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The Video Game Critic's
Summer Game Review Special
Part II

Updated May 29, 2019

Cool Spot (1993)
System: Genesis
Grade: A-
screenshotOne of the best summer games ever, Cool Spot transports you to a sunny beach with the scent of suntan lotion permeating the ocean breeze. This likeable side-scroller is so polished you'll hardly notice it's an interactive soft drink advertisement. It stars the "red dot" character from the old 7-Up commercials. You know he's cool by the way he sashays around with those big sunglasses. When my friends Steve and Brendan first brought this over my house back in the day, we were cracking up at his zany mannerisms.

Each stage challenges you to collect suspended red dots while shooting various marine creatures, bugs, and cheese-tossing mice. Spot is not fleet of foot but he can leap a great distance. He can also rapidly shoot bubbles in any direction, and that's good because most enemies can withstand several shots. The first stage is the highlight of the game as you walk over sand dunes and climb beach chairs while shooting crabs and mosquitoes. I love the sound of the crashing waves and funky reggae music. The second stage takes place on a dock where you climb ropes like Donkey Kong Junior.

The remaining stages include a blow-up pool with frogs and a dark attic infested with spiders. There's also a toy stage with miniature versions of the robot from Lost in Space (the 1960's television program). The later stages aren't as visually appealing but the fun factor remains high. I love the fact that enemies do not regenerate - it keeps the repetition to a minimum. Bonus stages take place inside a giant green 7-Up bottle, where you bounce around on bubbles trying to collect as many red dots as you can. It's fun! With bright graphics, tight controls, memorable stages, and a laid-back soundtrack, Cool Spot is an underrated Genesis platformer.

Summer Heat Beach Volleyball (2003)
System: Playstation 2
Grade: B+
screenshotWith the recent release of several quality volleyball games, including Beach Spikers (GameCube) and Dead or Alive Volleyball (Xbox), I figured we were due for a real clunker, but Summer Heat is surprisingly good. As a matter of fact, I've probably put more time into Summer Heat than any of the other games I mentioned.

The control scheme is totally unique and surprisingly effective. Instead of employing meters like Beach Spikers or taking a minimal approach like Dead or Alive, Summer Heat uses large gaudy arrows that indicate where the ball will land, and their color indicates if a set or spike is coming up. They look pretty cheesy, but make the game fun and easy to play. To hit the ball, you hold down the button before you make contact, and the longer you hold it, the more effective your hit. But if you're still holding the button when your hand smacks the ball, you'll hit it poorly. Once you get the hang of it, you can set, pass, and spike with ease.

The gameplay is fun and addicting, but the spikes tend to be weak, causing the matches to go on for too long at times. The characters include males and females, and their movements and celebrations are dead-on. Unfortunately, Dead or Alive Volleyball set the bar pretty high for babelicious graphics, and Summer Heat's just don't measure up. These girls don't look too hot, but at least the "jiggle factor" is right up there. The backgrounds aren't spectacular, but depict bright, attractive beach locations that put you in the right mood.

The graphics probably won't blow you away, but the music is another story. With bouncy tunes of "Get This Party Started" (Pink) and "Love At First Sight" (Kylie Minogue) you'll be bobbing your head as you play. It's one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a video game. And the wild four-player mode is an absolute blast. There are also plenty of hidden goodies to open up as well, including music videos. Beach Volleyball Summer Heat is an ideal summer game, and a good buy for PS2 owners who've waited too long for a volleyball game.

Skuljagger (1992)
System: Super Nintendo
Grade: B+
screenshotThis simple-yet-fun swashbuckling adventure puts you in the role of a clean-cut pirate out to destroy an ugly bastard named Skuljagger. I love the tropical scenery. The first stage offers a scenic view of distant green islands in a shimmering blue sea. It's quite a sight. Even the warehouse stage looks inviting thanks to the vine-covered ruins visible through the windows.

The gameplay is predictable as you leap between ledges, collect floating gems, and slay guards with your sword (after ducking under their shots, of course). You'll fight a lot of bad-ass buccaneers including those swinging skulls at the end of chains. There are only two or three types of enemies per stage, but the fact that they don't regenerate makes it fun to explore alternate routes and search for hidden areas.

Your sword has excellent reach but flying enemies like giant red wasps swoop in from awkward angles, making the jump-slash attack your best friend. Whimsical fruit power-ups include cherry balloons, orange grenades, and grapes that turn you into a big purple bouncy ball. Sometimes you seem expected to perform "leaps of faith" but you can usually spot the very edge of the next platform if you look close enough. Spicing things up are the occasional opportunities to man cannons to sink ships in the distance. Despite a number of indicators along the top of the screen I could never figure out what my health status was.

The excellent soundtrack is more contemporary than you'd expect, and I love the organ music that plays when you die. An 80-page manual (!) includes an extensive, colorfully-illustrated background story. They don't make them like this anymore. Skuljagger may be a conventional platformer at best but its that back-to-basics style which makes it so appealing. I never get tired of playing this.

Riddle of the Sphinx (1982)
System: Atari 2600
Grade: B-
box coverThe first time I encountered Riddle of the Sphinx was over my friend Billy's house in 1982, and we were absolutely spellbound. You play the Pharaoh's heir, trekking through the desert where you encounter traders, thieves, and scorpions. The beautiful god Isis will periodically heal your wounds and the evil Anubis will drain your strength. Presenting the proper offerings to pyramids and temples allows safe passage and rewards you with the necessary artifacts required to solve The Riddle of the Sphinx.

The bright white sand background makes this game look distinctive, dotted with finely-detailed palm trees, obelisks, camels, and the occasional oasis. It's a shame the characters are just static images. You begin at the bottom of the screen, and moving causes the scenery to scroll up and down above you, so you never actually touch anything. This is advantageous while moving upward, as you can effectively "wipe" enemies off the screen. Moving downward however is more perilous as danger can suddenly appear from below. In order to trade with merchants or sacrifice to temples, you must approach them directly from below.

Riddle of the Sphinx is highly sophisticated by 2600 standards, requiring a second joystick to manage your inventory. The colorful, well-written manual offers tantalizing clues as to which items should be presented to each temple. The black-and-white switch is used in conjunction with the right difficulty switch to view various status indicators such as "inner strength", thirst, and time elapsed.

Despite its technical limitations the game is intriguing. You'll find yourself experimenting with various objects and digging where there appear to be unusual monument arrangements. You'll hurl rocks back and forth at thieves, trade with merchants, and refresh yourself at oases. Taking damage causes you to slow to a crawl, and it's possible to die. The scepter is probably the most useful item in the game, allowing you to move across the land at great speed.

Riddle of the Sphinx makes you feel as if you're trying to solve an ancient mystery. Even when you think you know the correct offerings to be made, the game is no pushover. Though often perplexing and sometimes frustrating, Riddle of the Sphinx will captivate you like few other Atari 2600 games can.

Captain Silver (1988)
System: Sega Master System
Grade: B
screenshotLong before Captain Jack Sparrow made pirates fashionable (in more ways than one) Captain Silver ruled the Sega Master System. As one astute reader observed, this is one of the few games not named after its protagonist but instead it's villain! A side-scroller with colorful graphics and simple gameplay, Captain Silver is captivating fun. Assuming the role of an old-world adventurer by the name of Jack Avery, you jump and slash your way through towns, ships, islands, and caves.

Complementing the tropical visuals is a rollicking musical arrangement that embodies the carefree spirit of a swashbuckling adventure. Your sword has terrific range and pixie power-ups enable you to unleash bursts of shooting stars. You can direct these up, down, and even sideways while hanging off masts and ladders. The action is slow and methodical but satisfying.

Defeated enemies leave behind floating letters, and collecting enough to spell "Captain Silver" to earn a free life becomes an obsession. Your first few foes are pretty tame, including giant teddy bears (ahem... "werewolves"), green pumpkins, and Cheshire cats. Later you'll battle bloodthirsty buccaneers, poisonous frogs, and natives with spears. The game doesn't keep score but your gold can be used for this purpose.

Players of the American version may find certain aspects of Captain Silver confusing. Why don't the pirates fire their guns? Why does the instruction booklet show a witch, cyclops, dragon, and banana king? As it turns out, this American version omitted large chunks of the original game to save memory costs. We're talking about enemies, bosses, and entire levels! Fortunately you can still get the full experience by importing the European version. In retrospect, this abbreviated Captain Silver feels like a warm-up to the real thing.

Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002)
System: Xbox
Grade: A-
screenshotAlthough widely overlooked, Legend of Black Kat is arguably the best pirate game ever made. It's a potent combination of explosive sea battles, interesting island exploration, and exciting swordplay. The game progresses at a steady clip thanks to its nicely tuned difficulty, responsive controls, and frequent save points.

You assume the role of an attractive female pirate by the name of Kat, who must single-handedly battle famous pirates, giant crabs, gorillas, and skeletons. In addition to wielding a sword, Kat can hurl knives and toss exploding powder kegs. Each island is unique and fun to explore. I especially like the nifty vibration effect that alerts you of nearby buried treasure. Controlling your ship on the high seas is easy thanks to arcade-style controls that even include a turbo boost! Blasting away at other ships is satisfying, especially when they explode into flames.

This Xbox version's graphics are noticeably more polished than the Playstation 2 version, and its crisp audio includes creaking boats hulls, exotic birds, resounding explosions, and a lively musical score. The save and load times are much better in this version as well. Those looking for realism will prefer Sid Meier's Pirates (Xbox, 2005), but gamers looking for non-stop action should check out this underrated adventure.

Eliminator Boat Duel (1991)
System: NES
Grade: A-
screenshotEliminator Boat Duel delivers fun-in-the-sun racing thrills as you go head-to-head against a friend or a series of relentless CPU opponents. Each race is like three games in one. At the starting line you get a side angle view of the two impressively large speedboats. Getting off to a fast start means hitting the accelerator the split second the bikini babe waves the flag. From there the course seamlessly switches between a 3D perspective and an overhead view not unlike Micro Machines.

The 3D view gives you a slick behind-the-boat angle as you race between flags in the open water. There's a nice sense of speed and the layered clouds overhead look lovely. The overhead view plays completely different as you weave around obstacles in bayou, wharf, and open water environments. The rich scenery includes shimmering water, swimmers, and cabins on the shore.

Being in the lead gives you the first crack at nitro or money icons, but you're also more vulnerable to sharks, whirlpools, and hull-damaging logs. Nitros play a strategic role in the game, as a well-timed boost can allow you to narrowly edge out your opponent. The action becomes especially intense as the boats jockey for position near the finish. The game returns to the close view in order to show the boats crossing the finish line as bikini babes jump and cheer. If it's really close, you're treated to a super-slo-mo instant replay!

Winnings can be used to repair and upgrade your boat, much like Super Off-Road. The CPU opponents are some colorful (and very sarcastic) characters including a Jerry Garcia look-alike named Aquarius Rex. The game only has one glaring flaw, and that's how it abruptly ends after a player loses three races. A score or some indicator of your performance would have been nice, but instead you just see an ugly "GAME OVER" screen. It's a blemish on an otherwise first-rate boat racer. Eliminator Boat Duel is a somewhat obscure title that should intrigue classic gamers looking for some wet-and-wild entertainment.

MotorStorm Pacific Rift (2008)
System: Playstation 3
Grade: A
screenshotAs a gritty off-road racer with photo-realistic graphics, the first MotorStorm (Sony 2007) really blew my mind. But as impressive as it was, it had its share of issues. This sequel effectively addresses those issues by incorporating split-screen modes, shortening the tracks, and alleviating the difficulty. The load times are reasonable and you don't even have to sit through an installation process! Apparently someone at Sony has figured out how to program a PS3, and it's about [expletive] time!

The tracks offer much more variety this time around, with lush jungles, scenic shorelines, high-altitude cliffs, and active volcanoes. There's a hodgepodge of vehicles to choose from, from motorcycles to dump trucks. At first the lack of track markings may leave you confused about where to go, but in fact the tracks are designed to be wide open, with alternative routes and shortcuts out the wazoo. As long as you're heading in the right general direction, you're doing fine. The rough terrain will have you hugging the edge of harrowing cliffs, soaring off wooden ramps, splashing through water, and navigating dangerous crossroads. At the beginning of the "Riptide" track, all of the racers converge on a single narrow ramp, and the chaos that ensues with crunching metal and flying bodies is the stuff of gamers' dreams.

The controls are simple, and the complete lack of tricks is refreshing. You have plenty of turbo power, but you'll want to limit it to straight-aways since it severely limits your ability to turn. Physics is not your friend, so try to keep four wheels on the ground and orient your ride in mid-air. As with the original game, Pacific Rift delivers an exhilarating, half-way-out-of-control feeling that's both exciting and addictive. The grudge soundtrack is positively headache-inducing, but thank goodness it's drowned out by the engine noise. I have to give Sony credit for including a four-player split screen - that's pretty rare for a non-Wii game! Pacific Rift is probably one of the best summer-themed games I've played, and a perfectly good excuse to finally break down and get a PS3.

Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (2016)
System: Wii U
Grade: A+
screenshotShantae Half-Genie Hero is one of those rare games I couldn't put down the moment I started playing. It has a strong middle-eastern flavor like Aladdin (Genesis, 1993), but its vibrant graphics and upbeat soundtrack are so good they put Disney to shame! Shantae is brimming with quirky anime charm and an exuberant spirit that's rare in modern games.

Characters beam with humor and personality thanks to the clever, self-aware dialog. The gorgeous visuals call to mind the cell-shaded brilliance of Monkey Island Special Edition Collection (Xbox 360, 2011). When I saw that gargantuan mermaid queen emerge from the sea, my jaw hit the floor! The light, breezy soundtrack is sensational and when the vocals kick in it elevates the action to a whole new level.

The controls are pinpoint as our heroine whips her hair at crabs, pirates, and crocodile henchmen. Shantae also wields innovative weapons like storm clouds that linger over enemies. The action begins slowly so you might get the impression the game is too easy. Don't worry - you'll soon be going through continues by the dozen! Dazzling stage locations include waterfall cliffs, a burning town, a tower in a desert, a haunted castle, and a flying carpet raceway. Expertly designed, the stages are a lot of fun to explore and it's a good thing because you'll need to revisit them to acquire key items.

The inventory screen is very Zelda-esque and the similarities don't end there. Familiar creatures like dancing centipede and a heart-centric health system made me feel as if I were playing a 2D Zelda. Shantae gradually acquires the ability to transform into a monkey, elephant, mouse, crab, and other forms. While navigating as a mouse through tiny labyrinths the game gave me flashbacks of Maze Craze (Atari 2600, 1978). Playing this game is such a joy it makes Call of Duty feel like homework by comparison.

Much like Shovel Knight (Playstation 4, 2015) Shantae's development team learned its old school lessons well. Did I mention the game comes with a glossy color instruction manual? Kids, be sure to ask your parents what that is! I've played more console games than just about anyone, and Shantae Half-Genie Hero stands as one of the best. Note: Also available for the Playstation 4 and Vita.

Paperboy (1988)
System: NES
Grade: B+
screenshotI really miss the innocent days of old when every video game didn't involve saving the entire universe. In Paperboy you're just trying to deliver some damn newspapers for Pete's sake! The screen scrolls diagonally as you ride your bike through attractive suburban neighborhoods with inviting scenery. If that doesn't put you in the mind of a sparkling summer morning, the happy-go-lucky music should do the trick.

Your goal is to toss a paper on the doorstep of each subscribing house, or toss papers directly into their mailboxes for bigger points. The houses are conveniently color-coded with subscribers in light-colored homes and non-subscribers in ominous red houses. What makes the game extra fun is how you earn points by breaking windows, hitting gravestones, knocking over trash cans, and just creating chaos in general. Your paper supply is limited but you'll find extra bundles at random.

Paperboy is challenging because you're confined to the lower right corner of the screen with little room to maneuver and a small turn radius. Riding on the street gives you little time to react to oncoming cars and storm drains. The sidewalk has its own share of hazards like dogs, construction crews, and runaway lawnmowers. There's one house where a crazy woman bolts out of the front door with a knife! If that's not alarming enough, you'll encounter death himself - the grim reaper!

At the end of each street is an obstacle course. I'm glad this is just a bonus stage, because it's hard to line up your bike correctly with the ramps. Paperboy's gameplay is super fun and loaded with surprises. And even if you fail, at least it's not the end of the world.

Rolling Thunder 2 (1991)
System: Genesis
Grade: A
screenshotI loved the first Rolling Thunder (NES, 1989) but this sequel knocked my socks off. In addition to reprising the tactical shooting thrills of the original, Rolling Thunder 2 serves up some of the most visually arresting sights you'll see in a 16-bit title. It begins with a pretty elaborate 007-style intro. You can assume the role of a male or female secret agent, or both if you have a friend on hand. Yes - you heard it right - this game has two-player co-op!

The opening stage takes place at a marina with turquoise waters, majestic yachts, palm trees, and beautiful villas. I actually had to pause the game to gaze at the breathtaking scenery! Crisp controls allow you to effortlessly shoot, duck, and take cover. Your bullets travel slowly and when you run out of ammo you can only fire intermittently. Fortunately there are ammo storage closets and special weapons like machine guns that ratchet up the intensity. Enemies include colorful ninja warriors and pouncing black panthers. Wait a minute, what is that bad guy doing to the statue of a woman?! Please tell me he's just reloading.

Anyway each stage demands a methodical approach as you scale floors and drop down to put yourself in the most advantageous position. After the first two stages the difficulty kicks into overdrive! In addition to outstanding graphics the game offers excellent digitized sounds including an agonizing scream when you get killed! I also like the innovative password system that uses four-word passphrases instead of characters. Thoughtfully designed and a sight to behold, Rolling Thunder 2 is one Genesis game you won't want to miss.

Wii Sports Resort (2009)
System: Wii
Grade: A
screenshotAs a worthy follow-up to Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort offers a variety of fun-in-the-sun mini-games. Not only are these fun to play with friends, but they also pack substantial replay value for the solo player. The first event is Swordplay (grade: B-), which is probably the most highly anticipated. Each player wields a sword with precision, and the B button is used to alternate between attack and defense poses. Playing a friend is undeniably fun, despite the fact that contests usually degenerate into mindless beat-downs.

Wakeboarding (B) offers simple fun as you steer your water-skier from side-to-side, jerking the controller to jump off the boat's wake. Tricks are performed in the air automatically, but you'll need to focus on the landing. In Frisbee (A+) you throw a disc to a dog on a beach while trying to hit a particular target. The smooth throwing controls work like magic, and the game is extremely fun. Frisbee golf is also an option, and it's equally outstanding.

Archery (A-) is another winner. The controls mimic the act of pulling a bow, and the accuracy of the Wii-Motion plus is quite evident. This compares very favorably to the time-consuming archery events in Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Sega, 2007). Basketball (B) features a three-on-three pick-up game and a three-point shooting contest. The semi-automated pick-up game is confusing, but the three-point contest features excellent, natural shooting controls.

I've played Table Tennis (A) video games before, but none as simple or intuitive as this one. The manner in which you can apply spin is uncanny, and I love the short-but-sweet matches. Golf (C+) is reprised from the first Wii Sports, and it's a bit of a letdown. The controls are somewhat awkward and touchy, and only nine new holes are included. Bowling (A+) makes a triumphant return, and it's much more challenging this time. A new "spin challenge" mode places moving barriers in the lane, and the 100-pin rack is now available as a normal event.

Power Cruising (B+) offers jet-ski action similar to Wave Race Blue Storm (GameCube, 2001) except you're racing the clock as you weave through gates. I like how you hold the two controllers as if they were handlebars. Canoeing (C-) is one of the least fun events, and its repetitive, physical nature would probably be more appropriate for Wii Fit. Likewise, cycling (D) feels like a chore as you alternate the controllers up and down to simulate pedaling. Air Sports (B) offers several flying events, including one which lets you buzz the entire island in a plane while collecting icons and shooting balloons.

Overall, Wii Sports Resort offers amazing playability and competitive fun for all ages. Wii Sports was a landmark title, but this sequel surpasses it easily. NOTE: Wii Sports Resort includes one Wii-Motion Plus controller attachment, and this accessory is required to play.

Splashdown (2001)
System: Playstation 2
Grade: A-
screenshotI've always been a big fan of jet ski games, and Splashdown is one of the best ones I've come across. Thanks to responsive controls and a helpful training mode, controlling your jet ski is a piece of cake.

There's plenty of room for technique, with special moves like bunny hops, inverts, submarining, hydroplaning, and various mid-air tricks. Performing tricks is rewarded by increasing the performance of your jet ski.

The shimmering, rolling water looks great, and the twenty international courses are full of ramps and shortcuts. The scenery is attractive but not spectacular like Hydro Thunder. The races themselves are truly exciting, and the computer players are surprisingly intelligent.

The kickin' soundtrack features Smashmouth and Blink 182, which are great at first, but you'll soon become sick of the repeating tunes. Splashdown is a quality arcade title that I found to be quite addictive. I think Wave Race for the GameCube is slightly better, but it's a close call.

Marine Fishing (2000)
System: Dreamcast
Grade: A
screenshotSega Bass Fishing was an excellent early Dreamcast title, and this sequel improves on it in many ways. In Bass Fishing, all you could catch was bass, but in Marine Fishing, 15 different varieties of fish are available, including blue marlin, sailfish, tuna, and Mako shark!

Unlike Bass Fishing where it was easy to catch a fish, these fish battle you to the bitter end, making it more satisfying when you haul one in. The scenic fishing spots are large and wide open. You can post your catches on-line, and even save your fish in your own personal aquarium. There are mini games and over 200 bonus items to unlock. Be sure to use Sega's Fishing Rod controller for maximum fun and realism. Marine Fishing may be the best fishing game I've ever played.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2008)
System: Playstation 3
Grade: A
screenshotWhen I think of summertime activities, I think of going to a ballgame, relaxing on the beach, playing tennis, and raiding ancient ruins for treasure. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is to video games what Indiana Jones is to movies. Gamers should be falling over themselves with unbridled joy over this gorgeous game. Man, we are some spoiled bastards!

Uncharted was developed by Naughty Dog, the good people who refined platform gaming with their PS1 hit Crash Bandicoot (1997). And here they go again with another first-rate jungle adventure! Uncharted is jam-packed with amazing sights, exciting shootouts, and one death-defying stunt after the next. You'll also cruise jungle rivers on a jet ski and embark on a high-speed jeep chase. Uncharted's scenery really steals the show with its dense foliage, partly submerged ruins, crumbling monasteries, and fortresses rising up at the edge of the sea. Jumping between crumbling cliffs is a lot more exciting when you're staring over the top of a magnificent waterfall! I often found myself gawking at the scenery, and with 60 hidden treasures, you'll want to explore every nook and cranny.

The star of the game is a likeable, wisecracking guy named Nate (Nick Lachey?), and he's joined by a blonde reporter (Helen Hunt?). Nate really puts his whole body into his leaps, and it looks amazing. His clothes become visibly soaked when they get wet, and gradually dry. While similar to Tomb Raider, Uncharted's pacing is faster, the puzzles easier, and the controls are practically idiot-proof. This is one of the few games I've completed without once looking at the manual or an FAQ, partly due to an ingenious hint system (hit L2) that prods you along before you get stuck.

Wall climbing and ledge-jumping has never been so effortless, and the shootouts combine a Gears of War-style cover system with simple aim-and-shoot mechanics. Let's face it - in most games auto-targeting is used to compensate for lousy controls, but here they aren't necessary. Granted, enemy thugs can absorb a lot of bullets, but that's okay, because so can you! There's no health meter, but the screen loses color as you take damage, and you reconstitute health by staying out of harms' way.

Uncharted's plot is compelling, and the dialogue features true-to-life lines like "Sweet - that's why I'm talkin' bout!" (after finding an Uzi) and "Where'd all these guys come from?!" (after an ambush) Uncharted's single misstep occurs late in the game when it temporarily becomes a Resident Evil knock-off for no good reason. It's a shame a game this fresh had to fall back on such a tired formula. Even so, Uncharted is a summer blockbuster of a game that had me absolutely riveted from beginning to end.

See also The Video Game Critic's Summer Special Part I

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