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Games are rated relative to other games for the same system.

GameCube Reviews N-P

Grade: C+
Publisher: Nintendo (2006)
Posted: 2006/5/30
Rating: Everyone (10+)

screenshotThe VGC loves originality, and Odama has it in spades. Its gameplay is an unlikely hybrid of real-time strategy (RTS) and - get this - pinball! The action takes place on a screen-sized battlefield set in ancient Japan. In the midst of a huge battle, the object is to have your soldiers transport a large bell through a gate at the top of the screen. Using a pair of huge "flippers" on the bottom, you propel a huge black iron ball (the "Odama") across the battlefield, knocking out obstacles and steamrolling any soldiers who get in the way (including your own). A special power-up causes the Odama to glow green, allowing it to "convert" enemy troops to your side.

Odama's pinball gameplay is addictive, but the game falters in its attempt to incorporate voice recognition. You're supposed to issue vocal commands to your troops via the included microphone, like "press forward", "move left", and "rally". Unfortunately, it's rarely obvious when to issue each command (except when the game prompts you), and using the microphone in the heat of battle is distracting. I would prefer to just hit a button, or not have to worry about these commands at all. The targeting system for selecting groups of soldiers is quirky as well.

Another big issue is the game's steep learning difficulty curve and excessive complexity. The second battle alone took me and a few friends literally hours to complete, and subsequent battles have so many confusing objectives, it's hard to keep track of them all. Each battle is timed, so even when you seem to be making progress, the game can end abruptly if the clock runs out.

As flawed as it is, however, Odama is still strangely compelling and addicting. My abysmal performance and lack of progress did not prevent me from playing Odama for hours on end. The ancient Japanese theme is artistic and unusual, and has an off-beat, self-deprecating sense of humor. Odama could have been a winner if it were easier and less complex. I love to see innovation like this, but I could really do without the frustration. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

One Piece: Grand Battle
Grade: C-
Publisher: Bandai (2005)
Posted: 2012/5/22
Rating: Teen (cartoon violence)

screenshotBased on the Japanese cartoon series, One Piece Grand Battle is a pirate-themed one-on-one fighter in the tradition of Power Stone (Dreamcast, 1999). As you listen to rap music playing over the intro, it slowly dawns on you that this is not your standard Pirates-of-the-Caribbean fare. Actually, you can't really tie One Piece to any time period, because the series is set in its own universe.

The main character "Luffy" is a kid in a straw hat that longs to be "king of the pirates". The other characters include a freak with a pointy nose, an evil clown pirate, a dude with Freddy Krueger hands, and a guy dressed in a suit (just as I feared - a Republican!). At its core Grand Battle is a series of one-on-one fights in constrained environments like a castle courtyard, a quaint village, a swimming pool, and a wooden ship. The stages are not spectacular, but they are true to the source material.

One Piece fans will appreciate how so many of the secondary characters on the series make cameos throughout the game. The attempt to emulate the Power Stone formula comes up short. It's possible to unleash some nifty attacks, but it's hard to target an opponent who's jumping all over the place. Tapping certain button combinations will unleash a barrage, but more often than not you'll initiate an elaborate chain of moves in the wrong direction. The special moves are enhanced with slow-motion close-ups, and it's always satisfying to witness a devastating roundhouse kick to the chops.

Opening chests can reveal power-ups, but beware of poisonous mushrooms. The matches tend to be frantic, and it's pretty exciting when they come down to the wire. One Piece fans will relish the details of Grand Battle, but may be disappointed at the lack of a Japanese voice track. Anime fans can bump up the grade by a letter, but others might find the subject matter a little hard to grasp. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

One Piece: Pirate's Carnival
Grade: D-

screenshotOne Piece has its share of pirates, but they aren't from the Caribbean. No, this quirky Japanese manga series takes place in its own bizarre universe. One Piece Carnival is a Mario Party clone designed for up to four players. I reviewed this with several friends, including the RPG Critic who happens to be a One Piece fan. He enjoyed the animated intro but cringed at the voice acting.

Carnival is played on a grid with players taking turns fighting for tiles via mini-games. Some of the dialogue is a little corny ("I'm going to be king of the pirates!") but there are a lot of colorful characters including a Merman, an evil clown (yikes!), and a pirate disguised as a butler. The cell-shaded graphics have personality and fans of the show will recognize familiar landmarks and secondary characters.

The idea of fighting for tiles is fun (in an Othello kind of way) but the quality of the mini-games tends to range from "huh?" to "oh dear". There are rhythm games, treasure hunts, balloon races, and of course the obligatory "find the panda man in a crowd" challenge (sarcasm alert). Sinking ships with cannons is fun, but fighting on stilts is just a clumsy mess. Some of these games are just too complex for their own good. In one you need to hop between logs in water while avoiding spears and bombs. If that's not hard enough, you also need to grab gas masks along the way to protect yourself from poison gas! C'mon now!

Players can select the games, but when playing the CPU that bastard tends to pick the most annoying games over and over again. Once while playing with friends the action came to a screeching halt with an error message displayed on a red screen. That's pretty much unheard of for a console game, and Scott thought it worthy of an automatic F. You can bump up the grade by a letter if you're a One Piece fan, but most gamers would be well advised to sidestep this quirky, buggy title. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Outlaw Golf
Grade: F
Publisher: Simon and Shuster (2002)
Posted: 2003/2/7
Rating: Teen (Mature sexual themes, mild violence, strong language)

screenshotOutlaw Golf is an irreverent take on the sport, featuring "colorful" characters, suggestive commentary, and wacky gameplay. It sounds like an edgy version of Hot Shots, but it's not even in the same league. The cast of juvenile delinquents and hotties is certainly original, but their antics are more immature than funny. You can't help but like the sexy babe with the hot cheerleader caddy, but others like the redneck and white homeboy are just annoying. Likewise, the smart-ass commentary is terribly corny to the point of embarrassment.

The graphics are actually quite good, with smooth green rolling hills and slick fairways, but Outlaw's gameplay falters badly. This whole "analog swing" business has got to go! Its implementation here is even more aggravating than EA's Tiger Woods Golf. Power is difficult to gauge, and the various indicators are totally confusing. Adding insult to injury, poor play results in a decreased "composure", making the game even harder! You can recoup composure by beating up your caddy, and this goofy sequence employs a standard meter that should have been used to swing your club!

Other annoyances include poor course design and lengthy pauses in the action. I normally enjoy whimsical sports games, but Outlaw Golf really turned me off. NOTE: After posting this review, I received the following email from Simon and Shuster: "Hi.. I saw your review of Outlaw Golf. While I can appreciate that is your opinion of the game.. no site gave us a "F" for the title. The lowest we got was a C or C- and that was because of the swing control. Needless to say I've had to remove you from future console titles as my boss was furious. Sorry about this.. Regards" © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Pac-Man Fever
Grade: C-
Publisher: Namco (2002)
Posted: 2007/3/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis could have been called "Battle of the Namco Stars" because it really isn't a Pac-Man game at all. No, Pac-Man Fever is a four-player party game starring Namco characters like Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Astaroth (Soul Calibur), Heihachi (Tekken), Reiko (the hot Asian chick from Ridge Racer), and some black dude with a big Afro.

Three game "boards" offer medieval, tropical, and space themes, but none are particularly interesting. I enjoyed the pulsating techno music of the space stage, but the looping flute of the medieval stage was almost unbearable. You can select from three games lengths, including my personal favorite, short.

Fever's gameplay consists of moving a random number of spaces (no dice roll necessary) and collecting coins that help you reach the finish line. The rules are fairly simple and the contests move along at a steady pace. Of course, a party game is only as good as its mini-games, and Pac-Man Fever's are a mixed bag.

For every fun event like dart throwing, there's some kind of irritating "whack a mole" crap. I did find it interesting how certain games are inspired by old classics like Kaboom, Pong, Beamrider, and Tron Deadly Discs. The instructions preceding each are minimal, but figuring out what to do is half the fun (although some of my friends would dispute that).

Pac-Man Fever is entertaining with multiple players, but one heinous design flaw nearly ruins the whole affair. The last four spaces of each board have special conditions that make it easy to become hopelessly stuck on them while the rest of the field catches up. It really doesn't matter how well you performed during the course of the game, because invariably everyone ends up bunched up in those last few spaces! Even so, Pac-Man Fever still compares favorably to the recent crop of mediocre Mario Party games. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

Pac-Man World Rally
Grade: C-

screenshotI was tempted to call this generic racer uninspired, but in fact it is very much inspired - by Mario Kart of course. Pac-Man World Rally is one of those cookie-cutter games that briefly teeters on the precipice of "rip-off" before plunging head-first into the abyss! I was hoping for a refreshing twist on the Mario Kart formula, but World Rally left me feeling a little empty.

The characters include all members of the Pac-Man family (including Ms. and Jr.) and the four ghosts (Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Clyde). There's even a few extra characters tossed in like Spooky the ghost and Erwin the mad scientist. Track locations include jungles, volcanoes, swamps, and of course the obligatory pirate level (required by law in 50 states!). The graphics are clean and the haunted house stage is one of the best Halloween tracks I've played. The single player mode lets you unlock new stuff, and up to four players can compete via split screen.

World Rally sounds like a winner but it's less than the sum of its parts. The weapons are poorly designed and some deal more damage to you than your target. The frame-rate is consistently smooth, but the manner in which characters tend to bob and weave made me feel nauseous after a while. The tracks are perfectly reasonable in length but there are too many laps, and there's no way to adjust that! This can make the multiplayer mode really boring - especially when someone pulls out to an early lead.

Each stage plays a different rendition of the same Pac-Man musical theme, and boy, that gets old in a hurry. Pac-Man World Rally is technically sound, but it lacks the effervescent spirit of Mario Kart. After a few races I felt like I was just going through the motions. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (Guest reviewer RPG Critic)
Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2004)
Posted: 2007/12/26
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs the sequel to the popular Nintendo 64 game (2000), The Thousand Year Door begins with Princess Peach sending Mario a treasure map and inviting him to a distant island away from the Mushroom Kingdom. Before she can meet him however, a mysterious group called the X-Nauts abducts her. To save her, Mario, along with several likable allies, must use the map to locate seven crystal stars and open a large magical door.

The game is divided into several chapters separated by intermissions starring Peach, the X-Nauts, and Bowser. These benefit from a snappy, witty script that constantly pokes fun at the Mario franchise, often breaking the "fourth wall" (or as we call it in pencil-and-paper role-playing, "Talking Over the Table"). Paper Mario has slight platform elements, and each ally has a special ability like hiding in shadows or blowing up cracks in a wall. Mario has "paper" abilities like folding into an airplane or slipping through thin spaces.

Most of the action however lies in the combat. Mario can jump or use his hammer during a fight, and as you collect crystal stars, his abilities expand. Your attacks are augmented by timed button combos which incur additional damage, and thankfully they're very simple to enter. Only Mario and a single ally can engage in a fight at a time, and if Mario runs out of health the game is over - even if your ally is still standing. Battles take place on a stage in front of a cheering audience, and the audience will replenish your star power when you use crystal star abilities. Collectible badges add combat bonuses or new attacks, although some have silly effects like changing Mario's clothing.

My one serious gripe is that you can only carry a few items at a time. Staying true to the Paper Mario roots, Thousand Year Door does an amazing job of rendering 2D characters in a 3D world. I was dumbfounded by how many sprites could be animated on the screen at a time with no lag. Everything looks crisp, smooth, and brightly colored, albeit simple. The music is enjoyable but understated, and you'll occasionally recognize a recomposed tune from another Mario game. There's no voice acting, but occasionally Mario will exclaim "Wah-hoo!" or Bowser go "GWaaaaRrr!".

One thing that blew my mind is how upon beating the game, you can save your progress and actually "play" in the post-end-of-story world! Everyone you encounter will thank you for your bravery or tell you how great you are, and you have the opportunity to do things you didn't get a chance to do the first time through. To sum up, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is a light-hearted, clever, and funny experience. It has a great story but is slightly repetitive and occasionally frustrating. GameCube or Wii owners will find it worthwhile, and RPG fans may even want to bump it up to an A-.
Completed In: 31 Hours
Favorite Character: Vivian © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Grade: B+
Publisher: Nintendo (2001)
Posted: 2008/4/7
Rating: Everyone

screenshotPeople who complain about the lack of originality of video games owe it to themselves to give Pikmin a try. Best described as a cross between Lemmings and Warcraft, Pikmin is brimming with all of the originality and charm you'd expect from a Nintendo original. Fun and addictive, it combines the simple controls of a console game with real-time strategy elements usually found on a PC.

You control a little spaceman who's crashed into a planet and is attempting to locate 30 parts of his ship. By enlisting the help of small leaf-shaped creatures called Pikmin, you gradually retrieve the pieces and reconstruct your ship. The crux of the game involves raising groups of Pikmin and using them to retrieve objects. These little guys are cute and endearing, and their special abilities are indicated by their color. You can make the Pikmin perform several tasks in parallel, and they can even defeat monsters when unleashed in large numbers.

The game showcases the Gamecube's power by letting you command up to 100 of these creatures at a time. Pikmin strikes a nice balance of action and puzzle-solving. The camera is sometimes an issue, but it doesn't dampen the fun. Once you get drawn into its little virtual world, you actually start empathizing for the little Pikmin. I truly felt guilty whenever I left a few behind at the end of a day, knowing they would be eaten by nocturnal carnivores. This game will appeal to both men and women of all ages. Although its gameplay wears thin over time, Pikmin will fascinate for hours on end. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Pool Paradise
Grade: D+
Publisher: Ignition (2004)
Posted: 2014/11/16
Rating: Everyone (gambling)

screenshotWere you expecting a swimming game? Pool Paradise is a billiards title with a tropical island theme. Instead of playing in a seedy smoke-filled lounge, the table is situated in an open-air beach bar. The tropical vegetable and shimmering ocean look inviting, and you'll also enjoy ambient sounds of seagulls, crashing waves, and soothing jazz music.

The challenge mode lets you ascend the ranks against 30 colorful characters that include several monsters (mummy, zombie, frankenstein) and caricatures of OJ Simpson and Bill Gates. Each opponent plays his own flavor of pool, and at first I resented having to play unfamiliar variations like "Killer", "6-ball", or "UK Pool". The format grew on me however, mainly because the games tend to be short and easy to learn.

What's most remarkable about Paradise Pool is how your opponents are completely invisible except for their hands. It looks pretty amazing (and a little creepy) as you watch the disembodied hands meander around the table and move into position for the next shot. The animation must have been motioned-captured considering how smooth it is. Your opponents don't speak so the matches are generally quiet and relaxing.

The action moves at a brisk pace and most variations do a nice job of pre-positioning you for your next shot. Variations where you have to manually select your shot (like 6-ball) are more problematic because it's hard to make out the numbers on the balls. The shooting controls could be better. Your power is limited and sometimes the end of your cue stick obstructs your vision. The balls also tend to "cut" more than I expected. Still, it's satisfying to sink shots due to the crisp sound effects.

Paradise Pool also looks surprisingly good on my HDTV. I just wish the time of day didn't cycle between day and night so frequently, since it kind of takes you out of the moment. I couldn't figure out how to save my progress until I discovered the save option was buried in the pause menu. It's not the best pool game I've played, but if you're looking for a virtual pool experience Pool Paradise has a stylish flair that sets it apart. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Pro Rally 2002
Grade: C
Publisher: Ubisoft (2002)
Posted: 2019/2/2
Rating: Everyone

screenshotMake sure you watch the intro video when you turn on Pro Rally or you'll miss the best part. There are five mechanics working on a car while being directed by a babe sporting a form-fitting outfit and an amazing rack. My friends maintain this brief sequence alone is worth a letter grade. The game itself is pretty standard but leans more toward realism than arcade. Rally racing isn't too big in the states but I'm told it's the number two sport in the rest of the world!

You'll race on-and-off road on a wide variety of tracks with varying weather conditions, but first Pro Rally subjects you to a rigorous "driving school" course. Each of its ten lessons are timed with a very small margin of error. You can't even touch a cone or barrel without being disqualified! Personally I'd prefer to hone my skills on a track - not a freaking parking lot. The GameCube controller isn't ideal for driving. The soft triggers are imprecise so when you touch your accelerator your car tends to jerk forward and turn sharply. I didn't have much luck with the normal brake or handbrake, but squeezing them both around turns works pretty well. I love the sound effects of my wheels rolling over the crunchy gravel.

Once the championship mode is unlocked you can race in a variety of locations. The hazy dirt tracks of Argentina and Greece are boring but later you get to race along the coast of Italy and the scenic English countryside. I like how the trees sway in the wind. You don't race head-to-head in rally; you race for time. A co-driver provides constant instructions ("right hairpin and left 5"), but sometimes I feel like he's getting too far ahead of me. After a few races of "making fools of my team" I got the hang of it and started winning.

You can get into a zone playing this. You never gain much speed but it's very relaxing drifting around one turn after the next. I enjoyed Pro Rally but the arcade mode is still locked and I'm still waiting for a snow track like the one on the box! The split-screen head-to-head mode is surprisingly smooth, but when a guy runs off the track he often gets "reset" ahead of the other. Hmmm. Pro Rally isn't likely to excite casual players (intro notwithstanding) but this is a solid entry for rally racing fans. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of IGN.com, Gaming Age Online, Nintendo.com, Sega.com, Moby Games, Video Games Museum, Giant Bomb