Arcade Classic 4: Defender & Joust
Publisher: Nintendo (1995)
This portable compilation offers a new slant on two arcade classics. I really can't get over the quality here. Defender retains all the frantic side-scrolling mayhem of the coin-op original. I love how you can rapidly fire streaming shots. Those large aliens are fun to pick off, and the explosions are satisfying. Naturally however there are a few trade-offs. The radar displays a bunch of black boxes, and it's hard to tell the enemies from the humans you're trying to save. The buttons are for shooting and smart bombs, so there's no hyperspace. That can be a problem when mutants begin to swarm, as they seem impossible to outrun. Still, I had a blast trying to edge out my top score. Joust is nearly as good. In this ostrich-flapping game you attempt to dismount flying gladiators while snatching up eggs for big points. Since the objects in this game are enlarged a bit there's less real-estate to work with. In addition, the framerate becomes a bit erratic in advances stages. That said, the game is still fun and gives you plenty of lives to work with. One character who really steals the show is the lava troll - a flaming hand who reaches up from the fiery depths to grab those who fly too low. Though rarely seen in the arcade, the disembodied hand will chase you around! There are numerous customization options like difficulty level, rapid-fire, and number of lives. Defender & Joust is exactly what you want in a portable - manic arcade fun on the go. And if you own a Super Game Boy (for the SNES) you're in for a real treat, with full-color cabinet art and even an "updated" version of Joust! © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 12,450/23,250
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Nintendo (1989)
Baseball looks promising enough at first glance. The pitcher/batter screen offers a nice view from behind the plate with all the vital stats across the bottom. Pitching is simple and the batter can slide freely around the batter's box. But when the ball is put into play... oy!
It's bad enough the ball slowly floats
through the air like a damn balloon
, but the scrolling screen jerks around trying to keep up with it! It's truly hard to anticipate where the ball is going to land but fortunately your fielders will automatically camp out underneath fly balls. Throwing the ball back to the infield is painful because your throws are so weak. The ball is rolling
by the time it reaches the base! Maybe I should just run
the ball in next time! I could never figure out how to control the baserunners. The CPU was beating me like a drum until I discovered I could regularly strike him out with fastballs down the middle. This is a shoddy product. Baseball for the Game Boy is so bad I could barely tolerate three innings of it. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sunsoft (1990)
If you're a Batman fan this simplistic platform-shooter is likely to induce eye-rolling. Our short, squat hero looks more like Bat-mite!
He fires these big-ass cannonballs
out of a gun. Couldn't they have made those look like batarangs instead? It may be a misuse of a license but the Batman game is still a good time. Our miniature Caped Crusader can gracefully leap great distances and his duck move is invaluable when exchanging gunfire with the Joker's goons. The stage layouts are clever, allowing you to strategically clear away blocks to reveal bonuses and power-ups. A few are tricky to reach, and once the screen moves forward, you can't go back. The only connections to the film lie in the cutscenes and stage locations which include a chemical factory, museum, and cathedral. There's also a rapid-fire Batwing stage. The music isn't from the film but it's pretty great with some nifty drumwork. Batman could be more faithful to the film but somehow succeeds in spite of itself. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 129,900
Publisher: Acclaim (1995)
The Batman Forever name is one of infamy for retro-gamers but this portable edition is halfway respectable. Batman looks quite realistic on the small screen, swaying in place and waving his fists. His roundhouse kicks and leg sweeps look pretty nifty with blows so impactful they shake the entire screen! The scenery and musical score tend to be sparse and repetitive. As Batman forges through the opening stage he smashes statues and vases for power-ups. Thugs show up with names like "Bully", "Catnip" and "Ninja". Has it occurred to Batman that maybe these guys are just mad because he's breaking all their stuff?
The fighting adopts the Mortal Kombat formula but since enemy life meters are short they don't overstay their welcome. The collision detection is pretty loose and I'm not sure any of my rapid-fire punches actually connected. At the end of the first area I found myself hopelessly stuck in front of a closed exit door. A little research revealed I was required to quickly press down and up to spring upward through the ceiling to a higher level. How in the [expletive] was I supposed to know that? There are also special moves that require "dragon-punch" style pad maneuvers. Upon freeing a few prisoners the exit magically opened, which makes no sense. After exhausting my lives a score was displayed but there were no continues. No complaints here!
Batman Forever won't win any awards but compared to the 16-bit debacles it's a total blast. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: med
Our high score: 75,580
Batman: Return of the Joker
Publisher: Sunsoft (1992)
Return of the Joker is a marginal side-scroller where you vault, swing, and punch bad guys while attempting to reach the end of each perilous stage. Batman looks buff and can punch rapidly, but why in the hell is he fighting baseball players from the 1920's? I think I just knocked out Babe Ruth
for Pete's sake. Oh wait - the Babe left a heart
for me! The ability to vault between walls gives the game a Ninja Gaiden
(NES, 1989) flavor but the controls are clumsy. One false move and you fall off the screen or get crushed by heavy machinery, and then it's game over. There's no score or password although a few continues are available if you're a glutton for punishment. Normally I appreciate a stage select feature but the options here (train, factory, sewers) could be more enticing. I subjected a few friends to Return of the Joker and they all ended up with the same glazed-over look in their eyes. There comes a time when you just need to throw up your hands and admit a game is junk. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Batman: The Animated Series
Publisher: Konami (1993)
Batman: The Animated Series kicks off with a stylish animated intro. That might not seem like a big deal, but for a proper Batman title setting a brooding atmosphere is key. The graphics are outstanding. When played on the Game Boy Advance subtle red and green accents beautifully enhance the artistic graphics. Batman really does look like the Caped Crusader - not some silly cartoon version. I love the skyscrapers looming in the moonlit sky and the dramatic musical score. Batman can jump, punch, and vault off walls like Ninja Gaiden
(NES, 1989). I have to admit the wall-jumping takes some getting used to. Batman can also fire his grappling hook straight up to pull himself up to higher levels. While prowling around for items it's fun to get the drop on bad guys. The combat however is a little shallow. Batman's attacks are limited to simple punches and batarangs (when available). The stages are well-designed and the bosses are reasonable in difficulty. The game lacks a password but it does have a score and continues. Batman: The Animated Series far exceeded my expectations. Pound for pound this is one of the best Batman titles I've played on a portable. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 4830
Publisher: Tradewest (1993)
(NES, 1991) was a wildly popular side-scrolling beat-em-up starring a group of amphibians schooled in the martial arts. In this portable edition you automatically lose the two-player coop that made the original such a hoot. The graphics aren't bad though, and if you're playing on a Game Boy Player the visuals are enhanced with attractive blue and lime accents. The opening stage is fairly routine as you move to the right, methodically beating the crap out of pig-like creatures. Your toad exudes raw machismo as he charges with his shoulder or knocks enemies off the screen with an exaggerated punch. Swinging an axe exudes thunderous force, causing the whole screen to shake! The first boss looks intimidating but I was surprised how easy he is to hoist over my head and toss. After that your toad hops into a little jet for some side-scrolling shooting action. Blasting incoming missiles is fun for about 10 seconds, but there's not much to it. You're then required to fly around walls of spikes with small openings. The margin for error is so tiny you practically have to memorize the hole locations. I'm not sure how I got through this part, but I felt like I was playing on pure instinct. This sequence alone makes me never want to play the game again. The third stage reprises the winning beat-down formula, but this time you're pounding rats into the ground while leaping between precarious ledges. You get three continues, but like the NES game, finishing this is a monumental challenge. The portable Battletoads has all the difficulty of the NES game, but only a hint of its charm. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: continues
Our high score: 11,660
Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2, The
Publisher: Kemco (1991)
At first glance Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle 2 appears to be a dull, by-the-numbers platformer. You collect keys, open doors, evade enemies, reach the exit, and proceed to the next stage. Once the difficulty starts to ramp however you realize there's quite of bit of strategy here. You can't jump, but the levels are connected by ladders, staircases, trampolines, pipes, and portals. Occasionally you'll find a weapon like a bow or bomb that can send enemies up in smoke. These are limited in quantity however, so evasion should be your first option. Adversaries include familiar Warner Bros. characters like Yosemite Sam, Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester, Foghorn Leghorn, and the Tasmanian devil. Don't give up when you appear to be trapped or cornered. You can pass foes on the stairs, and sometimes they'll inexplicably turn around at the last second. The stages are short and a four-letter password is provided between them. The music is surprisingly good, although its repetitive nature will get on your nerves after a while. What makes Crazy Castle 2 work is its thoughtfully constructed stages. There's usually a specific route you need to follow and the margin for error is thin. Once you get into a groove, Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle 2 is actually somewhat addictive. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Password
Publisher: Atari (1995)
Centipede is one of the greatest arcade games of all time, but you'd never know from playing this Game Boy edition. This reminds me of one of those old LCD watch games with the pre-rendered black shapes blinking all over the place - not a pretty sight! The mushrooms look like letter T's littering the playing field and the animation is heinous
. In contrast to the quick trakball controls of the arcade, dragging your cannon around the screen feels slow and laggy. Perhaps to compensate for the lousy controls the collision detection is remarkably generous. Just about every shot manages to hit something
. The spider who menaced players in the arcade now moves in slow motion. Even the scorpion (which looks like a banshee) is a sitting duck. The default difficulty is novice for some reason, which is tremendously boring. I actually felt a sense of relief whenever I lost a life! You need to crank up the skill level all the way to "expert" to keep the games at a tolerable length. When a game doesn't get interesting until wave 28, that's not a good sign. Centipede has several two-player options (including coop) but I can't imagine inflicting this on another person. The only thing this Centipede has going for it is its title screen music, which is awesome. As far as its tepid gameplay goes, there's really no excuse considering a kick-ass version of Centipede
(Atari 2600, 1983) was released over a decade before. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: expert
Our high score: 31,161
1 or 2 players
Publisher: Victor Interactive (1991)
I played the original Choplifter
(Atari XE, 1982) on the heels of the Iran hostage crisis, and the idea of flying into enemy territory in a helicopter to rescue people was an intriguing premise. Considering how fun and satisfying that game was, this ill-advised sequel is disappointing. Instead of flying freely it feels like you're in some kind of obstacle course. The geography is so constrained it's practically claustrophobic.
There's not much room to maneuver above mountains and if you touch a bird or stormcloud your helicopter will explode
. You're better off flying directly into a brick wall. To destroy cannons and roving tanks you must rotate your copter sideways, but you really need to finagle with the controls because they absolutely suck
. Sometimes I would fly backwards across the top of the screen just because I got tired of trying to turn around!
There's never much room to land when rescuing people and you'll often bounce off a tree or building while trying to set down. I usually cut portable games a little slack but this game totally misses the mark. Choplifter II takes a classic title, puts it through a blender, and serves it up with a generous helping of aggravation. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (1994)
I had heard good things about this Donkey Kong, but didn't realize how ambitious
it was. The first four stages are lifted directly from the original arcade game (1981) - including the pie factory screen. Not only do these play as well as the arcade - they play better
. The controls are more forgiving and you can now tumble down to a lower platform without dying. I really dig the new sound effects like Donkey Kong's growl and Pauline's scream. These screens are actually just a prelude to the "real" game, which features larger, scrolling stages. Your challenge is to grab a big key and transport it to a door while employing a series of new gameplay mechanics. Mario can now vault, swing on poles, throw items, and even "ride" on certain enemies. It reminds me a lot of Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
(Game Boy Advance, 2004). These new stages feature faint "background graphics" like city skylines and forests, giving them some personality. Playing on the Super Game Boy further enhances the experience by adding rich colors and an arcade-style border. Three save slots are available and you're prompted to save often. The new stages will exercise your brain as much as your reflexes... and that's the problem!
Some are real brain teasers, requiring you to position new platforms and perform an elaborate sequence of actions before a timer runs out. I wish Donkey Kong didn't make me think
so much, but there's no denying the quality of this first-class title. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: Battery
Publisher: Capcom (1990)
(NES, 1989) is considered a beloved classic, so how does the portable version stack up? Well that toe-tapping theme song certainly makes a good first impression, and a handy stage select allows you to pick between the Amazon, Transylvania, Himalayas, American Mines, and the Moon!
Actually that's a bit deceptive because certain stages require keys from others. Playing the role of the cane-wielding Scrooge McDuck you'll face monkeys, snakes, and spiders in the Amazon. The characters are impressively large and detailed, but there's not much room to move around. It's fun to take out multiple enemies with your pogo jump attack, but sometimes you can't tell what you can bounce off of. I would have never guessed I could pogo across that bed of thorns, especially with all those vines hanging overhead. Why can't I just climb across those? Scrooge also has a nifty golf swing move. Just push against any obstacle and press the button to smash it with your club. Nice. The quality of the stages are uneven. The Amazon feels very claustrophobic, but I enjoyed Transylvania with its ominous headless knights. The Himalayas are tough because you can't pogo on the snow. And did you know there were octopuses and football players on the Moon? This game suffers from a lack of checkpoints and sometimes you jump right through a rope you were trying to grab. Overall this miniature Duck Tales is far inferior to the NES version, yet still manages to get its point across. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 166500
Game & Watch Gallery
Publisher: Nintendo (1997)
Nintendo released a series of "Game & Watch" LCD games from 1980 to 1991. In case you don't recall the technology, it used pre-printed black shapes on a gray screen. When made visible in sequence, these shapes conveyed a rudimentary kind of animation. This technique was used to create a series of cheap, portable video games. Game & Watch Gallery reprises four of these: Manhole, Fire, Octopus, and Oil Panic. Not only do you get the original (read: choppy) versions, but also "modern" versions retrofitted with better graphics, smoother animation, and even Nintendo characters. I have to admit some of the original games were pretty clever. There's one where you catch people jumping out of a burning building with a trampoline, and it gets crazy as you try to juggle them all. In another game you try to snag underwater treasure while avoiding octopus tentacles that reach out for you. High scores are recorded but there's little fun to be had. Frantic and repetitive, these are the kind of games that put people into mental institutions!
The "gallery" part of the title alludes to unlockable pictures and history that tell the story of the series. This cartridge might have been a passable way to kill time in the 80's, but that's before we had the Internet. If you once owned a Game & Watch handheld and want to relive your youth, bump up the grade by a letter or two. Otherwise I'll quote young Indiana Jones: "This belongs in a museum!
" © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: manhole
Our high score: 72
Save mechanism: Battery
Publisher: Ocean (1993)
The cheesy T-Rex face on this game's title screen gave me an instant case of deja vu. Have I played this before? Kind of!
Apparently the NES version which is essentially the same. Jurassic Park is an overhead adventure where you wander around heavily constrained areas while shooting dinosaurs, collecting items, and unlocking gates. The first stage feels like a fun treasure hunt as you try to locate all the dinosaur eggs. Armed with a pea shooter you can kill pesky scampering tiny dinosaurs which inexplicably explode and leave ammo behind. Unlike the film the raptors and spitting dinosaurs are easy to elude. Scouring the park for eggs gets a little tedious after a while but the catchy soundtrack keeps you humming along. You'll also stumble upon weapon, health, and mystery icons. The mystery icons are very cheap because half the time they blow up in your face! There are a lot of computer terminals scattered around the park, but even after you acquire multiple ID cards they tend to say "access denied". Why is this game so confusing? The graphics won't strike fear into your heart, but the bosses feature impressively large dinosaurs. Having to save the kids calls to mind the most irritating parts of the films. I can't even avoid those stampeding triceratops myself, much less lead a kid between them. I didn't care much for this game on the NES, and I'm not in the mood to cut it much slack on the Game Boy. Late note: I will give Ocean props for putting together a nice illustrated manual with stage descriptions, hints, and fun dinosaur facts. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 645
Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues
Publisher: Ocean (1994)
Okay, now this
is more like it! In stark contrast to the meandering overhead style of the first game, Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues is a proper side-scroller. You play the role of Dr. Grant who looks cartoonish but moves in a fluid manner. His gun has unlimited ammo and he can fire rapidly in any direction, a la Contra
(NES, 1988). Precision controls make it fun to leap between grassy platforms, and when you jump into water the game kicks into Jungle Hunt
(Atari 2600, 1983) mode. Not only can you swim, but you can shoot while swimming! On land expect a lot of small chicken-like dinosaurs and pesky flying lizards. Those baby triceratops patrolling narrow platforms will dole out plenty of mandatory hits until you realize you can just shoot them! Doesn't seem right does it? The game is not particularly hard and the bosses are predictable. That said, the exciting chase sequence with that zombie T-Rex had me clutching my controller like grim death! As with all other Jurassic Park games, there's the obligatory riverboat scene. Was this scene deleted from the film? Jurassic Park Part 2: The Chaos Continues is a sequel I can get behind. It's probably what the first game should have been. Note: The manual contains an ad for Kenner's line of Jurassic Park toys, and I have to admit they look like they'd be a lot of fun to play with! © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 5040
Publisher: Disney (1994)
I can't recall the last time I felt so miserable
playing a platform game! Lion King was frustrating enough on the SNES, but at least that
one had some eye candy to ease the pain. The only thing this portable version has going for it is that cute animation of little Simba scrambling to pull himself up on a ledge. Even as a little cub Simba can use his roar to incapacitate enemies and flip porcupines. The platforms in the opening stage are arranged vertically - just one of many poor design choices. The controls flat-out suck
. Simba's ability to grab a ledge should
ease the difficulty, but most of the time he just falls right through!
It's especially demoralizing when you fall several stories and have to work your way back up. The abysmal collision detection works when it shouldn't, and doesn't work when it should! Simba bumps his head on platforms which severely constrains your movement. Worse yet, you tend to get stuck in tight spots with annoying creatures that sap your life. In stage two you leap between giraffe heads sticking out of water, and the margin of error is ridiculously small. The overhead stampede stage would be a nice change of pace if only it were the least bit fun. When Simba grows up he changes form, but is no larger on the screen. The Lion King is pure torture, and if not for the stage skip feature (pause, B, A, A, B, A, A), I wouldn't have made it very far. The harmonized music has a melancholy quality, and that's fitting because Lion King made me sad. Circle of Life? More like Circle of Shame!
© Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Lost World: Jurassic Park, The
Publisher: Sega (1997)
Wait - this
is supposed to be a Jurassic Park game? This clumsy platformer plays more like a bad Flashback
(Genesis, 1993) sequel. Your fluidly-animated character can run and leap like a track star but is hard to control with any precision. He tends to slide all over the place. In the opening stage you sprint over hills and through caves to collect ten compy eggs. Your adversaries include both dinosaurs and human hunters. Large dinos stomp you and small ones latch onto you, so they are equally annoying. The bad guys are super lame. You just run up to one (after taking several bullets), punch him in the face a few times, and grab the health icon that appears. Rinse and repeat! The second stage takes place in a forest where you retrieve pterodactyl eggs. At first it's alarming to get carried off by a pterodactyl, but they often carry you to where you need to go! The control scheme is awkward. The select button cycles between your weapons and hands, but you need your hands to open the crates so you're constantly having to switch. When fighting your guy performs a series of uppercuts and sweep kicks like he's in Mortal Kombat
(Genesis, 1993). Enemies have an annoying tendency to overlap you so you can't touch them. The lab stage is the worst; it's just an expansive maze with elevators. Everything looks the same. I did find it interesting how your objective is to collect floppy discs!
The remaining stages are blatant rehashes of the first three. The spastic "music" that plays throughout the game is just plain irritating. Good video games require skill, reflexes, and cunning, but The Lost World is just a matter of perseverance and pain. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.