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The courses look more natural than the artificial wonders of SSX, and the gameplay is less complicated in general. For casual gamers, this may actually be a better choice. I personally love the understated natural beauty of these courses, with their powdery snow, scenic evergreens, and scurrying wildlife. Most are a joy to behold, although a few inexplicably have more mud and ice than snow (yuck).
The controls are simple as can be, although "rolling" the joystick to regain your balance seems oddly unintuitive. A more practical feature is how your character becomes transparent so your line-of-sight is never obstructed. I also like the slow-motion as you execute mad stunts in mid-air. As much as I love the racing aspect of Avalanche, I have to admit that the "tricks" element of the game is somewhat lacking. Another weakness is its music, which I recommend turning off in favor of the crisp sound effects of slicing through the icy tundra.
A terrific split screen mode allows up to four people to compete against each other, and it doesn't seem watered down at all. I only wish they would have incorporated a multi-round "championship" mode (a la Mario Kart). It's not the most ambitious snowboarding game ever made, but for those who prefer to keep it simple, 1080 Degree Avalanche is the perfect antidote to SSX. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
This game is brimming with style and has an outrageous sense of humor. Your firepower is overwhelming, but you can also slice and dice foes at close range, or toss grenades from a distance. If that's not enough, you can hop on their backs and bite their heads clean off! Yeah, there's gore, but it's so cartoonish and over-the-top that few will find it offensive. To break up the monotony, you can commandeer cars or spaceships. In a tribute to the old arcade game Rampage, one stage lets you control a huge abominable snowman that literally fills the screen!
Hominid's graphics and hilarious animations are hands-down spectacular. The backgrounds look like they're painted, and the explosions are massive. The pulse-pounding background music is equally terrific, and the sound effects are crisp. Several mildly amusing mini-games are also included, and some pay homage to the pixelated games of the early 80's. I should have loved Alien Hominid, but I didn't. This is one of those games where the sum is less than its parts.
First off, Alien Hominid subscribes to the modern shooter philosophy that says you have to spend at least half of the time fighting bosses that take forever to wear down. Man does that get old! Next, the ease in which you can dispatch the normal bad guys really takes the edge off the game. It's like the Matrix movies where Keanu Reeves beats up a never-ending parade of agents - fun for a while, but soon becomes a bore. The game's flashy graphics and huge objects often make it hard to tell what's going on.
Finally, this game gave me the worst case of carpal tunnel ever. Alien Hominid takes its cue from several 2D classics, but it doesn't possess the same old school sensibility or addictive gameplay. I've heard several people complain that this game is too short, but for this critic, it's enough Hominid for a lifetime. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Gamers in the mood for action will find Animal Crossing's leisurely pace excruciating. Upon taking up residence in a small house, you'll pass the time chatting with neighbors, running errands, decorating your house, managing inventory, and collecting items. Some of the more tedious aspects of the game include writing letters, reading mail, designing patterns, pulling weeds, and get this - paying off a mortgage! This is the kind of stuff we play video games to escape from!!
Interacting with the town's inhabitants wouldn't be so bad if the dialogue wasn't so exceedingly wordy. I don't think any character is capable of conveying a simple thought without spouting at least five pages of inane text. You'll be tapping the A button like mad just to page through the repetitive, boring pleasantries. Even saving and loading your game require you to sit through pointless conversations!
Animal Crossing's graphics are intentionally simplistic, but Nintendo should have cleaned up the edges, which appear rough and pixelated. Clearly designed to be played a little every day, Animal Crossing follows the real clock and calendar, properly reflecting the time of day and changes in seasons. New characters gradually move into your community, and simple activities gradually become available like bug catching and fishing.
The game does have a few memorable moments, like when you stomp on roaches and they turn into little ghosts, or going on a boat ride with a captain who sings that bizarre "cucumber song". Animal Crossing is for easily-entertained people who have a lot of time on their hands, and I'm told young kids love it. Personally, I never felt as if I was doing anything but passing the time. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
In addition to a bevy of fancy martial arts attacks, Batman's utility belt is loaded with gadgets like bat-a-rangs, grappling hooks, nets, and remote charges. Some of the game's more original elements include saving people falling in mid-air (!) and the ability to handcuff defeated henchmen so they won't come back for more.
The level design is superb, so for the most part it's obvious where you need to go and what needs to be done. Spicing up the action are occasional driving stages. The graphics in Batman Vengeance are crisp and attractive, employing vivid colors over dark backgrounds, although a few areas are a bit hard to discern. The music and sound effects are spectacular, obviously lifted directly from the TV series, and there are over 40 minutes of gorgeous cinematics.
While my experience was overwhelmingly positive, I did uncover a few flaws. The "C" stick used to target enemies is far too sensitive, and the camerawork is awkward at times, especially on the ledges of tall buildings. In your first encounter with the Joker, you can hear him, but you can't tell where the heck he is! Finally, it would be nice if when you picked up an item the game actually told you what the freakin' thing was! But don't let these problems steer you away from this above-average superhero title. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Battalion Wars offers all the strategy of an adult war game, but without the blood, gore, and profanity. Your Brigadier general is named Betty, and this girl is stacked! She talks to you like you're in the second grade. During each mission you control one soldier but can issue commands to specialized groups of troops, including those equipped with bazookas and flamethrowers. The left trigger is used to lock onto a target, you have frequent opportunities to commandeer enemy guns and vehicles. After locking onto an enemy tank, you can press Y to have your troops bear down upon it with all of their firepower. That's satisfying!
If you're expecting Battalion Wars to be a simplistic war game, you're in for a rude awakening. The controls become quite complex after the initial few stages, and they aren't particularly intuitive. It seems like sometimes you use the Z button to assume control of a vehicle, and other times it's the B button. The directional pad adjusts the camera angles, and the right thumbstick is used to cycle through your troops. Games like Halo and Call of Duty come second nature to me, but I never felt comfortable with the controls in Battalion Wars.
When fighting enemies, it's possible to lock onto your own men, which is irritating. The camerawork stinks, and you'll struggle to get a grasp of what's happening around you. Driving vehicles is an absolute nightmare, especially when you're racing the clock. The missions are ideal in length but severely uneven in difficulty. I don't object to the idea of a sanitized war game, but Battalion Wars is too light on the fun and too heavy on the aggravation. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
So, is Beach Spikers any good? Absolutely. As they did with Tennis and Soccer, Sega has transformed an average sport into an arcade extravaganza. And the game's arcade origins are obvious when you see "Enjoy the game" and "Thanks for playing" on the screen. Beach Spikers is simple to play but completely addictive and challenging. The volleys are exciting, and positioning your players is key. Only two buttons are used, and a simple meter determines the power of spikes and serves.
Playing modes include arcade, multi-player, career, and even a few mini-games. The idea behind the career mode is to incrementally increase the skill of your inept CPU partner, who you can praise, encourage, or reprimand! The announcer in Beach Spikers sounds very effeminate, so it's hard not to crack up when you hear his lisp. One flaw with the game is the camera, which is constantly swinging around, making it easy to become disoriented. The blocks aren't particularly effective, so most of the time it's best to hang back. Also, this game needs a tournament mode in the worst way. But in general Beach Spikers is a winner, especially with four players. It's not quite up to the level of Virtua Tennis, but it's cast from the same mold. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Defeated enemies drop fruit icons, and rolling over these will cause your egg to increase in size, giving the game a Katamari Damacy (Playstation 2, 2004) flavor. You can hatch full-grown eggs to release "helper animals" like a fire-breathing bat or a seal that freezes water. Wandering chickens provide hints, but the stages are usually small enough that you can figure things out for yourself. The game also has several "rolling" sections that feel like Super Monkey Ball (GameCube, 2001).
Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg is innovative and thoughtfully designed, but there's a good chance it will drive you crazy. It's easy to roll the eggs in open spaces, but when it's time to execute precision moves the clunky controls falter. The lousy camera doesn't help. Yeah I know the camera is an issue with most 3D platformers, but it's ten times worse when you're pushing a large egg along a narrow platform. You sometimes find yourself backing into a monster because the tight camera doesn't give you a good sense of your surroundings.
The bright, inviting stages include a tropical pirate cove, a volcanic dinosaur world, and the snowy Blizzard Castle which seems to be everyone's favorite. I tried the four-player mode with my friends, but it was a mess. They had no [expletive] clue about the controls, and I didn't feel like explaining everything. The game's toe-tapping musical score is mostly good, but some of the la-la-la-la-la songs may get on your nerves. It takes a while to gain traction but Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg will grow on you. I could never play it for hours on end, but I find myself coming back to this time and time again. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Still, there are a lot of very cool elements that make Bloodrayne worth checking out. For one thing, the lead character is a hottie of the highest magnitude. With her short red hair, bouncy breasts, and skin-tight leather outfit, she looks more like a dominatrix than a vampire! Better yet, she has a sexy voice and a serious attitude. Upon slicing off a soldier's arm, she'll casually mention "you dropped something" before sauntering away.
Oh yeah - that's another thing about this game - the excessive gore. Rayne enjoys hacking her foes into meaty chunks, and the blood flies far and wide. Making the violence even more gratuitous is the ultra-gory "blood rage" mode and the slow-motion "dilated perception" mode. The language is pretty rough too - I think this is the first game I've ever heard the "F" word pronounced so boldly.
The first stage is set in the swamps of Louisiana, and these creepy areas incorporate some blood-curdling audio effects. I found the Nazi fortress stages to be fairly "blah" by comparison. In addition to her blades, Rayne has other weapons at her disposal including shotguns and a harpoon to "reel in" bad guys (Scorpion style). The auto-aiming mechanism not only makes it easy to target enemies, but alerts you to their presence. When Rayne's health meter gets low, she can suck blood to regain life - but you already knew that. BloodRayne has style to burn and enough originality to suck in casual gamers with an appetite for blood. It's a good time, but definitely for mature gamers only. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
The intro features some impressive anime work, and the game itself looks colorful and stylish. The level of graphic detail is a step below Virtua Fighter 4, but not too far behind. The ladies look great, thanks to their skimpy outfits and bouncing bosoms (gratuitous for sure, but who's complaining?) The simple control scheme (one punch button, one kick button) not only encourages button mashing, but rewards it. For best results I'd recommend using the digital pad. Chaining together combos is the order of the day, and you can link some wild moves together without even looking in the manual (which lists combos over 10 buttons long!).
Ironically, Bloody Roar contains no blood, but flashy effects compensate for that. The backgrounds range from a dull Asian temple, to a city bridge, to a beautiful aquarium. There's not much to see, and the audio is equally weak. The soundtrack is forgettable, and I really hate how my fighter screams like a little girl upon being defeated - especially since he's a guy!
Bloody Roar is a competent fighter, but Activision missed a few opportunities to make this special. What ever happened to "morphing"? The characters here instantly transform into creatures, and it's downright unspectacular. Also, while the arenas are enclosed, you can't knock your opponent through the walls, even after the walls are damaged (unlike previous editions). Overall, Bloody Roar provides some mildly amusing fighting action, but ultimately comes off as shallow and forgettable. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
The tracks are long (maybe too long), but wide and perfect for racing. It's quite a rush to careen through busy intersections and thread your way through oncoming traffic. Sometimes you'll miraculously whiz through a crowded intersection and wonder how the heck you made it out in one piece! Another great thing about Burnout is how CPU-controlled opponents can also wreck. It's supremely satisfying to be tailing the leader and watch him smash into a truck!
Burnout's graphics are silky smooth, the music is mesmerizing, and load times are minimal. The generic highway of the first course isn't much to look at, but later tracks are more interesting, including a scenic Paris-inspired River City. The main problem with the game lies with its use of timers and checkpoints. Like many arcade racers, the game is really a race against the clock, and not making it to the next checkpoint in time will end your game even if you're in first place!
Another issue is how the transparent green arrows tend to have traffic coming out of them, which is hard to see. Finally, after a wreck, you often find yourself resuming the race in a far better position! This is especially unfair in the two-player mode, where you can pass a crashed player only to have him reappear ahead of you! Problems like this add an element of frustration to an otherwise outstanding racer. But then again, that's what sequels are for. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
The fresh new batch of tracks includes an interstate, a rainy airport, and several California cities. The scenery is attractive enough, but you won't have much trouble keeping your eyes on the road. Point of Impact addresses a few of the major flaws of the first game. For one thing, you no longer have to worry about your time expiring between checkpoints, which was a huge problem with the original game. Cars driving towards you blink their lights, making it easier to see oncoming traffic. When you collide with the green arrows that block certain turns, you're gently guided back on track instead of crashing.
Point of Impact is incredibly forgiving, so you can crash several times and still win the race! And that's the main problem with Burnout 2 - the lack of difficulty. I won a long string of races before I encountered one that was even remotely challenging. It's as if the developers were overcompensating for the frustrating difficulty of the first game. The mind-blowing "turbo boost" effect of the first game has been toned down considerably, but crashes are even more spectacular with incredible impacts that send cars flipping end over end.
If you're like me and thrive on destruction, you'll really appreciate the addictive new "crash" mode. The idea is to cause as much damage as possible by plowing into crowded intersections, causing devastating domino-like chain reactions. This mode in of itself is worth the price of the game. Another new mode is "pursuit", where you try to cause another car to crash. We've seen this before in other games (Need For Speed comes to mind), but never done this well. Burnout 2 is one of the best racers of the Gamecube, and a must-have if you prefer arcade action. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Nintendo.com, Sega.com, Moby Games, Video Games Museum