system Index A-B
ATV Offroad Fury
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2001)
Reviewed: 2013/6/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis instantly playable off-road racer strikes a nice balance between realism and arcade action. ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles) are small, four-wheeled buggies that race around dirt/mud tracks. Soaring off hills lets you perform insane tricks like "air walk", "tail grab", and "cliffhanger". The scenery is sparse but those smooth, wide hills are inviting enough. You'll race through deserts, old mills, snow-covered mountains, and forests. I was a little disappointed that the "Salem's Back-lot" track was little more than a moonlit forest. Responsive analog steering lets you turn on a dime and hilly sections of a course let you get into a rhythm. Clever "preload" controls let you maximize your jumps, and a chaotic leapfrog effect occurs as other ATVs fall out of the sky around you. The physics is convincing and it's fun to watch opponents crash and bounce around like rag dolls. Braking is important not only to maintain control around sharp turns, but also to ensure you land on the downward slope of each hill. You need to get a feel for it. I love how the number of seconds you're running behind the leader is displayed in the corner - in real time! ATV Offroad's high-octane soundtrack kicks ass with artists like Alice in Chains ("Them Bones"), Soundgarden ("Spoonman"), and Anthrax. The addictive career mode lets you gradually unlock new tracks. Some races run a little too long, but at least CPU opponents occasionally wreck to give you a chance. The four-player split-screen is great feature, even though messages on the screen can get in the way of the road ahead. Offroad Fury is just plain fun, and even those not familiar with ATVs can appreciate this cool arcade racer. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Ski-Doo Snow X Racing (Playstation 2),
Nitrobike (Wii), ATV Offroad Fury 4 (Playstation 2),
Sled Storm (Playstation), Motorodeo (Atari 2600)

ATV Offroad Fury 2
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2002)
Reviewed: 2013/6/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotATV Offroad Fury 2 (ATV2) delivers more of the same gritty, testosterone-laden offroad mayhem. The races are wild, and it always feels like you're in the hunt thanks to the "rubberband" AI. This is one of those games where I need to remind myself to blink my eyes! Finely-tuned controls let you calibrate your jumping distance to ensure you land on the "right side" of a hill. The tracks are narrower this time around, and the low camera angle can make it hard to see what's ahead while climbing a steep hill. Some courses could be better defined. There were times I thought I had discovered a shortcut only to be told get back on the course. It's not a bad strategy to follow the CPU racers for the first lap or two. I would also exercise caution when executing tricks, as they tend to be extremely risky. ATV2's graphics are slightly improved over the original, and I like how your rider leans into turns. The single-player championship mode is fun, although the default number of laps (5) is a little long. The multiplayer split-screen exhibits some "fog" but it's still a good time. The courses include a sandy white beach, a snowy ski slope, a rainy bayou, and a muddy trailer park. I wouldn't bother with the stadium courses, which tend to be boring as hell. ATV2's rugged soundtrack packs more big names like Garbage ("Parade"), Korn ("Here To Stay"), and The Beastie Boys ("So Whatcha Want"). A handy auto-save feature saves you progress between races, as well as best times. Having not played the game in many years, it was interesting to see initials of old friends. I'm still trying to figure out who "BALS" is. ATV2's headline feature was its ability to race on-line. That was a novel concept in 2002 but obviously it's no longer supported. The game has a slew of customization options, mainly for inconsequential details like your gloves, boots, goggles, etc. The best additions are the four-player mini-games, including an ice hockey variation that's an absolute riot. ATV Offroad Fury 2 has its up and downs, but I think it's a worthy sequel. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: ATV Offroad Fury (Playstation 2),
Fatal Fury Battle Archives Volume 1 (Playstation 2), Splashdown (Playstation 2),
Power Drive Rally (Jaguar), Nitrobike (Wii)

ATV Offroad Fury 3
Grade: B
Publisher: Sony (2004)
Reviewed: 2013/6/6
Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics)

screenshotThe previous entry in this series, ATV Offroad Fury 2 (Sony, 2002), emphasized on-line play and superfluous customization options. I'm happy to report that ATV Offroad Fury 3 (ATV3) places the focus back on the racing. ATV3 does a remarkably good job of conveying break-neck speeds, high-altitude jumps, and the feeling of momentum. It's exhilarating as you careen through trenches, launch off hills, and sail over opponents. I love landing on some poor chump's head and hearing him make that weird croaking sound. The tracks tend to be narrow but banked turns make it easy to round corners without taking your thumb off the accelerator. The scenery is unspectacular but it's fun to drive through abandoned industrial facilities and ride over creaky wooden bridges. Weather effects add to the fun in the form of blowing snow and rumbling thunderstorms. I like how the raindrops bead on your goggles. The races often feel like competitive rollercoaster rides. Sometimes the game tells me "You got the holeshot!" Am I supposed to know what that means? ATV3 gives you the option of using the right stick as you accelerator and brake, but I prefer the buttons. The soundtrack incorporates popular artists like Good Charlotte, Keith Urban, Garbage, and Joan Jett. On the down side, the load times border on extreme. I also noticed that the game has an annoying tendency to improperly orient you on the track after a wreck. When selecting tracks in the multi-player mode, there's no picture or preview of the track - just a non-descriptive name. The four-player split screen is nice but there are some frame-rate glitches here and there. It's a shame ATV3 has so many minor, nagging issues, because at its core this is a thrilling racer. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: Sled Storm (Playstation),
ATV Offroad Fury (Playstation 2), Rage Racer (Playstation),
MotorStorm Pacific Rift (Playstation 3), Fatal Fury Battle Archives Volume 1 (Playstation 2)

ATV Offroad Fury 4
Grade: A-
Publisher: Sony (2006)
Reviewed: 2013/6/6
Rating: Everyone (mild lyrics, mild violence)

screenshotThis final installment of the popular off-road series kicks the fun into overdrive! ATV Offroad Fury 4 (ATV4) adds a new dimension to the chaotic racing with the addition of bikes, buggies, and trucks to complement the usual selection of ATVs. Each vehicle exhibits its own distinctive handling characteristics, making ATV4 feel like four games in one! I love power sliding around gravelly corners in a buggy, and the extra weight of the trucks gives them a half-way-out-of-control, reckless feel. The bikes and ATVs clock amazing hang-time, allowing you to perform insane daredevil stunts 50+ feet in the air. Points earned let you purchase and upgrade vehicles. For vehicles that can't perform tricks, points are racked up by performing extended power slides. ATV4's physics feels convincing which makes the action all the more satisfying. The courses are wide, easy to follow, and the scenery is rich with natural beauty. A new story mode puts you in the role of a washed-up racer trying to make a comeback, and the main villain has an outrageous accent. It's entirely unnecessary (the mode and the accent), but it's just one of many modes available. The soundtrack plays less of a role in this game, and you'll probably need to adjust the settings just to hear it. Otherwise it's pretty hard to find fault with ATV4. As a sweet bonus, the game also includes its own track editor. A fitting conclusion to the series, ATV4 throws in everything but the kitchen sink. I guess you could consider this a prelude to the Motorstorm series for the PS3. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 

If you like this game, try: ATV Offroad Fury (Playstation 2),
Ridge Racer Type 4 (Playstation), Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (Playstation 2),
Super Off Road (NES), Rumble Racing (Playstation 2)

Ace Combat 04
Grade: B
Publisher: Namco (2001)
Reviewed: 2020/5/14

screenshotIf you're looking for a realistic air combat simulation for the PS2, keep looking. Underneath its sophisticated HUD and photorealistic scenery Ace Combat 4 packs pure arcade action. If you need any more proof, look - your score is displayed on the top left, along with the value of your current target. Case closed. A highly unnecessary background story is conveyed between missions via narration over artistic hand-drawn illustrations. Mission briefings offer detailed maps and diagrams, but it usually boils down to destroying all enemy planes and ground installations. In the cockpit you barely need to look at any instruments, as a helpful arrow keeps you pointed to your next target, a la Rogue Squadron. The graphics are breathtaking at times, and responsive controls give you a visceral sense of freedom as you effortlessly perform crazy maneuvers. Heck, I was even able to land on an aircraft carrier on my very first try. Your radio not only broadcasts your squad's dialogue but picks up your adversaries as well. Controller vibration is used to good effect, with thrust providing excellent force-feedback. If you own the Flightstick 2 controller (released with Ace Combat 5) you can use that too. The missions are only moderately difficult but the timer can bite you if you don't pay attention. Ace Combat 4 is the ideal jet fighter, combining the realistic visuals of a simulation with the gameplay of an arcade title. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (PSP),
Star Wars: Battle For Naboo (Nintendo 64), Ace Combat 5 (Playstation 2),
Mission X (Intellivision), Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader (GameCube)

Ace Combat 5
Grade: C
Publisher: Namco (2004)
Reviewed: 2020/5/14
Rating: Teen

screenshotMy Ace Combat 5 came packaged with the two-piece Hori Flightstick 2, and let me tell you - this is some badass hardware. It comes in two parts that sit next to one another. The left control is your throttle, consisting of a horizontal handle you can move forward and back to finely control your speed. I like how it feels so heavy. On the right is a flight stick with a trigger and missile launch button on top. These controls convey the feeling of being in control of a very expensive aircraft, especially when they shake. It's probably for the best that not all the buttons, knobs, and switches are used with this game, because I counted 17 in all! Ace Combat has always straddled the line between realism and arcade, but this chapter takes itself a little too seriously. Its melodramatic storyline subjects you to boring cutscenes about fictional nations with cheesy names like Yuktobania. Is this a video game or a really awful movie? You begin each mission already with the air with an arrow highlighting your next target. Firing heat-seeking missiles is fun, especially when you see that "destroyed" confirmation. Keep an eye on your altitude, as the horizon tends to be hazy and it's easy to forget which way is up. It's downright alarming when you find yourself flying too low and have to pull up to avoid impact. Visibility is usually limited, but when you do get to see cities, bridges, and islands they look pretty real. The radio chatter is pretty much nonstop - it's like a party line up there! Most of the time I have no [expletive] idea what they're talking about. The campaign mode delivers some intense moments as you try to protect a base or escort an aircraft carrier out of a bay. When you run out of missiles you're limited to guns, which is not a good spot to be in. Fortunately you can issue orders to your squadron like attack, cover, or disperse. The cut-scenes between stages try to convey some interpersonal drama, but it feels sappy and the voice acting is bad. Did they use the programmers to save money? Ace Combat 5 has its moments, but I'm not sure I'd play it without this big honking controller. Side note: After taking it out of storage for several years, I discovered my controller was covered in sticky residue, but I was able to remove it using rubbing alcohol. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Ace Combat 04 (Playstation 2),
Ace Combat Zero (Playstation 2), Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (PSP),
Mission X (Intellivision), Tomcat F14 Fighter Simulator (Atari 2600)

Ace Combat Zero
Grade: C-
Publisher: Namco (2006)
Reviewed: 2020/5/14
Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)

screenshotOnly in the world of video games can you follow a 5 with a Zero and it doesn't even raise an eyebrow. Ace Combat Zero thrusts you into the danger zone, pushing the series further towards simulation - possibly at the expense of fun. Zero ditched the arcade mode so they could put all their efforts into a very challenging campaign mode. The awkward acting that marred the last game has been addressed by using real live actors, which is a nice touch. The mission briefs are long and dry, using fake country names like Ustio and Belka. The first mission is exhilarating as you soar over a snowy mountain range intercepting enemy aircraft. I quickly learned you need to be extra careful about maintaining your altitude in mountainous regions. The gameplay hasn't changed much, as you chase around an arrow attempting to lock-on your next target. Unleashing a guided missile results in "hit", "destroyed", or "neutralized". "Neutralized" usually means the enemy is smoking, making it a sitting duck for a kill shot. Zero's missions are spread over larger areas so you'll need to travel between locations to complete your mission. The problem is that I can only see the long-range map via the pause menu. The difficulty is up there, and it took me a half dozen tries just to complete the first mission. Some of the more lengthy missions had me clutching the controls like grim death. At first I got into the habit of firing two missiles at a time, but learned you need to conserve missiles or run out. Once you're left with your gun, good luck. Your HUD alerts you when there's a "bandit in gun range" but damn, trying to keep one in your sights is like trying to pick up a watermelon seed! I must have spent the better part of an hour trying to pick off the last plane of one mission. Ace Combat experts will immerse themselves in the realism Zero brings, but more casual fighter pilots should steer clear. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Ace Combat 04 (Playstation 2),
Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception (PSP), Ace of Aces (Atari 7800),
Radar Lock (Atari 2600), Ace Combat 5 (Playstation 2)

Activision Anthology
Grade: B
Publisher: Activision (2002)
Reviewed: 2002/12/8
Rating: Everyone

screenshotBeing a classic gaming nut, I always get excited when these compilations of old video games are released for the new systems. Unlike the previous Activision compilation for the Playstation that was slow and bloated, Anthology has a slick interface that lets you choose between 45 vintage games. That's all of Activision's Atari 2600 titles, along with a few Imagic titles (Atlantis, Demon Attack), some Absolute games (Baseball, Tomcat F14), and even a few previously unreleased games that are surprisingly good. Nostalgic gamers will appreciate seeing the games they played as a kid, and most of these have held up well over the years and are still great fun. Anthology also treats you to an excellent selection of 80's background music, including "Take On Me", "Always Something There To Remind Me", "Safety Dance", and "The Tide Is High". I loved hearing these songs so much that I wish they had included more than 12 tracks. Better yet, these songs play uninterrupted as you peruse the menus and switch between games. To maximize the replay value, Activision has included a list of "unlockables" which let you open goodies like [iron-on] patches, unconventional play modes, and old Activision commercials. The sixteen new playing modes include blur video mode, the tilt-o-vision mode, and the disco mode. Generally, these convey the illusion of playing the games while on some kind of mind-altering drug, and they're only mildly amusing. The corny old commercials are the real prizes here. I even recognized the late Phil Hartman in the Ice Hockey commercial. With so many cool features, you'd think this was the perfect compilation, but not quite. First of all, Kaboom, arguably the best classic Activision game, is virtually unplayable thanks to an atrocious analog control scheme (it used paddle controllers originally). Secondly, there's NO way to save your high scores!! Anyone familiar with these oldies knows that the whole point of these games was to play for high score, and this would NOT have been hard to incorporate. Boy, Activision really dropped the ball on that one! Next, although you can toggle the difficulty switches, it's never indicated visually whether they are set to "A" or "B", which is especially annoying when you consider that these switches could mean the difference between an easy skill level and a hard one. Blatant oversights like this lead me to believe that the developers were NOT very familiar with these games and likely viewed them as novelties not to be taken seriously. Next time, Activision should call me in as a consultant. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Activision Classics For the Atari 2600 (Playstation),
Kaboom! (Atari XEGS), Namco Museum 50th Anniversary (Playstation 2),
Intellivision Lives (Playstation 2), Dance Dance Revolution Supernova (Playstation 2)

All-Star Baseball 2002
Grade: D+
Publisher: Acclaim (2001)
Reviewed: 2001/5/28

screenshotI've been anticipating baseball on the PS2, but I was not impressed with this one. Man, does this game need an injection of excitement! The graphics, especially the realistically animated player models, look fine, with lifelike faces and appropriate batting stances. Acclaim even included lifelike umpires and base coaches. The fielders are animated smoothly and realistically, scooping up grounders cleanly and jumping to catch high throws. Less impressive are the stadiums, mainly because you don't see much of them due to the largely overhead view of the action. The control scheme is a mixed bag. Throwing the ball is easy, but it sucks that you have to press R2 to dive. Like its N64 predecessor, it's too hard to hit the ball and there are annoying pauses between pitches, causing the game to move at a snail's pace. I was impressed however with the variety of the pitches. Each pitcher has his own arsenal, with stuff like four-seam fastballs, circle changes, cutters, and "slurves". The more you aim your pitch away from the strike zone, the more your controller vibrates. Unfortunately, your friend isn't likely to swing when he sees your controller doing about 6.5 on the Richter scale! The fielders are small, but at least you have some room to track down fly balls. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable pause between the time the fielder catches the ball and throws it; it's as if he can't get the darned thing out of his glove! In addition, the ball doesn't connect very well with the fielder's gloves, and players don't always throw in the same direction they're facing. The pitchers flag down too many grounders, sometimes even DIVE for the ball, something that should never happen in a serious baseball game. The voice commentary is sparse and dull, and the crowd seems pretty disinterested as well. Other problems are downright unforgivable, like the lack of a voluntary instant replay system. The announcers call the homeruns and foul balls immediately, leaving no room for any kind of drama. This game does have at least one innovative feature: the home team mascot dances on top of the dugout between innings, and I got a kick out of it, although the Oriole mascot scared me a little. With his small head and lanky body, he looked more like the Fly instead of a bird. All-Star baseball is fair for a first generation PS2 game, but there's plenty of room for improvement. © Copyright 2001 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: World Series Baseball (Xbox),
High Heat Major League Baseball 2003 (Game Boy Advance), All-Star Baseball 2000 (Nintendo 64),
World Series Baseball 2K1 (Dreamcast), RBI Baseball 2 (NES)

Grade: B-
Publisher: Sony (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/6/27

screenshotWith all the first-person shooters and gangster games out there, it's nice to play a musical game for a change. Amplitude is the successor to Frequency, the low-selling title that never lived up to its potential. Frequency's gameplay involved moving along instrumental "tracks" and pressing buttons in sync with notes on the screen. Amplitude is nearly the same, but offers streamlined gameplay, better control, and best of all, a more impressive roster of recording artists. The high profile artists include Garbage, Pink, David Bowie, and Blink 182. You even get Run-DMC's classic anthem "King of Rock". Amplitude's visuals have a psychedelic look, which when combined with music can put you in almost a Zen-like state. Each of a song's "tracks" represent a different sound in the song, like voice, bass, or drums. To maintain your energy level, you'll need to compete "phrases", or sequences of notes on a track. This causes that instrument to kick in for a while, making the song sound more complete. Some tracks are easier than others, so it's wise to move out of a tricky one you're having trouble with. Pressing three shoulder buttons to match the rhythms on the screen is not easy, but at least this game is more forgiving than Frequency. You also have the option of using the square/triangle/circle buttons, but as the training mode explains (correctly), one thumb isn't enough when the action gets fast. Amplitude is a cool game to kick back with on a Saturday night after you've had a few drinks. It's not very deep, but its flashy visuals and excellent soundtrack are mesmerizing. If you're a popular music fan, you owe it to yourself to check out Amplitude. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Frequency (Playstation 2),
Rock Band Unplugged (PSP), Guitar Hero 5 (Xbox 360),
Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360), DK: King of Swing (Game Boy Advance)

Arctic Thunder
Grade: D-
Publisher: Midway (2001)
Reviewed: 2005/2/9
Rating: Teen (mild violence)

screenshotWhenever I go shopping with my wife at one of those bulk-item stores, I'm like a little kid - I always need to bring home a toy. On one occasion while perusing a rack of cheap games, Arctic Thunder caught my eye. The fact that it's a snow-oriented game in of itself practically sealed the deal, but the fact that this was the follow-up to the stellar Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast, 1999) made it a slam-dunk. Sure enough, Arctic Thunder delivered on its promise to offer that same brand of high-speed arcade racing, only this time with snow speeders and more emphasis on combat and power-ups. The tracks are pretty amazing and loaded of surprises. You'll race through the White House in a snowed-in Washington DC, careen through a haunted graveyard at night, and barrel through an out-of-control Chernobyl power plant. There are so many diverse and enclosed locations that you may forget this is supposed to be a snow game. The action is non-stop, and even when you get knocked off your sled by an opponent, the game immediately puts you back on track - and at full speed no less! Unfortunately, the developers had no clue how to harness the PS2's graphic capabilities, and as a result Arctic Thunder's frame-rate alternates between fair and unbearable! When the missiles are flying and speeders are soaring off cliffs, the game stutters terribly, making it hard to determine what's going on. Personally, I would have been satisfied with an option to turn off the weapons altogether, especially if it would have improved the visuals. Another problem is the non-existent collision detection, which allows you to plow through all sorts of solid objects without even slowing down. Arctic Thunder could have been spectacular, but instead it's a choppy mess. If you're really interested in this game, check out the Xbox version, which is still flawed but at least addresses the abysmal frame-rate problem. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Arctic Thunder (Xbox),
Hydro Thunder (Dreamcast), Hydro Thunder Hurricane (Xbox 360),
Surf Rocket Racers (Dreamcast), Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (Playstation 2)

Armored Core 2
Grade: F
Publisher: Agetec (2000)
Reviewed: 2002/6/27
Rating: Teen (13+)

screenshotOh how I despise this game! I must confess I've never really a huge fan of "mech" games, but for $20 I figured this wouldn't hurt. Oh, it hurt all right! The graphics are marginal, the control is detestable, and the gameplay is utterly pointless. You control a large, well-equipped robot that can fly around for short periods of time. The missions take place on Mars where there's all kinds of political upheaval and other boring stuff like that going on. The main navigation screen is bloated to say the least. You have the obligatory (and overused) "garage" area, which gives you a place to tune up your robot. There's the "shop" that lets you replace and upgrade every last nut and bolt, which is far too tedious for me. Then there's "email" where you constantly receive messages updating you on the current political and economic situation (worse than spam!). When you're ready for action, you can accept missions or engage in one-on-one "arena" battles. The missions are extremely uninteresting and confusing - just be sure to strafe a lot and shoot non-stop. The control scheme is remarkably awkward. Believe it or not, you have to use the digital pad to move! The analog joysticks are completely wasted on secondary functions. The bottom shoulder buttons aim up and down, which makes absolutely no sense. Enemies tend to run circles around you, and turning your mech around is painfully slow. But wait - it gets worse! When you fail a mission, you actually lose credits, and you'll soon find yourself knee-deep in debt. There's no "restart" option, unless you want to go through the reload process, that is. Another irritant is the fact that you cannot skip through all of the mission text, which is absolute torture when you have to repeat a mission. Armored Core 2 is simply a bad game. Save your money! © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Mech Assault (Xbox),
Deep Blue (Turbografx-16), Iron Soldier (Jaguar),
POD Speedzone (Dreamcast), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Xbox)

Art of Fighting Anthology
Grade: B
Publisher: SNK (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/9/27
Rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)

screenshotThis anthology packages up three classic Neo Geo fighting games that originally cost $200 each! In 1992 Art of Fighting represented the cutting edge of the fighting genre, thanks to slick scaling effects that automatically zoomed in and out to maintain the tightest possible camera angle. When in close proximity, the fighters look absolutely immense! Another interesting but more subtle feature is how fighters' faces become bruised and bloodied as the fights progress. The first Art of Fighting game features ten characters, but only two are playable in the story mode. This mode provides some precious dialogue exchanges like "Hey Mister - where's Yuri?" "Ask for it with your power!" Art of Fighting 2 (AoF2) expands the roster to 12, all of which are selectable. If you don't count the androgynous "King", Yuri Sakazaki (with her butt attack) is the lone female representative. The action is more spastic in AoF2, with rapid-fire moves that can render an opponent momentarily paralyzed or floating in the air. AoF2 feels like an extension of the first game, but Art of Fighting 3 gave the series a complete overhaul. The bulk of its ten characters are brand new, including the pudgy Wang Koh San (with his big backpack) and the lasso-wielding cowgirl Lenny Creston. The backdrops are rendered in a slightly richer style, and the overall presentation is more cinematic, with brief "endings" for each match. This third edition also gives you the ability to attack characters while they're lying on the ground. All three Art of Fighting games are a feast for the eyes, with imaginative animated backdrops including a stable, airport, gym, and outdoor cafe. The degree of detail is limited slightly by the scaling feature, but there's still plenty of eye candy. I tend to relish the details, like a thunderstorm that can be seen raging outside the door of the gym. Art of Fighting's controls tend to mimic the Street Fighter 2 style, but are less forgiving and require exact movements to execute special moves. This Anthology is a good deal, but it's fairly bare bones. I wish SNK had included some historical information, or an easy way to view the high scores. Even so, those with fond memories of the days when 2D fighting was king will want to pick this up without a second thought. Note: Those who enjoy this package should also check out Fatal Fury Battle Archives. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Fatal Fury Battle Archives Volume 1 (Playstation 2),
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection (Playstation 2), King of Fighters 94 (Neo Geo),
King of Fighters R2 (Neo Geo Pocket), King of Fighters Dream Match (Dreamcast)

Auto Modellista
Grade: D+
Publisher: Capcom (2003)
Reviewed: 2003/5/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter waiting for this game for years, I have to say I'm pretty unimpressed. Auto Modellista plays like a game that can't decide if it's arcade or simulation. The cars and tracks are surprisingly bland. Most cell shaded games tend to be artistic and offer imaginative, exaggerated environments, but Modellista is surprisingly conservative in that regard. There's no money involved (you open stuff after each race), but there's still a complicated "garage" system that contains layers upon layers of menus to customize your car. I found this bloated menu system to be a major turn off. Just to save my game I had to wade through SEVEN prompts!! The controls are similar to those in Ridge Racer, but the drifting seems a bit excessive. Also, hitting walls doesn't slow you down much, so it's often a better option than trying to make the turn! While the graphics are attractive for the most part, the "wind sheer" lines are distracting, and you can't help but notice some sloppy anti-aliasing effects (unintended colors and lines) in the backgrounds of some tracks. In the one-player "career mode", hints and instructions arrive nonstop in the forms of "emails", but who wants to take the time to read all of these things? Modellista is also lacking in terms of audio. There's a wide variety of music, yet none of it is particularly good, and that announcer ("Keep rockin' baby!") is irritating to say the least. One highly touted yet unwanted feature lets you edit your instant replays into little music videos. There is an online play option, although it comes with this disclaimer: "Game Experience May Change During Online Play". I don't know what that means, but who knows, maybe you'll find yourself levitating in the air. Anyway, once you get past the colorful graphics, Auto Modellista is a very unspectacular racing game that probably won't satisfy simulation OR arcade fans. © Copyright 2003 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Ridge Racer 6 (Xbox 360),
Ridge Racer V (Playstation 2), Ridge Racer 7 (Playstation 3),
Ridge Racer (PSP), Ridge Racer 64 (Nintendo 64)

Batman Vengeance
Grade: B+
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2001)
Reviewed: 2002/2/4
Rating: Teen

screenshotIt's been quite a while since there's been a good Batman game, but fans should take note of this one. Vengeance combines the award-winning animation of the popular Batman animated cartoon series, the voices of the actual characters, and a pretty good storyline into a nice cohesive package. And unlike every Batman game since God knows when, this one is even fun to play! The action isn't too repetitive, thanks to a healthy supply of gadgets in Batman's ever-popular utility belt, and you'll love pelting the Joker with batarangs shortly before kicking his ass with a little hand-to-hand action. The fine voice acting includes Mark Hammill as the Joker, trash talking and mocking you as you attempt to uphold justice. You'll also face Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, along with a boatload of henchmen and women. For transportation, you can ride either the Batmobile or the Batwing! Vengeance contains over 40 minutes of cinematics that blend nicely into the storyline. There are over 20 levels of punching, jumping, flying, diving, and puzzle solving mayhem. The only things holding this game back are occasional camera difficulties and the fact that Batman's partner is Batgirl. What happened to Robin? © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Batman Vengeance (GameCube),
Batman and Robin (Playstation), Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360),
Batman and Robin (Sega CD), Batman Return of the Joker (NES)

Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance
Grade: D
Publisher: Capcom (2005)
Reviewed: 2005/10/28
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, violence)

screenshotWhat attracted me to this mediocre fighter? It was my eternal hope that one day a Streets of Rage-style brawler will be produced for the modern systems. On the surface, Beat Down appears to follow the same basic formula: battle gangs of thugs, make use of various weapons lying around, and explore gritty urban locales. Beat Down does a few things right but a lot of things wrong. The character models, while hardly state of the art, are detailed enough, and the dirty streets and sleazy bars look realistic. The fighting action is good but not great. I like how you automatically "lock on" to any thug you approach, and there's a nice variety of punches, kicks, and grabs. My favorite move is straddling an opponent on the ground and wailing away on him. Using weapons like knives, boards, or girders (!) is also satisfying. An unusual feature is the option to "negotiate" with subdued opponents, possibly recruiting them into your posse. Unconscious bodies can be searched for cash and bonus items. I also enjoyed the techno music soundtrack. Beat Down sounds like a winner so far, but in fact it's badly flawed. First and foremost, the loading screens are excessive, to say the least. You'll spend more time staring at "Now Loading…" than playing the [expletive] game! The city is divided into small sections about a block or two in size, and as you move between areas, you'll have to wait a good 15 seconds to load the next section! Compare this to other games like Spiderman 2 or Grand Theft Auto where you can explore an entire city with no pauses. It's hard to believe an established company like Capcom would tolerate such poor design. I could also do without the endless dialogue, punctuated with gratuitous profanity. You won't be able to skip the cut-scenes or page through that boring text dialogue fast enough! Technically, Beat Down looks sloppy, with pedestrians and cars that appear out of thin air. You have several characters to choose between but they all behave the same. It looks pretty silly when the hooker in high heels picks up that huge girder and starts swinging it around. If you're playing the one-player mode, please note that the female news reporter is used to save your game. I didn't realize this the first few times I played, and it was quite frustrating (who wants to talk to a reporter in the middle of a fighting game anyway?). But Beat's Down's biggest disappointment is its two-player mode. Instead fighting gangs side by side (like the good 'ol days), it's just a lame one-on-one "versus" mode. I was hoping Beat Down would offer some old school action with updated graphics, but instead it emphasizes everything that's wrong with the "new" school. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: Grand Theft Auto III (Playstation 2),
Grand Theft Auto (Playstation), The Simpsons: Hit and Run (Xbox),
Final Fight CD (Sega CD), The Warriors (Xbox)

Beyond Good and Evil
Grade: B-
Publisher: Ubi Soft (2003)
Reviewed: 2004/9/26
Rating: Teen (realistic violence, comic mischief)

screenshotWhen Beyond Good and Evil was first released, magazine critics fawned over it and hailed it as one of the best games of the year. Consequently, those same critics voiced their shock and dismay when the game didn't sell. Well, there's a reason for that. Beyond Good and Evil is highly overrated. I will admit that it's technically impressive, with gorgeous graphics, spectacular sound effects, outstanding music, and crisp controls. Heck, even the pacing and difficulty are finely tuned. But just because it's polished doesn't mean it's fun, and Beyond Good and Evil struggled to keep my attention. The storyline involves a planet that's being attacked from space, and the conspiracy plot that ensues is convoluted to say the least. The island-covered planet is inhabited by humans and "evolved" animals that are equal to humans. The game stars an attractive (but fully clothed) woman named Jade with black hair and green lipstick. Her sidekick is a hillbilly pig that's supposed to provide comic relief but rarely does. Beyond Good and Evil is a nice mix of exploration, puzzle solving, and fighting, and there are some shooting, air hockey, and racing stages thrown in for good measure. The graphics and animation are the quality of a Disney animated feature, which smooth textures and fluid movements. The exotic music is terrific, and the sound effects are so good that you'll actually take notice. The controls feature a nifty auto-jump, and thankfully you can't fall off the edge of cliffs. But the best aspect of the game is the picture-taking system, which makes it easy to aim and zoom in on various creatures. Taking interesting pictures will earn you credit and bonus items, and some missions require you to infiltrate enemy facilities and photograph their activities. There sure is a lot to like about Beyond Good and Evil, but I have to take issue with a few things. For an action/adventure, there's an awful lot of text to read, and at times I found myself becoming very impatient. When you encounter a new character, there's a list of questions to ask him, and unless you go through all of them, you might miss a vital piece of information. Your pig sidekick will get on your nerves after a while, and there are too many "slide the block" and "enter the right combination" puzzles. Still, there are ample save points and you'll rarely have to repeat long sections twice. Beyond Good and Evil is certainly good, and if you have a lot of patience, you may find it a rewarding journey. But in no way is this one of the best games of the year. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

If you like this game, try: Tomb Raider: Legend (Xbox 360),
Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (Xbox), Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny (Playstation 2),
Ico (Playstation 2), Guilty Gear X (Playstation 2)

Blitz: The League
Grade: C-
Publisher: Midway (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/8/6
Rating: Mature (blood, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs, violence)

screenshotThe first time I played Blitz:The League, I was totally into it. The games are short and action-packed, with crisp controls and over-the-top animations. Its irreverent arcade style took me back to the good old days when NFL Blitz ruled the Playstation. But the more I played the game, the more Blitz:The League's tawdry side would gnaw away at my very soul. The game embraces everything perceived to be wrong with sports: Performance-enhancing drugs, gratuitous violence, scantily-clad cheerleaders, bad language, and illegal gambling. The graphics could use some work, but at least the animation is on point. The strength of the game lies in its fast, unpredictable on-field action. The hits are vicious as helmets fly, balls are tipped, and constant turnovers keep the outcome in doubt. The simple control scheme makes the game easy to play, and the bone crunching tackles are satisfying. There's no NFL license, but you can customize your team to resemble its NFL counterpart. Its core gameplay is decent, but unlike NFL Blitz, which came off as funny and irreverent, Blitz:The League constantly pushes the limits of good taste. In my experience, it's pretty easy to tell when a game is authentically "adult" (GTA San Andreas, Far Cry), and when it's forcing the issue (BMX XXX, Outlaw Anything). With its gratuitous potty-mouth, bad hip-hop music, and cheerleaders assuming erotic poses, this game made me feel dirty. Whenever you're worried about the wife walking in when you're playing a game, that's never a good sign. Blitz tries to incorporate gambling and steroids into the pre-game festivities, but these things just tend to get in the way. I really hate the idiotic kick meter, which prompts you to hit certain buttons quickly before the kick. The cut scenes of players talking trash or coaches in the booth are mildly amusing at first, but soon become horribly annoying and interrupt the flow of the game. Note to Midway: If you're going to make us ogle cheerleaders after every play, at least make them look good! The load and save screens are agonizingly long. In fact, this is the first game I've played where the loading and saving are longer than the game itself! Blitz probably could have been a viable alternative to Madden, if Midway had not gone off the deep end with all the raunchy gimmicks. Ultimately, Blitz:The League will likely go down in history as an ill-advised novelty item that most people will find more embarrassing that entertaining. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 

If you like this game, try: NFL Blitz 2000 (Dreamcast),
NFL 2K3 (Xbox), BMX XXX (Xbox),
NFL 2K3 (Playstation 2), Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)

Bode Miller Alpine Skiing
Grade: D
Publisher: RTL (2006)
Reviewed: 2008/11/27
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis bargain-priced skiing game is okay, but I liked it better the first time I played it, when it was called Torino 2006. Apparently someone copied the skiing code out of Torino and repackaged it as "Bode Miller Alpine Skiing". Yes, they did tack on a create-a-skier option and career mode, but these are lightweight at best. In case you don't remember who Bode Miller is, he's the American skier who bragged about hanging out at bars all night before his competitions. And sure enough, when he competed in the 2006 Olympic games, he skied like a guy who had stayed up all night drinking in bars! As much as I enjoyed the skiing action in Torino, it's far less impressive as a stand-alone game. The sensation of speed is good, but it doesn't really feel like you're heading downhill. Instead, it feels like you're gliding over a wide-open flat surface. Unlike Torino, you can't toggle your viewing angle, and your skier often blocks you vision as you're trying to line up the next set of gates. The runs are really long, and with multiple heats, it's just too much. The snow-encrusted trees and mountain backdrops look attractive enough, but there's nothing striking about the graphics. The meat of the game lies in its career mode, which is just a string of competitions. Between contests, your "training" consists of simply pressing a button and viewing the results. Sure it's lame, but at least it is consistent with Bode's actual work ethic! The "1-12 players" claim is somewhat misleading, considering only one player can ski at a time. Considering how long it takes to finish each run, I sure would hate to be that twelfth player! And what's the deal with the "betting" option? Are we condoning gambling in skiing now? Even the commentary is lame. In one exchange a commentator asks his partner, "What do you think Wolf?" and Wolf pans "I think we'll just have to wait and see." Wow, that's insightful stuff. Bode Miller Alpine Skiing is bargain priced, and now you know why. It might provide some mildly amusing entertainment for a snowy day, but like Bode himself, there's not a whole lot of substance here. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 12 players 

If you like this game, try: Skiing (Atari 2600),
We Ski (Wii), Winter Sports 2008 (Playstation 2),
Mountain Madness: Super Pro Skiing (Intellivision), Torino 2006 (Playstation 2)

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