Santa Claus Saves the Earth
Publisher: Telegames (2002)
I had my trepidations about Santa Claus Saves the Earth. It was published by a company known for releasing previously discarded titles, and that name
. Sure enough, this resembles a generic platformer retrofitted with a vaguely Christmas theme. The main character doesn't look like the real
Santa, especially with those sunglasses. Uncle
Santa is more like it. The first stage takes place in a mineshaft where you hop between platforms, collect tiddlywinks, and bash cavemen with your sack. Snowballs later prove a much more satisfying weapon, shattering enemies on contact. The jumps are floaty to the max, but I like how you can fall from any distance. You can even climb across ropes hand-over-hand, a la Tomb Raider
(PS1, 1997). You'll avoid standard dangers like flames, spikes, and plungers. Crates contain goodies, but you can only open them by throwing snowballs downward
which is really bizarre. You'll need to scour every maze-like level to obtain the necessary keys. I did gradually warm up to Santa Claus Saves the Earth. The graphics aren't bad, with characters having a somewhat claymation appearance. The scenery isn't very Christmas-y, save for a few stages with snowy mountains and icy trees. What are these clocks and pictures of clowns doing on the walls? The music is obnoxious; I had to turn down the volume completely. The game has a score, three continues, and a password feature. Santa Claus Saves the Earth may not be a genuine Christmas title but it's really not a bad little game on its own merits. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 3604
Sega Arcade Gallery
Publisher: THQ (2003)
The tiny cartridge packs quite a punch, delivering fine portable renditions of 1980's arcade hits Outrun, Super Hang-On, Afterburner, and Space Harrier. All four games employ rotating colors and scaling sprites to convey the illusion of speeding into the horizon, something the Game Boy Advance handles very well! Outrun is the star of the show with its smooth driving and scenic branching stages. Weaving through traffic is a thrill and I relish the little details like working tail lights on my convertible. Just be sure to steer clear of the eighteen-wheel trucks that can literally run you over!
Something possessed me to play this on my big HDTV (via the GameCube Game Boy Advance player) and the results were astonishing!
It's all the speed and excitement of Outrun rendered in glorious chunky pixels! It's like playing the game on an Atari 2600
for crying out loud! Super Hang-On follows a similar formula except this time you're on a motorcycle. The "lean" steering begs for analog control but the digital pad is adequate once you get a feel for it. The two flying games aren't quite as fun but still impressive. Afterburner is a frantic airplane shooter that feels a bit laggy compared to the arcade. You'll unleash heat-seeking missiles at targets on the horizon and incinerate enemy jets that linger in close range. The bright blue sea, orange sunsets, and white snow stages are striking in their beauty. Space Harrier is a jet-pack shooter with a sci-fi vibe. It's fun to blast dragons and dodge pillars, but the scaling is a little rough and your character tends to block your view. One pleasant surprise is the quality of the music. Outrun's selectable tunes sound terrific and the high-octane musical score of Afterburner will get your blood pumping. A cartridge like this one will catch you off guard. Sega Arcade Classics harkens back to when video games were colorful, action-packed fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation: outrun
Our high score: 6376950
Sega Rally Championship
Publisher: Sega (2003)
The original Sega Rally Championship
(Saturn, 1996) found a sweet spot between early 3D racers like Virtua Racing Deluxe
(Sega 32X, 1994) and modern, realistic racers like Gran Turismo
(PS1, 1998). I have mixed feelings about this scaled-down Game Boy Advance (GBA) edition. The gameplay is faithful to the original but not sure if polygon graphics were the best choice. If you ever wondered what Sega Rally would look like on the Atari 2600, this might give you a good idea! I like to review GBA games on my TV (via GameCube GBA player) but Sega Rally looks like pixel soup!
I feel like I'm plowing through a sea of little boxes! On a smaller screen (like a DS) the game looks a lot better. Details like signs and spectators are indistinct but you still get a sense of them. The driving action is very forgiving and I'm not sure it's even possible to crash into anything. It's fun to shave seconds off your best times though, and always satisfying to pass another car just before you cross the finish line. The races are short and sweet with best times recorded to cartridge. The tracks incorporate all sorts of environments, weather conditions, and different times of day. I found the desert tracks a little hard to follow, but the snowy village and tropical isle locations look absolutely beautiful. Completing events awards you with coins used to unlock cars, galleries, and even mini-games. The graphics may come across a little rough, but if you stick with it this miniature Sega Rally is sure to satisfy your craving for off-road racing. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Save mechanism: battery
Publisher: Sega (2001)
Rating: Everyone 1 or 2 players
I can't tell you how good
it feels to play a brand new 2D
Sonic the Hedgehog game. Just like old times, you can dash, jump, spin, and bounce around like a sock in a dryer. The four playable characters include Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy. Each has new "moves" to keep the metallic goons at bay, but these are not an integral part of the game. The graphics in Sonic Advance are roughly equivalent to the original Genesis titles. Predictably, the first zone is a tropical paradise, conjuring up memories of the Green Hill Zone. Most zones are new, but longtime Sonic fans will find their designs derivative at best. I love whizzing over the snowy peaks of the Ice Mountain zone, but wading thru the water in its lower reaches is a drag. Apparently somebody at Sega really has a thing for those annoying pinball stages, because the Casino Paradise Zone is as irritating as it gets. Other zones are hampered by tedious platform jumping or dangerous blind jumps that cause you to fall off the bottom of the screen. The 3D bonus stages are fun but surprisingly elusive. I'm not crazy about the fact that there are two enormous stages per zone - the second ending with a boss. Not only is it easy to get lost, but the whole "exploration" aspect is compromised. I do like the stage select feature that lets you bypass those you've completed. The well-orchestrated background tunes range from the mysterious, grinding jams of the Secret Base stage, to the tranquil, peaceful melodies of the Ice Mountain Zone. Extra modes include a two-player race mode and a time trial mode. Although the time trial saves the best times, it inexplicably does not
save your initials. Sonic Advance has its share of issues, but it still feels good to see the hedgehog back in 2D. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Rating: Everyone 1 or 2 players
Publisher: Sega (2002)
is more like it! The first Sonic Advance felt a little too familiar for my taste, but this fresh sequel breaths new life into the series. In terms of speed, Sonic Advance 2 is way
over the top - there were times when I thought I'd lose my lunch
just trying to keep up! Except for some minor new moves and an additional female character (Cream), the gameplay hasn't changed much. Thankfully, the new zones exhibit a great deal of imagination. The first, Leaf Forest, is an unconventional world of angular green shapes, and its soundtrack is equally edgy. In the Music Factory zone, your character bounces off piano keys and gets sucked through organ pipes, and the music is fantastic. The scenic Ice Paradise features a welcome holiday theme, although falling off the bottom of the screen is a constant hazard. New gizmos include rails you can "grind" (Tony Hawk style) and loops that are twice
as big as those in previous games. My main gripe with Sonic Advance 2 is the same as the last game. The zones are so huge that it's easy to get lost in them. Sonic 2's difficulty is just right however, and most Sonic fans will appreciate the added emphasis on speed. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sega (2004)
Whenever the Sonic team starts running low on ideas, they always fall back on the old "team up two characters" gimmick. It's been effective in some cases (Sonic Heroes, Gamecube), and disastrous in others (Knuckles Chaotix, Sega 32X). You can play Sonic Advance 3 like any other Sonic game, but an ever-present "partner" provides you with additional moves and attacks. Instead of whole-heartedly embracing this tag-team concept, I chose to largely ignore my partner. Does that make me a bad person? Another feature I didn't care for is the new "zone within a zone" concept. I'd rather just select my zone instead of having to locate it within a maze! Otherwise Sonic 3 is similar to its predecessor, with fascinating new zones and a higher degree of difficulty. The first zone, Route 99, is set in front of a bright city skyline. I love it, because it's so reminiscent of the graphics in those old Double Dragon games. The second zone, Sunset Hill, features a gorgeous orange sunset over scenic tropical scenery. I freaked out when I realized its theme music is actually a remix
of the Green Zone music from the original Sonic the Hedgehog
(Genesis, 1991)! Sonic 3's gameplay is more challenging that previous Sonic Advance games. Each zone features three expansive stages, and the boss stages even feature sub-bosses. New gadgets include button switches, teeter-totters, and bungee cords. You really need to watch yourself because it's very easy to get squished by moving blocks. In the end, Sonic 3's "teaming up" aspect fails to excite, but you can't deny Sonic Advance 3's classic gameplay. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Sonic Pinball Party
Publisher: Sega (2003)
As a huge fan of Sonic and
pinball, I had been trying to track down this game for a long time. Was this even released
in the USA? Only recently did I find Sonic Pinball Party as part of a "combo" cartridge, paired with Sonic Advance. If Sega didn't think this game could stand on its own, they were probably right. Sonic Party Pinball feels more like an unlockable bonus game than a full-scale cartridge. It offers two tables, one based on Sonic and the other on Nights (although I'm told there's also a secret Samba De Amigo table). Fans of Nights will probably appreciate this cartridge a lot, considering the lack of attention that series has received over the years. Pinball Party's flipper controls are responsive enough, but why aren't they assigned to the shoulder buttons? The main problem with the game is its dull, uninspired tables. The targets are hard to make out, and there are far too many "modes" and words to spell out. Most of the time the ball just rolls around the lanes without even hitting anything. There are multiple "stages" for each table, but these do little more than alter the color scheme. You get three balls per game, but if you count all the times your ball is "saved", it's more like 20! When you see a ball get saved three times in a row
, something's wrong. The scoring is uneven as well. You can execute all sorts of crazy combos to earn a few thousand points, and then effortlessly rack up millions
during some easy ring-collecting mode. You'll need at least 50 million to break into the high score table, but in my experience netting even 20 million is nearly impossible. Sonic Pinball's playful soundtrack has that Sonic charm, but like the game, it wears thin in a hurry. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Spiderman The Movie
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Similar to the old Genesis Spiderman games, this 2D side-scroller delivers plenty of excitement as you swing around a city, beat up thugs, and locate items. The kick-ass intro features some grainy movie footage and a rocking soundtrack. The game offers a nice variety of objectives, from saving hostages, to escaping a crumbling building, to destroying barrels within a certain time period. The levels are brief but hidden secrets add to the replay value. The characters are well-defined using black outlines, and the background scenery looks pretty realistic. Spidey's hits are punctuated with "Thwack!" and "Bam!" graphics, just like the old Batman TV shows. The action is fairly conventional until you reach the amazing 3D bonus stages, which let you swing through the city via a first-person point of view
! That's pretty impressive for the Game Boy Advance! Control is often a sticking-point in Spiderman games, and this one is no exception. In the outdoor levels, it's easy to swing around from building to building, but in close quarters you tend to stick to everything
, which gets annoying! Even so, Spiderman The Movie is a quality title, delivering old-school charm with a new-school flair. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 8150
Publisher: Midway (2001)
After playing through the Playstation 2 edition of Spy Hunter, it's hard to appreciate this portable version. It tries to convey 3D racing using scaling sprites and ground-scrolling effects, but it's a water-downed experience. Controlling a well-armed sports car, you embark on a series of missions with multiple objectives, but your primary goal is always to destroy one or more special targets. The controls are fairly responsive, and gunning down enemy cars and motorcycles is a pleasure. Spy Hunter's graphics are reasonably good, but its flat scenery makes the stages feel repetitive. You sometimes drive a boat, but it feels more like a car sliding around on an oily surface. Spy Hunter is playable but not particularly satisfying. There is one major incentive to play however, and that is to unlock the original Spy Hunter arcade game, which is far better that this one by the way. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 21675
Spy Hunter / Super Sprint
Publisher: Destination Software (2005)
What. The. Hell. Porting arcade hits from 1983 to the Game Boy Advance shouldn't be a challenge, so how do you explain this dumpster fire? The original Spy Hunter
(Colecovision, 1984) was a James Bond-style overhead racer that let you machine-gun cars ahead and dump oil on those behind. The first thing you may notice is a lack of the Peter Gun theme - a longtime trademark of the series and a glaring omission. The graphics look perfectly fine with slick sports cars and lush green scenery along the side of the road. But the controls... oy!
I don't know if they were trying to emulate some kind of analog control or what, but the steering is atrocious!
Holding the directional pad to either side for more than a split second sends your car veering out of control. And if you try to recover you're magnetically sucked into the trees on each side. You'll barely scrape against a motorcycle and your entire car is instantly engulfed in flames. To be fair, those flame effects are the visual highlight of the game. The pacing is horrible, with long stretches of road with nothing to do. The game over screen displays a message like "your score ranking is 3" which might make sense if there were a high score screen! The second game, Super Sprint, doesn't fare much better. The miniscule cars look more like little roaches scurrying around a track. The steering is far too sensitive, causing you to curl into walls. The ensuing mushroom cloud is followed by a helicopter flying in with a replacement vehicle. Explosions notwithstanding, both Spy Hunter and Super Sprint are a pair of turkeys, and even a two-for-one deal can't hide that fact. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 21,675
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Publisher: THQ (2002)
It blows my mind how completely inept
this game is! With Episode 2, it's as if all the lessons learned in 25 years of platform-game design had been tossed out the window. The graphics are nice - I'll give it that much. You'll see high quality stills from the film, and the large 2D character models look practically digitized. There are even 3D flight sequences that nicely convey the illusion of movement. The controls however are unresponsive, stiff, and poorly conceived. As a result, playing Attack of the Clones is about as satisfying as eating soup with chopsticks. Your Jedi (Anakin Skywalker) walks so slowly that completing each stage feels like an extended ordeal. You'll frantically search the manual for a dash move, but your efforts will have been in vain. Episode II's mechanics are downright bizarre. You actually need to be moving forward
to swing with your lightsaber! Turning around is chore, and it can be frustratingly difficult to strike an object directly in front of you
. Droids tend to hover just between your slashes and low-kicks, prompting some players to use profanity. Losing a life sends you all the way back
to the beginning of each lengthy stage. The 3D stages prove just as frustrating, with heat-seeking missiles that are practically impossible to avoid. The best part of the game is how you can deflect laser bolts back to their source with your light saber. I enjoyed the movie, but this is awful. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Publisher: Ubisoft (2005)
I didn't have high hopes for Episode 3, but I was pleasantly surprised. Episode 3 sports a bold new style that harkens back to the 16-bit side-scrollers, with cartoonish but nicely animated 2D characters. The ability to move your Jedi between the foreground and background brings to mind old favorites like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. The fighting engine is pretty nifty too, letting you employ a variety of saber techniques to disassemble an army of droids. Your foes fall to pieces in a satisfying manner, and you can even attack from the front and back at once - eliminating the painful "sandwiching" deaths seen in similar games. There's some interaction with the scenery, and you can skillfully deflect laser bolts with your light saber. In one stage you must defeat a tank using deflections alone. Even the one-on-one light saber battles are well executed, requiring a series of well timed blocks and counters. Your Jedi gradually earns new skills and attributes, and you can play as Obi Wan or Anakin in storylines that diverge before fatefully merging near the end. With its fresh graphics, tight controls, and clever concepts, I started thinking "finally they got it right." But sadly, the fun does fade as you progress through the game. Hacking up droids is mindless fun at first, but eventually you'll face tougher droids that require you to pound the heck out of them ad nauseum. Worst yet, the stages are tend to be long and boring with endless corridors. When the game throws the same set of five droids at you again and again (in the same room no less), enough is enough! Apparently the developers were attempting to artificially lengthen the game, but it really backfired. Even with its flaws however, Episode 3 does represent a big step up from previous Star Wars titles on the Gameboy Advance. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force
Publisher: Ubisoft (2004)
I figured Ubisoft had an easy job in creating a new 2D Star Wars game. After all, the Super Star Wars titles (SNES) perfected that style of gameplay over ten years ago
. How could they possibly screw this up? The answer: In just about every way possible
! First, we have the repetitive stage layouts and frequent shoot-out sequences that artificially lengthen the game. You can fire diagonally (using the shoulder buttons), but not
straight up or down, and you can't
shoot while climbing. When navigating platforms, you can grab onto them and pull yourself up, but sometimes your grabs don't register and you just fall right through. Of course, when you're trying to jump down
, your character inadvertently grabs onto everything
, which is annoying. There are lightsaber and space battle stages further into the game, but these are only a marginal improvement. The graphics are plain, and the characters are rendered with thick black outlines. Despite its shortcomings, Trilogy does
cover a lot of ground, and it is
Star Wars for Pete's sake. I kind of enjoyed the Time Pilot-inspired shooting sequences. But all in all, you have to admit this is pretty uninspired stuff. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: Flight of the Falcon
Publisher: THQ (2003)
About ten years ago, the Star Wars name meant quality when it came to video games, but apparently those days are long gone. In fact, I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a game less
than Flight of the Falcon. I was hoping this game would mark the return of those glorious 16-bit Star Wars days, but Falcon is poorly conceived and completely devoid of fun. First you have to sit through one of those slow, obligatory text crawls. Are these things really necessary for every
Star Wars game? Each level involves either flying or driving, and you view the action from just behind your vehicle. Fortunately, the Falcon's shape is thin enough that it doesn't usually obstruct your vision. The 3D graphics aren't bad, and the mission locations are enough make any Star Wars fan salivate, including the Death Star Trench, the forest of Endor, the streets of Tatooine, and the cloud city of Bespin. Unfortunately, aiming is done using a tiny crosshair, and you have to be dead-on to hit anything
. In the driving stages, the scenery blends together, making it hard to tell where you can and can't go. Making matters worse, the stages drag on for far
too long. In the first stage you have to shoot about 100
tiny Tie fighters! And once you lose a ship, you'll have to start all over again! At least the audio is reasonable, with digitized music and trademark sound effects. But that's the only bright spot in a game I generally regard as a waste of time. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.
Star Wars: The New Droid Army
Publisher: LucasArts (2002)
This Star Wars game boasts sharp-looking scenery, motion-captured animation, digitized sound effects, fine-tuned controls, and an epic musical score. I say "you can keep all of it," because The New Droid Army is simply no fun to play. This is what happens when video games go "corporate". I'm sure every aspect of this game was planned out in meticulous detail and a competent team of developers programmed it exactly as specified. If only someone would have had the courage to ask, "Is this thing any fun
?" Then again, they probably wouldn't have liked the answer. Despite its lofty production values, New Droid Army is an absolute chore
to play. In a storyline that immediately follows Episode 2 (Attack of the Clones), you guide Anakin Skywalker around expansive areas on the planets Tatooine, Coruscant, and Metalorn. As you move from one area to the next, characters send you off on various errands to search for people and objects. Along the way you'll fend off endless Womp rats, Sand People, and Imperial Droids. It's button-mashing hell, although I do like how you can deflect laser bolts. The game might have been respectable had the locations not been so damn huge
. Stumbling across the Tatooine desert takes an eternity, especially when you have to stop every few feet to slice up a gang of attacking Womp rats. Every stage plays exactly the same, and the repetition will dull your senses. You'd think the "speed" force power might remedy the situation, but it's only available in five-second spurts! It's easy to cycle through your force powers, but they are almost totally defensive in nature. You'd have to be a very loyal Star Wars fan (perhaps stranded on a desert island) to derive any enjoyment from this by-the-numbers time-waster. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.
Super Puzzle Fighter II
Publisher: Capcom (2002)
A friend of mine sent me this game when he discovered I hadn't reviewed any GBA games for several years
. I'm glad he did, because I had a blast
with Super Fighter Puzzle II (SPF2). Tetris-style puzzle games seem to be an ideal fit for portable systems, thanks to their colorful blocks and addictive gameplay. SPF2 incorporates several cool concepts that elevate it above most garden-variety Tetris clones. For one thing, you get the characters, backdrops, and musical themes from the Street Fighter II and Darkstalkers series. If you're a fan of those classic fighters, the familiar sights and sounds are very appealing! It may seem like window dressing, but SPF2 really does convey back-and-forth action similar to a 2D fighter. The idea is to strategically stack colored blocks (gems in this case) and use "crash gems" to initiate combos. Combos send "counter blocks" (which count down over time) over to your opponent's side which really tend to clog things up. The numbers can be a little
hard to make out. The arcade mode pits you against the CPU, and the short, competitive matches are madly addictive. Unfortunately, by the third round the CPU opponent becomes nearly unstoppable, so even if you continuously bang out combos the CPU overwhelms you with blocks. Sometimes your side will be almost totally clear and the CPU will unleash the mother of all combos
, sending over an avalanche of blocks to bring your game to an abrupt conclusion. It's a little cheap, but playing for score is fun, especially since they are recorded on a nice high score screen. Besides playing the CPU, you can hook up with a friend or try to unlock bonus items in the "street mode". These items include alternate outfits, different music themes, and locked characters. Puzzle Fighter looks like a gimmick on the surface, but pairing the sights and sounds of Street Fighter with an intense puzzle game turned out to be a winning combination after all. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
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