The Video Game Critic's
Updated June 15, 2008
Summer Game Review Special
As you zoom down the highway you'll weave around smoothly-scaling cars, jeeps, and trucks. The intensity builds as you approach the next checkpoint with the timer ticking down. The controls are simple and the sensation of speed is exhilarating. Notice the stereo sound when you pass a car? Pretty sweet!
Major collisions are quite a spectacle, sending your car into a roll as its passengers bounce along with it. But the colorful stages are what truly steal the show. The road branches into diverse locations and climates, offering substantial replay value. From desert sands to ancient ruins, each stretch of road boasts its own unique landmarks. You will not find another Genesis game that makes better use of color - this game is gorgeous.
The opening stage is the highlight as you drive along a sunny beach with palm trees, bright sand, deep blue skies, and blooming cumulus clouds. If that doesn't put you in the mind of summer, there's no hope for you. The pleasant soundtrack exudes a fun, carefree spirit, with titles like "Splash Wave", "Passing Breeze", and "Magical Sound Shower". Easy on the eyes and music to the ears, OutRun is a timeless classic.
Wave Race 64 (1996)
System: Nintendo 64
Today, Wave Race 64 still delivers exhilarating aquatic action on the strength of its cool water effects, simple controls, and upbeat soundtrack. Riding a Jet Ski is challenging because you need to "fight" against the choppy waters. You get jostled all over the place while attempting to skillfully weave around yellow and red buoys. Get accustomed to pulling back on the analog stick to execute tight turns.
The course layouts could have been better. Some of the turns you're required to make are downright severe, and following the course might lead you straight into a wall! Memorizing the buoy placement makes all of the difference. Sometimes I wonder if the game would be better without them.
The opening "sunny beach" stage boasts clear water, bright skies, palm trees, and seagulls. This is exactly what I'm looking for in a Jet Ski game! Sadly, the game quickly abandons the tropical look for less-appealing, gimmicky locations. Drake Lake is shrouded with fog, Twilight City is blinding with light, and Port Blue is an ugly industrial complex. Sunset Bay's orange water makes it look like you're racing through Kool Aid!
Wave Racer 64's sparkling water and sloshing sound effects are so realistic that you can almost smell the salt water (or in the case of the port, raw sewage). Some courses feature a low-flying helicopter, and when approaching it I try to catch a big wave in the hopes of causing a mid-air collision! The light synth music is appealing but the announcer is super annoying. "Good!! Nice!! O-kay!! Okay!! Maximum Power!! Okay!!" Despite a full options menu, there's no way to shut that bastard up.
Modes include championship, time trials, and stunt mode. High scores and best times are recorded with initials, which is great. There's a two-player split-screen mode but without CPU racers it lacks excitement. It's a shame this game arrived a few months before rumble packs were introduced, because it would have been a good fit. Wave Race 64 has its flaws but it's hard to find a good Jet Ski game anymore.
Far Cry Instincts (2005)
Once you get the hang of setting traps, crawling under huts, or sniping from guard towers, Far Cry is as fun as any first-person shooter you've ever played. This is the game Metal Gear Solid 3 wanted to be. The frequent driving sequences are exhilarating as you bust through barricades and swerve around falling trees with missile-launching helicopters in pursuit. The beautiful palm trees, clear blue skies, and reflective rivers are very easy on the eyes, although the plants look a bit sparse and chunky up close.
The jungle sound effects are nothing short of fantastic. Unfortunately, each loud explosion is followed by a high-frequency hum that lasts a few seconds. This is meant to simulate "ringing" in your ears, but it's actually headache inducing! The voice acting is professional, although the dialogue is laced with profanity.
The simple storyline takes a dramatic turn once you become injected with a serum, giving you primal, super-human abilities. Far Cry is a satisfying shooting experience that kept me coming back for more, but it's not perfect. Although the framerate remains smooth at all times, grass often appears to "grow" before your eyes as you approach new areas, which looks odd. On more than one occasion I became stuck in some scenery and had to restart at the last checkpoint.
And while the game encourages stealth action, enemies tend to be hypersensitive to your presence, making it hard to carry out sneak attacks. I love the simple control scheme, but the lack of an "action button" can be frustrating when you want to do something simple like open a door or speak to a civilian.
There's a nice four-player split-screen mode, but the expansive environments and worthless radar displays make it hard to locate your opponents. As a single player experience however, Far Cry is the most enthralling Xbox game I've played in recent memory. If you detest first-person shooters, this probably won't win you over, but if you enjoy them to any degree, you'll absolutely love Far Cry Instincts.
Kings of the Beach (1988)
One problem that plagues many volleyball games is the ability to get your player into proper position to hit the ball. Kings of the Beach addresses this issue by stopping your player once he's moved into the correct spot, and that makes all the difference in the world. There's even a training mode to help you learn the moves.
Volleyball is all about teamwork, and this game makes it easy to cooperate. Grab a multi-tap to form teams, or join forces with a friend to challenge a CPU-controlled team! Kings of the Beach is easy to play, but mastering it is another story, and the CPU opponents are no joke. So if you're in the mood to run around in the sand and spike a ball into somebody's face, Kings of the Beach is your game.
Shark! Shark! (1982)
Perfect for a hot summer day, Shark! Shark! takes place in the cool depths of the ocean blue. You control a tiny yellow fish swimming freely around the screen. Other fish of all shapes, colors, and sizes soon emerge and lobsters creep through swaying seaweed. Your goal is to consume other fish of lesser or equal size, causing your fish (and score) to gradually increase in size. Growing lets you consume larger fish but also makes you a bigger target for jellyfish and seahorses. Losing a life returns you to your original size, so enjoy being a big fish while you can.
The controls allow you to dash forward, but only after you've released the directional pad, which can be a little counter-intuitive. Audio effects include harmonized music and realistic bubble sounds. Ominous tones indicate the approach of the large, menacing shark. He's an intimidating presence but he can be defeated. If you manage to nip at his tail enough times he will die and his carcass will sink to the ocean floor. That's easier said than done as he can turn on a dime and snap you up in his jaws!
The two-player mode adds a whole new dimension as it's possible to eat the other player! This leads to shorter but more exciting contests. For years I forged a "gentleman's agreement" with friends that our fish would not eat each other, but those days are long gone. No more Mr. Nice Fish!
I find it interesting how various creatures in the game will independently swim around and consume each other, creating a fully functional, self-contained ecosystem. Lobsters will jump up to snag low-swimming fish, prompting my friend Chris to exclaim "Was I just eaten by a crustacean?!" When a game prompts grown men to spout nonsense like that, you know it's got to be something special.
Hydro Thunder (1999)
This wild racer features 13 power boats and 14 astonishing tracks. From the exotic jungles of the Lost World, to the gigantic ice formations of the Arctic Circle, to the majestic ancient ruins of the Greek Isles, each track is magnificent in scale and full of surprises. Complementing the smooth graphics is a dramatic musical score and some hilarious sound effects.
The intuitive control scheme makes it easy to maintain control even as your boat is careening down rapids at high speeds. Large floating icons provide turbo, and using your turbo power efficiently is key to winning. Numerous ramps allow for plenty of opportunities to catch big air, and your stomach will drop as you go over huge waterfalls, some over 400 feet tall!
A split screen mode allows two players to race head-to-head, and while it's a step down in terms of speed, it's still a lot of fun. Two minor complaints are the lack of a restart option and an automatic save. But all in all Hydro Thunder truly delivers on the promise of the Dreamcast.
In The Hunt (1995)
Your yellow sub can simultaneously fire torpedoes forward (rapid-fire), launch missiles overhead, and drop mines below. The eye candy is amazing as torpedoes leave bubbly trails, splashes ignite the water surface, and mines trigger chain reactions on the ocean floor. Most enemies are underwater, but you can surface to engage airplanes and level buildings. The destruction quotient is pretty much off-the-charts as bridges collapse into the water, sending train cars plunging into the depths.
In The Hunt's soundtrack isn't remarkable, but it does call to mind those glorious days when 16-bit ruled. There's just one thing that prevents In The Hunt from achieving greatness, and that's the heinous slow-down that occurs when the action heats up. It's hard to ignore in the single-player mode, and it practically ruins an otherwise terrific two-player simultaneous mode. In The Hunt is a fun game, but it seems like the hardware is struggling to keep up every step of the way.
Frogs and Flies (1982)
System: Atari 2600
Pressing the fire button flicks your frog's sticky tongue, allowing him to snag the blocky but tasty flies buzzing overhead. Each fly is worth two points and the frog with the highest score by nightfall wins. The fly movements are erratic, and it's always satisfying to snag one just before your opponent can reach it. The scenery is blocky but conveys a cozy pond environment, complete with plants lining the edge and tree branches hanging overhead.
As the sky darkens the action becomes fiercely competitive. At the game's end, a fly pulls a "The End" sign across the screen, and crickets can be heard chirping in the background. My friends and I have a blast with this game, and there's a surprising amount of trash talk. Frogs and Flies also appeals to women, and is one of the few M-Network games that supports solo play.
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
This innovative device really adds a whole new dimension to the standard platform fare. It's a blast to hose off nasty sludge, and you can even turn the nozzle on your foes! The water pack has a surprising number of other uses as well, like turning windmills from afar, rocking yourself on a giant swing (this one actually gave me motion sickness), and even functioning as a jet pack (by aiming the nozzles down)!
In terms of graphics, Sunshine boasts the best water effects to date, including some amazing reflections. The Isle of Delfino is a tropical paradise that rivals the lush environments of Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast) and Jack and Daxter (PS2). The music is wonderful, and many sound effects are throwbacks to classic Super Mario titles. You can save your place at any time, and the game has a reasonable learning curve.
And last but not least, Yoshi is back! What more can you ask for? Well, a better camera system for one thing! You'll need to wrestle with it constantly, and sometimes even a simple jump can be difficult to execute due to the awkward camera angles. I'm also not a big fan of the new "triple jump" move. Nevertheless, Mario Sunshine is too innovative and fun to let the minor flaws like those rain on the parade.
Ecco The Dolphin (1992)
The goal of each stage is not immediately apparent, but you'll discover hints by "talking" to other sea creatures you encounter. You'll open passages, save other dolphins, avoid deadly sharks, and eventually destroy an "ancient evil" in the grand finale. Your 25-stage journey will even take you back through time to the lost city of Atlantis. It's fun to see what each new stage has in store.
The difficulty level is ideal, providing plenty of challenge but little in the way of frustration. A password is provided at the end of each stage. In addition to its gorgeous graphics, Ecco's music is also amazing, with sometimes ominous yet mostly relaxing undersea tones. Action-oriented gamers may find Ecco a bit tedious, but ultimately this is a very satisfying adventure.
T&C Surf Designs (1987)
Surfing, on the other hand, isn't as enjoyable due to its hard-to-grasp controls. Just remaining upright on your board for more than a few seconds is a major feat. Fortunately the two games can be played separately, allowing you to forgo the surfing if you can't get the hang of it.
T&C features appealing, bright beach graphics, and the background music is a lot of fun to listen to. There's a two-player mode, but it's alternating only. On the whole, T&C Surf Designs is not great, but gets by on its sunny graphics and addicting skateboarding action.
Pitfall 2 (1984)
System: Atari 5200
Finding Nemo (2003)
System: Playstation 2
In the 3D stages, you typically swim through rings while moving toward or away from the screen. Man, I really got sick of those after a while. This game has a way of taking a cool concept, like outrunning a Great White Shark, and absolutely beating it to death. I have never been so happy to see puzzles, which occasionally break up the monotony. My favorite stage of all involves finding a series of fish hiding in an aquarium.
Finding Nemo's colorful graphics are gorgeous as you'd expect, rivaling the clips shown from the film (and there are many). The fish swim in a fluid manner and the backgrounds are scenic yet unobtrusive. This is certainly one of the better-looking games I've played on my PS2. The controls are perfectly good, and a superb orchestrated soundtrack ranges from tranquil to intense.
Stages are reasonable in length, with frequent checkpoints. The difficulty is easy, although collecting all of the bonus items can be a challenge. There are no glaring flaws with Finding Nemo, but I found myself growing weary of it about halfway through. Younger kids and Nemo fans can safely bump up the grade by one letter, but those looking for some excitement should look elsewhere.
Frogger, The Official (1984)
System: Atari 2600
The first screen is leisurely but the difficulty ramps quickly. I love how bonus point values appear right on the screen, making it extra satisfying when you escort the lady frog or snag a fly. Like the other Frogger, the difficulty switches determine if you can float off the side of the screen unharmed. But what really surprised me about this game is the music.
Several songs play throughout the game, and while they lack harmony, they are all catchy and fun. Since the game rotates through a series of tunes (including Yankee Doodle), you never get tired of hearing them. It's a shame The Official Frogger is so obscure, because it's one of the most impressive titles I've played on the 2600. The game originally appeared on the Starpath series of cassette games, and was later included on the "Stella Gets a New Brain" CD.
See also The Video Game Critic's Summer Special Part II
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