food, play mini-games, work out at the gym, and spray paint graffiti around town. The gameplay is similar to previous GTA games, but you can now shoot out your window while driving. As you can imagine, this well-executed features comes in very handy. The cities look realistic and the skylines are splashed with color, although a certain degree of detail had to be sacrificed to accommodate the game's expansiveness. San Andreas is a bold game of incredible scope, but it's overrated. While the developers tried to add realism by incorporating elements like eating and working out, these feel like a chore after a while. Freely exploring the cities is fun at first, but the missions can be aggravating. The quality of the controls usually falls somewhere between fair and poor, and are most problematic during gunfights and police chases. There's plenty to see and do, but it's frustratingly easy to get stuck on a particular mission. Still, San Andreas has unlimited replay value, and is remarkable in its unflinching portrayal of the 1990's LA gangster scene. NOTE:
This game was later re-rated by the ESRB as AO for Adults Only, due to a discovery of an X-rated, sex mini-game that can only be accessed by a cheat device like a GameShark or a CodeBreaker. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Publisher: Rockstar (2002)
This highly anticipated title really lives up to the hype. It builds on the solid gameplay of the previous edition, but this time the story is more interesting and the scenery is incredible. But above all, Vice City has style. Set in the 80's, this game was obviously inspired by Miami Vice. The tunable radio features seven channels of classic 80's music, and the game often feels like an interactive music video. The graphics certainly do the job, but they're a bit uneven. The character animation is fantastic, but their bodies tend to have sharp edges and angular features. The city itself is a work of art. Each building is uniquely detailed, and gorgeous sunsets paint the sky various shades of red. I'll never forget the first time I ran out on the beach all the way to the ocean, and then turned around to view the majestic city skyline - quite a sight. Unlike the first game, you can actually enter a few of the buildings this time around, and eventually even purchase property! And your transportation is no longer limited to a car - you can travel by motorcycle, moped, speedboat, plane, and helicopter! The fine visuals are matched by superb audio. For the voices, Rockstar hired real actors including Ray Liotta, Dennis Hopper, Philip Michael Thomas, and Burt Reynolds. The interesting storyline is propelled by a series of missions, but there are plenty of opportunities for sub-missions and exploration. Unfortunately, some of the missions can be frustrating due to control issues or ambiguous objectives. But there's plenty of replay value in this stylish, colorful game. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear Isuka
Publisher: Sammy (2004)
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)
1 to 4 players
With this single new entry, the Guilty Gear series has plummeted from cutting-edge 2D masterpiece to a dysfunctional piece of garbage. I can't recall the last game franchise to fall from my graces so abruptly. Its previous PS2 offerings (Guilty Gear X and Guilty Gear X2) raised the bar with their slick animation, fresh set of characters, and imaginative scenery. But Isuka is an utter abomination that's torturous to play. I suspect Sammy got tired of releasing incremental versions of the game, because Isuka contains many radical changes, including support for four-player
simultaneous action. On paper, that sounds great, but in practice it's a complete mess. Let's face it; Guilty Gear X2 was already
pushing the envelope of what's acceptable in terms of on-screen activity. Following the frenetic moves of two characters is hard enough; four is far
too chaotic. Worse yet, this "feature" necessitates a new "turn around" button used to toggle which direction your character is facing. Having to rely on this button sucks
more than you might expect. Not only is it completely counter-intuitive, but it's often hard to tell which way you're currently
oriented amidst all the chaos! Don't be surprised if you unleash a devastating assault, only to find yourself attacking thin air because your opponent is behind
you. And no, you can't disable this "turn around" crap, even in one-on-one bouts! And if you hate it in normal mode (and you will), wait until you try the new side-scrolling "GG Boost" mode. Incorporating the controls of a one-on-one fighter into a side-scrolling brawler simply doesn't work. When surrounded by foes, constant turning is not only tedious, but the controls don't even feel responsive. Needless to say, hard-core gamers will find Guilty Gear Isuka barely playable. Another annoyance is the tiny life gauges with their "peeling" bars - it's impossible to determine a fighter's health at a glance. Hell, even the background graphics suck! They appear more cartoonish that artistic, and some contain astonishingly poor animation. Isuka includes a number of gratuitous customization options (pertaining to fighter abilities and color schemes) but who really gives a [expletive]? I had a hard time tracking down my copy of Guilty Gear Isuka, and now I think I know why. Sammy clearly took a wrong turn with this one - hopefully they'll be able to get this once-great series back on track. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)
1 to 4 players
Publisher: Sammy (2001)
I've been a fan of 2D one-on-one fighters since Capcom's groundbreaking Street Fighter II (SNES, 1992). Considering Capcom has released a steady stream of rehashes over the years, this little gem by Sammy is like a breath of fresh air. Guilty Gear X (GGX) is a stylish button masher featuring fluid animation, simple gameplay, and some amazing anime artwork. Its spectacular, frantic battles will make you literally work up a sweat. The 14 characters include a fresh mix of martial artists, hot-looking babes, and a few freaks thrown in for good measure. Faust is a lanky weirdo with a bag over his head, and May is a cute girl wielding a boat anchor that's almost as big as she is. Zato is a fruitcake with an evil shadow, and the hooded Venom sports a cue stick as a weapon. Millia Rage is a leggy blonde who will kick your ass with her hair - yes - her hair
. And we can't forget Sol Badguy; wow - what a dumb name! These are not
your usual suspects when it comes to fighting games - thank God! Guilty Gear X's attractive 2D backgrounds are colorful and imaginative, ranging from exotic Paris, to the wings of a flying airplane, to the hellish "Nirvana". Matches kick-off with the words "Heaven or Hell" and conclude with "Slash!". The action is fast and furious. Street Fighter-inspired joystick movements yield some amazing special moves, but reckless button mashing is also effective at times. Combos and multiple hits are the order of the day, so never let up! You can't leap a mile into the air like you can in some fighters, but a nifty dash move lets you bum-rush your opponent. These intense bouts do take their toll on your hands, but they're exciting enough to keep you coming back for more. GGX's animation is quite good, although the torrid pace does make it hard to tell what's happening at times. The soundtrack is completely high-energy, but the constant guitar squealing gets monotonous! Still, Guilty Gear X is a good-looking title and a real treat for 2D fighter and anime fans alike. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sammy (2003)
Rating: Teen (Mature sexual themes, violence)
Guilty Gear X injected new life into the 2D fighter genre, with its tight gameplay, imaginative characters, and lavishly illustrated graphics. I'm happy to report that Guilty Gear X2 (GGX2) actually surpasses its predecessor with additional characters, more moves, and a slew of new playing modes. GGX2's visuals haven't changed much, most backgrounds being slightly modified versions of those found in GGX. The soundtrack is the same brand of metal rock as you heard in the last game, which I did not find appealing. The six new characters, however, are surprisingly fresh and interesting - perhaps due to their supernatural mystique. There's the vampire Slayer and a sexy, guitar-playing witch named I-No. Her "guitar string choke" is one of my favorite moves in the game - very satisfying. Bridget is an innocent schoolgirl armed with a deadly yo-yo, and Zappa is a lifeless body
possessed by evil spirits! His unnatural movements are downright creepy, making him one of the most unusual fighters I've ever come across. Once he unleashes his vicious "ghost dog", the fight effectively becomes a two-on-one contest. Yeah, it's all a bit over-the-top but what the hell. GGX2's gameplay is more complex than its predecessor, with the addition of the "Dust" button and the "Burst" Gauge. It's not overwhelming though, and the game can be enjoyed on several levels. Rookies can be competitive with the basic moves, and experts can sink their teeth into a wide array of special techniques. This game kicks ass with a good joystick; when "in the zone", it's like playing a musical instrument. Still, one could argue that the matches run a bit long, especially considering the excessive button pounding required. New modes include the impossible
Mission Mode, which provides a series of fights you must win under ridiculous conditions. Less difficult is the new Story Mode, which presents a series of illustrations between bouts to convey a weak narrative. It's always the same - you meet a character, exchange some inflammatory dialogue, fight it out, and move on to the next guy. GGX2 has no major flaws, but I do wish there were more backgrounds. The ones included are absolutely gorgeous
, but they tend to repeat - a lot
. GGX2 seems to have no load times, but they may just be obfuscated by the rapid-fire series of set-up screens. With beautiful visuals, competitive action, and style to burn, Guilty Gear X2 may be the best 2D fighter available for the PS2. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Guilty Gear XX Accent Core
Publisher: Arc System Words (2007)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, language, sexual content, use of tobacco, violence)
Ever since I first laid eyes on Street Fighter 2 (1991), I simply cannot resist
these sweet, anime-style button mashers. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core is a real gem. It features one-on-one 2D slugfests that are chaotic as hell and way
over-the-top but still crazy fun. You may be wondering if XX is really any different than the previous installment, Guilty Gear X2 (Playstation 2, 2003). Not really! The box boasts about new backgrounds, new voices, and a new intro (which I didn't think was so hot), but the fighting action is pretty much the same - which is to say, damn good
! There are two new characters among the myriad of martial artists, freaks, and smoking hot babes. Standouts include the bag-headed Faust, high-kicking hottie Jam Karadoberi, Zappa "the dead guy", the gigantic Potemkin, and my favorite, I-No the guitar-playing witch! One new addition is a robot with a nice haircut named "Robo Ky" who seems to pull giant hammers, grenade launchers and missiles out of his butt! That guy Chipp is one seriously cheap son of a [expletive] though with those "now you see me now you don't" moves. Naturally all the fighters have a set of interesting attacks, and knowing two or three is usually enough to get you through a few matches. Expert gamers can strive to master advanced techniques like "dead angle attacks", "force breaks", and "overdrive attacks". Die-hard fans will also appreciate how certain moves from X2 have been tweaked and the characters have been rebalanced. Guilty Gear has always excelled in terms of artwork, and XX may be the best looking game you'll see on the PS2. The stages are loaded with eye candy and rendered in vivid color. Whether you're fighting in massive ruins, an opulent palace, or a storybook forest, the layered scenery will have you gawking. I just wish there was a little more animation in the backgrounds, like Street Fighter 2 used to have. Even the rapid-fire set-up screens are amazing to behold, so there's never a dull moment. If there's one thing that turns me off about Guilty Gear, it's the energetic but utterly forgettable guitar-grinding soundtrack. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core doesn't represent a big step forward for the series, but it's probably the definitive version of the game. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Red Octane (2005)
Rating: Teen (mild lyrics)
Being the jaded critic I am, it's rare that a game comes along and totally knocks my socks off. But Guitar Hero provides an adrenaline rush few other video games can match. The first time I played, I was jumping all over the place like a maniac. One hour later I was sitting on the edge of a chair, somewhat tired but still concentrated like a laser. An hour after that
, I was sprawled out on the couch, but still clutching that guitar and forging ahead! Since then, I've played it almost every day. Guitar Hero follows the footsteps of a long line of musical video games, including Parappa the Rapper (Playstation, 1997), Samba De Amigo (Dreamcast, 2000), Amplitude (Playstation 2, 2003), Donkey Konga (Gamecube, 2005), and of course the popular Dance Dance Revolution series. Guitar Hero is packaged with a special controller shaped like a small guitar, and it's absolutely essential. About 2.5 feet in length, the thing is sturdy, comfortable, and comes with a convenient shoulder strap. Lining the neck of the guitar are five colorful Fisher Price-style buttons you hold in to play notes and chords. From the base of the guitar protrudes a thin plastic strip that rocks in place, allowing you to "strum" up or down. This controller is ingenious in design, and a joy to play. As colored circles ride down a "track" on the screen, you must hold in "fret" buttons of the same color while "strumming" to the beat. There's even a whammy bar and tilt sensor! An excellent tutorial helps you get the hang of it in just a few minutes. The 30+ songs include plenty of familiar riffs, including Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), Bark at the Moon (Ozzy Osbourne), Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie), More Than a Feeling (Boston), Fat Lip (Sum 41), and You Got Another Thing Comin' (Judas Priest). While the "made famous by" disclaimer reveals these are not
performed by the original artists, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference. In fact, I was absolutely stunned
at how faithful these songs are to the originals. Certain songs require a lot of practice to get a feel for their complicated note sequences, but you always improve with each try. Miss too many notes and your performance will come to an abrupt conclusion. Typically those nasty guitar solos throw you for a loop, but the familiar chorus always returns to save you in the end. Once you get a "feel" for the controls, they come so naturally that you can play without even thinking
. As a former guitar player, I really found myself really getting into "the zone" playing this. Besides a barrage on notes, the screen also depicts animated musicians performing in front of a audience, and the crowd's energy is determined by how well you perform. In the addictive career mode, you begin by playing in a cramped basement but gradually work your way up to expansive arenas. With four difficulty levels, the challenge is immense and the replay value is outstanding. But as good as the single-player mode is, there's nothing quite like "dueling guitars" with a buddy. Not only can you compete for score, but other people in the room can judge for "style" points. I also have to commend Guitar Hero for its attention to detail and self-deprecating sense of humor. The comical load screens convey advice like "Never let the drummer handle the money" and "Never eat anything tossed up onto the stage". Menu screens look like high school notebooks with hilarious doodles in the margins, and the general tone of the game is clearly inspired by Spinal Tap. Red Octane pulled out all the stops to produce a polished, high-quality product. I can't recall the last time I've had this much fun playing a video game. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Red Octane (2006)
With Guitar Hero 2, Red Octane has created the most engaging, exciting video game experience since... well, Guitar Hero One! Like the original, I found myself playing this on a daily basis, often until my feet were sore (I insist on playing while standing up). For those who missed it the first time around, Guitar Hero conveys the feeling of being a real rock star as you "strum" a plastic guitar to notes that roll down the screen. Despite rumors to the contrary, Red Octane wisely chose to not
modify the original controller for this sequel. Guitar Hero 2 (GH2) is slightly more forgiving that its predecessor, with easier "hammer-ons" and "pull-offs". Since playing this game is like riding a bike, I absolutely breezed through the "medium" difficulty. Of course, the difficulty jumps a mile with the "hard" level, because you're expected to handle that fifth fret, which is always a killer. Still, it's oh-so satisfying once you get a feel for it. New bells and whistles include more elaborate stage shows, encores, and an option to calibrate high-definition TVs that suffer from lag. Standout tracks include "Crazy On You" (Heart), "Message In a Bottle" (Police), and "Carry on Wayward Son" (Kansas). The inclusion of "Freebird" is quite a coup, as is "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock Ya" by the legendary Spinal Tap. Some of the more obscure songs are less compelling however, and of all the great tunes in the Aerosmith catalogue, why "Last Child"? The tracks on the first Guitar Hero were dead-ringers for the originals, but a few of these sound noticeably off ("Mother" and "Heart Shaped Box" come to mind), although it doesn't spoil the fun. One fantastic new feature is the ability to play cooperatively with a friend. Not only can one of you play lead guitar while the other plays bass (or rhythm), but each player can even select his own skill level
(thank you Red Octane!). If only there was a way to turn off those lightning effects, which tend to interrupt the flow of the songs. Still, this game is just as fun and addictive as the first. With great new features and a slew of new songs to master, Guitar Hero 2 will rock your world... again. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks The 80s
Publisher: Red Octane (2007)
The decade of the 80's was the absolute height
of guitar rock, so this special "encore" edition of Guitar Hero makes sense. The underlying engine is practically identical to Guitar Hero 2 (GH2), providing the same great co-op games, practice modes, and options to adjust the "lag" on your HDTV. But the songs are the real attraction, and this set may be the strongest of all the Guitar Hero games. It's certainly the most accessible, with 30 new wave and heavy metal tracks including "I Ran" (Flock of Seagulls), "I Wanna Rock" (Twisted Sister), "Heat of the Moment" (Asia), "Metal Health" (Quiet Riot), "We Got The Beat" (Go-Gos), "The Warrior" (Scandal), "No One Like You" (Scorpions), and "Hold on Loosely" (.38 Special). When it comes to vocal quality, this edition is a marked improvement over GH2. In most cases, the singers are dead-ringers for the original artists, most notably on "Synchronicity II" (The Police) and "Holy Diver" (Dio). There's also a more gradual difficulty curve, making it less likely that you'll "hit the wall" - a common problem with previous Guitar Hero titles. I also noticed more elaborate camerawork with vertigo-inducing, zooming camera angles. It may lack the originality of the first game and the innovation of the second, but Rock the 80s is arguably the most enjoyable Guitar Hero yet thanks to its excellent line-up of feel-good hits. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
Publisher: Activision (2007)
I was the among the first critics
to extol Guitar Hero as the groundbreaking new franchise it was, but as the sequels pile up, its appeal is wearing thin. Despite building upon the previous games and adding a cooperative career mode, Legends is the weakest entry yet. When it comes to music games, song selection is key, and Guitar Hero 3's (GH3) play list doesn't live up to its "Legends" title. Sure, there are some real gems like Rock and Roll All Nite (KISS), Rock You Like a Hurricane (Scorpions), Cherub Rock (Smashing Pumpkins), and Welcome to the Jungle (Guns N Roses). But many tracks are weak, and some of the older numbers ("Sunshine of Your Love", "Black Magic Woman") seem very stale. I know it's all very subjective, but none of my friends could get excited about these tracks. Making matters worse, most songs have been needlessly extended, making the weaker ones all the more unpleasant. Oldies like "The Seeker" and "Paint It Black" are perfectly good classics that have been stretched into mediocrity. The controls have also been tweaked a bit. GH3 is more forgiving, giving you a bigger "window" to hit each note. It sounds like a good thing, but it actually makes it harder
to determine when your timing is a little off. But the most annoying aspect of GH3 is its head-to-head "face-offs" against guitar icons like Tom Morello and Slash. You might cruise through the songs, but these ridiculous, confusing battle stages will halt your progress like a brick wall. Thank goodness the game gives you a pass after you fail a certain number of times. Guitar Hero 3 is still a respectable rhythm game, but the series has apparently jumped the shark. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online