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

Nintendo DS Reviews T

Tecmo Bowl Kickoff
Grade: D+
Publisher: Tecmo (2008)
Posted: 2009/1/19
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe original Tecmo Bowl (NES, 1988) was a landmark title that has stood the test of time. So the fact that Tecmo has managed to botch this portable version is astounding to me. Since there's no NFL license, you'll select cities with idiotic names like the Baltimore Bulldozers and the Los Angeles Supercocks (no, really). At least the core gameplay is solid, with simple controls and easy-to-see 2D players on a side-scrolling field.

The action (and clock) move at a torrid pace, lending the game to quick contests. Slick animated cut-scenes punctuate exciting plays such as blocked kicks, sacks, and interceptions. You're treated to ten-yard measurements and even a half-time show with some hot-looking cheerleaders! It would seem hard to mess up this winning formula, but Tecmo found a way.

First, you can't switch defenders once a play begins. That was forgivable in the original game, but in 2008 a little more control would be nice. Next, the arrows that indicate selected players are so poorly colored that they blend into the field! The terminology is all wrong, with punts referred to as "turnovers" and two-point conversions hailed as "touchdowns". The CPU makes horrible decisions, like kicking an extra point when down by two points at the end of a game. You can't even pause the game.

The user interface for the season mode is atrocious, forcing you to "sim" each game and save them one-by-one. Had a knowledgeable football fan play-tested this (instead of a chimpanzee), these issues would have been easy to catch and rectify. As it is, Tecmo Bowl Kickoff makes a mockery of a storied franchise. Oh well, if you've ever dreamed about taking the Washington Volcanics to the championship, here's your big chance. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Tetris DS
Grade: B-
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Posted: 2006/5/5

screenshotDespite its glowing reviews, Tetris DS is somewhat overrated. Don't get me wrong; this is a competent version of the classic game, but there are better ways to spend time with your DS. Tetris DS makes limited use of the system's dual screen and touch functionality. For the single player, there are no less than six variations of the game, each themed after a classic Nintendo 8-bit franchise, including Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Zelda. Veteran gamers will freak over the old-school graphics and vintage music.

The first variation, "standard mode", is basically the original Tetris with a few handy new features. The new "ghost piece" indicates exactly where your block will land, and the "hard drop" lets you instantly set falling pieces into place. When used in conjunction, these really speed up the game. Since the top screen isn't needed in this mode, it's used to depict various scenes from Super Mario Brothers (NES 1985).

The second variation, "push mode", is played against the CPU on a football-style field, where both players work on opposite ends of the same mass of pieces. As you might imagine, It has a back-and-forth quality to it. Catch mode lets you rotate a floating mass while approaching blocks latch onto it, and once the "core" reaches a certain size, it explodes.

These new modes are certainly imaginative, but neither held my attention for long. I could also live without the tedious puzzle and mission modes where you have to perform specific actions with a fixed set of blocks. That's too much thinking for me.

Last but not least, there's "touch mode", where you break down a huge stack by rearranging the blocks with a stylus. Nintendo struck gold with this one; it's easily the most fun and additive mode of the bunch. Tetris DS also offers a wealth of multiplayer and wi-fi modes, but I didn't have much luck with them.

The setup is time consuming, and you always get stuck with some Tetris whiz who can stack the pieces faster than you can see them. Personally, I always felt Tetris was best played solo. Tetris DS is a nice package, but where are the other popular Tetris variations like Dr. Mario, Tetris Attack, or Tetris 2? I guess Nintendo is betting we'd be willing to buy them on a separate cartridge, and they're probably right. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Tiger Woods PGA Tour
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Posted: 2006/8/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe key to any good golf game is its swing mechanism, and the best ones let you jump right in and play. Tiger Woods PGA Tour, on the other hand, will have you reaching for the instruction manual! In fact, you'll need a PHD in physics to fully understand EA's complicated touch screen swing meter. There's definitely a learning curve, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour has no shortage of features. I like the unlockable challenges, the ability to play against real pros, and the snazzy dual-screen fly-bys that introduce each hole.

Eight real courses are available, along with a slew of playing modes. The action moves along at a brisk pace (even the CPU-controlled players don't dawdle), and you can save your progress at any time. Of course, it's all about the control, and while I did improve over time, I never felt totally comfortable with the touch swing mechanism.

The putting game is just plain poor. The "grid" doesn't properly convey the contours of the green, and the ball is often obfuscated by a big blue blob. Sometimes you can't even see your ball go into the cup - you'll only know if you sunk it by your player's reaction!

The PS1-quality graphics are fair, but the audio will drive you nuts. The crowd noise turns on and off like a water faucet, and the relentless crashing waves of the Pebble Beach course are almost unbearable. It's not the worst golf game in the world, but Tiger Woods PGA could definitely use some fine tuning. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Tinker Bell
Grade: B-
Publisher: Disney (2008)
Posted: 2008/12/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMagical fairies may not appeal to everyone, but Tinker Bell has some serious "street cred" with the young girl crowd. My friend Ken tells me his daughter is absolutely crazy about Tinker Bell and visits the official Disney website daily. In this non-violent adventure you guide Tinker Bell through beautiful natural landscapes while performing errands that enable the seasons to change. Rendered in lush 2D, the visuals reminded me a lot like Kolibri (Sega 32X, 1995), except the world is broken up into small sections which only scroll slightly in each direction.

The stylus is used to guide Tinker Bell around the screen, and glowing arrows indicate passages to new areas. Messages like "you can't go there yet" may seem annoying at first, but these actually save you the aggravation of going on a wild goose chase. The layout of the world is a bit of a maze, but a central "hub" keeps everything in close proximity. Still, it can be hard to determine how areas connect, and pre-school aged children will likely be confused. Each area is inhabited by other fairies that provide clues, items, or request favors. It's hard to keep all of them straight, but at least their conversations are short and to the point.

Tinker Bell has the ability to repair items, and this activity is fun thanks to the elegant touch-screen workbench. There are also mildly amusing mini-games (like collecting dew drops in a basket) which add some much-needed action. This game appeals to females with its elements of shopping, decorating, gossiping, and dressing up. It even incorporates gift-wrapping, an activity which males are genetically incapable of performing.

Like all Disney games, the production values are top notch and the cut-scenes are movie-quality. Some of the orchestrated music has an easy-going, merry-go-round vibe that I found interesting. Tinker Bell is so well constructed that even adults will find it engaging to some degree. Unlocking the sunflower dress was hardly my proudest moment, but school-aged girls will probably love it. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Tomb Raider Underworld
Grade: A-
Publisher: Eidos (2008)
Posted: 2009/1/22
Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, mild violence)

screenshotThis game is a real revelation. I love the full-blown Xbox 360 edition of Tomb Raider Underworld, and I'm pleased with how Eidos handled this portable version. It effectively recreates the same intriguing action and exotic environments - but in glorious 2D! That's right, although the graphics are rendered with smooth 3D polygons, the action occurs on a single plane, and it works surprisingly well! Our hero

Lara Croft is quite nimble as she leaps between cliffs, shimmies across ledges, and vaults between walls. From a sinking ship to a dense jungle to dark catacombs, the adventure moves at a brisk pace and is consistently fun. That's largely due to the effortless controls, fluid animation, and forgiving stage designs. The exciting storyline mirrors the console version, and even uses the same cut-scenes!

Enjoyable "rune" puzzles make fine use of the DS capabilities, letting you slide pieces into place using the stylus. Although the variety is a bit limited, I love how the game is broken into bite-sized chunks, with stages rarely running more than 3 or 4 minutes each. The graphics are first-rate for the DS, and the audio is outstanding.

Whether it's the creaking hull of a ship, or the chirping of tropical birds, the clear sounds make you feel as if you're "right there". While the controls are well conceived, the shooting action comes off as mediocre, especially when it takes several shots at point-blank range to take down an enemy (locked-on no less!) Also, there were times when Lara didn't seem to want to release a vine she was swinging on.

Load times also bog down the action slightly. For PSP owners the 15-30 second wait times are mere child's-play, but DS gamers may get a bit restless. Even so, Tomb Raider Underworld is one of the most intelligently designed portable games I've played. It's like a good book - easy to get into and hard to put down. Or so I've been told by people who actually read books! © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Top Spin 3
Grade: C+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2008)
Posted: 2008/8/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis DS version of Top Spin 3 is much different from its console counterparts. It plays a heck of a lot like Sega's Virtua Tennis. You simply hold down a button as the ball approaches, and your player automatically swings as it arrives. The directional pad is used to aim your shot. The problem is, when playing against a skilled opponent, a normal shot won't get by him, so welcome to volley city. That's where the "power" and "angle" shots come in, activated by the shoulder buttons. These shots bring up little meters, so your timing determines the accuracy of your shot.

These meters move pretty fast, so getting off an effective shot is tough but satisfying when you nail it. Top Spin 3's graphics are very good, with lifelike player models and a big yellow ball that's easy to follow. You can select from a number of big-name pros including Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Maria Sharapova. The challenging career mode lets you create your own player and take him up the ranks by training and winning tournaments. I found the training to be more work than fun, and the tournaments are a bit too long for a portable game.

Having to use those shoulder buttons really causes your hand to cramp. But the strangest thing about Top Spin 3 is the player reactions after each shot. Unlike real tennis, the players strut around and badger their opponent after every shot! To witness Roger Federer showboat in such a manner is hilarious, and I'm pretty sure Maria Sharapova flashed a gang sign at me! Except for that bit of nonsense Top Spin 3 is a pretty well constructed tennis game. If you want a more realistic brand of tennis action on your DS, Top Spin 3 is a viable option. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Touch The Dead
Grade: F
Publisher: Virgin Play (2007)
Posted: 2007/10/21
Rating: Mature (blood, gore, violence)

screenshotAt first blush, Touch the Dead seems like a pleasant surprise. I like how it attempts to emulate the fast-paced light-gun action of House of the Dead, as you tap the screen with the stylus to blast "zombies gone wild" in a penitentiary. Incidentally, the game spells it "penitenciary" - and this typo is a telltale sign of a budget title! The game offers a first-person view as you automatically roam around prison cell blocks, offices, and underground sewers. Sometimes you can shoot an arrow sign to alter your direction.

Touch the Dead's graphics are Playstation One quality, with angular zombies and pixelated surfaces. On the small screen however, this lack of detail isn't a big deal. The shooting controls are responsive and exact, although having to "drag" ammo across the screen to reload is annoying. For the first two stages I was thinking "wow - this game could get interesting if I ever get out of this boring prison".

Unfortunately, that never happened, as I was doomed to eternally traverse its endless empty rooms and hallways. Is this the best they could come up with? It's not even scary! All you do is blast the same two zombies over and over again - a fat one and a skinny one. The one exception is the zombie that throws his head at you (please kids, don't try this at home). There are supposed to be a few alternate weapons besides the pistol, but I could never find any. Touch of the Dead had the potential to be fun, but it falters badly due to an astounding lack of creativity. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Trauma Center: Under The Knife
Grade: B
Publisher: Atlus (2005)
Posted: 2006/1/10
Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild violence, partial nudity)

screenshotBrilliant in concept, this medical surgery simulation is perfectly suited to the DS's unique touch-screen interface. If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a surgeon under pressure in an operating room, Trauma Center is for you. As a rookie doctor, you perform a series of operations of increasing difficulty and intensity. A helpful nurse assists you and practically holds your hand through the early stages. The game is played entirely via the touch screen, and the controls feel surprisingly natural.

Ten tools are at your disposal via icons that line the edge of the screen, including a scalpel, pump, laser, antibiotic gel, forceps, scanner, syringe, and bandages. Cutting with the scalpel is done by simply dragging the stylus over a dotted line. Draining liquid involves touching the screen to position the pump, and then dragging the stylus up to suck out the fluid. Suturing up incisions is done by moving over the wound in a zigzag pattern.

Once you get the hang of these basic movements, they become second nature and can be performed in rapid succession. I'm not sure how realistic these medical procedures are, but there sure is a lot of technical jargon tossed around. Successful completion of operations not only requires a steady hand, but quick thinking as well.

This game is stressful! With doctors and nurses yelling at you as a clock winds down, it can feel like more work than pleasure! Another aspect I could do without is the melodramatic storyline and the substantial amount of text it entails. I got tired of paging through all that dialogue at the start of each stage (hint: hold down Select to skip).

In terms of graphics, Trauma Center is not exceptional, but does a good job of depicting injuries like lacerations, inflammations, and protruding shards of glass. I enjoyed the music, and the introductory track has an old-school, electronic quality that actually reminded me of Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991). Trauma Center is a fresh and exciting new addition to the DS library. You won't find a game like this on any other system. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

True Swing Golf
Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Posted: 2006/8/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIf nothing else, I'd have to say that True Swing Golf is tailor-made for the DS touch screen. Unlike the complicated physics meter of Tiger Woods PGA Tour, True Swing uses a simple and satisfyingly original swing mechanism. You place the stylus on the club head on the bottom screen, pull it back to determine power, and then rapidly push upward to strike the ball. It's easy to get carried away and hit the top screen on your follow-through, so take it easy!

Striking the ball on the left or right side lets you apply spin, and it's even possible to miss the ball completely ("whiff") - costing you a stroke! The putting is also easy - perhaps too much so. In terms of graphics, True Swing has a leg up on Tiger Woods, and includes similarly good fly-by previews of each hole.

True Swing's sound effects are exceptional, especially the crystal clear rain drops. You'll definitely want to turn off the easy-listening music on the options screen though - it nearly drove me insane. On the downside, you won't find as many play modes as Tiger Woods, and the players and courses are entirely fictional. You can save your place at any time. True Swing Golf feels a bit shallow at times, but it's easy-going style should appeal to casual gamers who want to play on the go. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Moby Games, Nintendo Life