Xbox 360 Reviews A

2006 FIFA World Cup
Grade: D
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/8/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotBeing the typical American sports fan I have a healthy lack of appreciation for the sport of soccer. I can enjoy an arcade-style soccer game, but real soccer is about as tedious and boring as baseball (yikes!). My buddy Steve happens to be a "real" soccer player, and while he can vouch for the game's realism, even he has a hard time getting excited about FIFA World Cup.

By making the game so damn realistic, it seems EA has managed to suck every last ounce of fun out of it! There are a crazy number of options, including pages and pages of menus and about 5,000 actual teams to choose from (give or take). I prefer getting right down to business with the ever-popular "play now" mode. When selecting a team, I tend to stick with Brazil or Italy because they're supposed to kick ass, but you'd never know from this game.

From what I understand it's possible to score in soccer, but most of the contests I've played ended in 0-0 ties. This game is difficult. Your player is rarely in position when you pass ahead, and when he is, it's too easy to inadvertently make an extra pass to no one. Getting off a decent shot on goal is nearly impossible. You'd think that holding down the shot button would result in a stronger kick, but instead it sends the ball flying high over the net! When playing with friends, prepare to spend the first three minutes or so just figuring out which color you are, because the game makes no effort to tell you beforehand. And even then it's hard to tell which player you're controlling because the colored arrows above the players' heads are so freakin' tiny!

The default camera angle is extremely wide, giving you a good view but making the goals and players look incredibly small. The stadiums are fairly massive, and the blizzard of balloons and confetti coming from the stands looks great (I feel bad for the digitized groundskeepers who have to clean up all that stuff!). World Cup's commentary is exceptionally good, and I love it when they describe the ball as being "dispossessed". But there's really not much to like about World Cup. Whether you're a casual fan or a soccer maniac, I doubt you'll derive much enjoyment from this dull, dry soccer title. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa
Grade: D+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/6/9
Rating: Everyone


screenshotWhat are the chances that EA has ruined yet another sport? Better than average! FIFA World Cup's colorful intro is an eyeful, but once you start playing, the players look positively tiny. I hope you have a big TV. The distant camera gives a good overview but hides the details, especially on the far side. Closer, more dynamic views are available in the single-player mode, but while playing with friends you don't have the option.

Soccer demands precision passing, but the pass controls are problematic. The game "queues up" your button presses, resulting in a lot of unintentional extra passes - usually at the worst time. Also aggravating is how difficult it is to keep the ball in-bounds near the sidelines. Unlike classic soccer titles, the ball has no well-defined shadow so when it's in the air you'll need to look for a small yellow X to see where it's headed.

The controls aren't properly explained and it doesn't help that Electronic Arts continues to produce the worst manuals in the business. The complicated instructions for free kicks and penalty kicks are relegated to footnote status. Thank goodness a simplified control scheme is also available for those who happen to be mentally challenged or American.

The shooting controls suck no matter what scheme you use. It's ridiculously hard to kick a shot low enough to enter the goal, much less aim your shot. Despite our frequent laments, my friends and I did play some pretty intense contests. Final scores tend to be 1-1 (or even 0-0), so each scoring opportunity is critical. After one scoreless game I asked Scott if it would help if we played on the same team. "Yeah, I think it will help the computer!"

After each goal nifty replays are shown from every angle, but the manual replay system could not be more confusing. Throughout the game brief cut-scenes show deranged fans, players complaining about penalties, and coaches on the sideline. Speaking of coaches, these are the most miserable-looking bastards I've ever seen! Soccer fanatics are likely to appreciate the realism of FIFA and can probably bump up the grade by a letter. The rest of us however will find it hard to get excited about this lukewarm effort. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack
Grade: C-
Publisher: Harmonix (2008)
Reviewed: 2013/4/18
Rating: Teen (lyrics)

screenshotMy friend Jon picked this up for me at Walmart for five bucks. That's a pretty sweet deal for a game that lets you play 18 tracks from the legendary hard rockers from Down Under. AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack offers a metric ton of rock anthems like Highway to Hell, Back In Black, Hell's Bells, Dirty Deeds, and You Shook Me All Night Long. Even songs from the band's later years (Moneytalks, Thunderstruck) kick ass in a loud, three-chord kind of way.

The best part about this "track pack" is how you really don't even need any of the other Rock Band games - this is a fully standalone title. You'll need at least one instrument of course, but both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero controllers will work. You can play through a solo tour or simply jam with friends over a few beers.

I do have a few issues with this disc. First off, the songs are all live versions instead of the original recordings (hence the title). Live recordings rarely measure up to the studio versions, especially when the singers decide to get creative. Next, you won't hear original singer Bon Scott because he's dead and Brian Johnson does all the singing here.

Finally, some songs are extended to torturous lengths. It doesn't help when you're playing with a bunch of drunks who are totally out of practice with music games (or so I have read). This track pack is no gem, but if you're an AC/DC fan it's probably money well spent. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

After Burner Climax
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (2010)
Reviewed: 2012/2/17
Rating: Everyone 10+

screenshotMy friend Chris has been an After Burner fan since it first hit the arcades, and he describes Climax as "everything After Burner was ever meant to be". Indeed, this pushes the twitch-shooter formula to the limit.

You get three different planes to choose from, and you can even select the soundtrack (including the classic After Burner II theme). You'll fly through a series of short stages that cover every climate from the polar ice caps to lush river valleys to volcanic mountains. The sprawling metropolis bathed in moonlight is simply jaw-dropping. There are even some stages where you fly through the tunnels of nuclear facilities, calling to mind Star Wars Arcade. The crisp scenery is a feast for the eyes and the sense of speed is exhilarating. I haven't seen such a degree of arcade spectacle since my Dreamcast days.

The basic gameplay is typical After Burner which means chaos rules and luck plays a major role. Your machine guns can destroy enemies at close range but you'll mainly rely on your heat-seeking missiles. The new "climax" feature lets you slow down the action (a la "bullet time) to home in on targets for a short period.

The arcade mode's rank-in system lets you enter your initials, but only if you complete the game, which is slightly bogus. The score attack mode uses a global ranking system so you can have the satisfaction of being #28,543 in the world. Personally I wish this kick-ass shooter was available on disk, because it's a keeper. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Akai Katana
Grade: B
Publisher: Rising Star Games (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/6/26
Rating: Teen (blood, fantasy violence, mild language)

screenshotAs a fan of 2D shooters, I'm glad they are still selling games like this - on a disc no less! Although it falls squarely into the "bullet hell" category, Akai Katana is both beautiful and innovative. Your character is a flying woman surrounded by a shield who can unleash streams of rapid-fire missiles from several angles. You'll need to dodge waves of incoming projectiles, but while it may seem impossible at first glance, only the small gem in the center of your character is susceptible to harm.

An interesting aspect of the game is the offensive and defensive modes. When holding in the fire button you move slower and destroyed enemies release energy icons. Tapping the fire button puts you in "defensive" mode, letting you move faster and retrieve "steel" icons from destroyed foes. After building up enough steel you can initiate your "phantom" which unleashes a barrage of giant katana swords, causing massive damage and producing big gold icons for points. If any of this makes sense, I'm probably not explaining it right.

This game is crazy. I've played it dozens of times and I still don't quite get it. I think it helps if you're Japanese or on drugs, and preferably both. Even the tutorial is hard to comprehend. Fortunately the game is fun even when you don't know what the [expletive] you're doing. The stages are rendered in a Metal Slug style, and it's a shame that you can't enjoy the illustrated scenery which takes you over cities, snowy mountains, and underwater. The bosses are evil humans with the power to create portals. It's amazing to watch a massive locomotive travel from one portal to another - in the sky.

You get unlimited continues but the game tracks your best score, which can be recorded to the off-line leaderboard (yes, they have uncovered the lost technology!). With its layers of complexity, destruction, and mystery, Akai Katana pushes 2D shooting to the limit. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Alan Wake
Grade: A-
Publisher: Microsoft (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/10/5
Rating: Teen (blood, language, violence, alcohol and tobacco)

screenshotCritics like to focus on its mind-bending storyline, but Alan Wake delivers pure survival horror not unlike Resident Evil and Silent Hill. You'll explore decrepit houses, collect items, solve puzzles, fend off monsters, and never ever relax until the music subsides. The story begins with writer Alan Wake taking his wife on vacation to a sparsely populated island covered with mountains and forests. After she suddenly disappears, Alan finds himself plunged into increasingly bizarre circumstances that have him struggling to grasp reality.

This game oozes with atmosphere as you explore shadowy forests, abandoned farms, and creaky cabins. The lighting is effective and the natural (and unnatural) sounds are unsettling. Ethereal madmen frequently materialize out of the darkness armed with hatchets and chainsaws. The ensuing battles are intense as you use a flashlight to keep them at bay and conventional weapons to polish them off. Adding intrigue are poltergeists that toss everything from barrels to freight trains in your direction. Lighted areas are your safe haven, serving both as checkpoints and health stations.

It's quite the adrenaline rush as you sprint for the light with several attackers in pursuit. To say Alan Wake maintained my undivided attention would be an understatement! Even so, I disliked being forced to change my flashlight batteries every 10 seconds during combat! It's bad enough I have to reload my weapon every two or three shots! I could also do without those annoying bird encounters.

The game is divided into six "episodes", each beginning with a "previously on Alan Wake" recap - like a TV show. These lengthy episodes would keep me up way past my bedtime, but that's just a testament to the riveting gameplay. I often downplay the importance of storylines in a video game, but in this case the gripping narrative made the cut-scenes fun to watch. They feature superb voice acting, realistic facial expressions, likeable characters, and good humor.

Sadly, the story eventually goes so far off the deep end that it becomes impossible to completely reconcile the madness. In the end you might find yourself wondering what the hell just happened. Regardless, Alan Wake is a spellbinding, adult-oriented thriller that will have you clutching the controller until your hands cramp in pain. And I mean that in a good way. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Alice: Madness Returns
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/9/5
Rating: Mature 17+ (blood and gore, sexual themes, strong language, violence)

screenshotAlice in Wonderland always gave me the creeps, so I was curious to see what the modern interpretation had in store. The fairytale world of Madness Returns is both beautiful and nightmarish. Populating its psychedelic dreamscapes are giant tea kettles, animatronic animals, flying pig snouts, and misshapen creeps with doll faces. The human characters are arguably more grotesque than the monsters due to their extreme facial features.

The game is unsettling at times, and I was surprised about the adult themes. Alice decapitates foes, smokes huge bongs, visits a whorehouse, and gets called a [expletive] [expletive]. The basic gameplay consists of platform jumping, mini-games, and combat. Alice filets goblins with a big knife and shoots down "samurai wasps" with a rapid-fire pepper grinder. A rich musical score heightens the intensity with pounding drums and nervous violins.

Instead of collecting coins or stars from fallen foes you collect teeth. How demented is that? Each enemy has a particular weakness, but once you figure out the patterns the combat gets repetitive. Almost as repetitive as the platform jumping! The early stages are artistic, but they become increasingly generic as you progress. When you enter a new area and see floating platforms for as far as the eye can see, it's enough to make your stomach turn. The cliches reach alarming proportions as you float across fountains of air, activate pressure switches, shoot red targets, and break cracked walls with bombs.

One original feature is how Alice can shrink at will, causing hidden platforms to become visible temporarily. Having to toggle between normal and small sizes can be a headache though, especially when you're trying to execute a series of tricky jumps. Mini-games add variety with slide-the-block puzzles, music games, and even a submarine shooter. But while they look like fun, they are not fun at all! What ultimately redeems Madness Returns is its forgiving nature. Instead of a double jump you get a triple jump, and even then you gently float down. When dashing and fighting, the game prevents you from accidentally falling off of your platform, thank goodness. And when you're down to your last sliver of health, Alice goes into a "rage mode" (also known as "buck-wild mode") which makes it easy to polish off remaining foes.

The game auto-saves your progress and the checkpoints are frequent. The action is held together nicely by some dramatic cut-scenes and colorful dialogue. Alice Madness Return will wear on you with its repetition, but its haunted, twisted style makes it a trip worth taking. Note: This game also comes with a code that lets you download the original Alice game - a pretty substantial bonus! © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Amped 3
Grade: C
Publisher: Take Two (2005)
Reviewed: 2007/2/25
Rating: Teen (crude humor, mild violence, suggestive themes)

screenshotThis has got to be the strangest snowboarding game I've ever played. Despite investing many hours in Amped 3 over the past year or so, the game remains an enigma. Its lack of coherent structure is confounding, and its humor is often more infantile than clever. Still, those wide-open whites slopes are inviting, the controls are easy enough, and the sheer variety of challenges will keep you coming back again and again.

Amped 3 is distinguished by its free spirit and offbeat sense of humor. You can explore each mountain on your own or participate in any number of challenges available at a given time. There's a little bit of racing, but most of the emphasis is placed on performing tricks for points, or participating in odd mini-games like jumping through hoops or collecting Easter Eggs tumbling down the slopes. There's even some snowmobile and sledding action, but the snowmobile is hard to control and the sled looks like a picnic basket.

When snowboarding the sense of speed is mediocre and the collision detection is so-so, but it's easy to execute crazy tricks - maybe too easy. Grinds are pretty much automatic, so all you need to do is maintain your balance. Likewise when you're floating through the air it's hard not to pull off a spectacular stunt. The game's sense of freedom provides for ample replay value, but new players will quickly find themselves bewildered, wondering what the heck they need to do to make progress.

The map is a confusing hodge-podge of symbols, and you really need to experiment to determine the "method behind the madness". My friend Steve and I couldn't even locate the two-player co-op mode, much less play it. The graphics are perfectly decent but they don't try to push the envelope. Amped 3 incorporates a lot of wacky, psychedelic visuals (reminiscent of Yellow Submarine) and imaginative but often juvenile animated cinematics. A few poke fun at classic video games, and these are undeniably hilarious.

The game's alternative music soundtrack has a nice edgy quality, and I especially dig that "Call Me A Crazy Monkey" song. Amped 3 comes off as disorganized and sloppy, but if you're the laid-back, earthy-type who enjoys games designed by people on drugs, this isn't a bad way to waste a few hours. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


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