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)
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
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)
Noddy: A Day In Toyland
Publisher: Game Factory (2006)
Rating: Everyone (3+)
Living in a world of endless conflict and mindless violence, kids today could use a kinder, gentler video game experience. It's a sentiment I've always held near and dear to my heart. That's why I took a break from ripping out spines in the latest Mortal Kombat to review Noddy: A Day In Toyland. Designed for kids ages three and up, Toyland offers platform action similar to Super Mario Bros., except slower and simpler. Noddy is a jumping elf who collects coins in fairy-tale worlds that scroll both left and right. Spicing things up are occasional side-scrolling driving stages. To lend some perspective, I recruited the help of my 4-year-old nephew Jordan and 2-year-old niece Brooke. As I read the intro text to them, it dawned on me that Noddy might be better suited to kids who can read
to some extent. Once the action kicked in, Jordan offered a number of insightful comments, including "it's neat". Translation: he admired the psuedo-3D appearance of the characters, but was less impressed with the flat, uninspired background graphics. And when he mentioned, "I have to go poo poo", it was clearly in reference to Noddy's crisp controls and sensible stage designs. In his final analysis, Jordan boldly asserted, "It was a good game", although in the interest of full disclosure, he later admitted he would rather have Rescue Hero. Brooke also gave Noddy a workout, bobbing her head while exclaiming, "I'm winning! I'm winning!" Evidently that singsong music I found so irritating was quite appealing from her point of view. A Day In Toyland serves its purpose as a "starter" video game for kids, allowing them to learn basic game concepts without becoming too frustrated. It's a sensible way to get kids headed down the road to video game addiction. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Kemco (2001)
If you occasionally crave a good side-scrolling shooter, Phalanx will satisfy your urge. Originally available for the Super Nintendo in the mid-90s, this game was the victim of one of the worst marketing campaigns in video game history. Inexplicably, the box cover featured some bearded hillbilly with a banjo! It was meant to draw attention to the game, but it backfired big time. Anyway, Phalanx isn't unusual as shooters go. Armed with a rapid-fire gun and three smart bombs, you can collect multiple weapons, power them up, and switch between them on the fly. Adversaries include mechanical monsters, gross organic creatures, and combinations of both. Some fly in from the background with the help of some not-so-impressive psuedo-3D effects. A few creatures are downright tiny and can be hard to make out on the small screen. The bosses are pretty lame, although I do appreciate how chunks of them break off as they wear down. Its eight stages are average at best, but Phalanx does throw a few surprises your way. Supply trucks explode with worms when shot, and one stage has water on both the top and bottom
of the screen (that's how it is in space!) The game saves your high scores and lets you continue on your last stage. You won't play Phalanx for hours on end, but it's not a bad way to get a quick fix. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Pinball of the Dead
Publisher: Sega (2002)
Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild violence)
Pirates of the Caribbean
Publisher: TDK (2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean for the Game Boy Advance is the perfect antidote to the tediously slow Xbox edition. Its playful graphics are refreshing and bright, offering a nice isometric view of the scenery. The characters are small but nicely animated. The sound effects are clear and bold, but take a backseat to the outstanding music, featuring my personal favorite pirate song: "Yo ho - yo ho - a pirate's life for me" (everybody sing!). The game's short, entertaining missions involve hunting for treasure, fighting soldiers, and collecting items. Exploring townships, sandy beaches, dark caves, and dense jungles is fun, although the sword fighting is pretty simplistic. The puzzles are of the typical lever-pulling variety - nothing particularly taxing. Adding variety are water stages that let you sail your ship and engage in battles on the high seas. A clever control scheme uses the shoulder buttons to fire cannons off both sides of the boat. Although the pacing is brisk, the action does stall a bit when locations begin to repeat, and I did have a few "what now?" moments. What really annoys me is how such a quality title can lack a battery backup! Instead, you're forced to write down a "password" composed of random letters. What is this, the 90's? How much money did TDK save with this bonehead move, four cents per cartridge? Lame! Even so, Pirates of the Caribbean proves to be an entertaining little adventure that nicely captures the flavor of the film. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Publisher: Buena Vista Games (2006)
Publisher: www.qwak.co.uk (2006)
Racing Gears Advance
Publisher: Orbital Media (2005)
Road Rash Jailbreak
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2003)
the original Road Rash
(Genesis, 1992) but its sequels struggled to recapture the exhilaration of hitting some poor schmuck over the head with a club while speeding on a motorcycle. That's a special
feeling. This GBA version looks
good at least. After being subjected to the rough polygons of Sega Rally Championship
(Sega, 2003) the well-defined sprites and smoothly-undulating roads in Jailbreak are a sight for sore eyes. Diverse stages let you cruise along a beach, plow through snow, and enjoy a remarkable city skyline. It's easy to stay on the track and the right shoulder button lets you kick or punch the nearest racer. Your goal is to beat three other racers (both literally and figuratively) while avoiding a persistent motorcycle cop. But while it looks
like classic Road Rash, it's not the same. For one thing, having only three opponents is kind of lame, especially when the "rubberband physics" keeps shooting you from first to last place and vice versa. In the original Road Rash one good whack of the club would send a fellow rider tumbling, but here you have to hit him a dozen times! What's the point? Likewise that cop hounds you so relentlessly it just grows tiresome. There's no music during the race and the abrasive, repetitive voices got on my nerves. You earn upgrades but they seem to have minimal impact. Road Rash on the GBA feels like an example of programmers just painting by the numbers and hoping for the best. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: password
Publisher: TDK (2002)
Most side-scrolling shooters have something
to offer, but Robotech is worthless with its generic graphics and boring-as-hell stages. Making matters worse, the stagees drag on and on, long after you've lost interest. Enemies and projectiles are large and easy to see, but the repetitive planes and robot enemies are the worst
. Your ship can transform into a mech to engage ground combat, but there's really no point. If you can make it through the first stage without dozing off, you'll encounter a boss that's instantly forgettable (I think
there was a boss). You can collect power-ups, but since your ship is such a huge target it's difficult to maintain any significant firepower. Robotech doesn't even bother to keep score, so apparently the whole point is to see how long you can tolerate the monotonous gameplay. Adding insult to injury is the atrocious soundtrack, which sounds suspiciously like random keys being hit on a Casio keyboard. Why does this game exist? © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.