SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1
Publisher: SNK Playmore (2008)
Truth be told, you really can't go wrong with these old game compilations. This one in particular contains rare games that would run you literally thousands of dollars if you were to buy the original cartridges off Ebay. The Neo Geo was the Rolls Royce of consoles in the mid-90's, boasting arcade-perfect games that cost $200 a pop. While its graphics were limited to large 2D sprites, its games have aged like wine. This 16-game collection offers a wide spectrum of arcade fun, ranging from sports (Baseball Stars 2, Super Sidekicks 3) to shooters (Last Resort, Metal Slug) to platformers (Magician Lord, Top Hunter). And let's not forget SNK's specialty: one-on-one fighters! You can slug it out with Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, World Heroes, and King of Fighters 94. This package contains a pair of super-rare titles that alone are worth the price of admission. The original Metal Slug is a fantastic shooter which spawned a beloved franchise which continues to this day. Neo Turf Masters is an exceptional golf game that's both easy to play and fast-moving. In other words, it's everything real
I really love the bubbly female Asian commentator who exclaims "It's on the gween!
" The emulation is generally good, although I did notice substantial slow-down in Shock Troopers. The customization options are disappointing, limiting you to pre-defined combinations of difficulty, lives, and continues. High scores are saved to memory card. I prefer the Wii version, but SNK Arcade Classics is still a solid value that will keep arcade-minded gamers in a state of euphoria for weeks on end. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
SOCOM US Navy Seals
Publisher: Sony (2002)
For those of you who enjoy the stealth action of games like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, SOCOM is for you. It immerses you in a series of covert missions where you lead a four-man squad into dangerous territory. Utilizing your squad properly is crucial to completing each mission's objectives, and a pair of headphones is included with SOCOM to help keep in touch with your team members. It not only lets you receive radio orders in the field (your commander talks directly through your headset - not the TV), but you can even issue voice commands to your fellow soldiers. It's mostly a gimmick (orders can be entered using the controller also), but it does add realism. Like other stealth games, you can snipe bad guys from a distance, sneak up and whack them over the head, hide bodies, and take prisoners along the way. The controls are fairly intuitive, with appropriate action icons appearing on the screen depending on the situation. SOCOM requires a great deal of patience, and it can take HOURS to get comfortable with commanding your troops (reading the manual helps). This is definitely more complicated than Splinter Cell, but not quite as fun due to some annoying flaws. For one thing, your men don't always act intelligently and often get in your way (hanging out in a doorway for example). Likewise, the terrorists act pretty stupid at times. If you shoot at one around a corner, you'd expect him to run for cover, but this is not always the case. The missions can be confusing, and despite a labeled map it's often hard to determine where to go or what to do. SOCOM is for strategic minded gamers only. It requires a sizeable time investment, but there is a real sense of accomplishment when you complete a mission. SOCOM is probably better known for its online mode, but I don't like to play online, so I haven't tried it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2000)
I've never played a game that conveys the wild, almost-out-of-control feel of snowboarding like SSX. Its gameplay is a combination of Cool Boarders and Tony Hawk, but the graphics are in a league of their own. SSX sends you careening down jaw-dropping steep slopes and over cliffs, not to mention half-pipes, corkscrews, loops, rails, shortcuts, and ramps. The realistic physics, smooth framerate, and sheer speed provide one heck of a rush. None of the eight courses look or play the same, and they are all incredibly LONG (almost ten minutes per run!). And the framerate doesn't suffer at all in the two-player split screen mode. The exceptional background music is an eclectic mix of tunes that smoothly transition from one beat to the next. Finely tuned controls make slicing through the snow seem like second nature. Although it's easy to stick to the course, you can leave the trail and find plenty of surprises on the outskirts as well. There is a learning curve to perform tricks, which are much easier to pull off once you get familiar with the courses. With most snowboarding games, tricks are fun but there's little incentive to perform them. SSX addresses that problem by providing "turbo" for each trick you perform. The fancier the trick, the more you're awarded. The courses are the star here, but you'll have to win your way through tournaments to open them up, which is easier said than done. Some courses, like the night city skyscraper track, are absolutely terrific, but EA went off the deep end with some of the later ones. The last one is more like a funhouse than a ski slope, and it's more confusing than fun. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
This third edition of the popular snowboarding series pushes the envelope a little further, with more characters, bigger and better tracks, and a slew of new options and modes. The graphics are stunning, with misty redwood forests, slippery ice tunnels, awesome drops, and a nighttime city stage that's utterly spectacular. When you're weaving around the huge skyscrapers and get a glimpse at the harbor at the bottom on the hill, it's an amazing sight to behold. EA went a little crazy with the rails this time - they twist and turn all over the place, but they're undeniably fun to grind. The courses tend to have multiple paths and plenty of hidden shortcuts. As usual, the control is so good that you'll feel as one with the snowboard as you slice through the crisp snow and whip around banked turns. Executing tricks is a breeze, and when you get crazy air you can pull off an insane number of combos. A brand-new "recovery meter" lets you tap the square button to gracefully recover from spills. The music is an eclectic but appealing mix of techno and alternate rock. A DJ provides useful information as you approach your next hill, and he's not too annoying thank goodness. Responsive controls and silky smooth animation make careening down the slopes an almost relaxing experience. There's a LOT to do in SSX 3. You can participate in normal races, enter "freestyle" competitions, or "free ride" to explore the mountain and collect items. With the money you earn you can increase your attributes, buy equipment, and deck you character out in any number of ways. One consequence of having so many options is a very confusing navigational system. You can access certain areas through menus, but others you are required to "ski to", which is a real hassle. Saving your game is needlessly confusing, and is NOT the same as saving your "records". I have one last criticism that applies to all the SSX games in general - the turbo is pretty weak. It's really not worth it to perform risky tricks during races to earn turbo. I found that avoiding tricks altogether is probably more effective when it comes to winning races. But other than that, SSX3 is still by far the best snowboarding game available. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
This sequel to the popular snowboarding game is more of a "remix" than an all-new game. Still, it's packed with exciting and sometimes exhilarating snowboarding mayhem. The solid gameplay hasn't changed at all, but this game seems much easier than the first. Tricks are simpler to perform, fall recovery times are shorter, and the tracks are better designed and less confusing. Speaking of tracks, I was disappointed that there are only two
new tracks, with the rest being revamped versions of the those from the original game. The most highly-touted new feature is the inclusion of "Uber" tricks, which are crazy airborne stunts that make you look like you're break dancing or riding a bull. There are several new wacky characters sporting "celebrity voices" from the likes of David Arquette, Macy Gray, and Lucy Lui. A new soundtrack includes Run-DMC and their classic rap song "It's Tricky". But this is just window dressing, and there some issues with the gameplay. First of all, the racers tend to "crowd up", making it too easy to go from first place to last (and vice versa). Next, the game is far too easy. If you've played through the first SSX, you could probably finish this in one sitting (for one character anyway). Finally, despite the emphasis on tricks, in fact you're more likely to win races by making a beeline for the finish. In the final analysis, I'd recommend SSX Tricky to new players, but original SSX owners should think twice before trading up. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic Mega Collection Plus
Publisher: Sega (2004)
What happened here? Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube was a rock-solid compilation, but this mediocre Playstation 2 version suffers from poor emulation. That's a shame, because these games are legitimate classics. The original Sonic the Hedgehog set the high water mark for platform games, Sonic 2 honed the controls to perfection, and Sonic 3 allowed you to save your game between stages. Sonic and Knuckles added an interesting new character who could glide and climb walls. Sonic Spinball placed Sonic in a giant pinball machine, and while it lacked the polish of the "normal" Sonic games, it's still fun. Dr. Robotnic's Mean Bean Machine was a Sonic spin-off with addictive Tetris-style puzzle gameplay. As the hedgehog's final Genesis appearance, Sonic 3D Blast's psuedo-3D visuals looked impressive, but its gameplay lacked the sense of speed that made the series such a hit. Also included are the Game Gear portable Sonic titles. Game Gear's Sonic the Hedgehog is a playable but sparse version of the original game that doesn't have anything new to offer. Sonic Labyrinth attempted to bring the isometric viewpoint of Sonic 3D Blast to the Game Gear, with disastrous results. Sonic Drift is a Pole Position style game that's mildly amusing despite its narrow tracks. Sonic Chaos is an improved version of the original Game Gear Sonic, with bolder graphics that better resemble its 16-bit cousin. The Game Gear's Sonic Blast retains the 2D action, but incorporates impressive psuedo-3D visuals (at the cost of less speed). Finally, you get the Game Gear version of Mean Bean Machine, which is simply a less detailed version. Unfortunately, none of the games are presented in their full glory. For one thing, the sound effects are not perfectly synchronized with the action, and even the music seems a tad off at times. The game screens are reduced in size and surrounded by a black border, which is totally lame. You can save your games in-progress, but it's a shame high scores can't be saved as well. Extras include hidden games (Comix Zone, Flicky, Ristar, Blue Sphere), original manuals (digitized), comics, and illustrations. There are less extra features that the GameCube version, and most notably absent are those kick-ass Sonic CD videos. Sonic Mega Collection Plus may suffice for casual fans, but if you have a choice, opt for the superior GameCube version. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Soul Calibur III
Publisher: Namco (2005)
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)
Once you get past the enthralling cinematic intro, Soul Calibur III appears to offer more of the same one-on-one, weapon-slashing action we've become accustomed to. In terms of graphics, the first Soul Calibur (Dreamcast, 1999) set the bar so high that none of its sequels have been able to dramatically improve upon it. Likewise, the excellent control scheme has only been tweaked slightly over the years. Instead of fixing something that's not broken, Namco has opted to continue its trend of adding more stuff, including characters, stages, modes, costumes, weapons, and options. It didn't knock my socks off, but man, Soul Calibur III sure is a lot of fun! The fighting action is as good as it's ever been, if not better. The basic controls are simple enough for beginners to grasp, but the extensive number of move combinations make it difficult to truly master. And while button mashing may do the trick against the computer in early rounds, eventually you'll need to mingle dodge and block moves with well-timed attacks. Air juggling (hitting your opponent repeatedly in mid-air) is the order of the day, which will annoy or please players depending on their personal preferences. Ring-outs seem to be more plentiful in this game as well. New additions to cast of 30+ characters include a mysterious hooded black dude with a sickle named Zasalamel, and a tiny girl named Tira equipped with an innovative new weapon shaped like a large ring. And if you can't find a character you like, there's always the new "create-a-character" feature. The 18 stages are beautiful, but less than awe-inspiring. A few bring to mind the seven wonders of the ancient world, but lack the epic proportions. Also, I wish there were more stages - one per character would have been nice! The arcade mode has been done away with, but the "Soul Arena" and "World Competition" modes still let you get down and dirty with minimal delay. "Tales of the Soul" is a retooled story mode, but the bulk of the narrative is conveyed via text, and I didn't have the patience to read it all. The real surprise is the new "Chronicles of the Sword" mode, which incorporates one-on-one battles into an RTS (real time strategy) game. While it took every last ounce of my patience to learn and appreciate this complex new mode, it did eventually grow on me, although the excessive loading puts a damper on the action. I like how all of these modes allow you to unlock new features and earn gold toward new items and weapons. And that lady running the item shop is busting out all over - wow! Soul Calibur III may not be a huge step up for the series, but its solid fighting engine is hard to beat, and this edition offers enough new wrinkles to keep old fans entertained. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Space Channel 5 Special Edition
Publisher: Agetec (2003)
Rating: Teen (mild violence, suggestive themes)
The first Space Channel 5 game was released to critical acclaim on the Dreamcast in 2000. Its dance-mimicking gameplay was original and fun, and it earned extra credit for its stylish, attractive leading lady. Unfortunately, Space Channel 5 never became the runaway hit people had anticipated, and its sequel was never released in the US (only in Japan) - until now. This cool two-disk package includes the first Space Channel 5 game and
its sequel. Before playing this, I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed this game with its catchy music, retro-futuristic theme, and the stylish "space reporter" named Ulala. Yeah I know she's been called an anorexic chicken by some, but I think she looks pretty hot strutting around with those long legs and skimpy outfits. Like no other video game in the past, present or future, the object is to save humans being forced by aliens to dance
. Gameplay involves repeating a series of dance moves in perfect time, usually after watching an alien perform them first. These moves are really just a series of directional combinations (up, down, left, right), and two "shoot" moves (pronounced "chu" in this game for some reason), which are assigned to buttons. It's a different brand of fun than Dance Dance Revolution or Bust A Groove, and periodic intermissions ensure the action never gets overwhelming. Space Channel 5's graphics are state of the art - for 2000 that is! Ulala's lips are rarely synchronized with her speech, and the humans she saves look very blocky. Still, Ulala's funky attitude and cool dance moves will help you overlook these shortcomings. One thing I don't like is the sound effect that signals when you're supposed to start your move sequence. It sounds exactly like a doorbell, and when you're waiting for a pizza delivery guy (like I was), it's very disconcerting. Space Channel 5 Part 2 is a very similar game, but it's less forgiving than the first, and contains some cheesy singing sequences that really threw me off. I do like how the two shooting moves are audibly different this time ("chu" vs. "hey"), and I also like the idea of holding down the button for longer "chus". There's a load of extra modes, including a 100-level "Ulala Dance" mode, which lets you play without a storyline, but I found it to be way too hard. Each level is a long string of moves, and one screw-up forces you to start over. The two-player mode is definitely worthwhile, as it allows one player to control the directional moves while the other takes care of the shooting. I didn't find Part 2 to be as fun as the original game, but fans will find a lot of extras to keep them occupied. Overall Space Channel 5 Special Edition is a great value, especially considering its low retail price. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Infogrames (2001)
I've always been a big fan of jet ski games, and Splashdown is one of the best ones I've come across. Thanks to responsive controls and a helpful training mode, controlling your jet ski is a piece of cake. There's plenty of room for technique, with special moves like bunny hops, inverts, submarining, hydroplaning, and various mid-air tricks. Performing tricks is rewarded by increasing the performance of your jet ski. The shimmering, rolling water looks great, and the twenty international courses are full of ramps and shortcuts. The scenery is attractive but not spectacular like Hydro Thunder. The races themselves are truly exciting, and the computer players are surprisingly intelligent. The kickin' soundtrack features Smashmouth and Blink 182, which are great at first, but you'll soon become sick of the repeating tunes. Splashdown is a quality arcade title that I found to be quite addictive. I think Wave Race for the GameCube is slightly better, but it's a close call. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Splashdown Rides Gone Wild
Publisher: THQ (2003)
Rating: Everyone (Mild lyrics, Mild language)
When I first laid eyes on this new jet-ski title, I thought "Wow, what a great idea!" Instead of the traditional stages you find in most jet-ski racers, Slashdown Rides Gone Wild takes a page from Disney and offers eight spectacular courses that are arguably more fun to watch than race on! The first one, based on the Bermuda Triangle, is truly amazing, with huge storms, UFOs, and ocean liners than literally fall from the sky! Other themes include dinosaurs, pirates, white water, ice, and a flooded city. Each one is highly imaginative and crazy fun. There's even a haunted river that runs through a spooky castle - how cool is that? This is the kind of stuff I live
for! There are ramps to pull off tricks, secret passages to discover, and the tracks even change with each lap! Rides Gone Wild has A+ potential, but there are problems. First off, I wish the tracks were a bit more open, so they'd be easier to navigate and less claustrophobic. I also encountered a few graphical glitches that caused me to get stuck in the scenery, and the game even froze up completely at one point. The two-player split-screen games are limited to unexciting indoor tracks that are disappointing compared to the others. The graphics could be more detailed, and the rapids in the Gold Rush stage look totally fake. Finally, the loading times are excruciating. Still, the controls are excellent and the game is full of surprises. If you're looking for some fun and enjoy theme park rides, you'll love Slashdown Rides Gone Wild. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Midway (2001)
You may remember the original Spy Hunter arcade game, which was popular in the early 80's. In that overhead racer, you controlled a car loaded with both offensive and defensive weapons, allowing you to shoot cars ahead while dropping smoke screens behind you. This updated Spy Hunter manages to preserve the fun of the original while adding gorgeous 3D graphics and deep, mission-based gameplay. Each mission has a set of objectives, mostly involving blowing up specific targets. The game looks and plays much like an action movie. You'll find yourself careening over cliffs and plowing through outdoor cafes, with explosions detonating all around you. It can be very exhilarating at times. Each level offers a long, unique course that cuts through a variety of locations, complete with hidden short cuts and other secrets. When your car jumps into water, it instantly morphs into a speedboat - pretty awesome! The controls take a while to learn, but are responsive overall. Spy Hunters fine graphics and breakneck pace will keep your adrenaline flowing. My biggest complaint is that everything is locked initially, including the two player split-screen mode. Otherwise, Spy Hunter is a worthy successor to a classic arcade game. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Bounty Hunter
Publisher: LucasArts (2002)
Rating: Teen (violence)
How could such a rock-solid premise - playing the role of a Star Wars bounty hunter - result in this abomination? Bounty Hunter is a third-person action/adventure that doesn't offer much new content and is bursting at the seams with design flaws. Playing the role of Jango Fett, you travel from planet to planet, completing missions while collecting bounties for Republic credits. To claim a bounty, you must "mark" your target first, and then use your whipcord to subdue him. There are a number of optional bounties to collect in any stage, but my "shoot now and ask questions later" style of play wasn't conducive to earning these. The game begins with an exciting sequence in which Jango is tossed into an arena with an ugly beetle monster. After a fast start, things gradually head downhill. Bounty Hunter's gameplay is a mix of Tomb Raider-style exploration and mindless shootouts. Armed with two laser pistols, you'll find yourself strafing and firing like there's no tomorrow whenever you come upon a new band of thugs. Two original elements in Bounty Hunter are Jango's ability to weld (through certain doors and gates) and more notably his ability to fly short distances using a jetpack. It's cool how he can target a different enemy with each gun, although we've seen that before in Tomb Raider. Bounty Hunter had crazy potential, but technically the game is simply not up to par. When I defeated the first monster (in the arena), I noticed I could walk right through its body - the first of many graphical glitches. Certain textures just look absolutely awful - particularly the flat sludge flowing through the sewer pipes. The control scheme is well designed, but can be unresponsive at the worst times (during jumps). Bounty Hunter's stage layouts are confusing, and in some cases tedious backtracking is necessary. The scenery is woefully uninteresting, and each new area looks the same as the last. Tedious platform jumping and unclear mission objectives add to the frustration. Enemies regenerate with annoying frequency, and they don't immediately drop when killed, thereby making it hard to determine if you've wiped them all out. Lastly, the loading screens are so long that you'd think EA developed this. That load meter moves so monumentally slowly that my friends and I were laughing
at it! I didn't make much progress in Bounty Hunter, but the few chapters I did complete were a real chore. If this game is any indication, perhaps being a bounty hunter isn't all it's cracked up to be. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Racer Revenge
Publisher: LucasArts (2001)
The original Star Wars Racer (N64, Dreamcast) did a superb job of recreating the speed and thrills of Episode One's pod-racing. With little room for improvement, I was surprised to see this sequel. Technically, there's not much to fault. The graphics are silky smooth, with beautiful, well-designed tracks. The tropical and rain-soaked tracks look especially nice, with brilliant rainwater effects on the windshield. It's quite a thrill to careen through tunnels and valleys at breakneck speeds. You won't find yourself asking, "Where do I go now?" like you did in the ill-fated Bombad Racing. The turbo boost is effective, but the so-called "power slide" is worthless; you're constantly banging into walls on sharp turns. There's a roster of 18 characters, the main one being a teenage Anakin Skywalker, who doesn't hesitate to talk a little trash ("You can't beat a Jedi!"). Revenge tries to put more emphasis on the combat aspect, in the form of banging into other vehicles to wear them down. In my experience, it really doesn't help your cause, and often just slows you down. The L2 button conveniently repairs any damage incurred to your vehicle while you race (no need for a pit stop thank goodness). The most interesting aspect of Revenge is its "advanced control" option, which allows you to steer your pod with the two analog sticks - like Anakin did in the movie. It works, but it's a lot
tougher than the normal control scheme. After trying it out for a few races, I returned to the normal configuration. In contrast to the original game's difficulty (which was steep towards the end), Revenge is actually too easy
. I'd like to credit my keen eye and cat-like reflexes for finishing this game in one night, but I don't think I deserved to win some of those races. As for the sound, I was impressed with the background music and sound effects in general, but that announcer is just awful
. His commentary is more corny than it is informational ("Oh no! Is there a pit droid in the house?"). The two-player split screen action is smooth, but I was surprised to see a significant amount of fog in the distance. Overall, Star Wars Racer Revenge offers some fun arcade action with wonderful graphics, but its low level of difficulty and stale gameplay probably won't appeal to many fans. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Starfighter
Publisher: LucasArts (2001)
The first Star Wars title to grace the PS2, Starfighter is largely a success. Not only does it deliver superb dogfighting action, but it delivers on a grand scale. Unlike most first-person space shooters, Starfighter convincingly places you in the middle of a much larger conflict. The background story involves three characters, and you can control each one in their own distinct starcraft. There's a gung-ho white guy, a black woman, and an alien who talks like Jesse Ventura. Personally, I would have preferred actual
Star Wars characters - oh well. The cut scenes are good, but not jaw dropping, and the storyline is convoluted. Fortunately the action is much more straightforward. Of the 14 missions, some are set in space, and others occur over planet surfaces. The missions are lengthy, and there are "bonus goals" along with the main objectives. Your craft is remarkably easy to pilot. When you become disoriented, it only takes a push of a button to reorient your ship. Responsive controls and silky smooth animation make it a cinch to line up enemies in your crosshairs, even from a great distance. Unlike the Nintendo 64 Star Wars shooters, you won't have to worry about crashing into the ground (unless you're closing in on ground targets). The battles occur over expansive areas, and you can see a great distance. Your instrument panel is complicated but can largely be ignored, as a handy red arrow always indicates your next target. Surprisingly, there's no radar display! Although Starfighter's on-screen activity can be extreme, the framerate remains smooth (although I did notice a few minor hiccups). Your targets are finely detailed, but the smooth, featureless planet surfaces doesn't look much different that those in the N64 games. I recall hearing how the PS2 could render a million trees (each with a million leaves) without breaking a sweat. So where the [expletive] are they? Still, Starfighter's graphics aren't too shabby. Damaged ships trail smoke, and the explosions are gorgeous. But the audio is where this game really shines. The familiar and crystal-clear sound effects, combined with various Star Wars themes make you feel as if you're in a movie. You'll also hear voices on your radio, but who are these people? Who are they talking to? It sounds like you're listening in on everybody's conversation (good guys and bad) and it's just confusing as hell. I should also mention that Starfighter's load time is significant but not unbearable. It is by no means a flawless game, but as a basic shooter, it serves its purpose. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing
Publisher: LucasArts (2001)
As a hopeless Star Wars fanatic, I couldn't resist buying this mediocre kart racer, despite my better judgment. Sadly, it is
as the critics say it is. Bombad Racing might have been something, if only the developers had not done everything wrong
. You know, it wasn't easy for LucasArts to screw this up. After all, the Phantom Menace provided plenty of interesting characters and environments to work with, and kart racers have been done to perfection on all systems dating back to the SNES. Bombad's roster includes Darth Maul, Obi-Wan, and six other stubby Star Wars characters with oversized heads. Is this game supposed to be humorous? I suppose. The tracks take you through nine movie locations, and although the scenery looks smooth and attractive, the track layouts tend to be maze-like and confusing. Apparently, whoever designed these tracks has never
played a kart racer before in his life. As any seven-year-old will testify, sharp turns, narrow ledges, obstructed views, bottomless pits, and cramped quarters do not
belong in a kart game! Duh!! All too often you'll find yourself asking "Where the [expletive] am I?" and "Where in the [expletive] am I supposed to go now?" A few tracks require trial and error just to figure out where to go
! Someone needs to introduce LucasArts to the concept of "play testers". The framerate can barely keep up in the single-player
mode, which is inexcusable. Obviously, you can write off the split-screen - it's unplayable. Bombad offers a wide variety of weapons, but their effects are never clear, and it's hard to tell who shot whom. The confusing, cluttered radar display is utterly useless. Finally, the whimsical musical score is so pathetic, it turns my stomach. Poorly designed and programmed, I can't believe LucasArts would put their name on this. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Starsky and Hutch
Publisher: Take Two (2003)
Rating: Teen (violence)
If this bargain-bin title is played as it's meant to be, it can be a rip-roaring good time. Starsky and Hutch is designed to be a two player game with one player driving the car and the other hanging out the passenger window and blasting away at bad guys. How many games offer this kind of cooperative play style? The game supports both a steering wheel controller and Guncon 2 light gun, and they really do elevate the gameplay. My Logitech steering wheel worked with no problems, and the Guncon 2, while difficult to calibrate, performed fine during the game. Starsky and Hutch perfectly embodies the cheesy 70's TV series it's based on, with its predictable cops 'n robbers storylines, endless car chases, and prefabricated stunt scenes. Naturally the clothing style, music, and dialogue reflect the time period and are somewhat amusing. The missions mainly just boil down to car chases, but they're still a lot of fun. There are plenty of secondary targets to keep an eye out for, and shooting certain icons will trigger a special stunt like jumping a ramp or blowing up a gas station. The downtown environments are not spectacular but are perfectly functional and surprisingly large in scale. The control is terrific in two-player mode, and even the single-player experience is serviceable with its unique "auto-aim" mechanism. My friends Scott and Jonathan begged me to rate this game even higher, but I found the missions to get repetitive after a while, and you need to complete them in order. Still, Starsky and Hutch is a very likeable game, and for the low price (I picked it up for $9.99 at Best Buy) you really can't go wrong. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Street Fighter Alpha Anthology
Publisher: Capcom (2006)
Rating: Teen (violence)
I've been reviewing a lot
of fine 2D fighters lately, but this compilation is particularly outstanding. It's easy to forget how awesome
the Street Fighter Alpha series was. Capcom originally billed it as a "prequel" to Street Fighter 2, but in many ways it was the pinnacle of 2D fighting. The characters are quite large and the background graphics are fascinating. Alpha's gameplay offers tremendous depth for veteran players and button-mashing joy for novices. Anthology includes four iterations of the Alpha series, each of which feature responsive controls and exciting matches that are ideal in length. The first Street Fighter Alpha offers 13 characters, including Sodom, Birdie, Dan, Rose, Adon, and a few old favorites from Street Fighter 2. New gameplay elements include a super combo meter, auto blocking, alpha counters, air blocking, and taunts. The super combos are tricky to learn but immensely satisfying to execute as the slow-motion kicks in and the background turns bright white. The stages and music are decent but not particularly memorable. Instead of stars, little icons are used mark your victories, and these also indicate if you finished off your foe using a super combo. Street Fighter Alpha 2 is my favorite game on this disk, thanks to its rock-solid gameplay and abundant eye candy. Old favorites Dhalsim and Zangief have returned, along with new characters like Sakura (a cute schoolgirl), Rolento (of Final Fight), and Gen (a old man with two distinct styles). For this edition characters have been tweaked and the super meter looks more complicated than it needs to. The stages are drastically improved with vibrant color, parallax scrolling, and funny animations. One stage is set in a public restroom (with guys at the urinals), and in another, a kid can be seen playing an NES in the background! Charlie's jaw-dropping stage is dominated by a huge hovering jet. Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold incorporates a few subtle enhancements, but only die-hards will find these significant. Street Fighter Alpha 3, on the other hand, really upped the ante. Not only does it contain 25 characters (including Blanka, Vega, and Honda) but offers multiple ways to play. By selecting X-ISM, A-ISM, or V-ISM styles you'll vary your power, available moves, and methods for executing super combos. Gamers who live and die by Street Fighter will relish the complexity of it all, but in my opinion, this iteration crosses the line of what most casual gamers are willing to learn. I the love the uptempo techno soundtrack, but the stages look mediocre and the idiotic announcer is grating ("You can't give it up! Go for it man!"). Super Gem Fighter is also included as a bonus, but it's a just a throwaway fighter with cartoon characters and bouncing gems. Overall, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is a terrific value, but I wish Capcom had put a little more effort into it. The instruction manual is confusing as hell, combining the instructions for all of the games. They didn't even bother to list each fighter's moves, so you'll need to go on-line to research the super combos. No history of the games is included, or even a lousy description! There's an option to install to hard disk, but I don't see the point considering load times aren't even a factor. Despite Capcom's laziness, there's no questioning the fun these games provide, especially with a sturdy joystick in hand (I recommend the X-Arcade). Each game is fully configurable, and high scores are automatically saved. If you have any appreciation whatsoever for 2D fighters, Anthology should be at the top of your list. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
Publisher: Capcom (2004)
Rating: Teen (blood, suggestive themes, violence)
Capcom's Street Fighter franchise is arguably the greatest fighting series of all time. The first Street Fighter game (1987) was a modest success, but Street Fighter 2 (1991) was a legitimate phenomenon, dominating the arcades and convincing many gamers to purchase a Super Nintendo (which owned the exclusive license). Street Fighter 2 (SF2) set the standard for 2D fighters, with large, imaginative fighters, loads of special moves, scenic backdrops, and beautifully orchestrated music. But instead of following up immediately with Street Fighter 3, Capcom chose to milk SF2 for all it was worth, releasing Turbo, Championship, and Super editions of the game. Apparently incapable of counting to three, Capcom then released a series of Street Fighter "Alpha" titles, featuring slightly refined graphics and a few new faces. By the time Capcom released Street Fighter 3 (1997), 2D fighters were out of vogue and reaction was less than enthusiastic. Street Fighter Anniversary Collection includes Street Fighter 3 "Third Strike" and an amalgamation of all the Street Fighter 2 games (minus the Alphas). Although the Street Fighter 2 iterations were all very similar, although minor adjustments were made to some character's abilities. This package allows you to set up previously impossible match-ups like Blanka from the Turbo edition against Ryu from the Championship edition. Granted, that aspect will only appeal to enthusiasts, but it's still nice to have an arcade perfect version of SF2 on the Playstation 2 - with virtually no load times to boot! SF2 has the best roster of fighters ever conceived, and the background music is classic. Street Fighter 3 should interest gamers who missed it the first time around, but it lacks the charm of SF2. All the characters are new (except for Chun Li, Ryu, and Ken), and I found many of the new ones to be rather unlikable. There are too many freaks like the hunchbacked Oro and the bag-headed "Q". I especially hate "Twelve", whose cheap, shape-changing attacks would be more appropriate for a Darkstalkers game. Nevertheless, Third Strike's fluid graphics and cool "Super Arts" attack system make it worth playing. The most disappointing aspect of the whole package is the "bonus" Street Fighter 2 animated film. I was expecting it to come on a separate DVD, but instead it was squeezed onto the game disk and its video quality looks closer to VHS than DVD. Still, this is a fine package for fighting game enthusiasts and those who have fond memories of this classic series. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Irem (2002)
Rating: Teen (violence)
In some ways I suppose this submarine shooter is a throwback to the old days. The controls are easy to grasp, and the missions are pretty straightforward. But it's also rather slow and methodical; a far cry from the "twitch" games of yesteryear. You view the action from just behind your sub, and yes, it occasionally gets in the way. The underwater effects are quite convincing, from the bubbles trailing torpedoes to how the screen gets blurry when there's too much pressure. There are plenty of targets to shoot, not to mention loads of power-ups and dozens of buried treasures to discover. The well-thought-out control scheme uses the shoulder button to control your depth and speed. Your primary weapons include lock-on torpedoes, which are a pleasure to unleash. Although most of the action takes place underwater, a few levels allow you to surface, revealing a second battlefield. The graphics are pretty average, but one awesome effect puts the game over the top. It's the innovative sonar, which superimposes wireframe shapes of targets that are hidden or off in the distance. Not only does this look terrific, but it makes it easy to locate enemies, reducing the "What am I supposed to do now?" factor. I had some fun with Sub Rebellion, and I think most shooter fans will approve of this. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Summer Heat Beach Volleyball
Publisher: Acclaim (2003)
Rating: Teen (Suggestive themes)
With the recent release of several quality volleyball games, including Beach Spikers (GameCube) and Dead or Alive Volleyball (Xbox), I figured we were due for a real clunker, but Summer Heat is surprisingly good. As a matter of fact, I've probably put more time into Summer Heat than any of the other games I mentioned. The control scheme is totally unique and surprisingly effective. Instead of employing meters like Beach Spikers or taking a minimal approach like Dead or Alive, Summer Heat uses large gaudy arrows that indicate where the ball will land, and their color indicates if a set or spike is the coming up. They look pretty cheesy, but make the game fun and easy to play. To hit the ball, you hold down the button before
you make contact, and the longer you hold it, the more effective your hit. But if you're still holding the button when your hand smacks the ball, you'll hit it poorly. Once you get the hang of it, you can set, pass, and spike with ease. The gameplay is fun and addicting, but the spikes tend to be weak, causing the matches to go on for too long at times. The characters include males and females, and their movements and celebrations are dead-on. Unfortunately, Dead or Alive Volleyball set the bar pretty high for babelicious graphics, and Summer Heat's just don't measure up. These girls don't look too hot, but at least the "jiggle factor" is right up there. The backgrounds aren't spectacular, but depict bright, attractive beach locations that put you in the right mood. The graphics probably won't blow you away, but the music is another story. With bouncy tunes of "Get This Party Started" (Pink) and "Love At First Sight" (Kylie Minogue) you'll be bobbing your head as you play. It's one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a video game. And the wild four-player mode is an absolute blast. There are also plenty of hidden goodies to open up as well, including music videos. Beach Volleyball Summer Heat is an ideal summer game, and a good buy for PS2 owners who've waited too long for a volleyball game. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Super Dragon Ball Z
Publisher: Atari (2006)
Rating: Teen (cartoon violence)
A very successful Japanese anime series, Dragon Ball Z has spawned literally dozens of video games over the years, most of which have been summarily trashed or ignored by critics. All things considered, Super Dragon Ball Z is much better than I expected. It's a 3D fighter with attractive cell-shaded graphics, tight controls, and frantic action. To properly evaluate the game, I invited over renowned anime expert Jonathan Hawk to explain the subtle nuances of Dragon Ball Z. Much like an unfrozen caveman lawyer, I was confounded at the sight of mid-air combat, yellow clouds, and some dude dressed up like a pickle. One character's entire family is named after undergarments (no kidding!). These may seem troubling to the typical gamer, but Jonathan assured me that all of it is perfectly normal; it's the real world
that's completely ridiculous. The game's pixelated cinematic intro didn't inspire much confidence, but after we reached that bright comic book style menu, we were psyched. Once we began beating the crap out of each other, it was clear that Super Dragon Ball Z's brand of frenetic fighting action is unique. Unlike most fighters, there's a lot of levitation, lightning-fast dashes, and fireball projectiles. After a few battles with the standard controllers, we realized that full-sized joysticks were in order for this game. Fans of the series will instantly recognize the characters, rendered nicely with clean black outlines and no visible seams. The expansive but sparse battlegrounds, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. The yellow cloud stage looks heinous, but the downtown area looks great (like something from the Simpsons). I'm amazed at how destructible the environments are; it's extremely satisfying to kick you foe through a wall! The nifty camerawork offers some truly dramatic angles, and solid hits are punctuated by "Blah!" and "Wham!" graphics. Unleashing a particularly devastating finishing blow results in what appears to be the entire earth splitting beneath your feet (awesome). Jonathan confirmed that the visuals and plot were indeed faithful to the series, with voices lent from the American version of the cartoon (for better or worse). Although I didn't find the subject matter very compelling, I did appreciate the artwork and crazy, non-stop fighting action. I also enjoyed the Survivor Z mode, which lets you create a "character card" and acquire new powers as you gain experience. Once I gathered seven dragon balls, I was told that Shenron the dragon would grant me any wish. This proved to be very misleading however, as "a million dollars" and "Jessica Alba" were conspicuously missing from the option list! Super Dragon Ball Z's soundtrack is pretty good, and reminded me a bit of those old Sonic Adventure games. Bump of the letter grade by one if you're a fan of the Dragon Ball Z series, but knock it down a letter if you can't stand Japanese cartoons. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Rockstar (2000)
I bought this game for two reasons: it was cheap, and seemed like a good "summer" game. But Surfing H3O turned out to be a complete disaster. First of all, there are only two play modes: tournament and versus. The object of the each is to accumulate points by collecting floating spheres and performing tricks. I was really hoping for a training or freestyle mode so I could just surf freely, but there's nothing like that. The controls are awkward and NOT configurable, and the gameplay itself is absolutely horrendous. The learning curve is ridiculously steep, and you'll struggle just to stay on your board for a few seconds. Until you learn to control your speed, you'll get sucked into the surf every time. And trying to perform tricks is an act of futility! The control scheme is a complete joke. You only need to use the two analog sticks, but they're so unresponsive I had to keep checking to make sure my controller was plugged in! Awkward, changing camera angles don't help matters. The graphics aren't particularly good, and tend to understate the hugeness of the waves, which aren't much to look at anyway. At least the background rock music is fair. And what about the sunny, tropical environments I was looking for? Well most of the stages take place in the rain, snow, or at nighttime. Who would want to surf in the Arctic?! This game is insulting. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Suzuki TT Superbikes
Publisher: Jester Interactive (2005)
I've enjoyed my share of motorcycle racers over the years, but even with its $4.99 price tag (!), Suzuki TT Superbikes is a colossal waste. The rural European scenery doesn't offer much to look at, same for some pixilated foliage and the occasional cottage. The steering controls offer just the right degree of sensitivity, but once I started racing, I couldn't figure out why my competitors shot out way
ahead and I couldn't catch up. I soon discovered, to my horror, that the acceleration button is pressure-sensitive!
That's right folks, the harder you push, the faster you go. It doesn't take a genius to figure out this scheme will kill
your thumb over the course of a long race. And believe me, these races are long
. One lap feels like it's 1000 miles long, and then you realize you have two more to go! I checked the option menu to see if I could customize the controls, but all I found is a toggle for vibration - great. The game also seems to slow you down around turns, which is really bizarre. As an indicator of audio quality, my friend Scott complained that I had mosquitoes in the house until he realized that was just my bike engine
. The game does offer some nice crash animations. It takes a while for your guy to get up, but I guess it would take even longer in real life. All in all, Suzuki TT Superbikes is outrageously bad, ranking among the most worthless PS2 titles I've ever played. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Swashbucklers: Blue Vs. Grey
Publisher: Atari (2007)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, strong language, violence)
I was pretty lukewarm about this game, so it took me by surprise when friends on three separate occasions
asked, "What's this game? Can we play this?" Weird!
Swashbucklers adopts the same formula used by Sid Meier's Pirates (Xbox, 2005), but adds its own historical twist by using the time period of the Civil War. As explained in the introduction, the Confederacy has been recruiting "privateers" to disrupt the blockades the North has put into place to choke the trade routes. Those looking for something like Pirates of the Caribbean are in for disappointment because Swashbucklers looks more like a Wild West title. The action begins slowly as you hire a crew, outfit a ship, and carry out missions both on land and at sea. In ports you'll hang out in taverns, trade goods, and challenge locals to boxing matches to earn extra cash. Everywhere you go there's always a shady fellow offering to pay big bucks if you do things like transport cargo, steal a valuable item, or attack a ship. Sea battles are fun, just as long as you change the control scheme to "relative" via the options menu. Positioning is key and I like how ships catch fire and their masts collapse as they incur damage. The Howitzer cannon is an excellent investment because a single close-range hit can cripple a vessel. Once a ship has been sufficiently damaged you have the option to board it, which initiates a series of sword fights with the crew. This is the weakest aspect of the game because the combat is mindless button-mashing and the battles drag on for far too long. Your final opponent is the ship's captain, and fortunately this encounter employs excellent "duel" controls. Captured ships can be raided for goods and then auctioned for money. The interface used to manage your inventory is well designed and a pleasure to use. Swashbuckler's graphics are exceptionally good. Every aspect of the scenery is meticulously detailed and the game employs an old-fashioned, hand-drawn look. The bustling towns have cobblestone streets, reflective windows, and elegant wood furniture. This might be a better
game than Sid Meier's Pirates, considering each town is unique and the game doesn't tend to re-use scenery. When characters speak they basically mumble gibberish over the subtitles, and it's kind of comical. Swashbucklers has an edgy sense of humor and the "inner voice" guy who helps you through the early going is hilarious. The game also has a lot of profanity which totally caught me off-guard and is likely to piss off some parents. Load screens are short but they are frequent. Swashbucklers is not for gamers looking for a quick romp, but if you're willing to set aside some time, you're likely to gain an appreciation for this historical adventure. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online