3D Dot Game Heroes
Publisher: Atlus (2010)
Do modern games have you down? Tired of the complicated controls and the huge time investment? Well, I have a game for you. 3D Dot Game Heroes winds back the clock to a time when treasure chests were commonly found in forests, dungeons contained clearly marked switches, one-foot-tall rocks were impassible, and it was socially acceptable to walk into a stranger's house and rifle through his belongings. Adventure veterans will recognize the time-honored cliches from any number of classic adventures, but this is mostly an homage to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
(SNES, 1992). The style, audio, and game structure are practically a carbon copy
of that classic. 3D Dot Heroes does offer its own unique visual style, translating the pixelated 2D sprites of yester-year into "pixelated" 3D models. But instead of appearing old-school, the characters look more like something from a Lego game. To some degree 3D Dot Heroes succeeds in rekindling the charm and sense of wonderment exuded by those early-90's adventures. It's easy to play and fun, but the game has its share of rough spots. The control scheme is easy to grasp but the sword-swinging controls are non-intuitive. The simple stage designs and well-defined boundaries are nice, but I didn't care for the blurring effect used to mask scenery in the distance or foreground. The shimmering water looks amazing - I just want to dive in! The world map is very maze-like, and I became hopelessly stuck in the desert area. You could argue that 3D Dot Heroes follows the Zelda script too
closely. You throw boomerangs to hit switches, push blocks onto switches, and plant bombs to break cracked walls. At what point does a loving tribute become a rip-off?
Even the bosses seem awfully
familiar. Perhaps that was the whole point, but I was hoping for a little more creativity. The game's attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor falls flat. Some of the subtle visual effects made me smile, but the dialogue is not as much clever as it is silly. Finally, the save system is more complicated than it really should be, so upon reloading a save you may not find yourself where you'd expect to be. Subtle sounds effects will bring back memories, and I love the heroic, Zelda-esque musical score that plays throughout. 3D Dot Game Heroes has its heart in the right place, but more than anything else it makes me want to revisit the real
Zelda: Link to the Past. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
All-Pro Football 2K8
Publisher: 2K Sports (2007)
When Electronic Arts secured the exclusive license to the NFL a few years back, it effectively killed off the highly acclaimed (and competitively priced) NFL 2K series. By introducing All-Pro Football 2K8, 2K Sports seems to be trying to make the best of a bad situation. The teams, stadiums, and rosters are completely fictitious except for 240 Hall of Fame players, including Johnny Unitas, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, and Dick Butkus. All-Pro is saddled with a nightmare
of a user interface, making it a confusing mess to simply open menus, select items, and even exit
menus! Note to 2K Sports: Moving a thumbstick to open or close a menu is not
intuitive! The "Quick Start" mode is anything but, since you need to create teams
before they become available! The colorful team names include the Sailors, Sharks, Cobras, Rollers, and Werewolves. What is this, the NFL Europe?? You can't change your name or logo, but you can try to match the color scheme of your favorite NFL team (with much difficulty as my friend Steve discovered). Each team has a personalized stadium with large theatrical props, and it's actually fun to see what surprises each one has in store. On the field, the action is uneven. There's a whole new kicking control scheme, and it sucks (good luck trying to perform an on-side kick). Running the ball is fun, but why does it look like the runningback is dropping cocaine
all over the field?! The passing icons are awfully tiny, and players seem unable to grasp the tipped passes that fall into their hands every other play. All-Pro's controls are complex, and unfortunately spread out over ten pages of the manual! Players don't automatically pick up loose balls anymore - now you have to hit the triangle
button! The more you play the more glitches you discover, including one instance when I was awarded a touchdown despite the fact I was clearly stuffed on the four yard line! All-Pro Football does deserve credit for refs that actually throw flags
(attention Madden). Players react with emotion, perform end-zone celebrations, and even apply late hits. The graphics are just as good as Madden, and the animation is probably better. Up close however the guys look psychotic with their wide, bulging eyes. The fictional player names are cheesy, prompting my friend Eric to wisecrack, "Wow, how did 2K get the rights to Korey Mustard
?" All-Pro's two-man commentary is remarkably good, providing both insight and humor. They tend to get cut off however, and sometimes sound disjointed ("Fourth [pause] down and goal to go"). All-Pro's half time and post-game shows are pretty amazing, replaying the highlights of each half with excellent commentary. In terms of music, I hope you like "Tom Sawyer" by Rush, because it's the only song they bothered to license. I was hoping 2K Sports would come back hard after the long lay-off, but this is no substitute for Madden. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Sports (2007)
Do yourself a favor. Take all of the baseball games you've bought over the last ten years and throw them in the [expletive] trashcan
. You'll never miss them once you've experienced The Bigs. For years publishers have focused on realism in baseball games, boring us all to tears in the process. But thankfully, the Bigs is everything Major League Baseball is not
, with non-stop action, brisk pacing, razzle-dazzle plays, and short, five-inning games. And all without the boring fluff and delays associated with real baseball. The controls are simple. Do you know how to swing? You hit the mother-[expletive] X button
- that's how. Pitching is equally simple, utilizing a single-press meter. Running the bases is automatic
, and while it's possible to intervene, the CPU does an excellent job. Each team has a turbo meter, so you can just tap R1 to put some mustard on a swing, pitch, or throw. It's just as fun to play defense as offense, and that's saying something. I actually found myself cheering
while playing this game - even when I was alone
! Unlike other "extreme" sports titles, 2K Sports knows where to draw the line, so the Bigs never sinks into the realm of stupidity or bad taste. The players and teams are real, the stadiums look terrific, and the announcer plays it straight (thank goodness). If there's a flaw, it lies in the "power blast" swing power-up, which predictably results in a long homerun off the scoreboard or foul pole. The "Rookie Challenge" offers an addictive season mode, but don't forget to try the "Baseball Pinball" mode as well. It's a trip - letting you knock out lighted billboards in the middle of Times Square! Had this mini-game been developed a bit more, it could almost stand on its own! The Bigs is so good that it makes me want to lower the grades for all of my other baseball games. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Games (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, drug reference, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language)
I'm pretty jaded when it comes to first-person shooters, but last year's Bioshock (Xbox 360) rocked my world. Wickedly original and extraordinarily polished, this game is as exciting and immersive as they come. Artistic, haunting, and emotionally charged, Bioshock takes gaming to a whole new level. In its dramatic opening sequence, you survive an ocean plane crash and are transported to a fantastic but morally twisted undersea kingdom named Rapture. Imagine the city of New York as it was in the 1950's. Now imagine it submerged on the ocean floor, with watertight windows! As if an underwater concept wasn't compelling enough, the city's uncanny art-deco style and dated music effectively transports you back to a bygone era. Bioshock's intriguing storyline is dark and violent, but also complex and intelligent. Rapture's masked inhabitants attack on sight, but it's the imposing "Big Daddies", decked out in scary deep-sea diving suits, that will strike fear into your heart. This PS3 edition is practically identical to the 360 version, but offers more online features and a long-ass installation process. You'd think that over ten minutes of installation would eliminate in-game load times, but that's not the case. I didn't detect any graphical improvements, but the game still looks like a million bucks. The ornate architecture, lavish furniture, clammy walls, vintage ads, and neon lighting all come together in a bizarre but convincing world. The audio features alarming noises and maniacal laughter that will instantly put you on edge. In addition to standard weapons, injectable "plasmids" provide you with superhuman abilities, such as wielding electricity or fire. You can save your progress at any time, and there's also an auto-save. Bioshock is one of those masterworks that will stand the test of time. Will we see another title as rich and compelling as Bioshock in the current generation of systems? Not likely. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII
Publisher: Ubisoft (2006)
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)
I enjoy a good dogfighting game as much as the next guy, and Blazing Angels has an appealing arcade style. Piloting your plane is easy enough, and there are no complicated gauges to clutter up the screen. Angels gets off to a slow start with a monotonous training stage that almost put me to sleep. The actual missions however are quite exciting, recreating WWII battles over London, Pearl Harbor, and the deserts of North Africa. Each is introduced by a nifty animated sequence using "aged" black and white footage. Once you're thrust into the action, you'll shoot down waves of Nazi/Japanese planes, strafe tanks on the ground, carry out reconnaissance missions (take pictures), and even land on aircraft carriers. Blazing Angels' gameplay is forgiving, with clear objectives and handy arrows that direct you to your next target. Even after you go down in flames, frequent checkpoints allow you to pick up near where you left off. The directional pad lets you call on other members of your squadron to repair your plane (in mid-air no less!) or divert the attention of enemies. It's important to "shake off" a pursuer when you're taking damage, but you'd be surprised how long your plane can remain airborne while on fire
(often long enough to complete your mission). One thing that bogs down the action is the verbose dialogue of your colleagues, displayed as text between missions. Those boring blabbermouths need to just shut the hell up
! The graphics in Blazing Angels are okay I guess
, but there were times when I wondered if this could have been a PS2 game. The endless rows of buildings in London look pretty impressive - until you take a closer look. Still, the sheer amount of chaos in the Pearl Harbor stages is certainly worthy of the "next generation", and I love the huge columns of smoke that emanate from destroyed ships. Most critics wrote off the motion-sensitive controls as a gimmick, but I found them to be a pleasant surprise. It might not make things easier, but it makes the game more immersive, so I adopted it as my default scheme. In addition to the addictive single-player campaign, a number of entertaining two-player split-screen modes are available, both cooperative and competitive. Blazing Angels does have a few technical flaws, including frequent audio glitches and unsightly "waves" that appear on the screen when things get too crazy. It won't blow you away, but based on its playability and unique controls, I'd say this was a worthwhile title. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Activision (2010)
Blur had the unfortunate circumstance of being released around the same time as Split Second, a mind-blowing racer that incorporated destruction on a monumental scale. Blur is far less ambitious, but what it does, it does well. To be honest, the game doesn't make a great first impression. It's not self-evident what many of the weapons do, and the first few tracks look like ugly, barren wastelands. Not until you put some time into the career mode do you get a true appreciation for this game. Blur's combination of racing and vehicle combat strikes a perfect balance. Some of the weapons are fantastic, like the "shunt" which unleashes a fireball at the car ahead of you, and the "barge" which emits a sonic boom that sends nearby vehicles flying. The "shock" creates three lightning bolts in front of the leaders, and while it's definitely cheap, it's no worse than that purple shell in Mario Kart. One very cool feature is your ability to collect up to three items/weapons and cycle through them. It adds a lot of strategy and makes a weak item (like "repair") far more appealing since you can hold onto it until it's really needed. Blur's action is super fast and the frame-rate is silky smooth - even on the split screen. The steering is responsive, but instead of using that worthless hand-brake you'll want to tap the normal brake when rounding turns. There are several race variations (destruction, timed) and I enjoyed them all. The tracks are reasonable in length and so are the load times. The graphics are clean but never spectacular. Even when you progress to the Tokyo and San Francisco locations the scenery looks dull and washed out. The concept of earning "fans" by performing special actions during a race is an unnecessary gimmick that's more distracting than fun. Also, I really hate how the game prompts me to "reconnect with the Internet?" after each race despite the fact that my network connection is purposely disabled. Still, Blur packs a punch and its arcade gameplay is habit-forming. It may not blow you away, but it will
win you over. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Rating: Everyone (language, violence)
Since its debut in 2002, Burnout has been all about reckless driving, blinding speeds, and devastating wrecks. In previous Burnouts you raced on "closed" courses, but Paradise adopts a drive-anywhere approach. Given free reign in a fictional city, you select your own route to the finish line, utilizing strategic ramps and shortcuts as you see fit. On paper it sounds like a winner, but on the screen it can be a nightmare. When you're fending off marauding SUVs and weaving through traffic at 200 miles per hour, the last
thing you want to do is glance at the map to locate your next turn. Taking your eye off the road for even a split-second can cause you to slam into a divider or miss a critical turn. In a few races I was comfortably in the lead, but made a wrong turn near the finish, sending me from first to last. Worse yet, sometimes what looks like a perfectly good "shortcut" can send you heading in the wrong direction. One cheap but effective strategy is to follow the lead car for most of the race, and then turbo ahead of him when you see the finish line. There's no "restart" option, which is terrible, since finding your way back to the starting point is time-consuming. Sometimes the game would inform me "you've already completed this race with the current license, so this will be a practice run." I would have no problem with that, if there was an abort option.
Despite its blatant design flaws, Paradise does have a few things going for it. The city itself looks really sharp, although gamers who've played GTA4 or Need for Speed Carbon may find the urban landscapes awfully familiar. In addition to standard races there are stunt, "take-down", and survival challenges to mix things up. The difficulty is reasonable, and earning new licenses can be addictive. Taking down cars (making them crash) is a bit too
easy though - usually you can just bump them on the side to send them careening out of control. I'm sure the programmers took great pride in the amazing slow-motion crashes, but not being able to skip these things gets irritating after a while. In terms of control, I wish I had purchased the 360 version of this game, because those rounded PS3 shoulder buttons are the worst
. My experience with Burnout Paradise was unwittingly summed up by my buddy George, who tried to defend the game by saying "Dave, this game is great!
Do me a favor though - could you navigate for me? Just tell me when to turn." When a critic hears stuff like that, red flags go up in droves. Also glaring is the lack of split-screen modes. I can appreciate how Paradise takes some chances, but this experiment is in danger of turning the world's most exciting racing franchise into a smoldering wreck. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
College Hoops 2K8
Publisher: 2K Sports (2007)
Following up on 2K's excellent NBA game (NBA 2K8), College Hoops offers realistic, fluid basketball action with plenty of razzle-dazzle. The players move with uncanny grace, and their floorwork is just like the real thing. You really need to employ good ball movement to obtain an open shot. Forcing a shot, driving through a crowd, or carelessly passing usually puts the ball in the opposition's hands. I like how you shoot foul-shots by tilting the controller - it's fun and effortless. Executing in-bound passes are more difficult however, and often terribly frustrating. Unlike EA's disappointing March Madness 08, Hoops makes a genuine effort to convey the spirit and pageantry of the college game. There are coaches roaming the sidelines, mascots goofing off, and cute cheerleaders jumping about. The arenas look beautiful with their bright logos and shiny wood floors. The new "sixth man" meter lets the crowd play a role by affecting the team's confidence and hustle. At the conclusion of each game, Greg Gumbal provides a professional wrap-up at the sports desk. Unfortunately, a few of College Hoop's bells and whistles are more detracting than appealing. When Tracy Wolfson gives her sideline report, an oversized graphic bearing her name not only obstructs the action on the screen, but remains on the screen
for the duration of her report! Also, that PA announcer really goes overboard with his "Two minutes! Twwwoooooo minutes!" Hey dumb ass, they only announce one minute
in college games, so shut the hell up! Although generally polished, College Hoops did lock up on me on one occasion, and the user interface (menu navigation) is absolutely horrible
. You wouldn't believe how difficult it was for my friend Steve and I to set up a two-player cooperative tournament. For those who opt for the 360 edition of College Hoops 2K8, you should know that the animation is slightly smoother but the audio has issues. Specifically, it's hard to hear the commentators, and you can't turn down that annoying PA guy. But no matter what system you own, College Hoops 2K8 is probably the best choice for b-ball fans this season. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
The Darkness is a mature-rated title featuring demonic possession, a mob storyline, and even time-travel in a flawed but still compelling first-person shooter. The game's high-octane, cinematic introduction is a semi-interactive, high-speed chase through a New York City tunnel. Not only did it blow me away
, but it effectively showcased the excessive profanity, gratuitous gore, and senseless violence that pervade the entire game. You play a 21-year old hit-man on the run when you're suddenly endowed with demonic powers, manifested by two Alien-headed, snake-like creatures protruding from your back. You'll use the subways to move between dark, deserted sections of town, and the buildings and alleys look convincingly aged and weathered. In addition to shooting police and mobsters, your "dark powers" let you to remotely scout new areas and summon little demons to do your bidding. Your "creeping darkness" power lets you guide one of your snakes through vents to access locked rooms and other inaccessible areas. Unfortunately, the abysmal controls and confusing viewing angles make this aspect of the game frustrating. Spawning gun-toting and bomb-strapped gremlins is more satisfying, although directing them towards the enemy can be tricky. The storyline is great, cleverly conveyed with in-game devices like televisions, phone calls, and apparitions. The PS3 edition of The Darkness is almost identical to the Xbox 360 version, except you need to sit through load meters in this one. Also, the lack of controller vibration is glaring. You can only save one game at a time, and I actually lost my latest checkpoint just so I could show my buddy the kick-ass intro. Multi-player modes are included, but only via LAN or on-line. I've grown a bit weary of first-person shooters, but The Darkness was just original and weird enough to win me over. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
In Dead Space you are a guy investigating a disabled mining ship, only to discover it's been overrun by an "alien scourge". The familiar premise and forgettable title make it easy to overlook this one, but you shouldn't. The game's environments are clearly inspired by the movie Alien, with dark corridors, air locks, medical labs, and decontamination chambers. You encounter grotesque aliens with long limbs, and their twisted appearance reminded me of the creeps in Silent Hill. The atmosphere is fairly terrifying, and the audio envelops the player with its ominous music, jarring sound effects, and blood-curling screeches. Despite its derivative aspects, Dead Space has plenty of surprises up its sleeve. You view your character from the back, and his suit makes him look like a high-tech knight (awesome). His life gauge is a light that runs down his spinal cord - very imaginative! Aiming your crosshairs directs your flashlight, and the inventive weapons are tailor-made for dismembering aliens. Ripping the beasts apart saves ammo, and the game actively encourages this by limiting its availability. When your foes are reduced to crawling torsos, you can stomp on them to finish them off. Another unique element is the ability to employ "stasis" to temporarily slow enemies and fast-moving doors. When upgrading weapons, you select electric circuit "paths" to determine how each weapon will evolve. There's no radar to pinpoint your enemy locations, but that just adds to the intensity. You'll know when creatures are around, because they are loud
. The mission details can be pretty convoluted, but it doesn't really matter, because pressing the right joystick (R3) causes a bright line to appear on the floor, showing you exactly where to go next. If that's cheating, then well, I'm fine with it!
The production values are first-rate, with photo-realistic graphics, a silky-smooth frame-rate, and a polished user interface. The storyline is seamlessly conveyed through radio calls and holographic video images. Save points are frequent and intelligently placed. Dead Space is an ambitious effort - but sometimes it feels too
ambitious. The "zero gravity" areas absolutely suck
. While freely floating through a chamber is original in concept, the clumsy controls and bewildering camera angles make it feel like an ordeal. In general, Dead Space's controls are complicated as hell, with many critical functions mapped to combinations of shoulder and face buttons (L1 and X to reload, for example). Dead Space isn't perfect but it's one of the most intense shooters I've played in quite a while. I dare you to turn out the lights as you play this one. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atlus (2013)
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, partial nudity, suggestive themes, violence)
My affection for 2D, side-scrolling beat-em-ups dates back to the original Double Dragon (1987). The genre seemed to peak in the 16-bit era with classics like Golden Axe
(Genesis, 1989) and Streets of Rage
(Genesis, 1991). That said, I looked forward to Dragon's Crown for months. On the surface, the game is a work of art. The characters are huge, remarkably detailed, and rendered with an artistic flair. The stages resemble lavish painted scenes of castles, ruins, catacombs, and pirates' coves. A central village area adds depth by propelling the narrative and letting you buy items and learn skills. This is an old-school 2D hack-n-slash title rendered in high definition (HD). What's not to like? Well, you can start with the non-intuitive menu interface. Just the act of creating a simple character feels like an extended ordeal. Who designed this?! The convoluted storyline is conveyed via text, and the verbose exposition tries to cover way too much ground, tossing out so many names and plot twists that you just start tapping buttons to get the damn thing over with. The missions are ideal in length and take you to a lot of interesting locations which all tend to look the same
after a while. The look and feel of the combat is all wrong. The digital pad should
have been used to control your movement, but instead it's used to rummage through items in a really clumsy manner. Most battles feature many oversized combatants being tossed in dark environments. This is where the HD works against the game. The exquisitely detailed but poorly defined characters all tend to blend into each other, creating a big confusing jumble. The worst example is when you fight a band of pirates for a magic lamp, and you can't even locate yourself
much less the lamp! There's a sweet spot when it comes to the optimal amount of on-screen activity, and Dragon's Crown overshoots it by a mile. It doesn't help that most enemies can absorb dozens of hits and the phystics is horrible. Whether you're throwing or jumping, everything moves through the air in a perfectly straight line. A generous number of continues tends to water down the challenge, but it's necessary to get you through this mess. Finally, there's no pause feature
during off-line play, which is unacceptable. I wanted to love Dragon's Crown but came away disappointed. I think the concept is fantastic, but this game feels like far less than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Digital Leisure (2009)
The original Dragon's Lair was a laserdisc-based game unleashed on the arcades in 1983 to much fanfare. Ambitious and exciting, it allowed players to interact (to some degree) with a full-screen animated cartoon!
This modern version is designed to run on any Blu-ray disk player and controlled via the remote control. Unfortunately, it does not
work as advertised! In fact, this disk is totally unplayable
on my brand new Blu-ray player - manufactured by Sony
no less! Thank goodness this disk does
run just fine on my PS3 console. The memories come flooding back as you navigate Dirk the Daring through an expansive castle in an attempt to rescue a beautiful princess. Each of the randomly-ordered rooms offers a new set of monsters and hazards, and these are brought to life with humor and style. Your control is limited to moving the thumbstick or pressing a button at strategic moments. Make the correct sequence of moves and you progress to the next room. A wrong (or poorly-timed) move results in an amusing "death" animation, such as falling into an abyss or getting burnt to a crisp. You'll move on to a new room either way, but eventually have to revisit the ones you failed. Visual and audio cues are available to help you along. Unlike the many pixelated versions of Dragon's Lair that have appeared on consoles over the years, this Blu-ray edition achieves crystal clear perfection. It makes a difference, as you can now savor every bit of the artistic backdrops and whimsical animations. The music and sound effects are sparse but effective, although to be honest I didn't notice the surround sound at all. As a video game, Dragon's Lair has been widely criticized, but few can argue its stature as a legitimate classic. My friends and I had a great time passing around the controller and playing through the entire game in about an hour. Adding replay value are options to adjust the mode (home or arcade), difficulty, lives, and toggle the visual cues. Bonus features include trailers, interviews, and commentary from the creators. Dragon's Lair is a nice addition to my collection, and now I'm looking forward to playing Dragon's Lair II and Space Ace. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
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