system Index S
San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing
Grade: D+
Publisher: Midway (1996)
Reviewed: 2007/1/14
Rating: Kid to adults (6+)

screenshotI enjoy a good arcade racer as much as the next guy (more so actually), but San Francisco Rush is bogged down by rudimentary graphics, lousy audio, and some serious control problems. It's hard to believe this game was released after Ridge Racer (Playstation 1995) and Daytona USA (Saturn 1995), because Rush isn't even in the same league.

Its tracks are limited to the San Francisco area, which apparently justifies the heinous "fog" you'll encounter. The rolling hills look okay, but the buildings appear boxy and plain. The frame rate remains smooth however, and Rush certainly delivers when it comes to catching huge air on hills, which can be exhilarating at times. Navigating the easy courses is a breeze, but the sharp turns of the advanced courses are practically impossible to corner due to your non-existent turn radius. Even when you lean on the analog stick you'll slam into a wall and explode.

Oddly enough, the game immediately sets you back on the track - often in a more advantageous position than before the crash! So what's the secret to turning? Well apparently hitting reverse (of all things) when approaching a turn allows your back-end to swing out far enough to make the "power-slide" (and trust me, I'm being loose with the language here). I'm not sure if it's a glitch or a feature, but it sure beats the hell out of slamming into every wall.

The quality of Rush's background music is generally bad, but it does have a certain "Pulp Fiction" vibe that some will like. The circuit mode lets you work your way through 26 track variations (including mirror and backward modes), and if you have a controller pack, the game will save your place along with best times. San Francisco Rush is rough, but many gamers have fond memories of unlocking the game's many secret areas and items. Check out the sequel (Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA) for a far better-realized racing experience. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA (Nintendo 64)
Rage Racer (Playstation)
Supercross 3D (Jaguar)
Ridge Racer Type 4 (Playstation)
Cruis'n World (Nintendo 64)

Snowboard Kids
Grade: C+
Publisher: Atlus (1997)
Reviewed: 2012/2/25
Rating: Kids to Adults

screenshotYou don't have to be a kid to appreciate the easy winter fun of Snowboard Kids. Sometimes described as "snowboarding meets Mario Kart", the game features goofy characters with freakishly large noses. The courses are very inviting with their well-groomed trails and bright blue skies. The night track is downright spectacular with gorgeous lighting effects and a quaint town backdrop.

The tracks feature plenty of ramps, cliffs, tunnels, and bridges to keep things interesting. If your controller is equipped with a rumble pack, you'll definitely notice it as you ride over planked bridges or use the "fan" power-up. The tracks are wide enough and the analog controls make it easy to carve. Power-ups and weapons are provided by creepy clown icons. Some weapons are incredibly cheap, like one that simultaneously drops pans on all of your opponent's heads (really?).

Each race requires several "runs" down the slope, and you need to enter a tiny lift gate at the bottom of each hill to ride back to the top. Why did they make these gates so tiny? They are so easy to miss! Most trails have appealing winter themes, but what's up with the "grass valley" stage? Who in the [expletive] wants to snowboard on grass? That doesn't even make any sense!

There's also an amusement park track that's equally dumb - and unnecessary. The single-player mode challenges to beat all the tracks, and you shouldn't overlook the mini-games which include a rapid-fire snowman shooter. The problem is, saving your progress requires 121 pages on a controller pack, and that's pretty much the whole thing!

Snowboard Kids also supports multiplayer split-screen action for up to four players, and the frame-rate holds up pretty well! The races are longer than Lindsay Lohan's rap sheet, so if one guy pulls way ahead it turns into a dull affair. Fortunately it is possible to adjust the number of laps (although I had a hard time figuring out how). Bonehead design decisions notwithstanding, this lighthearted racer will keep you in good spirits during the cold winter months. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Controller Pack
1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Snowboard Kids 2 (Nintendo 64)
Crash Team Racing (Playstation)
Sprint Master (Atari 2600)
Enduro Racer (Sega Master System)
Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)

Snowboard Kids 2
Grade: D+
Publisher: Atlus (1999)
Reviewed: 2012/2/25
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThe first Snowboard Kids title was moderately enjoyable despite some glaring flaws. But instead of addressing those shortcomings, this ill-conceived sequel sends the franchise into a downward spiral of death. Snowboard Kids 2 will have you careening through tropical jungles, haunted houses, underwater, and even outer space. I'm pretty sure I spotted the Little Mermaid in the underwater track, and I was not amused. Call me old-fashioned but I like a little snow in my snowboarding games!

The over-the-top stages stink on so many levels. The jungle foliage looks like cardboard cut-outs, and the "Wendy's House" stage is just a whole lot of nothing. The haunted house track is incredibly lame, although it's cool how the kids are decked out in Halloween costumes. Fortunately the game is redeemed by a handful of snow tracks. The Christmas-themed Jingle Town is probably the best of the bunch with all of its festive holiday decorations, but its theme song sounds decidedly un-Christmas-like.

Power-ups are now represented by teddy bears instead of clowns, and I'm cool with that. The story mode is deeper than its predecessor, and its paperboy-style mini-game is a winner. Unfortunately, Snowboard Kids 2 shares the same fundamental issues as its predecessor, including excessively long tracks, cheap weapons, and lift gates that are hard to finagle into. Worst of all, I think the developers forgot they were making a snowboarding game. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Controller Pack
1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Christmas Crisis (Philips CD-i)
Reindeer Rescue (Atari 2600)
Snowboard Kids (Nintendo 64)
Daze Before Christmas (Europe) (Super Nintendo)
Swordquest Fireworld (Atari 2600)

Star Fox 64
Grade: A
Publisher: Nintendo (1997)
Reviewed: 2006/12/30
Rating: Kids to adults

screenshotThe first Star Fox (SNES, 1993) was a revolutionary title that brought 3D polygon graphics to the masses. But while it was certainly innovative, the SNES system was a bit over its head. Running on a far more capable platform, this Star Fox sequel has aged much better than the original. It doesn't stray far in terms of gameplay, but refines the formula to near perfection.

As you glide over planets and through open space, you traverse predefined courses containing towering structures and swarming enemies. The smooth framerate and well-defined hazards make it very easy to target enemies, fly through arches, and snag floating power-ups. Not all of the stages are linear however; a few the boss encounters occur in areas that let you fly around freely.

Although many gamers were anxiously anticipating this "open" style of play, these stages turn out to be among the weakest in the game. Sure, there's more freedom, but you're constantly having to turn around to re-engage your targets. Still, these stages do provide a nice change of pace. Star Fox 64's controls, graphics, and sound are all beyond reproach. Even with dozens of enemies on the screen at a time, you can always tell what's going on.

I really like the "charge" and "lock-on" weapon systems, and the somersault maneuver is also useful. The aiming and collision detection are extremely forgiving, eliminating the frustration factor often found in this type of game. There are still some minor issues with "fog" on land, but the space stages look impressive as you maneuver around huge floating metal structures.

Your squadron partners (Slippy, Peppy, and Falco) have returned, and this time they have voices. The heroic musical score has a very Zelda-like quality, and some of the sound effects and voice clips (including the robotic "good luck") have been held over from the first game. When you take into account the four-player split-screen mode, Star Fox 64 is nothing less than outstanding.

If I had to complain about anything, it might be the drawn-out intermissions that I couldn't skip. It's interesting to note that this game was initially packaged with a "rumble pack", which was a pretty novel concept for its time. The effect is barely even noticeable now, although the throttle still feels pretty good. The Star Fox series really came into its own with this well-executed sequel. And when it comes to pure fun, few N64 games can match Star Fox 64. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Star Fox 64 3D (Nintendo 3DS)
Star Fox Assault (GameCube)
Space Spartans (Intellivision)
Star Fox (Super Nintendo)
Supercross 3D (Jaguar)

Star Wars: Battle For Naboo
Grade: A
Publisher: LucasArts (2000)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotIf you enjoyed Rogue Squadron, you'll flip over this Episode One-inspired title, set on the planet of Naboo. In addition to excellent dog-fighting action, many stages feature ground-based combat between floating vehicles. Battle For Naboo's graphics feature beautiful cities and scenic landscapes inspired by Episode One, and the explosions are among the best I've seen on the N64. The voice acting is sometimes hard to understand, but I like how your commander always specifies what your next objective is.

As in Rogue Squadron, there's a helpful radar display that not only identifies friends and foes, but keeps you headed in the right direction. You'll pilot seven vehicles from STAPs to starfighters, and the controls are responsive. Your performance determines which metal you earn (bronze, silver, or gold) in each of the 15 missions, adding replay value. The stages are ideal in length, and if you bite the dust, you pick up right where you left off. Battle of Naboo is a first-class shooter that should thrill Star Wars fans. I could find no serious flaws with this one. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GameCube)
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (Nintendo 64)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (GameCube)
Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (GameCube)
Ace Combat 04 (Playstation 2)

Star Wars: Episode One Racer
Grade: A
Publisher: LucasArts (1999)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotThis masterpiece is a dream come true for Star Wars fans! Episode One Racer faithfully recreates (and expands upon) the exciting pod-racing scene from the Phantom Menace. The game offers 23 different vehicles available and 25 unique courses.

The graphics (with the help of the memory expansion pack) are magnificent and the illusion of speed is exhilarating. You can win and collect other vehicles which can be upgraded by buying parts from Watto (who has many funny lines in this game). The racing aspect is the best I've experienced on the N64, with controls that are more forgiving than most racers (you have to hit a wall really hard to crash). The frame rate does struggle to keep up in the later stages, where things get really crazy.

The tracks themselves are all fascinating and surprisingly long. Some require a few minutes just to complete a single lap! As you would expect, the digitized sound effects and orchestrated musical score are beyond reproach. Episode One Racer also features a fine two-player split-screen mode. LucasArts obviously went all-out with the game, and the quality shows. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Battery
1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Star Wars: Episode One Racer (Dreamcast)
Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing (Playstation 2)
Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)
Supercross 3D (Jaguar)
POD Speedzone (Dreamcast)

Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Grade: B+
Publisher: LucasArts (1998)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotThe best stages in Shadows of the Empire were the ones that let you fly ships, so LucasArts made Rogue Squadron nothing but dogfighting action all the way though. Set chronologically between A New Hope and Empire Strike Back, you play the part of Luke Skywalker, embarking on a series of missions to protect the Rebels and keep the Empire at bay.

As you would expect, the production values are top notch. The background story, characters, voice acting, sound effects, music, vehicle specifications, and locations are all faithful to the Star Wars mythology. The planet surfaces are plain but rendered in high resolution and appear silky smooth. Vehicles are detailed up close, but it can be tough to distinguish Tie fighters from Rebel allies in the distance. Your radar display is handy for guiding you to your mission objective, but less helpful during the hectic dogfights.

The air-to-air combat is fun and challenging, and the explosions are a joy to behold. Sometimes you'll nick a Tie on the wing, sending him into a downward spiral - sweet. Rogue Squadron's single graphic shortcoming has to be the wimpy explosion of your ship when you crash - it's about the size of a firecracker! The game offers five aircraft to choose from, each with its own unique look and feel. A huge hit, Rogue Squadron kicked off a popular series that would continue on the Gamecube. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

If you like this game, try: Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GameCube)
Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike (GameCube)
Star Wars: Battle For Naboo (Nintendo 64)
Star Strike (Intellivision)
Star Wars Arcade (Sega 32X)

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
Grade: B
Publisher: LucasArts (1996)
Reviewed: 2005/5/18

screenshotAs one of the original "launch" titles for the Nintendo 64 console, Shadows of the Empire follows the storyline of the popular novel while incorporating a wide variety of playing styles. The background story is conveyed through a series of illustrations and text. The action begins with a Snowspeeder battle on Hoth, which frankly is the best stage of the game.

The excellent graphics and tight control place you into the heat of battle, blasting probe droids and tripping up Imperial Walkers. Later stages include a very original (and fun) train-jumping sequence, a "swoop bike" race, and some dogfighting in space. Most stages, however, play like a third-person shooter, where you view your character from behind. As you might expect, he can get in the way at times.

Shadows looks impressive but has its share of control problems. First, the touchy analog stick makes it difficult to navigate narrow ledges without sliding off. Also, the aiming controls for firing upward are not good. If you can deal with these issues however, Shadows provides a very satisfying and original Star Wars adventure. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

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Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Intellivision)
Empire Strikes Back (NES)
Star Wars: Ewok Adventure (Atari 2600)
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Atari 2600)
Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GameCube)

Stunt Racer 64
Grade: C
Publisher: Midway (2000)
Reviewed: 2012/10/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith fantasy cars racing on rollercoaster-style tracks, this feels like a cross between Super Mario Kart 64 (N64, 1997) and Star Wars Episode One Racer (N64, 1999). Stunt Racer 64 is more "race" than "stunt". Oh sure you can execute some flips, rolls, and spins in mid-air, but I'm not convinced it's really necessary.

The opening "tutorial" forces you to perform a checklist of actions like jumping through hoops, performing a flip, and collecting 2000 coins. To be honest, I was a little pissed off at having to pass this mandatory training, but it certainly does teach you the ropes. The "league mode" challenges you to participate in a series of races on tracks with themes like candy land, medieval castles, the Wild West, and a land of giant toys.

The night tracks tend to look beautiful with their neon lights, but some daytime tracks suffer from fog. The tracks tend to have wild configurations with corkscrews, loops, shortcuts, and hazards to avoid. The best tracks are short and sweet, but some tend to drag on.

The arcade racing action is fun thanks to the silky smooth frame-rate - and plenty of guard rails! The physics feels realistic, especially when you land at an angle and have to struggle to get your four wheels down. Your car tends to drift sideways in the air, which can be good for lining up an upcoming turn, and bad if you get turned the wrong way. There's nothing worse than finding yourself stuck on the rail after running an otherwise flawless race.

Coins and power-ups on the track give the game a Mario Kart flavor, but there are no weapons to be found. I like Stunt Racer's arcade simplicity, but the game has issues. First, the confusing menu interface will have you going in circles! Who designed this?!

There are plenty of opportunities to save your progress, but inexplicably not before the boss stage! Isn't that when you need to save most?! The background music is totally hokey and never seems to mesh with the stage themes. I'm a little surprised and disappointed at the lack of a split-screen mode. Stunt Racer 64 is a real oddball title, but if you're looking for a single player racer this will do the trick. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)
Diddy Kong Racing (Nintendo 64)
Crash Team Racing (Playstation)
Freekstyle (GameCube)
POD Speedzone (Dreamcast)

Super Mario 64
Grade: B-
Publisher: Nintendo (1996)
Reviewed: 2019/3/20

screenshotI recall standing in a local Blockbuster video store in 1996 watching some kid playing this at a Nintendo kiosk. Super Mario 64 was intriguing on so many levels. The Nintendo 64 controller offered precision analog control and the game's open-world design provided unprecedented freedom of movement. The ability to "go anywhere" had long been the Holy Grail for gamers like me.

Once you gaze upon that bright, beautiful castle you feel an overwhelming desire to explore. It was also fun seeing your favorite Mario characters rendered in three dimensions for the first time. But in order to make the 3D transition the Super Mario formula had to be altered. Instead of focusing on platform jumping Mario 64 emphasizes exploration and item collecting.

Mario has a huge arsenal of moves including the ability to climb, swim, wall-kick, punch, somersault, ground-pound, and can even tiptoe past dozing Chain Chomps. You can still pounce on certain enemies but it's a little awkward. Like so many early 3D titles Super Mario 64 has not aged particularly well. The camera is high-maintenance to say the least. Simply positioning yourself to read a signpost can be tricky, and navigating underwater areas is the worst. Fortunately Mario will hang onto a ledge when your jump comes up short.

In terms of graphics the angular scenery is constrained by blurry walls that are less-than-pleasing to the eye. Still, there's something magical about Super Mario 64 with its thoughtful puzzles, gently ramping difficulty, and wonderful orchestrated music. There's a nice variety of worlds to explore and plenty of hidden surprises on the way. Defeating bosses awards you with stars to unlock new stages, and the game prompts you to save regularly. Super Mario 64 hasn't aged as well as its 2D cousins but it still has that Nintendo charm, and that counts for quite a bit. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.

Save mechanism: Battery
1 player 

If you like this game, try: Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (Playstation)
Super Mario World (Super Nintendo)
Super Mario All-Stars (Super Nintendo)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)

Super Smash Bros.
Grade: C
Publisher: Nintendo (1999)
Reviewed: 2008/4/8

screenshotDespite its long-standing policy against violence, Super Smash Bros. features Nintendo's most popular characters beating the living crap out of each other. The 12 fighters (four hidden) include Mario, Star Fox, Pikachu (of Pokemon), Donkey Kong, Link, Kirby, Yoshi, and Samus (of Metroid fame). Designed for four-player mayhem, you leverage your character's special attacks to knock opponents off of elevated platforms. Link wields a sword, Donkey Kong pounds the ground, Samus fires missiles, and Kirby literally consumes his foes.

Battles are set in eight "home worlds" including Donkey Kong's jungle, Star Fox's ship, Yoshi's Island, and Princess Peach's castle. You also get the familiar background music for each, which is a real treat. The characters and arenas are rendered in lush 3D, but the action is strictly 2D - which is definitely a good thing. The simple control scheme includes two attack buttons (A and B), jump (any C button), and guard (Z). Super Smash Bros. is a dream come true for life-long Nintendo fans, but it takes someone who grew up on the Sega side of the tracks to judge this game objectively.

Smash Bros. is a very unconventional fighter. Instead of health meters, each character's damage meter indicates their vulnerability to being knocked into oblivion. This damage is represented as a percentage, yet this number can far exceed 100% - which won't sit well with math majors. And even if a character gets knocked far off of the screen, he can often jump on air - sometimes repeatedly - to work his way back into the fray. Am I the only person who finds that really, really cheesy?

Spicing up the action are cool weapons like shells, ray guns, Mario's hammer (from the original Donkey Kong), and a lighted sword that resembles a lightsaber. The single player mode presents a string of challenges, such as battling an army of Yoshis or an oversized Donkey Kong. It's only moderately fun, but lets you unlock characters and other goodies. The main event is the four-player battle mode. These fights are totally chaotic and very much conducive to button mashing.

Although the camera tries to maintain a tight angle, it's hard to keep track of your fighter. By default, each contest is played over a specified time period, and the fact that each player has an infinite number of lives never sat well with me. I much prefer the option to limit the matches by "stock" (lives). Super Smash Bros. is a fun concept that brings together a lot of memorable characters, but as a game it's vastly overrated. Its novelty value is through the roof, but if you're not a Nintendo fan, you'll probably wonder what all the fuss is about. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo 3DS)
Yoshi's Island: Super Mario World 2 (Super Nintendo)
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U)
Kirby's Dream Collection Special Edition (Wii)
Super Mario All-Stars (Super Nintendo)

Grade: F
Publisher: Titus (1999)
Reviewed: 2003/2/25

screenshotRipped to shreds by critics, Superman is regarded by many to be one of the worst video games of all time. I'm not sure about that, but it certainly is bad. The 3D characters look extremely rough, cars look like boxes, and the flat ground is tattooed with patterns that are supposed to look like houses from high above. Unfortunately, many of your missions require you to walk right over these surfaces, and they look really, really stupid. The buildings look respectable, but the city is completely shrouded by a thick fog that severely limits your visibility.

Superman's background story is incomprehensible, and many of the missions (all timed) seem confusing and pointless. Flying him through an obstacle course of giant rings (quite common in this game) is an exercise in frustration thanks to the unresponsive controls. I really did give Superman a chance, but the more I played it, the more I hated it. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Superman the Strategy Game (Atari XEGS)
Invasion From Beyond (Playstation)
Death and Return of Superman, The (Genesis)
Las Vegas Blackjack (Odyssey 2)
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Playstation 2)

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