The Video Game Critic's
Spring Game Review Special
Klonoa (Bandai 2008)|
System: Wii (and others)
This game is the embodiment of Spring with its lush green grass, flowery paths, cascading streams, and breezy music. Klonoa's simple platform gameplay and cheerful graphics harken back to the 16-bit era. While playing this game I experienced flashbacks of Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis, 1991), Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (Genesis, 1990), Donkey Kong Country (SNES, 1994), and Pandemonium! (PS1, 1996). The Dreamcast-quality visuals are smooth and the water looks inviting. You guide our furry hero through windmills, tree houses, caves, castles, and forests. Some areas let you ride on mine carts or careen down waterslides. Klonoa's imaginative stages are rendered in 3D but played in 2D, delivering the best of both worlds. The pathways tend to intertwine, often giving you a glimpse of areas to come. The simple control scheme is limited to grabbing and jumping - no motion controls to contend with. Jumping is a bit touchy, but your ability to hover momentarily allows for some margin for error. What makes Klonoa unique is how you manipulate chubby, bouncy enemies to perform basic actions. Whether you're vaulting off of one to perform a double-jump, or throwing one to clear an obstacle, you'll find a number of creative uses for these guys. Conquering each stage isn't particularly hard, but collecting the elusive puzzle pieces gives the game some replay value. Frequent checkpoints appear in the form of alarm clocks and you can save your progress between stages. Klonoa's second-grade dialogue can get a little tedious, but you can hit the minus button to skip it. This is a relatively easy adventure, but even seasoned gamers will appreciate Klonoa's old-school gameplay and innocent charm.
Spina the Bee (IntelligentVision 2012)|
System: Intellivision (and others)
Here's yet another lost Intellivision title that is only now seeing the light of day. Spina the Bee (originally entitled "Zzzz!") exudes the spirit of Spring with colorful flowers and pollination theme. I don't think I've ever seen a game like this before. You control a nicely animated bee on a side-scrolling screen of large flowers. Hey - that looks like a real bee! The screen scrolls slowly but constantly, and you need to keep up. By hovering over a flower you extract pollen, causing it to change color. Carefully navigate so you don't touch the green leaves or stems, as they will cost you points. Spina's detailed graphics feature many varieties of flowers including dangerous Venus Flytraps. Advanced levels add dragonflies, spiders, and raindrops into the mix. I like the way raindrops splash on the flowers. The game's background "music" features buzzing sounds played at different octaves, and the theme song sounds like it's being sung by a chorus of bees. You can't knock the audio and video, but the control is another story. Your bee is pretty agile at the start of each level, but quickly becomes weighed down with pollen. It starts to become a chore just to keep your bee aloft, and applying constant pressure to the controller will kill
your thumb! Between stages you're presented with a nice honeycomb screen showing your score breakdown as well as the high score. Spina the Bee comes up short in the fun department, but it's still a good-looking and interesting addition to any collection.
Viva Pinata (Microsoft 2006)|
System: Xbox 360 (and others)
Kolibri (Sega 1996)|
System: Sega 32X (and others)
Dig Dug (Atari 1987)|
System: Atari 7800 (and others)
This is a great version of one of the more timeless arcade classics. The star of Dug Dug is a little astronaut-looking guy with an air pump. As he tunnels under the ground, he can defeat his adversaries (including fire-breathing dragons) by pumping them until they pop, or score the big points by dropping boulders on their heads. The biggest thrill is to time your boulder drops to take out multiple baddies at a time. And don't underestimate the value of those bonus vegetables in the center of the screen. Never has eggplant been pursued with such zeal! As is the case with so many well-designed video games, the risk versus reward ratio is perfectly balanced. The characters in this Atari 7800 edition look similar to the arcade (maybe slightly chunkier), and the memorable "banjo" music is perfectly reproduced. The vibrant colors stand in stark contrast from the washed-out look of so many other 7800 games. It's a shame the game doesn't take advantage of all the screen's real estate, instead being "cropped" on both sides. This makes the playing field feel slightly cramped, leaving the player with little room for error. The game offers a generous number of lives (five to begin), but the difficulty level is high. The pace of the game is faster than the arcade, with creatures that are very aggressive from the start. Your score is not
displayed when your game ends, so be sure to catch a glimpse before the screen goes black. Dig Dug on the Atari 7800 can't quite measure up to the arcade, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun.
Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2 (Nintendo 1995)|
System: Super Nintendo (and others)
I was expecting more of the same ol' Super Mario action from this one, but Yoshi's Island feels very unique. Apparently gamers really
enjoyed riding on Yoshi's back in the previous Super Mario game, because that's all you do in this one! This time however Yoshi carries a baby in search of its twin. The first thing you'll notice about Yoshi's Island is its innovative graphic style. The simple clean lines and solid colors of the first Super Mario World give way to visuals that appear to have been rendered with crayons and magic markers! It looks strange at first, but it ultimately gives the game its distinctive personality. Many enemies resemble kids in Halloween masks, although you'll also encounter the familiar Super Mario mainstays. Yoshi's Island introduces some cool new moves, including the ability to "manufacture" and throw eggs at targets, and stomp the ground to break through weak areas. Special power-ups give Yoshi the ability to morph into a vehicle
including a helicopter, train, tank, or sub. Yoshi's Island has a huge number of levels, not to mention bonus challenges and mini-games. Up to three people can save progress to one cartridge. I was apprehensive about Yoshi's Island at first, but it won me over in a big way. It may look like a kiddie game, but there's no age limit to fun.
Bases Loaded (Jaleco 1988)|
System: NES (and others)
Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle (Coleco 1982)|
System: Colecovision (and others)
The first time I played Smurf I admired its graphics yet couldn't quite grasp its controls. It wasn't until I learned the proper jumping technique that I could enjoy the game as it was intended. Rescue In Gargamel's Castle features multi-colored characters and lush scenery. The flowery meadows, white picket fences, and wooded backdrops look absolutely gorgeous
. In some screens you can even see Gargamel's castle looming in the distance! Complementing the ample eye candy is a lively, harmonized musical score. The bass-heavy "echo" effects in the cave screens are also noteworthy. The controls however leave much to be desired. Overcoming many hazards requires performing long jumps by stopping momentarily, hopping straight up, then pushing the joystick up again
just as you land. It's not the least bit intuitive, but it's critical if you want to make any progress. Would it have killed the programmer to use one of the two unused buttons
for this function? I mean, really! Making matters worse is the unforgiving nature of the game. Simply touching
a tuft of grass
will cause your Smurf to instantly keel over! But despite glaring flaws that would doom a lesser game, Smurf still manages to be entertaining and addictive - probably because it's so tough! The obstacles seem to be randomized so you can't simply memorize the screens. The ability to "duck" from bats and birds was novel for its time, but in later stages those things behave like homing missiles
! Smurf is half idiotic and half brilliant. When all is said and done, it's about a wash. Even so, die-hard Smurf fans can safely bump the grade up by a letter.
Hot Shots Golf Fore! (Sony 2004)|
System: Playstation 2 (and others)
Worm Whomper (Activision 1983)|
System: Intellivision (and others)
There aren't many rapid-fire shooters for the Intellivision, but Worm Whomper fits the bill. Somewhat inspired by Centipede, you defend yourself against an army of insects who approach from the right side of the screen. Your free-roaming farmer is armed with a spray gun, and it's cool how you can hold down the fire button for rapid-fire. A second button lets you throw "plough balls" to clear out obstacles. At first I was intrigued by the fast action of Worm Whomper. There tends to be a lot of moving objects on the screen, and the worms look appropriately slimey as they slink around. Unfortunately, the challenge just isn't there. You have to play through endless, lengthy waves before the game starts to get interesting, and by then my thumb was killing
me. That's too bad, because Worm Whomper could have been the intense arcade shooter the Intellivision really needed.
Pikmin (Nintendo 2001)|
System: GameCube (and others)
People who complain about the lack of originality of video games owe it to themselves to give Pikmin a try. Best described as a cross between Lemmings and Warcraft, Pikmin is brimming with all of the originality and charm you'd expect from a Nintendo original. Fun and addictive, it combines the simple controls of a console game with real-time strategy elements usually found on a PC. You control a little spaceman who's crashed into a planet and is attempting to locate 30 parts of his ship. By enlisting the help of small leaf-shaped creatures called Pikmin, you gradually retrieve the pieces and reconstruct your ship. The crux of the game involves raising groups of Pikmin and using them to retrieve objects. These little guys are cute and endearing, and their special abilities are indicated by their color. You can make the Pikmin perform several tasks in parallel, and they can even defeat monsters when unleashed in large numbers. The game showcases the Gamecube's power by letting you command up to 100 of these creatures at a time. Pikmin strikes a nice balance of action and puzzle-solving. The camera is sometimes an issue, but it doesn't dampen the fun. Once you get drawn into its little virtual world, you actually start empathizing for the little Pikmin. I truly felt guilty whenever I left a few behind at the end of a day, knowing they would be eaten by nocturnal carnivores. This game will appeal to both men and women of all ages. Although its gameplay wears thin over time, Pikmin will fascinate for hours on end.
Realsports Baseball (Atari 1983)|
System: Atari 5200 (and others)
This is, without a doubt, my favorite classic baseball game
. It may not have all the features of Intellivision's World Championship baseball, but it beats that game hands-down with superior graphics, awesome control, and impressive voice synthesis. Realsports Baseball gives you uniformed players, a sharp-looking diamond, and a stadium complete with a homerun fence -- and a crowd. There's even a scoreboard that displays the complete line score. The pitching controls are outstanding! You can choose between nine pitches, and even control the ball in flight. Thanks to the helpful shadow, each pitch is visually distinctive. The batting controls are also innovative, taking full advantage of the unique Atari 5200 joystick design. You swing by sliding the joystick left to right, and can even control the height of your cut. Fielding takes a while to get used to, but the computer is surprisingly adept at choosing the appropriate fielder. The whole baseball experience is captured in this game, complete with tagging up, hit and runs, squeeze plays, no wind-up pitches, base stealing, and throwing errors! Thanks to some nifty voice synthesis, an umpire calls strikes, balls, and outs. The menu screen allows you to fully configure the number of players, difficulty, and number of innings. No game is perfect, and waiting for the teams to leave the field between innings gets old after a while. But when it comes to classic baseball, Atari 5200 Realsports is second to none!
Stakes Winner (Saurus 1996)|
System: Neo Geo (and others)
I may not be a big horse racing fan, but I consider the triple crown to be one of the welcome signs of Spring. Most horse racing games tend to be overly complex or gambling-oriented, so Stakes Winner's simple arcade format is refreshing. The horses are cartoonish but the tracks are green and lush. You view the action from a raised side angle as if you were sitting in the grand stand. Conditions are usually bright and sunny, but sometimes they can be overcast or rainy. The controls are somewhat mysterious. You tap A to gallop at a steady pace and hit B to use your whip and pick up the pace. You can tap the stick forward twice to bump a horse ahead of you out of the way. It's possible to tap backwards to slow down, but I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. The races are pretty chaotic as the horses tend to crowd each other, and frankly it's hard to tell if your button tapping is having any impact at all. A close-up of your horses' face indicates his energy level, and apparently much of the strategy lies in pacing your horse correctly. The collision detection is a little fishy around the rail, so be careful not to get caught up on it. Your best shot at victory is to grab that cheap speed boost icon (wings) that often appears in the final stretch. Placing in the top three advances you to the next race, and each contest is unique in terms of track length and shape. Triumphant music and colorful victory screens do a great job of conveying the pomp and circumstance of the sport. Stakes Winner is a real conundrum of a game. I could never fully grasp the controls or strategy, yet I never get tired of trying to figure it out.
Rayman (Ubi Soft 1995)|
System: Jaguar (and others)
It's hard to find fault with this excellent 2D platformer. Rayman is a cartoon character whose hands and feet are not connected by arms or legs (they just float). It sounds odd, but it gives him a unique look and allows for some interesting animations. The game combines the slow, deliberate gameplay of Super Mario Brothers with the lush colorful graphics of a Sonic the Hedgehog game. The animations are incredibly smooth and often humorous. Rayman starts off like a simple platform jumper, but as he gains new abilities like punch, hanging from ledges, or flying like the helicopter, the challenges become more complex and intense. Rayman has its share of innovations too. Your shooting fist works like a boomerang. You can instantly grow huge flowers to help you reach high ledges. Huge pieces of fruit grow on trees, and you can use them to clear your path or float across water. Besides collecting items, you'll free caged creatures and face huge bosses. The collision detection is very forgiving, but sometimes you can't see the ledge you need to jump to. The lush stages are works of art, bursting with color and teeming with life. Likewise, the music is upbeat and fun. Like Super Mario Brothers, there's a map screen that allows you to choose your stage and revisit old ones, and you can save your place between stages. The stage designs can be frustrating, but I found this version easier than the Saturn edition. Fun and highly replayable, Rayman is easily one of the better Jaguar titles.
Toejam and Earl (Sega 1991)|
System: Genesis (and others)
Centipede (Atarisoft 1983)|
System: Colecovision (and others)
Centipede is indisputably one of the greatest shooters of all time, and this version is outstanding. Strangely enough, Atari seemed to make the best versions of its games for other
consoles. The cannon, bugs, and mushrooms objects are extra large, and the animation is silky smooth. Using Colecovision's Roller Controller (trackball) is a pleasure, giving you lightning-fast movement and pinpoint accuracy. The action is relentlessly fun and incredibly addictive. Even women tend to gravitate towards this game - probably due to their disdain for bugs! The huge, hideous spider is a bit slower here than in other versions, but he also tends to linger near the bottom of the screen -- preventing you from getting a good shot at him. The scorpion shows up early and often, and at 1000 points, he's always worth taking a shot at. By poisoning the mushrooms, he indirectly leads to most of your deaths. Centipede has three skills levels and comes with my highest recommendation.
Horse Racing (Mattel 1979)|
System: Intellivision (and others)
Not only is this a fun game, but it can teach you a thing or two about gambling. One to six players begin with $750 each and bid on a series of four-horse races. Prior to each race, you view the recent history of each horse before placing your wager. There are two types of bets: Win and Exacta. Once the race begins, you are not just a spectator. No, you'll actually get one
chance to strategically "coax" and "whip" your horse. While these actions don't make a dramatic difference, they could be critical in a close race. Horse Racing is a well-designed game, and the screens are chock-full of information and stats. The racetrack graphics are good, although the horses are small. The instruction manual steps you through the game and provides useful background information. If there's one problem with this game, it's the fact that there's minimal action, and the races usually aren't very close. Still, this offers as much as you could expect from a horse racing title.