Publisher: Sega (2005)
Rating: Teen (mild violence)
Offering 29 classic arcade games for only $20 (!), Taito Legends was time-consuming to review, but I loved every minute of it. Even if you don't remember these oldies from the arcades of the 80's, there are plenty of gems here to satisfy any taste. The emulation is dead-on; each game looks fantastic
on my big plasma TV. The first game, Battle Shark (Year: 1989, Grade: A), gets the party started right
with its unique underwater shooting action. You'll take aim at underwater subs, tanks, and even sharks with frickin' lasers attached to their heads (attention Dr. Evil!). Bubble Bobble (1986, B) is a cute platformer that takes some time to learn, but once you do, it's a lot of fun. Colony 7 (1981, C) is a combination of Atlantis and Missile Command, as you shoot down UFOs attacking a city on the bottom on the screen. Continental Circus (1987, A-) is a poorly named but excellent racer that combines the gameplay of Pole Position with the eye candy of Outrun. The undulating roads and pitstops look great, although the soundtrack is pretty awful. The object of Electric Yo-Yo (1982, D) is to clear blocks while avoiding wandering baddies, but while the concept of being pulled on a string is innovative, it doesn't translate into a good time. Elevator Action (1983, C) lets you engage in shootouts as you move from floor to floor of an office building, but it's really tough and requires a lot of practice. Exzisus (1987, B-) is an obscure shooter where you guide an astronaut in a jet pack over a side-scrolling planet surface. Your firepower is awesome, but I hate how enemies are always sneaking up from behind, and those annoying "meteor shower" stages have got to go. Gladiator (1986, B) is a one-on-one fighter I vaguely remember playing at the beach about 20 years ago. The armor-clad warriors aren't quite as huge as I remembered, but the gameplay still kicks ass. I like the idea of knocking off pieces of armor to expose body parts. Great Swordsman (1984, F) is a lame fencing game, sort of a precursor to Gladiator. Jungle Hunt (1982, A-) is one I always loved as a kid, with its multiple stages (vines, river, boulders, natives), simple controls, and incredibly catchy theme song. The New Zealand Story (1988, C) is a Mario-style platformer starring a cute yellow chick, but it's almost too complex for an arcade game. Ninja Kids (1990, C) is a totally bizarre Final Fight-style brawler, with comical graphics depicting cartoonish street thugs being summarily sliced and diced. Operation Thunderbolt (1988, D) is a first-person shooter where you blast endless soldier clones that pour out of the woodwork, and it gets old in a hurry. Operation Wolf (1987, B) is similar, but its simpler graphics and reasonable pace translate into better gameplay. Phoenix (1980, A-) is another old favorite of mine. I used to play this when I hung out at the bowling alley as a kid, and I'm surprised how primitive its graphics look now. Still, that huge mother ship is pretty impressive for a 1980 game. Plotting (1989, D) is a mediocre "match the shape" puzzle game that couldn't hold my attention. Plump Pop (1987, C+) takes Circus Atari (Atari 2600, 1978) to new heights, with formations of moving targets and bonus items galore. Rainbow Islands (1987, D) is platformer that incorporates an interesting concept (build rainbow bridges), but it's not particularly fun. Rastan (B+, 1987) is a superb side scroller with numerous power-ups, multiple paths, and satisfying hack-n-slash gameplay. I had never heard of Return of the Invaders (1985, A-), but this game rocks! Like a turbo-charged Space Invaders, it features rapid-fire shooting, power-ups, and different enemy formations. The poorly-named Space Gun (1990, B) is a visually stunning first-person shooter that renders Alien-inspired creatures using huge, 2D sprites. Space Invaders (1978, C) is the original "aliens-in-formation" shooter that put video games on the map. Its sequel, Space Invaders Part 2 (1980, C+) adds some color but plays pretty much the same. Super Qix (1987, C) incorporates snazzy graphics and power-ups to the original Qix, but I don't think the gameplay is any better. Thunder Fox (1990, C) is a silly but entertaining Rambo-style side-scroller where you stab (or shoot) the same five soldiers over and over again. Tokio (1986, B) is a graphically challenged but engaging airplane shooter along the lines of 1942. Tube It (1993, B) turned me off initially with its confusing puzzle gameplay, but once it "clicked" with me, I was hooked. Volfied (1989, C) is a lot like Super Qix, only with a science fiction theme and laughable dialogue. Zookeeper (1982, C) is another innovative title that looks better than it plays. Your goal is to move a character around a rectangular area in an attempt to "wall in" a bunch of animals. The games are accessed through a nifty menu screen featuring a killer techno soundtrack. There is some bonus material, but it's generally limited to text and sales flyers. Each game is fully configurable, and high scores and settings are saved to memory card. Initially all games are set to "easy" difficulty, but I'd recommend bumping them up to medium. When it comes to value for your money, you really can't beat a massive compilation like this. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Taito (2006)
Okay kids, who loves classic arcade games? I do I do!
With 39 arcade games released between 1979 and 1997, Taito Legends 2 is an incredible value. Even if half of the games are lousy (and let assure you they are
), that still leaves nearly 20 that are worth your while - more than most compilations. Played in chronological order, it's interesting to watch the evolution of Taito's games. Many of the early titles are borderline unplayable (Crazy Balloon looks like a bad Commodore 64 type-in game), but you'll find plenty of quality shooters, platformers, and side-scrolling brawlers. There are too many games to describe in detail, but a few really stand out. To be honest, I've never even heard of most of these games. Qix is the headliner of Taito Legends 2, and this arcade version is superior to its many home incarnations. Lunar Rescue is an arcade game I vaguely remember from a childhood vacation at the beach. It was in the laundry room of an Ocean City motel, and my sister and I begged my parents for quarters for that lousy game. Growl, Dungeon Magic, and Arabian Magic are three excellent side-scrolling beat-em-ups which are as fun to watch as they are to play. Liquid Kids is a fast-paced platformer where you toss water balloons to vanquish enemies and solve simple puzzles. In Camel Try (yeah, that's the name) you rotate an entire maze in order to navigate a ball through it. It plays like that psychedelic bonus stage in the first Sonic the Hedgehog (remember that?). Don Doko Don is every classic platform game you've ever played, with mushrooms, hammers, and even bonus fruit. Elevator Action 2 caught my attention with its realistic animated characters and unflinching violence. Many will remember G-Darius and Raystorm as sophisticated 3D shooters that appeared on the Playstation One. The biggest letdown of the bunch is Front Line with its goofy visuals and poor controls. It was much
better on the Colecovision! All games save high scores automatically, and many offer two-player co-op modes. Since many contain badly-translated Japanese text, you'll read some hilarious lines like "Next you!" (Violence Fight), and "the Earth died and was about to enter silence times" (Black Metal). If you have any appreciation for video game history, this package is solid gold, and if you have a arcade-style joystick (like my X-Arcade), all the better. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2003)
Rating: Teen (violence)
Reviewing Tekken 4 was a rather difficult task as the game itself lacks any distinguishing characteristics/features. It's only an incremental improvement over Tekken Tag Tournament. The best news is that the whole "tag team" aspect has been removed (let's face it - that was pretty annoying). The new roster consists of about 20 fighters, including most of the Tekken mainstays and a hot new Latino chick named Christie. Christie exhibits the same fighting style as Eddy from Tekken 3 (Playstation). The bizarre Yoshimitsu character continues to evolve, and resembles an armored skeleton with insect wings. The simple controls and arcade gameplay are classic Tekken, and it's easy to pull off incredible combinations (even if only by accident). Although purists will lean towards Virtua Fighter 4 (PS2), Tekken 4 is still a respectable fighter with responsive controls. The well-defined characters don't move as naturally as those in Virtua Fighter 4, but I do like the odd-shaped arenas. It's especially satisfying to bang your opponents into walls and ceilings. Unfortunately, much of the background scenery is not particularly interesting. The spectators in the underground club look underdeveloped, and stages like the mall are surprisingly dull. The option menu boasts a wide range of modes, but the only new one is the Tekken Force mode, which pits your fighter against a parade of generic foes as you forge your way through the headquarters of some nefarious organization. While it's cool to whip up on several adversaries at a time, the action grows stale in short order. In addition, it's awkward to maneuver yourself down hallways while in a fighting stance. When all is said and done, Tekken 4 packs some decent fist-to-cuffs fun, but it pales in comparison to Virtua Fighter 4. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2005)
Rating: Teen (language, sexual themes, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)
I was a huge Tekken fan in my PS1 days, but in recent years I've begun leaning towards Sega's Virtua Fighter. With Tekken 5 however, the tide has turned once again! Unlike the unexciting Tekken 4, there are no discernible flaws here. The game delivers all the high-octane, martial arts mayhem you expect, and looks terrific to boot. The gameplay isn't much different from other Tekkens, but the characters are well balanced and visually enhanced. All your favorites are back, including the red-hot Nina Williams, the aptly-named Marshall Law, and Rutger Hauer look-alike Bryan Fury (see Bladerunner). The smooth animation is poetry in motion as you string together a series of devastating attacks. I love how your character's head stays trained on your opponent as he flops around after a bit hit. Some gamers may disapprove of the excessive "juggling combos", but as long as you're not on the receiving end, they're pretty sweet. The main improvement in Tekken 5 is probably the backgrounds. They are all imaginative, and a few qualify as astonishing. There's a jaw-droppingly enormous space station, a gorgeous waterfall scene, and even a pirate ship. One area features a bevy of bikini babes dancing on platforms. The battleground retaining walls are breakable, and even the ground shatters as you slam your opponent into it. The arcade mode has been enhanced, so when playing single-player you feel as if you're on-line. You can even choose your next competitor. Money earned in this mode can be used to customize each character's appearance. A surprise bonus is the "arcade history" mode, which includes arcade-perfect versions of Tekken 1, 2, and 3, along with an old space shooter called Starblade. One mode I could live without is the horrible "Devil Within" mode. Like Tekken Force (of Tekken 4), this free-roaming adventure forces you to wander generic facilities while beating up the same thugs ad nauseum. If the gameplay doesn't turn you off, that horrible looping "music" certainly will. But that solitary blemish can't tarnish an otherwise pristine package. Tekken hasn't changed much over the years - and let's keep it that way. In my opinion, Tekken 5 is as good as any fighter out there. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Tekken Tag Tournament
Publisher: Namco (2000)
Tekken was the premiere fighting franchise for the PS1, but I wasn't expecting much from this PS2 launch title. The reason? Well, Namco did a poor job with its other PS2 launch title (Ridge Racer V), and the title of this game suggests a rehash. But Tekken Tag Tournament turned out better than I expected. Its 34 characters (!) include all of your favorites from previous Tekkens, including the Bruce Lee-impersonating Forest Law, the cat-headed King, the armor-laden Gun Jack, the alien/ninja Yoshimitsu, and supremely sexy babes Nina and Anna. The graphics are terrific, although the character models are a step down from Virtua Fighter 4 or Dead or Alive 3 (Xbox). From a tropical beach, to an ancient temple, to a snow-covered resort, to the streets of Tokyo, the scenery is varied and features impressive lighting. The controls are identical to previous Tekken games (two punch buttons and two kick buttons) but this time the shoulder buttons are used to switch between characters in the tag-team matches. As in past editions, some of the special moves look ridiculous and can inflict an unfair amount of damage (Jin can be especially cheap). This tends to speed up the matches but somewhat undermines the whole tag team aspect. Often an overly powerful attack will wipe out half of your character's life and end the match before you even get a chance to tag out, and that's frustrating. There's also an emphasis on air "juggling", and it's not unusual for one fighter to toss you into the air, tag out, and have the other guy kick you before you land! To be honest, although the "tag team" aspect adds a little strategy, it's not particularly enjoyable. On the bright side, Tekken Tag Tournament is easy to play, has a nice techno soundtrack, and there are virtually no load times. A move list is available from the pause menu, and Tekken's famous "character usage" records are always interesting. Despite the lack of innovation, Tag Tournament is still worthy of the Tekken name. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Publisher: Atari (2003)
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)
I enjoyed the Terminator 3 film, but this game made me nauseous
. Rise of the Machines is an outrageously
sloppy first-person shooter with a few clunky third-person one-on-one fights tossed in for good measure. Whoever designed this game clearly hated
all gamers and wanted us all to be absolutely miserable
. Why else would the first 12 stages
force us to languish in an ugly post-apocalyptic hell
composed of dull concrete walls and endless narrow passageways? It's unbearable!!
Rise of the Machines never even bothers to explain the controls, and at one point I was prompted to use the "action" button which isn't mentioned anywhere
. There's no shortage of firepower, but the movement and aiming controls are jumpy and imprecise. The game tries to compensate for this by letting you press L1 to immediately lock onto an enemy, but too often this points you in a random direction, which is disorienting as hell. It might just be the worst targeting system ever devised. Even manning turrets is a pain, as you can never aim the crosshairs with any precision. The terminators look a lot like crash test dummies, and are about as intelligent. You'll have to suffer through more than half of the game before finally
reaching the opening scene of the film (the vet hospital)! The third-person fighting stages are shallow and clumsy, but provide a welcome break from the marginal first-person action, and I like how terminators model damage to some degree. Unfortunately, the game is riddled with bugs, including terminators that become permanently lodged in the scenery. In one stage, I was unable to clear a pile of debris with a grenade, yet a single gunshot did the trick. I was halfway through another stage and getting my ass thoroughly kicked when the "mission complete" message inexplicably appeared! Terminator 3 incorporates both real movie footage and CGI cut-scenes, but the footage makes the CGI work look awful
. The voice samples (provided by the actors) are repetitive to the extreme, with Arnold saying "lock and load" about every ten seconds. I heard one soldier exclaim "let's kick some ass" five times in a row!
That's some quality programming right there. The audio is also plagued with some obnoxiously loud sound effects. It's amazing how bad Terminator 3 turned out, considering that the movie studio provided the actors and plenty of movie-related bonus material. But make no mistake - this is an abysmal helicopter-wreck of a game. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Test Drive Eve of Destruction
Publisher: Atari (2004)
Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, mild violence, simulated gambling)
Once again I have to ask: why is it so hard to make a crash-up-derby video game that doesn't SUCK? I love this genre, but game developers just can't seem to get it right. Despite figure-eight shaped tracks, mid-air collisions, and a huge variety of events, Test Drive Eve of Destruction STILL manages to be boring. The main problem is the complete and utter lack of speed. In order for collisions to be truly spectacular, speed needs to be involved, but these cars feel like they're putting along at about 20 miles per hour! And if you think the pace is slow and plodding in the one player mode, wait until you hook up a multi-tap. The multi-player games look like they're being played in slow motion! The destruction derby events (last car standing) are mildly amusing, but most of the events are lame races. Sure you can knock around other cars, but since you take just as much damage, what's the point? The two-on-two "car soccer" contest is interesting, but the "trailer race" is as bad as it sounds. The tracks are mainly dull, dusty country roads, and grinding guitar soundtrack is truly annoying. The cars sustain damage, but it's hard to tell which cars have been disabled, especially in the destruction derby mode. I was hoping Eve would deliver the vehicular destruction I was thirsting for, but it doesn't even come close. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: THQ (2002)
How hard can it be to make a freakin' TETRIS game? I mean, this game is old as the hills, and its simple gameplay is pretty hard to screw up. But time and again I've seen game developers butcher this classic. When I first played Tetris on my Atari ST in the late 80's, the object was to keep the pile of blocks under control as long as possible until you were eventually overwhelmed. But in Tetris Worlds, the rules have changed. Now the object is to clear a certain number of rows within two minutes - what the hell is THAT all about? This poorly designed system is much less fun and simply doesn't work at higher difficulty levels. In the multiplayer mode, the game ends abruptly when the first person completes his row goal - how irritating! Adding insult to injury, the user interface is confusing and severely limiting. You can do stupid things like choose the color of your "character" (a box with an eye that has no bearing on gameplay), but you can't adjust the basic gameplay parameters at all. Too bad, because Tetris World contains some potentially interesting variations (cascade, sticky), along with some pointless ones (square, hot-line). The graphics are pretty sparse, but the soothing, futuristic music sort of grew on me. The sexy female voice that whispers during the story mode was initially alluring but eventually got irritating. There's a new "ghost piece" feature, which shows a shadow of where the piece will land, and it's very helpful for beginners. Then there's the questionable "hold piece" move that lets you set aside a piece for later use. Where I come from that's considered cheating! I really wish THQ had spent less time on bells and whistles and more on the gameplay. Tetris Worlds left me feeling cheated and disgusted. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Rating: Teen (comic mischief, mature sexual themes, mild violence)
Is this really the best selling computer game in history? I think it's terribly overrated
. The Sims is basically an exercise in time-management, where you make virtual people perform menial tasks and then watch the results play out on the screen. Tiny symbols, which are sometimes hard to discern, appear in bubbles over the character's heads, indicating their wants and desires. Certain animations are mildly amusing, but the action (if you can even call it that) unfolds very
slowly. A pixilated box obfuscates "private" acts like going to the bathroom. The Sims' world is limited to their property, but you can always expand the house and invite over neighbors. To me, playing the Sims feels too much like work
. Fixing meals, cleaning toilets, finding a job, and taking out trash are tasks I want to escape from
when I play a video game! I guess it's fun to experiment at first, but once the novelty wears off there's not much left to this game. I found the act of customizing the characters and decorating the house to be tedious and pointless. Sure you can choose from a huge selection of chairs, lamps, tables, and floor coverings, but I couldn't care less! The 3D graphics serve their purpose well and the adjustable camera works fine. In addition, the sound effects are clear and really help convey what's going on. Non-gamers like my wife are likely to find the clunky user interface confusing, but most players won't have much trouble. I guess I'm not the "target audience" for this game, but I opted to wall my Sims in their rooms and watch them die. Unfortunately, the process took much longer than I had anticipated, making it all the more agonizing for me
! Strategic-minded gamers with a lot
of time on their hands may appreciate The Sims, but if you're an action-oriented gamer, avoid this experiment in social engineering at all costs. And please, don't believe the hype. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2002
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Despite EA's great golf games of the past, the Tiger Woods series has been a major disappointment over the years. I thought this might be the breakout year for Tiger, but I'm afraid the series still has a way to go. Initially the game won me over with some easy "training" levels that teach you the basics and demonstrate how to employ special shots like the "punch" or "flop". The courses look artificial and don't compare favorably to Hot Shots 3. Still, I must admit that the fly-bys are nice and the golfers look realistic. The camera work is great while the ball is in the air, but it follows the rolls too closely, making to hard to tell where the ball ends up. But what separates Tiger from the rest of the pack is the unique control scheme. Instead of the traditional 3-click "swing meter" employed by most golf games, Tiger uses the analog stick to control the motion of your swing in real time (pull back and push forward). While this feels natural at first, problems become apparent after extended play. Tapping the L1 button during your back swing (for extra power) is awkward, and applying spin to the ball while it's in the air is non-intuitive and unrealistic. Since it's hard to mess up the swing motion, bad shots seem to occur on a random basis. It's really hard to judge the distance on your shots, and the putting is atrocious. You're really not given enough information to properly judge your putt. In order to open up golfers and courses, you'll have to complete many "Tiger Challenges", which are mainly one-on-one contests and mini-games. There aren't many pros to be found here - most of the players are fictional. The sound effects are fair, but the commentary is sparse and uninteresting. Between holes you view a lot of loading screens. Why didn't EA display something useful like a map of the next hole? EA tried to spice up the action by adding dramatic visual and sound effects to certain shots. Sometimes the controller will vibrate like a heart beat to convey tension, which is neat but often happens at inappropriate times. Perhaps the biggest letdown is the new "Speed Golf" mode which lets two players compete on a split screen to put the ball in the hole as fast as they can. It's an awesome concept, but the execution is a complete bust. After you hit the ball, you actually have to move a cursor to its location, which is both stupid and annoying. I have also witnessed the ball do some bizarre things, like making a 90-degree turn into the cup from a foot away. Despite my initial interest in the innovative controls, I didn't find Tiger Woods Golf to be worth the money. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2001)
Like Vampire Night, Time Crisis 2 is a straightforward light gun game for one or two players. But in this game, the two-player mode is played on two small side-by-side screens. And I mean small
. This is suppose to give each cop their own point of view, allowing them to "cover" each other. Like the first Time Crisis, you take cover and reload behind walls and obstacles. The stages includes an outdoor cafe and an exhilarating high-speed boat-chase sequence, which may be the best single light-gun stage ever. The graphics are functional but nothing spectacular. The new orange Guncon 2 light guns are compact and accurate, but you'll need to purchase an extra adapter to use them with S-Video (the old Guncon controllers are also supported). Time Crisis 2 is fun while it lasts, but like most light gun games, it isn't particularly long and the action wears thin after repeated plays. There are a few mini-games thrown in, but nothing with lasting replay value. Overall, Time Crisis 2 is just as good as the arcade, but nothing special outside of that. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2003)
Rating: Teen (violence) 1 or 2 players
As one of the finest light gun titles I've played, Time Crisis 3 offers non-stop, adrenaline-pumping action in a series of exotic locations. Better yet, it successfully tweaks the winning formula that's made the series so popular. Its storyline involves a pair of cops deployed to defeat an invading army in a fictional Mediterranean nation that looks a lot like Greece. The action begins on a tropical beach then moves to an inviting sunny village. Masked enemy soldiers take cover and react realistically to being shot, and many have visible health meters. The stages are nicely designed and loaded with surprises. While on the beach, a towering lighthouse explodes and falls off of a cliff practically onto you lap. During a high-speed jeep chase, you can shoot out tires, sending your foes spinning out of control and flipping end-over-end before exploding. It's also fun to take aim at paratroopers in the air, or blast bad guys sliding down the floor of a capsizing ship. At one point you even hang upside down to "drop in" on enemies, and the viewing angle looks amazing. One awesome new feature is your ability to switch between four weapons by simply pulling the trigger while you're under cover. It's easy and fun as you toggle between your handgun, a rapid-fire machine gun, shotgun, and grenade launcher. There's no shortage of ammo, so you can spray enemies liberally with your machine gun. In fact, spraying is the recommended technique since you can "stun" a whole group of enemies at once, preventing any one from getting a good bead on you. Time Crisis 3 is pure bliss for light gun fans, but it's not without fault. First off, the bosses are few, but they just keep coming back and some require about 1000 shots to finish off (I wish I was exaggerating). The game is also very linear, so don't expect to be playing for weeks on end. Finally, the split-screens in the two-player mode are so tiny it's almost comical. The two-player mode is a bust, but when it comes to solo light gun action, this is outstanding. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Rating: Teen (violence) 1 or 2 players
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero
Publisher: Crave (2001)
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero originally appeared on the Dreamcast, and it's a sharp-looking one-on-one racer. The tracks are all highways surrounding a generic looking city, and the races take place entirely at night. For the most part I enjoyed the graphics. The cars look slick with streetlights that reflect off them convincingly. There's not much variety in the scenery, but the skyline does look attractive. I do have a problem with some of the lighting effects. In recent years, racing video games have experimented with "blurred" taillights in an attempt to create more realistic visuals, but they went overboard in this game, and cars in the distance look like big red blobs until you approach them. The excellent framerate makes for a smooth ride, and the analog steering is just the right sensitivity. Unfortunately, the controls make use of the pressure-sensitive accelerate (X) and brake (square) buttons. This was a poor design decision, because having to press the main buttons HARD with your thumb causes fatigue and eventually pain, deterring you from playing this game for long sessions. The main mode is the "quest", which lets you race freely around the highway, challenging other drivers. The races are fun, thanks to highly original "battle meters" that determine who's winning the race. Little by little you win money to upgrade and buy cars. That's right, this game uses the "garage" system like every racing game since Gran Turismo 1 (Playstation). The two-player mode isn't so hot because you only get a first-person view which makes it hard to see and pass your opponent. Tokyo Xtreme is not a standout title, but racing fans will want to check this out. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Tomb Raider The Angel of Darkness
Publisher: Eidos (2003)
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)
Her first appearance on a "next generation" system, Angel of Darkness was billed as Lara Croft's triumphant return. Since the original blockbuster Tomb Raider (Playstation 1997), Eidos had milked the franchise dry with a series of uninspired sequels as Lara's popularity gradually declined. In order to reinvigorate the series, Eidos promised that Angel would be reprogrammed from the ground up and offer far more depth than previous offerings. But despite the good intentions, Angel of Darkness turned out to be a complete flop that was trashed by every critic on earth (except for Maxim, which gave it a perfect score). Please allow me to "pile on" and rub salt in the wound with an inflammatory critique of my own. Horrid design, sloppy programming, and a blatant lack of play-testing plague this disappointing title. Angel's gameplay certainly is a departure from the previous chapters, with more emphasis on storyline, dialogue, and more realistic urban locations. Unfortunately, this translates into spending half the game exploring every inch of a Parisian slum (including the sewers), and talking to every bum you run into. The tomb stages come much later, but I doubt most gamers will have the patience to reach them. The confusing storyline involves Lara being wanted for murder, and ironically she'll need to slay dozens of bad guys just to prove her innocence. Most of the new features are unwanted at best and at worst hinder gameplay. Conversations with characters affect Lara's path through the game, and can even be fatal if you're not careful. Just be nice to everyone and you'll be okay. Often Lara discovers that she is "not strong enough" to perform basic tasks like turning a valve or moving a statue. In order to "make herself stronger" she must find another extraneous block or lever to push or pull for the sole purpose of "gaining strength". It's really an idiotic notion, and I love how the box eloquently describes it as "Improve Lara's abilities and witness her adapt to how you play". Another unwanted new feature is how when hanging from a ledge, Lara will eventually lose her grip and fall - realistic yes, but hardly the kind of thing a gamer would ask for. And then there's Lara's new stealth mode - a played-out concept that's totally unnecessary here. Angel's controls are shockingly bad, as if the developers couldn't grasp the concept of analog control. Lara's movements are stiff and awkward, and it can be frustrating to perform simple tasks like turning around or grabbing a ladder. Worse yet, it's too easy to accidentally jump in the wrong direction. Other issues include a user-hostile menu system that makes it confusing to arm and equip weapons. Although the loading screens are more tolerable than previous outings, they are still plentiful. On the bright side, Tomb Raider's audio is very good and the graphics aren't bad either. Decked out in jeans and a jacket, Lara looks more realistic than previous outings, and her animations are fluid but slow. The scenery is rendered in realistic textures that give buildings that nice "aged" look. Unfortunately, the enemies are less detailed, and close inspection reveals a painful lack of detail including square fingers. I saw one thug stuck in a wall! Bad guys require six shots to kill - even at point blank range! When they die, they blink and disappear - what is this, 1986? When Lara is near something she can interact with, a "hand" icon appears in the corner of the screen. The problem is, several times when this appeared Lara did not react in any
way when I hit the action button. Many of the puzzles are of the stale push-the-block, pull-the-lever variety, and most stages require extensive backtracking (ugh!). If you thought the Tomb Raider franchise was washed up, this game is further proof. Released to coincide with the second Tomb Raider movie (Cradle of Life), Angel's poor sales sent Eidos' stock value tumbling. Looks like it's back to the drawing board for them. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3
Publisher: Activision (2001)
Being the jaded gamer that I am, most sequels do not excite me, but Tony Hawk 3 is too good to ignore. Unlike Tony Hawk 2, which gave us more of the same skateboarding action, Tony Hawk 3 actually improves upon the gameplay. The biggest improvement is the addition of new "flatland" tricks that let you string together incredible combos even while moving between ramps. The twelve pro skaters move fluidly and bleed profusely during nasty spills. The interactive environments are fascinating and full of surprises. You may think that skating through an airport or factory isn't a big deal, but what about a cruise ship, a car wash, or a haunted house? The stages are well designed and there are combo opportunities everywhere. Unlike most 3D games, the camera always seems to be in the right place. The Career Mode, which gives you a list of goals for each stage, is insanely addictive, and no Tony Hawk game would be complete without a thumping soundtrack. Artists like the Ramones, Alien Ant Farm, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers provide twenty adrenaline-pumping tunes. Rounding out the feature list is an enhanced skate park editor and on-line modes that let you skate with friends. Tony Hawk 3 is awesome, and it sets a new standard for extreme games! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Rating: Teen (blood, comic mischief, mild lyrics, suggestive themes)
Tony Hawk games have always been insanely addictive and fun, but you can't help but get the feeling Activision was just "going through the motions" with this weak fourth entry. The video intro is unquestionably awesome, showcasing the amazing skills of famed skateboarders to the song "TNT" by AC/DC. When I began reviewing this game, it dawned on me that I hadn't played a Tony Hawk game in a while and I was out of practice. I was also out of luck
because there's no tutorial mode
in Tony Hawk 4 (TH4) to explain all the complicated flips, holds, grinds, manuals, and plants you can execute. I actually had to go back and play the tutorial of Tony Hawk 3
just to get back up to speed! TH4 is aimed squarely at those who conquered the previous games, and newbies will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the difficulty (which is not
adjustable). Just completing the first stage is a major feat, and even Tony Hawk die-hards are bound to have issues with the controls. In the previous editions you pushed "up" to go over the lip of half-pipes, but in this game it happens all the time for no apparent reason. TH4's cluttered environments and erratic collision detection often send you bouncing off obstacles in an unpredictable manner. It's incredibly difficult to land properly after performing tricks, and many maneuvers I executed with ease in Tony Hawk 3 result in nasty spills in this game. The graphics haven't improved at all since TH3, and the stages aren't very exciting. The college and shipyard areas are inherently boring, but even the Alcatraz, carnival, and zoo stages seem surprisingly uninspired. The music is all over the place, but the strongest tracks are the definitely the rap tunes like "My Adidas" (Run-DMC), "Express Yourself" (NWA), and "Bodyrock" (Biz Markie). It didn't win me over, but like any Tony Hawk title, TH4 still has that strangely addictive quality, and Tony Hawk veterans will relish the challenge. Regardless, it's plain to see that a shift in the series was necessary, resulting in the subsequent "Underground" line of titles. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Tony Hawk's Underground
Publisher: Activision (2004)
Rating: Teen (blood, mild violence, strong language, suggestive themes)
Underground represents an attempt to add more depth to Tony Hawk's popular line of skateboarding games by incorporating a gritty storyline and mission-oriented stages. While I'm not completely sold on the new format, there's no question that Underground offers far more variety than its predecessors. In addition to collecting items and performing tricks for high scores, you'll run around on foot, climb on roofs, race in cars, and sneak around drug dealers. A few of these side quests are mildly amusing, but many had me asking, "What the hell am I doing? Give me back my damn skateboard!" Negative side effects of the new storyline approach are long
loading screens, wacky cut-scenes (spare me), and tedious dialogue to page through. The story is fairly linear, so it's pretty easy to get stuck on a single mission. At one point you need to hold onto the back of a car while riding a skateboard until it's going fast enough to propel you over a bridge. Maybe I just suck, but this took me about an hour to get past (or maybe it just seemed
like an hour). There's still a "free skating" mode that lets you play each stage for points, but you'll still need to work through the story mode to open
the stages. Unlike Tony Hawk 4, the difficulty involved in pulling off stunts and nailing your landings has decreased drastically. It seems too easy
, as you can often rack up crazy points by tapping random buttons in mid-air. Clearly the best aspect of the game is its expansive urban environments including Manhattan, Tampa, San Diego, and a New Jersey neighborhood. It's funny - when you're on a skateboard, everything
looks like a ramp or a rail! It's also fun to explore and uncover secret areas. Underground has on-line capabilities and even a feature that lets you download an image of your own face
and super-impose it on your character! If Underground was trying to take the series in a new direction and expand its scope, then its mission was accomplished. Personally I still prefer the original recipe Tony Hawk, but I admire this game's ambition. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2005)
Like the classic Winter Games (Epyx, 1985) that I used to play on my Atari computer, Torino is a solid collection of Winter Olympic mini-games. For $20 this is a serious bargain. Some of these events are actually good enough to stand on their own. Torino's graphics are superb, featuring lifelike athletes, detailed environments, and harrowing camera angles. The TV-style presentation is a little rough, but the controls are well designed and easy to grasp. Most events only use one or two buttons, and you're often prompted right on the screen. The skiing events (Slalom, Giant Slalom, Downhill, and Super G) are the best of the bunch, conveying a thrilling sensation of speed as you weave through the gates. The ski jump is also visually stunning, as you begin with a jaw-dropping view of the Olympic village from the top of a vertigo-inducing hill. Like the real thing, it's fun to watch athletes "wipe out" in this event. Bobsled and Luge utilize a first-person view, and it looks amazing as you careen through the banked turns at dizzying speeds. The speed skating and biathlon events are a bit tedious by nature, but still worth playing. Each game location is nicely detailed and surrounded by a crowd of spectators (although they are rather sparse). One weak aspect of Torino is the clueless two-man commentator team, which is usually at a loss for words and rarely says anything worth hearing. In the ski events, it's not uncommon to hear this insightful exchange: "And he's off to a fine start!" "Well, it could have been better." "Of course, there's always room for improvement." And check out this scintillating discourse heard during a bobsled run: "Touches the edge!" "Slightly touches the edge." "Touched the edge." "Yes, but only slightly." I love it when they harshly criticize my speed skating run just before announcing my first place finish. One less amusing aspect of the game is its long load screens between events. You'd think they could at least display a run-down of the controls on those things, but no. The medal ceremonies after each event are pretty boring and you'll quickly learn to skip them. Best times are recorded for all of the events, but an auto-save function is badly needed. And while up to four players can compete, they'll all need to share one controller, and there's no split-screen action. You can configure the game to play all 15 events, the nine core events (my preference), or pick and choose to create your own list. The bottom line is that my friends and I had a great time competing against each other in Torino 2006. The games are easy to learn but their subtle nuances are tough to master. If you have any interest whatsoever in winter sports, you should definitely pick up this game. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Triple Play Baseball
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2001)
After being disappointed with All-Star Baseball, I decided to try the more arcade-oriented Triple Play. Although Triple Play is better in many respects, it's worse in many others! On the positive side, some of the graphics are pretty flashy, and the brilliant camera work never interferes with the action. When the camera zooms in behind the batter, it looks positively astonishing. The stadiums are a wonder to behold, but the players are another story altogether. These stubby freaks all have short arms and balloon heads! What's up with that? The animation is also lacking, causing the players to look very stiff compared to All-Star. One thing Triple Play definitely has going for it is its pitcher/batter screen. It looks nice, controls wonderfully, and doesn't feel nearly as tedious as All Star Baseball. Best of all, it's easy to hit the ball. Defense, on the other hand, is a nightmare. You hardly have any time to react to grounders, and diving isn't effective at all. Fielding "assistance" graphics are meant to help, but they're so big to the point of being distracting. The computer often does a poor job of selecting your fielder, and you'll have to press the triangle button to switch to a closer player. And did you know that the X, O, square, and triangle buttons on the PS2 controller were pressure sensitive? Well, it turns out that the harder you press those buttons, the harder you throw the ball! It's a novel idea, but hardly practical, and only results in a lot of sore thumbs. Another problem is too many homeruns, and as you watch the ball leave the park, it never decreases in size, so by the time it clears the fence it looks like a beach ball! Batters argue strike calls, which seems like a great idea, until I saw a batter argue a strike on a pitch that he swung at! There is a serious lack of options, including time of game and weather. Triple Play Baseball is typical of the weak early baseball lineup for the PS2. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Twisted Metal Black
Publisher: Sony (2001)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
As one of the earliest PS2 titles, most gamers thought Twisted Metal Black (TMB) was pretty slick when it was first released. In retrospect however, I think we can all agree that it royally sucks
. Yes, the game's dark, "mature" theme marks a new direction for the series, but the gameplay took a turn for the worse. Manning a beat-up looking vehicle loaded to the hilt with firepower, you blast everything in sight while careening through massive battlefields. The scenery may seem dense in parts, but it makes no difference since your car can plow right through most objects, including houses, trees, and lampposts. The weapons are mainly missile-based, which is good, and innovative new "timed" attacks let you maximize their damage by detonating at the last possible second. Sweet Tooth, the psychotic ice cream truck, has a special attack that turns it into a robotic mech, and this transformation is one of the game's highlights. The particle effects of flaming weapons are terrific, but the lame vehicle explosions look more like firecrackers. TMB's edgy presentation is clearly inspired by the movie "Seven". Each character has a set of creepy, mature-rated, grainy video clips to convey their disturbing background stories. The dark battlegrounds, dominated by shades of gray, are certainly atmospheric, but they all tend to look the same! The overproduced background music sounds apocalyptic, but you'll barely notice it amid all the chaos. The action is fairly consistent with Twisted Metal games of the past, only much less fun. Although the controls are certainly responsive, the action is way too fast and chaotic. You're constantly running into walls because by the time you see them it's too late! Enemies tend to fly in and out of range before you can lock onto them. An even worse problem is how pathetically weak
the weapons are. Land a direct hit with your "special weapon" and you'll barely make a dent in your opponent's health. Even on the easy setting, the stages are torture to complete, and the bosses are nearly impossible. Who in the hell tested this game?? Nobody apparently, and that's a shame. Whenever I play Twisted Metal Black, all I can think of is how great this game should
have been. It incorporates some cool new features, looks terrific, and has style to burn. Trouble is, you have to play
the damn thing. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition
Publisher: Sony (2008)
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, drug reference, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
I was unimpressed with the PSP edition of Head-On, but this Playstation 2 version is another story altogether. In fact, this is the best Twisted Metal I've played in a long, long time. All of your old favorite character/vehicle combinations are back, including Warthog, Thumper, Axel, Mr. Grimm, and Sweet Tooth. Head-On's gameplay is perfectly tuned with well-balanced weapons, a fluid frame-rate, and battles that don't run too long. There's no shortage of weapons, and I like how the amount of damage you inflict is displayed on the screen. The controls are responsive, although using the square button for both gas and turbo can be problematic. The graphics aren't bad at all, and the manner in which cars incur damage (and repair themselves with power-ups) is impressive. Many stages are actually enhanced versions of locations from the original PS1 games, including Paris, the highways of Los Angeles, and the rooftops of Tokyo. I enjoyed playing spruced-up versions of these classic stages, but the newer stages (like Transylvania) didn't live up to my expectations. Whether playing solo, head-to-head or co-op, this is vintage Twisted Metal, with non-stop action and mad explosions. As icing on the cake, there's a second game included called "Twisted Metal Lost", which purportedly includes levels from the cancelled Twisted Metal Black sequel. This mode is preceded by an ominous text crawl which explains that the actual sequel was cancelled when six development team members died in a plane crash. Anyway, Lost Levels delivers the same excellent gameplay as Head-On, only with a darker look. Of the four levels included, my favorite is the haunted amusement park stage. This disk also includes a ton of bonus materials, including behind-the-scenes videos, a booklet of artwork, and never-before-seen movie cuts from the original Twisted Metal. Considering its budget price, Twisted Metal Head-On is an absolute steal for gamers looking for some explosive action. Head On. Apply directly to your Playstation 2! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online