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

Genesis Reviews O-P

Olympic Summer Games
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (1996)
Posted: 2016/6/24

screenshotI've played my share of Olympic games and this one really nails the formula. Similar games tend to be bogged down by over-complicated controls that make it hard to qualify, or events that drag on forever, causing players to lose interest. The name Olympic Summer Games is generic but the people who programmed this knew what they were doing. The game is based on the 1996 Games in Atlanta. The opening ceremonies aren't anything to write home about but I like the streamlined interface, fast pacing, and common-sense controls.

Up to four players can enter their names and select a country. The events are mainly track-and-field, and they are presented in a rapid-fire manner. The lanky athletes are sharply rendered and move quickly. The 100M dash is simple as can be as you tap buttons to run and lean into the finish line. I was disappointed I couldn't go head-to-head with a friend, but at least we didn't have to share a single controller. Likewise the long jump, high jump, and javelin events are a lot of fun. I love watching the high jump guy warm up - it looks like he's doing a new kind of dance! And is it just me, or is that Asian chick in the black skirt holding the clipboard seriously hot?

Archery is pretty cool and skeet shooting is a crowd-pleaser thanks to its forgiving (too forgiving?) collision detection. Between events the winning times and current standings are displayed. I was pretty stoked about this game but leave it to my so-called friends to knock it down a few notches. Scott called into question the game's precision when he scored the exact same distance on all three of his long jumps. Chris complained about the repetitive music.

We all struggled with the timing for the pole vault, triple jump, and discus events. The medal ceremonies can be tedious to sit through - especially when six CPU players tied for the bronze medal! The tournament comes to an end with the Atlanta logo rendered over a stadium with a "laser" as the credits roll. Olympic Summer Games may lack pomp and circumstance but its brisk pacing and playability place it well ahead of most competitors. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

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Recommended variation: long jump
Our high score: CJS 8.58
1 to 4 players 

Olympic Winter Games Lillehammer 94
Grade: D
Publisher: US Gold (1993)
Posted: 2006/4/20

screenshotI absolutely love the real Winter Olympic games, so I was totally psyched up to play this cartridge. I was expecting something like the old Winter Games (Atari 7800, 1987) with a 16-bit makeover, but Lillehammer failed to live up to my expectations. Although it gets the job done in terms of audio and visual, the controls are completely counterintuitive and the difficulty is excessive. This should have been a great game to stick in and play against a few friends, but it's practically unplayable.

The skiing events boast scenic evergreens and large skiers, but you can't see enough of the course ahead! It's too easy to miss a gate, and once you do, you're instantly disqualified. Adding insult to injury, the path of the ski trail is not well defined, so you'll often find yourself turning right into a bank of trees! And why in God's name is it so hard to steer?! Despite offering three selectable control schemes, guiding your skier takes a lot of practice.

The bobsled and luge events aren't as bad, but it's still entirely too easy to flip over as you creep up the banked turns. The ski jump, moguls, biathlon, and speed skating all look impressive, but you'll need to study the manual and practice like hell to be anywhere near proficient in them. That's the main problem with this game - it's too complicated.

On a positive note, Lillehammer features some excellent vintage 16-bit music, a nice opening ceremony, and a much-needed practice mode. U.S. Gold did us a favor by keeping the voice synthesis to a minimum, because the digitized sample at the beginning of the mogul event sounds like a rooster! All in all, Winter Olympic Games isn't a good "pick-up-and-play" title, but if you stick with it long enough, you may find something to like. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Ooze, The
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (1995)
Posted: 2008/6/5

screenshotMost Genesis games conform to the same hackneyed formulas, so you have to give Sega credit for trying to do something different with The Ooze. The game is original, with innovative graphic effects and some pretty advanced audio. Its twisted premise involves a lab scientist that stumbles upon his company's dark secrets, only to be caught and forced into being the subject of their "green slime" experiments. Subsequently he's transformed into a meandering blob with a bump of a head sticking out of its center.

To exact his revenge, you must navigate the ooze back to the lab by first beating enemies into submission and then "absorbing" them to become a larger mass. You can tell the developers were proud of their cool "liquid" effects, because they're used everywhere - including the title screen and chapter intros. The action is viewed from overhead, and your ooze automatically cascades around obstacles in its path and slithers through small openings.

It's fun for a while, but there are too many unseen hazards like flames that shoot up through cracks in the ground. Too often you take damage without knowing why. The stages also tend to be very maze-like and unimaginative, with generic switches used to open new areas. The first stage is a toxic dump that's crawling with snail-like creatures, burrowing claws, and scientists armed with flamethrowers. Pressing the A button initiates a punch, but it's hard to control, especially when your ooze becomes large. Pressing B lets you "spit" a distance, but that causes you to lose mass.

The ooze effects are nice, but it gets tiresome to sit through time-consuming screens which slowly form the words "1 life left". A quirky soundtrack plays throughout the game, and nice audio effects clearly convey splattering fluids and bloodcurdling screams. There's no password feature, so you'll always need to restart from the beginning. There are some good ideas here, but the Ooze never quite gels into a fun game. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Grade: A
Publisher: Sega (1991)
Posted: 2016/5/24

screenshotThis is a remarkably faithful translation of the arcade hit OutRun. Your shiny red convertible comes complete with working tail lights and a hot blonde in the passenger seat. According to my friend Scott your goal is to drive like a madman in order to get the hooker to a hotel before the hourly rates go up!

As you zoom down the highway you'll weave around smoothly-scaling cars, jeeps, and trucks. The intensity builds as you approach the next checkpoint with the timer ticking down. The controls are simple and the sensation of speed is exhilarating. Notice the stereo sound when you pass a car? Pretty sweet!

Major collisions are quite a spectacle, sending your car into a roll as its passengers bounce along with it. But the colorful stages are what truly steal the show. The road branches into diverse locations and climates, offering substantial replay value. From desert sands to ancient ruins, each stretch of road boasts its own unique landmarks. You will not find another Genesis game that makes better use of color - this game is gorgeous.

The opening stage is the highlight as you drive along a sunny beach with palm trees, bright sand, deep blue skies, and blooming cumulus clouds. If that doesn't put you in the mind of summer, there's no hope for you. The pleasant soundtrack exudes a fun, carefree spirit, with titles like "Splash Wave", "Passing Breeze", and "Magical Sound Shower". Easy on the eyes and music to the ears, OutRun is a timeless classic. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: CJS 4,302,710
1 player 

OutRun 2019
Grade: C
Publisher: Sega (1993)
Posted: 2002/1/17

screenshotIf you've played any of the games in the Cruis'n USA series, you know what OutRun 2019 is like. The racing is simplistic, but the graphics are undeniably stunning. Your futuristic car that can reach speeds of 700 MPH, although to be honest it looks more like 70 MPH. Still, the illusion of 3D is exceptional for a Genesis game. The bridges, tunnels, and overpasses are particularly impressive. Four branching tracks contain dozens of unique-looking stages, but while the scenery in the distance is an eyeful, there are few objects on the side of the road.

The gameplay really takes a back seat to the graphics. The object is to get through each track segment in 80 seconds. The controls are simple - just hold down the accelerator and steer. Every few minutes your turbo boost kicks in, but it's so unimpressive you might not even notice. The early stages are a cakewalk; you can practically ride through the oncoming cars.

In the later stages they can run you off the road, but the game immediately puts you right back on the track. The only thing you really need to worry about is falling off bridges or flipping your car. The audio is awful, and the monotonous background music drones on endlessly, even when you pause the game. OutRun 2019 has plenty of glitz, but it can't hide the shallow gameplay. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: F

screenshotThe original OutRun (Genesis, 1991) was a classic racer with convincing scaling graphics. OutRunners by contrast feels like a half-cocked spinoff. What possessed Sega to turn their prized franchise into a split-screen affair? Perhaps the success of Super Mario Kart (SNES, 1992)? Whatever the case, this is an incomprehensible mess that will leave OutRun fans scratching their heads in disbelief.

The first thing to know is that OutRunners is split-screen only. Each game is a short race between two cars. In single-player mode the CPU plays on the lower half. There's no score unless you complete a circuit and come out the winner. Good luck with that.

By definition, the split-screen leaves less room for eye candy. Still, there are attractive backdrops including city skylines, lush green mountains, and majestic waterfalls. Choppy scaling however makes the roadside scenery less convincing, especially those 14-foot-tall hotels/refrigerators.

The physics feels off. It's hard to crash but easy to "hang on" around sharp curves. The manual transmission option is marred by a small, hard-to-see gear indicator. Races are kept artificially close, and when they come down to the wire it feels like it's all a matter of luck.

The collision detection is pitiful, probably because the cars are so flat. You can't see the other racer until he is literally on top of you! Minor collisions cause the word "ouch!" to appear, which makes zero sense. During a serious wreck car occupants are tossed into the air, only to land back neatly in their seats without missing a beat.

Fans will recognize some familiar OutRun tunes, but the sound effects are muffled and distorted. Each race ends with winner and loser animations, but the fuzzy Genesis graphics will leave you wondering what just happened. This game is bad. OutRunners feels shallow and lacks the unbridled sense of joy OutRun fans expect. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

Grade: C
Publisher: Mindscape (1992)
Posted: 2024/4/24

screenshotOutlander lets you be a Mad Max-style badass driving through a post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland terrorized by molotov-tossing motorcycle gangs. The game establishes itself as hardcore from the outset with the most in-your-face Genesis guitar twang you've ever heard. Most of the action is viewed from a first-person perspective behind the wheel of your muscle car. You even have a rear-view mirror!

Rumbling down the road you'll avoid barricades and signs. Or not. When bikers appear you can mow them down with front-mounted machine guns, causing explosions and flying tires. When a thug pulls up alongside, a picture-in-picture window gives you the opportunity to shoot that bastard in the face with your shotgun! You can hit the brakes on tail-gaters, causing them to fly over your car and slide down your windshield.

What I've just described would be pretty sensational if not for the dodgy frame-rate, laggy controls, and choppy animation. Frankly it's hard to tell what's going on half the time. With all the molotov cocktails being thrown there's constant explosions and mayhem even when you're not shooting! And I can't even tell if I shot a guy with my shotgun.

Your cluttered dashboard makes it hard to determine your status. A turbo boost is available, but it's so weak it's almost imperceivable. Signs on the road are meant to alert you to upcoming towns, but you're better off relying on your blinker to signal when it's time to pull over.

Occasionally the game switches to side-scrolling action as you venture out on foot, scavenging dusty towns for supplies. You look like Arnold Schwartzegger in those sunglasses and black leather jacket. The gameplay is pretty by-the-numbers as you trudge across the screen, punching and shooting ladies, old men, and guys on motorcycles. They drop food, ammo, and gas cans for you to collect. It's a nice change of pace.

I love how Outlander's ambitious gameplay places you in a gritty struggle for survival. The way it adapts its sophisticated control scheme to a three-button controller is impressive. This is definitely a wild ride like nothing I've seen on the Genesis. If only the 16-bit hardware could keep up, this could have been epic. © Copyright 2024 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: SLN 3310
1 player 

PGA Tour 96
Grade: F
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1995)
Posted: 2003/12/22

screenshotYikes! EA tried to take their popular golf series to the "next level" by rendering the courses with 3D polygons, but the Genesis hardware isn't up to the task. As a result, you have to wait between five and 15 seconds before every shot while the scenery is slowly rendered on the screen! I suppose the fairways and sand traps look slightly more realistic than the flat courses of the previous games, but these new visuals don't improve the quality of gameplay one bit. In fact, PGA 96 is actually much less fun than previous offerings.

For one thing, the novice difficulty is too easy (the meter moves slowly) and at the other extreme, it's almost impossible to hit a straight shot in the pro level (the "contact" zone is a line). In addition to having to wait forever for the screens to be drawn, once you hit the ball you don't get even a separate view of where it lands. And God forbid if your ball goes behind a tree - you may as well be behind a brick wall.

The scenery looks nice from a distance, but up close the hills look like giant triangles and the trees look horribly pixelated. There are some extra modes and saved stats, but these bells and whistles mean little when the game itself is so poor. Better hold onto those old PGA games - you're going to need them. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

PGA Tour Golf
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1991)
Posted: 2020/9/7

screenshotConsidering it was the first entry in the long-running series, PGA Tour Golf is astonishingly good. You really don't need to know much about the sport to enjoy this. PGA's set-up screens employ pull-down menus which seem overengineered today but were once considered high-tech. You begin by creating your own personal golfer, and this is significant because the game records all your progress to battery backup. Once you and your friends are "registered" you'll select between four courses including three that are real.

Each hole is introduced by a fly-by preview which looks choppy now but was mind-blowing in 1991. The courses are completely flat but you won't even notice after a while. The game employs an intuitive three-press swing meter that would soon become the industry standard in golf games. I just wish the meter was a bit bigger. I like how the game automatically chooses the proper club for you; it keeps things moving.

The only time the action grinds to a halt is when somebody wants to examine the green. Upon hitting A the game says "one moment please" as it calculates a contour map. The dimensions are so exaggerated that the green sometimes resembles a damn mountain range. It's annoying when playing someone who insists on pulling up this view before every stinking putt!

The game's audio can be obnoxious. You'll crank up the volume to hear the bird tweets only to jump out of your chair when the loud between-hole music blares. That said, PGA Tour Golf turned on a lot of new fans on to the sport. This might be considered a golf game "for the rest of us". © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 to 4 players 

PGA Tour Golf 2
Grade: A-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1992)
Posted: 2002/4/14

screenshotElectronic Arts made major changes to the graphics and difficulty in this edition, but the results are mixed. Graphically, the golfers are now digitized images, a big improvement over the illustrated golfers in the last game. The courses look slightly more realistic, but not as clean looking. It can be difficult to tell when the fairway ends and the rough begins. PGA II is also noticeably easier.

In the first game, it was difficult to hit the ball perfectly, but in this game, you can do it almost too easily. Other new features include six courses (up from four), and a Skins Challenge. This game is not dramatically better than the first, but it's still a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the confusing drop-menu system is still used to configure the game.

My favorite memory of this game is cranking up the sound in order to hear the birds (at 2 o'clock in the morning), and then getting my eardrums blown out by the loud, obnoxious music that plays at the end of each round! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

PGA Tour Golf 3
Grade: A
Publisher: Electronic Arts (1993)
Posted: 2002/4/14

screenshotIn the early 90's, EA had the market on golf cornered. This third installment of PGA Tour really outdoes itself. This one features no less than EIGHT courses and a 54-player roster. The graphics have been upgraded slightly, and some digitized pro swings have been incorporated. The control system is slightly modified, but you still get the same simple horizontal swing meter that made the previous games famous. There's a wealth of statistics and a battery backup that even lets you save instant replays. No question about it, this one's a winner. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
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1 to 4 players 

Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures
Grade: F
Publisher: Namco (1994)
Posted: 2001/1/31

screenshotWhat a travesty! This ill-advised creation probably set the yellow guy back at least 10 years! Initially, Pac-Man 2 looks like it could be something special. The characters, which feature the entire Pac-Man family, are large and nicely animated. Combined with the detailed backgrounds, this game looks like an interactive cartoon. But the bizarre control scheme makes for a VERY poor game playing experience.

The patented "Character Guidance Interface" is like nothing you've ever seen, or will ever see again! Get this - you don't control Pac-Man at all! All you can do is direct his attention to various obstacles and shoot a slingshot at certain targets on the screen. Pac-Man wonders through each "scene" oblivious to the dangers. Unfortunately, the controls are so worthless that Pac-Man ignores half of your commands anyway.

If that's not bad enough, until you enter the correct sequence of commands, you're doomed to repeat the same scene over and over and suffer through the corny animations. If you've ever played Dragon's Lair, you can understand the frustrating experience I'm talking about. This game is pure torture. Even the fact that the original classic Pac-Man game is hidden in this cartridge cannot redeem this piece of trash. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Pagemaster, The
Grade: F
Publisher: Fox (1994)
Posted: 2020/6/22

screenshotAfter playing platformers for a few decades I've compiled a mental list of all the do's and don'ts. The Pagemaster does a remarkably thorough job of ticking off the boxes on the don't list. This movie-based title puts you in the role of a little Macaulay Culkin exploring horror, pirate, and fantasy worlds. Each world has branching stages, which would be a selling point for most games. You begin in an old mansion where you're accosted by haunted books.

I discovered I could pounce on them if I landed dead-center. The problem is, when you jump the screen abruptly shifts upward, making it hard to judge where you're about to land! I soon discovered that pouncing on other enemies results in death. You never know what the rules are in this game!

Enemies like bats blend into the background and other dangers are obscured by foreground graphics. Deadly objects can rain from above or sprout up from below your feet. You're required to take leaps of faith that sometimes send you into spikes. Once while walking I fell through a solid floor!

There was one single fleeting moment when I thought I might actually have some fun. It was in a pirate stage when I suddenly found myself brandishing a sword! Naturally something touched me and I died before I even got a chance to swing it. Continues are available but they place you back to the beginning of the current world even if you've already made progress. The Pagemaster is one of those haphazard games where nothing really makes any sense. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Tengen (1991)
Posted: 2017/8/16

screenshotI like the refreshingly simple premise of Paperboy. You're just a kid trying to deliver some newspapers. Even so, this game exhibits more creativity than most big-budget titles. The screen scrolls diagonally as you ride up the screen while avoiding everyday and not-so-everyday hazards. Naturally there are cars, storm drains, and barking dogs. But there are also drunken winos, burglars, attack cats, and runaway lawnmowers. Heck, you even come face-to-face with the Grim Reaper for crying out loud!

While more detailed than the NES edition I dislike how characters are rendered with ugly black outlines. It's a shame the audio effects are so muffled because your paperboy tosses out funny lines like "that's a pretty big cat" and "man, that guy's wasted". My buddy Chris called the controls mushy and unresponsive - especially when moving slowly. I prefer to ride at a brisk pace so I didn't notice any problems. In fact, I was impressed with the ability to squeeze between oncoming cars and storm drains.

It's really hard to toss a paper directly into a mailbox, or even onto the porch for that matter. I usually toss two or three just to make sure it registers as a delivery. You're only supposed to serve subscribing houses, but you can earn big bonus points by causing mayhem like breaking windows and knocking down gravestones.

At the end of each street is a course with ramps and targets. The ramps are difficult to judge, but since it's only a bonus stage, there's nothing to lose. Each of the three difficulties offers a new neighborhood, giving the game some replay value. Paperboy on the Genesis may lack tight gameplay of the NES version but it's still a lovely day in the neighborhood. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: easy
Our high score: 21378
1 or 2 players 

Paperboy II
Grade: B-
Publisher: Tengen (1992)
Posted: 2019/6/7

screenshotI wasn't too keen on Paperboy 2 (SNES, 1991) but this Genesis edition is something else. You play the role of a bike-riding boy or girl (your choice), tossing papers into subscriber mailboxes or onto their front stoops. The neighborhoods are buzzing with activity including scenes you won't find in the SNES version. There are workers at a construction site, a guy roasting a pig in his yard, and even a hottie sunbathing in a bikini!

For the first half of each street you're throwing papers to the left, and then it switches to the other side. Your route is strewn with hazards like storm drains, attack dogs, cars, and lurking graveyard ghouls. Throwing papers to cause mayhem is fun, especially when you knock some elderly folks off of their porch swing or make a car come crashing down on the mechanic working under it. The voice samples are surprisingly clear by Genesis standards and the animation is smooth. Each of the three skill levels offers a new neighborhood, upping the replay value.

Still, the scenery gets repetitive. It's one thing to have a scene repeat within the same stage, but on the same block? The sidewalks could also be wider, especially considering how hard to gauge your position from the viewing angle. The end-of-stage dirt-bike obstacle courses are especially disorienting. Despite its flaws Paperboy II has a pick-up-and-play arcade style that's hard to resist. And it's always fun to discover what each new day has in store. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 29,1501 o
1 or 2 players 

Pat Riley Basketball
Grade: F
Publisher: Sega (1990)
Posted: 2001/9/13

screenshotThis game is hilarious, beginning with its opening screen featuring two high-flying white boys. Pat Riley Basketball was the first basketball game for the Genesis, and all of its players and teams are completely fake. It's definitely a bad game, but it does have some amusing elements.

First of all, there are some nice looking cut-scenes that provide dramatic close-ups for tip-offs, foul shots, long-range jumpers, and dunks. The dunk screens even feature jump and block meters that affect the outcome. Unfortunately, the main type of dunk looks ridiculous! It features a guy jumping high over the net, and throwing the ball down without even touching the rim! But what really cracked me up was the number of missed dunks. I love it when a guy goes up for a dunk three times in a row and misses all three times!

The action on the court is even worse. The players move painfully slow, and it's nearly impossible to maintain possession of the ball. The computer player is especially unfair, stealing the ball at will. And despite the fact that the ball is HUGE, it's really hard to tell when it goes through the basket!

Graphically, the side-scrolling court features a crowd and cheerleaders, but no coaches or benches. Surprisingly, a half-time show IS included. There are no customization options in this game, and annoying background music drones away throughout the whole ordeal. Pat Riley Basketball is much more fun to laugh at than to play. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Pebble Beach Golf Links
Grade: B-
Publisher: Sega (1994)
Posted: 2002/4/14

screenshotPebble Beach isn't a bad golf game, but it really can't compete with Electronic Art's PGA Tour Golf series. The fact that there's only ONE course doesn't help its cause. EA's PGA Tour 3, released the same year, has no less than EIGHT courses. Still, Pebble Beach is easy to play, fun, and fast-paced. The shot control is unique but not much different than what you're used to. After using a round shot meter, there's a second meter that determines the type and degree of spin you apply to the ball. You also have the opportunity to adjust your stance (move your feet) before each shot. The graphics are fine, but no better than EA's games. The screen contains everything you need to judge your shot, including an overhead map, wind and lie indicators, and hole status. You can compete against 48 top golfers. I should also mention that this version of Pebble Beach Golf is much better than some of the CD-based versions, which tend to be slow and bloated with unwelcome "features". © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
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1 to 4 players 

Pete Sampras Tennis
Grade: C+
Publisher: Codemasters (1994)
Posted: 2022/6/11

boxThe first thing you'll notice about Pete Sampras Tennis is the cartridge itself. It has two ports built in to the front of it, facilitating four-player action with no adapter. I find it a bit strange how they would go to such lengths to support four players when four-player adapters were readily available. Pete Sampras is the only pro you'll find in this game; your other options are fictional players like S. Schmidt, K. Habib, or B. Caudron.

The graphics were not what I expected. Licensed games normally try to be realistic but the players look short, pudgy, and pretty small when in the distance. The ball animation is smooth but it can be hard to tell when it bounces or hits your player. I love the detail of the venues, each with its own surface, unique layout, and colorful crowd. Every now and then you'll hear someone shout out something indistinct (as in real life).

The game is fun thanks to smooth animation and well-designed controls. You normally need to hit B twice to serve, but you can opt for an "automatic" serve by pressing A. This is great for beginners. During volleys B is a normal hit, A is lob, and C dives. Once you get used to diving, it's habit-forming. Adding "touch" to your shots requires a lot of practice, but when you lay down the perfect drop shot or execute a sweet passing shot, it feels awesome.

A lot of older tennis games suffer from predictable shot angles that result in endless volleys. Pete Sampras Tennis goes to the other extreme. The angle and speed of your shots tends to be highly unpredictable, leading to short but exciting volleys. On the downside, often your shot will suddenly fly off at a wild trajectory for no apparent reason.

The four-player action is very good as you'd expect, but the computer is very difficult, even when I'm playing as Sampras! I do like how the British announcer spreaks: "Game, computa. Computa to serve..." I appreciate the degree of unpredictability in Pete Sampras Tennis, but I will admit it tends to cut both ways. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Phantasy Star II (Guest reviewer Matchstick)
Grade: C+

screenshotAs the first RPG released for 16-bit consoles, Phantasy Star II was the dawning of a new era. Set in the faraway Algo Star System, the game's sci-fi storyline revolves around climate change, out-of-control AI, and a population overly reliant on technology to survive. Did this game come out in 1989, or this week?

Though forward-thinking, the visuals are charmingly dated, leaning heavily into a retro anime aesthetic. Expect plenty of pointy ears, big eyes, and even bigger hair that would make the boys from Winger proud. The soundtrack is largely hit-or-miss, although the soothing opening theme is a highlight.

Despite an intriguing premise and appealing characters, the game begins to show its faults once you take control. Constant random battles quickly become a burden as you struggle to explore a vast overworld full of landmarks and dungeons. And those dungeons are truly diabolical, packed with countless damage zones, teleporters, and dead ends. Instead of the first-person viewpoint used in the prequel, they are now played from an overhead perspective.

Sega included a hint book with every new copy of the game, featuring a helpful walkthrough, enemy strategies, and detailed maps. But even with this information you're in for a struggle, as its nineteen different dungeons make the game feel needlessly bloated and drawn-out. Since progress can only be saved within towns, you'll likely lose hours of effort along the way, as even common enemies can obliterate your entire party in one turn.

There are pleasant surprises to be found. Visiting new cities causes potential party members to show up at your house, each with unique skills. The thief, for example, can steal items from shops. That's a game-changer! As your party grows, you're free to swap out members as you see fit, providing welcomed flexibility.

The adventure spans multiple planets, each with their own distinct ecosystems. Unique monsters populate every area, with impressive battle animations in the same vein as the first Phantasy Star. Some are simply gross, like disemboweled rabbits that attack you with their own intestines! These bizarre-yet-creative late-game encounters continuously reward those who keep pressing onward.

Rich in setting and story but lacking in execution, Phantasy Star II stands today as a landmark title that's easier to appreciate than to actually play. Its punishing difficulty and exhausting dungeons will all-but-ensure most players will never complete the game. However, the plot twists and shocking ending will provide a memorable experience for those dedicated enough to see it through. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 player 

Phantasy Star IV (Guest reviewer Retro STrife)
Grade: B
Publisher: Sega (1995)
Posted: 2020/4/18

screenshotFor all its strengths the Genesis was lacking in the role-playing game genre. Phantasy Star was Sega's flagship RPG, intended to be an answer to Final Fantasy VI and other classic SNES RPGs. Phantasy Star IV leaps 1000 years into the future from Phantasy Star II, telling the story of Chaz Ashley who begins his journey as a novice hunter and ends it in a fight to save his solar system. The storyline starts out well but wanes over time, devolving into a convoluted tale about computer systems gone awry and an ominous entity wanting to wipe out all life.

As his name implies, Chaz is an everyman that becomes a hero, but he isn’t a compelling protagonist. Likewise his rotating cast of allies don’t get enough screen time or backstory for us to develop a connection. The graphics are colorful and detailed, but hardly impressive for a late Genesis title. The music however is epic and some of its catchier upbeat tunes are sure to stick with you. In terms of gameplay, Phantasy Star IV is a traditional 16-bit Japanese RPG in every respect, with random turn-based battles, leveling up, and overhead exploration through towns, dungeons, and world maps.

The battle system is standard fare with up to five characters using physical attacks, magic skills and techniques, items, and combo attacks. Never bogged down by filler or needless sidequests, the game maintains a brisk pace with the main story running 20-30 hours. Save points are frequent, grinding is rarely required, and a helpful “talk” function reminds you where you left off. It all adds up to a friendly retro RPG for modern times.

While PSIV has no major flaws, there is an accumulation of minor issues. The inventory system is abysmal, with limited storage that forces you to micromanage your item slots. You can’t tell if new weapons and armor are upgrades to what you have while buying them at shops. The lack of an in-game map makes it hard to determine where to go for the next town or dungeon. Excessive random battles artificially prolong the game.

But worst of all are the nonsensical spell names. With names like warla, gelan, rimit, and telele, spellcasting turns into a complete guessing game. Without constant reference to a manual or guide, there is no chance you’ll know what most items or abilities do. Yet for all its annoyances, a quality RPG still emerges that is just pure fun to play, with or without experiencing any prior games in the series. Phantasy Star IV doesn’t quite match the SNES's best offerings but it was and remains a worthy competitor. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 player 

Phantom 2040
Grade: D
Publisher: Viacom (1995)
Posted: 2021/5/2

screenshotI assumed this was based on the 1996 film starring my boy Billy Zane, but apparently it's based on a cartoon show set in 2040. That doesn't sound as futuristic as it used to! Phantom 2040's ultra-modern visuals look amazing with vibrant colors and gorgeous blue and purple skylines.

Our hero is armed with a rapid-fire gun that quickly reduces attacking robots to nuts and bolts. Pretty sweet but you'll pay the price in terms of rampant slow-down. And while I enjoy mechanical destruction as much as the next guy, the fact that robots respawn as soon as you leave the area is less than satisfying. You also have some kind of electric grappling hook that lets you climb walls, even firing in any direction while hanging from it. Too bad it's so hard to use. I've played this game dozens of times and always find myself fumbling around with it.

A city map serves as a stage select. Normally this would be a good thing but here it's just a recipe for a wild goose chase. If you choose a random area you might end up wandering aimlessly, wondering what you're supposed to do next. The secret is to read the actual cutscene text (oh no!) which will direct you to the next pertinent location. If you reflexively speed through the text you might be screwed.

Phantom is a very inconsistent game. In some areas the walls might all look the same, but it turns out you can punch your way through some of them. Some stage exits are barely visible, leaving you feeling trapped. You'd think pushing down would allow you to descend a ladder, but no, you need to press jump and down, causing you to fall down the ladder. Hmmm.

The game has quite a bit of depth if the extensive inventory screen is any indication. I have no idea what those things do. The audio is terribly abrasive, with digitized music and sounds loaded with static. Phantom 2040 could be an enjoyable title for someone with enough patience to follow the story and stick it out. It's just a shame that what should have been a fun superhero romp has to be such a project. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Namco (1990)
Posted: 2008/6/5

screenshotI used to regard Phelios as a fairly mediocre vertical shooter, but I've grown fond of it over time. The graphics are marginal and the stages aren't particularly memorable, but the game has a simple, old-school vibe that's appealing. The fact that it's based on Greek mythology provides for some great bosses, including the hideous Medusa, the beautiful Siren, and Cerberus - the three-headed watchdog!

Our hero is Apollo, who is trying to save a blonde hottie in a low cut blouse - a noble cause indeed! He flies on his Pegasus, unleashing bolts of energy from his sword. All three buttons do the same thing (fire), but holding one down produces a powerful "charged" shot. You'll want to apply these liberally, especially on the bosses who otherwise take forever to kill! Heck, even common foot soldiers seem unphased by the normal shots.

The stages of Phelios feature temples and green meadows, but the lack of detail understates their grandeur, and I have no idea what the steel girders are doing in the third stage! There are some modest scaling effects, like when Apollo takes a hit and falls from his steed. The audio features a triumphant musical score, but the garbled voice samples are really hard to decipher. Simple in design but challenging as hell, Phelios is not a bad option for those looking for a back-to-basics shooter. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: adv
Our high score: 61890
1 player 

Pirates Gold
Grade: B-
Publisher: Microprose (1993)
Posted: 2020/6/19

screenshotCompared to the sluggish, text-heavy Pirates (NES, 1991), this 16-bit incarnation looks amazing. It really raises the bar with bigger graphics, crisp controls, and added elements like "10 great pirate quests" to complete. You can battle other notable pirates and even recreate famous expeditions. At its core Pirates Gold follows a familiar formula.

You sail around the Caribbean fighting towns and vessels not affiliated with your flag. While visiting friendly ports you trade supplies, upgrade your ships, get news at the tavern, or visit the governor. Unfortunately all the ports look pretty much the same and appear to have the same people working in them!

Still, the game offers some beautiful graphic interfaces to replace a lot of old text menus. I like the use of icons to convey the status of your crew and your ship. Sharp-looking ships cut swiftly through the sea and the sword fighting characters are huge (although their animation is quite choppy).

The rollicking musical score is first rate and the voice samples are clear ("land ho!"). You can save your progress to battery when in a town. Despite it's visual overhaul, Pirates Gold is really the same old game with the same flaws. Action-oriented gamers may find it slow and repetitive, but those willing to immerse themselves in this swashbuckling adventure will be rewarded for their efforts. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: battery
1 player 

Pirates of Dark Water, The
Grade: C
Publisher: Sunsoft (1994)
Posted: 2006/12/10

screenshotI'm always up for a pirate game, but this one threw me for a loop. Pirates of Dark Water takes place on another planet. What the hell is that all about? Fortunately, the only difference I could perceive was the existence of "monkey birds". I know what you're thinking: "Wow, I wish we had monkey birds on Earth". No you don’t. Take it from me - they look dumb and never shut up.

Dark Water's gameplay is strictly by-the-numbers as you leap between ledges, climb ladders, and ride moving platforms. By slashing with your sword and tossing knives, you send pirates and skeletons to their demise in puffs of smoke. Along the way you'll contend with cheap traps like nets full of coconuts that fall on your head as you jump onto a narrow ledge ("aarrggh!"). I also dislike having to backtrack through certain stages to locate keys.

Pirates of Dark Water does have a few things going for it. Each stage is beautifully rendered with vibrant graphics and eye-pleasing color combinations. The jungle in the first stage isn't so hot, but some of the later stages really caught my eye. The haunted citadel is shrouded by eerie blue moonlight, and the "sunken bridge" is battered by enormous waves. I absolutely love the tropical paradises with their white beaches and soaring mountain backdrops.

The weakest aspect of the game is its audio, with ho-hum music and understated sound effects. A password feature allows you to save your place between stages. Pirates of Dark Water's gameplay will seem awfully familiar to jaded 16-bit gamers, but its crisp controls and captivating visuals might just make it worth your while. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 24050
1 player 

Grade: C+
Publisher: Tengen (1990)
Posted: 2011/12/21

screenshotAs an early attempt to incorporate digitized graphics into a fighting game, Pit-Fighter features grainy characters, sloppy animation, dodgy controls, and horrendous voice synthesis. You select between three fighters (Buzz, Ty, and Kato) who are introduced via a cool Rocky-style workout montage. The slugfest takes place in a seedy underground fight club where you face a series of lowlife biker stereotypes in front of a bloodthirsty crowd. The colorful line-up includes Southside Jim, CC Rider, Chairman Eddie, Mad Miles, Heavy Metal, Angel, and the Executioner. Eddie looks like he's running around in his underwear!

The graphics are digitized, but due to the low resolution and limited color palette, this may not be apparent to the casual observer! You have a nice variety of moves, including some that let you attack an opponent on the ground. The controls could be more responsive and the collision detection is erratic, but the game is fun in spite of itself. The fighting area is strewn with knives, sticks, barrels, crates, and stools. I can't emphasize how satisfying it is to smash a crate over an opponent's head and watch it shatter to bits.

The rowdy crowd mocks you relentlessly and a crazy woman tries to stab fighters in the back. Between rounds your character is placed on a forklift as cash winnings pile up beneath him. The minimal soundtrack is cheesy but memorable. My friend Brendan loved to razz me about this game ("How much did you pay for this?") but I couldn't get enough of it. Fond memories may cloud my judgment, but there's something endearing about this sloppy display of pixelated violence. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

Recommended variation: continues
Our high score: 666,840
1 or 2 players 

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure
Grade: C-
Publisher: Activision (1994)
Posted: 2018/6/29

screenshotWith 16-bits of raw power behind it, I was expecting this modern Pitfall to be a heck of a lot better than it turned out. On the surface The Mayan Adventure is certainly beautiful. Its lush jungles are layered with dense foliage, bustling wildlife, and scenic waterfalls. The bongo drum soundtrack is catchy and the natural sound effects are clear. Pitfall Harry is fluidly animated with multiple weapons to use against wild boars, panthers, and skeleton warriors.

It's clear the designers put most of their emphasis on graphics and audio. The gameplay feels more like an afterthought. It's hard to tell where you can or can't go, with invisible barriers constraining your movements. You can run past one tree and run smack right into the next one. The path through each stage is so convoluted that tiki-men markers are required to point you in the right direction.

The controls would feel a heck of a lot more responsive if Harry didn't have to perform some kind of clumsy animation whenever he touches something. You'd think he was doing his best Bruce Campbell impression for Pete's sake. It doesn't help that he's constantly being bombarded by hard-to-see pests like spiders and monkeys. Once you get familiar with the stage layouts the game is fun to play for score. But for beginners it's too aggravating and non-intuitive. That said, this Genesis edition of Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure is widely considered to be the best version of the game. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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Our high score: 52,510
1 player 

Predator 2
Grade: B+
Publisher: Acclaim (1992)
Posted: 2021/4/10

screenshotIn all my decades of reviewing games I can't get over the fact that not one person has ever recommended Predator 2. This simple, rapid-fire, overhead shooter action is perfect for shallow people like me! Each stage is introduced by a digitized still that reminded me of Lethal Enforcers (Konami, 1993). You are a cop on the grungy streets of LA, spraying gang members with bullets while freeing their tied-up hostages.

From the dark alleyways to shady subways to a grisly meat-packing plant, Predator 2 oozes atmosphere. You can pick up special weapons but frankly your default gun is pretty sweet. The B button lets you strafe - a feature rarely seen in Genesis games. The carnage is non-stop from the git-go with no sign of slow-down. It's satisfying to blow up cars and helicopters, or better yet mow down a parade of gang members pouring out of a doorway.

Deceased thugs leave items to pick up in their wake - often in the form of drugs. Apparently this game says no to drugs but hell yes to violence. The stages are maze-like but a helpful red arrow keeps you headed in the right direction. The rooftop stage conveys a nice sense of vertigo and I sure am glad you can't fall off the edge. When you do lose a life you pick up pretty much right where you left off, and believe me when I say this makes all the difference.

You rescue hostages by passing over them but if the Predator gets them in his sights (look for the red laser dots) those poor schmucks will be ripped to pieces! For the first few stages you may wonder where the actual Predators are, but much like the underrated movie they show up eventually. Passwords are issued between levels and there's a nifty high score screen.

Some of the music sounds a bit silly but that weird tune that plays in the meat packing area sends chills down my spine. Predator 2 is a great game to pop in when you just want to get down and dirty. You'd be hard-pressed to find another Genesis game that kicks this much ass. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 129,040
Save mechanism: password
1 player 

Primal Rage
Grade: C-
Publisher: Sega (1995)
Posted: 2013/6/30

screenshotThis was released at the same time as the Super Nintendo edition of Primal Rage, so it's hard not to compare the two. The SNES looks sharper and sounds clearer, but the Genesis has a slight edge with faster, more fluid action and tighter controls. It's kind of like the Mortal Kombat situation all over again (except in this case both games have blood). Primal Rage is an intriguing one-on-one fighter pitting dinosaurs and apes against each other on a post-apocalyptic Earth.

Stages include exotic waterfalls, sprawling glaciers, crumbling ruins, and surreal decimated city. Human spectators scurry about and it's possible to snack on them to gain heath. Vicious bite and claw attacks tend to draw blood, but the more devastating attacks don't inflict as much damage as they should. Compared to the SNES, the characters look somewhat grainy and the backdrops are not as detailed (although the colors are quite vivid). The sound effects are weak and the announcer sounds like he has a bad cold.

The Genesis three-button controller is a poor option, considering you'd need to use the start button for one of the four attacks. The six-button controller works great however, especially since you can assign special moves to the two extra buttons via the options menu. This feature is great for novices, and it adds some spice to the versus mode. It's also an easy way to finish the game.

This Genesis version also features natives on the continue screen, which are lacking on the SNES. There's a nifty high score screen, but despite what the manual would imply, scores are not saved (no battery). Primal Rage was never more than an average fighter (at best), but this Genesis version is good for a few rounds of mindless violence. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 91195
1 or 2 players 

Prime Time NFL starring Deion Sanders
Grade: B+
Publisher: Sega (1996)
Posted: 2022/10/23
Rating: Kids to Adults

screenshotNormally when you see a player's name associated with a football title it's not a good sign, but Prime Time NFL starring Deion Sanders is legit. It may not look much different than its predecessor NFL '95 (Sega, 1994) but its gameplay is substantially improved.

Before each contest you're presented with digitized pictures of the "money players" for each team, showcasing stars like Shannon Sharpe, Jerry Rice, or John Elway. It's hard to believe Dan Marino was still playing for the Dolphins. Players move in a fast, fluid manner, delivering bone crunching hits. There are very few lulls in the action.

During running plays the camera tilts down onto the field, making the field seem wider. For passes and kicks the camera tilts up to give you a longer view of the field. The running game is explosive and the innovative catch button lets you leap into the air to snag high throws. My one complaint is that it's awkward switching between receivers using the A button.

The crowd is a gentle running faucet, but the player grunts sound like dogs in a kennel. There are occasional opportunities to deliver trash talk like "You're goin' down fool!" and "Gonna make you eat that ball!" The head-over-heels tackles are awesome and I like how you can deliver late hits after a play with no penalty.

I was expecting a little more showmanship from Prime Time considering its namesake. There's no fancy intro, no halftime show, and even player celebrations seem restrained. There are no referees or chain gangs, and behind the goal posts is just a sea of green. A little more razzle dazzle would have been nice but you can't argue that this streamlined approach delivers non-stop gridiron fun. © Copyright 2022 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: battery
1 to 4 players 

Grade: F-
Publisher: Psygnosis (1993)
Posted: 2019/3/29

screenshotBoy oh boy do I hate this game. Underneath its tropical platform veneer lies an excruciatingly bad puzzle game. The main menu is so poorly designed I struggled to start the [expletive] game! Puggsy is one seriously unlikeable bastard. Hideous in appearance and devoid of personality, he might just be the worst character in video game history. Puggsy makes Bubsy look like Sonic the Hedgehog for Pete's sake!

The opening stage offers a glimmer of hope with its bright beach scenery and steel drum music. Then after walking 20 feet to the right the message appears "Well done! Level complete!" WTF? Did I miss something?! Subsequent stages are sprinkled with objects you need to manipulate to reach to the exit, but the clumsy pick-up and use controls are a joke. A joke!!

You have to be positioned beside an item to pick it up, and it's hard to identify most items much less determine how they are meant to be used. You can only hold one object at a time, there's too much shuffling back and forth. Trying to stack items is like playing Jenga. Why is everything so counterintuitive? To use a key on a chest you have to throw it at the chest!

Puggsy dies upon contact with any creature including small birds. The ability to shoot starfish, crabs, and monkeys is small consolation. The exit to each stage appears is blocked by a giant stone face, yet you can walk right through it! Puggsy is a miserable piece of excrement that deserves to be buried deep, deep below the Earth's crust, never to be uncovered. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 2800
Save mechanism: password
1 player 

Punisher, The
Grade: C+
Publisher: Capcom (1993)
Posted: 2012/9/8

screenshotThis side-scrolling beat-em-up follows the Streets of Rage (Genesis, 1991) formula. The Punisher flew under the radar in its day, but now many regard it as a "lost gem" of the Genesis library. It does have its charm. Two players assume the role of the Punisher and Nick Fury as they kick, punch, and shoot their way through plush hideouts, moving subway cars, trains, and sewers. The action gets off to a rip-roaring start as you pound thugs in a bar by slamming them on the ground and smashing plants over their heads.

Each blow is punctuated by word bubbles (BAM!) and digitized yelps. In addition to generic thugs you'll battle Terminator-style robots who continue to fight even after losing their heads! But what really makes The Punisher unique is your ability to fire handguns, machine guns, and Uzis. Enemies tend to withstand several shots, but it's always great fun to pump them full of lead. Other cool weapons include bats, pipes, and axes (sweet!). The controls are limited to the A and B buttons. You can perform special attacks by pressing them both at once, but why wasn't C used for this purpose?

The scenery is bright and interesting at first, but gradually becomes generic and repetitive. The difficulty is definitely on the easy side, especially since you can't harm your partner in two-player mode (by default). You get three continues and that's enough to rack up some astronomical scores, rendered in miniscule numbers that are hard to read. The Punisher is a worthwhile romp if side-scrolling brawlers are your thing, but it's not quite the diamond in the rough some make it out to be. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Our high score: 1,846,600
1 or 2 players 

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Screen shots courtesy of Video Game Museum, Shinforce, Rotten Tomatoes, GameFAQs.com, MobyGames.com, Games Radar