SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1
Publisher: SNK (2009)
The Neo Geo video game console has long been considered a "holy grail" for collectors, but the price of its cartridges can run into hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on Ebay! That makes this 16-game collection extra sweet. SNK Arcade Classics serves up a generous helping of timeless 2D gaming bliss - and at a bargain price. One-on-one fighters were always SNK's specialty, so you can expect plenty of that here, including Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, King of Fighters 94, King of Monsters, Samurai Shodown, and World Heroes. You don't need to be a fighting junkie to appreciate the frantic head-to-head mayhem and artistic illustrated backdrops. Shooter fans can sink their teeth into Metal Slug, Last Resort, and Shock Troopers. I was happy to see that Shock Troopers exhibits none of the dreadful slow-down that plagued the PS2 edition of SNK Classics. Side-scrolling fans will flip over Burning Fight, Magician Lord, Sengoku, and Top Hunter. Let's face it - even "lesser" Neo Geo titles like Burning Fight are an absolute blast. Last but not least, you get three fantastic sports games. Super Sidekicks 3 is a high-octane soccer title, and Baseball Stars 2 is
the best arcade-style baseball game ever conceived. Neo Turf Masters is an ultra-rare golf game that's absolutely superb. The games are top-notch, but SNK could have handled this collection better. I dislike how they downplay the high score system in favor of giving each game a series of "objectives" that unlock media materials. You can adjust the difficulty of any game, but the number of lives and continues is predetermined
. Typically "easy" gives you a handful of lives but infinite continues, and "hard" gives you 99 lives and no continues. I would prefer to customize it to my preferences - such as easy difficulty and three continues. Let's face it people, infinite continues ruin
games like these! Even a kick-ass shooter like Shock Troopers gets old after plowing through a few dozen continues. All in all, this Wii version has the edge over the PS2 edition, which suffers from slow-down in certain games and a slight lag on my HDTV. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Samurai Shodown Anthology
Publisher: SNK (2007)
I love SNK games, but this collection may be too much
of a good thing! Samurai Shodown is a long-running one-on-one 2D fighting series that originated on the Neo Geo system. It may look like another Street Fighter 2 clone, but Shodown introduced a number of innovations, including weapons, scaling, and interactive scenery. There's a generous amount of blood, and even the occasional dismemberment. The bulk of the characters are samurai warriors, but there are also a few oddballs like the immense Earthquake and the green hunchback Gen-An. As with most SNK fighters, Shodown's fine-tuned gameplay requires quick reflexes, good technique, and knowledge of special moves. It's possible for fighters to lock swords, and you can even lose your weapon. Anthology includes six iterations of the series, taking you from the 1993 original to the brand new Samurai Shodown VI. The artitistic beauty you'll find in these 2D graphics would be difficult for a 3D game to match. The stages boast traditional Asian scenery, and I especially like the one with crashing blue waves and Mount Fuji looming in the background. Over the course of the series the roster fluctuated and the gameplay became more complex. The first three games are solid, but I was less enamored with the fourth and fifth iterations. These two games experimented with life meters, scoring, and artistic style, and the results are mixed. Still, you'll witness some awesome animations including Basara's victory pose which concludes with a naked woman disintegrating in his arms. The final title on the disk, Samurai Shodown VI, employs far more advanced graphics than the original games. Its expansive roster includes a sexy chick named Iroha and a bizarre creature that looks like a doll attached to a mechanical chair. Creepy! You can even fight as a dog or a monkey! The controls a little cumbersome, incorporating two new buttons for "spirits use" and "item use". Despite the added complexity, Shodown is a return to form for the series, and is quite fun to play. The only thing missing from Samurai Shodown Anthology is an easy way to view your high scores. Overall this is a great value for collectors and gamers with a sense of history. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town
Publisher: Red Wagon (2011)
This bargain bin title is based on the classic Christmas television special by the same name. It recounts the story of how Santa came to be, explaining how he got his name, why he uses chimneys, how he got flying reindeer, etc. The cut-scenes are computer-generated (naturally) and they are a lot
less fun to watch than the stop-motion animation of the show. Still, it's a good story with some touching moments. The 25 stages offer slow, easy platform action aimed at the younger crowd. The 2D gameplay is nicely combined with rotating 3D scenery. It's satisfying to collect huge snowflakes and mail while hopping around trees and rooftops. The icy pine trees and quaint stone houses look terrific, and everything is covered in a fresh blanket of snow. Christmas music plays throughout the game, including the memorable tune "put one foot in front of the other" straight from the special (a personal favorite). The sound effects are a little harsh, but you can lower them via the options menu. Bonus stages let you cobble together toys by motioning with the controller. The difficulty is easy, but locating every item in each stage (like the elusive green stocking) is a modest challenge. The game is brimming with holiday cheer, but too often it's interrupted by pesky load screens. In stages where you have to deliver presents, the load screen kicks in whenever you enter a house, and the constant pauses are unbearable
. The entire story takes under two hours to finish, but you can always go back to master individual stages. For your efforts you'll unlock goodies like stills from the show and a "Super Santa" mode. Santa Claus is Comin' to Town is heavy on nostalgia and holiday spirit, but its replay value is limited. That's okay, because you'll only want to play it in December anyway. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure
Publisher: DSI Games (2006)
It seems like a lot of the people designing games today have absolutely no clue
what they are doing. Sea Monsters is a case study in bad design: it wants
you to hate
it. The game is brought to you by National Geographic - the most boring magazine ever!
If not for doctor's offices, this magazine would have no reason to exist. Sea Monsters places you in the role of a prehistoric creature seeking and collecting fossils.
That's a pretty insane premise if you really think about it. You start off as a Plesiosaur (Brontosaurus with fins), but can switch dinosaurs while exploring some extremely uninteresting scenery. In addition to collecting fossils, you can eat fish and complete "challenges" to unlock more creatures and areas. A handy radar display indicates fossils, enemies, and magic "portals", but this game can't even get the color-coding
right! The fossils are represented by purple dots on the radar, yet appear in the water as green clouds!
When you swim through the cloud, a brown thing appears on the end of your nose. Would you believe that's supposed to be a fossil?
I love how you're prompted to "grab the fossil!" although it's obviously already in your possession. In terms of swimming around, you really don't have much freedom because the environment is constrained and get this: going too deep will kill
, I'm a freakin' sea dinosaur. I've been evolving over 40 million
years and now I can't dive 50 feet without drowning?!
Give me a [expletive] break!
The controls are awful, thanks to an uncooperative camera that makes navigating each angular passage a disorienting experience. The fossil construction screens are the worst
. Although a "drag and drop" interface is provided, you can never put pieces where you want them to go, and even placing the "wildcard fossils" is an exercise in frustration. And don't even get me started about the worthless
tutorial. Sure it tells you how to swim (duh!), but how do I battle predators? How do I replenish those three
annoying health meters in the corner of the screen? You're on your own, kid. Fine print in the manual explains there's an auto-save feature, but some kind of save indicator on the screen would have been nice. Simply put, Sea Monsters is an atrocity of prehistoric proportions. If a Plesiosaur ever saw this game, he'd be petrified. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Sega Bass Fishing
Publisher: Sega (2008)
I was reluctant to buy this considering I already own the original Dreamcast version. This new Sega Bass Fishing expands the scope a bit while retaining the original's pick-up-and-play arcade quality. There's a wider selection of tranquil locations to select from, including a brook, park, dam, swamp, and castle moat. The weather conditions vary, and you can even choose your season and time of day. Bass Fishing's controls are simple as can be. No need to worry about driving a boat - just aim your rod and cast! Finding a good spot is easy - just look for those suspicious shadows lurking under the surface. This version also offers a wider selection of lures differentiated by color and categorized by depth (shallow, medium, deep). Having so many choices may seem like a luxury, but it's a bit of a curse
really. It can take a lot
of experimentation to find the right combination of lure type and color. The fish are eager to bite in arcade mode, but attracting them in tournament mode can be like pulling teeth
. The game offers plenty of positive reinforcement for technique ("good shaking!"), but more guidance in terms of lure selection would have been nice. Once you get a bite, a wild fight normally ensues as you swing your rod in response to the fish's movements. I actually found myself rocking back and forth on the couch
while wrestling with some of these monsters! It's always satisfying when you haul in a large, juicy fish. The arcade mode offers short games with unlimited continues that lets you unlock new areas, lures, and difficulty levels. The tournament mode is far more challenging as you compete against CPU-controlled anglers for the greatest total catch. Each round lasts ten minutes, and you can save between rounds. Bass Fishing's graphics are about Dreamcast-quality, offering pleasant but unspectacular scenery. Occasionally the game throws a little eye candy your way, such as a momma duck swimming with her ducklings. The game looks sloppy at times. Your fishing line is very angular, and it's not unusual to see a fish magically materialize or become embedded in rocks. The collision detection is non-existent at times, like when you drag your lure through a big chunk of wood like it's not even there. The game records largest catches in the arcade mode (with initials) and overall rankings in the tournament mode. It's a shame there's no two-player mode, because some split-screen action would have been off the hook!
Sega Bass Fishing is a lazy port on Sega's part, but good luck finding a better fishing game for the Wii. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Sega Superstars Tennis
Publisher: Sega (2008)
Once again, Sega has managed to botch what should
have been a phenomenal game. Consider the many beloved franchises featured in Superstars Tennis: Sonic the Hedgehog, House of the Dead, Jet Grind Radio, Space Channel 5, Super Monkey Ball, Golden Axe, Nights, Samba De Amigo, and more!
That's a lot of star power, but Sega really dropped the ball when it comes to gameplay. It's a shame when you consider Sega produced what is arguably the best tennis game ever
- Virtua Tennis
(Dreamcast, 2000). The characters strut their stuff nicely, and the courts (inspired by each franchise) look bright and inviting. The fantastic soundtrack incorporates distinctive musical themes and sound effects that will bring back fond memories. The fine presentation is wasted however by gameplay that's best described as marginal
. There are three control schemes: Wii-mote only (motion control/automatic movement), Wii-mote and nun-chuck (motion control/manual movement), and old-school NES-style (no motion). Of course, what I really
wanted was the ability move with the thumbstick and use the A and B buttons to swing - like Virtua Tennis! The controls are rather loose, which is problematic with a sport that demands precision. Playing against a friend is a pretty ho-hum affair, and the mini-games are a bust. Trying to collect rings in a certain amount of time or knock balls into targets isn't nearly as fun as you might expect. Even smacking tennis balls into oncoming zombies gets boring by the 14th wave! The Superstar Planet mode lets you unlock new characters, courts, and music tracks. You'll play not so much for the fun, but to unlock obscure characters like the dwarf from Golden Axe or Pudding from Space Channel 5. Although you hold the Wii-mote sideways for mini-games, the inconsistent user interface assumes you're holding it vertically
when navigating menus! Sega Superstars Tennis is a great example of a game whose whole is less
than the sum of its parts. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Shaun White Snowboarding
Publisher: Ubisoft (2008)
Shaun White is a no-nonsense snowboarding title for gamers who just want to get down to business. The action is fast and loose, with short, well-designed courses that will keep you hitting the "try again" option. If you own a Wii balance board, by all means you'll want to use that. It really immerses you in the action as you steer with your back foot and lean forward for speed. Balancing on rails is a simple matter of leaning from side-to-side, and jumping is initiated by pushing on the board with both feet (without actually jumping). I get so involved in this game that I've sometimes been known to fall off the balance board!
realism! If you're limited to the Wii-mote controller, you may want to knock off a letter grade, because wagging that thing to do tricks is imprecise and somewhat cheesy. I love the forgiving nature of the game, which makes it easy to nail landings and balance rails. Heck, and even plowing into trees barely slows you down. The solo mode provides a variety of challenges that involve racing, performing tricks, and collecting items. The graphics are modest, with confined courses that reminded me a lot of the old Coolboarders games for the Playstation One. Even so, the visuals boast a smooth, oil-painted look that's pleasing to the eye. The sense of speed is terrific, especially when you lean forward and your vision blurs slightly. It gives you that "almost out of control" vibe you get on the real slopes. The sound effects are commendable (love the scraping ice), and the fine song selection mixes edgy new tracks with some old classics. The inclusion of Run-DMC's "Rock Box" is probably worth a letter grade in of itself. On the downside, the user interface could use some work, beginning with a confusing character selection screen. Why in the hell
do I need to select a cameraman?
Shaun White Snowboarding on the Wii isn't as deep or complex as its Xbox 360 cousin, but if you just want to hit the slopes for some simple fun, the Wii version is where it's at. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage
Publisher: Ubisoft (2009)
Critics don't give Shaun White any love, and I have no idea why. If anything, World Stage is the ideal
Wii snowboarding game. The balance board works great and is far more rewarding to use than a Wii-mote. You steer using your backfoot and shift your weight to control your speed. Granted, it can be a little tiresome keeping your front foot depressed over long stretches. Whatever scheme you use, the control is intuitive and forgiving - arguably too
forgiving! Due to the Wii's limited graphic capabilities, the designers went with an artistic, cell-shaded graphic style that's very appealing. The painted mountain backgrounds look gorgeous, and several courses wind through spectacular city streets. As you careen down the streets of Paris, that looming Eiffel Tower looks amazing!
The career mode offers a wide variety of challenges, and it's both fun and addictive to work your way up the ranks. There are races, speed contests, trick events, and combinations of the three. The racing events deliver a thrilling sensation of speed thanks to some dramatic blurring effects. Half-pipe events require you to contort your body quite a bit, and you can get a pretty good workout in the process! A split-screen mode accommodates up to four-players. The soundtrack is an upbeat, eclectic mix of the old and new, most notably the Blondie classic "Call Me". It's difficult to find fault with this game, and even the user interface has been cleaned up from last year. If you want to hit the slopes without leaving your house, this may be the closest you're going to get. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
Publisher: Konami (2009)
Rating: Mature (blood, drug reference, language, sexual themes, violence)
Silent Hill is one of my all-time favorite horror franchises, but playing Shattered Memories was truly a nightmare. As in the original Silent Hill
(Playstation, 2000), you play the role of a dad searching for his little girl in a deserted town following a car accident. Elements like the drifting snow, diner, and school will be familiar to fans of the series. Motion controls are heavily used, starting with aiming your flashlight with the Wii-mote. The pointer lets you interact with the scenery in clever ways like turning knobs on a security system or sliding bolts to unlock doors. Another neat element is how your Wii-mote doubles as a cell phone, so you hold it up to your ear to hear your calls. The phone also offers a slew of other features including a camera, GPS map, and save game device. Unfortunately, the phone interface is unwieldy and since you need to access it constantly, it becomes a real liability. Shattered Memories lets you explore a city and its outskirts, but your path is always heavily constrained, whether by snow drifts or fences or walls of ice. The game contains some very clever puzzles, most of which require you to pay close attention to details in your surroundings. Periodically reality will slip away and you'll find yourself in an alternate world with dark skies and ice-covered scenery. This is when things get scary. Grotesque, faceless creatures converge as you frantically run towards any door or wall that's glowing blue. There's little sense of geography, so as you flee from room to room you'll often find yourself running in circles! Whenever a freak latches onto you, the game prompts you to swing the controllers to knock them off, but it doesn't do much good! I would be swinging my arms like a [expletive] madman
and those things still wouldn't let go! And once two or three pile on, you can forget about it
. That's a shame, because these sequences are genuinely frightening. Scary music and effective sound effects also heighten the intensity. One original (but ill-conceived) aspect of the game is how it "psychologically profiles you as you play". This occurs during periodic therapist flashbacks where you're asked a series of personal questions which apparently have some bearing on events. The thing is, some of these questions are sexual
in nature! Okay, now that's just creepy
. In the final analysis Shattered Memories is a poorly-executed and sometimes embarrassing attempt by Konami to cater to a mature audience. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Sin and Punishment
Publisher: Nintendo (2010)
Sin and Punishment is the 3D equivalent of frantic 2D shooters like Thunder Force 3 and Rayden. Armed with rapid-fire guns and a devastating charge attack, you blast your way through burning cities, factories, underwater tunnels, and castles in the sky. Your character hovers around in a jetpack, with the camera positioned behind him. This offers the advantage of a first-person perspective while allowing you to dodge projectiles and engage in melee combat. With some practice you can lock onto cannons in the distance while pummeling robots within slashing range. As you can imagine, depth perception is a problem at times. You feel like you're along for the ride as Sin and Punishment whisks you around the skyscrapers and through underwater tunnels. You can't control where you're headed, but this allows you to focus on inflicting as much damage as possible. The Wiimote offers precision aiming, but the oversized reticules make the screen look busy in two-player mode. The control scheme takes time to get used to, but there's plenty of room for technique. The evade button is absolutely essential to dodging the plasma balls and laser beams that dance around the screen during boss encounters. Sin and Punishment is boss-heavy, and some of these behemoths will morph into four or five different forms before they are finally vanquished. The game has an outrageous anime style storyline involving a teenage guy and a mysterious girl, and it makes absolutely no sense. The guy is decked out in a sleeveless jacket, O.P. shorts, and silver thigh-high boots. A less politically-correct critic might say that outfit looks kind of gay! The absurd dialogue includes stuff like "Letting that creature live could destroy the universe! Turn your gun on her and end her life!" I love how the boss constantly badgers me with lines like, "You can't win! You're over your head!" despite the fact that I effectively pummel his ass whenever he turns up. Maybe he's
the one in over his head! Sin and Punishment isn't great, but the action is non-stop, and the fact that I played until my hand hurt has got to count for something. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Rating: Everyone (mild violence)
You'd expect the Wii balance board to be the perfect controller for a skateboarding game, yet Skate It feels so counter-intuitive, you might as well be using a light gun
. The tutorial gradually introduces the moves, but the further along it gets, the more overloaded and cumbersome the control scheme becomes. After a while I started asking myself, "How am I even going to remember
all of this stuff?" The board is divided into six sections
that are pushed to initiate tricks. There are several problems with this approach. First, the simple act of steering
the board is crazy hard, so when you start incorporating tricks, you're falling all over the place. The action is constantly interrupted by the warning "do not jump off the board!" - even when you don't completely leave your feet. You have the option of using normal controllers, but those are even worse!
The movements rarely make sense and there's a pronounced lag between your motions and your character's reaction. Skate It tries to compensate for its rotten controls by making the challenges exceptionally easy and forgiving. The tutorial is a prime example. During one trick I shook the controller wildly and ended up doing a painful face-plant on the concrete, only to have the game exclaim, "Now you're getting the hang of it! Tutorial complete!" The grinds are pretty much automatic - you just need to initiate the jump. The core of the game is a series of challenges around a deserted city, such as scoring a certain number of points or performing a combination of tricks. This city is a really, really
boring place! There's plenty of unlockable sponsors and gear, but does it matter? Maybe the balance board controller doesn't make a good skateboard after all. Or many Skate It was simply too ambitious. All I know is, this makes me want to play Tony Hawk. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2010)
With so many failed attempts at 3D adventures, it's amazing that Sonic is still a viable franchise at all
. Sega always seemed reluctant to return to Sonic's 2D roots, but Sonic Colors represents a compromise of sorts. The game is equal parts 2D and 3D, and the transitions between them are pretty seamless. The 3D areas tend to be high-speed in nature as you zip along straight-aways while dodging obstacles, grinding rails, and snatching rings. You'll still perform homing attacks on enemies, but it's mainly just a mechanism to travel across gaps. The 2D stages tend to be slower paced, focusing more on hitting switches and making precision jumps. The opening stage looks like a festive resort at night, and the eye candy is off the charts!
Actually, most of the zones are pretty spectacular and unlike anything seen in previous Sonic games. The Sweet Mountain zone is a Candyland world with mounds of popcorn and donut loops. Planet Wisp offers a nice blend of natural beauty and high-tech machinery, and its soothing music is one of the highlights of the game. The Aquarium Park zone dresses up underwater areas with traditional Asian architecture. The heavy-metal-inspired Asteroid Coaster zone is wild but so over the top it's hard to tell which way is up. One stage I really disliked was the Starlight Carnival with its non-intuitive gadgets and frequent "auto-pilot" sections. Sonic Colors tries to spice up the platforming action by letting you harness alien powers which include rocketing through the air, drilling through the ground, or propelling yourself at light speed. Some powers are fun, but others are just confusing. I enjoyed crawling up walls as a spiked ball, but the power to toggle blue blocks is totally lame. In terms of control, the jumping controls aren't as crisp as I would like. Instead of revving up to dash, you press B, which is fine as long as you're pointed in the right direction. Gathering 100 rings no longer nets you a free life, which really takes the enjoyment away from collecting them. Sonic Colors is immense, with each stage offering alternate routes and secrets galore. It feels like Sega threw in everything but the kitchen sink, and for the most part, it worked. I absolutely loved the superb musical score which is a collection of catchy electronic tunes in the spirit of the original games. With visuals to bedazzle, great tunes, and substantial replay value, Colors is the strongest Sonic title I've played since my Dreamcast days. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic and The Black Knight
Publisher: Sega (2009)
I suspect the idea of a sword-wielding Sonic was conceived when the Wii was still new, and before game designers realized just how limited
motion controls really are. Sonic and the Black Knight kicks off with an overblown cut-scene depicting the blue hedgehog being summoned to medieval times. The scene wouldn't be half bad if Sonic kept his mouth shut. Whenever he opens it, you just want to smack
him. Ever since Sega gave Sonic a voice his coolness factor has gone down the drain!
The high quality of the intro clashes badly with the modest, barely-animated cut-scenes sprinkled throughout the rest of the game. Black Knight's gameplay is less about navigating environments at high speed and more about slashing evil knights in your path by shaking the Wii-mote until your arm is sore. The motion controls recognize vertical and horizontal slashes, but you just shake it repeatedly to plow through a wall of baddies. I really wish there was a button control scheme as an alternative, because this game makes my forearm hurt! In the words of Sonic himself (and I quote), "I wish I didn't have to use this dang sword!" The controls are very loose, and you can often clear a stage without really knowing what you're doing. The "soul surge" move automatically targets a series of enemies, but Sonic feels completely out of your control during these sequences. Even steering Sonic through the linear stages is awkward because the camera isn't always centered behind him. Two things save Sonic and the Black Knight: terrific graphics and low difficulty. At times it's quite exhilarating as you sprint over bridges, across wide green plains, and wind your way through majestic castles and lush forests. But as with most Sonic games, you rarely get a chance to savor the scenery. The levels are mercifully short and easy, although some objectives can be confusing ("finish using soul surge in the air"). Between stages you'll watch a lot of cheesy cut-scenes and navigate a superfluous "item discovery" screen. Sonic and the Black Knight is definitely shallow, but the minimal frustration and maximum eye candy might just make it worth a quick romp. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic and the Secret Rings
Publisher: Sega (2007)
Judged against recent Sonic outings on the Xbox 360 and PS3, Secret Rings seems downright inspired
by comparison. This is easily the interesting and playable Sonic title we've seen since the Dreamcast console was on the store shelves. Boasting a unique control scheme, Sonic runs automatically as you tilt the controller to "steer" him. Sonic's "homing attack" is performed by shoving the controller forward, and it's very satisfying to "bash" the robotic creeps. Secret Rings is a huge game, and even sprinting to the end of a stage can take 10 minutes or more. Each world offers a list of missions that involve collecting rings, defeating foes, racing against a ball of light, or reaching the finish line before time expires. Sonic's route through each stage is largely predetermined, but moving side-to-side lets you snag rings, hit ramps, avoid hazards, and select occasional forks in the road. On the downside, memorization plays a key role, and there are large stretches where Sonic zooms around automatically and out of your control. It's really hard to "explore" with the new control scheme, so the missions that require you to locate items tend to be especially frustrating. In terms of graphics, this is the best-looking Sonic yet. The eye candy is off-the-charts as you race through exotic palaces, lush dinosaur worlds, and trap-laden castles. The "Pirate Storm" area looks phenomenal with its weathered shipwrecks, driving rain, and mammoth waves. The only stage I disliked was the Levitating Ruins, where you spend too much time "fighting the wind" and surfing on air streams. Sonic and the Secret Rings is tougher than most Sonic games, but the constant unlocking of new missions, worlds, items, and moves will keep you forging ahead. Sega was definitely on the right track with this one, but I think they made the game more complex than it needed to be. The idea of collecting pearls (in addition to rings) to power up your "soul gauge" is unnecessary, and before each stage you must equip a "magic ring" with a customizable list of special moves. Most of these moves are so trivial that they should just be "on" by default. For example, the "quick step" makes moving left and right smoother, and "hard brake" makes braking more effective. Pretty lame! The game's plodding storyline involves a talkative female genie, and the cut-scenes (rendered using still images) are as boring as they are pointless. They'd probably cost the game a letter grade if you couldn't skip them! The music is a mixed bag. Some of the repetitive pop-rock is hard to take, but the soundtrack does cover a wide range of styles. Sonic and the Secret Rings has its share of minor issues, but its innovative gameplay and attractive visuals make them easy to overlook. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Soul Calibur Legends
Publisher: Bandai Namco (2007)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Soul Calibur has been a popular one-on-one fighting series since the days of the Dreamcast, but Legends marks a major departure from that formula. Many have characterized Legend's gameplay as "moving from room to room, hacking up one gang of monsters after the next". That pretty much describes half the video games I've played over the last 20 years
, so it can't be all that
bad! Okay, I'll admit this game doesn't have the look of a big budget title. The lame intro and cut-scenes are rendered with semi-animated illustrations, and the gratuitous text dialogue between stages will have you tapping more buttons than a freakin' track and field
game. The unremarkable stage designs feature repetitive angular hallways and square rooms that epitomize the term "cookie cutter". Within each room monsters spawn out of thin air, including knights, skeletons, wolves, mummies, and ninjas. Wii motion controls are used to attack, letting you execute horizontal swings, vertical swings, and thrusts. It's funny - a year ago everyone was totally psyched about using real motions to swing a sword, but now everybody just complains about it. Granted, these aren't the most precise controls in the world, but would you prefer button mashing? You'll occasionally stumble upon some entertaining special moves, like when Asteroth spins around and multiple enemies become wedged in his axe. Jerking the nun-chuck lets you dodge, and buttons initiate blocking, jumping, and power attacks. The A button cycles through targets, and it's pretty clumsy. Soul Calibur Legends is primarily a brawler, but you'll also solve easy puzzles and avoid run-of-the-mill traps like spikes and spears. You select two characters for each mission, and I like how you can switch between them on the fly. The Soul Calibur roster provides plenty of colorful characters including some scantily clad hotties. A two-player mode lets you fight alongside a friend, but that split-screen view really cramped my style. I enjoyed the game's short stages and brisk pacing when playing solo, but the difficulty is very easy - perhaps to a fault. Soul Calibur Legends isn't a great title, but it's enjoyable enough when taken in small doses. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2008)
I was a big fan of the Speed Racer cartoon series as a kid, and while this game is based on the new movie, it's still fun to see the Mach-5 and Racer X. Most critics dismissed this arcade-style racer, but it's their loss! The grainy intro fails to convey Speed Racer's high-speed thrills, gravity-defying tracks, and outrageous "car-fu" fighting action. The futuristic tracks look like something from Wipeout
(Playstation, 1995), and the game's penchant for destruction gives it a real Burnout
(GameCube, 2002) flavor. Tilting the controller to steer your car is effortless and fun, and I really appreciate how guardrails keep you on the track. The concept of "car-fu" is totally insane and I love it. You can bump cars off the road, flip them from behind, and even perform spin attacks with a flick of the wrist. Things really get out of hand! Best of all, your aggressiveness is rewarded with frequent speed boosts. Another original feature is your ability to declare allies and rivals before each race, and with so much combat going on, it really does make a difference. Cars on the course are clearly marked as friend or foe, and faces appear in the corner of the screen as passing racers exchange trash talk. Speed Racer's tracks are lengthy, but typically you only race two laps, which is just enough. The game is pretty forgiving, and once I even won a race after blowing up three times! The tracks feature death-defying ramps, loops, and corkscrews, but they aren't as exciting as they sound. Likewise when your speedometer reaches 400 MPH, it doesn't feel like you're going that fast. The track surfaces are plastered with obnoxious color patterns, and the busy backgrounds look gaudy. Even the tropical resort track looks repulsive thanks to its puke-green track! The uptempo synthesized music is a pleasant surprise - a few of these tunes really caught my ear. There's really no excuse for the ugly graphics, but if you're looking for an easy racer that's way
over the top, this is it. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment (2008)
Apparently the publisher couldn't afford the rights to "Summer Olympics", so we're stuck with the cheesy title "Summer Athletics". I'll be sure to avoid using the "O" word in this review so I don't get sued! Anyway, much like Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Sega, 2007), Summer Athletics tries to infuse the classic button-tapping track-and-field gameplay with motion controls. There's a lot of kinetic action, but the execution is clumsy and the fun is tempered by frustration. Just getting off the starting block
is hard in many events. It seems like each has a different starting motion, so pay close attention to the instructions! The controls aren't overwhelming, but they are
more complicated than they should
be. The controls are inconsistent too. When biking, you change lanes by leaning
the controllers, but when running track the Z and B buttons serve this function. The final motion in many events is "maintaining posture" by holding the controller out and twirling it around!
Yeah - just like the athletes do in real life!
In the butterfly swimming competition, you move your arms as if you're doing the actual stroke, causing the wires to tangle around your wrists. This makes you wonder what the hell wires
are doing attached to wireless controllers
in the first
place! Nice going Nintendo! I also hate how only one player is ever competing at a time, despite the fact that many events (like running and swimming) are well suited to head-to-head action. The graphics are nothing to write home about. The chalk lines on the track look jaggy, and the athletes themselves resemble zombies
- complete with rolled-back eyes! I did
get a kick out of the dancing monkey "mascot" who tends to go bonkers whenever you break a world record! Go Monkey! It's your birthday! Go Monkey...
Summer Athletics is also saddled with a poorly-designed user interface that makes you constantly
press "A" to skip uneventful cut-scenes - such as your undead athlete standing around in a daze. Although each player gets a chance to view instructions, it's possible to skip your friend's instructions
- a strategy I employed effectively against my buddy Scott. You also have to press A after you've done each heat, so expect to hear this a lot: "Dude! Press A!" When you break a world record, you're prompted to enter your initials, even though you already entered them at the beginning! Yes, I changed my name since I started playing this!
There's not even any closing ceremonies!
I hope you were paying attention to who was winning, because after that last event you're whisked directly back to the main menu! Summer Athletics drags on for way too long, and your friends will be climbing the walls
before the debacle is finally over. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Summer Sports: Paradise Island
Publisher: Destineer (2008)
Summer Sports features bright tropical scenery, pleasant steel drum music, and familiar outdoor games. I was expecting a collection of fun-in-the-sun mini-games along the lines of Carnival Games
(Wii, 2007). Unfortunately, the developers clearly had no clue
about how to program the Wii's motion controls. These games look fine but play terribly. Although Summer Sports boasts eight different events, there seem to be far less because so many events are similar. The basketball events feature simple shooting games like "around the world" or "horse". While using a basketball shooting motion is intuitive enough, it soon becomes evident that every shot is either "nothing but net" or an air ball! Good luck trying to hit that rim! The horseshoe game is very shallow since you only control the strength of your throw - not the accuracy. Lawn darts is an odd entry, considering this ill-conceived game was banned
from most countries decades ago. And when you play lawn darts on your Wii, you'll realize why nobody has missed it! Badminton and Volleyball try to copy the Wii Sports Tennis formula, but the timing of your swing is entirely too unforgiving. The miniature golf game is the one real surprise, featuring nine distinctive holes, each adorned with its own theme and lush scenery. There's an Egyptian hole, a medieval castle, and even a spooky graveyard. As my friend Scott suggested, some game company should really run with the concept and make a whole game like this. Sadly, the controls falter once again, and this time in spectacular fashion. The putting is anything but intuitive thanks to that spastic power meter that sends even the shortest puts flying out of bounds! Performing a tap-in is virtually impossible. Croquet has the same issues, but since I'm American, I wasn't planning on playing that one anyway. Summer Sports had the right idea, but without decent controls, this game has absolutely nothing going for it. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition
Publisher: Nintendo (2011)
It's hard to grade this "limited edition" which is just a straight port of Super Mario All-Stars released for the SNES in 1993. It includes Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3, along with the "Lost Levels". It should be noted that these games are actually enhanced versions of the NES originals, spruced up in 1993 to take advantage of the SNES graphics. All four retain their original 4:3 ratio and pixelated charm. You'd think Nintendo might re-do the title screen, toss in Super Mario World, or perhaps include the games in their original NES forms, but no. Frankly it looks like a cash-grab on Nintendo's part. The good news is that these are three of the best platform games you'll ever play. Super Mario Bros. is the title that vaulted the NES to greatness, and its basic pounce-on-baddies and grab-the-coins formula never gets old. The Lost Levels is presented as a separate game although it's really just an extension of the original. Super Mario 2 has its own unusual mechanics but still retains that same whimsical charm. Super Mario 3 is arguably the greatest platformer of all time, expanding the scope of the series to spectacular effect. These games are designed to be played with the Wii-mote turned sideways like a classic NES controller. As with any emulated title, the controls are not quite as tight as the originals, but they're still pretty good. The original cartridge saved your progress to battery, so the save system here is the same except you never have to worry about the battery dying. I found the interface to be awkward to navigate, and even accidentally deleted my progress in one instance. This Limited Edition comes with two extra items that may appeal to collectors but probably not. There's a CD containing selected musical tracks from Super Mario games throughout the years and a glossy Super Mario History booklet. It doesn't qualify as a "book" because it's too small and doesn't contain much information. Super Mario All-Stars packs a ton of classic fun but I wish Nintendo had put a little more effort into this collection. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Galaxy
Publisher: Nintendo (2007)
Super Mario Galaxy is to video games what candy is to food. Super Mario titles have always served up colorful, imaginative worlds, and in outer space there are no limits! Galaxy's opening sequence shows Princess Peach being abducted by Bowser's spaceship and whisked away to a far-off corner of the universe. To rescue her, Mario will have to hopscotch across dozens of galaxies composed of small planets and collections of floating platforms. Star-shaped portals launch him from one location to the next with a flick of a wrist. Mario Galaxy toys with the laws of both gravity and physics in some very creative ways. More often than not you can walk on the sides and underneath
platforms, allowing for spatial puzzles like you've never seen before. The camerawork can be disorienting at first, but all things considered it does a remarkable job of framing the action. The stages are short but fascinating with constantly-changing themes that never wear out their welcome. The stages range from retro-futuristic floating space junk, to tropical islands, to worlds composed of sugary confections. You'll ride a stingray over a stream of floating water, participate in Monkey Ball-style "golf", and guide Mario in a bubble through a swamp. You're never doing the same thing twice! The graphics aren't spectacular but the cloth-like textures, realistic water effects, and reflective steel structures are impressive. Galaxy seamlessly incorporates many classic Mario elements (like the green pipes), along with dozens of familiar audio effects. Nintendo exercised restraint when incorporating motion controls, and one truly innovative feature is your ability to gather up "star bits" by pointing at them with the Wii-mote. Better yet, you can then fire these bits at enemies by aiming at the screen and pressing the trigger! The game does suffer from a few minor flaws like a confusing stage select screen, minimal two-player support, and too much talking in general. Even so, Super Mario Galaxy is irresistibly fun, managing to feel both boldly original yet comfortably familiar at the same time. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Publisher: Nintendo (2010)
The first Super Mario Galaxy was a sensational Wii title, breaking down dimensional barriers with its mind-bending worlds and spatial puzzles. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (SMG2) is the quality sequel you would expect, building on the previous game with new worlds and interesting new "suits" that imbue Mario with powers. SMG2 is also notable for bringing back Yoshi! Riding this chubby green dinosaur gives you the ability to swallow enemies, spit them out, and perform a "hover" jump. You can even inflate Yoshi and ride him like a balloon. Mario travels between galaxies on a green spaceship shaped like his head, and it looks pretty dumb! The planets he visits run the gamut from flowery jungles, to haunted houses, to castles in the clouds, to water worlds that instantly transform into ice. Special suits let Mario roll like a boulder, drill through the ground, and create his own cloud platforms to hop between. There seems to be no limit to Nintendo's imagination as you're whisked off from one amazing scenario to the next. The action is mainly 3D, and you may find yourself misjudging some jumps due to the angled camera and Mario's faint shadow. Fortunately the game is forgiving in this regard, allowing you to execute a last-minute spin to keep yourself aloft. Many stages adopt a refreshing 2D style of play to mix things up a bit. While it feels like a straight-forward expansion of the first SMG, there are a few notable improvements. First, the confusing stage selection screen has been replaced with a traditional branching path, as used in most 2D Mario adventures. Next, the two-player "girlfriend mode" has been improved so the assisting player can do more things such as freeze enemies and snag objects in the distance. I also like how the game informs you that your progress has been automatically saved after you acquire each star. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of those special games that you can become lost in. It's easy to make progress, but the vast number of side quests and hidden items make it feel endless. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
Publisher: Sega (2006)
The original Super Monkey Ball
(GameCube, 2001) became popular on the strength of its frantic, four-player mini-games. Banana Blitz delivers ten times as many games, but only a fraction
of the fun. As with the original Monkey Ball, the main mode involves endless "platform tilting" challenges, and it's a colossal waste of time. Constant unwanted instant replays extend the ordeal, and after conquering each zone, you're subject to a pointless credit sequence. It may be the first interactive credit screen I've seen, but hey - they're still credits!
Of course, most gamers only care about the mini-games, and Banana Blitz offers no less than 50!
Unfortunately, Sega took a quantity-over-quality approach, so you need to sift through a ton of garbage to find anything worth playing! Frankly, I hated
most of the games. The controls in the boat sailing are atrocious
and the undersea treasure hunt made me nauseas
. Sega even screwed up the controls in wack-a-mole, banana catch, and frog jump to the point where they're unplayable. They tried to spice up a few oldies (target, race, and golf), but they've turned each into a confusing mess. The space attack, puzzle, and tight-rope walking games control well, but they're boring.
The hurdles event offers decent split-screen racing, but the homerun derby and hammer throw rely more on luck than skill. Even the user interface sucks. When you get a high score, you need to re-enter your name, even after you've already done it 10 times. There's no way to exit a game in progress, and believe me, you'll want to! A lot!
The soundtrack has a nice Sonic Adventure vibe, but that's the only positive thing I can think of. With Banana Blitz, Sega took a "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" approach, and now we're all suffering. Thanks a lot. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Times are tough these days if you happen to be a monkey trapped in a transparent plastic ball. Once a promising franchise, Super Monkey Ball games have become a chore to play (and especially review). The first Monkey Ball title for the Wii, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz (Sega, 2006) was a complete bust, which means there's nowhere to go but up for this franchise. Super Monkey Ball Step and Roll incorporates the balance board, and in the main mode at least, it's an improvement. As you tilt the board to guide your monkey ball through an elevated maze, you'll need to exhibit balance and finesse. The courses are more forgiving than usual, which mitigates the frustration factor. A lengthy credits sequence is inflicted upon those who successfully complete an entire zone. Why are you doing this to us Sega? Are you mad
at us? The four-player mini-games are still the main draw, and this time around there are about 20. Most are designed with the balance board in mind, but only one player can use that. There's a jump-rope game, a snowboarding game, and a ninja game that lets you block incoming stars. The pinball game has a Hungry Hungry Hippo vibe, and there's an interesting fire fighting game where you pump the board with your foot while aiming with the Wii-mote. Some events fall flat, like the futuristic luge game that looks great but conveys little sense of speed. In the lunar lander game, I was declared the victor despite the fact that my friend Steve landed quicker and closer
to the target! The balance board works okay, but the Wii-mote controls are still flakey. In the ladder-climbing game I couldn't get them to work at all! And the benefits of the board are largely offset by annoying calibration procedures and constant warning screens. Step and Roll has its moments, but they are few and far between. Why can't Sega make a decent Monkey Ball game for the Wii? © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Super Paper Mario
Publisher: Nintendo (2007)
Super Paper Mario takes the classic platform jumping style of Super Mario Bros and incorporates puzzle and RPG (role playing game) elements to create a deeper but slower-paced gaming experience. The game takes a hell
of a long time to get started, with an extended intro that takes forever
to get through. I couldn't care less about this nonsense about prophecies and ancient books and dark clouds and blah blah blah... Get on with it already! I can sum up the entire premise in three seconds: "Find eight hearts to save universe". There - now was that
so hard?? When you finally reach stage 1-1 (about an hour in), the game looks and plays deceptively like Super Mario Bros. as you pounce on turtles, knock out blocks, and crawl through pipes. You even hold the controller sideways in the classic NES style. But you soon discover Paper Mario's killer gimmick, which is the ability to temporarily switch to a 3D "side view" perspective at the touch of a button. Not only does this allow you to circumvent seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but the new viewpoint also reveals hidden items and new pathways. It's actually quite an ingenious mechanism, and you'll definitely want to employ it whenever you get stuck (or even just for fun). Another interesting feature is your ability to "point" at the screen to uncover hidden items and doors. You begin with Mario, but later add other Nintendo characters to your "party", although you only control one at a time. Likewise, floating companions called "Pixls" arm you with special abilities, such as grabbing enemies, planting bombs, or becoming invisible. You can toggle your characters and Pixls from a menu screen. I found the stages to be a mildly entertaining combination of puzzle solving and platform jumping - sort of a thinking man's Mario Bros. Unfortunately, the stages are sandwiched between boring intermissions where you must run tedious errands and page through verbose dialogue. These sections of the game almost put me to sleep
. Paper Mario's simple but crisp graphics are illustrative in style, and the soundtrack is a nice collection of happy melodies. Nintendo fans will enjoy the game's classic game references and inside jokes, but Super Paper Mario's plodding pace will try the attention spans of casual gamers. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Publisher: Nintendo (2008)
If you thought the previous Smash Bros. games were unadulterated bliss, you might just keel over from pure unbridled joy when you play Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The basic formula is unchanged as up to four classic Nintendo characters pound each other into oblivion on raised platforms. But Brawl sweetens the deal with more characters, dizzying stages, and a metric ton
of stuff to unlock. The action is fast and furious, and nothing warms my heart more than watching Kirby get his pink ass beaten like a redheaded stepchild. People tend to love or hate the Smash Bros. series, but it's hard to deny Brawl's astounding
replay value. The expanded cast of characters includes many faces that casual gamers may find unfamiliar, including Pit (Kid Icarus), King Dedede (Kirby), Meta Knight (Kirby), Ike (Fire Emblem), Lucas (Earthbound), Olimar (Pikmin), and Pokemon Trainer. Pokemon Trainer is a young man that lurks in the background of each stage and let you control various Pokemon characters like Squirtle, Charizard, and Ivysaur. The pudgy Meta Knight is a great new addition, and "Zero Suit" Samus is hot!
The most exciting new characters however are Sonic the Hedgehog and Snake (of Metal Gear fame). So why in the hell
are they locked?!
After selecting a character, you'll hear him shout through your controller's microphone - a nice touch! The impressive stage selection (which includes those from Melee) offer some pretty fascinating locations. The Pictochat stages are drawn before your eyes, and when the massive Metal Gear breaks through a wall on rainy Shadow Moses Island, it's positively jaw-dropping. I also love the Ice Climber stage with the huge iceberg careening down a slope until it finally crashes into the sea. The four-player fighting action is chaotic as ever, made even more confusing by the insane stage designs, over-the-top attacks, and "summoned" creatures that sometimes join the fray. For the first time you can jump down
through platforms, which is nice, but sometimes the jumping controls are funky. Double jumps and ledge grabs can come in pretty handy most of the time, but sometimes don't kick in when you really need them. New weapons include a huge
light saber and "superspice curry" that lets you breathe fire. The new "smash ball" allows each character to perform a devastating "final smash" attack. Kirby's will suck everyone into a pot to be cooked, Samus unloads a massive laser beam, Peach puts everyone to sleep, and Fox can call upon tanks and spaceships. Surprises abound in this game. In the Metroid stage, the entire playing field will abruptly turn upside down
. A puppy from Nintendogs might block part of the screen temporarily, or the "face boss" from the original Star Fox might appear in the background, spitting out polygons. While the default Wimote/nunchuck control configuration is okay, but many will gravitate towards the GameCube controller, especially since there are no motion controls. In terms of graphics, the quality isn't any better than Super Smash Bros. Melee
(GameCube, 2001). The characters look slightly harsher around the edges, but the lush, layered backdrops are more dynamic and boast more detail. Although the four-player action hasn't changed much, the side-scrolling "Subspace Emissary" adventure mode provides a very long, engaging quest for the solo player. I like how it gradually introduces each character, but sometimes it feels like a carrot on a stick. As I played through it, it was hard to tell if I was playing for the fun of it, or just to unlock new stuff. No matter what mode you play, the game constantly updates you about new items you've unlocked, which is satisfying. Super Smash Bros. Brawl has minimal load times, an intuitive user interface, on-line modes, and unlimited replay value. It won't convert the haters, but Nintendo die-hards can bump up the grade by a letter, because for them at least, it doesn't get much better than this. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Ubisoft (2007)
Considering the sorry history of both surfing games and
movie-licensed games, you'd think that this surfing game based on an animated movie wouldn't have a chance. But Surf's Up manages to beat the odds. If Tony Hawk were a surfing penguin, I bet his games would be exactly
like this. Surf's Up combines kid-friendly visuals, a killer soundtrack, and arcade-style gameplay to create a whimsical yet addictively fun game. Like Tony Hawk, you're mainly playing for score. You view the action from behind your penguin as a huge wave encroaches from the left side of the screen. By slaloming the wave you gain speed, and shaking the controller also provides a speed boost. Once you go flying off the wave, you can perform basic tricks (A button), holds (B button), flips (directional pad), and various combinations. In addition to riding waves, small islands and archways approach from the right, providing power-ups and opportunities to grind rails and jump ramps. I like how the waves and obstacles play off of each other, so you can launch off a wave to avoid an iceberg or vault onto a high rail. Everything comes together very nicely, and you often have several options at any given time. The graphics aren't spectacular, but the icebergs and tropical islands provide for attractive scenery. Since some stages take place in Antarctica, this is one surfing title you can even enjoy during the winter
! The single-player mode offers a nice tutorial, and lets you gradually unlock new locations, boards, music, and humorous characters (which include a skinny, featherless chicken). The vertical split-screen mode is superb, serving up some really intense head-to-head action while providing a decent view for both players. There's even a "leaf sliding" mini-game that could almost stand on its own. So is there anything wrong with this game? Well, that little squid you use to navigate the menus isn't the most responsive thing in the world, and, well, it's a game about surfing penguins! Surf's Up didn't get much press and is easy to overlook, but those who give it a shot will be pleasantly surprised. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Family Friendly Video Games