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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

Xbox 360 Reviews M

Madden NFL 07
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Posted: 2006/9/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor years I've complained about EA incorporating minor bells and whistles into Madden without making substantial improvements, so I feel like a hypocrite criticizing this 360 edition with its brand new engine but skimpy feature set.

On the field, Madden NFL 07 looks seamless and realistic as runners fight for extra yardage, receivers make sliding catches, and defenders execute game-saving ankle tackles. It's all very fluid and easy on the eyes, but the controls somewhat threw me for a loop. The "highlight" stick offers elusive moves on the offense, but you need to time it just right. The juke, stiff-arm, and spin buttons are supposed to be used in conjunction with the left thumbstick, and that's just not practical. I do like how you can take control of the fullback to open up holes in the line for the runner. The classic kick meter that everyone loved has been ditched in favor of EA's patented "analog swing" mechanism, which everybody hates (in case you didn't know).

The play calling screens have been reorganized into a vertical configuration for absolutely no good reason whatsoever (except perhaps to help justify the $60 price tag). This new format not only makes poor use of the screen's real estate, but the tiny symbols are hard to read - even on my 50" high-definition plasma! I can't imagine playing this game on a regular TV. In terms of eye candy, the players look great from a distance, but their faces are pretty rough up close. Between plays you're forced to watch pointless "cut-scenes" of the defenders just standing around. These look impressive at first, but grow tiresome and ultimately disrupt the flow of the game. And no, you can't turn them off.

Despite what other critics have said, the action on the field doesn't look dramatically better than the PS2 version. The crowd, turf, and stadiums look pretty amazing, but why does the camera keep panning over to that empty tunnel? I keep expecting Elvis to walk out of there for some reason. The number of customization options is slim, and with no auto-save it's a hassle to save your season. Perhaps the game's worst atrocity is its lack of decent play-by-play. It's particularly hard to fathom when you consider that the freakin' game was named after a commentator! Instead you get some generic "radio voice" which has been digitally altered to make it sound like it's emanating from the bottom of a 100-foot well!

Other than that, the audio (particularly the crowd noise) is much better than the PS2 version, and there's less annoying music. Purists will notice a lot of minor elements missing (like nets behind the goal posts) and the coach's challenge feature is so schizophrenic you never know when it's going to be available. It sure is easy to nit-pick Madden 07, but there's no disputing one thing: the game is fun. There's a lot of room for improvement, but Xbox 360 owners should be satisfied overall. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Madden NFL 08
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2007)
Posted: 2007/9/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotUsing the same engine as NCAA Football 08, this new Madden features brighter, crisper visuals and faster, smoother animation. There are also less annoying pauses. As usual however, EA has incorporated a lot of unwanted new features while overlooking a few that were sorely needed. One new feature is "player icons" in the form of symbols appearing beneath players with special abilities. A fullback may have a truck icon for example, and a solid defender might have a brick wall. These are meant to help you exploit match-ups, but generally just tend to clutter the screen.

The controls are more conventional than last year, assigning the stiff-arm to A and the hurdle button (not even available in last years' game) to Y. There are plenty of obscure new moves, but only a few (like using A to strip the ball) are necessary. I think most gamers will agree that Madden was already complex enough! The play-calling screens have been neatly reorganized and are much easier to read. On the field, passes seem to have more zip and running backs are slipperier than ever.

Madden 08 plays a solid game of football, but instead of adding more controls, I wish EA had put some effort into the game's presentation. Unlike its sister NCAA football game, which features awesome two-man commentating, Madden's is limited to some generic guy with a muffled voice. I thought he sounded like the guy working at my local Burger King drive thru, and my suspicions were confirmed when he slipped up and asked, "Can I take your order?" Not only does this guy sound awful, but he doesn't really have anything interesting to say either, other than obvious stuff like "The Ravens are now within field goal range". This is John Madden's game, and he does color commentary for a living, so why in the [expletive] is he not in this game!?

Other glaring omissions include a lack of a half-time show, no cheerleaders, no fan close-ups, and no chain measurements. It's not immediately apparent when you call a timeout, and the "remaining timeouts" indicator is really hard to find! Want to know how to "bluff" your play calling? Well, that cheap-ass four-page pamphlet of a manual won't help! Is this game really $60?

The "coaches challenge" feature is erratic, and when you really need it, you can rest assured it will be "grayed out". You occasionally see head coaches on the sidelines (doing some kind of chicken dance), but there's never anybody else within 20 feet of them! Injured players on the field writhe around in agony all by themselves as their oblivious teammates simply go on with their business. Madden NFL 08 plays like a professional football game, so why can't EA make it look like one too?? © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Madden NFL 09
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Posted: 2008/9/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotElectronic Arts: "If it's in the game, it's in the game." False. Where are the coaches, penalty flags, cheerleaders, half-time shows, flags, challenges, and 10-yard measurements? Where are the fake kicks and Hail Mary plays in my Ravens playbook? Does anybody at Electronic Arts even watch football?!

Madden 09 features slick visuals and accessible gameplay, but its missing features are replaced with gimmicks, and that's sure to irritate die-hard fans. When you first fire up the game, a digitized John Madden coerces you into taking his "Madden IQ" test as his body casts a ghostly glow (not unlike Obi Wan). If you take the test, expect to kick ass on offense and sputter on defense. The game then tries to adjust the difficulty based on the results, but trust me, you do not want that.

An even more heinous new feature is the "rewind" option, which lets you negate any play as if it never happened. Dumbest. Idea. Ever. On a positive note, before each game you're treated to a nifty outside view of the stadium. The grass on the field looks amazing, and EA's new "breakaway engine" provides some exciting animations as you bounce off and elude tacklers. I also love the pre-play "cheat sheets" that remind you how to do things like spike the ball or run the hurry-up offense.

Unfortunately the game is riddled with bugs, especially in its clunky customization screens. The blue squares that appear in the end zone when you score certainly look like bugs, but they're actually "celebration zones" (commence eye-rolling now!). The kicking game has gone from bad to worse, as the camera now abruptly shifts to the side after the kick, ensuring you will not get a clear angle of the ball passing through the uprights. The "weapon" icons under so many players are hard to discern and needlessly clutter the screen. When a player is injured, he writhes in pain on the field but is ignored by everyone in the damned stadium.

Madden 09 provides some rich commentating, but frequent use of pronouns like "that guy" is off-putting. I could also do without hearing "This game is brought to you by EA Sports" every five minutes. EA lets you select your own highlights during half time and post-game (gee thanks), but there's no commentary or fanfare. The NFL should have given their "exclusive" deal to a different company, because EA is clearly just going through the motions. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Madden NFL 10
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2009)
Posted: 2009/9/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith Madden NFL 10, Electronic Arts finally remembered that football is supposed to be fun. While previous editions were competent enough on the field, they lacked the subtle details and overall presentation of a real NFL game. Instead EA would focus on cheesy gimmicks like that ill-conceived "QB Vision" or last year's deplorable "rewind" feature.

Madden 10 resurrects a lot of the realistic elements that have been absent for many years including 10-yard measurements, fan cut-scenes, and quality two-man commentary. Prior to each game you're treated to slick animations like Ray Lewis performing his dance or jets flying overhead. I love the cut-scene of the guy "stealing" the hat from the souvenir stand (notice he never pays). The play selection screen has been simplified and is easier to read, taking its cue from classic titles like Madden 92.

The action on the field looks great and moves along at an exciting pace. The running game is noticeably improved, as runners fight off tacklers, split through seams, and bulldoze their way for extra yards. When there's a fumble, players must now tap buttons to fight for the football - mirroring the frantic scrum on the field! Other realistic touches include trash-talking cornerbacks, referee discussions, and coaches who shake hands after the game. The addition of the "chain gang" is about ten years late, but I love it anyway. It's cool to see quarterbacks on the sideline talking on the phone, but couldn't these guys look even remotely like the real players?

Madden 10's most glaring flaw is a preponderance of breakaway runs for touchdowns - especially after interceptions! I also have an issue with the QB sneak plays, which are money on any part of the field except for the goal line, in which case your quarterback simply falls in place! The play-by-play is fairly robotic, calling to mind Joe Montana II Sportstalk Football (Genesis, 1991). Fortunately Chris Collinsworth compensates with his enthusiastic, insightful color commentary.

Occasionally the new "backtrack" feature will graphically dissect the previous play, and it's pretty amazing. Still, Madden 10 frequently drops the ball in the presentation department. The half-time show is incredibly lame (a lot of text), and there's really no post-game analysis to speak of. Players are interviewed afterward, but you can't hear what they're saying. The soundtrack is pretty bad - I wish EA would just stick with the NFL instrumental music. And where are the cheerleaders? There are issues, but it's hard to argue that this is the most inspired Madden in many years. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Madden NFL 11
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Posted: 2010/9/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith a few adjustments Madden 11 delivers an enjoyable pigskin experience. Of course EA couldn't resist front-loading the game with a batch of unwanted new features. The new "coach's headset" is as abrasive as it is useless. You'll want to shut it off unless you enjoy hearing the coach bark stuff like "let's run this up the middle!" before each play. The new "Gameflow" feature basically lets the CPU select plays for you - at the cost of an extra button prompt between plays. No thank you!

Once you get down to brass tacks, Madden is a solid football game with teams that behave like their real-life counterparts. The visuals have a glossy veneer other football games lack (including NCAA 11). The flashing camera bulbs, shiny helmets, and close angles make the visuals sparkle. Lifelike animations include receivers who make tiptoe catches on the sidelines, defenders that bat the ball loose, and running backs who bulldoze defenders. Passing is good but the running controls could be more responsive. A revamped kicking system employs an old-school meter, and while I like the concept, it's not challenging enough.

Cut-scenes show fans tailgating before the game, players stepping off of the team bus, and marquee player introductions like Ray Lewis and his famous dance. Between plays you'll see neck-less coaches on the sidelines, along with the ever-present "water bottle guy" (Reeeal men of Gen-iu-us). The commentary is interesting thanks to Chris Collinsworth and his "I'll say whatever the hell I want" attitude. Gus Johnson goes a little overboard with the product placements, offering an endorsement of Old Spice deodorant that's nothing short of orgasmic.

As with NCAA 11, Madden is plagued by glitches and oversights. Where's the half-time show? Where are the cheerleaders? Why are those fans in the stands facing the wrong direction? Are they looking at the Jumbotron? That still wouldn't explain how they can sit down backwards! Other glitches include the wrong team celebrating after a play and referees who say a call was overturned when it really wasn't.

The coach's challenge is poorly implemented, and during a review you have to hear that really annoying Jeopardy theme. Speaking of music, the "bells" intro theme is outstanding, but the classic rock piped-in during the game is just played-out. The save system is still confusing - where's the auto-save? Madden 11 gets the job done, but EA is looking as lazy as ever. A lot of die-hard Madden fans will be unsatisfied with this year's effort. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Madden NFL 12
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Posted: 2011/9/14
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOnce again, Electronic Arts has elected to play it safe, releasing the same football game as last year with a few superficial changes. The good news is, it's a football game. But Madden 12 is uninspired. Let's start with the incomprehensible coin-toss system which no one can make heads or tails out of. That's right - EA has managed to botch the [expletive] coin toss! The kick-offs provide a tantalizing side-angle view but quickly revert to the standard "long view" of the field. The analog kicking mechanism has been mercifully axed but replaced with an old-fashioned circular meter. This "golf swing" meter was innovative - in 1990!

On the field the action is competitive but unspectacular. The controls are the same as last year (as far as I can tell since there's no manual) but the running backs are more "slippery" this year. Passing is problematic because it's hard to get the ball out of your hand, and quarterbacks get sacked on contact! In real life Big Ben Roethlisberger fights off linebackers, but here he instantly goes down in a heap. Madden 12 has some unintentionally hilarious moments like when an injured player writhes in pain on the field and then struggles back to the bench without anyone else even paying attention.

Selecting the proper player before the snap is easier, as you no longer need to cycle through all the defenders. It's very risky to switch players during the action however because the one you select often stops dead in his tracks - or runs the wrong way! The default "gameflow" play-calling mechanism offers a dumbed-down interface for novice players, but most will switch back to the conventional mode. Madden 12 has some nice introductory cut-scenes, but there's no half-time or post-game show.

Chris Collinsworth was impressive in his color commentary last year, but this year he resorts to making up nicknames for players. As a die-hard Ravens fan, I've never heard anyone call Ray Lewis "the Land Shark". Likewise my friend Scott (who is a lifelong Steelers fan) has never once heard Troy Polamalu referred to as "the Tasmanian Devil". What the [expletive] is that all about?

You'd expect the on-line stuff to be polished by now but setting up a game against a friend is an exercise in confusion. And why are the EA servers always down? Madden 12 is hard to defend, but thanks to the pact brokered by Satan between the NFL and EA, we can all look forward to more of the same next year. John Madden is rolling in his grave right now, and that's hardly a good sign considering he's still alive. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Madden NFL 13
Grade: D+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2012)
Posted: 2012/9/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotHow much is EA paying critics to heap praise on Madden 13? Looks like I missed out. Since EA acquired the exclusive NFL rights in 2004, the state of football gaming has stagnated. Considering how mature the Madden franchise is, you have to be frustrated by the lack of effort put into Madden 13. One "new" feature lets you lead your receivers. That was innovative when 2K Sports did it ten years ago. The new "dynamic tackles" are less predictable but many of the animations are unintentionally hilarious. I call it "ragdoll physics". Support for Kinect means you can yell "hike!" and other voice commands. You can add that to the long list of unwanted features EA favors over useful ones.

I like Phil Simms and Jim Nance on commentary, but after a brief pre-game appearance you never see them again. I played one game in torrential rain, and they didn't acknowledge the weather once. The repetitive cut-scenes focus more on the water boys than the coaches, but I do like the overhead stadium shots. The halftime and post-game shows are pathetic, leading me to wonder if the people behind Madden have ever actually watched an NFL telecast.

The play-calling screen has been improved with handy indicators like "blitz", "zone", and "man". The passing game is improved, with receivers who stretch for the ball and even catch deflections. Defenders compensate by draping over receivers like cheap suits. The players look good from a distance, but up close Joe Flacco looks like a swamp monster!

Madden 13 has more bugs than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Despite an abundance of bad calls by refs, the coach's challenge is rarely available, and when it is, it doesn't even work. Punt returners that call for a fair catch routinely get clobbered - and no penalty is called. Injured players still limp off the field with no help from the trainers. Receivers make the celebratory first-down signal - in the wrong direction! After each play players on the ground flop around like fish out of water.

Despite the fact that rosters are updated constantly, Billy Cundiff is still kicking for my Ravens! The fact that EA inexplicably eliminated the franchise mode is basically their way of giving loyal customers the middle finger. The "career coach" is a lousy substitute, forcing you to deal with tedious business like contract disputes, retirement plans, scouting, and Twitter feeds (as if Twitter wasn't annoying enough in real life). There's not even an auto-save. Once again EA is content to cash in on their monopoly instead of producing a quality product. The NFL should be ashamed for their role in perpetuating this sham. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Madden NFL 25
Grade: D
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2013)
Posted: 2013/9/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis year's Madden is supposed to be a 25-year celebration. Instead it's a sobering reminder of what happens when a mega-corporation pays off the nation's top sports league to establish a disgraceful monopoly. Once a proud tradition, the Madden franchise has been "treading water" for years. Not only are there zero new features to report about in Madden 25, the game lacks basic features you'd expect like updated rosters, decent camera angles, and an auto-save. The unwieldy new interface embraces the irritating new trend of placing huge tiles all over the screen, and it's a mess to navigate. All the annoyances from last year are back in force, starting with a bewildering coin toss sequence.

Once the action begins, it feels like you're viewing the action from the cheap seats behind the end zone. It's such a poor vantage point that I had to squint to make out my players! The animations are not particularly impressive. I like how runningbacks try to bulldoze their way through the line, but more often than not they use the wrong arm for the stiff-arm move. Defenders seem oblivious to passes, or worse yet run alongside the ball carrier instead of trying to bring him down. For a game that prides itself on its physics engine you'll see a lot of comical animations and unnatural movements. Punts always bounce the same way - right into the end zone.

The celebrations look accurate (at least for Joe Flacco and Ray Rice), but the television presentation falls flat. Replays fail to show you the feet of the ball carrier, which is the most important part! Booth reviews look good with the three windows, but the review process unfolds in complete silence. There's really no halftime or post-game show to speak of. The cut-scenes showing the kickers practicing are cool, but I'm sick of seeing that same guy with the water bottle during every time-out. The coaches are decent likenesses in the face, but look more like bodybuilders from the neck down.

After each game a player is being interviewed on the field, but you're not privy to the conversation. Heck, 2K Sports was able to render real postgame interviews in ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox, 2004), and that was nearly 10 years ago! I find it amusing how the "play of the game" is usually an inconsequential field goal. The lack of an auto-save feature is glaring considering EA's NCAA Football game even has that! You have to wonder what the developers at EA have been doing over the past year. I find it really distressing how the NFL has allowed this farce to continue for so long. It's a slap in the face to real football fans. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Mafia II
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Games (2010)
Posted: 2010/10/13
Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language, use of drugs and alcohol)

screenshotJust when I thought I'd had my fill of Grand Theft Auto-style games, Mafia II impressed the hell out of me. This gangster tale breathes new life into the genre with its highly original 1940's motif. You play the role of an Italian immigrant named Vito in a scaled down New York City called Empire Bay. The storyline is similar to the film Goodfellas, and the game is structured as a series of missions interspersed with dramatic cut-scenes.

As you ascend the mafia ranks you'll harass dockworkers, steal cars, rob jewelry stores, and perform hits. Not all of these tasks are particularly fun, and those that require stealth tactics can be downright tedious. Fortunately, Mafia II mixes things up so you'll never have to perform the same mission twice. There's a lot of driving around, and it's fun until the "wow factor" of sight-seeing subsides. While driving your partner Joe fills in storyline details, but why are the subtitles so microscopic?!

The controls are excellent, so cruising through the streets, brawling with thugs, and engaging in shootouts is good clean fun. The game is very forgiving with frequent checkpoints and auto-saves, and I like how the story is broken into short chapters that run less than an hour each. Mafia II is linear in nature, and GPS and objective markers keep you moving in the right direction. This keeps the narrative tight, but you often feel as if you're being strung along.

The strength of the game lies in its immersive environments and attention to detail. The first time I cruised around town in my vintage car I was astonished. The old-fashioned street lamps, advertisements, classic cars, and authentic music effectively transport you back in time! Steam rises from the street vents, tires smoke when you peel wheels, and the buildings look properly aged. On the radio you'll hear vintage tunes like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" The first few chapters are set in the wintertime, and the icy streets and holiday music really put you in the Christmas spirit.

Although the subject matter is adult in nature, the voice acting is outstanding and the profanity never feels forced. Some conversations are hilarious, like the bank guard who brags about his brand new 7-inch black-and-white television which gets all three channels! For guys who enjoy collecting bonus items, you're in for a treat. In this game you collect actual full-screen centerfolds from old issues of Playboy. With all apologies to the bouncing fruit in Ms. Pac-Man, these are the best bonus items ever. Mafia II may be a tough sell to those weary of the GTA formula, but if you're looking for a new kind of gangster experience you will not be disappointed by this quality title. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Major League Baseball 2K10
Grade: C+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2010)
Posted: 2010/4/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThere are two heavy-hitting baseball games out this year: Major League Baseball 2K10 (Xbox 360) and MLB 10: The Show (Playstation 3). The Show is clearly the flashier pick, but 2K10 arguably offers a deeper experience with more long-term replay value.

It's important to note that 2K10 is not a pick-up-and-play, arcade-style title. It takes a game or two to grasp the pitching mechanics due to its "gesture-based" system, which involves making a series of well-timed moves with the right stick. Throwing a fastball isn't so hard, but sliders and curveballs are more complicated. There's a learning curve but it's worth the effort.

You swing the bat by pushing up on the right stick, and you have the option of pulling back first for a little extra power. Unfortunately, due to the 360 controller design it's very easy to accidentally hit Start (pausing the game) when trying to swing or throw a fastball. My friend also had a problem issuing intentional walks by accidentally pressing in the right thumbstick.

The fielding is the most rewarding aspect of 2K10. Gunning the ball with that awesome throw meter is satisfying, and turning a double play is pure joy. Baserunning is somewhat confusing because there are multiple ways to control your runners. For impatient players like myself, MLB 2K10 provides a "hurry up" mode - something I wish real baseball would adopt! The more I played this game, the more I liked it.

2K10's biggest flaw is the horrendous camera angles shown during homeruns. Sometimes you don't even see the ball clear the fence! I also dislike how fielders will make no-look, over-the-shoulder catches. 2K's menu interface is counter-intuitive (as usual), and the Pepsi "clutch player of the game" award usually goes to some schmuck who went 0-4 with a pair of strikeouts. When a foul ball enters the stands, fans tend to flop around like fish out of water, and that looks funny. I don't know why there are so many people in the stands at Camden Yards, but I'm assuming they're all Red Sox fans.

Major League Baseball 2K10 isn't as polished as The Show, but the gameplay is more intense and the rich control scheme gives you more to chew on. You really can't go wrong with either game. NOTE: Unfortunately I discovered a pretty hideous bug in the game after posting this review. In one particular contest there were several situations when my baserunner was clearly thrown out at home plate, yet ruled safe! An obvious glitch like this is worth a letter grade. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Major League Baseball 2K11
Grade: C
Publisher: 2K Sports (2011)
Posted: 2011/4/24
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMLB The Show 11 (PS3) may look better, but if you ask me which baseball game I would rather play, I lean towards Major League Baseball 2K11. 2K11's graphics are far from perfect, but its bright visuals and dynamic camera angles have arcade appeal. Baseball games tend to be slow and boring, but 2K11 is nicely paced. In fact, playing this game on the normal mode is quicker than playing the Show's fast mode.

The controls are more intuitive as well, and the behind-the-batter view makes it easy to judge pitches. If you swing too late or too early, the game lets you know. It's not hard to make contact with the ball and smacking a base hit is satisfying. If you pay attention, you may notice that when an umpire calls a runner out at first base, the low camera angle makes it look like he's punching the runner! The behind the pitcher view is awesome, but the pitching controls are hard to wrap your mind around. There's a steep learning curve, and it may take novice players a few games to get the hang of it. Once you get a feel for it however, the scheme provides robust control with just enough variability.

The clear highlight of the game is the throwing. 2K's analog throw meter may just be the best thing I've ever experienced in any sports title. There are some nice subtleties as well. I like how when a player dirties his uniform (on a slide for example) it stays that way for the whole game. I noticed Oriole outfielder Luke Scott struggles to catch fly balls, which is exactly how he plays in real life.

The commentators are professional and insightful, although they do fall behind and make mistakes on occasion. If you're on-line, the MLB Today lets you play one of the actual games scheduled for today, which is a neat feature. 2K11 looks great from a distance, but up close the players have freaky eyes that makes them look like zombies or something. Dugout coaches inexplicably wear helmets, but it's the first and third-base coaches who really should be wearing them.

Other oversights include how the batter needs to be in the box before you can access your substitution menu. There are too many dropped third strikes, and the game takes all of the suspense out of home runs. Fans appear to flop around in the stands near foul balls. I should also mention that the game is very glitchy, and even after updating on-line I suffered from a first-inning freeze-up. It's a shame about the rough edges, because Major League Baseball 2K11 is a genuinely fun baseball game. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Major League Baseball 2K12
Grade: C+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2012)
Posted: 2012/3/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMLB 2K12 is geared toward fans who appreciate the subtle nuances of the game, incorporating elements like pitcher composure, strike zone windows, pitch/swing analyzers, and dynamic player ratings. Arcade-minded gamers looking to jump in are in for a rude awakening. MLB 2K12 has a rich, precise control scheme with a substantial learning curve. It's hard to wrap your brain around the pitching controls, although if you've played last year's game (or the year before) you shouldn't have any trouble.

The instruction pamphlet contains a listing of the controls, and you'll want to keep it handy. 2K12's action moves at a reasonable pace but I hate how you can't throw the ball immediately after choosing your pitch. Instead you have to wait for a motion indicator to appear, and that really sucks. On the batter end, it would be nice if you could practice swing while waiting. The fielding is really the highlight of the game thanks to 2K's patented throw meter.

The game's TV-style presentation is great, and the general atmosphere really does put me in the mind of being at Camden Yards on a warm summer night. The players tend to look like their real-life counterparts, but there are some twitchy, awkward animations here and there. I love the broken bats, but where are the mascots? I find it amusing how fielders pause after the third out, as if it hadn't dawned on them that the side is retired.

The commentators sound professional but they tend to take all the drama out of foul balls and home runs by calling them too early. Playing on-line is pretty easy to set up, but does the game really need to update my roster a dozen times each time I play? Also, owners of last year's game may be hard-pressed to figure out exactly what has changed. It's a little too vanilla, but if you're looking for a baseball game with a lot of depth, MLB 12 should keep you occupied until football season rolls around. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Major League Baseball 2K6
Grade: F
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive (2006)
Posted: 2006/4/28
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor years I've feared that console games would someday go the way of the PC, with publishers rushing out buggy code knowing they can simply post a patch on-line. Well, with MLB 2K6, my worst fears are a reality. I've only played the game twice, but both times it locked up on me - during the second inning no less! The first incident occurred when I was playing it with my friend Jonathan, and after we realized the game had locked up, we both looked at each other and yelled "F!!" in unison.

Locking up is extremely rare for console games, which are usually held to the highest level of quality assurance. I searched Google to see if other users were experiencing the same problem, and sure enough, they were. And they were pretty mad about it. 2K Sport's website posted a blurb that downplayed the problem, stating a patch was available on Xbox Live. If we've reached a point where that is considered acceptable, then it's a sad state of affairs.

What little of the game I did play didn't inspire a lot of confidence. Whenever you're playing a baseball game and can't figure out how to swing the bat - that's never a good sign! As it turns out, you need to pull back on the right stick and release it to swing. Not only is the least intuitive swing mechanism ever conceived, but you have to swing extremely early if you want a chance to hit the ball. You can't even judge the pitch! The pitching and fielding controls are much better however, and Jon Miller and Joe Morgan provide professional commentary. The graphics appear to be of PS2 quality, leading me to believe this was a straight port. The stadiums and scenery look rudimentary, but the fans look far better than what I've seen in past baseball games.

Still, any positive aspects are eclipsed by the inexcusable lock-up problem. It's a travesty of the highest magnitude, which should cause Major League Baseball 2K6 to go down as one of the most infamous video games of all time. And adding insult to injury, Take-Two was awarded exclusive rights to this year's MLB license. This should clearly illustrate that it's the gamer who really gets screwed by these deals. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Major League Baseball 2K7
Grade: D+
Publisher: 2K Games (2007)
Posted: 2007/4/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis may be the first baseball game I critique for being too realistic. Yes, 2K7 recreates the slow and tedious nature of the sport to near perfection. If you savor every subtle nuance of Major League Baseball, you'll enjoy this game, but everyone else will hate it. As the game loads, the first question you'll ask is "why in the [expletive] is a girl talking?" 2K Sports must have fulfilled some kind of equal opportunity requirement by having a female introduce each game.

Otherwise the presentation is first-rate, with professional graphics, flashy camera angles, and players with realistic faces and true-to-life mannerisms. Jerseys flutter nicely in the wind, and impressively low camera angles reveal clumps of dirt and blades of grass. Unfortunately, 2K outfitted some players with really baggy pants, making it look like they have elephantiasis or something. Realistic graphics don't really carry the weight they once did, so few will notice the detailed, well-proportioned stadiums. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan provide competent two-man commentary, and there's a customizable soundtrack.

It's a shame 2K7's gameplay is bogged down by an overly mechanical, non-intuitive control scheme that's overwhelming at times. Swinging is performed by manipulating the right thumbstick, and the complex pitching process will absolutely befuddle new players (and some intermediate ones). Nothing is simple in this game, which explains why those annoying "tip" screens pop up every ten seconds. These wordy, multi-page instructions explain basic controls like how to swing in seven steps, run the bases in six steps, or sprint in five steps (remember when you could just hit A?). I'm surprised there's not a way to spit tobacco and adjust your cup in nine easy steps. One button lets you "disable all tips", but my friend Scott said he would have preferred a "disable all future 2K baseball game purchases" button. You can't take practice swings, mobilizing your fielders is tricky, and home runs are called long before they leave the yard (so much for drama).

Many features seem downright excessive, like the "batter's eye" that lets you gauge a pitch before it's thrown, a special mode for "payoff pitches", and the "base burner" mode that lets you view the action from the perspective of the baserunner. Hell, you can even initiate arguments with the umpire! More is not necessarily better however, and MLB 2K7 crumbles under its own weight. Even if you turn off the time-consuming bells and whistles, it's hard to sit through more than three innings of this. Unlike last year, it is possible to play more than two innings of Major League Baseball 2K7, but whether you'll want to or not is another matter altogether. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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Major League Baseball 2K9
Grade: C+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2009)
Posted: 2009/4/2
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYou don't have to be a big baseball fan to feel the allure of the ballpark in the springtime. This season I'm especially psyched up because the Orioles have a new player named "Felix Pie". That's awesome. Major League Baseball 2K9 is a very accessible game, mainly due to its "hurry up" mode which allows you to play a complete 9-inning contest in a half-hour or so. I also like the unconventional controls, although they certainly do have a learning curve. In past years I've criticized the series for its "how to swing in seven easy steps" tutorials, but you don't need to complete a college course to throw a strike in MLB 2K9.

Pitching, swinging, and fielding still rely heavily on right stick movements, but these controls are much more forgiving than they've been in years past. Pitching requires good technique, smacking the ball is fun, and tossing it around the bases is a pleasure. MLB 2K9 does a nice job of recreating the experience of being at the ballpark, with an impressive crowd and realistic chatter that puts you in the mind of being at Camden Yards on a cool summer night. It's a shame the downtown scenery beyond the fences looks so dark and muddy. As much as I like MLB 2K9, this has got to be one of the sloppiest games I've played in some time. Some player photos are unintentionally hilarious. The Oriole's Mark Weathers looks like a red ninja, and Adam Jones has his eyes closed!

The CPU does a poor job of selecting the closest fielder, and when you press A to select the correct one, your guy is often heading in the wrong direction! Outfielders inexplicably slow down when flagging down fly balls, and CPU-controlled fielders sometimes forget to tag runners. Players and umpires run clear through each other as if they were ghosts. The new "dirt cloud" visual effect is terribly overused and can easily be mistaken for a graphical glitch. In one contest against the CPU, two of the computer-controlled fielders were incapable of picking up a ball at the base of the outfield wall, turning my routine two-bagger into an inside-the-park homerun.

Fortunately, the bulk of the bugs are associated with the AI, so playing against a friend is a more positive experience. Even so, it's a shame a game as fun as Major League Baseball 2K9 suffers from such a severe lack of polish. Didn't 2K's quality control team know that baseball season was starting in April this year? © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
Grade: B-
Publisher: Capcom (2011)
Posted: 2011/3/16
Rating: Teen (violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, mild language)

screenshotReleased ten years after its predecessor graced the Dreamcast, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 (MvC3) will bombard your senses and leave you breathless. I hope you have an arcade stick handy, because a normal 360 controller isn't gonna cut it. This game takes button mashing to a new level, and beating down a friend has never been so satisfying.

Like Street Fighter IV (SF4), MvC3 combines the ease of 2D gameplay with sensational 3D graphics. The matches are 3-on-3 slugfests. You can switch characters at any time or call upon your partners to apply quick strikes. The diverse roster packs 32 fighters including Chun Li (Street Fighter 2), Morrigan (Darkstalkers), Arthur (Ghouls and Ghosts), Haggar (Final Fight), Dante (Devil May Cry), Wesker (Resident Evil), and Viewtiful Joe, just to name a few Capcom personalities. On the Marvel side you get Spider-Man, Hulk, She-Hulk, Magneto, Iron Man, Thor, Storm, and Wolverine. I had never even heard of X-23, M.O.D.O.K., Taskmaster, and Phoenix. They're fine, but playing as the wolf from Okami is just plain dumb. My personal favorite is the massive Sentinel who will pimp-slap your ass clear across the screen.

Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 offers a distinctive comic book motif with its black-outlined models and cell-enclosed cut-scenes. The two-punch/two-kick control scheme of MvC2 has been replaced with three attack buttons (light, medium, heavy) and one special attack button. I guess it fits the style of the game which tends to emphasize projectile and shape-changing attacks. The gameplay is downright explosive as devastating blows are punctuated by thumping bass. As the oversized characters leap high into the air, the screen scrolls upwards. It's hard to follow the action at times, especially when your character is almost completely out of view. The special attacks are spectacular but their overuse brings down the "wow factor" a bit. Some of these attacks are really cheap, like the time Magneto squeezed his fist and I died.

The stages are disappointing. You only get a handful, and the only memorable one is the parade stage with its looming city skyline. Like many modern titles, MvC3 places too much emphasis on on-line play. Although a local "player license" tracks your activity including character usage and top arcade score, I would have preferred a traditional top-10 ranking. Yes, items unlock as you play, but the reward system is far less satisfying than MvC2. I really couldn't care less about unlocking sound effects, character models, or those lame endings. One might suspect Capcom was holding back a bit, but it's hard to deny that Marvel Vs Capcom 3 packs some serious entertainment value. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

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Mass Effect (Guest reviewer RPG Critic)
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2007)
Posted: 2010/12/22
Rating: Mature

screenshotThis popular RPG stars Commander Shepard, an elite human soldier out to save the galaxy along with a handful of allies. Mass Effect's universe is rich in detail and massive in scope. Its alien races, history, and technology are straight from the same creative soup that gave us Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. You can read all of the gory details in the huge in-game codex. The storytelling aspect of Mass Effect is beyond reproach. You shape the captivating plot via a complex tree of dialogue choices that teeter between good and evil. You can even engage in a romance, culminating in a love scene late in the game.

Mass Effect's graphics boast vibrant textures, although they do suffer from a degree of "pop-in". Realistic lighting effects blur the line between pre-rendered and in-game video. Unfortunately, inconvenient object collisions caused Shepard to become stuck on occasion, forcing me to reload the game or play the hokey pokey to wiggle out. The third-person shooting isn't bad, but the aiming is slow and there's too much emphasis on taking cover. Your weapons never run out of ammo, but they do overheat.

A vast array of options let you customize the combat abilities of your characters. Unfortunately weapons, armor, and equipment tend to have needlessly complicated stats. What's the difference between shields and damage protection? Why is there an accuracy rating when I'm the one aiming?! Certain upgrades improve stats you didn't even know your weapon had! What is hardening?! The lack of an overall status screen forces you to scroll through tedious menus for each character.

Exploration is probably the weakest aspect of the game, as your ship drops you onto mountainous terrain in a slow-moving tank with hypersensitive steering. In some scientific circles it's been called pure torture. I also resent being forced to play "Simon" in order to open chests and activate certain objects. This only serves to delay and annoy. After hours of frequent dying I relented and switched to the "easy" difficulty.

Even so, Mass Effect is one of the most imaginative titles I've ever played and I absolutely loved the plot. The audio boasts masterfully composed music, convincing surround sounds, and very good voice acting. I like how the game lets you save anywhere (while not in combat) and skip dialogue. Having played through the entire campaign however, I can attest that certain game mechanics do compromise the overall enjoyment.

On a side note, Mass Effect was subject to a media frenzy pertaining to "graphic sex scenes" - the only problem being there aren't any. At least one reporter who knocked the game for "indecency" later admitted that she had "seen episodes of Lost more sexually explicit".
Completed in: 32 hours
Favorite Character: Tali © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Michael Phelps: Push The Limit
Grade: B-
Publisher: Blitz Games (2011)
Posted: 2015/6/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWhen I first got Push the Limit a friend and I tried to set up a head-to-head swimming contest. Like most Kinect games we went to great pains trying to select the proper profiles and make sure we were recognized by the Kinect. After struggling with it for a half-hour we finally gave up in disgust. The prospect of registering eight players for the "party mode" is an absolute joke! Later I played the game alone and fared a whole lot better.

The career mode is loaded with helpful tutorials, branching stages, and a wide variety of challenges. The pool locations are nothing short of spectacular. One features huge windows revealing a gorgeous city skyline during a raging thunderstorm. Other stages include a rooftop pool and one nestled in the snowy mountains of Poland. In terms of gameplay Push the Limit is the purest, least contrived application of Kinect I've seen. Your movements more or less mimic the moves you would perform at an actual swim meet, but is it really necessary to "hype the crowd" before each race? That's just a silly waste of time.

You pose at the starting block and stand up when you hear the shot. In the water it's critical to move at a steady rhythm. Occasionally you can activate a boost powerup by yelling "boost!" At the finish you'll want to keep your arms tight at your side before reaching for the wall. The Kinect controls are loose but the gameplay is a lot of fun. Placing in the top three earns points to strengthen attributes like speed and stamina. I love the user interface with its soothing water effects. Push the Limit got off on the wrong foot but managed to redeem itself. This really is the ultimate Michael Phelps experience. Bong not included. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 8 players 

Midnight Club Los Angeles
Grade: A
Publisher: Rockstar (2008)
Posted: 2008/11/11
Rating: Teen (mild suggestive themes, mild violence, strong lyrics)

screenshotTime after time I've seen otherwise spectacular racing games tarnished by tedious load times, complex customization options, confusing save systems, irritating music, etc. That said, Midnight Club Los Angeles is a case study in good design, letting you enjoy a hassle-free racing experience - finally! Most racing games use fictional cities, but they always seem so artificial. In this game the city of Los Angeles is recreated exceptionally well, complete with all the major thoroughfares, pedestrians, traffic, and landmarks. And you can freely explore the whole city from the start!

I've been to LA a few times, and I had fun just cruising around looking for spots I've been to. The storefronts are rendered with amazing detail, but if you look inside there are never any customers! The visuals improve dramatically as the sun sets and the lights come on under the clear, moonlit sky.

Midnight Club's gameplay is straightforward and fun, featuring high-speed street races that will have you weaving through traffic, timing intersections, and terrorizing pedestrians. The courses are lined with easy-to-see plumes of yellow smoke, making it easy to follow the track and concentrate on your driving. The sense of speed is fantastic and steering is a pleasure thanks to a handbrake you can tap to slide around sharp turns.

The races are relatively short in duration, yet long enough for you to get back into the pack after a mishap or two. Nitrous Oxide is available, and you can also earn "slip stream bursts" by tailing an opponent. This feature gives you the ability to slingshot past the cars immediately ahead of you, which is a bit unfair but certainly helpful near the finish line.

Your main goal is to earn "rep", not only by winning races but also by evading the police. Upgrading and customizing your ride is a simple process, and you have the option to automatically repair your car between races. The game saves frequently, and you'll actually see the word "Saving" in the top left corner. The music isn't exceptional, but it's much less abrasive than the tunes in other racing games. I would have liked a split-screen option, but I guess you can't have everything. Overall, Midnight Club Los Angeles is a very likeable racer that should keep you entertained for weeks on end. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Midway Arcade Origins
Grade: B+
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Posted: 2013/2/10
Rating: Teen (blood and gore, drug reference, mild sexual themes, violence)

screenshotEvery generation of consoles deserves a Midway compilation, and this edition is jam-packed with arcade fun from the 80's and 90's. This disc contains more titles than ever before, including Joust, Defender, Rampage, Total Carnage, Gauntlet, 720, A.P.B., Arch Rivals, Bubbles, Championship Sprint, Tournament Cyberball 2072, Defender II, Gauntlet II, Joust 2, Marble Madness, Pit Fighter, Rampart, Robotron, Root Beer Tapper, Satan's Hollow, Sinistar, Smash TV, Spy Hunter, Spy Hunter II, Super Off Road, Super Sprint, Toobin', Vindicators Part II, Wizard of Wor, Xenophobe, and Xybots. Vindicators II and Tournament Cyberball were previously unavailable.

Let's face it - classics like Defender, Joust, Marble Madness, and Robotron 2084 are enough to have you playing this for hours on end. The other games are less addictive but still fascinating. The pseudo-3D effects in Xybots are clever, and I love those huge digitized sprites in Pit Fighter. It's hard to make out what the voice in Wizard of Wor is saying, but he's hilarious nonetheless. The Gauntlet games are not as much fun as you remember playing with four friends, but still a blast to play solo. Arch Rivals is a somewhat cheesy predecessor to NBA Jam.

There are a lot of good split-screen games here, and my friends enjoyed a rousing contest of futuristic football with Tournament Cyberball. Viewing these games in high definition is a treat, and you'll notice a lot of miniscule details. The clarity of the audio is equally amazing. Unfortunately, the controls are not as tight as they could be. Most games control well enough, but a few (like Spy Hunter) are nearly unplayable. Each game offers unlimited continues but your score resets each time, which is fair. I just wish they didn't use the A button to continue, as it's too easy to hit by accident.

The games save their high score tables, and it's easy to compete with friends via the on-line "score challenge". There are no bonuses or history features, and that's somewhat disappointing. I would love to hear the stories behind some of these games from their original programmers. Even so, Midway Arcade Origins is a generous helping of classic goodness, and these games have never looked or sounded better. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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Monkey Island Special Edition Collection
Grade: B-

screenshotThe original Secret of Monkey Island (Sega CD, 1993) was a clever point-and-click pirate adventure that achieved cult status over the years. I'm thrilled that a modern update of the game is available - and on a region-free disc no less! This collection includes both the original game and its terrific sequel, LeChuck's Revenge: Monkey Island 2. There are even bonus materials like concept art and storyboards.

The pixelated graphics of the original games were charming enough but the new stylized high-definition renderings are a feast for the eyes! Wait until you gaze upon the shipyard in the shimmering moonlight, or the ramshackle shanty town with candle-lit windows. Each scene looks like a hand-painted work of art. If you feel the urge to compare the new and old versions, you can toggle between them at the touch of a button!

The audio offers a fantastic selection of island tunes to go with natural sounds like crickets, creaks, and crashing waves. Text dialogue has been replaced with professional-grade voice acting performed with the proper amount of enthusiasm and sarcasm.

Both games are known for their memorable dialogue, wacky characters, and outrageous predicaments. Self-referential and often self-deprecating, Monkey Island breaks all the rules. The peg legged shopkeeper is hilarious and the banter between the two circus performers sounds like a Monty Python skit.

The puzzle-solving gameplay remains unchanged, for better or worse. A lot of the actions you need to perform don't make much sense so you end up scouring each scene and combining items in every possible way. I was expecting the old clunky menu interface to be upgraded but it still can be maddeningly difficult to manipulate items. The frustration is mitigated by your ability to save at any time (love that floppy disk icon). Better yet you can hold X to view progressively more specific "hints". Ideal for summertime gaming, Monkey Island Special Edition Collection delivers hours of classic swashbuckling hijinx. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia
Grade: F
Publisher: Southpeak (2007)
Posted: 2010/11/9
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, tobacco reference, violence)

screenshotI owned this game for three long years before finally completing a review. Why? Because every time I sit down to play Monster Madness, I have an overwhelming urge not to. Despite its intriguing premise, the game is just a chore to play. It stars four fashionable teenagers including one who talks like Keanu Reeves ("Dude, you're like dead - again!") Monster Madness tries to be a comical monster fighter in the tradition of Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES, 1993). In fact, one kid even exclaims, "Zombies have eaten my neighbors!" The comic-book-style intro gives way to a slightly tilted overhead view as zombies are about to break into your house.

Unfortunately the graphics are really muddy and indistinct. Not only is it hard to spot collectable items, even the zombies tend to get lost in the cluttered scenery. You use the two thumbsticks to move and aim, but your character tends to slide around, making it hard to target anything. You press in the right thumbstick to jump, which is ridiculous. Slashing and shooting creatures is unsatisfying because there's no distinct animation or sound effect to punctuate each hit. The monsters just sort of blink and fall over. Invisible walls are everywhere, and zombies tend to get caught on them as much as you do.

Up to four players are supported via split-screen, but even coordinating with two people is more trouble than it's worth. On the bright side, the game is constantly introducing fresh new monsters for you to dispose of, including demons, spiders, undead pirates, and giant Bigfoot creatures. There are some freaky bosses including a hideous granny who tries to kiss you! You can use any object as a weapon, and there are vehicle stages as well.

The upbeat organ music is decent, but the voice acting is uneven. I can appreciate its irreverent take on the horror genre, but Monster Madness lacks entertainment value. Apparently zombies ate the fun too! Note: A downloadable patch fixes a lot of the game's issues - most notably the controls. It makes the game playable, but not necessarily enjoyable. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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Mortal Kombat
Grade: A
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2011)
Posted: 2011/5/3
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language)

screenshotIn 1992 the original Mortal Kombat exposed gamers to a world of dark realms, mysterious ninjas, ancient magic, and unrelenting gore. But beneath the digitized characters and splattering blood was a fantastic one-on-one fighting game. Numerous Mortal Kombat sequels have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but they've gradually strayed from the dark tone that marked the original trilogy. Under the direction of co-creator Ed Boon, this new Mortal Kombat represents a triumphant return-to-form for the series.

All your favorite warriors are back, including the spear-throwing Scorpion, ice-wielding Sub Zero, noble martial artist Liu Kang, the villainous Kano, and Rayden the thunder god. I was somewhat surprised to see the return of less-popular characters such as Styker, Quan Chi, Cyrax, and Sector. The fighters look great, although somewhat less polished and not quite as fluid as those in Street Fighter 4. That's fine, because Mortal Kombat always had a more deliberate, mechanical style that gave it a distinctive look and feel.

The game is a joy to play thanks to its responsive, simple-to-grasp controls. All the classic moves are back including leg sweeps, scissor kicks, bicycle kicks, shadow kicks, crotch-punches, and killer uppercuts. Some of the moves are comical in nature like when Kano chokes Sonya and she makes a gurgling sound. The fatalities incorporate all of the cranium-crushing, spine-ripping, dismembering goodness just like momma used to decapitate. Upping the ante are brutal new "x-ray" attacks which play out in slow motion to emphasize each bone crack and muscle tear. Sweet! You might expect a joystick controller to be ideal for this, but in fact the game is much better suited to a normal controller with triggers.

The stages are a feast for the eyes. Familiar locations include the courtyard, dungeon, bridge, living forest, and acid pool. There are also a few urban areas like a subway and rooftop inspired from the third game. My favorite new stage is one that puts you in a dark, candle-lit room with a torrential rainstorm raging outside. As icing on the cake, this game doesn't try to shove its on-line mode down your throat.

Besides a nice selection of "ladder" modes, there's a fantastic story mode which feels like a playable animated movie. Its tone is perfectly consistent with the original Mortal Kombat film, which happens to be one of my favorites. The challenge mode is similar to the mission mode in Street Fighter 4, except this one is actually fun. The Krypt area lets you unlock a treasure trove of goodies using points you earn along the way, and just exploring this creepy place is a thrill.

The only thing missing from this game is an instruction manual. I actually had to go on-line to figure out how to block! Considering they included a glossy catalogue of Mortal Kombat products, the lack of a decent manual is glaring. Still, the game itself is pretty much beyond reproach. The development team clearly learned from lessons of the past when constructing this near-perfect fighting experience. Mortal Kombat skillfully melds the essence of its predecessors with the richness of a modern title. Flawless victory. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
Grade: A
Publisher: Warner Bros. (2012)
Posted: 2014/5/17
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, strong language)

screenshotI try to avoid getting suckered into buying these "Game of the Year" editions, but Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360, 2011) happens to be one of my all-time favorites. This Komplete edition includes "baked-in" DLC in the form of four new characters: Skarlet, Rain, Kenshi, and Freddy Krueger. Freddy is the headliner, and his slice-and-dice, back-from-the-depths-of-hell style is hardly a stretch for the MK universe.

The packaging also claims to include the original Mortal Kombat film and the Songs Inspired by the Warriors soundtrack. I was expecting a gaggle of discs, but would you believe the movie and soundtrack are just download codes?! The movie code was actually expired, and I would have been pissed if I didn't already own it on Blu-Ray.

Otherwise Komplete is exactly the same as the original. In fact, when I selected the story mode it picked up right where I had left off in my regular edition. If nothing else, playing Komplete reminded me how awesome this latest Mortal Kombat incarnation is. The controls are crisp and the impact of each hit is palpable. The battles are intense and fatalities are not hard to pull off. In fact, you can take a peek at the fatality moves on the pause menu just before attempting one.

The elaborate stages might be my favorite aspect of the game. The layered scenery and attention to detail brings to life a captivating fantasy world. Water trickles down walls in the dungeon, a three-headed dog stands guard in the hell stage, and the temple stage transforms from day to night in a matter of seconds. In the laboratory stage you can see some grisly biological experiments-gone-wrong. Komplete is a great value, but since the original game was already chock-full of content, this feels like an unnecessary upgrade. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe
Grade: B+
Publisher: Midway (2008)
Posted: 2009/2/16
Rating: Teen (blood, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotThis has got to be the most idiotic, far-fetched game I've ever loved. An inter-dimensional rift between Earthworld and Outworld has allowed the Superfriends (of DC Comics fame) to clash with the dark warriors of Mortal Kombat! Like most gamers, I had my trepidations about this. The premise smacks of desperation, and it's so unrealistic! When you first turn on Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe (MKvDC), there's no grand intro - just a main menu. The fighting action follows closely in the footsteps of the more recent MK games (Deadly Alliance, Deception, Armageddon), but it's been touched up a bit for the new generation.

This is a well-rounded fighter, with intuitive controls, fluid motion, well-balanced characters, and matches ideal in length. The controls are outstanding, especially when using the D-pad. And just when you thought you've seen everything in fighting games, MK Vs. DC dishes out a myriad of incredible, imaginative attacks. The Joker's antics will have you laughing out loud!

Special moves are easy to grasp (and remember), and the load times are reasonable. For a teen-rated game, the blood and gore is pretty extreme, although the "Heroic Brutalities" of the DC heroes tend to be more tame (but not much more). When the characters fall off a ledge, "Free-fall Kombat" occurs as they tussle in mid-air. It looks amazing, but its "tap the flashing button" controls are confusing.

Adding strategy is the new "rage mode" which lets fighters kick it into overdrive by squeezing both triggers when their rage meters are full. Minor rips and tears become visible on fighter's outfits over the course of a battle, but this modest "damage modeling" is hardly even noticeable. The degree of detail in the fighters and backgrounds is good, but it's a step down from Dead or Alive 4 or Soul Calibur 4. Stiil, I love the way Baraka drools, and Catwoman, Wonder Woman, and Sonya are so curvaceous they look like they're about to bust out of their outfits.

The backdrops range from city streets to ancient temples to space stations, but none are particularly memorable. The versus mode is a blast; it's been a while since I've seen my friends gleefully beat the hell out of each other. The arcade mode is lame because it doesn't keep score, but the well-crafted, cinematic story mode is the most compelling I've ever seen in a fighting game. You can play through both sides (MK or DC) in parallel, and your progress is saved automatically. I was fearful that this game would compromise the integrity of the MK franchise, but Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe reigns supreme in the fun department. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

MotoGP '07
Grade: F
Publisher: THQ (2007)
Posted: 2020/5/25
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe title MotoGP evokes fond memories of Hang On (Sega Master System, 1988) or Super Burnout (Jaguar, 1995). Alas, MotoGP '07 is the antithesis of those arcade racers. You won't find anything fun or pleasing to the eye here. What you will find is endless races around plain, nondescript tracks. Granted the game is geared toward realism but it's still a colossal bore.

I began with career mode and tried to short-circuit all the tedious formalities. Practice? No thank you. Qualification race? I'll pass. Just get me on the [expletive] track and let me do my thing! So the starting flag comes down and everybody takes off except me. I'm gunning the right trigger so what gives? It turns out that acceleration and brake is controlled via the right stick. Really? So I restarted the race and now I feel my controller rumbling so I know I'm about to get off to a fast start.

Sure enough, I blew past all the other racers, approached the first turn, and proceeded to fly right off the road! If you think the concept of using a thumbstick for both acceleration and brake is clumsy then you're right. The first track is in a desert with nothing as far as the eye can see. The track isn't easy either, with all sorts of tight turns that force you to slow to a crawl. Your dude gets really low on turns - like he's scraping the ground with his knees.

Is this the first impression the developers were hoping to convey?! I feel like my mom just put me in some kind of motorcycle timeout. To be honest I couldn't complete a single race. I tried the quick race mode in a desperate search for anything interesting but turned up empty. MotoGP '07 is the worst. I must be getting old because I remember when motorcycle racers were actually fun. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Muchi Muchi Pork & Pink Sweets (Japan)
Grade: C
Publisher: Cave (2013)
Posted: 2013/7/20
Rating: Not Rated

screenshotThis region-free, two-in-one deal should appeal to Japanese shooter fans (you know who you are). These whimsical vertical "bullet hell" shooters originated in the arcade, so the action only consumes the middle third of your HD TV. Muchi Muchi Pork is your standard pig-themed shooter. The playable characters are scantily clad babes with pig ears that fly around unleashing rapid-fire projectiles.

Your goal is to fend off tanks, helicopters, and "hateful enemies" while snatching up pigs for points. An alternate weapon slows your movement but has the power to transform defeated enemies into golden piggy banks. Makes perfect sense to me! You also have a supply of "bombs", typically in the form of a flying doll that clears a path in the sky for you. Awesome special weapons include a row of guns that all fire in unison, effectively blanketing the entire screen. Some of the music in Muchi Muchi Pork has a weird "carnival" quality I didn't care for.

The second game is Pink Sweets, and it features a lot of inappropriately dressed chicks (so what else is new). Stages tend to be populated with colorful, clunky toy tanks, boats, planes, and robots that are trying their best to kill you. The sound and explosion effects are exceptionally crisp and satisfying. Each playable character brings a unique set of weapons to the table, including one that deploys a force field that inflicts continuous damage to a large area. There are lots of floating items to collect, but it's hard to tell if they are upgrading or downgrading your weapon. If you stumble upon the homing missiles, stick with them.

Pink Sweets is pretty tough, so you're not likely to run up any astronomical scores. Both games feature pleasant backdrops that take you over scenic towns, meadows, and lakes. Both also feature the incessant yelling of a distressed female, which is not so pleasant. "Arrange" modes are available, but these change the rules in confusing ways. High scores are saved to both local and on-line leaderboards, but the game does not prompt for initials. Neither game is exceptional in any way, but if Japanese shooters are your thing, you'll want to buy this. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Mushihimesama Futari (Japan)
Grade: C
Publisher: Cave (2012)
Posted: 2013/5/19

screenshotIf you're a 2D shooter fan (like me) it's hard to get enough of these manic vertical shooters from Japan. Mushihimesama Futari (Bug Princess) is one of those arcade adaptations that only consumes the mid third of your screen, with the rest filled with decorative artwork.

The game is a close cousin to Dodonpachi Resurrection (Xbox 360, 2012). You control a young girl who flies around while unleashing a world of hurt on giant dinosaurs, lobsters, turtles, beetles, and dragons that confront her. Enjoy the first few seconds of each stage, because it's about the only time you'll be able to absorb the beauty of these colorful, fantastic worlds. The floating islands and dinosaurs of the first stage seem very familiar; maybe these games are all starting to look the same to me.

Once the action begins the screen becomes a dazzling display of bullets, yellow gems, and explosions. It would seem like your character has no escape, but in fact only the gem at her core is vulnerable. The girl shouts a few lines of dialogue but since the game is Japanese I can't tell what she's saying. My friend Jonathan, who knows some Japanese, tells me she's saying things like "I'm not done yet!" My friend Scott, who doesn't know any Japanese, tells me she's saying "Saki makes my top fall off!"

To a newbie this game can be pretty overwhelming, especially with two players. As a single-player game however, it's pretty engrossing once you learn the patterns and become skilled at weaving your way through the torrent of missiles. There's a certain poetry to the blooming explosions and vivid color patterns. There is also some pronounced slow-down.

The Japanese instruction booklet is glossy and colorful, and frankly I'm not sure it would do me much good even if I could read it. The game offers several modes and variations including arrange, novice, and arcade. Mushihimesama Futari offers more of the same the "bullet hell" we all love (or hate), but its characters give it some personality. Note: This is a region-free disc. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Amazon.com, Xbox Marketplace, YouTube, Amazon.com, Moby Games