Game Boy Advance Reviews J-L

Jurassic Park III: Island Attack
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Reviewed: 2012/8/18
Rating: Everyone (violence)

screenshotAs one of three Jurassic Park III games made for the Gameboy Advance, Island Attack is an action-packed adventure. There's not much of a story (thank goodness for that) but the style and visuals stay true to the film. At the start of the game you find yourself next to some plane wreckage while talking to the coast guard with a transmitter. The guy offers some pretty dubious advice, like "if you run into any dinosaur, just make a run for it." Actually he's right - running is usually your safest bet, considering there are no weapons.

The action is viewed from a tilted overhead angle as you explore jungles with wide clearings, a partly-operational control center, and a dilapidated museum. The graphics are so detailed that they sometimes border on digitized. The massive Spinosaurus looks particularly ominous as it rocks back and forth, ready to charge.

Some of the smaller dinosaurs however, like the spitting Dilophosaurus, can be a little hard to make out. Your main adversaries are raptors, and the most effective way to subdue them is to lure them near explosives and ignite them with a flare gun.

This cat-and-mouse style of play gets a little old after a while. In one area you need to lure five Dilophosaurus into an electrified pool of water, and it's a tedious, time-consuming process. The running controls are awkward, forcing you to double-tap the directional pad. Frankly I wish my guy was running all of the time.

A crosshair symbol appears on items of interest (like a breakable crate), but sometimes only intermittently. Aiming the flare gun is frustrating, especially when a dinosaur stands between you and a crate. When it comes to smashing a box or opening a rusty door, the game prompts you to button mash.

Most stages are relatively short, and you can save your progress after completing each one. The transmitter comes in handy later in the game when you're in need of a hint. A high-speed motorcycle chase offers a nice change of pace, but it's about twice as long (and hard) as it should be. Jurassic Park III: Island Attack has its highs and lows, but it should appeal to fans of the film. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

Jurassic Park III: Park Builder
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Reviewed: 2012/8/18
Rating: Everyone (violence)

screenshotThe intro to this game features digitized (and pixelated) dinosaurs running wild, and it really got me psyched up to play. Jurassic Park III: Park Builder is a simulator along the lines of SimCity and Theme Park. The icon interface makes it pretty easy to construct a park with roads, hotels, restaurants, shops, and fenced areas for the dinosaurs.

The process for making a dinosaur is consistent with the films. First you deploy teams of excavators to various continents to mine for amber. Upon their return you analyze the amber in a research lab, with each piece containing portions of DNA for a particular dinosaur. Once you acquire a full strand you can produce an egg. There are 140 (!) types of dinosaurs in all, and it's fun to "collect" them.

As the park comes to life you'll see people milling about with bubbles over their heads indicating if they are sad, happy, or excited. The game lets you customize your park to a surprising degree, incorporating things like landscaping, statues, and fountains. You can upgrade facilities, read what the people are saying, and view a graph of the attendance. There's plenty to do, but your hands are often tied by available funds.

Your money is shown on top of the screen, and it fluctuates wildly. When in the red you really can't do much of anything except wait, and the park freezes in time when you peruse the menus. I also dislike how the game is constantly prompting you to "name" things, including every single dinosaur. Not only do I have no desire to "name" the dinosaurs, but the keyboard interface royally sucks.

One crucial tip for a novice is to install "rotaries" to connect roads with walkways. Otherwise you get all kinds of nonsensical error messages. Once you get the hang of it Park Builder is a pretty intriguing title that packs a surprising amount of content. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

Jurassic Park III: The DNA Factor
Grade: B-
Publisher: Konami (2001)
Reviewed: 2012/8/18
Rating: Everyone (violence)

screenshotOf the three Jurassic Park III games for the Game Boy Advance, DNA Factor is probably the most playable. It feels like a traditional side-scroller as you guide a lanky Indiana Jones-looking dude through jungles and laboratories while jumping, dodging, shooting, and collecting DNA samples. Good times!

Your character actually moves between two planes, but since they aren't clearly delineated, it takes a while to figure out where you can or can't go. There are a lot of bottomless pits, but your guy usually grabs the ledge instead of falling. The DNA samples (colored dots) burst into stars as you collect them in a magically delicious kind of way. You don't need to collect all of the DNA, but grab what you can because if you don't collect enough you'll need to replay the stage.

I really enjoyed the arcade style of DNA Factor, but the game finds some imaginative ways to annoy. When trying to get past the Brontosaurus boss, even touching his leg can spell instant death. Worst yet, the "earthquakes" caused by his stomps deal significant damage unless you jump in the air. It's actually possible for him to kill you after he's completely left the screen!

I could also do without that "DNA shooting" mini-game between stages. It has an old-school flair (I guess), but it's confusing and unnecessary. Worst of all, if you fail it, you need to restart the previous platform stage, and that just sucks. The DNA Factor had the right idea, but a few bonehead design choices prevent it from being exceptional. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer
Grade: B
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Reviewed: 2003/8/12

screenshotPro Surfer reminds me of an old computer game called Surf's Up that I played on my Atari XL computer about twenty years ago. There's no 3D graphics here - just a little surfer on a huge wave. Even so, I must commend the awesome visuals. The waves look utterly fantastic with their bubbling foam crests and shimmering barrels, and the water in the background looks practically digitized. Gameplay simply involves guiding your surfer around the wave and executing tricks for points.

It would be tempting to write off Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer as a simple button masher, because almost every button combination produces some kind of trick. It's hard to screw up in Amateur mode, but the Challenge mode is addicting in a Tony Hawk kind of way. You can pull off impressive combos with ease, but you'll need to know what you're doing to score the big points. A special meter across the top of the screen increases with every trick, so the better you perform, the easier it is to pull off the crazy stuff.

Pro Surfer's music is great, and a gnarly surfer dude offers constructive criticism like "You suck!". Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer is a pleasant surprise to say the least. If you're looking for a surfing game but have been disappointed with the PS2 and Xbox offerings, give this old-school throwback a try. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Konami Collector's Series: Arcade Advanced
Grade: A-
Publisher: Konami (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/5/30

screenshotBased on this superb compilation, the Gameboy Advance is well-suited to classic 80's arcade action. Konami's all-star lineup includes Frogger, Scramble, Time Pilot, Gyruss, Yie Ar Kung Fu, and Rush'n Attack. Frogger is clearly the star of the show, and remarkably, this is the first time I've seen it in a compilation! Unlike the arcade version, the screen scrolls up and down as you hop, but this doesn't harm the gameplay.

Scramble is one of my all-time personal favorites. It's a terrific side-scrolling space shooter where you fire missiles and drop bombs while navigating narrow caverns. Time Pilot is an intense free-flying airplane shooter with stages that reflect various periods of history. In Gyruss, you move your spaceship in a circular pattern and fire at enemies that emerge from the center of the screen.

Yie Ar Kung Fu hasn't aged as well as the others, but it still delivers some enjoyable fighting action as you attempt to defeat a series of cartoonish martial artists. Rush'n Attack is a side-scroller that challenges you to infiltrate a Russian military base. All of these games provide hours of addicting fun, and some nifty bonuses are included as well. There's a "prehistoric" bonus level for Time Pilot, two extra fighters for Yie Ar Kung Fu, and "advanced resolution" modes of Frogger, Scramble, and Gyuss.

This is how classic games should be updated - improve the graphics but don't mess with the time-honored gameplay! So what's not to like about Konami Arcade Hits? Well, the fact that you can't save you high scores for one thing. That's especially hard to forgive considering all these games have nice high-score screens. Other than that, Konami's Arcade Advanced is an action-packed blast from the past. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: frogger
Our high score: 7460
1 player 

Legend of Zelda, The
Grade: A-
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Reviewed: 2004/7/18

screenshotOriginally released on the NES in 1986, this revolutionary title effectively fused arcade action and RPG-style adventure. As one of Nintendo's flagship franchises, Zelda is still going strong today, but has this original installment stood the test of time? Absolutely, and this throwback cartridge leaves no doubt.

It had been a while since I had played Zelda, and the first thing that struck me was how unlike recent Zelda adventures, this one doesn't "hold your hand" through the first few stages. No, this one tosses you straight to the wolves, and you'll die repeatedly before you gain enough health to face down monsters. Stick with it - the game gets easier and more interesting as you progress.

Zelda's world is a rectangular patchwork of screens containing forest, desert, water, and mountain environments. Scattered throughout the landscape are wandering monsters, multi-level dungeons, merchants, and wise men that offer advice (like "walk into the waterfall"). When your life meter is full, your sword can also fire projectiles, making combat a heck of a lot easier. It's neat to see how so many of the weapons, monsters, and musical tunes from this game have endured throughout the whole series.

Legend of Zelda may be timeless, but it understandably lacks the polish of subsequent Zeldas. I don't like how the monsters materialize briefly after you enter a screen, resulting in some really cheap hits. It's also annoying how when you reach the edge of the "world", the screens just start to repeat in a confusing manner. Some of Zelda's graphics are a bit hard to discern on the small Gameboy screen - many creatures are hard to see at all. But despite these minor quibbles, Legend of Zelda is still a very satisfying experience. Plus, it's refreshing to play a Zelda game that you can finish in a weekend. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/7/26

screenshotOne of my defining video game memories was playing Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo) in 1993. That game absolutely captivated me from beginning to end, and few adventures I've played since have been as enthralling or satisfying. Over the years, Zelda has transitioned to 3D, and the modern adventures are great but lack that charming 2D simplicity. Now, after many years, Nintendo has returned the series to its 2D roots. Firing up Minish Cap for the first time, those warm feelings began to return.

The game's overhead graphics are appealing and its majestic musical score is first rate. Much of the music and sound effects are lifted directly from Link to the Past. The storyline doesn't take long to develop. An evil being has turned princess Zelda to stone, and he can only be defeated by a special sword. The sword has been broken into pieces, but it can be reforged by the legendary tiny "Picori" people in the Minish Woods. Once Link acquires the power to shrink himself down and visit these little people, it opens up a whole new dimension of exploration.

After so many Zelda episodes, you might expect the formula to be wearing thin, but Minnish Cap introduces some truly innovative new wrinkles, such as rotating a barrel from the inside. Unfortunately, everything doesn't come together perfectly, and it's possible to become terribly stuck. The new feature of "fusing coin pieces" requires you to slash every bush and talk to every person, and it gets old. Even so, the game has a wonderful sense of charm and discovery, making for a pleasant but imperfect Zelda adventure. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
Reviewed: 2005/7/26

screenshotThis little Diablo-style dungeon crawler is playable enough, but practically identical to its predecessor, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Electronic Arts, 2002). Return of the King's presentation is beyond reproach, with cinematic sound effects and fluid animation. Heck, Gandolf's robe even flows in the wind!

As you battle your way through scenes from the film (and a few scenes not from the film), you'll discover all sorts of new items and weapons. Unfortunately, the familiar formula is wearing thin, making Return of the King's flaws harder to forgive. For one thing, item management gets tiresome, especially when you keep picking up the same unwanted crap. An auto-upgrade feature sure would come in handy.

Besides selecting abilities and weapons, the hack-n-slash action is pretty shallow. Cheap hits and exploding enemies will have you wishing there was some kind of defensive maneuver. There's a lot of dark environments that make it hard to discern enemies. If you didn't play Two Towers, you might appreciate Return of the King more, but otherwise steer clear of this obvious rehash. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2002)
Reviewed: 2004/11/1
Rating: Teen (blood, violence)

screenshotIf nothing else, I was enthralled by The Two Tower's sky-high production values. Crisp video clips, lavish ornamentation, and a heroic musical score make this a very attractive package. Under the covers however lies a rather conventional hack-n-slash solo adventure in the tradition of Diablo. You guide your selectable hero through locations inspired by the first two Lord of the Rings films, from snow-swept mountains to cavernous mines.

Unfortunately, there's not much to see and the dungeons and wilderness areas get monotonous. You view the action from a tilted overhead perspective, giving the 2D graphics a modest illusion of depth. Despite the small size of the characters, each is meticulously rendered and nicely animated. Enemies like Orcs and Wolves can be hard to discern, but at least they splatter nicely when defeated. The audio samples are simply amazing.

During battle, the sound of a clanking sword or ripping flesh lets you know when you've landed a blow. In addition to hacking and shooting arrows, you can execute special moves like brandishing two swords at a time or shooting fireballs. The somewhat repetitive action is spiced up by the ability to outfit your character with various weapons, armor, and other items. You'll acquire loot from defeated monsters and not-so-hidden treasure chests.

In theory, you can save your place at any time, but you always have to restart your latest level, which means repeating large chunks of a stage. Despite its flashy appearance, Two Towers wears thin after a while. Fans of the films will find plenty to like, but casual gamers may have a hard time maintaining interest. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 


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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, GameFAQs.com, Moby Games