Publisher: Namco (2005)
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)
Urban Reign is one of several unsatisfying fighters recently released, along with Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance (yuck) and The Warriors (blah). This one places your character in a series of one-against-many brawls, most of which conclude with the player hurling his controller at the floor and cursing at the screen. The general design of the game is abysmal. The fights are separated into "missions", which is never a good sign. Each is introduced by some verbose scrolling text that I could give a crap about. During each battle you face one or more thugs in urban locations including a bar, gas station, warehouse, and motel. The indistinctive characters are forgettable, the scenery is uninteresting, and the females sport unnaturally broad shoulders. At least the controls are responsive, allowing you to quickly deal successive blows to multiple opponents. Most are initiated via the circle button, but it's also possible to grapple opponents, "redirect" attacks, and run up walls to deliver flying kicks. The action is fast and the collision detection is crisp, but the fights are lengthy, monotonous, and frustrating. The difficulty is poorly tuned. Each thug has a huge
life bar, and it's annoying how even executing a devastating attack only chips away at it slightly. When facing multiple foes, it's a good idea to keep them separated, because once they gang up on you, you're toast. Once you find yourself surrounded, you can only watch as you're pounded to oblivion. The instructions claim you can take advantage of your surroundings and use weapons, but these aspects are extremely under-utilized. Urban Reign regularly saves you progress, but you never feel like you're accomplishing anything, and the multi-player modes are equally pointless. The search for a decent 3D Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991) type of game continues. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Namco (2001)
It may not be House of the Dead, but Vampire Night is a fun light gun game made from the same mold. You can tell that the same developers were responsible for both thanks to ridiculous dialogue like "Please don't come!" and "Thank you for rescuing me!". The game takes place in snowy mountains and a huge castle, and the scenery is both attractive and refreshing. Initially, Vampire Night seems painfully shallow - all you do is shoot the hell out of everything, but there is subtle strategy. For example, you can save "infected" humans by shooting them in their "infected" area (that thing that looks like an octopus!). It's difficult but rewarding. Unfortunately, you can't shoot off limbs like you can in House of the Dead. The monsters have health meters, although they disintegrate instantly if you hit their "sweet spot". Playing through the same levels and facing the same bosses can be tedious, but a few nice features break up the monotony. There's a "special" mode which lets you buy and equip all sorts of special items, which allow you to power-up weapons, skip stages, adjust the difficulty, or add more credits. As a big House of the Dead fan, it didn't take long for Vampire Night to win me over. It's a good buy for light gun fans. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Just when I was getting weary of 3D fighters, Virtua Fighter 4 comes along and breathes new life into this genre. As of this writing, this is hands-down the best
3D fighter I've ever played. While its graphics may not quite
reach the level of Dead or Alive 3 (Xbox), they are comparable, and VF4's gameplay is much better. While most 3D fighters let you get by with mindless button mashing, Virtua Fighter 4 requires you to know what you're doing. Only three buttons are used (punch, kick, and guard), but the action is remarkably deep. The instruction book provides a long list of moves for each fighter, and I found myself studying the various combinations. I love the fact that the matches tend to be short
. Credit that to the 45-second time clock and devastating attacks that do substantial damage. An excellent training mode walks you through every aspect of the game, and you can even create your own character "AI" (artificial intelligence) and compete against it! The thirteen fighters are taken mostly from past Virtua Fighter games. They look extremely life-like, with moving lips and actual facial expressions. While VF4's graphics take a backseat to its outstanding gameplay, this game still sports some of the finest visuals you'll see on your PS2. The arenas that let you fight in snow or shallow water look amazing. My favorite stage features Greek ruins and a raging thunderstorm, with lightning toppling sections of the huge monuments. Virtua Fighter 4 is outstanding in every way, and its sets a new high water mark for fighting games. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution
Publisher: Sega (2003)
Rating: Teen (suggestive themes, violence)
I was skeptical about this half-sequel to Sega's critically acclaimed Virtua Fighter 4. Was Sega just trying to cash in on the same game twice? Maybe, but Evolution is still a terrific game. It raises the bar for 3D fighting games, if only slightly. So what's new here? Well the gameplay and graphics are practically the same, but the skill level has been ratcheted way up to appeal to Virtua Fighter experts. As a matter of fact, this may be too
hard for its own good. Evolution also adds two new fighters to the mix: the Frankenstein look-alike Goh, and Brad the kick boxer. But the most dramatic changes relate to the options. The main menu interface has been streamlined and has a better feel. The repetitive Kumite mode has been replaced by a more compelling "Quest" mode. Quest sends you to a series of virtual arcades to compete in a variety of Virtua Fighter tournaments. Depending on the arcade location, the rules change slightly, which really spice up the action. For example, in some contests the walls may inflict extra damage, or your damage might be carried over between rounds. The Quest mode is hard as nails, and even experienced gamers will find their skills pushed to the limit. As icing on the cake, a 10th Anniversary edition of the original
Virtua Fighter game is also included. Evolution isn't a huge step forward, but its cool extras make it a "must have" for serious fighting fans. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
War of the Monsters
Publisher: Sony (2003)
Rating: Teen (violence)
War of the Monsters resurrects those low budget monster movies of the 1950s, and it does so with a cinematic flair. The introduction actually looks like a classic monster flick (complete with low quality video and sound) and the main menu is a drive-in movie screen. The loading screens feature "movie posters" of the monsters featured in the game, and even the dramatic musical score is dead-on. The gameplay is pretty chaotic, with epic monster battles that cause major devastation to their surroundings, especially when they take place in the middle of a city. It's quite relaxing to step on mobs of screaming people as they run in terror through the streets. But unlike Gamecube's Godzilla game, the monsters here are scaled down a bit, so you can actually climb the buildings and leap between rooftops! This adds an extra dimension to the battles and makes War of the Monsters a better game. It's even possible to be crushed
by falling buildings! The cast of gigantic monsters includes an ape, praying mantis, robot, lava monster, shogun warrior, and giant lizard just to name a few. The animation is astounding - check out how the praying mantis scuttles around realistically and twitches when it dies. Intuitive controls let you pick up cars, subway trains, radio towers, and hurl them as weapons. The one-player mode is fun until you reach the frustrating bosses that take forever to kill. Victories earn points toward unlocking new stages or mini-games, but unlike Godzilla, all the main monsters are available from the beginning (cool!). The two-player mode is crazy fun, and even lets you throw some CPU-controlled monsters into the mix. A split-screen mode is used, but this occasionally switches to full screen when both monsters are in close proximity. Some people say it's disorienting, but I like it. War of the Monsters is an amazing game that effectively recreates the spirit of those old monster flicks on your Playstation 2. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Eidos (2001)
Look what I picked up in the bargain bin - a jet ski game from the people who made Tomb Raider! I can't go wrong with this one - or can I? The gameplay is similar to Wave Race (Nintendo) where you race other skiers around a course by weaving through buoys, but the controls are astonishingly bad. Even with the better-handling jet skis, your turn radius is ridiculously wide. In fact, some of the tighter turns require you to come to an almost complete stop
to stay on course! The courses are poorly designed with buoys that are often completely hidden from sight! Missing a buoy slows you to a crawl, and six misses disqualifies you from the race. Wave Rally allows you to perform tricks off ramps, but the confusing control scheme would cause Tony Hawk to roll over in his grave (if he were dead that is). In terms of graphics Wave Rally is subpar. The water has a cool blurry effect, but it looks somewhat chunky and pixilated. Likewise you won't find any scenery you haven't seen in other jet ski games. You probably won't see many tracks anyway, since you can't select them, and you must place third to advance to the next one. The sound effects are practically non-existent, and the generic dance music is bland. Wave Rally really doesn't have anything to offer jet ski fans. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Konami (2002)
Rating: Teen (strong lyrics)
As much as I love snow games, I wasn't expecting much from this $9.99 bargain bin title. But once I began playing this obscure snow speeder game, I couldn't stop! Whiteout's arcade mode is well designed and super addictive. Your main goal is to open tracks, and each is well worth the effort. My favorite is Jackson Ridge, a Midwestern river valley location with plenty of bridges and wooden overpasses. Besides providing beautiful scenery, each track is loaded with huge ramps, clever shortcuts, and objects you can bust up. Likewise, the realistic snow effects and subtle shadowing deftly convey the feeling of plowing through the crisp snow and ice. I also like how Whiteout provides several reasonable objectives for each course. These include earning a certain number of points (mainly through tricks), passing through a certain number of burning loops, finding all the shortcuts, smashing all the breakable scenery, or beating a lap time. Each objective is achievable if you concentrate on it, but you can also knock off a few in an exceptionally good run. This is one of the few racers that manages to strike a reasonable balance between racing and performing tricks. But as much as I enjoyed Whiteout's simple racing action, it does have a few glaring flaws. First off, one of the announcers is incredibly
annoying, shouting all sorts of infantile drivel like "I could never do this Johnny, I'd CRAP myself!" It's actually embarrassing to play this with the volume up! Another issue I have is with the "blur" effect exhibited when you kick in a turbo boost. Not only does it NOT look the least bit impressive, but it makes it extremely hard to see where the heck you're going! As you'd expect from an "extreme" style game, Whiteout features the obligatory "hip" edgy guitar music, but thankfully the volume is kept very low. Overall, this game was definitely worth the money and will get a lot of use over the cold winter months. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Winter Sports 2008
Publisher: RTL (2007)
If you take the winter Olympics game Torino 2006 (PS2, 2005), toss in a few new events, and slap a budget price tag on it, you're left with Winter Sports 2008. Sure it's a rehash, but it's also one hell
of a good deal! One to four players can compete in realistic winter Olympic action including alpine skiing, bobsledding, ski jumping, and speed skating. It's ideal for a beer-fueled, smack-talking rivalry between friends, but only if you set up the game right. First, be sure to select the 7-event competition over the 15-event option. The 15-event competition includes the slower events, and with players taking turns (sharing the same controller no less), it can take forever
. Next, be sure to turn off
those worthless, time-consuming medal ceremonies. Finally, make sure each player enters his initials, because the game saves high scores and records. Most of the events are not only fun, but exceptionally easy on the eyes. The simple controls are indicated on the screen at the start of each run, and you'll get the hang of them after a wipeout or two. The sensation of speed is excellent, especially in the skiing and bobsled events. And when you gaze down from the top of the towering ski jump platform, it's quite a sight. The mountain backdrops look nearly photographic, and at night the lighted villages look incredible. Winter Sports is fun but could have been better. Some events have two heats and lengthy runs, causing them to wear out their welcome. It would be nice if a few events were truly head-to-head (like speed skating), and having to share a single controller is bogus. The figure skating event has a nice rhythmic control scheme that captures the grace and fluidity of the sport, but why do the skaters have powder on their faces? Curling is the slowest, most strategic event, and the fact that its control scheme includes a fast-forward
button should tell you something. Cross-country skiing tends to be long and arduous, although the bright scenic countryside almost makes it worthwhile. The athletes are realistically animated, but why are all the members of my German team black
? I could do without Winter Sports' grinding guitar soundtrack, which would be more appropriate in an "extreme sports" title. I did enjoy the lighthearted two-man commentary, especially with the dry English humor. Winter Sports offers several solo modes including the obligatory "career" mode. Fun to play and occasionally breathtaking, Winter Sports 2008 is an excellent bargain if you're into seasonal sports. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
World Heroes Anthology
Publisher: SNK (2008)
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, blood, violence)
World Heroes was a popular Neo Geo one-on-one fighting series from 1992-1995. Its time-travel theme provided for a diverse selection of characters that not only spanned cultures, but time periods as well! If you have any
appreciation for 2D fighters, this package is an absolute steal!
You get World Heroes, World Heroes 2, World Heroes 2 Jet, and World Heroes Perfect. These games once sold for $200 each
, and yes, they are really, really
good. The series utilized a simple control scheme and boasted a slew of memorable characters and backgrounds. In addition to colorful martial artists, the 18-man roster includes a pirate captain, an overweight Viking, a magician, a zany witch doctor, and a massive football player. The animation is very good, with each character exhibiting distinctive animations - some of which are quite comical. The animated backdrops include a bell tower with stained glass windows, a sailing ship, a jungle, a castle, and a modern city street. While not as detailed as King of Fighters, it's still fun to see what each scene has in store. The controls feature only three buttons (punch, kick, throw), but holding in
punch or kick delivers a heavier attack. This system was dropped in World Heroes Perfect in favor of a more conventional six-button (Street Fighter 2-style) configuration. Since the Neo Geo controller only has four buttons, Perfect is arguably better suited to a PS2 controller anyway! The music isn't particularly catchy, but the pleasant electronic tunes have that high-octane flavor you want in a fighting game. The emulation is excellent. Although my friends claim the original Neo Geo versions are still the best, these versions are extremely
close, and offer the convenience of being able to peruse the move list on the pause screen. Some of the sound effects (like punches) seem a bit harsh
, but the vibrant graphics and crisp controls are dead on. The first three games in the series may seem a bit slow compared to modern fighters, but they're still genuinely fun and brimming with eye candy. Perfect is much
faster (we're talking King of Fighters fast), delivering a decidedly different fighting experience. Anthology's user interface makes it easy to customize each game, and high scores are saved automatically. Once a game is loaded, there are no intermediate load screens. World Heroes Anthology is a real gift to PS2 gamers, and the bargain price makes it a no-brainer purchase. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 International
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Sporting a name so long it's comical, World Soccer Winning Eleven 6 International represents the first legitimate challenge to EA's long-running FIFA series. This game has been hyped like mad by video game magazines, many who call it the best soccer game ever. Sorry to burst their bubble, but while Winning Eleven certainly has some excellent graphics and innovative features, it still needs work. The graphics are very nice, with player animation that's second-to-none. The TV-style presentation is also impressive, with announcers that keep up with action and discuss highlights after each half. But the dribbling and passing controls are where the game really shines. Unlike most soccer games of the past, the ball behaves like a separate object, not just an extension of the player. Intuitive controls let you perform all kind of fancy moves with ease. But the Achilles heel of the game is obvious to anyone who's played it: the shooting absolutely sucks! Aiming is nearly impossible, and most shots sail far over the goal. My friends and I experimented quite a bit and were never able to overcome this horrendous flaw. Another major problem is the lack of configuration options. Sure you can do worthless things like edit a team's flag, but you can't adjust basic parameters like fouls, offsides, or replay frequency. Winning Eleven makes a terrific first impression, but the more you play, the more glaring its flaw become. Winning Eleven has some nice ideas and delivers some excitement, but it needs more time to bake in the oven. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International
Publisher: Konami (2005)
I probably know less about professional soccer than anyone else in the world, but I can still appreciate a good soccer video game. Winning Eleven 8 continues the trend of incremental improvements in the series, but the basic controls still need work. The strength of this series has always been its realism, huge selection of teams (over 100 worldwide), and rich league mode. Personally, I couldn't care less about any of that stuff! I just like to get together with some friends and see if we can hold our own against a computer opponent. Even if you barely know what you're doing, the non-stop action is exciting, especially around the goal. The graphics and animation are terrific, and the players look realistic even close-up. The passing controls are crisp, but it's very easy to make an accidental extra pass after you receive the ball. While dribbling there's a real sense of momentum, so you can't just turn on a dime. Some of my friends complained about the auto-switching mode, where the computer selects your player for you, but you can turn that off. Unlike the previous edition of the game I reviewed (Winning Eleven 6), it's easier to score in this edition. Unfortunately, the shooting controls still really stink. The shooting meter moves too quickly, and since holding it down increases the height
of your shot, most of mine go sailing way over the goal. It doesn't help that most of these players couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if their lives depended on it! The excessive cut-scenes and replays are a real pain, and tend to disrupt the flow of the game. Perhaps you can adjust some of these annoyances via the menu screens, but I found the option screens very confusing to navigate and make sense out of. You'd think that the eighth edition of any game would be pretty close to perfect, but Winning Eleven 8 still has a way to go. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses
Publisher: Konami (2003)
The Yu-Gi-Oh card game is not exactly simple, and Duelists of the Roses is even more
complicated! If you're a newcomer, prepare yourself for a serious learning curve, but Yu-Gi-Oh veterans will feel right at home. Some of the card rules have been altered, but the biggest change is that the game is now played on a 7x7 board. This gives the game a chess flavor, and adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. Each board has different terrain configurations that affect how the cards behave. For example, a shark is much more powerful in water terrain, but virtually powerless in the wasteland. Another new concept is the "card leader", which dispenses other cards and holds your life points. By attacking the leader, you inflict direct damage to your opponent's life. The main mode has a convoluted storyline about how you've been sent back in time to fight England's War of the Roses - with cards! It's really annoying having to sit through all the absurd, incredibly verbose text, and you'll have to hit the button about 100 times to get through it all. There's also a tutorial for newcomers, which does a thorough job of explaining the basics but can run well over a half hour! Once you actually start playing
the game, you have to deal with a clumsy, non-intuitive user interface. It's extremely confusing, and you'll lose your first few matches due to hitting the wrong buttons. The CPU makes its moves fast, so fast that sometimes it's hard to tell what he did! If that's not frustrating enough, some computer opponents have unfair advantage in terms of decks. They'll combine two or three cards per turn while you're stuck with a deck of odd mismatches. When you're lucky enough to win a match, you'll gain extra cards from a virtual slot machine. Gradually, you can construct three decks with distinct strategic value, but that might take a while. In addition to the story mode, there's also a "custom" mode that lets you play without the story, a trading card mode, and a useless two-player mode. The graphics and sound are functional but not great, and you'll want to skip the Pokemon-like battle scenes. Still, gameplay is what counts, and with the proper investment of time, Duelists of the Roses delivers. After some initial frustration, you may have a hard time pulling yourself away from this engrossing strategy game. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Take Two Software (2005)
Rating: Everyone (fantasy violence)
This kid-friendly adventure packs a lot of predictable platform action, but taken as a whole it's fairly entertaining. Based on the film Zathura, a young boy and his older brother are thrust into a wild science fiction fantasy after discovering an old board game in their basement. I usually downplay the significance on storylines in video games, but this one is exceptionally compelling and well integrated into the gameplay. Zathura's graphics are only average at best, and the astronaut character has the worst haircut ever seen in a video game. The audio is commendable however, with superb voice acting, an epic soundtrack, and distinctive retro-futuristic sound effects. The adventure begins at the kids' house, but soon moves to robot-infested space stations and distant alien worlds. The gameplay offers a nice balance of platform jumping, laser-dodging, and frenetic shooting action as you traverse its 20+ stages. If the idea of hopping across turtles in a pool of lava or leaping between floating space garbage turns your stomach, this game is not for you. You'll control three characters through the course of the game, including the two kids and a robot. The menacing robot actually terrorizes you through the early stages, but is later reprogrammed to be your friend, and his firepower is awesome. Zathura's shooting action is very satisfying thanks to a slick auto-aiming mechanism and colorful explosions. In certain stages one of the kids has to deflect laser bolts with a wrench, and it's very tricky until you realize you just need to tap the circle button non-stop. The manner in which areas are recycled is aggravating, but the game offers some surprises to keep you on your toes. At one point, my character was swallowed by a huge volcanic monster boss, but before I could set the controller down, I saw the kid clinging to the thing's tongue for dear life! Some enemies are simplistic, like the blocky lava rock monsters, but the fearsome Zorgon lizard men look great as they snatch up weapons using their slithery tongues. The game has a few technical blemishes worth mentioning, including a slightly choppy frame rate, periodic camera positioning quirks, and uneven stage difficulty (stage three is a killer). Still, Zathura's interesting storyline, easy gameplay, and brisk pacing makes it a worthwhile journey. With all the gratuitously violent adult games on the market, it's nice to play a wholesome adventure that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online