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

Xbox 360 Reviews T

Grade: C+
Publisher: Ubisoft (2007)
Posted: 2007/6/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThough not a huge fan of any of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (TMNT) television shows or movies, I consider the franchise to be synonymous with video games. On the NES and SNES, the four turtle heroes provided a number of memorable (albeit repetitive) side-scrolling adventures. In recent years however the franchise has fallen on hard times with an awkward transition to 3D. All things considered, this TMNT game represents a return to form for the franchise.

At its core, the gameplay hasn't changed at all since its 8-bit days. The platform jumping is still vanilla, as are the frequent encounters with bands of ninja clones. You begin in a jungle training mission before moving on to the urban environments, including sewers, back alleys, and rooftops. I almost had to laugh at all of the old-school cliches, including jumping over electric beams, dodging steam vents, fighting on elevators, and hopping across rafts in electrified water.

The stages tend to be lengthy (up to 30 minutes), and the scenery is very repetitive. If jumping over a laser beam five times in a row is sufficient, this game makes you do it 25 times. So why do I like TMNT? Well, technically it's extremely well done; you can tell the programmers really knew their stuff. The controls are perfectly crisp and responsive, allowing you to hop between platforms, scurry along ledges, and climb fences with speed and precision.

The brisk pacing gives the action a "race against the clock" quality, and it's fun to see how fast you can make it to the end. The fighting action is simple, with special moves that look a lot like break dancing. The graphics are more detailed than the cel-shaded visuals of the previous game, but the use of color is surprisingly restrained. As a matter of fact, many stages are primarily rendered in black and white. They won't wow you, but you can always tell what's happening, and I had no issues with the camera.

The audio features an understated but well orchestrated musical score, and the voice acting during the cut-scenes is exceptionally good. Expect to hear a lot of goofy dialogue like "awesome super sensationalistic bro!!" Oh yeah - there's one other thing you need to know about TMNT: It's one-player only! That's right, you can "tag-team" with your three "bro's", but you only control one turtle at a time! That's disappointing, but TMNT still exudes a degree of enthusiasm and polish that makes it hard to dislike. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

Table Tennis
Grade: C-
Publisher: Rockstar (2006)
Posted: 2007/2/25
Rating: Everyone

screenshotEvery now and then a game comes along that other critics rave about, but I'm left scratching my head wondering what all the fuss is about. Table Tennis isn't bad, but how a major game magazine could even consider naming this "sports game of the year" is beyond comprehension.

Table Tennis was originally designed as a demonstration of the new Grand Theft Auto graphics engine, and it looks the part. The characters appear stiff in the face, but their body movements are quite natural - particularly their physical reactions to good or bad shots. The game's physics engine is beyond reproach. The balls convey an uncanny "lightness" and bounce with the utmost realism.

Although it borrows its basic gameplay from Sega's Virtua Tennis (Dreamcast, 2000), Table Tennis isn't nearly as fun or addictive. The action unfolds so lightning-quick that it's hard to employ much strategy. The control scheme seems overly complex at first (using nearly every button), but it does provide for absolute control over the power, location, and spin of each shot. Making superb use of the vibration function, you can actually "feel" when your shot is in danger of missing the table.

The game's one-player tournaments are unreasonably difficult (the CPU gets to everything), and unlockables open much too slowly (great, I won another shirt color). Most of the matches against my friends were terribly one-sided, although that might be attributed to my propensity to suck. There's really nothing wrong with this game. Table Tennis really hasn't been done before in a video game, and this is probably as good as it could be done, so I'll give it the credit it's due. But please, let's not get carried away here. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Tekken 6
Grade: C+
Publisher: Bandai (2009)
Posted: 2013/1/23
Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, crude humor, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotIt's been over 15 years since Heihachi and company began performing back-breaking slams on my Playstation One, and Tekken's basic gameplay hasn't changed much. I always liked the simple two-punch/two-kick controls, with special moves performed by pressing a string of buttons. They work, but the controls could be tighter as certain moves (including side-step) can be tricky to execute.

Tekken's high-definition graphics are pretty sweet. You get a variety of multi-level stages, each of which rotates 360 degrees. Standouts include the bright snowy glacier, the neon-lit city, and the stormy dock stage with waves crashing in the background. Tekken 6 offers a huge roster of 40 fighters. In addition to old favorites like Marshall Law and Nina Williams you get oddballs like a boxing Kangaroo (with baby in pouch), an animated wooden log, and an obese guy named "Bob". The arcade mode doesn't keep score, but instead earns you credits to deck out the characters in wacky outfits. Does anybody really want to see Heihachi fighting in some goofy boxer shorts?

The new "scenario mode" is an awkward attempt to turn the game into a side-scrolling 3D adventure. It begins with an extended cut-scene directed by some guy who would clearly prefer to be in the movie business. Between the endless cinematics and frequent load screens, I thought I'd never get to play! The stages are constrained by invisible walls, but I like how the story branches. And it's always fun to lay waste to a gang with a steel pipe or a flamethrower. I literally beat a chicken out of some guy!

It's no Streets of Rage, but at least Bandai made an effort. When you're not playing on-line or against a friend you can try your hand at the time attack and survival modes. The load times are quick and rankings are saved. Tekken 6 may be more of the same, but hey, at least it's a lot more of the same. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Test Drive Unlimited
Grade: D-
Publisher: Atari (2006)
Posted: 2007/8/14
Rating: Everyone (language, mild violence)

screenshotI've heard other critics refer to Test Drive Unlimited like it was an arcade racer, but that was not my experience at all. In fact, I think Unlimited leans more towards the realism end of the spectrum. It's sort of like Need For Speed Most Wanted without all of the fun and excitement.

Set in Hawaii, the developers have meticulously recreated the entire island of Oahu for this game. Having vacationed there in the past, I'd say the game does a respectable job of capturing the general look of the place and its key landmarks. The tropical scenery includes palm tree-lined highways, green mountains, and soaring skyscrapers, but after a little sightseeing the novelty wears off really quick. When attempting to travel around the perimeter of the island, I kept getting stuck on roads that loop around on themselves, which was annoying.

Test Drive Unlimited uses a Google-Earth type of system to map the island and a GPS system to guide you to any location. The main story mode has you arriving at the airport before picking up a rental car and finding a place to live. As you progress through the game, you'll buy virtual houses and stock your garages with actual cars that look great and handle realistically. In addition to racing through the streets, a hodge-podge of missions includes time trials and driving hitchhikers to various locations within a time limit.

You'll need to commute to each new challenge, but once you've been to a location, you can instantly jump to it via the map screen. The GPS system works about as well as those in real life, meaning it's mediocre. Once you start getting tired of the exotic scenery, Test Drive Unlimited becomes a bore, causing you to drive faster and get into a lot of accidents. That puts the police on your tail, and once they catch you they'll take your money, or worse, send you to jail.

In jail, you'll need to sit there and stare at the screen for a minute of real time. That's right folks, you literally serve time in the game! Who in the hell thought that was a good idea?! The races themselves are not very interesting, and the difficulty takes too long to ramp up. The shopping and customization elements are meant to add depth, but they just make the game feel tedious. I had high hopes for Test Drive Unlimited, but in the end it just bored the hell out of me. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 08
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Posted: 2008/5/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotSince the Wii edition of Tiger Woods 08 wasn't much to look at, I was expecting this 360 version to blow me away, but there's not much eye candy in this one either! The courses look fairly bland, especially when you consider the natural beauty of locations like Hawaii and Pebble Beach.

The scenery has an artificial quality, and the fairways look more like Astroturf than grass. It doesn't help that the spectators lining the courses look like mannequins. I found the rolling hills of Hot Shots Golf (Playstation 3) far more appealing and organic. The golfers here look very lifelike, but who cares?

This game also suffers from many of the same design defects that plague the Wii version, including a needlessly complex create-a-golfer feature and the fact that your head will sometimes block the hole during a putt! The fact that the current hole and par information are not displayed on the main screen is beyond stupid. Apparently EA invested all of their time and resources in the new "photo game face" feature, which lets you upload your own face onto your character. Who asked for that feature? Oh yeah, that's right - no one.

The left stick is used to swing your club, and the gameplay is respectable but not exceptional in any way. It lacks the pick-up-and-play quality of the Wii game, and it takes nearly twice as long to play a round. Most Xbox 360 owners will probably be satisfied with this, but only because they don't know what they're missing. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Tomb Raider
Grade: A+
Publisher: Square Enix (2013)
Posted: 2013/3/27
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

screenshotI was very skeptical about this new Tomb Raider "reboot", which covers Lara Croft's very first adventure when she looked like Jennifer Lawrence. She's a new breed of hero that's mistake-prone and emotional, yet courageous and resourceful. The new, non-sexualized Lara has a sense of humility that makes her more relatable - and likeable.

The game may be a "coming of age" story but it never feels melodramatic or heavy-handed. Tomb Raider expertly weaves a compelling narrative with pulse-pounding action sequences. Lara and several fellow explorers find themselves shipwrecked on a stormy island with tropical forests, soaring cliffs, ancient temples, ship graveyards, and watery caves.

Tomb Raider's controls have been honed to perfection over the years, and now it seems they have it down to a science. It feels quite effortless as you leap between burning rooftops, swiftly dodge enemy attacks, and latch onto walls with your axe. And no, you won't plummet to your death just because you released a button! Lara reacts naturally to situations, holding up her arms to shield herself from wind, contorting her body to squeeze through crevasses, and feeling her way along the edge of a cliff. There are zip-lines all over the place, and they are a heck of a lot of fun to ride.

During shootouts you can quickly toggle between a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, and bow. For my money there's no more effective (or satisfying) weapon than a flaming arrow, which causes your enemies to burn in agony. Did I mention the game was really violent? Flaming arrows can also trigger explosions and rope arrows are used to pull down wooden structures. The stealth sequences are handled with restraint, and even scavenging for items is fun.

Normally I have a few complaints about the camera, but I didn't even notice it in this game! The people who put this together were really on top of their game. Frequent auto-saves and transparent loads create a seamless experience that never takes you out of the moment. Like the Uncharted series, Tomb Raider serves up a generous share of edge-of-your-seat quick-action scenes that will leave you breathless. Building on the lessons of all its predecessors, Tomb Raider is a masterpiece that gives this franchise a new lease on life. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Tomb Raider Anniversary
Grade: C
Publisher: Eidos (2007)
Posted: 2008/1/27
Rating: Teen (mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotTen years after the release of its groundbreaking adventure, Eidos has released this Anniversary edition with updated stages "inspired" by the original Tomb Raider (Playstation, 1997). It's an important distinction because despite a few key scenes and familiar sound effects, this feels like a completely different game. You'd expect an old Tomb Raider vet like me to be giddy as a schoolgirl about this update, but I am decidedly underwhelmed.

Eidos incorporated the controls of Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360, 2005), and they are so intuitive and forgiving that it will be difficult to ever go back to the original game. New moves include the slow-motion "adrenaline dodge" and the ability to swing from grappling hooks. Lara now grabs onto anything by default, and can scale walls and hop between ledges with fluid ease. Unfortunately, the benefits of the new controls are offset by the excessive number of leaps you're expected to make! Lara has to jump around each level like a little monkey, and it gets annoying! Are these supposed to be tombs or jungle gyms?

The stages are expansive, and some ascend to dizzying heights, but passages tend to loop back on themselves in a confusing manner. Backtracking is common, so don't get too happy after you traverse a hallway of perilous ledges and traps, because chances are you're going to have to go through it again - in the other direction. The early stages have you contending with wild animals, but eventually you'll face centaurs, mummies, and demons.

Anniversary's graphics are about on par with Legend, and Lara's facial expressions are surprisingly well rendered. The audio features a sparse but effective musical score and memorable sound effects from the original game. When you hear the howl of a nearby wolf, it's quite unsettling. Sadly, Anniversary can't quite duplicate the spellbinding experience of the original game, and this became clear to me in the lame T-Rex encounter.

The game has a few technical glitches here and there, including enemies that become partially embedded in the scenery, and you'll often need to fiddle with the camera. On the bright side, the load times are short, the checkpoints are frequent, and you can save your progress at any time. Tomb Raider Anniversary struggled to maintain my attention, but for gamers with a lot of time and patience, Anniversary offers a heck of a lot of adventure for your money. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Tomb Raider Underworld
Grade: B+
Publisher: Eidos (2008)
Posted: 2009/2/4
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotTomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360, 2006) restored the Tomb Raider series to prominence, and Underworld is of the same mold. Its dense jungles, overgrown ruins, and rocky shorelines look magnificent, partly thanks to some outstanding water effects. Lara Croft looks more like Angelina Jolie than ever before, and yeah, that's a good thing. She wears a number of sexy outfits throughout the game, and looks absolutely smokin' in that black swimsuit.

Like all Tomb Raider adventures, the emphasis is on exploration and puzzle-solving, with a side-order of combat tossed in every now and then. There's plenty of jumping, climbing, and swinging, but thanks to the intuitive control scheme it's all fairly effortless. One amazing new feature is Lara's ability to rock-climb. All you have to do is direct her over a rocky surface and watch in awe as she skillfully places her hands and feet in the proper outcroppings.

Underworld's thoughtfully-designed dungeons require you to scour every nook and cranny. The game goes light on bosses, but I enjoyed the encounter with the grumpy red octopus. Underworld has all the ingredients a Tomb Raider fan could want, but it's surprisingly rough for such an established franchise. The camera sometimes hides critical areas, and it occasionally goes berserk in tight spaces. The game never bothers to explain what object you just picked up, making it hard to determine if it was a critical item or just a bonus treasure.

The save system is also confusing, and sometimes it doesn't even restore from your latest save! While the action is fairly linear, you may find yourself needlessly backtracking in more expansive locations like Thailand. Be sure to use Lara's PDA if you get stuck, because it offers valuable hints. Tomb Raider Underworld has some unexpected technical flaws, but that shouldn't prevent thrill-seekers from enjoying this lush, exotic adventure. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Tomb Raider: Legend
Grade: A
Publisher: Eidos (2006)
Posted: 2006/5/21
Rating: Teen (blood, language, suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotWith her career in "free fall" mode for years, Lara Croft is back in a fantastic new adventure that should return respectability to the franchise. Combining awesome visuals, intuitive controls, and a reasonable difficulty level, Legend is the most accessible Tomb Raider ever. The gameplay is an engaging mix of exploration, puzzle solving, high-speed chases, and shootouts with bosses and mercenaries.

Climbing, jumping, grappling, and swinging are executed with remarkable ease. Since Lara automatically grabs onto any nearby ledge, there's much less of a chance that you'll accidentally fall to your death. Better yet, you can hang on to most ropes and ledges indefinitely without getting tired. Shiny objects and radio clues keep you on track, ample heath packs keep you strong, and checkpoints are both generous and well placed. It's as if the Eidos developers read every Tomb Raider critique ever written, and addressed every issue.

Most of the puzzles are like none you've seen before, and many involve pulling objects with your grappling hook. But while the controls are perfectly suited to slow, deliberate movements, they tend to be a bit sluggish and inexact when fast action is called for. The mediocre targeting system doesn't detract from shootouts with bad guys (which tend to be easy anyway), but when facing bosses like the serpent in King Arthur's tomb, they can be a real nuisance. Fortunately, most sequences that require a series of fast actions are played out in cinematic cut-scenes that prompt you to hit buttons at critical moments to avoid danger. It may sound lame, but these are very well executed and a lot of fun.

The obligatory shootouts with thugs are fairly shallow (strafe and fire away), but I do like how you can shoot up scenery (like exploding barrels) to cause further mayhem. In terms of graphics, Legend's crisp wall textures, majestic waterfalls, and spectacular city skylines put the 360's graphic prowess to excellent use. Despite reports to the contrary, Lara Croft herself has retained her sexy, voluptuous figure - and thank God for that! She looks hotter than ever, especially in her black dress and heels (wow). She walks in a more feminine manner, and her voice sounds very much like Angelina Jolie (who played her in the films).

The game's exotic music soundtrack is understated but effective, and the dialogue is outstanding. Unlike the mindless drivel of most games, Legend features first-rate voice acting with clever banter between Lara and her cohorts. I actually cracked up a few times listening to some of more funny lines. The game runs about 10-12 hours, which is long enough to get your money's worth, but short enough that you can actually finish the thing (people with real jobs know what I mean). Polished, fun, and madly addictive, Legend is easily the most satisfying Tomb Raider game since the series debut on the Playstation in 1996. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Tony Hawk Ride
Grade: C
Publisher: Activision (2009)
Posted: 2011/1/4

controllerSkateboarding gamers have been traditionally limited to tapping buttons on a controller, but Tony Hawk Ride takes the action to the next level with a sturdy skateboard controller you stand up on. This controller has a contoured base that allows you to tilt the board in all directions and even rotate it 90 degrees. Movement combinations let you execute ollies, grinds, flips, manuals, and just about every maneuver a real skater can do. The controller is comfortable enough but I'd recommend wearing shoes to help with balance.

A tutorial mode walks you through all of the moves but it tries to cover too much ground. I felt overwhelmed as the moves started to blur together, making it hard to remember the basics. It doesn't help that the skimpy manual fails to provide any quick reference material. Like real skateboarding, Tony Hawk Ride requires good timing and balance. If you're not particularly coordinated, you'll find yourself stumbling all over the place - both in your family room and on the screen! Strangely enough, pulling off random tricks is actually much easier than steering - which is hard as hell!

Thank goodness the designers had the foresight to include a "casual mode" that automatically navigates you through each course so you can concentrate on jumps and tricks. You can still affect your route by triggering strategically placed arrows around the course. It feels a little automatic, but going from "casual" to "confident" difficulty is a monumental leap. Even on "casual" the game caused me to work up a sweat. You'll get to show off your stuff in diverse locations including Venice Beach, the Los Angeles River, and downtown Chicago.

Tony Hawk Ride is cool in concept, but its unwieldy interface bogs down the fun. The skateboard controller has buttons on its side, but you'll still need to hold a normal controller to navigate the confusing labyrinth of menu screens. Prior to every run you need to verify your foot position on the board, which is a tedious process. The load screens are agonizingly long and the save screens are annoyingly frequent. Tony Hawk Ride lacks flow, and at times just feels aggravating. Even so, if you're looking for a skateboarding game with maximum realism, bump up the grade by a letter. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 8 players 

Top Spin 3
Grade: D+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2008)
Posted: 2008/7/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotTop Spin 3 is so bizarre that I find it hard to believe that 2K Sports would even consider releasing a tennis game like this. This 360 edition has far more options and much better graphics than the Wii version, but the controls are insane. You hold your swing button down as the ball approaches, but have to release it long before the ball gets to you! The instructions actually recommend releasing it before the ball even bounces! My friend said it best: "these controls take a tremendous amount of enjoyment out of the game."

You could argue that this is the first control scheme with built-in lag. If 2K Sports did this just for the sake of being different, well, it was a bad idea. To be fair however, Top Spin 3 is playable once you get the hang of it, although the controls never feel second nature. Too often the player will hold in the swing button for a split-second too long, causing your player to just stand there as the ball bounces by.

The "Top Spin School" tutorial is way overdone, with dozens of tedious lessons that tend to confuse matters even more. Heck, I was lost before I started thanks to all that confusing text that floats over the tutorial's load screen! It's a shame, because the game's graphics and animation set a new standard for realism. The player facial hair looks amazing, and when the sun comes out of the clouds, I love how the court brightens and shadows appear.

The selection of professional players includes Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova, but conspicuous in their absence is Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters. The robust career mode lets you create a player and take him through the ranks, beginning in a grimy public court in Chicago. Top Spin 3's soundtrack includes some bouncy pop songs, but the matches themselves are very quiet.

Normally I might complain about the lack of commentary, but in this case, I didn't miss it. Top Spin 3 is not terrible, but it goes against everything I've learned in 30+ years of playing games. In this case, it's not the controls that are broken, it's the control scheme! © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Trials HD
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2009)
Posted: 2011/9/29
Rating: Teen (mild blood, mild violence)

screenshotAs a child I was a big fan of daredevil Evel Knieval, and this game taps into my deep-seated fascination with motorcycles, dangerous stunts, and fiery wrecks. Trials HD challenges you to perform a series of crazy stunts in a dark, expansive warehouse. Each stage offers a configuration of rickety boards and scaffolds that form ramps, obstacles, and rollercoaster-style hills and valleys.

The game's pacing is best described as "rapid-fire". The stunts are short, the checkpoints are frequent, and the carnage is a joy to behold. The triggers are used for acceleration and brake, but finesse is the key as you move the left thumbstick to lean forward and backward. It's all about balance and precision as you attempt suicidal jumps and speed across collapsing platforms.

Even when you know exactly what you need to do, it can take a dozen attempts before you survive a stunt. Fortunately there's zero load time between tries and you can even restart in the middle of a trick if things aren't looking good. The over-the-top wipeout animations add to the fun. Your driver tends to get tossed around like a rag doll and your motorcycle seems to explode on contact.

Trials HD takes a simple concept and runs with it, not unlike Portal. Unlike Portal however, I did not become nauseous while playing this! The stages are very uneven in terms of difficulty, but you always have several to choose from at a given time. Trials HD isn't a deep title, but it's a wild ride that's hard to stop playing once you start. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

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