March of the Penguins
Publisher: DSI Games (2005)
Although not a big fan of the movie, I figured March of the Penguins might provide some seasonal enjoyment (read: snow). It's not bad. Most of its stages play like "Lemmings in Antarctica" as you herd a dozen penguins over an obstacle-laden side-scrolling landscape. You interact and build upon the environment using a handful of selectable items including steps, bridges, fire (for melting obstacles), and trampolines (for reaching high places). You can lure the slow-moving penguins with fish to keep them headed in the right direction. I found myself somewhat captivated by this, although I will admit that the first stage is entirely too hard and is bound to discourage casual gamers. Some of the icy ledges are not rendered very clearly, and the game is very finicky about what item you can use where. More often than not an item simply won't register, forcing you to take another approach. March of the Penguins also offers overhead stages where you slide around a maze of ice, and these are moderately fun. Finally, there are the swimming stages which are awful
. Your penguin controls so poorly that you end up bouncing between "walls" of octopus while desperately attempting to surface for air. The game's graphics aren't exceptional, but a relaxing theme song plays in the background. A password is provided at the end of each stage. March of the Penguins is uneven in quality, but it offers enough variety and originality to make it worth a try if you're looking for something new. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Kart Super Circuit
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
Based on Nintendo's celebrated history of kart games, you'd better believe Super Circuit is first class all the way. The flat tracks may remind you of the Super Nintendo Mario Kart (the original
kart game), but the graphics are far more detailed and the gameplay has been tweaked to perfection. Many classic tracks have returned, including the haunted track with the wooden planks, Bowser's Castle with the lava, and a tropical location composed of a series of small islands strung together. There are eight characters to choose from and twenty beautiful tracks spread over five circuits. A cool new weapon is the "triple shells", which let you fire several shells in rapid succession. It goes without saying that the gameplay is fast, exciting, and supremely fun. The controls haven't changed much, with the exception of a new "spin turn", which lets you quickly change direction. The one-player mode saves your progress as you conquer each circuit, but Super Circuit is best played by multiple players linking up. A battle mode is available, and you can even share your "ghosts" with friends. If you want to race on your Game Boy Advance, this one is a no-brainer. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Being a pinball fan that actually owns
a full-sized table, I had mixed feelings about Mario Pinball. On one hand, Nintendo has done a fantastic job of creating a large set of screen-sized tables that effectively convey that distinctive Mario flavor. You'll see all of the ghosts, coins, stars, pipes, bombs, rounded green hedges, and zany characters you would normally associate with a Mario title. On the other hand, most screens look awfully sparse compared to typical pinball games. In fact, some have only two or three targets to hit! I was expecting more sophisticated scrolling tables, but Nintendo took the opposite approach, keeping them as simple as possible. After playing Mario Pinball a few times I decided they had made a wise decision. The tables are "stacked" upon one another with doors at the top which lead to new areas. Predictably, you'll find bosses lurking at the highest levels. Your "pinball" is actually Mario rolled up into a ball, who humorously yelps each time he hits a hard object. By "clearing" tables (hitting all the targets), you collect stars which open doors to new areas. Your two flippers are spaced widely apart, so it's very easy to lose the ball between them. One thing I don't like is how your score is rarely displayed on the screen. In regular pinball, scoring is your main goal so you always want to see it. Then again, since Mario Pinball has the additional element of "forging ahead" to new areas, this lack of emphasis is understandable. Ultimately I found Mario Pinball to be madly addictive and perhaps the most enjoyable Gameboy Advance title in my collection. I especially love the power-ups that double the size of your "ball", add an extra ball into the mix, or place a pipe between the flippers. The bouncy soundtrack is loaded with catchy, playful tracks, and some of them are pretty amazing. The festive snow stages in particular really put me into the holiday spirit. The cartridge saves your progress, but there's only one slot. For those still having painful flashbacks of Sonic Spinball
(Genesis, 1993), rest assured that this game is ten times better. Some critics may question its simplistic approach, but maybe that's why Mario Pinball is so hard to put down. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
This high-quality title combines puzzle-solving with arcade elements inspired by the original Donkey Kong games. In a typical stage, you guide Mario around a single screen filled with platforms, elevators, and vines. Your goal is to reach a key and carry it over to the exit door before time runs out. Each stage introduces a new mechanism or technique, like vaulting from horizontal bars, walking on your hands, and performing double-jumps. Three colored buttons can be found on most screens, and pressing one will cause the platform configuration to change. It's not hard to clear each screen, but collecting all of the bonus items is tricky and adds to the replay value. Despite a healthy dose of nostalgia, I found the whole button-pushing/puzzle-solving affair only mildly entertaining. I prefer the older games where you don't have to think so much! The seventh stage of each "world" is inspired by the old PC game Lemmings, where you lead a bunch of toy Marios around obstacles and into a box. Only in the final stage of each "world" do you face off against Donkey Kong, but these confrontations aren't particularly dramatic or exciting. Typically you toss barrels or drop fruit on him while avoiding his projectiles. As you would expect from Nintendo, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong's production values are through-the-roof, with polished graphics, entertaining sound effects, amazing background music, and crisp control. The only control issue I had was difficulty jumping off the vines. Charming little details like the hammer from Donkey Kong (along with its original theme music), and the hilarious animations like cymbal-clapping monkeys elevate the game's average gameplay. The cartridge automatically saves your place and records the high scores for each screen. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong is an interesting twist on an old theme, but it's not as fun as the games that inspired it. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
I don't play many RPGs, but I did enjoy this "mini-RPG" while on vacation at the beach. Its reasonable premise involves a witch who has magically stolen Princess Peach's voice, and our two mustached heroes must get it back. Mario and Luigi's scaled-down gameplay is a large part of its charm. Both characters move as a pair, with one button assigned to each. Not only must Mario and Luigi work together to navigate platforms, but they can also team up to perform devastating "brother attacks" during battle phases. These battles are more interactive than most RPGs, letting you hit a button at critical moments to maximize the damage or dodge an attack. Even so, battles can run long and get awfully repetitive. You always have the option to flee, but powerful monsters have a knack for chasing you down and sucking you in for more punishment. Mario and Luigi also incorporates a series of mini games, including jumping rope and a mine cart ride. There's quite a bit of dialogue to page through (some very corny), and I found odd lines like "I have fury!" quite amusing. The controls are okay, but it does get tedious to constantly switch between lead characters using the Start button. Also, jumping between the layered 2D ledges is hard to judge until you get a feel for it. Your quest begins slowly, but gradually sucks you in. Like any RPG, each mission is broken into a series of smaller tasks, and sometimes you forget what your original goal was. A revamped version of the original Mario Brothers arcade game is included, but it's disappointing. Even so, Superstar Saga deserves a thumbs up. It's very challenging, incorporates a great deal of action, and its thoughtfully-designed stages have Nintendo written all over them. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Matchbox Missions: Air, Land & Sea Rescue/Emergency Response
Publisher: DSI Games (2006)
This two-in-one combo is a pleasant surprise, with both titles being equally good. Each game boasts large vehicles, tight controls, a password feature, and a pulse-pounding soundtrack. Emergency Response is a pursuit-style game where you can either play as the police or the suspect (I prefer being the cop). There's not much to see as you race through the suburbs, desert, or snowy mountain peaks, but the addictive action never lets up! The suspect has a health meter that you wear down by bumping him from behind or blocking from the front. There's actually some subtle strategy as you decide whether to bump or go for the pass. The only thing that sucks is how the suspect can pick up "health" icons to regain strength! The second game, Air, Land, and Sea Rescue, is uneven but still compelling. You control a helicopter, ambulance, or boat while attempting to save a certain number of people as the clock ticks down. The helicopter controls well and reminded me of Desert Strike
(Genesis, 1992). The boat stages are less interesting because the narrow waterways seem rather maze-like. The ambulance stages are the best, although your vehicle is a bit slow. A radar display indicates the approximate locations of fuel, health, your home base, and your next destination. I wasn't expecting much from Matchbox Missions, but I enjoyed playing both games. Especially if you can pick it up cheap, you'll definitely get your money's worth. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Metal Slug Advance
Publisher: SNK (2004)
You'd think Metal Slug would be perfect for the Gameboy Advance, considering the series' stylish 2D graphics have not evolved appreciably since it debuted in 1996. The one demanding aspect of the game is the sheer number of projectiles on the screen at a given time. Metal Slug Advance looks and plays like all the other Metal Slug games, which is good news indeed. The action gets crazy as you blast your way through jungles, caves, and Aztec ruins. The graphics are brimming with style and humor, and the driving music is relentlessly good. Many stages should seem very familiar if you've played through any of the other Metal Slugs. Rescued POWs provide bonuses and weaponry, allowing you to amass some truly insane firepower. You can even commandeer vehicles to inflict massive destruction. Each stage ends with an opportunity to reduce a monstrous mechanical beast into a smoldering heap of metal. Metal Slug Advance is a great shooter, but a few things about it bugged me. I don't care for the "vertical" designs of some stages, and it sucks when you can't advance because you have to wait for more goons to appear. SNK tried to add some replay value by allowing you to collect "cards", but I didn't find this feature particularly compelling. Still, this is Metal Slug - the most intense shooter on the planet. And fortunately, little was sacrificed to bring it to the Gameboy Advance. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Nintendo (2002)
Metroid Fusion is a masterpiece in terms of production value and playability. Subtitled "Metroid 4", it marks the return of the old-fashioned, 2D style of play that you can't get enough of. Metroid has been a Nintendo flagship franchise since its inception on the NES in 1986, and recently it made an impressive transition to 3D on the Gamecube. Fusion has a compelling introductory segment that conveys a gripping story about an alien life form infiltrating a space frigate. Fusion's gameplay combines elements of past Metroid titles, and throws in a few new twists of its own. Sure, it's all platform jumping and shooting, but Fusion does it better than most. Samus can hang onto ledges, climb, charge her gun, and morph into a ball to squeeze through tiny openings. Compared to the old Metroid games, you can do a lot
more stuff. The audio is outstanding, with rich sound effects and quality music that feels appropriately menacing. Various missions take you through mazes of rooms, but an on-screen map makes it very easy to pinpoint you location as well as the next target. Special rooms allow you to retrieve mission updates, recharge, and save your game. It's an intense and difficult game, but never discouraging. Metroid Fusion is clearly a must-have title for Gameboy Advance owners. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Metroid Zero Mission
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Just when I thought I had played the ultimate Metroid game (Metroid Fusion), Zero Mission comes along and impresses me even more. Essentially a remake of the original Metroid
(NES, 1986), Mission Zero incorporates additional controls, explanatory cut-scenes, and new levels that effectively tie all of the Metroid storylines together. You play as Samus, a woman in a robotic outfit placed on her home planet to locate and destroy the "Mother Brain". Zero Mission enthralled me with its classic storyline and polished gameplay. The game introduces new weapons and skills gradually, and there are ample save points and power-ups. Crisp control, combined with a sensible user interface makes jumping platforms a breeze. Like Fusion, the graphics are exceptionally sharp and atmospheric, and ominous orchestrated music adds to the tension. Unlike most other platform games, the stages are thoughtfully designed and never seem repetitive, confusing, or frustrating. As icing on the cake, the original NES Metroid is included as a hidden bonus. With Zero Mission, Nintendo has taken an already classic game and refined it to near perfection. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Mortal Kombat Tournament Edition
Publisher: Midway (2003)
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)
This scaled-down version of Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance is arguably more engaging than the full-blown edition, thanks to its tight, simplified gameplay. The graphics are a slick hybrid of the old 2D style (pre-MK4) and the new 3D look. Scaling sprites effectively convey a sense of depth and facilitate side-step moves. There are fifteen warriors in all, including old favorites like Johnny Cage, Raiden, and Scorpion. New faces include the club-armed Drahmin and the winged vampire Nitara. The fighters look slightly pixilated (especially when they scale in) but the controls are dead-on. With no load times, easy-to-execute special moves, and only two fighting styles per character, I found the gameplay to be far more accessible than Deadly Alliance. The CPU is a worthy opponent, and up to four players can link up for multiplayer mayhem. Occasional bonus stages test you "might" or "sight", and these provide a nice break from the one-on-one action. The ring-shaped arenas are wide-open and mostly outdoor, but to be honest, I miss the dark, mysterious indoor settings of the original MK games. The audio is amazing. Warriors are announced by name, and their grunts and screams sound like something from an old martial arts flick. The pulsating, edgy electronic music is equally impressive. Winning fights earn you coins for opening coffins for prizes in the "Krypt" room. Unfortunately, it's far too much work to unlock the really good stuff. Also, a move list really should
have been incorporated into the pause menu. Despite these minor quibbles, MK fans should be thrilled with this portable edition. It's the best fighter I've played for the Game Boy Advance. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Moto Racer Advance
Publisher: Ubisoft (2002)
In my early Genesis days I was a huge fan of Road Rash, and Moto Racer rekindled fond memories of that franchise. Barreling over hills and weaving through traffic is always great fun - even on the small screen. Considering the modest graphic capabilities of the Gameboy Advance, this motorcycle racer is absolutely superb
. Its lush scenery, fluid frame-rate, and tight controls make Moto Racer arguably the ultimate Game Boy racer. You view the high-speed action from behind your biker, and while an arrow alerts you to upcoming turns, it's actually very easy to see the track far ahead. The sense of speed is so effective that when you go flying off a hill and drop into the valley below you can almost feel your stomach drop! Don't hesitate to tap your brake on tight turns to execute controlled skids, because falling off of your bike will cost you valuable seconds (it takes a while to get started again). Each of the 19 track locations offers a distinctive color scheme and interesting scenery. The sunny beach course is pure eye candy, and there's even a respectable San Francisco track! There's plenty of cool roadside scenery, and occasional surprises like a chicken crossing the road. A multi-player is included, but the heart of the game is its lengthy "progression" mode that lets you gradually unlock new tracks and bikes. It's great fun, and all of your progress is saved automatically including best lap and course times! If I had a complaint about Moto Racer, it might be the lack of music during races - you only hear the whining of engines. And is it just my imagination, or does the bike selection screen prompt you to "Choose your monster"? Technically impressive and addictively fun, Moto Racer is one of those quality games that you'll return to again and again. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.